My teenage daughter and I were staying near Disneyland Paris for a few days holiday and after experiencing the excitement of the theme park including Space Mountain and the amazing car stunts at Walt Disney Studios she asked if we could visit Paris as she had never been.
We only had one full day available and what follows is our whistle-stop tour of Paris, this involved a lot of walking, or wheeling in my case and therefore not everyone is going to want or be able to achieve all of this.
The morning started early as we caught the 7:20am RER A Train at Marne La Vallée–Chessy train station, only 100m from the entrance to Disneyland Paris, for the 50 minute journey to Charles de Gaulle Etoile (at Arc de Triomphe) which is one of only a few in central Paris which has a lift from the platform to the outside - this becomes very relevant at the end of the article.
We emerged only steps away from Arc de Triomphe in glorious sunshine with the morning traffic racing around the large roundabout, taking one of a dozen exits, we eventually found a subway which allowed my daughter to cross safely but which is not accessible to wheelchairs. Wheelchair users need to be dropped off by a taxi in the centre of the roundabout and then there is a lift which takes you to the second level but not the top as there are about 45 steps to the viewing area. The Arc de Triomphe, built to commemorate the dead of many French Wars and Victories is an impressive structure and from the top there are dramatic views of Paris.
Once we were back together we headed off to walk/wheel down Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the designer shops, the upmarket car showrooms, elegant pavement cafes and the red-carpeted entrances to luxury hotels such as the Champs Elysees Plaza Hotel.
For some people watching, stop for a short while at one of the many Cafés, Laduree at 75 Avenue des Champs-Élysées for pastries and coffee is a good but not inexpensive choice.
Parisian Cafés are indeed the social and culinary life of the French, observe the animated conversations, as luscious butter-rich croissants are consumed or later in the day indulge in delicious meals.
Feeling restored, early starts are not my favourite, we continued to weave down Champs-Élysées passing the Grand Palais and Petit Palais on our right and arriving at Place de la Concorde an impressive 20 acre square, albeit again set within a large traffic roundabout. At the peak of the French Revolution, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette along with more than a 1,000 followers were executed here. In 1795 in the spirit of reconciliation it was given its current name and in 1833 the central obelisk, 75 ft. high was erected, covered in hieroglyphics it is from a 3,500 year-old Luxor temple. There are also two fountains and eight statues, the Place de la Concorde looks most impressive at night when the whole area is lit up.
Circumnavigating the Place de la Concorde you will discover an entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries and just as importantly, accessible public toilets which there are not many of in Paris.
In the corner of the Jardin des Tuileries is the Musee L'Orangerie which has eight of Monet's large waterlilly pictures and also a collection of Renoir, Picasso and other modern masters. We wandered quietly through the formal gardens of the Tuileries the walkways are lined with chestnut and lime trees, past the hexagonal water pool and towards the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, erected by Napoleon in 1806, and today the entrance to an underground shopping centre.
Stepping out of the Jardin des Tuileries you are faced with the astonishing grandeur and size of the Musee du Louvre and the unmistakable glass pyramid which is now the main entrance.
In normal circumstances, anything less than a full day in the Musee du Louvre does not do it justice but we decided to make a quick stop to see the Mona Lisa and a few of the old Masters. Remarkably,we were able to get quite close as wheelchair users are permitted to go to the other side of the barrier which now holds-back visitors 20-deep with iPads raised, desperately trying to get a blurry image which will be far worse than the postcard you can buy in the shops! Now I am no art expert but what is the point of that?
A word of warning, seeing the queues to enter the Louvre restaurants we bought a sandwich and drink from a counter, it was inedible and from the reaction of many other people in the vicinity we were not alone in this opinion. There is a pleasant restaurant and Cafe in the Louvre but they get incredibly busy and you are probably best advised to eat well before going into the museum and hopefully lasting until you emerge.
Given our time restrictions on exiting the Louvre we took a taxi over to Ile de la Cite the island in the very heart of Paris. We wandered through the Marche aux Fleurs, past the Palais de Justice and seeing there was only a little queue we went to Sainte-Chapelle which is an amazing display of colour and light. On this occasion I could only enter the lower chapel while my daughter climbed the narrow staircase to the upper Chapel which once was the privilege of Royalty and their clergy. There is wheelchair access to the upper chapel but it is best to book it, or arrive earlier in the day.
We crossed Ile de la Cite to visit the impressive Cathedral of Notre Dame which stands majestically at the heart of France both geographically and religiously. Even though it was now early evening the crowds were still evident and we moved slowly around the Cathedral, the slow pace, candle-light and atmosphere immediately makes you realise whatever your beliefs this is a very spiritual place. Wheelchair users can only go so far along the nave before you reach steps and this gave me a few minutes for quiet reflection. As we left Notre Dame, it was already twilight and walking across the Seine and down the Left Bank behind the Cathedral provides the most wonderful aspect and view.
Just nearby on the edge of the Latin Quarter we found a very nice French Cafe and participated in a fixed menu which was excellent value and delicious food. Only in France does a crème brûlée, taste that good.
Moving hastily on we had our first experience of a Paris Bus, the No. 63 (ramped access) took us through St. Germain, past Musee d'Orsay and Hotel des Invalides before crossing the Seine and going to Trocadéro. From here the view of the Eiffel Tower at night is amazing, lit up with a million sparkling lights, this must be one of the most iconic and most recognisable structures in the world. We crossed the river back to the Eiffel Tower and were able to buy tickets quickly (it is much quieter in the evenings) to the second level, unfortunately wheelchairs are not permitted to go to the top. The views even from the second level are dramatic, at night you can still see the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Coeur and look in amazement at the 'City of Light' below you.
Leaving the Eiffel Tower behind was a heart wrench as the moments we shared there were so special but with time running out before the last RER Train back to Disneyland we caught a taxi back to Charles de Gaulle Etoile. As we entered the concourse and approached the lifts it became obvious there was a problem as several animated men were shouting at an intercom in the wall while in the glass lift stuck between floors were two elderly ladies, distraught and frantically wanting to escape.
Our dilemma was nearly as desperate, given this is the only accessible RER station in the vicinity and the last train departed in 20 minutes we suddenly felt there was every chance of finding ourselves stranded in Paris. With little french to call upon we stopped a french policeman (gendarmerie) to ask for assistance. The response could not have been faster if it had been major terrorist incident, as within 5 seconds three other gendarmerie's appeared. The wheelchair and I were lifted from the ground and we immediately proceeded to go down a very steep escalator with my daughter escorted by their colleague.
We reached the first level below ground but instead of trying to see if the lift going down from this level was working we headed straight for an even longer escalator for the same procedure to be repeated. Amazingly we all arrived on the station platform safely, in time for the train and our rescuers departed just as rapidly as they first appeared. That escalator ride was far more frightening than anything in Disneyland!
Exhausted but fulfilled our day in Paris was an amazing time we had overdosed on so many highlights but what a fascinating experience to share.
This whistle-stop tour of Paris is probably only possible if your are familiar with the city in the first instance and if like myself you are in a wheelchair, you will inevitably require some assistance. To really enjoy Paris I would recommend a minimum of four days in the city. For details of the Best Places to Stay in Paris check out these Hotel Reviews.