I wasn’t sure whether or not to share this post after the horrendous events which unfolded on Friday evening in Paris. I absolutely love Paris and adore its people, who have shown so much courage, passion and strength over the last couple of days and year as a whole. My thoughts truly are with them at this incredibly difficult time.
This little post is about Day 1 of our Italian adventure, which started in Oxford and ended in the wonderful city of Paris. I hope to give you a few tips on booking train tickets, and a few ideas on where to stay and places to check out. After quite a bit of deliberation, Peter and I decided that we didn’t want to catch the Thello overnight train to Venice from Paris, as we weren’t sure on how fresh we’d feel for our first day in Italy and instead, we opted to have an afternoon and evening in the City of Light, before catching the train south. (If any of you have travelled on the overnight Thello, I’d love to know what it was like and any tips!)
As we’d been planning our trip since February this year, we created calendar alerts in our phones reminding us to check the Eurostar and National Rail websites for train tickets. This little bit of planning ahead meant we were able to snap up the cheap tickets and saved ourselves a few pennies, which helped for a little mis-hap later on in the planning process (I’ll get to that in another post!)
To get the best deals on Eurostar, you want to make sure you book your tickets as early as possible. Tickets tend to go on sale 6 months in advance, and if you’re on the ball, you should be able to get a £72 standard class return to Paris. Although, I know that it is now a little bit harder to do this as I think the number of these ‘cheap’ seats vary depending on the day and time of travel. For example, you’ll find it harder to get cheap seats if you travel Friday or Sunday afternoons. Peter and I didn’t have an onward train to catch after arriving into Paris and so it meant that we didn’t have to worry about connections. SNCF and Trenitalia tickets only open 3 months in advance, making it a little harder to plan times.
As you probably know, finding cheap tickets on National Rail (in the UK) isn’t quite as easy, as it all depends on where you are in the country (i.e. who runs the trains) and what time you’re leaving. Unfortunately Peter and I didn’t have all that much choice in terms of tickets but used our Network Railcard discount to get 30% off our offpeak 1-month return.
Filled with so much excitement, Peter and I gobbled down our Madeleine Shaw inspired bircher muesli (a great breakie for a speedy morning), loaded ourselves up with our bags and headed to the station for our 6.15am train to London. I’m a nervous traveller, worrying about the potential for delays and missing our train to Paris… even though I’d made sure we had an hour and a half contingency free time planned in! Peter is the complete opposite, the most relaxed traveller in the world…something I find quite hard at times! But as always, the journey was smooth and we arrived at St Pancras on time.
If, like us, you get to St Pancras International with plenty of time spare before your check-in time, it’s a great station to sit and people watch, or find a warming cuppa and pastry. Peter and I arrived at the station pretty hungry so we stocked up on supplies from M&S, including two of their delicious ‘superfood’ boxes, some bread, ham and a selection of humus. We demolished the salads before 8am but restrained ourselves from delving into the bread!
As easy and relaxed as could be, we boarded our 9.17am train to Paris on time and settled into our seats.
A few weeks before we left, Peter downloaded a couple of handy apps on his phone which have great offline content. These were Trip Advisor and City Maps To Go (download your preferred city map), which I’d thoroughly recommend as we used them just as much as we did the pocket guidebooks which we’d brought with us. These apps are great as they work with aeroplane mode on and therefore they don’t cost you anything (just be sure to switch that mode on and data off). Before we arrived into Paris, Peter was already getting rather hungry so we used the Trip Advisor app to decide where we’d head for lunch, we provisionally chose Au P’tit Grec (which I think means ‘A Little Greek’…I might be awfully wrong though!) because it was highly rated on the app and good budget food (…plus we craved a savoury crepe!).
As we were only staying one-night in Paris, we thought it wouldn’t be worthwhile finding an apartment to rest our heads in and instead opted for a hotel close to Gare de Lyon, where we’d be catching our Milan bound train early the next morning. I decided to have a look on Expedia.com to see if I could find a fairly cheap but well reviewed hotel… I came across Hotel Corail, which was only a 10minute walk from the train station and so would be perfect. It was well-reviewed and only £69 for the both of us – I booked our room 6-months in advance after getting the Eurostar tickets. By booking this early, it also had free cancellation should we change our plans. I opted for this hotel over the ibis as I could be certain that it had a 24hour reception, meaning we could checkout whenever we wanted on the Sunday morning.
We arrived into Gare de Nord around 1pm and decided to head straight to the hotel to take the load off our shoulders. We decided to hop on the Metro to Bastille and walked about 10mins to the hotel. Using my rather awful french, we checked in successfully and squeezed into the tiny little lift to take us up to our 6th floor room.
As is always the delight with a top floor room, we had a wonderful view of the neighbouring roofs. I absolutely adore the rooftops in Paris, there’s something so romantic.. and slightly Bridget Jones-esque (not sure why I think that though).
After a quick unpack and re-application of mascara (the only bit of makeup I really ever bother with), we headed out to find some food via the beautiful Jardin des Plantes. We aimed for the crepe restaurant on Rue Mouffetard, a street which we had enjoyed on a previous visit to the City, and could instantly spot our destination by the long queue of eager patrons outside. We queued patiently, unsure how we’d be able to decided on what crepe to go for… and then the heavens slowly began to open, with a grey cloud moving in our direction. We decided to abandon that idea and opted for a people-watching cafe on a lovely square just up the road. Under the safety of the canopy and warmth of the heaters, we devoured a croque monsieur (mine) and madame (Peter’s) and a very delicious first of many, holiday beer. It’s got to be said, it wasn’t the tastiest meal, but it sure was lovely soaking up the atmosphere of a simply beautiful way of life – having a coffee with friends, laughing, eating and being happy (whilst also being so effortlessly stylish).
After filling ourselves up with some stereotypical french food, we decided to find ourselves a rather stereotypical picnic for our 11hour train journey the next day. Our walk home took us past an organic (‘Bio’ in french) shop which was perfect for us… so we entered. Bonjour! We say to the lady at the till who is serving a local. We pop in our basket some dates, ham, yoghurts, apples, bananas, chocolate biscuits, pain au raisin, water and…. hmm… where’s the bread?! Before having to ponder about the prospect of a picnic without bread, I spot some next to the entrance of the shop and go to select ourselves a nice brown baguette. As I pick up a bag and a pair of tongs to select my choice of bread, the lady at the till says something to me.. something I don’t understand. She doesn’t motion or come over to me… so for some completely unknown reason, I decide to put down the tongs and then…(oh how horrified I am of my actions when I think back to this…)…I pick the bread up with my bare hands!!! UH! I think the lady would have fainted if she’d not been serving someone else! I have no idea what came over me… but alas… I think I need to remind myself of the ‘French Bread Etiquette’ again!
We meandered back to our hotel to have a refreshing shower and to catch a bit of the Rugby World Cup quarter final between Wales and South Africa. As France were playing New Zealand that evening, we decided to head to the Little Temple Bar (on Rue de Princess and which we’d been to 18months before to watch a 6-nations match) and managed to squeeze ourselves in 2-hours before the match kicked off. There was such an amazing vibe within the bar, everyone was buzzing for the game, jostling for the best table.. seat or place to stand. I accidentally ordered two pints for Peter (with my bad french skills) and a half for me… the two pints came in handy as we didn’t leave our little corner of the pub for about 3 hours! Before the match kicked off, the whole bar sang jubilantly and proudly their national anthem, La Marseillaise, at least three times. Aside from actually being at the match, I don’t think there would have been anywhere else I would have wanted to have watched it, it was brilliant. The game wasn’t the greatest, and let’s face it.. the Kiwi’s certainly put on a show, but the french supporters we had the pleasure of spending the evening with, were incredibly gracious towards the All Blacks and quite clearly loved watching them play.
When it hit half time, I was quite literally sweating like I’d been in the gym, so we decided to head off.. also, it was 9pm and about an hour’s walk back home! We ploughed our way through to the front of the pub, from where we’d been watching, we had no idea how busy it had become and how many people were in the street outside… in true french style, there was a rugby street party in full swing, with trumpets, the national anthem being sung and just beautiful, happy faces everywhere. We left with a huge smile, even though we were a little weary and tired! I’d thoroughly recommend visiting this gem of a bar, even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s still a great find with a great choice of beers and bar snacks (ham, bread and cheese… nom nom!).
After a long day, we climbed into bed (separate beds… with separate duvets for optimum sleep!) and looked forward to what was ahead of us the next morning. ….Here we come Venice!
Catch next week’s post to find out what trains we caught, where we stayed in Venice, what we loved and hopefully a few travel tips. Thank you so much for reading this, I know it’s a long one… but I really hope you’ve enjoyed it and I would love to hear your thoughts.