Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Midweek Excursion to the City of Light

Some time in August, in between trying to do a very difficult project and staring blankly out of the window, I decided to make myself feel worse by googling travel tickets I couldn't afford. Luckily, I stumbled across a Eurostar return to Paris for £69 in my Reading Week. Grabbing the boyfriend, we jumped on the deal, booked a cheap hostel in the 9th arrondissement and went back to crying in the library.

I've had to take some time off to study from home at the moment for health reasons, but as I couldn't bring myself to cancel the trip, we just took it very easy. This meant constant snacking and naps, so nothing too out of the ordinary.

Our journey there did not go to plan. The train was delayed by 55 minutes overall, so we were 5 minutes short of being able to claim a refund. We finally came out onto the platform and found we had to walk a long way down it to get to our coach. Once we were settled in, a couple arrived with the same assigned seats as us, and we realised we'd been looking at our return tickets...
So we dragged our bags off to the other side of the train to a coach that had three (three!) unhappy infants, and on arriving, I realised I lost my glasses. After going back to search the old carriage twice, I went to the information desk and found them waiting for me! Thank you, lovely passenger that brought them back. The ten-minute walk to the hostel in the dark, with our luggage, was pretty taxing, but we finally made it, although it took us another ten minutes and a trip back to Reception to get the key-card to work. Our view was a brick wall and the door of our en-suite didn't close, but we were just happy to have arrived somewhere with a bed.


Yay Paris! (It was very windy)
We were lucky to stumble upon most of our fun activities by accident, which I much preferred to an organised itinerary. We wandered through covered arcades (passages), rifled through old bookshops, ate well and read in cafés for hours.
It was strange how Paris could so resemble St Petersburg in some places, Madrid in others. Also since neither of us had been for a good six years, the influx of Vietnamese and Korean restaurants was interesting. 

We tried a few different restaurants and cafés, but definitely the best food was the fallafel spécial from L'As du Fallafel, or the Ace of Falafel. 
It's €5.50 takeaway or €8.00 to eat inside, which is worth a look for the pictures of Paris and klezmer bands, and one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. We went twice in the little time we had and I want to go every day for the rest of my life.
Second to the falafel, the best dessert we found was the macaroons from Pierre Hermé, in Le Marais. They're a little snobby and won't let you take photos inside, but the macaroons are amazing.
We got a salted caramel one, which has a really intense flavour so you'd better like caramel to try it, the Ispahan, which tastes quite like Turkish delight, but the chocolate and passion fruit was our favourite. That purply one in the corner got a bit squashed on the way home, so I still haven't figured out what flavour it is, but it was also quite chocolatey and fruity. 
Since it was our anniversary recently, we also added a padlock to Pont des Arts. I've seen so many in different cities, and as we visited the Kissing Bridge in St Petersburg this time last year, it seemed appropriate. Hopefully the authorities won't clip it off, as they've been prone to do in recent years. The place we chose also has a great view towards my favourite activity of the trip (apart from the falafel):
La Sainte-Chapelle! I absolutely love stained-glass windows and these are the most beautiful I've ever seen. They're currently renovating the chapel in part, so they're particularly bright at the moment. 
How is it so pretty? Also there is free entry for EU citizens, so just bringing your passport means you avoid the €8.50 fee for other tourists. 

We went up to Montmartre during the few hours we had spare on the last day, to see the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. I think even if I hadn't seen the glorious chapel the day before, I still would have found it underwhelming. It is beautiful inside, without a doubt, but the priest and nuns were singing and trying to conduct a service while a steady gaggle of tourists walked around the perimeter of the pews. I found the contrast of hymns and boisterous schoolchildren quite unpleasant, and I don't think that a tacky model of the basilica along with multi-lingual signs asking for donations should have a place in a niche of a place of worship. It was quite a sad representation of Paris' touristic veneer over a city that is quite possibly losing its cultural identity.

So, that was Paris. Where to next, for me..?

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