May 09, 2011

Bonjour Paris

London, 2010 - We were on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy, and after spending several days in London we were about to embark on the first leg of our journey by rail.

Eurostar Train, St. Pancras Station, London

A bus transferred us to St. Pancras International Station where we would board the high-speed Eurostar train to Paris. The station is a pleasing mix of old world Victorian charm and modern efficiency. Twenty minutes of our journey would be spent in the Chunnel, the 50-kilometer tunnel under the English Channel that first opened in 1994.

After passing through security, we had a brief wait before our train arrived and we scrambled to find our car, stow our luggage, and claim our assigned seats. We were given an opportunity to purchase a lunch before boarding, but I preferred to visit the train's buffet car which offered both hot and cold selections. I enjoyed a tasty ham and cheese melt in the comfort of my seat, rather than trying to stand in the swaying buffet car.

Arrivals Board, Gard du Nord, Paris

We arrived in Paris' Gard du Nord station and transferred to our hotel, the Novotel Tour Eiffel. We had a few hours to explore the neighbourhood before we joined the evening's optional excursion, a Seine River cruise followed by a tour of the city (32 euros). The highlight of the afternoon for me was the heavenly pain au chocolat that I purchased at the local patisserie. This tasty pastry would become a regular part of my breakfasts while on tour.

Notre Dame at Sunset, Paris

Dusk was beginning to fall as we cruised the waters of the Seine, under the many bridges of Paris, past famous landmarks such as the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Pont Alexandre III, Paris

The city tour made a stop at Place Vendome and the Ritz Hotel, where Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi al Fayed dined the evening of their fatal car crash in 1997. We also drove through the Pont de l'Alma Tunnel, where the tragic accident took place. The nearby Flame of Liberty has since become an unofficial memorial to Diana. 

Place Vendome, Paris

At our next stop, we walked through the underground tunnel beneath Place Charles de Gaulle to the base of the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

From here, the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating the dead from the two world wars, looks down the Champs Elysees towards the Louvre.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Our tour director had promised us a surprise later in the evening, which turned out to be a special viewing of the Eiffel Tower to witness the sparkle lights that appeared each night at 10:00 p.m.

Eiffel Tower from Place du Trocadero

It was very cold, and there was little shelter from the wind as we waited high up on the Place du Trocadero across the River Seine. But that didn't keep away the bus loads of tourists, or the vendors hawking miniature replicas. And the twinkling tower was a magical end to our evening.

The next day we would join our group for the included morning sightseeing tour and ascent of the Eiffel Tower. Then we were off on our own to explore the Right Bank of Paris.

Next:  Paris - Right Bank

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