Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Thursday, February 02, 2006

One Day in Paris

John Field visits Disneyland Paris

IN LATE October last year, four of us – two adults and two children – visited Disneyland Paris. A ninety-minute flight took us from Aldergrove to Charles de Gaulle airport on the North East outskirts of Paris. A further 45-minute coach journey took us from the airport to our final destination – the three star My Travel’s Explorers Hotel.

On the first full day of our holiday we decided to visit the main Disneyland Park. Getting from the Explorers Hotel to the Park couldn’t be easier as a free shuttle bus took us from our hotel direct and the average journey time was only ten minutes. We found Disneyland Park absolutely amazing. We had just never come across anything like this before - there’s almost too much to see and do.

Later in the evening we visited the Disney Village. This is a vast area situated in the heart of the Disney resort. It’s full of shops, themed restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a multiscreen cinema. Like all of Disney, there was a fantastic family atmosphere. Wearily, we returned to hotel. Our first day had just flown in.

For our second full day at the resort we’d planned an early morning swim and then a visit to Paris itself. (Perhaps the most dominant feature of the Explorers hotel is its swimming pool. It’s certainly the liveliest and noisiest feature! On the first full day of our stay at Disney we were woken early by excited children charging down towards the swimming pool. Whilst booking on-line, we’d seen that the hotel had a pool and had come prepared).

For our pre-breakfast swim we got up just prior to eight and wandered down to the pool. We were half-expecting to join a long queue of children but to our surprise we were among the first there. (Many children were at the previous late-night Halloween festivities and were presumably sleeping-in). However the pool did fill up quickly later on so our advice would be to get in early.

We were slightly disappointed with the pool. Somehow we had visions of it being at the temperature of a hot tub, but it was much cooler than we’d been expecting. However we soon acclimatised and had a great time in the pool (which features a large and small slide and a separate pool for toddlers). The slides in particular proved to be very popular.
After about 30 minutes we left the pool. (We’d planned to travel to Paris this day to see the sights and still needed to get our breakfast). We were disappointed in that half of the showers weren’t working – but luckily we were coming out whilst most people were coming in. We also thought that a few mirrors in the changing rooms wouldn’t have gone amiss.

After our customary huge continental breakfast we took the free shuttle bus from the Explorers Hotel to the main Disney Park. Just beside this is the main train station of Marne-la-Vallée / Chessy. Here we were able to get tickets that not only got us by overland train to Paris but also on the Paris Metro (underground) system itself.

The station at Chessy was bright and airy. All signs and brochures were in both French and English. The staff spoke good English as well. The timetables were printed using 24-hour clock so there were no problems. We boarded our train and were immediately taken aback – as it had an upper and lower deck! We’d never seen this before but for our outward journey chose to sit on the lower deck. The train was reasonably clean and comfortable so we sat back to enjoy the sights as we travelled into Paris. The journey took us about 40 minutes.

We had to change from mainline train to Metro but again there were no problems. We went to an information section and again the staff spoke very good English. They gave us a Metro map and advised us on the best way to get to the main tourist spot on our agenda – the Eiffel Tower. Being very familiar with the London Underground we found the Metro very easy to use.
We soon arrived at the Eiffel Tower – and boy what a sight! One of our groups had visited the tower and had said that it is much bigger and higher than it appears in pictures. However we just weren’t prepared for this. It’s an absolutely staggering piece of engineering.

Although the queues for the Tower were very long, we found that they were moving at a reasonable pace. At first glance we thought that we’d be stuck in the queue for at least a couple of hours. However, after about 20 – 30 minutes we were at the front of the queue. The crowd queuing seemed to be from all over the place – we spent much of our time trying to fathom out different languages and accents! Those queuing were also very good-natured. Perhaps it was the sounds of the traditional French accordion player who put everyone at their ease.

Unfortunately by the time we’d reached the front of the queue only the two lower levels of the Eiffel Tower were open. The third – and highest – level is always the most popular. It’s also the smallest and has a limit on the number of people allowed at any one time. Giant electronic signs – in four or five languages – had already informed us that the top was closed, so we just opted to visit the first and second levels.

After a brief security check we walked into one of the four massive entrances situated at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Here we queued for a lift to take us to the first level. Whilst the first level doesn’t look too far up, it’s a different story once you’re up there! The views were fantastic – and we could only imagine what they were like from the very top.

There was plenty of room to take a leisurely walk around all sides of the tower and admire the views. Wall mounted plaques indicated the buildings and areas that you could view. Even with our basic knowledge of Paris, we could immediately see the River Seine, the Tocadero, Arc de Triomphe and the Sacré-Coeur.

We were amazed to find that the first floor included a restaurant, post office, cinema and souvenir shop. The smell of fresh coffee and food – particularly French pastries – reminded us that we’d brought a packed lunch with us. We went outside to find a place to sit and enjoy our lunch, but all the seats on the sunny side of the Tower were taken. It seemed that every family group had the same idea as us! (If you are thinking of taking a packed lunch, remember to wrap up well. The first floor is about 95 meters above sea level, so even on its sunny side the Eiffel Tower can be a bit chilly. You can imagine what its like tucking into a few salad baps on the cooler side of the Tower!)

After lunch we took the lift up to the second floor. This is 125 meters above the ground and offers an uninterrupted 360° view over Paris. This is the perfect place to make a photographic study of the city. We thought the first floor was breathtaking but this was something else! Whilst on the second floor make sure you view the animated window scenes. They relate the history of Eiffel Tower's construction, and explain the, operation of the old hydraulic elevator that ran to the top until 1983, as well as the lifts now used. Its absolutely fascinating stuff – and it makes you appreciate how much of a technical genius Gustave Eiffel was.

As we’d taken the lifts up to the first and second floors, we decided to take the stairs going down. Big mistake! We’d heard somewhere that using the stairs was an unforgettable experience – and to a degree this was correct. It was unforgettable in that our feet were aching for the rest of the day! There seemed to be thousands of steps and it took forever and a day to get down from the second to the first floor. Luckily we were going down – you should have seen the sight of some of those coming up! We’re still wondering if all of them made it! Unless you’re super fit, our advice would be to take the lift at all times.

After a few hours at the Eiffel Tower we decided to move on. We were particularly interested in seeing some of the other sights that Paris had to offer. To do this we would highly recommend a tour of the River Seine by Batobus. Here several modern tour boats travel up and down the river. A simple ticket allows you unlimited travel and you can hop on and off at any of eight stops. This is a fantastic way of viewing Paris.

We travelled to Notre Dame, but didn’t get into the Cathedral because the queue seemed to be a mile long. Nevertheless, we had a good wander around the area, looking at all the shops, restaurants and souvenirs. There was also a fantastic riverside market selling books, posters and postcards.

After a thoroughly exhausting – but highly enjoyable – day in central Paris we headed back to Disneyland Paris. However we were so enthralled by our day trip, that we resolved to make Paris itself a holiday destination in the not too distant future.
For information on the Eiffel Tower check out their web-site at: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/

For information on Batobus tours check out:http://www.allofrance.co.uk/city-break/paris-tickets/seine-cruise/batobus-ticket.asp

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