Just returned from a whistlestop tour of Paris. It left me conked out the first half of today, but I think it’s worth it.
We took the first train from London St Pancras at 5.25am, which arrived at Gare du Nord at 8.50 Paris time. First stop – the Louvre. We got on the RER B train, and it struck me how ghetto it looked. I thought the Underground was filthy but this was worse. This is my 3rd trip to the capital – surely it wasn’t this bad? Maybe cos I cabbed it last time? It was very quick though. I think it’s like what the Crossrail will be. Paris already has at least 3 of them! And they have cool double decker trains!
So we scotted off to the Louvre in the rain under our bright red umbrella. It was quiet, but not for long as groups and groups of school children filtered in. I thought, wow, they’re so lucky to be born in the right part of the world – I definitely did not go to the Louvre on a school trip. I don’t even think we went to the Singapore National Museum – my mother took me. Anyway, by the time we reached the Mona Lisa, it was already very crowded – so much for thinking it’ll be worse on a weekend. A new development was the ‘free’ ticket – last year I only had to wave an ID. Now I have to queue to get a free ticket.
We then checked-in to what was a horrendous hotel on Boulevard de Rochechouart. Please, please don’t stay here. I have pretty low expectations, and have stayed in a variety of low budget places, but this one takes the cake. 50euros for a poorly presented room with peeling wallpaper. I felt like I was in ‘Down and Out in Paris’ by George Orwell (mind you, the conditions he was in were possibly worse… but not that much worse). The area was… ‘interesting’, with a surprisingly rip-off priced cafe nearby. It was opposite Anvers Metro station, and walking distance to Sacre Coeur, which were the main things going for it. Seriously, don’t take your boy/girlfriend here – not unless you want to test your relationship! The bed was comfortable enough though. We are only going to be there for less than 7 hours…
Made our way to Musee d’Orsay. While queue-ing outside, hubby despondently commented on his experience in Paris so far. “You haven’t even been here long enough!” Indeed, do not miss Musee d’Orsay. It was the main point of my trip, as I haven’t had the chance to go so far. All the Impressionist greats are there; Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, and post-Impressionists Van Gogh, Seurat, Signac. I remember seeing this stuff in print for the first time at Bedok Library, as a 12 year old, in the research bit, because I was in love with Nick Rhodes and Nick Rhodes loves Impressionist stuff. I am also deeply fond of Art Deco, and there were rooms and rooms of Art Deco furniture. It appears to have been inspired by flowing lines in nature, and one furniture seems to fulfil more than one function; for example, the bed has built-in cupboards, and the mirror has a built-in stand, etc and they’re all obviously aesthetically pleasing. Oh I do love Musee d’Orsay! And I love it even more because I got in free! It opens til 9.15pm on Thursdays and is free for EU residents under 26.
After that we strolled to St Germain des Pres. We inadvertently ended up at Cafe Les Deux Magots. While waiting to be served, a flick in our guidebook revealed that Picasso, Sartre and Hemingway used to hang out here. We sat under the shade of Paris’ oldest church. Cool stuff, but not sure if that justified the highly-priced orange juice. The apricot tart was lovely though, selected from a tray brought round by a friendly lady. Vicious French birds circled the cafe tables, swooping on every last crumb. They are really not scared of people!
We walked on, and stumbled across a very very jolly area of restaurants nearby. We were very tempted to ignore our reservation at a restaurant elsewhere as we were already so hungry, but decided to head to said restaurant instead. Have a walk near the St Germain des Pres area – looks like you can get two courses for 10 or 15euros, which is pretty cheap for Paris.
Le Petit Nicois is a classy, contemporary restaurant with friendly waiters. Food there is more like nouvelle cuisine. Quite a middle-aged clientele – we looked decidedly ‘backpacker’ in comparison. I seized the opportunity to get my foie gras fill – I had foie gras starter and veal kidney with foie gras sauce. Both were really, really nice. As with offal, the taste does get ‘sicky’ after a while. The filet mignon, though, was out of this world. It was so wonderfully smoky, the texture so beautiful, and the taste so unconventional I could not put a finger on what was in it. It was special. The eggplant/aubergine starter sounds bog standard but was nicely crispy and deliciously presented. I believe we had a great deal at 50% off – without it our bill would have been almost 100euros.
I had a craving for more tart, so we set off to find a patisserie – but got sidetracked and walked to Jardin Luxembourg, cross one of the bridges at the Seine and admired the view framed by the Eiffel Tower, then on to the grandoise Place de la Concorde and the middle of Champs-Elysees, turning off at Rue de Boissy Anglais, which looked like an incredibly exclusive street with an unbelievable looking hotel, Buddha Bar and security guards guarding each end – earlier some special contingent drove past on the main road and the traffic was manually managed by policemen. It was getting dark, and cafes started to close, so disappointedly we made our way towards our hovel, er, hotel, and hung out at the rip-off cafe I mentioned earlier. We didn’t even get to pay a visit to the nearby Erotic Museum – that would have been a laugh. Maybe next time, with children in tow…
The hotel was thankfully close to Gare du Nord, so we didn’t have to wake up as early as the night before, to catch our 6.43 Eurostar train back to London. On the quick 2 stop journey there, we encountered a joker who asked for a cigarette and a tramp who smelt of wee and clutched a bag of garbage. Gare du Nord also had the kind of stink Geylang wet market had several years ago. I really wonder why Paris was smellier and dirtier this trip. London transport areas looked decidedly cleaner and cared-for in comparison!