A weekend in Paris 

If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that travel teaches children much more than only school ever will. Heck I don’t just believe it for children, I believe it for everyone. And armed with that belief, it’s been my mission to start ticking off places to visit every year. Last year S visited Rome, Istanbul, Dubai, Tenerife and Lagos (3 of them completely new destinations). With me working full time now, this year has been left pretty open.
I was always going to take a few days off during half term to spend time with S (catch up with friends) but in January I decided to book a weekend getaway to Paris as well. We don’t live too far from St. Pancras so decided the Eurostar would much a much more efficient in terms of our time. I booked for us to leave on the 7:55 train on Friday morning and return on the 18:13 train on Sunday evening, making the most of our days in Paris.

Getting there

I initially tried to book package deal through http://www.lastminute.com which I would advise against! It was only after 2-3 phone calls to them when I remembered a similar issue I faced last year. I truly believe that we’re being conned into believing their fares are lower than everyone else’s when in fact you go to book and find yourself unable to do so. After umpteen calls to their call centre, talking to people who have no answers and will not deviate from their script, they finally agree to book your holiday but of course by then they want to charge you £75 more because your booking is not guaranteed and no longer available! Someone, anyone…please remind me not to attempt to book with them again. A quick look at their twitter and you’ll see just how many people write to them on an hourly basis with issues with their bookings. Anyway, I finally booked the train through the Eurostar website and booked our hotel through http://www.booking.com I would recommend you first try http://www.trivago.com which compares several hotel booking websites and tells you which one has the best rate for the room you’re looking for. Tips for the Eurostar – grab your coffee, food and drinks from one of the many shops at St. Pancras as the café on the train is quite overpriced. I understand they are introducing a new fleet of trains but these haven’t rolled out yet. We were on an old train with no working WI-FI and no sockets at each seat. Thankfully the toilets were clean!

Where to stay

My cousin and her family live in Paris and we wanted to be close to her but also close enough to all the sites of Paris. We ended up staying at a hotel from the Accor Group – Mercure La Defense. The hotel is rated as a 4* but I’m not sure I would give it a 4 star. The rooms are a decent enough size and we were lucky we had a view of the Eiffel Tower as well as the La Defence district (business district, tall glass buildings, etc.) but the bathroom was pretty small. When I first opened the door, I saw the sink and tub in front of me and wondered where the toilet was. It was squeezed in behind the door. There were also no amenities in the bathroom except some packaged bars of soap near the sink and a squeezable bath gel/shampoo hooked on the wall in the tub. On the Saturday I realised my international adaptor wasn’t working and asked the hotel if they had one. Luckily they did and said I could use it but had to pay a 20 EURO deposit. I was fine with this but requested them to deliver it to the room and I’d give them the money as S was asleep and I couldn’t go down to the lobby. All I got was a “Sorry, we can’t help you.” I expected more from a 4* hotel.

 Things to do in Paris

We arrived at Gare du Nord around midday on Friday. A quick trip through the city and we were on the West side of Paris in Courbevoie. We had lunch with my cousin and her family before heading back into the city. We took the train from La Defence to the Louvre and got off right in front of the museum. When I first looked at a map of the Paris Metro, I thought it would take us at least an hour to get across the city but Paris is a lot smaller than London and getting from the East to the West was quite quick.

It was a gorgeous day. We didn’t end up going into the museum but got a peep in through a massive glass window. We then walked out across the main courtyard and through a park in the city, down to the Champs Elysee. Paris, with it’s wide open streets and ample space is a joy to walk through.

On Saturday we decided to head to see the Eiffel Tower…but not before popping into one of the many bakeries for some freshly baked breakfast goodies.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from various points in the city but nothing prepares you for just how amazing it is up close. I hadn’t been to Paris in 14 years and was amazed by it all over again.

S really wanted to climb to the top so we queued up at one of the stairs entrances. You can in fact only walk up to the second level from where you take a lift to the top. When you arrive at the Eiffel Tower there’s a security check which took us about 20 minutes and then we spent 1hr 20 mins queuing at the entrance to start our ascent.

The whole experience took us approx 3 hours. We were planning on doing the river cruise right after but it was already close to 4 and S was pretty tired. 

I’d definitely recommend the river cruise though as it covers quite a few sights. The next time we’re in Paris, we’d do it without a doubt. We spent Sunday with family having lunch and exploring some parks before heading home Sunday evening. Paris makes for a great weekend getaway and S already asks to go back all the time. I think Paris stole his heart 💜💜

Turkish Delight

I was in Turkey on a work trip this week and after just 2 days in Istanbul, I was already planning my next trip. It’s such a fabulous city with so much to see and do. I absolutely love exploring new cities and absorbing the culture. S obviously didn’t go with me and although I missed him, I have to be honest and say I enjoyed 4 days of walking around the cobbled stone streets, learning all about the city’s history and eating an entire ice cream on my own without having to share it!! It’s the little things! 😉


So without further ado, here’s my quick guide Istanbul:

1. What to eat – Turkish food is so full of flavour and the meat is soft and succulent. My two favourite dishes were Lahmacun (flat and crispy bread topped with minced meat, salad and lemon) and Lamb Beyti Kebab (Minced grilled lamb wrapped in Lavash (flatbread) and topped with tomato sauce and yoghurt sauce. Dondurma, the local ice cream, is not just delicious (chewy and thick) but the way it’s presented will you highly amused (I won’t spoil it for you in case you decide to go to Turkey but don’t miss out on it).Turkish delight – I particularly like rose and pistachio but the sheer variety in the local shops will leave you severely indecisive!


2. What to drink – Although imported wines are served throughout Turkey, the local wine is pretty good too. My favourite drink was Ayran (pronounced I-ran). It’s a lightly salted thin yoghurt drink (a bit like the Indian Chaas/Lassi) and goes really well with Turkish food. Local Turkish coffee is definitely something to try but not for the faint hearted, it’s strong stuff!

3. What to see – Oh, how much there is to see in Turkey. Although visiting Turkey was essentially a work trip, I managed to fit in a few sights one afternoon. The blue mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and a ferry ride across the Bosphorus. The grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest indoor markets and boy is it impressive! It sells everything from gold and diamonds to fake handbags and tea sets. The vendors will do anything to woo you into their stores, including calling you Jennifer Lopez (yes, they believe flattery will get them everywhere). Just remember, in the Grand Bazaar you have to have your haggling hat on or prepare to be seriously ripped off!!

20150520_162057  20150520_162907

The Blue Mosque is spectacular to look at but my favourite is Hagia Sophia. Built in the 500’s, it is a stunning piece of architecture. As we climbed up approx. 4 floors to the viewing gallery at the top, over what was essentially a cobbled stone walk way, I marvelled at how it was built at a time when cranes and diggers were not around. But the most amazing thing for me was the combination of Christianity and Islam co-existing in the décor. The Hagia Sophia was initially a Church before a Muslim King ordered for it to be converted into a Mosque. Although they took off the crosses and tried to remove traces of the Church, they left gold mosaics of Jesus and his family. Even though big black round discs were erected all over the mosque (which sort of ruin it), the remnants of it’s early days are clearly seen. In a world where religion is constantly dividing us, it was nice to see the two brought together in this beautiful museum.

20150520_164813  20150520_170917

The ferry ride across the Bosphorus is well worth it, giving you landscape views of both the cultural European side and the up and coming Asian side (Turkey lies across two continents, I didn’t know that until recently!).


4. How to get around – Taxi’s are easily available and unlike in London, they are pretty reasonable. However, the driver’s don’t usually speak English and unless you know where you’re going or you’re headed to a pretty big landmark, I found the Metro and the Tram much easier to navigate.

The only thing I didn’t like struggled with in Istanbul was the smoke and the lack of personal space etiquette. Almost everyone is smoking and maybe I’m so used to being around S in London and in places where smoking isn’t allowed that I really felt it while I was there.

As if my impression of Istanbul wasn’t good enough, as I was leaving, at the airport, I stopped at a little shop to buy a book and before I turned around to leave, the shopkeeper stopped me and pinned a little evil eye and pink dolphin to my top, for luck! I left Turkey with a little bounce in my step, already looking forward to my next trip 🙂


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com