Paris - Days One and Two
Up early on Thursday morning, packed and enjoyed the suddenly ever-present sunshine. Our TGV to Paris is at 11:45 so left about 10:15 and ambled our way to the train station bought some sandwiches for the trip, and relaxed on the platform until the train arrived. Our luggage, like us, has gained considerable weight since we arrived. My two bottles of pinot, V's very large earthenware jug a duplicate of which she had admired at La Cloiserie and tracked down at a local store, and multiple acquisitions both large and small. Coming down from the airport last week we had taken two first class seats which, since the train is a two story affair, were on an upper level. Going back up to Paris we were on 2'nd class tickets which are on the lower level of the train which makes stowing luggage much easier, and apart from the difference in altitude, there really is not much difference in the classes; such is not always the case.
Since all seats both 1'st and 2'nd class are all reserved, we found our train car on the station map and duly waited on the part of the platform that would get us closest to our car's doors. When it arrived we piled on to discover that all luggage racks were overflowing and that we would have to move to the other end of the car to try our luck with those luggage racks, since bags can't be left blocking aisles. Now TGV cars are designed in pods with each car divided into two on the bottom level with a dividing wall across the middle of the car so that in order to get to the other end of the car, you must climb the narrow circular stair to the upper level at one end of the car, trundle along the upper portion of the car and then climb back down the far stairs to come at the luggage compartment on the other end of the car. Not wanting to haul three very awkward and heavy pieces of luggage up and down stairs, children don't try this at home, I decided to hop off the train and scoot along the platform and climb back on at the other end of the car.
V sensibly did not decide to join me and I jumped off onto the platform, and as I did so, the car doors firmly closed. I desperately tried to press the button to reopen the the doors but they were locked for the journey. I then heard mad shouting from the people on the platform waiting for the next train, "Monsieur, vite, vite!" and looking down the platform to about three cars ahead, a distance of 50 or 60 metres, there were three conductors waving their arms. I broke the land record for running while carrying 40k's of bags, arrived at the open door where I was unceremoniously trundled aboard and within seconds the train was rushing away. You'll remember that the reason for my getting off the train was to escape climbing up and down one set of stairs; the reward for my brilliant decision to leave the train was that now like Sisyphus, I needed to push my heavy boulder of luggage up three cars worth of up and down stairs instead of one, until I could get back where I started. Eventually did so, found V who was trying to figure out how we would reconnect and much later than any of us had wanted, were finally in our seats and able to catch our collective breaths. This exercise was harder on V than on me, at least until I had boarded the train, as I was in the midst of panic driven activity and too busy to think of consequences, while she was standing on the train with no clue as to what was happening or what we do next.
There's a lesson in here somewhere. The train ride was wonderful, not least because I was even on the train, but more especially because we spent most of the journey riding through vast fields of canola in brilliant, saturated, butter yellow hues climbing up to an azure sky on a wide rolling landscape of farm fields. A painter could have stored up that memory and come back to it later to try and capture it, unfortunately for a photographer all it will ever be is a memory since there was no way to hold the moment through the dusty windows of a speeding train.
Arrived in Paris and a taxi to our apartment in the 2'nd in the old Les Halles area. A fabulous, large, airy and very modern apartment on the 1'st floor, 2'nd floor to N Americans. So one more set of stairs, but well worth the climb. Thanks to Marc Pearsall for putting us in touch with the owner of Paris Cheri Montorgeuil.
We have stayed in the 6'th the last 5 or 6 times that we have been in Paris, staying at the Relais Medicis Hotel, which we really like, but have rented apartments the last couple of times so that we could prepare our own meals when we did not feel like going out. We really like the 6'th and have found shops and markets that we like so it does feel like a neighbourhood. However we could not find an apartment that we either liked or could afford for this trip so decided to learn more about another section of Paris that we have spent time walking around in on earlier trips, since there are a number of very special kitchen supply and equipment stores in the area, but where we have never stayed.
Wandered the neighbourhood and stopped at Aux Tonneaux des Halles recommended by David Lebovitz, an expat American living in Paris who writes a wonderful, idiosyncratic and very useful blog on Paris. A very good steak frites, a bottle of red and home to bed.
Friday morning we walked over the Pont Neuf and into the 6'th to find a watch store where I had bought my watch on an earlier trip and needed to have the band replaced. Stopped for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in the area where we always make at least one visit on each trip, Huiterie Regis. It is a tiny place, quite literally a hole in the wall but very clean, bright and white with only 7 small tables inside and two outside and room for 14 tightly packed patrons inside. They do not have a stove, don't need one as all they serve are oysters and wine, an espresso machine for coffee, with some very thin fresh apple tarts from a neighbourhood patisserie, to finish. The oysters are impeccable, the muscadet crisp and cold and the bread and sweet butter addictive. A classic example of doing only one thing but doing it superlatively well.
Adrift on wine and oysters we wandered our way home through the Tuileries, fresh, green and thronged with people and so home to prepare for a night at the Opera. V had given me tickets for my birthday but the only opera playing while we are here is Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. Dinner at home from some very nice things from an italian traiteur down the block and a walk to the Opéra Garnier, the old Paris opera house of Phantom of the Opera fame. If there was ever an example of over-the-top architectural exuberance, it would be the interior of the Garnier. I only had my iphone so pictures are problematic but the ceiling is a bright cheerful Chagall mural at complete odds with its surroundings. Opera very odd, both the work and the staging, but reading the french surtitles is probably the best way to learn a language. Walked home and stopped for cheese and wine at a bar/resto another of David Lebovitz's suggestions along the way, and home to bed.
Virginia said: As Gerry got off the train in Aix and the doors locked behind him, I remembered the one hard and fast rule that Ann Alton and I had a million years ago when we were bumbling around Europe with a Eurail pass..."NEVER,EVER get off the train!!" It still seems to be the cardinal rule. I was sure they wouldn't let G on the train but I couldn't see what was happening out my locked door window. Needless to say, I was very glad to see him happily settling into the wrong seats in the wrong car. Fortunately, I think the conductor took mercy on us and didn't make us move again. Our apartment here is lovely, big and airy. It's decor is more modern than we are, with a very low sofa and beds, so we creak a bit. Amazing modern appliances, we regularly need to find the instruction books to figure out how to turn things on. I'm going to have to replace everything at home, though, these are quite wonderful. The opera was fun, if a bit peculiar. My seat was a fold-down that tucks in at the end of a row. Each row seems to have one of these and when they are all occupied there is no aisle left; cannot imagine what would happen in the event of a fire! The seats are all designed for much smaller people than we are and the fold down was particularly tiny...and not padded. I squirmed a lot but easily survived. Lots of kids at the opera, and not a sound from any of them. We did have an exciting moment as were were leaving the opera. As G. was starting down the long marble staircase he gazed heavenward to the ceiling. That meant his foot missed the step and he started a long pirouette down the staircase. Following my dutiful three steps behind him I had visions of a human avalanche as he spun into the crowd of people on the stairs below him. The only good thing I could think of was at least he would be on top of the pile.... not a particularly gracious thought, I realize. Fortunately everyone somehow managed to keep their footing and he eventually righted himself, but it was a very long few seconds. We were glad to stretch our legs and walk home...before landing with a glass of wine and a basket of cheeses and a dish of duck fat fried potatoes just to hold us until morning!