…but Alas! Not in eight dollars. It will cost a ‘little’ more that that.
London and Paris are undoubtedly two of the world’s most sought after cities. Although every city demands a stay of two to four weeks for one to absorb the texture of its actual lifestyle, but to live in these two deep-rooted cities in the short span of eight days is a challenging and inspiring task. What I am going to discuss here is not what places to visit and what to see- there are thousand and one sources for knowing about these so extensively covered cities. What I am going to discuss is ‘how to structure your trip’! The truth is that one can never live in a city completely, because cities are so dynamic and cross woven. So the ‘key’ is to try and experience the soul of a city, even if you cannot see every famous building and place. And here is how it can be used to disarm the big locks on the hearts of London and Paris in eight short days (and of course nights between them).
A vacation should always bring about changes in your context, mood and speed during its duration. The more extensive and clear these changes become, the more memorable your vacation. So I chose to reach London first on a September afternoon. September is a nice time of the year in London when the days are of sufficient length; the winters have not yet set in completely, so you get the sunshine as well as the coolness so characteristic of London. After a brief relaxation to shrug off the fatigue of a long flight, I took to the London streets for a long slow walk and my first glimpse of the city. The first beautiful thing you notice is the cool breeze which usually flows all day and night. The second would be the somewhat narrow but sufficiently wide streets with not so tall pitched roof row houses on the sides. And then as you walk further, you may forget to count, as I did! Walking through the streets of central London, I realised how lucky I was to stay in the central London itself. Zones 1 or 2 are ideal for a vacation stay, ensuring that most of the city is easily accessible. I decided to keep my first afternoon and evening low on action to absorb my first experience of a multi layered city that has grown through centuries; walking to Piccadilly Circus, spending some time at the National gallery and Trafalgar Square, the Leicester Square and finally having a great meal at one of the many nice restaurants at the Covent Garden. And I felt London starting to get to me.
Keep the second day for the famous open bus tour of London, especially if you do not have many days to explore it at your leisurely pace. They show you around most of the old city’s landmarks and buildings and palaces, topped up with an evening cruise at the Thames River, which is part of the deal. It is helpful because you get an orientation of the city and start to recognise part and places during your later trails through the city. You can also book through the tour organisers, entrance tickets for various famous landmarks to save yourself time and effort to stand in queues at each one of them. The London Underground metro system is the most efficient way of travelling in the city and daily or weekly passes can be bought to make it economical as well. This holds good for Paris as well.
Having a somewhat action packed second day, may I suggest for the third day that you take a long drive through the country side- optionally towards the Stonehenge or to one of the old castles not too far away. As you move towards the outer city, you will see large old breweries of the characteristic scotch whiskies, and further on, the endless sprawling greens of undulating land form, very true to London’s landscape. Don’t hesitate to stop at one of the highway joints next to the petrol pumps to catch a leisurely bite sitting in the sunshine by the garden. Stonehenge as the end of the journey is good, but one wonders how much more wonderful it could, be if we could touch the stones and feel their cool and healing shadows. Anyhow, you would only be back in city by the afternoon, when I suggest you take a snack meal on your way to Madame Tussaud’s and then a ticket to one of the good theatres at Leicester square for a refreshing play. A disco or pub is an equally interesting option for the high paced and to experience the night life of London. A small walk in the Hyde Park could be one way to conclude the day.
Take the third and fourth day as sum up, visiting the specific places that have intrigued you during your visit or your pre-thought destinations like I had a couple of buildings for my architectural reasons. However, do make sure to see the city of London through the London Eye in a thirty minute circle, the experience of which shall stay for much longer. I keep it for the last day for the reason that when you see the expanse of London from that height, you would associate better with everything that you see around. It gives great joy to see how much you have been able to grasp of London.
I travelled the next day to Paris through the Eurostar- a high speed train service through the Channel Tunnel between London and few cities in Europe inclusive of Paris. Its station is at the old and famous King Cross St. Pancras. Eurostar is not only comfortable and quick (takes only about 2 hrs 20 min from London to Paris!!), but if you like talking to people and book one of the facing seats, the journey becomes enjoyable as well. Moreover you do not have to waste as much time before the actual journey, as you would have to in case of checking in for an international flight. So considering all this I found it pretty efficient and economical costing about 80 GBP (you can steal a better deal if you book well in advance).
If you choose a 6:00 AM Eurostar, by 8:30 you will be at the Gare Du Nord station of Paris. The station is towards the north east of the city, but it would be better to book a hotel towards the centre, on the north bank of the river Siene (I stayed in Montparnasse, further south and wished I had decided otherwise). As you take your first move in the city, you would realise the contrary to the expected, people do not converse in English, not only because it’s not their native language, but also because they don’t like to. It may cause some occasional difficulty, but it is manageable. Moving on, drop your stuff at the hotel, refresh yourself, have some breakfast, and then as the formula goes. Take to the streets!