If you’re not staying near the airport (departure or arrival), the Eurostar is by far the most convenient way to get to Paris from London. Even though flights are short, the time and hassle with airport transfer eats into the total travel time …and your sanity. Since we stayed mere blocks from St. Pancras Station in London and like wise for the Grand Hotel de Paris (review here) from Gare du Nord, it was a short walk to and from both Eurostar stops. We’re not overly big history buffs so we budgeted 1.5 days in Paris for a highlights tour. Too tight a schedule for sight seeing AND shopping? Challenge accepted!
Travel tip: Purchase your Eurostar tickets well in advance, the closer to the departure date, the more expensive they become – if they’re available. Also note tickets take into account peak periods so there are different prices for different times of different days. Adjusting your trip dates to coincide with particular days can save you considerably. Eurostar also occasionally has sales, so keep an eye out for even more savings.
Rolling into Paris through a spaghetti maze of rail tracks and overhead lines I couldn’t help but to think of the Star Guitar video from the Chemical Brothers, cue loop. Heading from west to east we lost an hour with the time difference but the journey was surprisingly short and ride was bearable. We left London with the temps in the mid teens so it was a bit of a shock to arrive a few hours later to a muggy 27C.
Street signage is hit and miss and the once welcoming clearly visible landmarkers of “Underground” for the London Tube were completely non existent for Paris’ metro system. Some entry points were notable by their antique green garden fence styling but were difficult to spot amongst other bits of architecture of similar vintage. The ones that did have more visible signage was sadly only visible from front on so if you were a block or so away it was pretty tough to scan ahead to see if you’re at least heading in the right direction, b-bomm.
So it’s the city of lights, love and history… well it has lights, there’s things you’ll love and there’s plenty of history but if the only knowledge you have of Paris is from Meg Ryan spawned movies and stories from travel brochures, you will more than likely be sadly disappointed. Paris is like any other big first world city, its dirty, noisy, congested and polluted. Even in the short walk of a few blocks from the train station we encountered more shady ethnic types than last year in the Bronx or Brooklyn in NYC! But don’t let this discourage you, the history is certainly there with an abundance of sights to see and with the short stay we had, we had our work cut out for us.
Waiting to depart San Fran at SFO airport, there was about a 40min delay. Why? To film some kind of ad/porno for the Lufthansa A380 we were about to board. It featured a burly silver foxed pilot clad in obligatory leather jacket and aviators disembarking to a waiting Harley then riding to meet a lady friend. Pin point accuracy for realism I’d say. While it was interesting to watch a couple takes, why they couldn’t choose another time/flight (one that wasn’t about to board) I have no idea, but like any A380 the wait was more than worth it with lushness abound on a 3 week old model, still had the new plane smell 😉 And off we set…
It’s a running joke and a long time cliché about its miserable weather but its really hard to deny it when you’re flying into Heathrow through sheets of wispy drizzle and grey haze, once again, London DID disappoint.
It had been about 5 years since I last set foot on the convict exporter’s soil but it all came rushing back as soon as I purchased an Oyster card (essential for public transport and small purchases at selected stores) and made a bee line for the Tube. First timers may choose to take the express from the airport into Paddington then transfer, but for a fraction of the price (at the expense of crowdedness depending on the time you travel) you can just as easily take the Piccadilly line straight into the city. As we were staying at Bloomsbury, we saved ourselves some Tube tunnel running with all our luggage and stayed on till Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station, strategically pre-empting a quick jump off for the next leg to Paris 😉
The Wardonia hotel (full review here) is only a short walk from the station but having come out the wrong subway entrance with pouring rain we missed the street sign scurrying for cover and subsequently took the scenic route.
Travel tip: Apart from major centers, very few streets are sign posted. Street names are usually on small plaques posted high on the traffic flow side of buildings, so if you’re walking against traffic you will have to look backwards.
With the luggage dropped off, we had just enough time to pop into SOHO for a quick look. It was still early in the evening, yet we were disappointed at how many of the shops were closed or closing, strange for London we thought, however it wasn’t till the following morning when we were “discussing” with the Macca’s chick why we couldn’t get breakfast at 10.32am… turns out it was 11.32am thanks to daylight saving time…oops.
Travel tip: Always check your destination to see if they’re in DST. Better yet, confirm local time at the airport as you try to get through immigration, if your pilot, like ours doesn’t do his courtesy spiel on arrival.
Even though most of the shops that were on our list had to be checked out another day, we still managed a look in at Niketown, Johnny Cupcakes London and JD Sports. Niketown is London’s flagship store with the usual run of latest and greatest but with a different continent comes different stock and region specific releases. A “Nike – London” tee over a cliché Union Jack one was an easy choice 😉 This store is also home to different Nike exhibits, last time I was there they had a history of Air bag technology and the different shoe models it appeared in, very cool. This time on the back of the Football season they had a little skirmish of 3 on 3 inside a small “field” complete with goal nets, definitely added to the experience, almost made me want to pull my shirt over my face and do aeroplanes.
Just down the street is JD Sports, direct competitor to Footlocker and most of the times beats them in range and quantity of stock especially in clothing. Sneakers are on par but they both do slight variations on one another, though JD still has plenty of “JD exclusive” tags and ample sale/clearance racks.
Johnny Cupcakes‘ London store conveniently opened a few months before we arrived so it was high on the must-see list. The small store is nestled with the many other cool boutique stores in Carnaby, a short walk down from Oxford Circus. Following the limited edition trend of the JC range, there were plenty of London exclusives with one drawback… limited sizes ): Thankfully my ADD took over and I soon forgot about the disappointment when their Rube Goldberg style machine kicked into action 😀 The prices are almost identical to USD however thanks to it being it BP it works out to be quite alot more expensive (about 60%!), but when you see a shirt with a double-decker bus topped with frosting, its hard to say no!
There is also plenty of eating spots in this area, so it didn’t take long to pop into an Asian quick serve spot for some dumpling soup.
Early to bed, early to rise for a big day of sight seeing planned with the central London landmarks and the world renowned Chelsea Flower show up next.
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus