Monday, June 13, 2011

Visit to Paris

Preface

Paris - City of Love, Light's and Dreams. Dream destination of many, the name itself sounds excitement. Paris is also the most widely visited place in the world. So when I got a change to visit Austria on an official trip, I made it a point that I do visit Paris.

Since budget was also a constraint, a to-and-fro journey did not make sense. Visit to Paris was hence planned to happen on our return trip, as a stopover before we fly back to India.


Preparation

Once I reached Austria, the sheer beauty of the country bowled me over. The view of the Alp’s and its snow clad peaks were heavenly. The beauty of Austria though did not divert attention out of the planned trip to Paris. I had to book the train tickets as well as the accommodation well in advance to get a good deal.

The return dates were already finalized (same as to India) and the train ticket has to be booked for the fixed dates only. Over the first weekend went to the tickets booking counter of OBB (http://www.oebb.at/en/) and booked the tickets to Paris (~87 euro per person). Ă–sterreichische Bundesbahnen or Ă–BB is the national railways system of Austria run by the federal government. Once the tickets were booked the responsibility of accommodation was delegated to one of my colleague, who took care of it.

Enjoyed my days of stay in Austria, and finally Prantika joined me in May. Took some time off from office and showed her around. To our luck the weather was with us (bright sunny days as opposed to intermediate showerwhich was common during that time of the year in Austria). It was finally time to say good bye to Austria, and head towards Paris; and back to India.

The journey… 13th May 2011

There is no direct train to Paris from Innsbruck and a connecting train via Munich was the only choice. The train leaves Munich @ 10:45 pm night and we had to plan out things accordingly. My experience with European trains was that it hardly gets delayed or cancelled, so I suggested a train to Munich that reaches 15 minutes before the connecting train leaves to Paris. But my colleagues were not ready to take that chances and we left Innsbruck at 6:30 pm, well ahead of time.

The train reached Munich @ 8:30 pm giving us more than 2 hours of free time at hand. There was nothing much to do and we decide to finish our dinner. I wasn’t feeling much hungry and neither was Prantika. So we went to “Burger King” to grab some snacks. Bought some water and headed back to the platform. The train arrived 15 minutes before its departure and we quickly settled down at our seats. They were 6 of them, 3 facing each other, no fall back arrangement and wasn’t very cozy for a night journey. The arrangements also did not allow sufficient space to accommodate the large luggage we were carrying on our way back home J. Somehow managed to get everything in and when it was time the train started on its journey to Paris.

I usually can sleep almost anywhere and had no issues in the train too. It seemed not the case for everyone else. I woke up in the morning when others were discussing how I was having a nice sleep and everyone else struggled. The train was scheduled to reach Paris @ 9:30 am and we got a chance to see France on the way. There are of course no mountains to be seen now. It was nice journey through farmlands, greenery and small towns. The train reached Paris on time. We rented a cab a headed straight to the hostel where we have booked a room for our night stay.

First reaction

Paris was just planned for an overnight stay, and we have to catch the early morning flight the next day. With such a less time in hand, we decided to make it a focused one. Like everyone who visits Paris, we decided to head straight to Eiffel tower. With few hours in hand we quickly got freshened up and headed out to explore the city.

Eiffel tower was at a walking distance from where we stayed. As soon as we hit the street, I saw history staring at me from everywhere. The beautiful city architecture amazed me. Almost all of the buildings, in every street I walked had loads of beautiful architecture built in it. Everything seemed to have been built just yesterday, just to welcome us. The Eiffel tower was nowhere to be seen (surprising for such a tall structure) and we kept following the map. We reached an open street and there was the Eiffel tower staring at us from top of the trees. It looked beautiful.

The Eiffel Tower

The tower was completely visible after walking for some more distance. The sun was shining bright with a blue sky and few clouds which was a perfect setting for clicking pictures. Everyone started taking pictures from different angles, me included. I took some time, just standing for amoment and enjoying the beauty. There were tourists all around, many Indians. Hawkers were all around selling mementos of Eiffel Tower, big and small. What surprised me was many of the hawkers were Indian, trying to sell stuffs to us speaking Hindi. May be you can find Indians everywhere doing business…. J

We wanted to go to the top of the tower, but looking at the length of the queue, we decided otherwise. With little time in hand, we decided to move on. Crossed the street and then took the bridge over river Seine. It is a major river and commercial waterway. Saw many boats ferrying tourists.

On the other side of the river were the museum and an Esplanade (open space). It had a great view of the Eiffel tower, as seen besides the river. The Paris skyline and its beautiful buildings beside the tower looked beautiful.

The aquarium

The next plan was to see the Paris aquarium (http://www.cineaqua.com/EN/index.html), as recommended by one of my colleague. The aquarium is just besides the esplanade, situated underground. The person in the counter informed that it will take ~ 2 hours to see it completely. As it was almost lunchtime, we took the tickets and started hunting for a restaurant. Settled into a Chinese restaurant and had a good lunch, trying out some new dishes. After the food, we were ready to explore the world of fishes.

The aquarium had different sections for Pacific and Atlantic species. The things I loved most were the beautifully colored fishes besides the coral reef (the ones I typically see in discovery channels only). Another star attraction was the shark tank. The huge tank was filled with many sharks swimming besides other species, including stingrays. Some kids were having some great time, getting extremely excited when the shark swims by. There was supposed to be a movie show later on the day, which we skipped.

Walk to Ark De Triomphe

Arc De Triomphe is another famous monument in Paris. It stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaull (large road junctions). The Arc de Triomphe honors’ those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.

The Triumphal Arch is approximately 30-45 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower. The walk is through the streets with the architecturally rich buildings. The walk was long and tiring after the busy day. But the excitement of the beauty let me forget everything. When we reached there the sun was touching the horizon.

The Arch reminded me of India Gate, which also symbolizes bravery and victory. Many of the big streets meet the Arch at the centre (reminding me of Connaught place – Delhi). The streets were huge and there is a underpass leading to the Arch. The most amazing part was the traffic – it was quite chaotic with cars crossing each other at amazing precision (same as we do in BangaloreJ ). There were large pathways for pedestrians and lots of places to sit. I sat there waiting for the sun to set, and to have one special snap captured. The sun started to sink below the horizon and the sky felt warm. I captured one last snap of the Arch.

Eiffel Tower at night

We walked back towards the tower. Darkness started to cover Paris and we saw the tower getting lightened up. We decided to finish our dinner at an Indian restaurant we saw on the way and walk back to see the tower when its fully enlightened. The dinner was good, some Indian food at Paris. After the dinner we started our leisurely walk back to the tower. The tower was fully glowing by then. Bright yellow lights magnified the beauty of the tower. A bright flashlight at the top of the tower directed the focused light everywhere around Paris. After we spent some time there it was time to head back to the hotel. As soon as we lay on the bed, deep sleep took over us.

Bye Bye Paris

We woke up early in the morning next day & quickly freshened up. The cab came to pick us up at 5:30 am for the airport. Had a last look at the city. Paris with more than few hundred places to see we just got a flavor of this amazing place. Reached the airport on time and walked towards the check-in counter. Just halfway stopped for a moment, looked back and said bye to Paris.

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