We woke at 4am on Saturday morning to make our way across to St Pancras International to catch the Eurostar to Gare de Nord, Paris. The train trip was to be only 2 hours and 20 minutes, and apart from the extensively long line in Carriage 6 for the breakfast bar (there was nothing open yet at St Pancras at 5.45am when we were admitted through passport control and security) it was smooth transit across to France. By the time we emerged from the tunnel, sunrise was breaking in France so my first visions of en Francais was also my first dawn.
At 9:45 am we rolled into Gare de Nord to a perfect Parisien day. We decided to catch a taxi to St Cloud as we were staying at Nick’s friend Nadége’s apartment. We were off to a shaky start when we asked the taxi driver if he spoke English and he replied with, ‘Un peu’. Translation: A little! So Nick was left to direct the taxi from Gare de Nord to St Cloud in French. Thank goodness for GPS! In about 20 minutes, we had found our way to Nadége’s apartment block which was nestled amongst local stores and Banque Populare on what appeared to be a main street in St Cloud. Nick has instructions from Nad to collect the key from the Clothes store next door (who sold Max Mara! How convenient!) which of course seemed like a well established plan. Of course, it all went haywire when the shop assistant spoke little English and very good French while Nick spoke some French, and very good English. At the time we didn’t realise, but hindsight also allowed us to see that the shop assistant was also a different one than the one Nad had made the plans with. So, we are stuck in St Cloud with the taxi man calling out the window, ‘What is going on? Would you like me to take you back into Paris?” and Nick looking around feverishly in case there is another Clothes store as this one was not going to give us a key. We rang Nad, but it was only 10:30am so too early for her to be awake! I end up paying the cab as Nick strikes a random conversation up with an elderly French lady who happens to speak fluent English (what are the odds?). She then traipses around the neighbourhood trying to find the place where our key could be. She tried, but she could not help us. About fifteen minutes later, Nad calls Nick as she is confused as to why we are having problems. By this time, we are wandering the streets of St Cloud looking for the train station so that we can at least find our way back into Paris. She is exasperated that her well- constructed plan has fallen through, and as Nick speaks to her on his mobile we find our way back to the Clothes Store. We re-enter the Clothes Store, and Nick passes the mobile over to the Shop Assistant so Nad can speak to her in French (while I examine clothes!). It was when the shop assistant started yelling out, ‘Ah! Voila! Voila! Voila! Voila!’ that we knew that she had located our key! She passed it over with many “I am sorry”’s and we were most forgiving. We then negotiated our way into Nad’s apartment block and into her tiny flat where we dumped our things. By this time, it was 11.30am and we were on our way into Paris!
We caught the train from Gare St Cloud in St Lazare. From here, we caught the Metro across to Montmartre to take advantage of our gorgeous winter weather. We headed to the ‘Red Light District’ to see Moulin Rouge (translated: Windmill Red) and snacked on a Croque Monsieur as we wandered our way up to Sacré Coeur. It was a steep ascent, and we passed a Metro stop where two wandering mistrels had set up a piano and sax and were playing French tunes to the crisp winter morning. Sigh! Paris je t’aime!
We arrived at Sacré Couer to see out over all of Paris. It was a beautiful view (and Nick got a photo with the guy selling fake Chanels) and we then decided to climb to the top. There are many, many, many stairs in Sacré Couer but every one of them is worth it when you get to the top. You can see directly out across gorgeous Paris, the la tour Eiffel clearly distinctive in the distance. As we overlooked the city, we could hear the band at the bottom who were churning out joyous music to please the tourists. We then descended down the many, many, many stairs and meandered our way through Montmartre via the Artisans’ Market, and then down through the many stores sandwiched into the sidewalks.
We then jumped on the Metro across to la tour Eiffel, approaching it through the park. Compared to the rest of the city, the Tower is absolutely HUGE and rises far, far above anything else. We then continued our way past the Museé l’Homme and stopped in at a café for lunch. Nick tucked into Croque Madame sans Oeuf and I had the lunch of the day: which was a potato, onion, cheese and tomato concoction with bread. Yum, got to love the carbs! By this time it was 3pm and we headed to Arc de Triumph, and then down the Champs Eleyseés to marvel over the craziness of French traffic, as well as to experience the night falling around us. By the time we reached the end of Champs Eleyseés it was nightfall and we watched la tour Eiffel light display. An absolutely beautiful French evening.
We headed back to Nadége’s to shower and change quickly, before returning back into Paris. Specifically, we caught the Metro to St Michel to the Latin Quartier where we dined at Roger la Granoille. A gorgeous little French Restaurant with an abundance of atmostphere, and most importantly, French cuisinse. I had frogs legs for entrée, Nick had snails and I tried one. Frogs legs were so yum, but the snails were a bit chewy and had remnants of a dirt taste. Clearly they were garden snails after all. We had the most amazing mains, and then shared Fondant de Chocolat for dessert. Nick enjoyed a free port, and I settled on a coffee. It was such a gorgeous dinner, I was truly ready for bed.
Nick had organised with his friend Arthur, to meet him for a beer or two. I was very tired, but agreed to one drink. Arthur was slightly waylaid, and Nick and I were waiting at Fontaine St Michel for almost an hour! I watched the passing cabs longingly… and Nick checked his phone wishing Arthur would hurry up! When he arrived, we headed to La Palette for a few beers until about 2am.
We hailed a cab to take us back to St Cloud, alas only to find that the cab driver spoke ZERO English. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. By this stage, Nick was praying for a cab driver with some English, rather than him having to speak in French but alas it wasn’t to be. The most tedious part of the conversation was discussing the best route to take, with made finger pointing across a refidex somewhere on the side of a Parisien motorway. But we made it back!
On Sunday, we woke to a rainy and cold morning. We booted and umbrelled up, and headed into Notre Dame to see the cathedral. It was beautiful, even showing off a lovely Christmas tree at its doors to celebrate the season. Unfortunately, both Nick and I hadn’t brought with us the most rain-friendly clothes and by this stage we already had wet feet. Our next stop was breakfast (ham and cheese omelettes: not just any old omelette!) and then onto The Louvre.
Lucky for us we had coordinated our weekend away to coincide with the free entry day that the Louvre has on the first Sunday of each month. Of course, this also meant that hundreds and hundreds of people were cramming in there when we rocked up to take our place in line.
The Louvre is absolutely massive. The size of the place you cannot really understand until you start walking around it, and view the expanse of it with your own eyes. We grabbed a map and headed off to see the must-dos: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the medieval Louvre, Napoleon’s apartment. We also wandered through many sculptures, Egyptian artefacts, greek ceramics and 19th Century paintings. You could seriously just do a long weekend at the Louvre so you could actually physically visit it all.
We emerged about three hours later, to a cyclonic winds and a taste for pain au chocolat in our mouths! We stopped by and snacked on one of these gorgeous pastries before heading on the Metro across to Invalidés.
We met Nick’s friend, Marine, at a little bar near here for a quick catch up and hello before racing across to Invalidés de l’Hotel to see Napoleon’s tomb. On the way, the wind whisked an old man’s hat off his head and Nick ended up chasing it down the road for about 200m with gusto!
It was then dark, and 5:30pm and we knew we had to head back to St Cloud to collect our things and then back into Gare de Nord to catch the train back to London. It was a shame to leave so soon, but we had the most amazing time that it won’t be long until we go back! I loved it!