February is not the most popular month to visit Paris but the school half-term timetable is no respecter of holiday plans and once you’ve ruled out skiing and Egypt there’s not a hell of a lot of choice left. I presented the family with a selection of cities and Paris was the winner. So it was we boarded our Wizz Air flight to Beauvais and started our seven days in the French capital.
Beauvais airport is quite a way outside Paris but it’s cheap. To get to Paris is fairly easy as there’s a well organised coach service for €15 one-way and it takes about an hour to drop you a bit left of centre. As our hotel was a bit right of centre, close to Place de la Nation, we took a €30 taxi and got there well before check-in time as the flight had landed just after 08:00. Aside from the early flight times, we all thought the Wizz Air service to Beauvais was a good one and for less than 1,000 PLN for the whole family, return, we’d probably repeat the same next time around.
First stop was the tourist office on the rue des Pyramides where we bought a load of tickets. They were very helpful and did a good job of helping us work out which tickets to buy after all the confusion of the Disney web site. In the end we bought six “one day one park” tickets at just under €50 each with adults the same price as kids. This worked out cheaper than buying the equivalent “two days two parks” tickets. We were also able to buy tickets for everything else we wanted except the Eiffel Tower and this definitely saved a lot of time queuing.
The Hotel du Printemps was okay considering it only cost €101 per night for a triple room, which for Paris is pretty cheap. We’d normally stay somewhere like a K+K, where we’ve stayed before in Vienna, Prague, London… but their hotel in Paris costs between 2.5 and 4 times as much as the Printemps and for seven nights that works out to a hell of a lot of money. The Printemps was well located for our needs, once you’d done the 8 minute walk to Nation you could easily get to the centre with a 15 minute Metro ride in one direction or Disneyland with a 40 minute RER in the other. The area around the hotel is nice and has a good selection of shops and restaurants. In the end though the test is whether you’d book the same place the next time you were in Paris and here the answer is probably not. The main reasons for this are the beds that delivered a collection of bad backs, necks, hips, legs… the relatively poor breakfast (at an extra €20 a day for the family), the complete lack of any service (can’t even get a cuppa) and I suppose the miniature nature of everything, although this last one is hard to avoid anywhere else. Still, I think it will be a good few years before we’re back in Paris so no need to worry about that too much just now.
Paris generally was like any large city going about its business in February, the only really noticeable differences being the high number of homeless people on the streets and the even higher number of heavily armed police and soldiers. We assume the machine guns were due to concerns about what’s happening in North Africa spilling over to Paris. Here’s my twin brother, Ali Bin Bongo, failing to smuggle a cleverly disguised suicide bomb into the Louvre!
February has advantages of being far less crowded and perhaps cheaper in some respects but because of that you also find that not everywhere is open. For example, Rue Saint-Louis en l’ile, which would be a very busy street later in the year with a wide selection of small shops and restaurants was pretty dead. Berthillon, the famous ice-cream shop was closed for renovations and many others had done the same. Parts of the Musee D’Orsay were closed for works, the castle at Disneyland was being repaired and so on. It’s one of those eternal problems with city visits, it is nice to visit them out of season but then you don’t really get the full show, which sort of forces everyone to go at the same time, which then makes the place unbearable.
Working out an agenda for a trip to Paris depends on whether you’ve been before and where your priorities lie. One big decision is about food. There is some excellent food to be eaten in Paris but you are unlikely to stumble across it as you work your way through the sights so if food is a priority you’ll need to do your research, make bookings, save up enough money and adjust your agenda to suit being in the right restaurant at the right time & dressed appropriately. We didn’t do that because by the time we’d worked our way through the sights it was late and we were pretty tired plus the whole ‘fine dining’ experience is lost on Zosia. We did have a couple of good meals but the rest were just grabbed in our usual way, when we were hungry we looked for something near where we were at the time and took our chances.
The rest of our agenda looked something like this: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, D’Orsay, Disneyland (twice), Versailles, Pomipdou Centre, Pere Lachaise cemetery, assorted walks including Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triumph, Boulevard Hausmann, Avenue George V, Ile de la Cite, Ile St Louis and so on…..
Pere Lachaise is the resting place of many famous dead people and one of the most visited graveyards in the world, which makes a bit of a mockery of the idea of resting in peace. Perhaps the best known residents outside France are: Balzac, Bizet, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Delacroix, Isadora Duncan, Modigliani, Moliere, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, Rothschild, Seurat, Simone Signoret, Richard Wallace (Wallace collection) & Oscar Wilde. This was easy for us to get to as it was a 20 minute walk or two Metro stops north of our hotel but the weather was less easy and we had the worst rain of whole stay.
Finding anyone in this place is tough, even with a map, because it seems to distort distances and I’m not sure the map is all that accurate with scale but we managed to locate the top four most visited graves, which are; Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Chopin & Oscar Wilde. We passed by many other dead celebs along the way, waving to the by now familiar groups of similarly lost visitors but there were a few helpful locals who were able to point the way. Even in the rain the place had a good atmosphere and I can imagine a longer visit in the spring having dug up more background material on the residents might well be time well spent.
With a seven year old in tow a trip to Disneyland is a must but it has to be said that once you get past the initial excitement it’s a bit of a let-down. We visited both parks – Disneyland & Walt Disney Studios – doing Disneyland first. Zosia is slightly worried about ‘scary’ rides so we started off with things like ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’ where you queue for 45 minutes (even in February!) to take an uneventful 3 minute ride. We persevered and tried Pinocchio next but it was clear already that these rides were not worth the wait so we went up a scale of scariness and did Pirates of the Caribbean, which was much more rewarding. Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours were also an improvement but by the time you’ve done a few rides you’re really getting fed up of the queues. You can make use of ‘Fast-Track’ tickets to cut down queuing times but you can only hold one of these at a time and our gap between getting the ticket and fast-entry time was always more than 2 hours so they are of limited use unless you’re intending to be in the park from opening to closing time.
There are places to eat and drink scattered around but the one we tried was a third rate fast-food joint – bad food, bad service, high prices – not somewhere you’d want to be spending much time relaxing.
The bottom line is that even Zosia didn’t want to go back for the second day at Disney but having spent so much on the tickets we went anyway. In the Studios we did one ride, the Studio Tram Tour which was okay but the highlight for everyone was meeting Minnie Mouse. The Disneyland experience was worth doing and generally enjoyed by the gang but I’m certain we shan’t be rushing back anytime soon.
The museums were very good, as you’d expect. We did the Louvre, which houses works from pre-history to the C19th with the top attractions being Venus De Milo and Mona Lisa although there are many things more impressive such as the giant Assyrian / Mesopotamian sculptures. The D’Orsay holds mainly impressionist and post-impressionist works from between about 1850 and 1920 and has an impressive collection of works by artists such as Rodin, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. As always I was struck by how much more impressive these works are in the flesh than in any pictorial representation, especially Van Gogh. The Pompidou centre holds the national museum of modern art and it was the first time I’d been there. This, like the D’Orsay was undergoing renovation so we didn’t have the full collection available but it was an interesting visit nonetheless. It was also good to experience the building itself, opened in 1977 and designed by an impressive team including Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers & Edmund Happold. The inside-out industrial style must have been quite astounding at the time and was repeated shortly after by Rogers for the Lloyds building in London, opened in 1986.
Versailles was another place I’d never been and was therefore an interesting visit. It is everything you’d expect from the palace of the Sun King, primarily big & opulent. You can see how the French Revolution might have seemed like a great idea if you imagine being a poor Frenchman at the time and look at how the other half lived. Louis XIV got away with it and lived to the ripe old age of 77 dying of gangrene, the XV also did well making it to 67 years old and dying of smallpox at Versailles it was the XVI where it all went wrong for the monarchy in France. The gardens of Versailles were probably the thing most affected by the weather in February. The fountains were not working and the gardens were obviously not at their best. You still got the general idea though and we had a lot of fun driving around in our rented golf cart!
You can find more photos in the gallery – HERE.