Early in May, Rom and I booked a vacation that included a visit to his parents, two days in Paris and three in London. We booked flights and hotels and Eurostar train tickets, and I marked some major tourist spots on my Ulmon Paris app. That is as far as our planning went, because we ended up travelling early, and had no Internet access for a while. Will I tell you that we had a whirlwind wonderful trip with zero prior knowledge? Read on 🙂
We stayed overnight in London before departing on the Eurostar from Kings Cross/St. Pancras international train station. It was quite a haul across town on the Underground with our luggage, but would I pack light? Nooo! I had a full-size suitcase (24″) with space for gift and souvenir purchases, and a heavy backpack. I was loaded down with the 8 books I’d bought and read in Sussex, which I couldn’t bear to leave behind. It was my first Eurostar trip and first Chunnel crossing. Since you go through several tunnels before the channel crossing, you don’t know the difference when you are under the water, except it seems a little longer. On the ground, there are big berms along the trackside to reduce noise, so visibility is limited from the train windows. The terrain from Calais to Paris is all grain-growing plains, and Rom noted the number of wind farms. I saw homes and farms with roofs in the French style, unsurprisingly, like in Quebec.
In the meager tourist info we’d read, travellers were heavily warned about the Gare du Nord train station area. It gave me the impression that the surrounding blocks would be crammed with dangerous vagrants! How silly; it is just like any other train or bus terminal, crammed with tourists. The surrounding block is not tourist-driven, though, except for the small neighbourhood hotels, including ours. There is a non-upscale array of convenience stores, bakeries, produce markets, McDonalds and the like. The only thing that alarmed me was that I had never encountered a very persistent panhandler with a young child before. Obviously I am not very well-travelled. We walked 5 minutes to our lovely little hotel.
We are old enough and “rich” enough that we don’t stay at hostels or anywhere with shared bathrooms. Even so, this was a splurge for us. When we are in London we stay in an outlying area and take the Tube in to the city daily. Here, we were essentially paying the normal rates to stay closer to the action. Given that we were only in town 48 hours, we made the right decision for us. The hotel provided a full hot/cold breakfast buffet daily and I tried to follow the news feed on the TV monitor in French.
On Day 1, we took the Metro down to the Louvre station and departed on a grand trek. I was taken aback to find out the bottom of the Louvre pyramid is in the metro station/shopping concourse! I had guessed it would be in the museum itself, in a café/gift shop area. We emerged from underground at the Tuileries Gardens. Until that time, we had not experienced any warm summer days, and suddenly we were in Paris and it was 25 C! A bit of a shock. Expecting Parisian/British cool and damp weather, I found that the landscape was parched. The wide paths of the gardens were made of dusty sand, and the plantings were drought-resistant. I regretted that I knew nothing of the history of the area. Clearly it was significant, but I didn’t get to read about it until my return. I missed out on a lot because I didn’t know what to look for. I did see it through fresh and unbiased eyes, but that is not a plus. I really liked the addition of modern sculptures throughout the gardens, along with the classical ones.
We proceeded along the Place de la Concorde to the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. I was delighted to find that the avenues of beautiful trees were horse chestnuts. They are present, but uncommon, where I live, and I have happy memories of drilling the conkers with a little hand auger to make necklaces when I was a kid! The Champs-Élysées was a tourist madhouse, as you would expect, but on a summery day, that was not unwelcome. You probably know that the avenue is lined with international chain stores such as Sephora, Disney, and Benetton, as well as designer houses like Chanel, Dior, Gauthier and Cartier. I enjoyed strolling past but was not really tempted to shop. In fact, we only travelled down one side and didn’t return to see the other.
The Eiffel Tower was looking very close so we crossed over the Seine on one of its many (37, apparently) bridges. I didn’t realize the Seine was so narrow, green, and easily traversed. There were signs posted warning tourists not to buy souvenirs from illegal street vendors, who displayed their wares on the ground on blankets, all the better to easily scoop them up and run off when police approached. One of us is not so good with heights so a voyage to the viewing platform was not undertaken. We also declined dining at the Jules Verne – the “Experience Menu” at €190 each doesn’t have a vegetarian option…so we wandered off to a local crêperie. The proprietor humoured me by allowing me to order in French. I think she felt she was playing a role in my little tourist drama. We ate ratatouille galettes and I discovered my new favourite drink, the Kir Breton: hard cider with crème de cassis. Mwa!
From there we walked along the Left Bank, along the boardwalk known as Les Berges de Seine, to the Pont Alexandre III. This is definitely the picnic and party spot for trust fund babies, who are even provided with sand lounging chairs at the outside terraces in which to drink and loaf. For the rest, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and several hundred “thous” are always appropriate.
We ended the day by walking as far as St. Germain for one of my must-sees, the side-by-side Café de Flore and Café Les Deux Magots, home-away-from-home for all my favourite existentialists, who so wooed me when I was 20 or so. It was a quick metro ride back to the hotel after our 7 hour promenade!
Thanks to everyone who commented on my earlier in-Paris photo (June 11) and I apologize for my lack of replies.
To be continued tomorrow night