Thoughts of turmoil that occurred during the reins of Henry VIII of England and King Louis XVI of France danced in my mind as I fantasized during the planning of our trip to London and Paris. Walking the same paths they crossed so many years ago was just one of the many reasons I wanted to visit those cities.
Making the visit worthwhile on a limited amount of time was a major issue. It is possible to visit both cities in a one-week span, just be prepared to go non-stop and be tired.
The first thing you need to decide is whether to travel with a tour or do it on your own. That is a personal decision depending on how adventurous you are. We chose the middle of the road. We joined an Insight tour, which offered us four nights in London and three in Paris. It took care of our air bookings (we traveled from Miami in order to receive a two-for-one airfare special), airport transfers, a half-day tour in each city and included the Eurostar train between London and Paris. The half-day tours were just enough to give us a feel of each city and then we were on our own to explore. Optional tours were offered for additional fees; it is your choice whether to take advantage of them. Booking our optional tours on the Internet worked for me. Online tickets (to avoid long ticket lines) are available for just about every venue.
Both cities have subway systems that are very easy to navigate. You can get anywhere quickly and efficiently. Do be prepared to do a lot of walking, though. Leave your heels home or for the evening. Walking is one of the best ways to see each city.
With only four days in London, we covered all the main points such as the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Harrods and London Tower. We had the opportunity to visit inside the palace staterooms, only accessible two months out of the year, while the Queen resides at her summer residence (booking in advance online to make sure we didn’t miss this opportunity). We also managed to spend a day out of London visiting Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge. This highly recommended guided day tour by Evan Evans Sighseeing Tours helped us see these places within a very limited amount of time. A return trip would be needed to see the many wonderful (and free) museums London has to offer, along with numerous places we had to bypass.
Paris has many highlights that you can see within a two-day time span. We took an optional evening tour, which included a boat ride on the River Seine and a bus tour to see the lights of Paris. We visited the Notre Dame and the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Across the river was the Musee d’Orsay, which also houses incredible art. Until the early 1900s, it was a train station and the building itself is a creation of art. We walked from the Louvre down to the Place de la Concorde, continuing down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe (probably about a two-mile trek). It was 284 steps to the top of the Arc, which we climbed (no elevators). If you do, you are rewarded with wonderful views of the city.
On our last full day, we signed up for a bike tour out of Paris with Fat Tire tours, an American-based company. With about 30 of us touring, we rode our bikes to a train station and put them on the train for a 25-minute ride to Versailles. The highlight of our trip was shopping at the local marketplace for baguettes, cheese, fruit, wine and pastries for a picnic lunch on the grounds of the palace.
We went to Paris with the misconception that the French were rude to Americans. We did not have that experience. My thoughts on this are that it is the attitude that you go with. They knew immediately that we were Americans (the way we dress) and always presented English menus. They were as accommodating to us as to the French families sitting nearby.
For more information on Insight tours, visit www.insightvacations.com/us/.
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