My husband and I try to take an annual trip to someplace out of the country or to a US city we’ve never explored. This year was supposed to be Tokyo, but the earthquake hit just as we were booking our flights. We decided instead to head for London & Paris. A copy of Eyewitness’ Top 10 and Hemisphere’s Three Perfect Days article for each city helped us to make the most of our limited time there.
One lesson learned on this trip: NEVER arrive first thing in the morning. We spent the entire first day forcing ourselves to stay awake and trying to look like happy tourists.
After checking into the Hilton Trafalgar, a wonderfully modern, hip hotel right off of Trafalgar Square, we headed to the British Museum. Highest on my list was to finally see the Mildenhall Treasure, a collection of Roman silver discovered buried in a field by a British farmer. I had been pining to see this exhibit ever since reading about it in Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More as a girl.
Next, we headed to the London Eye, where we had already purchased the Champagne Experience. The views are absolutely stunning and are even better with a glass of bubbly in your hand.
The next day included the Victoria and Albert Museum, which includes a vast display of Victorian silver and an extraordinary art collection. We ended the evening at Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea which was, by far, the best meal of the trip.
Instead of flying to Paris, we decided to take the Chunnel. It was a little more expensive and took a bit longer, but by the time you add cab fare and travel time to and from airports, it comes out pretty even. For the most part, you are above ground, enjoying the English and French countryside. You only go below for about 20 minutes. I was worried about getting a little claustrophobic, but it was really no different than being on any other subway.
Arriving in Paris was a jolt. School girls were screaming at people to sign some petition, scalpers were trying to sell used subway tickets to unsuspecting tourists…pure bedlam.
We hailed a cab to our hotel, The Hotel Regina, where I had previously stayed when I came to Paris in my 20s.
Relatively cheap by Parisian standards, it’s right across the street from the Louvre and has maintained a wonderful old-style Parisian quality, which provided a nice contrast from the ultra-modern Trafalgar. The rooms are TINY, which forced us to negotiate curious chess-like moves as we went about our business. (“Honey, if you’ll just step to your left, I can get around the bed to my suitcase. Then if you can move to where I’m standing now, I’ll have a clear path to the sink.”)
Most of our time was simply spent walking around and taking in the beauty of the Jardin des Tuileries,
Place de la Concorde,
Arc du Triomphe,
and Le Tour Eiffel.
Place de la Madeline became my favorite neighborhood and I especially enjoyed going into Maille mustard’s flagship store. (Mustard mixed with chablis? Tres bien!)
We found the Metro extremely user-friendly. I chuckled at this safety sign, which warned people not to catch their hands in the subway doors, as the oddly cartoon-ish rabbit is clearly doing. (Don’t be like this silly bunny! Be a smart bunny!)
Thanks to Hemisphere’s 3PD article, we knew to buy our Louvre tickets on the other side of the museum rather than waiting in long lines for over an hour through the pyramid entrance. We got our tickets first thing in the morning, then headed across the Seine for “petit dejeuner.” The building where we ate just happened to the former home of d’Artagnan, one of the primary persons on whom the Three Musketeers is based. By pure serendipity, a bus with the ad for the new Musketeers movie passed us as we enjoyed our cafe au lait et croque monsieur.
Overall, you are inundated with history and gorgeous architecture in these cities and you can’t help but bring back a little of that with you. We already have a list of sites we’d like to visit when we return.
For now, however, Tokyo beckons.