Even with a check-out time of 11am, I’d have liked a little more time to wallow in this glorious room. But – it’s the first day of the rest of our lives and I can’t be dawdling now! I’m under strict instructions from the new hubby (I note slightly blearily that it’s a little late to be laying down orders, even so) that we need to be on our way before lunchtime. We manage to get out without being waylaid from our primary objective (whatever that may still turn out to be) – so apologies to everyone who was hoping to see us on our first morning of married life.
There’s a mountain of Very Exciting Items piled on the table in our dining room, around which we attempt to eat breakfast, while opening things. People have been very naughty but very generous and I wonder whether we’d have been able to get out of the door on time if we hadn’t specified no presents, if this is your interpretation! But thank you anyway; we’ll have a fabulous holiday now. Though, so many people had told me the night before that ‘you’ll have a fantastic time’ I begin to doubt whether it’s a secret from anyone except me.
I’m still guessing when we get to the DLR, and only allow myself to hope that I’ve guessed correctly when we get on to the Circle line. I can finally allow myself to believe when we get off at St Pancras, where I have a grin so big it splits my face in half. Omig we’re going to Paris!
The train is noticeably smoother than our suburban railways and it’s weird seeing famous landmarks that I drive over so often, from a different perspective, when we go under the A13 and the QE2 bridge. Poor Stevie, it’s all been a bit much; there’s a gentle but insistent snoring coming from my left.
We finally get to the hotel and one final surprise – we have a balcony with a view of Sacre Coeur! Several photos and a little bit of video footage out of the way, plus a quick change – and we’re out again. The temperature is still beautifully warm, so we walk down to Notre Dame and the Seine, stopping for dinner on the corner of Petit Pont. We walk back to the hotel via the Pompidou Centre and buy some beer close to the hotel. Stevie manages to finish his but I drop off to sleep instantaneously, my beer almost untouched by the side of the bed.
Tuesday 22nd September 2009 – Paris
The last couple of days have caught up with me and we’re almost late for breakfast. The thought of food and exploration can never keep me a-bed for long however, so we’re up and out and on our way to Montmartre in good time. It’s another gloriously hot and warm day in Paris and Sacre Coeur looks most imposing, bouncing back the sunlight from its white façade.
Old Paris is spread out in front of us when we get to the top of the hill and we note how the buildings are no higher than seven storeys. Standing in front of Sacre Coeur, it can’t be the limit of the knowledge of the day. Old-style town planning, or economy, or both?
Steve is reluctant to take me on a tour of Pigalle by foot (for which my feet are quite thankful), but as luck would have it, we’re just in time to take a ride on the little tourist train which takes in the district. I even manage to take a glancing (very glancing) picture of the Moulin Rouge. Returning to Sacre Coeur, we take a stroll around Place de Tertre and check out the artists: I want to come back and have our picture done later in the week. I compliment one artist on her skill (‘ils sont tres joli, madame’) and am complimented in turn on my French (thank you Isabelle, I whisper to myself).
Skirting the edge of the main shopping districts, we find ourselves at the very impressive Academie National de Musique and Café de la Paix at Le Grand Hotel. Tres grand indeed: being on holiday we are merely amused at paying €12 for a black coffee and a bottle of Orangina… but to be fair, the loos are something else. Before we’re tempted to stay and blow the budget completely, we decide a slightly more proletariat ice cream in the Tuileries is in order. We pause on the way down Avenue de l’Opera to have a Holly Golightly moment, marvelling at a diamond-encrusted €50k Rolex.
The lack of actual greenery in Paris gardens surprises me; I notice later that my feet are not just glowing but also I can’t tell whether that’s a tan or dust… turns out it’s both. We decide to take a boat trip down the Seine, ostensibly to rest my glowing feet. But the urge to take pictures overrides and I spend a slightly uncomfortable and very warm 1.5 hours hanging over the back of the boat, snapping away, just to avoid reflections from the windows (I forgot my polariser, doh!) It’s a great way to catch your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre however, both of which are immense. And that’s where we’re going tomorrow.
Wednesday 23rd September – Paris
Having been lulled into expectations of continuing beautiful weather, I am somewhat disappointed to find the day starts overcast and am forced to ditch my new dress for trousers. ‘I’ll show you somewhere to wear a new dress; you ain’t seen nothing yet’ says Steve. Hmmm…. Impressed by my fortitude and stamina of the day before, he also decides to take pity on me and we get one-day Metro cards instead of trekking it today (phew).
First stop is the Eiffel Tower; at 276m to the top viewing tower, it’s the tallest man-made structure we’ve been up (it’s rather dwarfed by the Untersburg I admit, but that’s a natural phenomenon). Next is the Arc de Triomphe; after being spoilt with a lift at the Tower, we decline to climb 284 steps, the ground level being quite impressive by itself.
After that, we decide to visit a couple of rather famous and enigmatic ladies, stopping off on the way at the Louvre’s Starbucks (I note with interest on our return that there may shortly be a MacDonald’s there too). I have to keep asking Steve to remind me who I am; Mrs S hasn’t quite sunk in. Chinking our wedding rings periodically against any convenient table also helps.
The crowd around the Mona Lisa is surprisingly respectful; with only a minimum of pushing and shoving you can get quite close. Both here and at the Venus de Milo (who pulls a slightly smaller crowd) little notice is given to the admonition against cameras. Is it really necessary to prove so definitively that you’ve been there, to the possible detriment of what you’re going to see (don’t even get me started on flash!)? Especially when there are so many images of both out there, the majority of which have the benefit of having been taken in isolation and by professionals…
Our last tourist stop of the day is Notre Dame (after a stroll past the town hall). We wait at the back of a very long queue which, thankfully, we quickly realise is for the cloisters and not the actual cathedral, and duck into a side door instead. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. But all these camera flashes where there is no doubt that photography is not welcome is a little irritating. Especially when it’s really not that dark, and the subject is really not that close.
We head out in search of a couple of calming beers before dinner, the latter being ordered in perfectly understood (if not actually perfect) French, along with at least a bottle of a very tasty Merlot, and in the company of a certain Mr & Mrs Fraser (no, Gabaldonites, they were from Liverpool. But yes, I did smile to myself on hearing the name. Especially when it reminded me that Book 7 was waiting for my return). They are slowly making their way up from the south coast, courtesy of their boat, Emmanuele, currently moored off Place de Bastille. I even had the opportunity to give Steve a short lesson in French grammar (de la / du) over a glass of calvados.
Thursday 24th September – Paris
I have been looking forward to this morning ever since the Eurostar ride. Steve had presented me with a guidebook on Paris, since I now knew where we were headed, and asked me to say which places I particularly wanted to see. Without hesitation, I have always wanted to see Versailles.
After having bought our tickets in French again, we find our way down to the appropriate platform and wait innocently for the train. Which is a double-decker! Steve points out that the tunnels are plenty high enough but, what hadn’t occurred to me, much higher than those at home. So – the system must originally have been designed with double-deck trains in mind. Cunning…
Even though today has also started overcast, the palace itself still shines like the gilt-coated beacon it is, all down the long straight carriageway. From your first sight you know this is going to be thoroughly, beautifully OTT. The palace tour takes in probably a fraction of the interior, but still takes until lunchtime to get through; I don’t know if it would have been quicker without the crush of tourists, but we don’t feel to be moving overly slowly. There are so very many rooms, all decorated in the definition of excess; can anyone really ever have known, by the time building work finished, how much or what was here? The whole place is so outrageously lavish, how could anyone have been surprised at the anger of the hungry masses?
It’s still fabulous to walk into the hall of mirrors and appreciate the effect they would have had with the sun shining right on them (good job it was overcast this morning; could’ve had our eyes out). Also fascinating and massive is the hall hung with the paintings commemorating French military victories. ‘You note,’ says Steve, ‘no mention of, say, Agincourt, Waterloo… ‘ Yet another hall remembers noteable figures from French history, rendered in statues with fantastic attention to detail.
We take a very French, very haute cuisine and very tasty lunch in the currently empty renovated restaurant, served by teenage waiters who already appear to take the profession so much more seriously than those at home. And then we tackle the gardens, which are like one gigantic maze; you truly cannot appreciate the massive scale if you haven’t seen it for yourself. Marie-Antoinette’s own section, unless you’re feeling quite fit, is so far away there is another special little tourist train to take you there.
At last, we have our fill of decadent history and make our way back to the double-decker train. I feel like a kid who’s having their first ride on a London bus! The journey back to the city revives us and a big beer near Notre Dame has us right as rain. One last duty to perform before the end of our last night in Paris: I want to take some sunset pictures from Pont Neuf.
And for those of you who are interested in such things: Paris, Civics: 3.