Paris

Postcard from Paris: a museum most tourists miss

The Stuck at the Airport team is in Paris this week. Lucky us, right?

First stop: the Eiffel Tower, of course. But only because it was on the way to a great museum: The Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, which does a wonderful job of displaying, promoting, and explaining the indigenous arts and culture of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Jet lag set in before we could see everything the museum has to offer. But we were glad we took a long walk along the Seine and spent our first day on the ground not waiting in line at The Louvre or another over-visited spot.

Here are some snaps from what we highly recommend you add to any itinerary that includes Paris.

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Fancy a fast trip to London & Paris?

Tower Bridge at night

A few month’s back I was invited – actually, challenged – to visit Paris and London in just four or five days.

“Not possible,” I insisted. But I was willing to give it a try.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I wrote for Travel + Leisure with some ideas for how to do it.

Getting there and back

To make this fast trip work, fly into one city and out of the other, and book a seat on the high speed Eurostar train to travel between the two.

Plenty of airlines fly between the US and both London and Paris and it is possible to find deals on a one-way or open-jaw ticket using tools on airline comparison sites or a knowledgeable travel advisor.

British Airways currently offers up to 50 flights from the U.S. to London each day, depending on the season, from 26 U.S. gateways and will be adding flights from both Pittsburgh and Charleston to London in April 2019. The airline allows passengers to cut the cost of flights by using Avios points towards payment.

Air France currently offers more than 150 flights a week to Paris from 12 U.S. cities and is adding Dallas/Fort Worth as its 11th U.S. gateway on March 31, 2019. The French flag carrier offers flash fares to Paris (and other destinations) about once a month, so sign up to follow the carrier’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Eurostar trains make the trip from city center to city center, between London’s St. Pancras International Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, in just over 2 hours for a little as $60 each way. Eurostar ticket pricing fluctuates like airline tickets, with the lowest prices usually offered for midweek travel. Be sure to hold onto your boarding pass: it offers 2-for-1 entry to many museums and exhibitions in both cities.

Where to stay; what to do

Coal Drops Yard

In London, there are lots of hotel to choose from right near St. Pancras International railway station, which is steps from the British Library and its many free events and exhibitions. Nearby is the Wellcome Collection, a hip and free science and health-themed museum that markets itself to the “incurably curious.”

Coal Drops Yard, built in 1850 to handle the eight million tons of coal delivered to London each year, has been transformed into the city’s newest trendy destination. Located in King’s Cross, just a few minutes’ walk from St. Pancras, the shopping and dining center boasts more than 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, including the flagship store of Wolf & Badger, which gathers cool offerings from independent brands, and Casa Pastor, serving Mexican-inspired tacos, alongside mezcals, Mexican beers and imaginative margaritas.

For convenience and a hefty dose of the historic, splurge on a two-night stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, inside St. Pancras station. The “Seat to Suite” package includes lounge access as well as a concierge escort between your room and your seat on the Eurostar train, which departs from St. Pancras station.

If you’ll be heading back to the states from Paris, choose a hotel in the city center that offers easy access to museums, café and other top attractions.

The newly renovated 97-room Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in the city’s historic 1st arrondissement is a good option. Book a breakfast-included package (croissants galore!); seek out nearby “hidden gems” suggested by the hotel’s “Navigator”; and let the front desk book you a seat (preferably at the chef’s counter) in the hotel’s popular-with-locals Balagan Restaurant, which serves an ever-changing menu of Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern meals.

You can save time by combining touring and fine dining by having lunch or dinner at (or on) Ducasse sur Seine, chef Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on an electric boat offering diners a 90-minute cruise on the Seine. Or board the Bustronome, a restaurant inside a double-decker bus that drives by many of the city’s top sights during a three-hour tour. (There’s a London version of this as well.)

You may not get your fill of croissants, baguettes, macarons or other French pastries during a quick two-day visit, but you’ll learn some professional French bakers’ tricks to take home during a gourmet walking tour or a French breach-making class organized by a local tour group such as Meeting the French.

Train Tuesday: I skipped the plane and rode the Eurostar train

StuckatTheAirport.com is usually about airports and airplanes.

But a new joint campaign between the London and Paris tourism bureaus and the folks at Eurostar is aimed at reminding travelers that is much easier, much faster and sometimes pretty darn cheap to get between London and Paris on the train.

 

I tried it out this past weekend, starting my journey at the posh St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London, which sits on top of the St. Pancras Railway Station.

That’s conveniently the starting point for boarding the Eurostar to the Gare du Nord train station in central Paris.

If, like me, you’re staying in a certain category of room at the hotel, a hotel employee will escort you directly from the lobby, through the fast track ticket and passport checkpoints and directly to your seat on the train.

The journey from London to Paris on the Eurostar train is then pretty darn quick and easy and takes just 2 hours and 15 minutes, including passage through the Chunnel.  If I had chosen to go to Brussels instead the journey would have taken less than two hours.

On board, Wi-Fi is free, each seat has power and there’s a fold-down table. A cafe car sells snacks and there’s a meal included for those traveling in business premier.

Like airline tickets, fares can vary widely depending on time of year and even time of day, but during low season I’m told it’s possible to get return London-Paris ticket for under $80.

As a bonus: in Paris, even the standard tickets are good after your journey to gain 2-for-1 admission to many museums.

Traveling from city center to city center saves all that time and hasssle going to and from the airports so it does indeed make visiting bost cities a “why not?” option.

My time in Paris is short,  but the Navigator tips offered by the concierge here at the Renaissance Paris Vendome are super helpful in helping me make the most of my time, so I’ll be back later with photos from my touring.

For now – here’s me, my bread and baker/instructor Didier Lavry of Le Pett Mitron and at the end of my Meeting the French bread making class this morning.

#LondonParisNow

(My visit to London and Paris is hosted by Visit London and the Paris Tourist Office, but reports are strictly my opinion.

Souvenir Sunday at CDG Airport

Greetings from Paris- Charles de Gaulle Airport, where there are plenty of Valentine’s Day-themed souvenirs available right now.

Chocolates, of course, and pink-tinted macarons are not that expensive and are easy to carry.

And then there are selfie-spots around the airport right now offering a fun way to make a free Valentine.

 

If you’re lucky enough to be in the airport on February 14 between 8 am and 3 pm, keep an eye out for hostesses who will fanning out in the terminals offering fortune cookies that will filled with messages of love.

Two of those cookies will have something extra: a prize of a weekend in Paris. (Details here... in French.)