Our train trip to Paris was quite busy with the carriage being mostly full, and full of young adults and families. We had a family from Australia next to us. The lady said she was trying to work out where we were from based on our accent. I picked them easily as Australians, I’m not sure why the Kiwi accent is difficult to pick but there you go.
What to say of Paris. Initially we were quite overwhelmed, and I remember feeling the same our first visit together. Mr Fussy has been to Paris twice before, the first when he was in his mid-20’s on a Contiki tour.
Arriving at Gare du Nord station and your senses are in overload. It’s bright, it’s loud, there are people scattered everywhere, there’s announcements, people moving all around you and you’re trying to navigate your way out of the masses to try and get your bearings and work out what you need to do to get away from the arrivals. Once we moved through the throng of people we easily found where to purchase tickets. Unfortunately we had no small currency on us and needed to use our credit card to purchase the tickets. Our ANZ Visa wouldn’t work so thankfully my Westpac MasterCard did. This is not the first time we’ve tried to purchase in Europe (online in the past) and had our ANZ card not work, and had to fall back onto the Westpac card. With our tickets in hand we had to lug our suitcases down a few flights of stairs to reach the metro line we need. We only had 3 stops to go before arriving at Montmartre and again had to lug our suitcases upstairs in order to reach daylight and the street. Again the sights and sounds were all a bit too much too soon.
Thankfully our SIM cards from the UK picked up the French mobile carrier (that had happened during our train ride to France) and I was able to work out where we were, and which way to travel to get to our rented apartment. The Google map I’d saved showed the metro station a block different to where we exited the metro. And as we’d learn, there are multiple exits from a Metro and they can land you on different sides of the street or intersection. Trying to follow the map and pull a suitcase uphill is no easy task, I think I deserve a medal ;-)
We were meeting Mathilde, who I think is the assistant of Clara, the owner of the apartment. Clara had explained in an earlier message she was too pregnant to meet us but that Mathilde would be there. The number of the apartment building was 8. I found 8 but the code we had been given didn’t work. Thankfully Mathilde had been outside the other number 8 and walked down to check if we were who she was expecting. So, two number 8’s. Who would have thought?
Mathilde showed us around the apartment which was spacious by comparison to our London “ensuite”. We quickly got the lay of the land, started unpacking all our electrical bits and bobs and got thing charging before looking online to where we could find a supermarket, or a Carrefour. I had read on a blog that one of the more common supermarkets (marche) was the Carrefour, sort of on par with the American Walmart. Not that we’re that familiar with a Walmart either J
I’m so looking forward to going into supermarkets in other countries, but I’ve now discovered it’s not all exciting and simple. I grabbed some bananas, we got water and juice easily enough and spent some time using Google Translate to work out the different types of milk. The milk is in big plastic white-ish coloured bottles that are on a shelf, not in a fridge, and the expiry date on them seems longer than we’re accustomed to at home.
I wanted yoghurt for my breakfast and again had to navigate my way through lots of different varieties. I didn’t know what myrtille was so steered clear of it, but found some cherry yoghurt instead. I would later learn myrtille is in fact blueberries (my favourite) and would return for that flavour later. Sugar was the last thing to get, we’d not spotted that there was already several opened bags of sugar in the flat.
We made our way to the checkout, it was pretty primitive by comparison to what we have in NZ. Things were going well until we got to the bananas. The best I can tell is we should have had them weighed before getting to the checkout. There was no conveyer belt, there was no weigh scale at the counter. So the bananas were left behind.
After unpacking our things we started to read to read some notes Clara had in a welcome folder and looked for recommendations to eat. Clara had also used Paris by Mouth to fill her folder with ideas and suggestions. There was one place relatively handy to us so we made our way there. They served American and Brittany styled food. That sounded safe for our first night when we were tired and a bit frazzled.
Again I can’t sing the praises of Google maps enough. I don’t know how we would have managed without that application. We could have done it the old fashioned way, but I suspect it would have been harder and longer. Not every building on a corner had the name of the Street/Rue, and given the many entry/exit points at some intersections, it would have added to the confusion.
As we were walking along I was trying to determine how easy and safe it would be to run in the mornings. I didn’t feel comfortable and the narrow streets and lack of parks around didn’t shout great place to exercise. I certainly knew the following morning would not include a run, I still needed time to get the lay of the land.
We arrived at Marcel, the restaurant, and checked if we could get a table. We were told so long as we were gone by 8:30, when the restaurant was fully booked, then we could take a seat. The restaurant was on a corner and on one side there were people smoking so I decided on other side, next to a couple.
The tables are so close to each other in Paris and there’s no sense of personal/private space. The couple we were seated next to were Australian although no longer living in Australia. She was a former Moulin Rouge dancer and he was in the fashion industry and had a male partner somewhere, I’m not sure. They were both extraverts and we did get to chatting off and on with them. She had been living in Paris for 14 years, he had just arrived from Hong Kong. Both now in fashion. Basically Mr Fussy and I sat at our table and said nothing to each other. Their conversation was difficult to ignore, and occasionally they would ask us a question, or request an opinion. She was texting some guy about where he could live to avoid taxes, he had to leave London soon because of some impending debt he had. Often she would ask for correct spelling of a word, or the correct word to use. One such time was about the vibrancy of the different locations suggested to move to. She wanted to know whether using the word “bustling” was appropriate. Everyone else agreed it was now a little bit old fashioned and “hip” or “happening” were now more favoured words to use. Having said that, I spotted some recommendations in Clara’s folder that also described the surroundings of different restaurants as bustling. Perhaps in Paris bustling is a perfectly good term to continue to use to describe the atmosphere of a location.
We learnt a man’s dress watch should have a leather strap, the guy hadn’t had plastic surgery, but one had IPL done. We heard about a party they were to attend the following night and the discussion they had over meeting with the hostess that evening and the pros and cons of doing so, after all he had to be up early for trading the next day. There were a few questions about how Christchurch is recovering (ha!) and what our travel plans where. Oh, and did I mention that not long after we sat she lit a cigarette. So much for thinking we were going to be safe from second hand smoking.
We did check with them the requirement to pay a tip when dining out. Really it would depend on where we were dining, but paying 1 or 2 Euros would always be welcome unless it was fine dining where a 10% tip would be expected. The guy started to explain where he’d been and what he tipped and she was almost scalding of him saying it was way too much. I think there’s a perception that they don’t want staff receiving larger tips or there would become an expectation. Obviously the locals wouldn’t welcome that.
I can tell you that after listening to their lively discussions we were quite exhausted. When they did leave it was so peaceful. I remarked to Mr Fussy they probably thought we were an odd couple since we didn’t speak to each other. With them on their way we were able to relax a little more. We were happy when our bill arrived (I think she had let them know we were finished, before they headed off themselves), left some coin (too much!) and headed back to the apartment to crawl into bed exhausted both mentally and physically from the day.
And I’ve got a cold. I woke the following day with a very sore throat, barely able to swallow at all. Why is it that I end up sick when in Paris? Today was the big day for me, we were heading to our St Germain food tour. We arrived having used Google Maps to assist our navigation, another family just strolled up. They were from Canada, and our last person to join was from Sydney, she had got lost.
The food tour was great. We started with a discussion about what a MOF meant and went into the bakery we had met at. Before entering the bakery it was explained that entering into a shop was like entering into someone’s home. You don’t just walk in and not say hello. To do so is considered rude. Likewise you don’t leave without saying goodbye. So bonjour and Au revoir were terms we quickly came to feel more at ease with, though I continued to feel like a fake when saying both, and I know the emphasis was still not put in the right place.
The bakery we were outside of was the best of the best in terms of bakeries, having earned a MOF. Bread is baked in the morning, underground around the corner. Most baguettes in France have a shelf life of 5 hours. Bakeries have a second batch of baguettes baked and ready for sale at the end of the business day. You don’t want to be buying your bread midday when it’s not far from being stale. However this bakery (which provides all Paris restaurants) has something in their bread that makes it last (not preservatives). You can also buy a single slice of bread there. We had a sort of shortbread cookie during our visit and were told they had the best Chocolat au Pain (I never bought one, wish I had). This bakery makes all their bread by hand, and given they serve the Paris restaurants, that’s a lot of manual labour. You can also have their bread delivered overseas.
Dianne explained that at a restaurant when served bread you would not automatically be served it with bread. In France the bread is used to mop up a plate, not to eat separately.
Following on from the Poilane Bakery was the chocolate boutique of Patrick Roger (you don’t pronounce it Roger like we do, it’s sounded out as Ro jeer). You have to pay a very large sum to participate in some yearly competition where it’s possible to be awarded a MOF. The first time Patrick Roger entered he was unsuccessful, but the second time he came away with a MOF. Apparently a MOF is not always awarded each year, and some years there could be several awarded.
Patrick Roger is also a sculpture as well as a chocolatier. His boutique has both chocolate and metal sculptures. Dianne explained that each morning he eats one of each of his 100 chocolates that is made, beginning each day with a praline chocolate.
I had it on my plan to visit Patrick Roger so I was really happy that we’d been guided here rather than having to find our own way.
(We’ve just stopped at Lausanne to pick up more passengers. This trip is going to be very noisy, the first class wagon is all but full and it seems the Italians are in fine voice).
Next stop was the under covered market. The covering of the market was to keep the cholera from spreading back in the olden days. Dianne, our guide (hails from California, of Thai parents) had explained that when it comes to buying produce, if the bags are up high then it means the owner will pick the fruit/veg, only if the bags are at waist height is it expected that you’ll serve yourself. Even though you should not touch the fruit/veg, you are allowed to point out the pieces/items that you want. The fruit was very large by comparison to what we see at home. The pineapple was really big and I couldn’t believe how large the Kiwifruit from New Zealand was. I’ve never seen Kiwifruit so large before, I couldn’t even believe it when it was pointed out to me that it was indeed from New Zealand.
We moved onto cheeses and had a very nice 27 month old compte cheese. It was sweet, but it was so good. I wish Dianne had been able to get some of that cheese for us to sample. Dianne explained the lady, Tilly, would tell you if the cheese was bad and should not be purchased. And that she had gone to one cheesemonger and basically got on her knees and begged to be allowed to sell his cheese. He agreed and now she is the only cheesemonger in Paris to supply his cheese. The cheeses that we had to sample came from so many different parts of France.
We headed outside and down a small lane to a winery. Here we went into the back room and the cheese was brought out and ready to serve alongside a sample of both red and white wine. The family from Canada requested some grape juice for their sons and so I also had some. It was very nice grape juice indeed, much nicer than the small sip of the white wine I had.
As for those cheeses, our napkins were looking pretty full of discarded cheeses. It’s fair to say we don’t have a very refined palate when it comes to some of the finest of cheeses. We much preferred the hard cheese that was handed around. Some of the soft cheese was so soft that it was oozing off the slices of bread, it was almost runny. One of the cheeses had a coating of ash, which was left on. It certainly added to that aged/mouldy flavour. Dianne said one cheesemonger actually puts a straw in the middle of his cheese to pour ash into it. The ash helps to encourage the bacteria which acts as a preservative.
Having had our fill of cheese our next stop a few steps away was Henri Le Roux, the father of Salted Butter Caramel (SBC as you’ll see it written everywhere). His SBC caramels have a very fine chopped nut. I can’t now remember if it’s walnut, almond or hazelnut. What I was really surprised by was how mild the salt was, in fact I’d go so far as to say I could not detect the salt in the caramel. That leaves me wondering just how far we’ve wandered from what the “father” actually intended the caramel to be. I presume he adds nuts to his to make them different to all those that have copied the trend.
Talking of sweet things. Dianne was explaining to us that when chefs get into smack talk, the biggest insult is to accuse them of using sugar to provide flavour. The French don’t use a lot of sugar, opting for the true flavour of the food to speak. Goodness, lucky I don’t know anyone French, my kitchen oozes sugar, but it’s what I like, not that I’m trying to encourage a flavour that is unwilling to present itself.
Our last stop was another recipient of a MOF. This as a pastry shop. The pastry is what we’d be more used to as a cream puff. These cream puffs are made around the corner and walked over at different times of the day (I can’t remember the frequency, but it was pretty frequent, like hourly). They are only filled when an order is placed. The day we arrived they also had caramel, though it wasn’t on the board. Dianne explained they are still refining the recipe for the caramel filling and that’s why they don’t yet advertise it. They have Chocolate, Vanilla and again my memory is failing me. I’m certain there was a third regular flavour, but even Mr Fussy can’t remember that far back.
Our tour ended here. Dianne seemed to really prolong her wind up continually thanking us for being so nice, and for being polite, and for asking different merchants at the under covered market if we could take photos. I wasn’t sure if she kept repeating these words waiting for us to offer a tip. The Paris by Mouth site said it wasn’t a requirement but you could tip if you wanted.
Ahh, the other thing that I learnt was that Dianne knows David Lebovitz and he’s requested from her numerous times to come and cook him a Thai meal. I had read in David’s recent post when touring America and Canada to promote his new book, that he was on the look out for good Thai restaurants to dine at.
The streets we had been wandering during the tour were windy and narrow and I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to each we walked. But after the tour I wanted to return to Henri Le Roux’s store to buy more caramels. We eventually found our way there. We left with numerous different flavoured caramels (and some that I didn’t like after having them, a chocolate caramel is lost on me) and were sort of talked into trying a passionfruit and banana sorbet. We really didn’t need a lot of encouragement to try ;-) Mr Fussy and I hovered under a doorway eating the sorbet while it continued to rain.
The rain would be constant during our trip to Paris. It really put a dampener on things, literally.
Since the rest of the day was unplanned we just wandered a bit and eventually made our way to Galleries Lafayette. Wow. I don’t know who buys where but you’ve got to have deep pockets. While we were in Paris it was the beginning of one of their two annual sales. The government stipulates when you can have a sale, so it’s city-wide. They happen in January and in July, well it started the end of June and goes through to the end of July. Even at sale prices I wasn’t buying a thing. The department store is full of designer labels. There’s no conservative shopping there, it’s all bling bling.
I was on the look out for a pair of sandals. And while some brands of footwear seemed less likely to cause a heart attack, sandals were hard to spot. It made me think that all the summer shopping had been and gone.
Another item of clothing I expected to find easily was tank tops or t-shirts. I wanted to get a short sleeved shirt too, something I could put on over a singlet type top, but leave open, so that I was suitable dressed when I went to a church or other important building where women are required to have their shoulders covered. Of course I was expecting the weather to be warm where I’d be dressed in t-shirts or singlet type tops. So far it’s anything but (on our way to Milan at the moment and there’s a promise that the temperatures will be in the high 20’s). I had spotted something I wanted to try on. I had no idea how the sizing worked. There were three sets of sizes. Europe, France and American. I was clueless. In the end an assistant asked if she could help and I tried to explain I didn’t understand how the sizing worked. This slim beauty told me her size and that was the end of that conversation. Needless to say I put the item back and moved on.
Having felt completely out of place at Galleries Lafayette we got on a train and headed into the Concorde metro. When we surfaced it was a relief. I almost felt human. We were amongst lot of tourists now. That may seem odd to feel such a sense of relief just to be among other tourists, but it meant restaurants and shops around would be expecting non-French speaking people.
Let me stop and tell you a little about our experiences on the metro, the French suburban train line. It was while we were trying to buy tickets that we encountered our first pick pocket of sorts. A little girl came up to us and starting to poke her hand into the slot where the tickets, and change, are dispensed. At first I was a bit confused, or just slow to cotton on to what was going on. I realised she had every intention of taking the change. I looked around trying to see if her mother or an accompanying adult was with her as I wanted to remove her hands and didn’t want to be accused of mistreating her. Eventually I got her hands out of the area the tickets and money is dispensed only for her to start playing with the roller (which you use like a mouse to hover over your select to then press with your finger). So she was becoming quite the nuisance. Thankfully our transaction was completed without her fiddling about interfering with our purchase. As I walked away I looked back and saw one other woman explaining to a tourist what the little girl was trying to do.
The next incident occurred as we were walking through the Concorde heading towards side streets where we hoped to find a place for dinner. Three teenagers approached us with clipboards and a piece of paper with a logo for some handicapped/disabled association. They asked first if we were English, which seemed to make them happier to see us (I should have seen the warning signs, Mr Fussy did). One was trying to encourage Mr Fussy to write his name and address on the form. He insisted in knowing what they would do with that information. I had a young man thrust the clipboard in front of me and ask me to sign. I looked at the logo and could see it was for a good cause. I asked if it was a petition and would the information be going to the government. He nodded fervently. Meanwhile Mr Fussy continued to repeat his question over and over and got no suitable explanation, even I tried to show him what the organisation was for. He wasn’t budging. Anyway, no sooner had I written my name and “address”, which I only put down as New Zealand, because at this stage I was starting to wonder if there was something in Mr Fussy’s reluctance. Then the young name moved his hand from the next column which was where you entered the amount of money you were donating. Then I had the flashbulb moment. I think I might have even shrieked at this point that they wanted money. I said very loudly no, pushed the board away and both Mr Fussy and myself walked off. In hindsight I now see that the piece of paper was photocopied, the logo could have been copied from anything. I suspect it wasn’t at all genuine and just a clever way to get people’s loose change. Probably the money would never see/reach the organisation for which they were apparently representing.
Oops I seem to have got side-tracked with the little criminals and not carried on with some of the experiences we had on the Metro. We had lots and lots of homeless people on the trains. Some would make an announcement, a long announcement. I’m not sure if I’m glad I couldn’t understand the language at this point. One woman had a dog with her, a very nice, gentle dog, but he was huge. You wonder how they manage to feed their pets when they’re begging for food themselves. There were beggars everywhere underground. That seemed odd to me because at some point they had to get into the underground which required them to purchase a ticket. I suppose they might have snuck in some other way. Then there were others that played music. I guess it was busking of sorts. One young man was playing something that I didn’t recognise but could only say it was played similar to a clarinet but it wasn’t tubular, it was plastic and sort of squashed flat to be a rectangle. Sadly that music was not pleasant. It sort of resembled a piano accordion (which I don’t actually mind) in sound. When we made a stop the young man walked off to another carriage and he was replaced with a man playing a saxophone. He bought his own amplifier with some background accompaniment. He was good and I enjoyed listening to him play as we continued on with our journey.
Other times when we’ve been waiting for a train it would arrive and be so full. We would step back from the platform and wait for the next train. But the obvious crowding didn’t deter everyone. People still pushed and squashed themselves into already crammed carriages. We’d been on a carriage that started out being comfortable and quickly filling up as we stopped at each station, to the point you were pressed against each other. This caused a bit of anxiety when you knew your stop was next and there appeared to be no sign of a mass exodus. The trains didn’t stop any longer than it seemed necessary. And sometimes people were still trying to scramble on when the loud sound warning the doors were about to close was heard. Crazy times.
As I’ve mentioned, we’re no on our way to Milan, and while in Geneva we had a negative experience which has made me question just how much like tourists we look like. It seems we stick out like sore thumbs. We’re certainly receiving some unwanted attention.
Finding a place to eat wasn’t easy. Again we were looking hard at menus to find the English interpretation. Those that didn’t provide an interpretation were dismissed and we carried on. We walked a very long time never finding anything that appealed, or wasn’t overpriced (we had seen enough to know what we were comparing to). In the end we settled for a filled roll, and I’m not talking your average New Zealand soft roll with some salad thrown in and drowned with dressing. This is like a ciabatta with chicken and thick rounds of cheese which is then toasted like you’d expect of a Panini. It was long, which was good because it was going to feed both of us. We should have asked them to cut it, but we already felt like we were clumsy and taking more time to serve that we didn’t dare ask for anything unexpected. So we took turns taking bites which was unfortunate because I had a cold and Mr Fussy did not. I didn’t want to increase his chances of coming down with whatever it was I had.
We had one more day before properly playing the tourist game and going to museums and other notable buildings. First stop was to the place we needed to collect the Paris Passes from. From there we wandered around aimlessly but finding some nice buildings to stop and look at. We wandered around Notre Dame and went further than we had wandered our previous visit. We were even stopped and asked for directions by other tourists and able to help them out. I used the Yelp application on my phone to find a good ice cream shop and also Café Breziah which had been recommended by Paris by Mouth, David Lebovitz and written about in the folder Clara had in her apartment.
When we got to the café there were no tables available and the person looking after seating indicated it would be around 5 minutes. He came back and handed us a menu at one point. But then he returned again and said to go up the street, there was a place there. I was really surprised, well shocked is more like it. I thought he had just scooted us out of his café and told us there was another café up the street that we should try. We stopped in the street discussing what we thought had just happened when I saw one of the café workers walk into that next shop with plates of food. Now I got it. The next store was a part of the café, but was dedicated to selling their cider and butters. Feeling slightly silly now we took our seats at the communal table and placed an order. I chose a savour crepe (galette – made with buckwheat) and Mr Fussy a sweet. We weren’t overly hungry or ready for dinner, but I knew this was a very popular place and to get a seat without a reservation was a bit of a happy coincidence so I wasn’t going to turn it down. The crepe was definitely better than the ones we had at the Granville Island Market for breakfast, but I wouldn’t have said it was so good it was worthy of such rave reviews. Maybe we just don’t really appreciate the best of the best. Maybe we’re both fussy ;-)
Sunday arrived and it was time to put on our tourist face, okay, so apparently we scream tourist.
One of the places I had wanted to see on our first trip to Paris was the Sacre Coeur. It’s a big church on top of Montmartre. It was only 7 or so minutes walk from our apartment. No excuses this time for not being able to reach it in the time we had.
Beggars were there at the church too. You can’t blame them for flocking to places where they expect to see lots of tourists.
Have you seen the YouTube clip of the piano that just turned up at St Pancras train station with a sign saying Play Me? There’s a clip showing a guy who did sit down to play, and he was very good. Anyway down the stairs, away from the church, is a lookout point (we are at the highest point on the hill) and a piano with a sign to Play Me was sitting there. I might add that it was drizzling, and given the poor weather of that week I don’t really know what the condition of the piano would be like. A man started to play. He wasn’t as good as the YouTube clip but it was still nice to hear the piano being played.
The church was definitely worth the stop and I could finally tick that off my list of places I had wanted to see.
Our first museum stop was the Museum Odyssey. It was raining (of course) and we were very smug with our Paris Passes being able to “skip the line”. I did feel bad for others having to wait in the rain. As is typical, your bag is searched, or at the minimum patted down, to ensure you don’t have anything that should be confiscated.
I chose to get the audio contraption. Some of the pieces of art had a number with the universal symbol for audio (like the Wi-Fi sign) and you would enter the number onto the keypad, press the start button and away the audio would go. There were so many floors and so many little rooms. It was impossible to see everything there, well not in the time we had. Many many of the paintings were of nudes. I know it was of the period but I wondered with today’s day and age, those with families of younger children, just how they explained what the children would see. A woman’s body has been objectified so much it’s hard to know what little minds would make of seeing the art.
We moved onto the Museum de l’Orangerie. This was much smaller but still had some impressive pieces of art and of course the works of Monet.
We eventually made our way to the Chocolate Museum. I was really looking forward to what had been described to us as a demonstration. However it was a video and not nearly as exciting as watching a chocolatier in action. Nevertheless the museum was interesting and well worth a look.
I kept using Google Maps to look for other museums that were in close proximity. We found the one for Transport and headed that way. The museum was closing in 45 minutes but we still managed to get a look at a good portion of the displays on show.
It was another tiring day of constant walking and being on our feet. We didn’t feel like ambling about in the main area of Paris looking for somewhere to eat, in fact we’d have gone without dinner rather than trudge around looking for places, but as we were walking up the street to reach ours we spotted a Pizza restaurant. At this stage we’d not had Pizza, so why not.
I remember reading in a blog post David Lebovitz had that there are no doggy bags in Paris. If you don’t finish your mean don’t expect it to be packaged up for you to take home. The reason I’m sharing this is that we each ordered a Pizza. We had no idea the size of the pizza, but I can tell you these were LARGE. There was no way we’d be able to finish these. And had we known the size, we’d have ordered just the one and shared it. So a lot of pizza got thrown out that night. Or maybe it gets given to someone more needy.
Monday arrived and we were prepared to take the tourist thing a bit more casual. We had seen most of the main places we had wanted to see and if we didn’t get a chance to catch others then we were comfortable with that. Our fascination for Paris had waned a lot and in some ways I was just biding time before leaving.
We did have one place that was firmly on our list though, and that was the Observation deck of the tallest building. Even though we arrived quite early there was already a queue. It only takes I think 33 seconds to reach the top floor for the lift, the 53rd floor. From here you can walk the remaining floors to exit onto the roof. What a great view you get.
After descending we had a poke around the shopping mall. I was trying to see if I could get a light shirt that I could wear over the top of singlet tops that would allow me to both keep cool and be allowed into churches.
I’ve got to say the Parisians don’t rush anything. Ahead of me in the queue to pay was a lady who was trying to return something, and another lady. I actually thought they were together but they weren’t. This whole exchange thing taking place in front of us ended up being some communal activity. At home if I have to return something I actually feel guilty or anxious about it, but this was a long drawn out activity and no one was concerned who overheard it, or how long they were taking to complete the transaction. Finally my time came. I never know if the person I’m facing will understand English, and I certainly don’t count on it. I don’t think she really did, but the transaction was so simple that it didn’t matter.
I had looked up kitchen stores and had a couple in mind to visit if we had time. What I’ve been specifically interested in is the range and cost of items available to me, either locally in stores or online around the world. A good judge of price is a KitchenAid. I can tell you that Paris is expensive and it’s very difficult to find cake decorating supplies. And when you do, they are expensive. However, I found a store (apparently chefs from around the world travel to it) that certainly had a very extensive range. They had the Eiffel Tower cookie cutter in a range of sizes. I picked up a large, but it was really only the middle size. I also found more tart rings, small enough for making individual tarts. They had them in so many sizes. Mr Fussy bought me a tart ring at Christmas, we had to order it in, and it was expensive to begin with. So finding these smaller ones for 4 Euro each, to me was a bargain.
The last thing we did was really last minute. I decided that we should really make use of the Hop on Hop off ticket we had. We headed to the Louvre where we remembered the bus having stopped our last time. We had been trying to see where the bus stops were so that we could use the tickets earlier but while we saw lots of the busses, we could never spot the stop. We soon found out though that our Paris Pass card was not the right thing to gain entry. We had to show the pass at their office and in exchange get a ticket. The office was not too far away, and though it was after 6pm we thought we’d chance it. To our surprise the office was open and the bus tours were continuing until 9pm. This was a good way for us to see the other attractions. We ended up on the bus for almost the entire route, and got to see parts of Paris that we’d been walking. For 9 stops it takes over 2 hours to complete. I thought we were doing really well for time until we hit the Champs Elysees. I reckon it took over 30 minutes to travel up to the Arc de Triumph. I recall our first trip that we got off at a stop before reaching the Arch de Triumph but this time the bus went all the way around. The audio said there was a myth that you couldn’t get insurance if you travelled on the roundabout, but in actual fact if there was an accident each parties own insurance company would just settle for their customer and no one tried to point the blame at the other involved. It was simpler this way. And I can see it would be.
Once the bus had reached the Eiffel Tower we got off and made our way to the Metro. We needed to swap lines part way in order to get onto our M4 line for home. Again we were so tired having been on the go all day and we couldn’t be bothered with sitting down ordering dinner. We had to stop at the grocery store to get more yoghurt and water so we grabbed a couple of bags of chippies and that was dinner for the night.
Tuesday was leaving day and thankfully we’d scoped out our way to Gare de Lyon on the Monday morning before we set out to the Observation tower. We knew part of the journey would require us to pick up our suitcases to swap to different lines and that some of the trip in the station included stairs as well. We left with plenty of time to get lost and find our way again, and we knew that we had access to the Train’s First Class lounge so we could sit comfortably for a while if we were too early.
Too early we were. Some parts of the station that we had seen escalators for that would save us some stairs were under repair. The service person could see the look on our face and he would smile, not in a nasty way. We did arrive with too much time, and it took 3 attempts to ask for directions to the Salon Grande Voyager before we found it. In fact we spent so much time looking for it that it would be almost a waste of time to make use of the facilities. The last time I asked for directions the lady at Information just said “downstairs”. I was very frustrated by this time and I implored her to be a little more specific than “downstairs”. So she replied, downstairs straight in front.
Mr Fussy went down because I wasn’t prepared to drag suitcases one an impossible mission. All the maps we’d looked at that laid out the floor plan were incorrect. We would go to the place that was indicated but it was nothing. In the end, after a bit of wandering about Mr Fussy came across the first public signage for the lounge.
We made our way to it. There were two girls at the reception desk and a courier had just arrived. I guess this is typical, but they sat chatting with the guy having a laugh and catch up before they bothered to look at us to assist. What a cushy job they have. The lounge is nothing like I had expected. The only difference between the lounge and the main station was there was a chance of getting your own seat, and it was comfortable. There was a water tank and a snack type dispenser that was used to order a hot drink. There were towers that you could plug electronics into and some magazines. But that my friends is what first class provides.
I was very glad to be leaving Paris. We won’t be back, ever. Our first trip felt rushed, and with both of us being sick we didn’t have the energy to rush from one attraction/museum to the next. This trip was to take the tourist thing at a more leisurely pace, and to finish off what we had started. We achieved this, but I’d say we had one day too many.
One of my work colleagues had commented to me that Paris was dirty. I disagreed at the time but I wholeheartedly agree now. The metro smells of urine. Most of the stations we were in and out of (and we used a number of lines to get in and around) were filthy once you’d reached the platform. There are lots of homeless people, you’re constantly on your guard as to where your belongings are. The buildings for all their notability are blackened by pollution. The place is crowded and you’re constantly on and off the footpath to make room for people. The Paris I thought I was returning to left me feeling very unsettled and the gloss had certainly gone. I really found myself wanting our stay to end.
It probably also wasn’t helped that I got 3 nasty bits from what I assume to be a bug and a cold. My nose wouldn’t stop running and my throat hurt. It seems I’m destined to come down with some illness while in Paris.
When we first got onto the train we asked if we were in the right carriage. The attendant didn’t speak English but one of the others did. He confirmed we were in the right place and during the trip he would joke with us a couple of times. I began to relax thinking Geneva would be a place with friendly people with a sense of humour, just like the gentleman that was looking after our car. When we got on the train our allocated seats were awful. I guess even in first class someone has to have the least desirable seats. We had side by side seats, but the window seat was right where the pillar was and there was practically no view at all, plus we were facing the wrong way. When we set off he came to hand out newspapers, he didn’t have an English one with him but after a short while he returned with an International newspaper. Mr Fussy had already indicated to him that it wasn’t necessary to find him a newspaper, but it was nice that he took the time to accommodate us.
Apart from not really finding the food service to our liking, the trip was good and we were quite excited to be heading to Geneva. This next section took the longest for us to decide on. We had a long discussion about whether to go to Zurich or Geneva. My brother had given us some details about the train rides in and out, and while Geneva didn’t have the same views to Italy as Zurich, we decided that with it being more International, Geneva was the better choice. And we were closing in.