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From the city of bikes to the city of lights

Staff member: Shariah // Trip date: Nov 2017

Canals upon canals and bike parking lots that stretch as far as the eye can see! Would you believe me if I told you how hard it is to find a park for your bike? And don’t even get me started on finding a car park! When in Amsterdam, do as the Dutch and rent a bike, it is the easiest way to get around and the best way to see all the amazing sights this city has to offer.


I myself rented two bikes (one for myself and one for my partner) from Black Bikes Rental for 24 hours. It cost around 26 Euros in total and the bikes certainly came in handy and made our adventures all the more memorable. My partner and I cycled through the many canals, alleys and eventually found ourselves in Vondelpark. Although it wasn’t tulip season, the park was still beautiful and very lively.


Soon the afternoon rolled into the evening and we found ourselves down Leidsestraat. This area is near the infamous Bulldog Palace and is a haven for all foodaholics! Steakhouses, Italian restaurants, Mediterranean Kebab takeaways, Mexican and Chinese restaurants… the list goes on! If you are ever in Amsterdam, I would recommend this area for food – hands down!


Of course, my time in Amsterdam had to come to an end and my partner had to be dragged back to Amsterdam Central station, kicking and screaming! It wasn’t until he saw the Thalys journey that I had booked to Paris Nord, that he decided to cheer up. At this point, we were 4 weeks into our Europe Extravaganza and were extremely exhausted. So as soon as we found our large and comfortable seats in first class, we sat back, relaxed and eventually fell asleep – which I felt was okay as we had an evening departure, so I knew we wouldn’t be able to see much out the window.


After some time had passed, we were awoken to a stewardess asking if we would like our inclusive dinner, which was an option of either a vegetarian meal or a meal that included meat (fish). I chose the vegetarian meal, while my partner chose the meal that included fish. I personally would class Thalys meals like you would an airline meal – not worthy of a Michelin award, but certainly better than your mother in laws ‘world famous’ casserole haha!


I found the first class to be incredibly quiet, hence why we fell asleep so fast! The seats are very comfortable in first class and the Thalys was by far my favourite high-speed train out of all train journeys I’ve been on – And that’s including TGV, TGV Lyria and Frecciarossa services.


So, if you’re in need of a direct service from either Amsterdam or Bruxelles to Paris (or vice versa), I would 100% recommend that you travel via the Thalys. The staff were also very friendly and helpful as they assisted with my bags without me asking them to and checked on us during our journey to see if we needed anything.


Once we arrived in Paris Nord, I found the station a little confusing to navigate and had to ask the staff at the information desk where to go. When you travel via high-speed/premier trains from city to city, the train platforms are found on one side of the station, while metro and RER lines are on the other side. I planned on using the RER and metro lines to get to my hotel instead of a taxi service so I could save some money and make use of the knowledge I have learnt at Rail Plus. I found that if you use google maps and select the public transport option, it will show you which RER or metro lines you will need to use to get from A to B.


I purchased my metro tickets locally within Paris Nord at a self-serve machine and had I planned on using the Paris metro before my departure from New Zealand, I would have purchased a Paris Visite card as it would have saved my money and time. I’m not going to lie either, using the self-serve machines is a little confusing at first, especially if it’s your first time. So, if you would like to avoid all the confusion, wasted time and money, consider purchasing a Paris Visite Card.


A lesson I have learnt as well is that you should always look into station maps if you intend on using public transport from or within that specific station. This would have minimised my stress by a whole heap, as it was finding the correct platforms that made my evening so frustrating.


My hotel that I had booked was about a 2-minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe, so that meant I had to take two RER lines from Paris Nord. The first was the RER B blue line to Chatelet – Les Halles and the second was the RER A red line that went from Chatelet – Les Halle to Charles de Gaulle Etoile (the station that is right outside the Arc de Triomphe).


There are quite a few entries and exits from Charles de Gaulle Etoile station, which I discovered after I had spent a few days in Paris. The exit I came out of on my first time in Paris just took my breath away! It was in the evening that I had arrived so I was feeling rather exhausted and cranky, but as soon as the escalators reached the top, all my irritable feelings were replaced with a childlike wonder. As soon as I stepped off the escalator I had the perfect view of the Arc de Triomphe as well as the beautifully lit street of Champs Elysees. Saying that it was beautiful is a gross understatement! I can’t even put it into words how amazed I was when I exited the station. I think I took a few seconds to soak it all in, so I must have looked a little crazy to others haha.


After exploring the Louvre, dining at the Eiffel Tower with Trocadero viewing and creeping through the Catacombs of Paris, I became so familiar with the metro that it ended up being my preference of travel for Paris! So much so that I forfeited my two TGV services to Paris Disneyland and took the RER A line to Marne La Valle. I chose the metro line because it meant I didn’t have to change trains and I knew there would be buskers on board playing all sorts of strange instruments – it’s quite common and I find it very entertaining. I was fortunate enough to have either a mime, comedian or buskers on every metro service I took in Paris and found that it made time pass by so fast.


Once we arrived at Marne La Valle, we found that the standard gates did not work for some reason. If this happens to you, go to the gate that wheelchair users or parents with prams use, this gate should have a red emergency button that you can click to ask for them to open the gates. It may be possible that the attendant who talks over the speaker box only understands French, so it may pay to brush up on your French, and I don’t mean the French you use when the driver in front of you doesn’t indicate either haha.


You’ll notice as soon you walk outside the station, you’re standing at the entrances of Paris Disneyland! There’s an information box outside the station where staff can provide you with tour options and direct you to the exit, which is pretty straightforward. For my last 3 days in Europe, I just knew I had to spend it at the happiest place on Earth and I have no regrets about it either. I must have gone on the Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain roller coaster at least 5 times and was able to meet all my favourite Disney characters while repeating their lines back to them haha. I truly had an amazing time in Europe and only hope that you do too! Whichever country you decide to wander through, I hope you do it with happiness and carry that bit of Kiwi culture with you too.


Best wishes to you when travelling by train and may the force be with you!

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