Is it really worth going to Paris for four hours? That’s the question we asked ourselves when it came to choosing how we’d spend the day when Celebrity Silhouette arrived in Le Havre on a short break. In the end, we decided that Paris is always a good idea. But were we right?
Having spent the evening before raising a toast to Celebrity Silhouette’s arrival in Southampton for a summer of sailings, and raising eyebrows with our plans for a jaunt to Paris in record speed, we awoke to a rainy Le Havre and wondered whether we may well have made the wrong choice. Should we have shunned the 2½ hour coach trip through the French countryside to Paris and shopped up a storm at Le Havre’s Docks Vauban shopping centre instead? Everybody knows that Zara is even better abroad. Alas, we were here not to give our summer wardrobes some attention but in the name of research, so we had a hearty breakfast, filled our takeaway coffee cups and headed for the coach.
Whether you opt for an excursion or risk going it alone, there is no getting around the distance from Le Havre to Paris. The train between the two takes around the same time as the coach transfer and it’s worth bearing in mind the tendency of our continental counterparts to take a typically laissez-fare approach to timekeeping. Our own decision to visit Paris on a Celebrity Cruises excursion was reinforced as the right one as soon as we spotted signs declaring a train strike in France that day.
After a comfortable, if uneventful drive, an impulsive scream of excitement when the Eiffel Tower first came into view spelt the end for any doubt over whether we had made the right decision to go into the city for such a short time. Paris is magic. We were under the city’s spell before the coach had come to a standstill and even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits. And boy, did it rain. Only in Paris does a sea of rainbow umbrellas look like art and a couple sheltering from the storm look like a scene from an Audrey Hepburn movie.
With our clocks set to be back on the coach for 3.45pm, we threw ourselves into Paris with wild abandon. We crouched and contorted to try and snap the perfect Eiffel Tower selfie, and ran up the steps to the Trocadero to see the city at our feet. We thought the newlyweds on the carousel under the cherry blossoms must be there for the photographs, only to realise it was just the two of them, no photographer or wedding party in sight. Her veil in the wind and his chivalrous dedication to keeping her dress from the wet floor was enough to inspire the incurable romantic in even the most pragmatic passer-by.
Trying to negotiate the Metro threw our rose-tinted glasses out of place, an amateur grasp of French hardly helping the situation. Conscious that we only had a few hours, we were keen to tick the big attractions off our list including the Notre Dame, Hotel De Ville and the Louvre. We’d need time to sample some French specialities too, so a bistro stop had to figure in there somewhere.
We decided to start at the Notre Dame and work our way back to the coach. It’s walkable in under an hour and there are hop-on-hop-off river cruises galore if you’d rather save your feet between the sights. We chose to jump on the Metro (a bargain at €1.80 a trip), taking Line 9 from Trocadero, changing to Line 4 at Strasbourg St Denis and getting off at Cité, just around the corner from the Hunchback’s humble abode.
We didn’t have time to climb the tower and join the gargoyles that loomed above but the Notre Dame managed to look rather majestic indeed in the rain. After catching the beautiful wisteria-covered Au Vieux Paris a street across from the cathedral, we sheltered from the rain with a croque monsieur et frites in a typically French bistro. As is often the case in France, it was as cheap to drink wine as it was fizzy pop and who are we to argue?
Feeling full and with the rain having finally relented, we crossed the Seine to leave the Île de la Cité behind and visited the Hotel De Ville, the neo-renaissance centre of political Paris. The Louvre was next on our list and our amble along the river in the museum’s direction introduced us to Paris’ bouquinistes, booksellers who continue do business from boxes on the banks of the Seine as they have since the 1500s. If you’re looking for a souvenir of your time in the French capital, we recommend snubbing the tacky souvenir shops and treating yourself to a vintage poster or antique book from their Aladdin’s Cave of treasures instead.
The Louvre and the regal surroundings of the Palais Royal Mes Du Louvre lived up to our expectations. Unfortunately, while we snapped the obligatory touching-the-pyramid shot and got a good look at the architectural marvel from the outside, our time spent analysing the Metro map put paid to our hopes of seeing the Mona Lisa. As if we needed any more reasons to come back to Paris. After a five-minute Metro ride, we made it to the Jardins Du Trocadero with just enough time to tick ‘eat a crepe under the Eiffel Tower’ off our bucket lists.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, we have to admit that you can’t see everything glorious Paris has to offer in the smidge under four hours that you’ll have on an excursion here. Instead, think of your visit as the hors d’oeuvres before a full-on feast for the senses when you inevitably return. Would Paris be better with hours on end to explore its streets, eat its food and drink its wine? With a doubt. But in the meantime, we can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than by getting a taste of what’s to come.