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24 March 2008

A Town Called Paris

The trouble with short, weekend getaways is that they tend to end just when you are getting the hang of them. Particularly if you are me and end up spending day one, alternating between comatose and Duracell Bunny, depending on the amount of time that has passed since my last cup of coffee. I was definitely very sorry to leave this afternoon, even though the weather, having been cold but sunny this morning, became cold and sleety later on. It would have been the perfect afternoon to head to the little cinema opposite the hotel but it was not to be. Since my last visit:

* The Americans are far more ubiquitous (although spring break is the prime time for them - and the rest of the world - to come visit on account of the beautiful weather (ah hem), no doubt; in fact it was difficult finding any non-Frenchies without wandering considerably off the beaten track).
* The Starbucks are getting to be ubiquitous. Last time I came, the first had just opened by Opéra and Monsieur Exquisite dismissed it casually, saying a) it wouldn't survive and b) they would never come to the Quartier Latin. I counted four in the QL this trip and another handful across the city centre. Paris even has its own pseudo-Starbucks (Columbus Café) complete with takeaway lattes and mochaccinos and the like. I'm sure the combination of French (hence bad) coffee and a Starbucks-like atmosphere have left the place truly dire but I haven't been brave enough to try (Café Mabillon, on the other hand, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, did pretty good coffee for only 1E30 to drink at the bar).
* Omnipresent bikes. I'm convinced anyone who chooses to cycle in Paris must have a death wish and yet plenty of people were using these funny rent-a-bikes known as Velibs. When the buses and the métro are on strike, the bikes do at least provide a feasible alternative for getting from, say, Gare du Nord to the Quartier Latin. On a day like today, however, it would be my absolute last resort.
* Omnipresent rain. Well, I suppose that's a seasonal thing but it's still a bit of a pain...

Meanwhile, the big shops are still shut on Sundays and on Easter Monday, while the little boutiques and cafés in the QL and in the Marais were, bizarrely, open. The Marais, in fact, which is one of the latest areas to be coolified and then gentrified, was positively bustling. I guess everyone was keen a) to break Lent and b) to get out of Mass and into the shops. Despite this, the only thing, other than presents, I bought all weekend was a Diptyque candle. Am I becoming more restrained? Saving my cash for NYC? Nah; I just didn't see anything much that I liked.

We arrived at Gare du Nord massively early for the Eurostar home and the waiting room was closed for the bank holiday so we were lucky that Papa managed to blag us into the business class lounge with some combination of gold cards or credit cards or something. It was nice to be able to sit down in relative peace and quiet and with some coffee and nibbles, even if the only choice of newspapers consisted of The Times or The Telegraph.

The journey itself proved rather long, although I got confused because of the time difference. First, the driver claimed technical problems, which left us in the middle of a curious patch of weather somewhere nearish Calais while this was resolved. Then, we apparently "hadn't had authorisation to go into the tunnel" and finally, there was "some problem at the other end" which made me imagine a Children of Men type situation with England's borders being shut off and no Clive Owen to save my day. Eventually, we got to St Pancras at about nine, just over an hour late and as a reward, everyone on the train was offered a free one-way Eurostar ticket (or half-price return) on giving the booking number when making a booking in the next six months. Nice touch. I still missed the 9.06 train from KC and ended up waiting forty minutes for the next (if there were two trains an hour and if it were up to me, I would probably space them equally, but hey), and even then, we were deposited in a freezing car park in Nowhereshire (maybe even a different county; somewhere near Nowheresville) and, luckily, a coach came to deliver us back home safely.

All in all, a fun if hectic, rather than relaxing, long-weekend, which has a) re-whetted my appetite for Paris and b) got me counting down the days until NYC (40 - maybe I should have my own Lenten period).

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