Ah, Paris. The city of lights and love. One of the most visited destinations in the world each year, and, as the place where our European adventures all started, somewhere I imagine I’ll always have a soft spot for. I wouldn’t normally be keen to retrace our steps with so much more of Europe still to see, but for Paris we made an exception. Besides, we had another very good reason to go: we were going to be meeting my parents for the start of their own trip!
We did actually have a new ‘first’ to start us off though – our first international rail journey, London to Paris aboard the Eurostar. I don’t personally mind airports, as they always mark either the start of an exciting period of travel or the point at the end of a long trip where you are nearly able to fall asleep in your own bed again, and I like both, but trains definitely had an extra appeal. Pop down to Kings Cross after work in a Friday, pass through customs in all of about five minutes, relax in a comfortable, roomy seat for a couple of hours and then step off in central Paris. No waiting around, no having to arrive two hours ahead of time. Plus, you can bring your own food and wine on board – how great is that?
As we’d had dinner in London before leaving, it was quite getting quite late by the time we stepped off the train at Gare du Nord. Our hotel was not too far away though, and the night was nice, so we struck off south on foot. Our last stay in Paris had led us to expect a room not dissimilar in size to a shoebox, but the Comfort Hotel Gare de L’Est was surprisingly big – closer to an apartment than a typical hotel, and much larger than the photos online made it look. It was also spotlessly clean, and quite cheap for central Paris (it’s in the 10th arrondissement). Pleased by all of this, we dropped our gear and headed straight back out for a wine. It was the end of the working week for us, after all.
I have thought once or twice, when out and about at night in Paris, that the city could also easily pass itself off as the City of Loos, as this appears to be what the central area is so often used for by its inhabitants. I know people are forever writing about how cultured and chic Parisians are (we did after our first trip as well, to be fair), but they obviously haven’t spent much time outside at night. Everyone just pees everywhere, and this doesn’t quite fit well with my definition of ‘cultured’. On the short walk around the corner in our search for a bar, we must have seen at least three guys with their pants down.
Never mind. We found a little bar on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, and sat down for a little people-watching. I love how in Europe all the tables on the pavements are set up with both chairs jammed together facing outwards. While it means that when you sit down you and your friend are squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder, you can also both see what’s going on around you. We sat like this enjoying a couple of cheap red wines for an hour or so, before realising how late it was and heading home to bed.
We had a free day the next day before my parents arrived in the evening(!), so decided to go check out a couple things we didn’t manage to see last time around.
To start us off we walked to Sacré-Cœur, which, sitting on top of Montmartre, is the highest point in Paris. Montmartre has been a central scene for quite a few well-known movies – Amélie, Moulin Rouge!, and An American in Paris, to name a few – although it is better known now as a nightclubbing district. Sacré-Cœur itself is quite an impressive building, although I think it looks a little like it is made of cinderblocks, and it is also a lot newer than I’d realised: it was only finished in 1914, which makes it a total newbie in European history terms. Looking back over Paris from up there was obviously pretty good, and I was a little jealous of the views that some of the houses on the hill must get out their windows every day.
On our stroll back down we also came across the Moulin Rogue. In the daytime from the street, I found it surprisingly underwhelming for something as well-known as it is. Of course, its the shows inside which make it famous, but I thought that it could definitely do with a little improvement on the outside as well, for the benefit of sightseers like us.
We found a place for lunch, and with all Paris has to offer I’m a little sad to say it was somewhere we’ve been before. The day was very hot and we’d be walking around looking for somewhere nice for quite some time, and once we saw it we decided to just go in anyway. We’d actually experienced the stereotypical snobby-French-waiter there on our last visit – after our meal when we wanted to pay, I had consulted our phrasebook, finally managed to get the attention of our guy, and had a swing: “apportez-moi l’addition, s’il vows plaît”. He looked a little like I’d spat in his face, stalked off and never returned, which I just loved. The staff were much more helpful this time, unfortunately, but the food was still very nice and the spot on a busy pedestrian street corner perfect for watching the city go by.
To end the afternoon we decided to go back to Galeries Lafayette. We’d been already, but it was still pretty impressive the second time (and I don’t even like shopping). If you do find yourself there, make sure to pop up to the roof. It is basically just a giant lounging area, with seats and couches, and places to buy a refreshing juice. The views are also excellent, especially of the neighbouring Opera building. Definitely check it out.
Sightseeing done, it was time to attend to the reason we were actually in Paris at all – to go meet my parents! We hadn’t seen them for nearly a year so we were both very much looking forward to it.
They turned out to be quite tired after the long flight from New Zealand to Paris, so after a fairly quick but very enjoyable dinner we left them to catch up on some sleep and headed out to see some more of Paris at night.
Our destination for the evening was the Eiffel Tower, which we had yet to see up close after dark. We went by way of La Madeleine, which was shut at night but which still had an impressive flower display, and after 45 minutes walk made it to the gardens beneath the Tower. How does it look up close at night? As good as you’d expect – just amazing. The one thing which puts a bit of a damper on it as an experience is the millions of Indian men trying to sell you things while you sit an admire the view. Selfie-sticks, bottles of champagne or beer, roses, water, flowers – you’ll have all of these shoved in your face more or less constantly while you’re there. However, I believe we have grown somewhat immune to such people, and after the first 200 or so had tried we barely noticed them any more, and went home happy.
The next morning we met back up with my parents, and spent the day doing touristy things. We strolled through the Louvre courtyards before the crowds arrived. We checked out the birds at a typical French bird street market, such as you might see on any day of the week in Paris (I’m joking – this was actually quite weird). We saw the Notre Dame, wandered around Ile de la Cite, and took a boat cruise down the Seine. After that, we picked up lunch and had a picnic on the grass under the Eiffel Tower. The sun was shining, and it was all very fun, but most of all it was just so cool to get to hang out with mum and dad in Paris. We’ve said it before, but it is a special thing to meet up with family in one of the great cities of the world and experience it together. I think I’m gushing a bit, so here are some photos:
It was a good day.
We were due to catch the train back to London later that evening, but had enough time for dinner with mum and dad before we left. Last time we stayed in Paris there was a restaurant at the end of our street which always looked incredibly popular, to the extent that there was a huge line outside every single day, and so we decided to check it out and see what the fuss was about.
Le Bouillon Chartier turned out to be a cool-looking place, serving what appeared to be fairly authentic french food, at what we thought was a very good price for central Paris. When I was finding the link above I had a quick read of other people’s reviews, as they seemed to be surprising low; this appeared to be largely due to perceived ‘poor service’, but don’t pay attention to any of that. Those were probably all written by Americans, who generally move around Europe in a constant state of minor offence at everything they encounter. I mean, the service wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was Parisian and it certainly had character – our waiter in particular had to have several attempts before he managed to bring the correct food from the kitchen to our table, but that was probably just because he kept drinking all the half-finished glasses of wine after their owners had paid up and left, so fair enough really. I’d recommend giving it a go, the food was really nice.
And after that we were out of time. We said goodbye to my parents (only temporarily, since they were coming to hang out with us in London in about a week), wandered back to the train station and jumped on board to head home. Au revoir Paris, until next time.
(Note – in stark contrast to the current European winter, the weather is so nice in all the photos because this trip in fact took place at the end of June. We’re just really behind, although this blog has sat written and inexplicably unpublished for a couple of months now. We’ll try our best to catch up while the weather is bad and we’ve got some free time in London over the next few weeks)