Vancouver to Paris + Sacre Coeur
After a surprisingly good long distance flight with Air Transat we arrived in Paris!!! (Air Transat was simply superior to Air Canada in every way + why didn’t I invest in noise cancelling headphones 5 years ago?? I was able to catch a few quick naps on a flight for the first time ever). I guess because Air Transat was a discount airline we weren’t taxied to the main terminal, and instead we were ushered to Terminal 3 by shuttle bus once we got off the plane. My body was immediately assaulted by a blast of hot and humid Parisian air as we stepped off the air-conditioned cocoon. (Us Canadians do not deal with heat too well… OK fine it’s just me). Terminal 3 of Charles-de-Guille airport was like Tyrion in Game of Thrones (Tiny and ugly, but functional). The mini-terminal was already congested when our shuttle bus arrived and we weren’t allowed off the shuttle for 10 minutes while we slowly baked… or shall I say sous-vided (We were in France afterall haha) in the bus cabin. Baggage delivery was probably amongst the slowest of all the major airports I’ve visited.
Trains headed into the city depart from either Terminal 1 or 2. After a longer than expected walk we arrived in Terminal 2 (the main terminal?) which actually looked like a real international airport. We purchased a 6 day “Paris Museum Pass” for ~70 euros per person from the tourist information kiosk at gate 12. We also purchased RER B tickets from the same kiosk for the train to get into Paris (it was about ~7 euros per person if I remembered correctly). The RER station was easy to get to but then reality struck… the world did not revolve around me and I couldn’t find a word of English in any of the signage (honestly good for the French to stay French). Luckily this time around (unlike when we traveled to China lol) my wife was able to put her semi-fluent French to use. Even with my wife’s French abilities the directions were still not as informative as they should for first-time travelers to France like us. There were multiple platforms and there were minimal indications as to which train we should board. There were monitors with scrolling French words which we assumed were train stations, so we jumped on the next train since our transit station appeared on every monitor (later on we found out we were on the express train). [Tip: In France there are “long” and “short” trains (short meaning fewer cars than usual). If you see the word “court” (meaning short) on the monitor, follow indicators on the platform to position yourself to where the “short train” will stop at.]
The Parisian train/metro system was gigantic and convenient with 15 metro lines + 6 RER lines that serviced the entirety of Paris and beyond. With our RER tickets we were able to transfer to our destination via metro line 8 without additional fare with relative ease. Slightly jetlagged we reached our apartment secured from AirBnB (first time ever) in the 7th arrondissement. The studio-apartment was not much bigger than a hotel room – small in North American standard but probably considered average-sized in a buzzing metropolitan like Paris. The apartment was extremely cozy and we will not hesitate to repeat our stay there upon our next visit. After we settled in we scouted around the neighborhood looking for bakeries (for my wife) and groceries stores. Hilariously enough we found 4 bakeries within a 200 m radius from our apartment and we sampled every one of them in the upcoming week. Determined not to waste our day we hopped onto the metro towards Abbesses for Sacre Coeur after purchasing a package of ten metro tickets called “le carnet” (slight discount compared to buying individual tickets). Parisian trains were not air conditioned and could get quite uncomfortable at times, however compared to New York the stations were very well ventilated (New York… probably the worst subway system I have encountered). [Tip: Doors of French trains do not open automatically upon arrival… one must either pull a lever or press a button (from inside or outside) to open doors.]
The Montmarte area was full of life with artists and street-side cafes similar to the Kitsiloano neighborhood in Vancouver. In order to reach Sacre Coeur which was situated at the top of the hill one must either embark on an easy 3 minute climb via stairs or there was a tram service that would transport tourists up the mini-hill for a small fee (maybe a 30 second tram ride?). There is a reason why Europeans have a longer lifespan/healthier when compared to North Americans in general, they walk everywhere! So unless there are truly some physical disabilities HIKE THOSE STAIRS! I passed a 70 year old local making the short climb, and yet I saw overweight middle-aged tourists pouring out of the tram… WTF.
The view from Sacre Coeur was amazing as it offered a panoramic view of the city. We arrived close to sunset on a beautiful sunny day so there was an amazing golden hue that blanketed the city… What a first day impression! (from the ghetto Paris airport terminal to a golden panoramic view of the city.. what a turnaround!). Having visited many cities considered world class (New York, Hong Kong, London, etc), Paris was strikingly different because the city’s architecture was so historic and well preserved. Instead of being screened by skyscrapers only to have taller skyscrapers lining the horizon, Paris’s cityscape was dominated by 6-7 story buildings that extended vast into the horizon.. LOVED IT! Behind the awe-inspiring cityscape lied Sacre Coeur which was a dominating marble white catholic church. Sacre Coeur, like many famous European churches, was awe-inspiring when we first stepped foot into its interior. Its sculptures, stained glass windows, marble columns and floors, along with its historic significance, made the visit unforgettable (possibily because we simply don’t have the history nor these historic monuments in North America). Unfortunately we were losing our battle with jetlag and we headed to Snooze-ville at the conclusion of our Sacre Coeur visit.
P.S. After our trip I found out from a close friend that you could actually go up to the top of Sacre Coeur for fantastic views of the city… I missed the opportunity but I would encourage readers to explore this place further!