So here we were, after almost two weeks traveling across Europe, myself and Steph had arrived at the final stop on our Interrail journey. Last but not least, it was three nights in Paris.
The stay in Belgium had been pretty hard in comparison to the Netherlands and Germany. This combined with moving the luggage around the Paris Metro, which is for reference possibly the least suitcase friendly underground in Europe. Perhaps a bit of a hyperbole, but I didn’t feel like it at the time. One thing positive which can be said about the Metro is that it’s fairly cheap. 14 Euros for 10 journeys was ideal for the time we were there, even if it was dispensed in 10 tiny paper tickets making it a handful.
We found a relaxed looking burger place for dinner not too far from our hotel which allowed us to discuss how we were going to spend two full days in the French capital. It was our first time in the city and it became a strategic plan to fit in the places we wanted to visit. The challenge was accepted.
Day one would see us venture to the Louvre art museum. It doesn’t need a great deal of introduction; the building is noticeable for miles around thanks to the impressive glass pyramid in the centre of the square. I had known about the pyramid, but what I discovered upon arrival was that this is, in fact, the entrance. The escalators take you down to an open space which lies directly under the pyramid. An even bigger surprise for both of us was that people from EU countries under the age of 25 can enter the museum for free. Something of note then, if you’re aiming to visit the Louvre you might want to head over the channel sooner rather than later to avoid any Brexit disappointment.
You’d need several days to explore the museum in detail; unfortunately, we only had a matter of hours. The museum is split into three wings, with collections of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from apparently any time period in the history of humanity. It’s important you pick up a map even if it just helps to narrow down exactly what you want to see. My personal favorites were the Greek and Egyptian exhibits, displaying the power of two of the greatest regimes in history. I only wish there was more time in the day to have seen more of the famous museum.
Of course, a trip to the Louvre wouldn’t be complete without passing by possibly the most famous painting in the world. The Mona Lisa sits proudly in the middle of an expansive room, surrounded by many other works which will unavoidably be overlooked. We could have stayed in there for so much longer. Unfortunately, closing time came around quicker than expected. The Louvre is a museum that very much lives up to the hype, it's in the heart of Paris and quite frankly it’s a must-see; not just for the obvious piece of work.
Our final full day of the Interrail trip was spent traversing the Metro across the city to three of the most iconic structures in the world. On what was a bitterly cold day, the first stop was a surprisingly snowy Notre Dame Cathedral. We headed straight inside with the hope of escaping the biting winter wind; this was successful but it felt no warmer. I felt as though it was a rather modest interior considering the magnitude of the exterior. It was lit up about as much as it would have been half a millennium ago, only candles illuminated the vast halls and walkways. A trip to the crypts is also recommended, 5 euros for students and the chance to walk through hundreds of years of Parisian history and ruins of the Roman structures which stood before the cathedral.
Even after almost two hours within the cathedral, the weather had not let up and it was still snowing. For a time it was quite a special sight, but eventually it got just a bit frustrating. Fortunately, we were back underground and headed towards the Arc de Triompe. The pictures of this incredible monument don’t do it justice. The metro stop brings you out pretty much directly underneath the Arc and its location on a roundabout gives it a surreal vibe. The Arc is a fitting tribute to those who died for France in the Napoleonic Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the Great War, with the tomb of the Unknown Soldier lying in pride of place. Another point of note is the phenomenal view of the Champs-Elysees. It feels as though you can see for absolutely miles and that was without even going up to the top of the structure.
The sun was starting to set on Paris and the Interrailing journey. Last, and certainly not least, we were at the base of the Eifel Tower. It is surely one of the most recognised structures in the world. Just to be stood underneath it is overwhelming, but we were heading all the way to the top.
You head up the tower in two stages, firstly up in a large lift to the midway point of level 2 which has an already breathtaking view of Paris as well as a cafe and toilets, the latter two both very unique in their own way. The next stage is a much smaller lift which feels as though it shoots up the centre of the tower with much more pace. I've always been ok when it comes to heights, but the way we seemed to burst back into the sunlight after boarding the lift in darkness was just a bit nauseating. But at least I’d have plenty of fresh air soon, right?
The top of the tower is smaller than you might expect, and the wind would pierce the thickest of coats, yet the view of sun-kissed Paris came close to being the best thing I’ve ever seen. The full panoramic walk was bracing, to say the least, but it was easily the best way we could have ended our two weeks of travelling. All of the major sights of the city were visible thanks to the beautiful weather. Of course, I took plenty of pictures but I highly recommend making the trip up yourself. It's not something you’ll forget in a hurry.
So there you have it. Two weeks after leaving Stuttgart, four countries and six cities later we were one day away from a return to England. Interrailing is by far one of the best trips I’ve ever been on and I hope the chance to set off again is not too far in the future. It also felt as though my time on placement had finally come to an end, despite finishing studying several weeks earlier.
Interrailing had provided the opportunity to meet up with old friends and catch up with new ones, to see new places and best of all, to visit my now favourite city for the second time. (I’ll give you a massive clue, it was the German capital).