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A three-day challenge called Paris

Nelson Alcantara l Special to eTN  Apr 07, 2008

Is it possible to spend three days in Paris and experience its essence? This is a question I have toyed with and one that ultimately became a challenge. Given my experience as a bit of an intrepid traveler, I decided to rise to it and see for myself how much of Paris I can immerse myself in three days.

First day
We arrived in Paris at 1:50 pm on a Friday and took the 45- or so minute train ride (via RER) then transferred to the Metro #6 to get to Marriott Hotel in Rive Gauche. The hotel is perfectly situated for the three-day trip because it is located next to the #6 Metro line and is about 15 minutes away from the number one tourist spot in the world--the Eiffel Tower.

By 3:30 pm, we were all checked-in which gave us ample time to get settled in our room and figure out the course of action for the rest of the day. I have been to Paris before but it was the first trip for my traveling companion, so I decided that the Eiffel Tower should be the first stop. We were out the door by 4:30 and headed towards the Eiffel Tower. Based on the great advice of Marriott’s Concierge Desk, the best Metro stop for an Eiffel first-timer is the Trocadero exit. And we were ever glad we took that advice because on that given Saturday, Palais De Chailot was filled with Parisians and tourists-alike enjoying the somewhat chilly afternoon. The usual crowd of street performers and their admirers showed up as well. We couldn’t have asked for a better Parisian welcome than that. We took the time to sulk in the glory of that wonderful welcome, took some obligatory shots of the spectacular scenery, and then headed for something to eat.

Eating out in Paris is, of course, an experience in itself, and it is about price, view and space as much as it is about food. While dining in Paris is undoubtedly one of the best in terms of food quality, if not the best, the price of the food is often reflected by the restaurant’s location. One can expect to fork up a few more euros for a view of the Eiffel Tower. In our case, we opted to dine at one of the surrounding restaurants, as they are equally as good, and saved the “restaurant with the Eiffel Tower view” for after-meal drinks.

After devouring our meal at the “restaurant with no Eiffel Tower view,” we decided to wander around and got some sense of the area where a few of Paris’ main focal points are clustered within close proximity, including Musee de L’Homme and Musee du Cinema. We took some obligatory shots of the area then decided to go for that after-meal drink at the “restaurant with the Eiffel Tower view.” That restaurant is called Cafe du Trocadero. It is situated so perfectly that it gives diners and drinkers a 90-degree view of the Eiffel Tower which is exactly the spot to be to fully enjoy that spectacular Eiffel Tower light show. I will not go into detail as to what the light show entails, so as not to spoil the experience for those who have not been there. I’ll say this much, however, it is worth waiting for.

After the light show, we decided to mingle with the crowd gathered at the Palais du Chaillot some more. But, coming from Hawaii and having been somewhat unprepared for the “chillness,” we decided to make our way back to the hotel. After all, it was pass 10:00 pm and what we had planned for the following day would require a full-night rest.

Day two
A day at Disneyland Paris wasn’t originally part of the plan, but it somehow worked out that it did, and we were ever glad for it. I never turn down a chance to visit Disney whether it is in California or in Florida, as it is truly a place I never tire of returning to over and over again.

We woke-up early to get a head start. From the Marriott Rive Gauche, we were advised that the trip to Disneyland was about 45 minutes to an hour by train. From what we were told, we really only needed to transfer once from Metro #6 to RER line A to the direction of Marne la Vellee. Simple enough, right? Wrong. When we got to the transfer point, things got a little complicated because the ticket kiosk did not work properly—it didn’t take our cash nor did the credit card option worked. I must have tried all of my credit cards and came to the conclusion that the machine was faulty. None of the three ticket booths had any attendant working which I found to be strange. We walked around the station for a good 25 minutes before deciding to “chance it.” Without a valid train ticket, we got on the RER line A and headed for Disneyland. All throughout the ride, I anticipated for a ticketman to show up and check for our tickets, as practiced in most civilized nations. No ticketman ever showed. All the while I was thinking to myself, “But this is France, surely there must be a catch somewhere.” And sure enough there was. At the end of the train journey to Marne la Velle, there were at least ten “ticket people” checking for tickets. This is where the biggest rip-off in my years of traveling happened. Without tickets, we were “stuck.” We couldn’t exit from the station and we obviously couldn’t go back. So, innocently, we approached one of the “ticket people” and tried to weasel our way out of our predicament. A futile attempt, of course, as we really, for the lack of a better explanation, caught off-handed. We were forced to pay 40 euros each! That is US$63 per person! My travel companion later confided how it was strange that Disneyland was conveniently located right off of a train station. For me, however, it was more suspicious that the only ticket kiosk at the transfer point did not work and that the station did not have any attendants. It almost seemed like a deliberate attempt to confuse travelers. They could hire ten “ticket people” at the end of the journey, but they cannot hire one for that one station? Seemed highly orchestrated, as the so-called “ticket people” were armed and ready with their portable credit card machines. Good for them, they got my US$63.

Weatherwise, my day at Disneyland Paris was the most dreadful of any days that I’ve ever spent at a Disney property. This, however, did nothing to damper the spirit of us spending the day at my favorite amusement park in the world. And by the looks of it, thousand others did not mind the occasional rain and the cold as well. Thanks to Disney, we scored tickets to both Disneyland and Disney Studios. We really didn’t think that we would be able to visit both parks given the immense attractions in both parks. It is recommended that tourists give themselves at least a day at each park to really experience the essence of both parks. Had it not been for our “Fast Pass,” we would have not been able to enjoy both parks.

Enjoy, of course, is the operative word. At Disneyland, we got to watch the opening parade on Main Street, ride “Space Mountain: Mission 2” twice, ride “Big Thunder Mountain,” ride “Indiana Jones and Temple of Peril” twice, then cruised along once with “Pirates of the Caribbean.” All this took about six hours, including lunch. Not bad, but we knew exactly what we wanted to do and what rides to get on.

My expectations for our next stop, Disney Studios, were not particularly high. Having been spoiled by our experience at Disneyland, the purpose of the visit was really to ride “Tower of Terror.” Being a fan of the DisneyWorld version, I thought it would be a great idea to at least experience the Paris version. But, given what I knew of the ride, I wanted to explore other attractions first and save what I thought to be the best ride for last. A quick glance at our map showed that “Rock’n’Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith” and “Moteurs! Action! Spectacular Stunt Show” were two attractions that we thought were worth checking out. And pleasantly surprised I was because I don’t ever recall having more fun being on a thrill ride than I did with “Rock’n’Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.” The less-than-a-minute ride was indeed full of twists and turns to surprise even a jaded journalist. To top it off, we got Aerosmith music blaring through our ears. This ride easily became the favorite ride of the day. We rode it at least three times.

Eight hours in both parks and we called it a day. As usual, Disneyland did not fail to deliver. I, however, would have wanted our ride photos to have a Paris stamp on them. For a frequent Disney visitor like me, a Paris stamp on my photo rides would ultimately distinguish my experience from that of other Disney parks.

We headed back to Paris, exhausted as we were, but relatively free of train ticket horror stories. We had a little time to do some souvenir shopping, so we exited at the Louvre Museum stop and walked around Rue de Rivoli. Dinner was a bit of challenge because it was Sunday and most restaurants were not open. Thankfully, an Italian restaurant by the Marriott Rive Gauche was open.

Day three
For our final day, the plan was to get to the Eiffel Tower early to avoid the crowd. By 8:30 am we were at the Eiffel, but found out that the ticket office was not scheduled to open for another hour. We then decided to walk around were able to get a closer look at Palais de la Decouverte, Place de la Concorde, Palais Bourbon, Hotel des Invalides and other surrounding attractions.

There were already two huge lines by the time we got back to the Eiffel Tower, to think we were only gone for about an hour. We joined one of the queues, and waited a bit more for our turn to buy our tickets, which were 12 euros each (US$19). Standing in line we were treated to an accidental show by a loud Japanese-speaking woman who we assumed was telling her crowd of Japanese tourists about the visit to the Eiffel Tower. Watching her certainly made the wait time to buy our tickets go by a lot faster.

We spent a good two hours at the Eiffel Tower, gawking at Paris in its unobstructed glory. It made me realize that no matter how many times I’ve come to visit, the city almost unfalteringly always manages to make it seem like it’s my first visit. There really is no other place on earth that I visit frequently that gives me this feeling.

After the Eiffel Tower, we decided to walk to our next stop, Arc de Triomphe, which we sprinted because it was really cold that morning. The 20-minute or so walk was more than eventful because there was a lot of “are you sure we are going in the right direction?” kind of interaction going on. Thankfully, we were and got to the Arc relatively mishap-free. After taking a few pictures, we headed down on Avenue Des Champs and walked by a few high-end shops before we decided to make our way to our next destination: The Louvre Museum.

The Louvre Museum is a major tourist attraction in Paris because of an iniquitous piece of painting that everybody wants to see—Leonardo Da Vinci’s the Mona Lisa. Also known as La Gioconda, the 16th-century portrait was painted in oil on a poplar panel during the Italian Renaissance and is hanging on the first floor of the Louvre. Given how vast the art collection is and how crowded the museum was that day, we attempted to ask one of the Louvre attendants where the Mona Lisa was, only to be glared at as if we reeked of stink, and understandably so. Can you imagine working at the Louvre and being asked the very same question hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times a day? Poor guy, right? The reaction from the Louvre attendant alone was worth the 9 euro (US$14.00) entrance fee. As we didn’t really have the luxury of time to be examining all the art pieces, we headed straight towards the Mona Lisa then were off to lunch. On our way to lunch, we stopped by the Pyramide and took some obligatory picture-taking shots. We had originally planned on making a stop at Notre Dame de Paris, but we were too tired and opted to go back to the hotel instead.

To cap the trip, we decided to have our dinner in the Trocadero area, where we first experience the spectacle of the Eiffel Tower. We had chosen Cafe du Trocadero, but we ultimately had to change because we had issues with the restaurant’s small tables, which we thought were perfect for drinking but really not suited for a full-course meal.

Given the vast richness of what Paris has to offer in terms of tourist attractions, did I accomplish what I had set to do? Was I able to get the essence of Paris in three days time? Not even close, a glimpse is all I got. And thankfully so, because Paris is really a destination I want to go back to and not remember what I did the last time I visited, to make me feel as if I have never visited before.

A three-day challenge called Paris
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