Note: Most of the pictures in this blog post are of Notre Dame Cathedral as it looked in May 2019, one month after the fire that ravaged the 850-year-old church.
So I will start with a bit of background as to why I am back in Europe so soon. Disneyland Paris opened as EuroDisney in 1992, but two years later it adopted the name it operates under today. I visited in the early years of its operation and now have a chance to visit again. Anyone who regularly reads the blog knows our family (well, not Boris) loves Disney and we jump at the chance to make a visit.
My niece Maggie will be doing an internship at the World Court at the Hague in the Netherlands and is going to Europe early for a little sightseeing. I got an invitation to go along. Having just finished a 3-week transatlantic crossing and visits to Portugal and Great Britian, I was tempted to pass. However, it had been cheaper to buy a roundtrip ticket to and from London so I had already paid for return air. Their departure date was the fictitious return date I had selected months earlier. I decided it was fate.
Maggie and Emma (my sister and Maggie’s mom) are going directly to Paris. My return flight is to London so I will fly in and head over to Paris to meet up with them there. I was surprised to find that it would take as long to change terminals and airlines and catch a flight to Paris as it would be to take the TUBE into town and go over on the Eurostar. I didn’t want to pay to check a bag on a flight, so I decided to save a little money and take the train to Paris. I figured it would be easier to sleep on the train than in the airport terminal waiting for my Paris flight after the long flight over.
In addition to not paying to take a bag with me, I liked having an assigned seat (again without paying more), and was able to enjoy the view out the window in route. I would also end up in the city with a direct metro line only five stops from the hotel Emma had selected. That is a lot of rationalization. I admit this travel option was a bit nostalgic for me; more on that later.
We are spending the night in Paris before going over to the park. Before my arrival in Paris, they are visiting several museums and taking a tour of the Paris Opera House. I have done the Opera House tour and highly recommend it.
All of us had flight issues. I landed a little late, but the real problems began at passport control in the UK. I had never seen the lines at London Heathrow that long. They did have a fair number of officers working, but the volume of visitors on this Friday was beyond the additional queue markers that had been set up. When I had been in line an hour and a half and had only moved up through a third of the line, I started texting Emma and Maggie to let them know I might miss my train. (I don’t even want to think about how long passport control will be when/if the UK really does leave the European Union.)
Eventually, they got a few more officers checking passports, but I didn’t get through the queue until 15 minutes after my drop dead time. In all, I was there over 3 hours. Suddenly that 5-hour window between my flight and train reservation didn’t seem like enough. I still had to collect my bag, go through customs, get on the TUBE to the St. Pancras station (you don’t have to change lines, but it is not an express train), go through security at Eurostar, and be at the Eurostar terminal at least 30 minutes before departure. You often can’t get into the Eurostar waiting area more than 1 hour before departure due to space issues, but you must arrive at least 30 minutes before the train unless you are a premier passenger (who must arrive at least 10 minutes before departure).
There are frequent Eurostar trains to Paris each day, but the next one was 2 hours after mine. Also, there was a 60 euro change fee and an increased ticket price for the later departures that I would have to pay. Fortunately the bags had been pulled off the belt at Heathrow and I found mine; there was a station attendant who not only told me confirmed what tube line to use but also helped me get my ticket; and I was able to get on a train in less than 3 minutes after arriving on the platform. With every stop on the TUBE, I recalculated my arrival time at St. Pancras.
I made it. The line was still open for my train. I saw people arguing with an attendant because they were there before their train’s departure but after the designated time. They were not allowed into the security queue. It took a while for me to get through security and passport control out of the UK and into France (which allows you to just get off the train when we arrive in Paris) at the St. Pancras Station terminal.
Eurostar offers direct train service from London’s St. Pancras Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord, a portion of which is travel under the English Channel by use of the Channel Tunnel, commonly referred to as the chunnel. The chunnel opened on May 6 (Boris’ birthday), 1994 creating the only “fixed link” between England and Continental Europe. This trip is a bit of nostalgia for me. My first chunnel crossing was in December 1995 when we were among the first Americans to make the trip. It was on this same trip that I visited Disneyland Paris for the first time.
Back then, London to Paris and the reverse were the only routes they operated. Additionally, there was only one crossing each day. Today, Eurostar has 7 direct routes and many connections. There are 19 options each day for travel from London to Paris.
That year, Boris wanted to take Rocky on his first European trip. He had business in London and we both went along for the time between Christmas and New Years. Before we left for London, Rocky didn’t feel great so I called the pediatrician; I was advised to just give him a COKE and take him along. He felt worse when we arrived in London. The only thing he saw was the Tower of London. The next day I had to take him to a British doctor and we spent the rest of the time in the hotel room as he recovered.
When it came time to make our Eurostar crossing, we sat in the center of the car with 3 seats facing a center console. A French family sat facing us across the table. When Rocky threw up all over my coat, the mother commented that the train movement must have been unsettling for him. She didn’t know the half of it.
In Paris Rocky’s recovery continued. He does have fond memories of his visit to the Eiffel Tower. Boris was so eager for him to remember the trip positively, that our last full day in Europe he took us to the newly renamed Disneyland Paris. It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius); the pirate ship sat next to a frozen waterfall. Once again, we were among some of the first Americans to visit the park. I will be curious to see how much I remember.
Just after I cleared Eurostar security for this trip, they called my train and I got right on. I am an aisle girl on an airplane, but on a train I like to sit by the window and enjoy the view (except durning the chunnel portion of the trip). A young woman was in my seat. She moved for me, but that started a conversation that lasted the entire 2+ hour journey. It was an interesting conversation, but by the end it was almost impossible for me to keep my eyes open and I had missed my nap window.
When we arrived in Paris and got up to pull down our bags, the man in front of us decided it was time to share the following with us: “congratulations, you talked continuously for the entire trip”. I told him he should have mentioned it if we were bothering him. My seat mate was not as polite. She complained that people she met in Europe (she is originally from South America) preferred to complain afterwards instead of telling you at the time if your behavior bothered them.
I transferred to the metro line to go from Gare du Nord to the Les Halles metro stop. I was barely conscious so it took me a while to figure out the ticket machine-which one, what route, etc. When I got to Les Halles I was fortunate to have had Emma identify which exit out of the metro to take. (There were at least five.) My walking navigation on the phone just took me in circles, but fortunately a young man on a motorized scooter helped me find the hotel. Emma and Maggie were napping. I decided that was a good idea.
I missed their next museum visit, but joined them for a walk over to Notre Dame. It had been just a month since the shocking fire that ravaged the 850-year -old iconic church. My first visit to Notre Dame was in 1986 while I was still in law school; I have visited multiple times since then. Just last year, Boris and I had stopped by on his 60th birthday trip to Paris. Less than three years ago, we had enjoyed an anniversary dinner in Paris at La Tour d’Argent. The historic restaurant has been in operation since 1582 and is known for its amazing views of Notre Dame.
On the walk over we stopped for dinner at a sidewalk cafe, a must for any Paris visitor. After dinner we walked over to Notre Dame. A month after the fire, you could get pretty close on foot. The immediate area was barricaded and guarded. We walked around most of perimeter and I was impressed with the stabilization and reservation methods already being employed. You have seen the shots of what I saw from multiple angles throughout this blog post.
It started raining on the walk back, so we stopped into another sidewalk cafe for drinks and desserts. When it slowed, we started out again only for the sky to let loose about 4 blocks from our hotel. We looked like drowned rats when we got back to the hotel, but after hanging up our wet clothes and turning the hair dryer on inside our tennis shoes, it was time for a good night’s sleep before our train to Disneyland Paris in the morning.