Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 5: Paris

Writing this in our hire car the next day!

There was simply too much to do last night after we returned from Paris. Oui, Paris! Our day began early at 4:30am when Cazy got up. Our 5:30am taxi was not waiting for us so we swiftly booked another. Cazy also put some clothes into the laundry (3 quid for A PAIR OF SOCKS!).

I panicked much to my brother’s annoyance but a taxi arrived at 5:40 and got us to St. Pancras International just before the required 6am. We collected our tickets and then used the bathroom (which were a lot like wooden portaloos) before hunting for the source of haunting piano music.

We went upstairs to take photos of St Pancras’s platforms. After returning to the bottom level, we found a piano under the stairs, played by a rowdy tourist who sang poorly, much to the delight of his companions.

St. Pancras International

At 6:30 we were able to use the tickets to check in and went through customs and passport control. We waited around in the lounge (I bought a sudoku book) before boarding the train upstairs. Not bad for steerage - I could have booked first class and then wished I had because later we discovered that Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis were on the same train.

The tunnels made us furiously hold our nostrils and blow because of the crazy amount of pressure. We met the tour guide and I wound my watch forward an hour before we went under the channel. The landscape did not change much but the cars were driving on the right side of the road! We saw an IKEA.

Our train arrived in Paris at 10:45ish local time and were led to the bus. Once on board we were introduced to Pascale our guide - a dark-skinned woman with frizzy hair, French roots and vast knowledge (she studied art history at a Parisian university). The bus was immediately caught in traffic (Saturday markets - very colourful, very chaotic). We were driven past great sites (including the Louvre and Opera House) and were told that Paris today as we see it was primarily built in the 18th century at the behest of the arrogant Napoleon. 

We were offloaded at a dock near the Eiffel Tower and hurriedly boarded the boat for our cruise on the River Sienne. The boat was cold and had shocking toilets but the views of buildings such as Notre Dame were priceless. The boat's guide/speaker spouted phrases in several languages and sold souvenirs. A true talent.

The rear of the Notre Dame

Afterwards, we walked up to and beneath the Eiffel Tower before Pascale assisted us up to Level 1 where the restaurant was situated. The view was dodgy on our side but, ah, Paris was before us, around us, infused in us. We ate from a set menu - we chose a chocolate cake dessert. So very, very rich. Then we went down to the gift shop and spent Euros!

Pascale had told us that every so often the landmark is painted a different colour. Now it is being painted a light earthy brown.

The Tragic Lamppost

Laden with mini Eiffel Towers, we then encountered a pickpocket. On Trip Advisor, I had read that pickpockets ask “do you speak English?” as a distraction while their partner does the dirty. Someone asked us this! We sped past and met at the bus at the appointed 3:10pm. We had to wait 20 minutes for two women (one in a bright yellow jacket) who forgot to put their watches forward (the tour company had to ring them).

We drove past the Arc de Triomphe. Wowsa. We sat on the left of the bus as suggested by Trip Advisor which worked out great. 

Napoleon was clearly compensating for something.

Once we made it to the Louvre we were given a hurried tour by Pascale (eight of us went with her). We paused at statues and paintings which Pascale knew a lot about. Then, ah, the Mona Lisa. She was opposite a giant painting of Jesus’s first miracle (i.e. water into wine). Said giant painting covered an entire wall and made minutiae of us.

The Mona Lisa was obscured by a crowd and I barged my way to the front. I took flashless photos and wondered at the self-aware smile of the painting; it was as though she was mocking us all for travelling to see her, not for artistic merit but because of the hype of popular culture. The Mona Lisa’s secret? She knows what fools we be.

Kitsch, anyone?

Pascale took us through Italian mythological paintings then we took a hurried trip to the gift shop. 5:30pm Paris time saw us on the bus and in terrible Saturday traffic, though Pascale assured us we were “flying along”. She seemed to think Parisian drivers and pedestrians were bad - THEY DEFINITELY ARE. They just crowd in everywhere. We had to pass a hotel which park celebrities' cars on the street because of a lack of carpark. 

“For some reason the police don’t come here,” Pascale noted, telling us it was illegal to park on that street.

We made it to Gare du Nord train station with 10 minutes to spare before check in closed. We zipped in and then soon after that we boarded the train. Darkness fell. We passed the channel and Ashford International before finally reaching St. Pancras at 8:39pm London time after 2 hr 15 min approximately.

We bought groceries at M&S before using the tube to get back to London Bridge station.

We finally reached out hotel. I had to start packing (ugh).

Point of interest - there is an Apple store with a Genius Bar under La Louvre. :O

Okay. Almost at Dover now.

Signing off.

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