On our last morning in Paris, we decided to return to Laduree for our breakfast, or3dering nearly the same dishes barring the eclair and we even got ourselves their famous macarons. The restaurant though has a weird regulation prohibiting patrons from enjoying the macarons which we bought at the same store prior to being seated for breakfast. I am not sure of the exact reason why it wasn’t allowed but we just stole a bite from the macarons to find out if it is worth buying more of it to takeaway. I do have to say that Laduree’s macarons are amongst the best I have tasted of this sweet delicacy, and I particularly enjoyed the green pistachio flavored one. With tickets ready for the afternoon Eurostar to London, we headed down to Trocadéro by cab for one of the best views to admire the Eiffel Tower from. I got this tip from a Lonely Planet Travel Book and it was really a grand sight from the high vantage point at Trocadéro to view the Eiffel Tower.
Besides providing a nice viewpoint, Trocadéro is also the starting point to explore the Palais de Chaillot which now houses several museums including the Musée National de la Marine or the National Navy Museum, the Musée de l’Homme, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine and the Musée National des Monuments Français. From the Palais de Chaillot, one can also take a nice stroll along the gardens to cross the Pont d’léna into the left bank and experience the Tour Eiffel in close range. With the large number of tourists visiting Paris every year, and the Tour Eiffel being the its number one attraction, it is no wonder that long queues are bound to form at all 4 entry points to the second base of the tower. In all, it took us nearly half an hour to queue up for the elevator that brings us up to the second base. Visitors who are in a rush, should pre-book their entry tickets online and gain access to the faster lane which I would do when I return to Paris again.
From the second base, there was another queue as visitors can just buy tickets only to the second base. This queue was much faster than the one at the ground and after going one round to see Paris from the second tier of the tower, we headed once again into the elevator that brings us to the uppermost observation deck, which consists of 2 storeys, an enclosed lower section and a grilled open-air section. Naturally it was best to take photos from the open-air section as no reflection would appear. Though one has to take care of the windy conditions at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Even after our view of Paris from the Arc du Triomphe, it definitely is a thrill to see Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower as it provided the real bird’s eye view! After all the numerous visitors which queue up just to go up can’t be wrong, for there really is much to experience. Photographers would also get a kick out of the numerous landmarks that they can spot! It is also this view from the top that one can appreciate how neat the city is planned and carefully managed for growth, yet ensure that its charms are still intact. As we were afraid of missing our train that departs from Gare du Nord, we took the elevator back down after spending some time taking photos.
The trip down to the ground did not take as long and we were soon joining the taxi queue to return to the hotel to pick up our luggage which we had deposited earlier on after checking out of the hotel. Initially we wanted to have lunch again at the Asian Brasserie, however the bistro only served Sunday brunch and since we just wanted a quick meal, we passed on that option. Instead, we headed down to Gare du Nord to prepare for ‘check-in’ on our Eurostar train to London. As the name goes, Gare du Nord is located in the north of Paris, and we passed by several sights in the northern part of the city including the Opera once again. Upon arrival, we had to take the escalator up to the second floor and clear immigration as the United Kingdom isn’t one of the Schengen State under the European Union, opting to have a separate immigration clearance for visitors. With our visas and travel documents in order, we were soon through and was able to get some light snacks in the waiting area before boarding out train. In addition to purchasing some snacks, we also cleared our Euro coins to avoid bringing heavy loose change back home. Soon after, the call for boarding was made and we made our way back down to the platform.
Similar to the Eurostar Italia, the train has a small section in each carriage to store our luggage, and they even had a range of magazines and newspapers to choose from for first-class passengers. Seating down at our pre-assigned seats, I found the train to be nearly full, though the first-class seats had lots of space to stretch out and I found it to be more spacious and comfortable than that of the Eurostar Italia. While the Eurostar Italia provided light snacks, this original Eurostar provided a complete meal for passengers in first-class and had champagne to boot making the whole experience feeling like first-class air travel. Passengers were handed out hot towels and menus upon the train departing and there was 2 hot options or a cold meal option during our journey. My initial choice of sauteed pork wasn’t available which left me with the fish option. Served along with the main course are appetizers of organic pasta salad with garden peas and tomatoes and a dessert of lemon meringue tart and a chocolate square. I did enjoy the appetizer and the dessert, though both types of hot option wasn’t that desirable. (My parents got the sauteed pork and I got a small taste of it)
With the meal, the onboard reading selection and the comfortable seating, I would find it hard to consider taking a plane between Paris and London. The fast speed of the journey also felt smooth and the transition between the time we left Calais to head underground before appearing again on Britain felt seamless. Overall I was truly pleased with the Eurostar travel between London and Paris and would gladly take it once again in the first-class cabin.
Taking the Eurostar means one arrives in St. Pancras Train Station at London, and arrival at London also means taking the ubiquitous London Cab to our hotel. Novel as it may be, the London Cab isn’t exactly a supple ride unlike the Mercedes, Peugeot and Citroen cabs in Germany and France. The cost of taking the London Cab from St. Pancras to our hotel in Piccadilly also wasn’t cheap with the ride costing around £20. Our accomodation in London was to be at The Park Lane Hotel managed by Sheraton. Upon arrival at the hotel, I registered for check-in, and initial impressions was that the hotel was of average standard. The service standard, though was slightly better than that of the Prince de Galles which is supposed to be a more premier hotel than Sheraton. The room assigned was suprisingly large and there wasn’t any mention of upgrades, so it might just be the room I reserved. Upon entering the room, however, there wasn’t an extra bed and I had to wait for the bed to made. While the room was spacious and nicely furnished, the fittings seemed old and worn out and would need renovations. We had a room which was slightly inside but had a nice view of the Green Park which is just outside of the hotel. The hotel also had 2 entrances, one pedestrian entrance that leads to Piccadilly and a taxi entrance at the back of the hotel.
Thus after refreshing ourselves up after the train ride, we left the hotel and headed out to Piccadilly for a walk. Unlike the cloudy weather of Paris, blue sunny skies greeted us in London and it was a great day for a walk. The location of this hotel is perfect, being very close to the Old Bond Street for shopping, adjacent to the Green Park and St. James Park. As the time in London is one hour later than that of Mainland Europe, it was still early when we left the hotel, which allowed us a leisurely stroll to St. James Street that leads us to St. James Palace, one of the oldest royal palaces and now houses the complex of residences for Prince Charles and his 2 sons. It was along Pall Mall around the Palace that I also found the Quebec Government Office. From there we took Marlborough Road into the Mall which leads to Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in London. During our time in London, the Mall was decorated on both sides with alternating flags of the United Kingdom as well as France as French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was also in town. It seems we were following the French PM in his journey from Paris to London eh?
We walked along the Mall to reach the Victoria Memorial and took a peek into Buckingham Palace. Perhaps being a Sunday, the Mall was pedestria-only and it was nice to see people cycling and walking around the Victoria Memorial. Buckingham Palace’s location between the Green Park and St. James Park also meant that many locals were out on this beautiful sunday afternoon visiting these 2 parks. Our walk continued on to St. James Park which has a wide variety of animals from squirrels to swans on the lake in the middle of the park. A public toilet can also be found in the park for visitor’s convenience and it is worth crossing the bridge in the middle of the lake for some great vistas of the lake with a view of the London Eye.
Crossing St James Park brought us to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the site where Sir Winston Churchill met his cabinet for discussions on war strategy during World War II. Besides these 2 attractions, there was a small monument commemorating the deaths of tourists due to the terrorist attack on Bali in Indonesia. The serenity of the area on a lazy Sunday afternoon allowed us to reflect on the wounds terrorist attacks and war brings to fellow human beings and wonder at whatever happens to logic and sense in this world that we inhabit. Another interesting building I noted was the Institution of Mechanical Engineers building at the end of Horse Guards Road. Heading left from Horse Guards Road eventually brought us to Bridge Street from where we got to admire another London landmark, the Big Ben. Nearby, there was also the Westminster Underground Tube Station where we got our Oyster Card for public transport within London. Working similarly to the ez-link card in Singapore and the Octopus card in Hong Kong, the Oyster card had an additional feature whereby it caps the cost of public transport each day to the cost of a day pass. This meant it ensured passengers got the a fair deal every time they travelled on public transport.
After getting our Oyster Card, we bought some crepes for a light afternoon snack along with a cup of honey roasted peanuts which snack vendors sell around the Westminster Bridge. The crepe was large enough to share between the 3 of us and so was the peanuts which I found too sweet for my liking. Thus we ended up crossing the Westminster Bridge while munching on snacks and taking photos since we managed to get a wonderful perspective of the Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster which is where the Parliament consisting of the House of Lords and House of Commons of United Kingdom convened. Our eventual destination at the other end of Westminster Bridge is the County Hall which housed the London Aquarium and the ticket booth for admission to the London Eye, Madame Tussaud’s and the Thames River Cruise amongst several other attractions. We purchased a package deal for a ride on the London Eye as well as the Thames River Cruise. However, as the last river cruise have departed, we were reserved on the cruise departing tomorrow evening at 7.30pm. We chose to board the London Eye on its last hour of admission as it allowed us time to freshen up in the public washroom within the County Hall and explore the area for a bit. Another reason was to wait for the sunset phase to capture some of the best images of London.
As expected, the London Eye provided amazing views over London and the great weather made the views even more breathtaking. Some of the spectacular sights was that of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, Waterloo Station, and the numerous bridges spanning the width of the Thames. It was definitely a nice ride that provided an excellent overview of the City of London and City of Westminster which both make up the London metropolitan area. On top of that, it is also a great place to take photos with London’s famous landmarks like the Big Ben. The whole ride lasted around an hour before we disembarked and headed to the County Hall for dinner at a Zen China Restaurant. It was a nicely decorated place and had wonderful Chinese cuisine at reasonable prices. We ordered several dishes to share and my parents had a delightful appetite that we had an additional order of rice.
By the time our dinner ended nightfall has come over London, and I got to capture a well lit Palace of Westminster against the dark blue sky. Besides that building though, the Thames doesn’t have much other landmarks that are lit up and has no sundown river cruise unlike the Seine in Paris. In fact the area around County Hall has become quite desolated. We decided to try out our Oyster Card which we bought earlier and took a bus from a stop beside the County Hall towards Aldwych which is part of London’s West End famous for its theatres. We walked through some of the theatres and found some street performance with crowds still mingling in cafes around the area before ending up at The Strand. From the Strand, we took another bus back towards Piccadilly, on the way passing by Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. The ride back to Piccadilly was fast and we were able to alight fairly close to our hotel for our first night in London.