Paris 2008

The day started with a panic. The usually efficient Tigger had made a mistake over the time to get up. I had not noticed this, so I am as much to blame. We were due at the Eurostar terminal by 7am and it had gone 6:45 by the time we left the house.

We rushed down the road, burdened like mules with our luggage, casting glances over our shoulder to see if a bus or taxi was in view. We ended up walking the whole way and arriving at the Eurostar entry gates on the dot of 7am. This is pretty good going and I can only think that fear lent us wings.

As usual, we had to submit to the humiliating business of putting our possessions through the X-ray machine and then walking through the detector gate. I forgot my belt contained metal but when the detector alarm went off, I didn’t hear it and took no notice. I was stopped by a security officer who told me I should stop to be searched if I heard the alarm. I explained about my hearing aids and he became a little more forgiving.

On we went to passport control and then into the departure lounge to await boarding time. This is always a hurried affair because they allow you only 20 minutes for boarding. We were in the first seats in coach 17, right down the front of the train. I felt like yelling “Charge!” as I ran through the crowds pulling the wheelie suitcase after me.

At last we were seated with our baggage stowed and could draw a breath.

This morning the niggling pain in my ear has departed. Whether this is permanent or whether the painkiller is still working, remains to be seen. Either way, the absence of the ache is a welcome relief and has improved my mood considerably.

I am still deaf in my left ear, which throws the audible world out of kilter. I cannot tell where sounds come from and can only make out announcements, whether in French or English, with difficulty.

We are in standard class on this trip, so in a while I will have to think about going to the buffet car to buy breakfast. Meanwhile, the morning countryside rolls past the window, having a soothing effect. It is a grey day but we are cocooned as we speed through Kent on the way to France.


I was queueing at the buffet during the passage through the tunnel so by the time I regained my seat, we were in France. France greeted us with rain but, just for a moment, as we left Calais-Frethun, there was sunshine.

I had been looking forward to a good Eurostar breakfast but was disappointed. When it was my turn, nearly all food had gone. There were not even any croissants.

La Gare du Nord, Paris
La Gare du Nord, Paris

Arriving at La Gare du Nord, we crossed the road to a small cafe for coffee and then set out to look for our hotel. The online map had given an incorrect position for the hotel’s postcode so we set off along the rue de Dunkerque in the wrong direction and then had to come all the way back. Hotel Paris-Nord is not far from the station, in fact almost in sight of it.

La Villa Andrea
La Villa Andrea and Parisian eco-warriors

Our room would not be ready until 2pm but we were able to leave our luggage and set out to find lunch. Paris is not any more of an oasis for vegetarians than any other French city but in the end we settled for an Italian restaurant, La Villa Andrea, offering a lunchtime menu for 13€. We had a tasteless Minestrone soup and a pizza.

Hotel Paris-Nord
The unassuming façade of Hotel Paris-Nord

It was only 1:30 when we returned to the hotel but the room was ready. It is on the 3rd floor but there is a lift. The lift is so tiny that I have to take my backpack off or we can’t fit into it! We unpacked our kettle, made tea and settled down for a snooze.

Deafness in my left ear is causing difficulties but by listening carefully I have managed so far. My ear has become painful again and as I don’t know why this should be so, it is a little worrying. I will try to avoid taking painkillers unless I need them to help me to sleep.


Vélib’

In the photo of the hotel, you may have noticed the bicycles. This is one of the Vélib’ stations. Vélib’ bicycles can be used free of charge once you identify yourself to the system or more easily by a subscription card that costs €29 per annum. You collect a bicycle from any station and return it to any station, using it freely in the meantime.

This is an excellent way to get people out of cars and on to bicycles and it really seems to work! We saw plenty of the easily recognizable bikes in use throughout Paris and the station in front of the hotel was nearly always empty.

If you read French, you will find information on the Vélib’ system here.


La Gare de l'Est
La Gare de l’Est

We decided to go for a ramble so I gave in and took a pill. As the pain gradually subsided, so my mood improved.

We walked down and came out at the back of the Gare de l’Est. We walked through it, noticing how Parisian stations seem more spacious and better laid out than London stations.

Relaxed police presence
Relaxed police presence

We continued along the Canal St Martin to the Place de le République where we noticed a large though relaxed police presence. I spoke to one of the officers, who politely saluted me (can you imagine similar courtesy from the British police?) and was told that it was because there was a protest in progress.

Passage Brady
Passage Brady

Carrying on along the Boulevard St Martin, we came to a pleasant cafe called Au Petit Pot and had coffee.

Walking on along rue du Faubourg St Martin, we discovered Passage Brady, an alley occupied almost exclusively by Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants and Asian food shops. Most restaurants had a special vegetarian section on their menus so we might well return here.

Pigeons under the Porte St Martin
Pigeons under the Porte St Martin

Tigger’s inner pigeon brought us unerringly to Boulevard Magenta and Plaisir des Iles, an Indian restaurant we visited last time we were in Paris. We thought we might have an early supper here but it was closed. It was only 6pm so, thinking it might open later, we have come back to the hotel for a rest and a cup of tea with the intention of trying again later.

So far, my good impressions of Paris have been confirmed. In particular, the people are friendly, polite and helpful. I can only hope that French visitors feel able to say the same about Londoners.

St Anthony with his pig
St Anthony with his pig

On the way up, I asked the hotel clerk what time breakfast would be tomorrow. He replied that it was from 6 to 10am (and tomorrow is Sunday, remember). Compare that with the one-hour “window” at the hotel in Glasgow. In the UK you are lucky to find a two-hour breakfast period.


At about 8pm local time, we besitirred ourselves and stepped out into streets lit with evening sunlight. The restaurant was open.

Private courtyard
Private courtyard

Restaurant Plaisir des Iles* is a Maurician Indian restaurant and the preparation of the dishes reflects this. There has probably also been some adjustment to local French tastes just as Indian food in the UK is adjusted to local British tastes. (For example, no Indian restaurant we have tried in Scotland has ever brought us hot towels after the meal as they invariably do England.)

As there was no thali on the menu, we chose soup and several side dishes, rice and nan bread. The food was delicately spiced but not “hot” (French taste?) and very tasty. We shall definitely return whether this week or on future trips.

Evening in Paris
Evening in Paris

The walk back to the hotel through a Paris dressed for nighttime in its garb of lights was very pleasant.

I had been pessimistic about weather prospects and brought my winter anorak but it has been warm today, too warm for coats though with an occasional flurry of raindrops.

We have learnt that the Pope is due to visit Paris on Friday and Saturday and will do our best to adjust our itinerary so as to go nowhere near that nasty little man.


*51 Boulevard Magenta, 75010 Paris, tel 01 42 49 20 53
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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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