paris, day one

We were up very early this morning, which was not difficult for me, since I hardly slept all night, most likely from drinking alcohol too late at night, which keeps me up... but what are holidays for. The Eurostar train from London to Paris is twice the price later in the morning, and we'd both rather have more time in Paris than an extra hour of sleep. Although don't ask Allan to choose when the alarm rings at six.

We've taken the Eurostar once before, our last time in London and Paris (1998). It now leaves from St. Pancras Station, a beautiful new glass structure built expressly for these international trains. The station was packed, but they're super efficient and the train left right on time. We ate breakfast on the train and barely registered the time before we arrived.

We decided to schlep our stuff on the Metro from Gare du Nord to the hotel, in the 7e arrondissement, and although a bit difficult in some of the big correspondances - the exchanges between Metro lines - it was no big deal, and worth it.

We're staying in the Hotel de la Motte-Piquet, near the Ecole Militaire Metro stop. It's exactly what we want and expect in this city: a small, simple, clean room. I decided to spend more than we usually would to get a great location. We're only here for two nights and I didn't want to spend it traveling back and forth from an outlying area.

After showering and changing, we had lunch in a bistro down the street - the perfect little Paris lunch: two croque madames, a half-litre of vin rouge, and we shared a tarte au pomme for dessert. If you've never had the pleasure, a croque monsieur (rough translation: Mr. Toasty) is a toasted ham and cheese, and a croque madame is the same with an egg on top. But this description doesn't come close to describing the Paris bistro version, on thick crusty bread, with mounds of gooey Gruyere, delicate ham, and a small green salad on the side.

I had a brief moment of sticker shock from the bill, not because the prices are high, but because the dollar against the euro is not a pretty sight. We couldn't possibly afford to spend this much every day, but we both agree that Paris is not the place to start counting pennies. We will be more careful in Spain, and things also will be less expensive.

After lunch, we went for a walk, and ended up walking towards and around the Eiffel Tower. It's Spring Break week here, plus a national holiday in France, plus, well, it's the Eiffel Tower, so the crowds are enormous. But we managed to saunter around, take a bunch of photos (like we don't have enough photos of the Eiffel Tower! but this is with our new camera), and generally soak up the atmosphere.

I used to dislike the Tower itself, thinking it was a mess of exposed iron and not much else, but I just didn't get it. Now I see its grace and lyricism, no small achievement from iron. I love the exposed lattice work, the little curlicue details you see up close, the contrast of heavy powerful iron and the graceful arching curves. Imagine this was the tallest building in the world from when it was built (1899) until the Empire State Building went up in 1930.

We walked over the beautiful Pont d'Alma, where all the tour boats are lined up. We spotted what we think was a houseboat, or at least someone's private pleasure boat, decked out in house plants and comfy chairs. We made our way back to the hotel slowly, through the very tony neighbourhood. We stopped for coffee and tea, sitting side by side in the rattan chairs, facing the street.

Ahhh, Paris. It is so beautiful. Just walking around here makes you feel so good. This is now my fourth time in Paris, my third with Allan. I can't even think about it being my last... which is what I said last time, and why we're here now.

Later on, we set out to see if our favourite bistro, Au Gigot Fin, was still in existence. We have read that it closed (after more than 80 years) and reopened under new management with a new name, but we weren't completely certain that even the new incarnation was still in business. This involved a long metro ride and several correspondances... and our little haunt was indeed gone. Oh well. We had to try. And we figured out a shorter way to get back.

Allan was concerned that it might be getting late to get dinner in "our" neighbourhood, but when we got back there, around 9:00, it was still hopping, the bistros and brasseries full, everyone eating outside on the wide sidewalk. We had dinner at the same place we had lunch, Cafe Central. Another perfect bistro meal: garlicky-buttery escargot, entrecote for Allan, carpacio for me, frites, salade, vin rouge. Apparently we must drink red wine twice a day. It's the law.

Tomorrow is our only full day here. We are going to the D'Orsay in the morning, which has undergone a huge renovation, although it was breathtaking to begin with. After that, we're not sure, except Allan has a place picked out for dinner. The description in Time Out sounds like our old lost bistro love.

My French is awful. I have been focused on getting my Spanish up to speed, and it completely gets in the way of my being able to think in French, even for the simplest necessities. My accent is abominable, as always. I can understand the language pretty well, at least in the context of traveling, and have no problem reading French, but speaking... ugh. And what's worse, I'm miles ahead of Allan, so all the speaking is left to me. (My friend NN may remember this from our first trip together. She did all the talking and I was the mute friend.) Objectively this is no big deal. French people in general are very willing to speak English and work with your limited French. But my French has been better in the past, and I wish I had more skill in this department.

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