This is installment #3 of our London/Paris trip. Here are parts #1 & #2.
As I mentioned in my trip planning post, I’d purchased Eurostar tickets to get us to Paris from London. The train was scheduled to depart at 11:30am so I wanted to be sure to check out of our hotel no later than 10am. Robert and I rose early-ish and fetched breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was a very nice spread of hot food (including more delicious black pudding!)
After breakfast and hotel checkout we stopped at the market in Paddington station to pickup picnic food to eat on our train ride. My plan was to get cheese, sausage, various other tapas, and wine. I started loading items in my basket when an employee approached me to inform me that the town of Paddington does not allow the purchase of alcoholic beverages before 10am on a Sunday. Oh. La-ti-da. Like I’m in Utah or something. Okay. I purchased the other items and crossed my fingers that I could pick up a bottle of wine at St Pancras station.
I’d researched ahead of time info on getting to St Pancras station from Paddington. It was a 2 step process but didn’t sound complicated. 1) take the Circle line to King Cross (usually 10-15 minutes) 2) walk 5 minutes to St Pancras.
What really happened:
Approaching the circle line we were directed toward the “H&C platform.” Signage was vague but apparently train 1 would take us to St Pancras. Train 2 would take us to some god awful Mordor place so by all means, do not take! Also, the trains didn’t appear to be marked. Also, announcements kept coming through the nearly indecipherable PA about a line being closed and for passengers to walk to a bus. A train was there when we arrived at platform 1, however I was too panicked to get on it so we just stood there and let it pass through. It turns out that was our train.
So we waited. For quite a while! I kept questioning whether or not we were even in the right place. I tried to relax. Nope. My heart rate was at VO2max! This would have been a good time to just ask for help from someone else standing there, right? No. Too chicken.
The next train finally came and we were fairly sure it was the correct train so we crossed ourselves and stepped on. After only a few stops we were directed to make a change in order to get to St Pancras. Robert appeared cool and collected as usual. Sid, also. Me? Eyes bulging. We followed the pack of people who casually hopped off the train and headed up the stairs. They all immediately got on another train that was about to leave. We shuffled on as well. I looked around quickly having no idea what train we are on. I yelled, “Let’s get off!” So we got off.
And, yes. It WAS the correct train. *sigh*
At this point I told Robert that he was now in charge. We caught the next train and arrived safely and with plenty of time to fetch a precious bottle of wine and to go through security at St Pancras and get to our seats on the train.
I expected our Eurostar trip to be really cool but it really wasn’t. The train speeds up pretty quickly and goes through a series of short tunnels as it makes its way towards the English Channel. As the train exited each tunnel our ears popped. Looking around, everyone was grabbing their ears. It was a little unsettling and slightly painful! I set up our “picnic” a short time after we departed. Wine for each of us plus some delicious Jamon Iberico that The Boy had brought with him from Spain (he says he purchased it in a vending machine at the train station!), salami, crackers, manchego cheese (hm, not a very English picnic), mangos, and a few other various items. The family adjacent to us had obviously planned poorly because they didn’t have anything and kept staring at our spread enviously. Eventually the father got up (it was a family consisting of mom, dad, and 2 younger daughters) and returned with cheap mini bottles of wine for him and his wife. I was really digging that The Boy was able to share some wine with us. Oh, I also got a few bottles of beer for Robert when I picked up the wine. He continued to be underwhelmed by the beer available in the UK (but drank them nonetheless).
Eventually we were in the dark and we knew we were in the Channel Tunnel. No announcement or anything. 20 minutes later we popped out. We were in France!!! The countryside looked very French. (Oh, who am I kidding. The English countryside looked exactly the same.)
Quicker than I expected we were pulling into Gare du Nord station in Paris. This is where The Boy kicked into gear. We grabbed our bags and he motioned that we should follow him. He zipped off the train and easily made his way to the subway area (he still walks fast like a New Yorker; ridiculous). We dashed after him and he brought us to a ticket machine where we each bought 10 subway tickets (by now Robert had learned that he should leave his card IN THE MACHINE until the transaction was complete instead of immediately pulling it out like he accidentally did at Heathrow about 8 million times).
We approached our first Paris subway train. The doors were open and an alarm was beeping. The Boy told us to get on. “Get on fast! The alarm means the doors are closing and you’re not supposed to get on!!! So get on!” We got on. I later read an article about how a few subway lines in Paris are driverless and tourists have been crushed in their doors. Thanks Boy!!!
Little did I know that this would be our one and only uncrowded subway ride in Paris. Our stop was Les Halles, just a few short blocks from our apartment. There are stop announcements on the subway. A man’s recorded voice first says, “Les Halles?” as if asking if you would like to get off at Les Halles and then train arrives he says “Les Halles” as if to say “here we are!” Oh, just listen to it. For some reason the announcements continued to amuse us the entire trip.
Les Halles was originally a market and was later turned into an underground mall. It is now undergoing renovations to pretty it up and there was construction everywhere. However, I didn’t really pay much attention to the station itself. It was what I saw as we came out onto street level. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly but it definitely wasn’t The Church of Saint-Eustache towering over my head. There she was, like a miniature Nortre Dame, right freaking in front of me. Welcome to Paris! Wow!
We again had to dash after The Boy who didn’t seem to take much notice to the wonderment around him. He later said it was really cool and he was a bit jealous that his chambre de bonne was in such a drab neighborhood (the 16th). We made our way towards the 3rd arrondissement, passing Rue Saint-Denis (without seeing a single prostitute) and Boulevard de Sebastapol. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even notice these streets. I was trying to open my notes on my phone so I could get the code to buzz up to the apartment (the manager was at the apartment waiting to let us in). One block from Sebastapol was Rue Quincampoix a pedestrian-only street with a rich and interesting history. Also, the location of our apartment.
As we approached the big black doors I tried again and again to get my notes to pull up to no avail. Shit!!! My phone was not getting data and Evernote (my note app) required internet to open notes for some stupid reason. I could not believe it. I had a huge temper tantrum. Fortunately, I had the phone # of our contact in the first line of my notes and that appeared without internet so I had Robert call her on his phone. Thank God that worked. She answered and immediately came down to let us in. How many times had I had a panic attack so far that day? I began to wonder if traveling just wasn’t worth it. How did I ever manage to live in Asia all those years ago?
After a quick intro regarding the apartment and handing off the keys, the manager left and we were on our own. Our apartment was very cool and fairly large. I loved it! (The only thing I didn’t love was the single wifi connection we had available and one had to be about 4 feet from the wifi router to get that connection). The Boy took off to get settled back in his room after his long trip to Spain and to get a little homework done. I peeked out our window and could see the busy cross-street, Rue Rambuteau, packed with people, enjoying their Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get out there.
Our first stop was a little beer shop in Le Marais called La Moustache Blanche. I had about 6 beer places I wanted to check out while we were there and this was not only not far from our apartment but opened on Sunday (the other beer shop was actually on our street but not opened until Tuesday). We meandered through the tiny streets of Le Marais (and at one point I though we’d stumbled upon Place des Vosges but it seemed so tiny and then I eventually realized it was the Archives Nationales. D’oh!). Robert was very excited to find a lot of very nice beers there and the owner was really helpful with selections. None of the beer is refrigerated and it definitely reminded me more of a wine shop than a beer shop. My favorite tips from the owner regarding the beers we purchased were “this is a strong beer and should be drunk with friends” and “this should be opened VERY SLOWLY, be very careful”. The 1st one was unnecessary since Robert can hold his own with strong beer and the 2nd tip ended up being REALLY IMPORTANT!
We lugged our box of several bottles of beer back to the apartment (with a pass through the REAL Place des Vosges) and sat down to plan out the rest of our evening. I was getting pretty hungry and since I didn’t know of anything particular opened on Sunday in our area I picked the sure thing. That sure thing was La Fine Mousse. It was a bit of a walk to get there (I believe it was in the 11th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Pere Lachaise Cemetery) but completely worth it. It was REALLY crowded and we wedged ourselves into a spot at the bar. I was getting panicky (again!) about how to order things so when the bartender approached I blurted out “Do you speak English?!!!” He smiled and said, “of course.” Phew!
You’d think at that point I’d calm down but I never really did. The entire time we were in Paris I was nervous about sounding and looking like an idiot.
So that night we drank amazing sour beers, eventually found ourselves a seat, and ate a delicious tray of cheese, cured meats, pate, rillettes, pickled onions, and baguette.
On our walk back the apartment I picked up a bottle of Bordeaux in a wine shop and was approached on the street by a stranger who asked me in French for directions. My response, “Je ne parles Francais.” So I got it a little bit wrong but I did it (and hey, she thought I was French!!!!)
Next up: Tunisian sandwiches on The Seine, Luxembourg Gardens, and La Tour Eiffel. Plus Elf in French!
The apartment on Rue Quincampoix
La Fine Mousse deliciousness!
The apartment on Rue Quincampoix
La Fine Mousse
View from our apartment window
Bottles purchased from La Moustache Blanche
The apartment on Rue Quincampoix
Robert really enjoyed this IPA