It was the Spring Bank Holiday weekend and Carmel wasn’t around so Neil and I decided to cycle from his house in Walthamstow to Epping through Epping Forest. The route was via the Epping Forest Centenary Walk which we have walked twice before. Each time we have walked it we seemed to have gone slightly different ways, so we hoped to get it right on bikes this time.
The first time we got lost was at a golf course. We seemed to be skirting up the side of it for quite a while before we realised we were actually circling around it. After stopping for some wine (Carmel would definitely have arranged for a more traditional sort of picnic) we headed off to the King’s Oak pub near Epping Forest vistor centre for a couple of pints.
We then got lost again two more times trying to follow the path to Epping. We ended doing another loop back to where we were near the visitor centre and then headed too far north and onto some roads before we found the forest again.
We got to Epping around late afternoon and cycled to the train station as that is where we have walked to in the past. However this time we turned around and cycled back the way we came. Instead of heading all the way back we left the forest near Chingford, stopped off the Royal Forest Hotel for food and drinks, and then got the train back to Walthamstow from Chingford station.
Duration 3:16 hours (not including stops)
Distance 27.6 miles
Path (Google Earth)
And on the next day, I helped Neil build a fence in his back garden.
For my birthday, Carmel treated me (us?) to a trip to Paris. We chose the May Day bank holiday so that we could have a 3 day visit.
Carmel insisted on getting the train over which made sense for so many reasons: 1) St Pancras International is easier to get to from Cambridge than any airport, 2) the security procedures are so much more pleasant than at an airport (you can carry a bottle of water through security!!!), 3) it is cheaper than flying, 4) you arrive in central Paris, not at some airport on the outskirts of the city, and 5) St Pancras has the world’s longest champagne bar. I’m sure I could list many more reasons, especially if we compared St Pancras to Stansted airport, or Eurostar to Ryanair, but I’ll leave it there.
The travel was perfect and on time. We went some form of first class on the way out so had a meal and complimentary wine (lots of it) which made the journey go very quickly. On the way back we went cattle class, which was a massive disasppointment, so spending £30 extra for first class was well worthwhile.
We stayed in the Hotel Excelsior which was massively below average for a 3 star hotel compared to anywhere outside of France. The room smelt stale, the decor was disgusting, the toilet that was in an adjacent room had paper-thin walls that amplified any sounds, and the beds were very low to the ground. Some of the highlights from the hotels website:
“This rustic building has a large hall and all its bedrooms are fully equipped with a large mirror situated on a marble chimney.”
Awesome, the building has a large hall and there are mirrors in the bedrooms. It is worth noting that our room bore little resemblence to the photos from their website. The staff seemed friendly, though.
After moaning about the rubbish toilet, I heard from a friend who had stayed in a French chateau at £350 per night that their toilet room didn’t even have a door, instead it had a curtain.
A quick diary of our sightseeing:
- Day 1. Arrived at 9pm, walked past the Moulin Rouge on the way to the hotel. Had a couple of drinks in a few different bars.
- Day 2 – AM. Got up early to attempt the queues for the Eiffel Tower. We were in line about 30 mins before the tower opened at 9:30am. Carmel accidentally but conveniently, as it happened, chose the stairs-only queue. This queue was much, much shorter (by a factor of hours) than the lift queues. We walked as high as we were allowed to (to the 2nd platform) and then bought a lift ticket to the top. The views were good but the weather cloudy so the photos are less than amazing. We were back down within 2 hours and took pleasure in seeing that the previously massive queues had doubled or tripled in size. The people in them would surely not have time to do anything else that day?
- Day 2 – PM. Wandered back towards the hotel via a nice fresh food market and found a cafe overlooking a square to grab some lunch in. In the evening we headed down to Notre Dame and then walked to the Bastille area (I didn’t know that the Bastille prison disappeared 100s of years ago) and ate at Paris’ most expensive Thai restaurant, the Blue Elephant. We chose the set menu, and the food was perfectly ok, if a little heavily laden with fish which suited Carmel but not me.
Here’s a photo overlooking Île de la Cité:
- Day 3 – AM. Walked to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed up to the viewing platform.
- Then it was on to the Bois de Boulogne, a large green area in the North West of the city that is over 3 times the size of Hyde Park in London. After wandering around well maintained gardens containing peacocks and then more unkempt wooded areas we stopped for lunch on an island that was accessbile by a 30 sec boat ride.
- Day 3 – PM. Returned to the hotel via the Palais de Chaillot which has great views of the Eiffel Tower. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant (which was free from tourists) about a mile from the hotel and then took the Metro back down to the Palais de Chaillot to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night.
- The final task of the day was to experience the most expensive pint of beer of my life – a 500ml glass of Kronenberg 1664, a bargain at €10 (current exchange rate = over £9 – compared with Cambridge prices of £3.50).
- Day 4. Finally, a sunny day! We wandered around Montmatre Cemetry and checked out the thousands of graves. We tried to find the grave of Degas, one of the only famous people buried here that we had heard of, but couldn’t. Sacré-Cœur Basilica was next, so we climbed the numerous steps to the top of the dome.
- Lunch took about 3 hours and involved 2 cafes with some good food and lots of wine. Carmel foolishly decided we needed a caricature of ourselves drawn by one of the local artists, but this simply pointed out our many visual faults. Later in the afternoon we headed back to hotel to pick up our luggage and then on to Gare du Nord for the train home.
We tracked our routes around Paris – here’s the longest walk we did over the weekend on the Sun (day 3) morning (hotel is the point furthest East).
Duration 5:48 hours
Distance 16.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)