Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Minimoon in Paris (1)

Now clearly I won’t be telling everything about our minimoon in Paris! But I just thought it might be nice to fill you in on some of the highlights. 

I hope it brings back fabulous memories for those who have already been, and for those who haven’t – a sneak preview into the city d’amour!

Arriving at the Gare du Nord on the Eurostar brings you right into the centre of the city. I’ve done my fair share of travelling in the past, but I’ve never had a reaction to a city like I had when I arrived in Paris. Normally you arrive at an airport way out in the sticks and have to travel through the not so nice bits before arriving somewhere worthy of a photo. But not Paris! 

Arriving at Gare du Nord.

As soon as you walk through the station doors, there it is, Paris, just as all the guidebooks promised. Immediately I was in love with the place. With its tall pale buildings with black iron balconies, pavement cafes with red awnings and lots and lots of geraniums in window boxes, within a minute of arriving, Paris did not disappoint.

I was so excited, despite carrying a heavy backpack, I did a little dance on the pavement.

To new arrivals, the metro system looks impossible, so we decided to walk to the Gare de l’est to give us a fighting chance of an easier route to our apartment, down by the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t look very far on the map. Hindsight is indeed a marvellous thing. It didn’t take us long to realise that the cartographer had been a bit sparing with his road listings. In short, we got a bit lost and it was much further than it looked on the map.

I have no idea what this is - but it was very nice!

But to me, this is the most exciting part of travelling - arriving somewhere new, with new smells and sights and languages. Getting a bit lost in the past has opened the door to some fabulous places that I never would have found if I’d stuck to the guidebook. Clearly you don’t want to go wandering around the ghetto and I’m aware that arriving somewhere new is when you are at your most vulnerable, but we were in central Paris, the sun was shining and we weren’t running to a timetable, so I figured we would be OK.

You have no idea how good it felt to be back in the travelling groove, in my scruffs with all my belongings in a backpack. For a long, long time I thought those days were behind me. When I was ill I spent too much time looking at my travel photos, trying to go back to my happy places and grieving at the thought of hanging up my plug adaptors, trek towel and head torch. But here I was in Paris – I was back baby!

I must admit to being a bit scared of Paris when I arrived, in particular of Parisians. Parisians have a fearsome reputation for arrogance, rudeness and a refusal to speak English. The latter is fair enough – but with an ‘O-Level’ in French that was never very good at the best of times, I was nervous of being outed as a linguistic idiot. 

This vision of a scary, rude Parisian screaming at me in French, while I stammered ‘plus lentement s'il vous plâit’, couldn’t have been further than the truth. Everyone we met was charming and couldn’t have been more helpful. Like the man who found us looking at a perplexing metro wall map trying to plan a route to our apartment. Not only did he speak to us in English, while we tried to speak to him in French, he accompanied us to the nearest station and then told us which road to follow - radiating from the square where we’d surfaced, before tipping his hat, bidding us ‘Au revoir’ and heading off in the opposite direction. Quelle gentile homme! 

Nothing can compare to that moment when you first spy the Eiffel Tower. When you travel underground, popping up like a little Meerkat in random squares and boulevards, you miss the great sites. Walking across the square I thought ‘Ok you big tower of metal, I know you’re here somewhere’. When we finally turned the corner into the road where our apartment was – there it was, all along, the ‘Tour Eiffel’. I let out a little scream and did another little dance for joy on a pavement in Paris. This was turning into a very good day!

Shout 'YIPPEE' and do a little dance.

Our apartment was on the 21st floor with amazing views of the city – you could even see Notre Dame in the distance.

View from our apartment.

We deposited our belongings and set off to explore, heading for the River Seine where we spontaneously jumped onto a river cruise and celebrated with a can of Heineken! I sat with Tris on the open top of the boat and couldn’t remember the last time I was so happy. While our wedding was amazing and a big success, it was nice for things to be just about the two of us again. We sailed along the river to the sounds of traditional French music, while the city sites glided past us – the left and the right banks. The tower, the Grand and Petit Palais, under the Pont Alexandre III, past the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries and around the Îlse de la Cité with the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was magical.

Cruising the River Seine.

Same Seine but different!

All modes of transport covered.

Back on dry land, we avoided the hundreds of hawkers selling Eiffel Tower tat, with a well rehearsed ‘Non-Merci’ and sat and watched the sun set before going for dinner at a local café with fabulous views of the tower - which lit up and started to twinkle at 10pm. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


Our restaurant.

The Eiffel Tower all lit up.

Sadly, not the perfect start to the next day – Tris had eaten something that didn’t agree with him. I was woken to the romantic sounds of vomiting. Tris hasn’t been physically sick since the 1980’s, so I knew it was serious and was duly dispatched to hunt down and bring back lucozade from the local supermarché. Mission accomplished and with Tris promising to phone me immediately if his condition deteriorated, I set off to ‘do’ Paris solo.

Photo taken while stuck on roundabout.

Apart from inadvertently getting stuck on a roundabout in the middle of all the crazy Parisian drivers, and an attempted scam by a pretend deaf person, I had a fairly uneventful wander through St Germain and the Latin Quarter. Although I spent 6 months travelling by myself around the world a few years ago, I was missing my travel buddy. Ahhh :-)

One thing that did amaze me though, was that in the midst of all the crazy driving, you’d see stylish Parisian women on bicycles, in crisp white shirts and tailored beige trousers with perfect hair (NO helmets) gliding calmly though the madness. Bonkers!

Day three was probably our best day, with an early morning trip up the tower - fighting every fibre in my being not to re-create the 1985 'View to a Kill', Duran Duran video with baddie, Grace Jones. The view from the top was spectacular with the wide boulevards and city planning clear to see. Tempting us up on the top of Montmatre, pure white and hazy in the distance, you could just about make out Sacré Coeur – our afternoon destination.

Going up?

Splendid view from up here.

Like little Meerkats we popped up out of the metro again, and this time we were right by the Moulin Rouge. Again it was one of those iconic Parisian pictures and again it didn’t disappoint. We sat on the benches on the gravelled central strip and ate baguettes and counted the sex shops. Tris had been struggling all morning with hay fever so nipped into a nearby shop to get some hanky’s, while I started to text a friend ‘Hi, sat having lunch outside sex shops, Tris has gone to get tissues’. I re-read my text, thought better of it and pressed cancel!

Moulin Rouge

We didn't go in here!

While Tris had been acquainting himself with the Paris drainage system the day before, I’d picked up some leaflets from the foyer of our hotel. It included one from ‘Discover Walks’ which invited us to ‘See Paris with a Parisian’. The walking tours were free – the guides were paid in tips so it was an incentive for them to pull out all the stops.

The tour was fantastic – if you are in Paris I would really recommend them

Our tour guides.

Climbing up to Sacre Coeur.

Removing the curse of Dalida.

The guides, two young girls, clearly loved their city and wanted us to love it too. They were really amusing and told us tales and stories as we wound our way up through the streets of Montmatre, which I’m sure we wouldn’t have got with a regular tour. If I thought I loved Paris, then I loved, loved, loved Montmatre with Sacré Coeur the cherry on the top. After the tour had finished, Tris and I sat on the steps at the front of the cathedral and along with lots of other tourists, watched the street performers – including the best ‘keepie uppie’ skills I’ve ever seen.

Sacre Coeur - beautiful.
Impressive ball control!

After that we wandered through the streets, bought art and sat at a pavement cafe drinking cold pression biere and eating free nuts. 

Buying art.


That evening, while crossing the pont des artes, I remembered that I had the padlock for my gym locker in my bag. So we scratched ‘T+A 11.6.11’ (the date of our wedding) onto the lock and attached it, along with thousands of other ‘love locks’ onto the bridge and threw the key into the river. If you are in Paris, see if you can find it – it’s by the second lamppost from the right bank, on the left hand side.

Our 'Love Lock'.

A whole lot of love!

 More from Paris tomorrow!

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