Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 2: Paris, Disneyland

Map of trip to France
27.7: Munich -> Strasbourg
28.7: Strasbourg -> Verdun -> Reims -> Paris
29.7: Paris
30.7: Paris
31.7: Paris
1.8: Paris -> Disneyland -> Paris
2.8: Paris
3.8: Paris -> Chambord castle -> Blois -> Tours
4.8: Tours -> Villandry castle -> Azay Le Rideau -> Tours
5.8: Tours -> Azay Le Rideau -> Chenonceau castle -> Tours
6.8: Tours -> Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
7.8: Tours -> Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
8.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
9.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> St Gilles Croix de Vie -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
10.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
11.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> Lyon
12.8: Lyon
13.8: Lyon -> Geneva

30.7: Paris
Hotel Etap. Today I discover that the 4 Euro card of the hotel Etap is valid only for 15 minutes of Internet, while the card for one hour costs 12 Euro. That is very expensive for one hour of Internet access!
Weather: warm, sunny, blue sky mixed with clouds and thin clouds layers. It gets quite hot in the metro (which has no A/C) and overall it's hot, almost too hot to walk around.

It's almost 10am when we get up and we only manage to leave the hotel at 12pm. For some reason or another with two small children it is impossible to start the day early, especially not if the day before finished late. In the evening I agree with Shirley that tomorrow I'll leave the hotel early in the morning alone for some sightseeing while Shirley will take it easy with the children and do some shopping in the nearby shopping complex (Carrefour). We'll meet again at 2pm in the hotel and then will go together to Paris for some sightseeing. This way I'll be able to quickly visit a few places without dragging around the entire family.

In any case, we walk towards the metro station. Along the way, we briefly stop at a grocery store where we buy some food and drinks. We catch the 12:20pm M1 train to La Defense, arriving there at 1pm. Quite a long trip, because La Defense is at the other end of Paris.

La Defense is an area of modern buildings, interesting for its architecture. There is the huge arch and the office complexes around it. Personally I find the entire area very photogenic. Nothing wrong with old buildings, but modern buildings can be very refreshing.

After spending some time exploring the area and taking some photos, at 12:40pm we enter the shopping complex area. This is a huge interconnected, air-conditioned shopping mall, where it is easily possible to spend hours. In fact we spend almost three hours walking around the mall and shopping and only leave because I get tired of so much shopping.

At 2 something pm we have a lunch in a Chinese restaurant where you can choose different dishes and pay each dish by the weight. Very good value for Paris and good and tasty food.

In the mall I go to several mobile phone outlets and ask about a prepaid GSM telephone card which allows Internet access. Should exist based on what I read in the Internet. But according to all people I speak to no such thing is available. Only post-paid, i.e. I would have to set up a contract with a monthly fee. There is also no Internet cafe in the entire mall, although I'm told that in the McDonald restaurant there is free WLAN access.

At 4:30pm we finally leave the mall and take the metro to Montmartre. At 5:25pm we arrive in the Abbesses station and start walking towards the cable train to the Sacre Coeur church. We make a couple of stops along the way in some souvenir shops before taking the cable train (funicolaire).

All of us are actually quite tired, as it's hot and we are not used to walking so much. I'm especially tired as I have been carrying the whole day the heavy baby stroller with the baby and all the other stuff
inside up and down the staircases (very, very few metro station in Paris have elevators or escalators - in fact the public transportation system in Paris is old and decrepit).

It's 6pm when we finally are at the Sacre Coeur church (we lost some time queueing up at the funicolaire). Very, very scenic and photogenic church. We spend one hour at the church, then start walking down the hill (Sacre Coeur is on top of a hill overlooking Paris - nice panoramic views of Paris). The area around Sacre Coeur is full of souvenir shops.

By the way, everywhere in Paris there are fun fairs/amusement parks for children. Alissia constantly insists that she wants to go here and there and tickets are not exactly cheap.

At 7pm we start walking back to the hotel. We fetch the metro at the Anverse station and arrive in St Blande station near the hotel around 8pm. Then we have a dinner in (just for a change) a Chinese restaurant. I think I'll avoid Chinese restaurants for a couple of days - today I had lunch and dinner in Chinese restaurants.

Once in the hotel, I briefly use my mobile phone to connect the computer to the Internet. I need to check my emails because I have been offline for already two days now. You shouldn't do that with a mobile phone roaming in another country, because it is very expensive, but I have no choice.

31.7: Paris
Hotel Etap. It turns out that not all rooms in the hotel Etap are of the same size. Some rooms are bigger, while others (as ours) are smaller. All for the same price. The hotel room in the evening is hot like a sauna. The A/C is by far too weak.
Weather: overcast in the morning, the sky opens up around noon until the early afternoon, then closes up again around 5pm. Very hot. It rains a little bit in the evening.

I wake up shortly after 8am, get ready and leave the hotel at 9:30am. Shirley is relaxing this morning and will later go out and walk to the shopping complex near the hotel. We'll meet at 2pm in the hotel.

The first place I'll visit this morning is the St Alexandre Nevski Russian orthodox church. While on the way there I make a stop at Place de l'Etoile and take some photos of the Arc de Triomphe at 10:20am. Then I take the metro to Courcelles. Actually as I later find out I could have walked from Place de l'Etoile, as the distance is very short.

In any case I'm at the Russian orthodox church at 10:48am. What a disappointment. I was expecting something colourful and beautiful like the St. Mary Magdalene Russian Orthodox church in Warsaw but what they built in Paris is small and unimpressive. Inside a funeral is taking place, so it is not even possible to visit the interior.

After a couple of minutes at this church, I walk back to Place de l'Etoile where I take the metro to Clemenceau. The idea is to visit the Alexandre III bridge by daytime and cross over to the Invalides. I arrive there at 11:15am. Unfortunately the sky is still overcast making it impossible to take nice photos. I decide to wait some time (as the sky could open up) and sit down on a bench.

While there I ponder how to continue the trip across France. The weather is actually good enough to visit Normandie and Bretagne. I would have skipped these if the weather was bad, but considering that the summer seems to have arrived it makes sense to go there, since the south of France will likely be too hot. We don't have a hotel booking for Normandie, but I'm guessing that it should not be a problem to find accomodation since we are flexible for what concerns the location. I guess it will suffice to look for a room early in the day. We could also book some rooms through the Internet, but I haven't found an Internet cafe so far. If there are Internet cafes in Paris, they are few and well hidden.

At 11:50am the sky is still overcast and I decide to simply go back to the hotel. On the way back I stop briefly at Bastille to take a photo of the new opera. At 12:45pm I'm back in the hotel room. I take the second shower of the day, as I'm completely covered with sweat. In the meantime it is very hot outside. Shortly after 1pm I walk out again and look for the laundry which the hotel desk mentioned yesterday. Despite walking around for 20 minutes in the indicated area, I can't find it.

I get back to the hotel at 1:25pm and there meet Shirley. She has just returned from the shopping mall and is tired. I spend some time in the room and then, at 2:15pm walk out of the hotel with Alissia. We head towards the shopping mall, because the hotel desk told me there is a laundry near the mall. Despite walking and looking around for a while I can't find any laundry in the area around the mall. But I manage to find an Internet cafe, where I stop for half an hour to process my emails.

Then Alissia and I go to the mall. There I buy something for Alissia and two T-shirts for me. I'm running out of fresh T-shirts at the rate of almost one per day. Shirley by the way has the same problem - she is also running out of fresh stuff to wear. We didn't expect to consume fresh shirts at such a rate. Ít's inconvenient that there are no laundries in the area. The Etap hotel should provide coin-operated washing machines and affordable Internet access.

I eat something in the Chinese fast food restaurant in the mall, then head back to the hotel. I's now 4:30pm. Very hot on the streets. At 5pm Shirley, the kids and I take the metro to down town Paris, arriving in Hotel de Ville at 5:35pm. Until 7:30pm we walk around the area of Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame cathedral, and finally Les Halles. There we have dinner in an Italian restaurant. We are back in the hotel around 9pm. Tomorrow we'll visit Eurodisney.

1.8: Paris -> Disneyland -> Paris
Hotel Etap, Paris.
Weather: a mix of overcast and cloudy skies, with the sun appearing every now and then. Surprisingly cold, i.e. substantially colder than yesterday. Too cold to walk around in shorts and T-shirt (when the sun is not shining). No rain.

We wake up at 8:45am but only manage to leave the hotel after 10am. On the way to the Saint Mande metro station we briefly stop in a supermarket where we buy some food and drinks. We then take the M1 to the Nation station where we change and take RER A to Eurodisney (Marne La Vallée). Quite a long trip, as we only arrive at 11:30am.

In the RER station I get another sandwich, then we proceed towards Eurodisney. Impossible to miss it. Nearby are the Disney studios and other attractions. After a security check (they inspect our bags) we proceed to the ticket counters. There is no queue as it is quite late. The tickets cost 2 x 49 Euro (two adults) + 1 x 41 Euro (Alissia) for a total of 139 Euro. The summer promotion, i.e. you can enter another day with the same ticket, it not valid for tomorrow, only after 8 days. This essentially means that tourists cannot use it, as very few tourists spend more than one week in Paris.

So we enter Disneyland. Very heavily choreographed stuff, fake and phoney to the extreme. Everything extremely photogenic, every now and then an American flag. Before you reach the attractions area you have to pass through an avenue full of shops. This is something which we'll notice again and again today: the entire Eurodisney site is heavily commercialised. Everywhere there are shops, kiosks and retail outlets. Eurodisney do their best to separate you from your money. Even late in the evening, a few minutes before the final parade Eurodisney staff walk around in the darkness with carriages full of stuff to sell.

The first place we stop at is the rotating pumpkin with the flying Dumbo elephant cups. Shirley queues up there with Alissia at 12:15pm. One hour and five minutes later it is finally her turn: at 13:20 she does a few rounds on a flying elephant, perhaps for a minute or so, then it's over. I'm a bit shocked - such a huge waiting time for such a short ride. I start to wonder why we spent so much money to enter this place.

Until late in the evening we visit different attractions. Everything is heavily choreographed, but is actually quite boring. The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, to make an example, consists of a boat ride through a building where you see scenes of pirates and ghosts (puppets moving mechanically in a preprogrammed manner) with sound effects. All quite unexciting, although Alissia is a bit scared when we go through the ghost house. Some attractions are cute and nice, but most of the stuff is quite boring. There is a children playground simulating a pirate ship which is not bad, but these types of playgrounds are everywhere these days.

I was actually expecting Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck to walk around and greet you. No such thing. In the whole park there are very, very few
characters and these are quite inaccessible, as everybody is trying to get their own kid photographed with them.

Late in the afternoon we buy T-shirts to wear above our T-shirts, as we are freezing. When we left the hotel in the morning, we were expecting the temperates to rise but this hasn't happened.

The whole Disneyland complex is essentially a big fun fair, only that the attractions are relatively low key. The site area is not as big as I had imagined it. The whole place is in fact a bit cramped. Perhaps the cost of the land is high here in France.

The best part of the show is the parade late in the evening at 10:30pm. Very nice light effects and costumes. The fireworks show after the parade, around 11pm, is not that impressive, meaning that I have seen better firework shows.

At 11:20pm it is finally time to get back. It appears that lots of people are spending the night close to Disneyland, because only a few take the train back to Paris.

We are back in the hotel after midnight (around 00:30), very late for the kids. Never mind about the baby which is sleeping in the baby stroller, but I have to carry Alissia in my arms all the way back to the hotel.

Copyright 2008 Alfred Molon