Category Archives: Calais

The sense, cents, and scents of Paris.


Ahh Paris. Cafés and art, wine and bread, and tourist traps galore.

We took the first train we could out of Calais which made for a very early morning. We had always planned for Paris to be the last stop, and originally we had planned for our last full day, a Tuesday, to be spent at the Louvre and to take in a few of the other sights. Fortunately, before we booked train tickets, it was discovered that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays (in fact many of the national museums and attractions are closed on Tuesdays) so if we wanted to see the sights, it would have to be on the Monday which prompted us to get an 8am train for the two hour ride into Paris so we could arrive at 10.

We had secured a great little apartment right on the border of the 8th and the 17th arrondissement (administrative districts) very close to the Rome and Villiers Metro stations. This meant that we could take the Metro line 2 directly to Rome from Gare du Nord.

Again, this sounded pretty simple, and the Paris Metro is a great way to get around the city as it connects almost everything to everything else. But negotiating the very busy trains and the plethora of automated gates with large pieces of luggage was not easy and we got caught up in the machinery several times. But the trek was worth it because the accommodations were fantastic.

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Our host met us and gave us a tour of the place and left us some fantastic information about the area and how to get about town. His homemade map turned out to be one of the most useful pieces of paper on the entire trip and I’m truly grateful for the effort that Olivier made. If you are ever in Paris, check out his Air B&B posting, it’s a great place.

After dumping our stuff we went to the Villiers Metro station and caught a Metro 3 to the Opera station and transferred to a Metro 7 which would take us directly to the Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre station. As we prepared to exit the train, we watched the station approach… and then go right on by. The station was closed due to renovations.

ARGH! I don’t know what we did to anger the train gods, but we were just not having much luck.

Thankfully, the next stop was not on the other side of the river Seine, so it was a short walk to the museum from the Pont Neuf station.

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The Louvre was BUSY… crowded, with long queues and a large security check before you entered the pyramid and descended into the lower levels of the museum. We wandered the Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquity sections and saw the Venus de Milo…

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but it was loud, over crowded and exceptionally warm in the exhibit areas, and because we had spent so much time at the British Museum the day before, our enthusiasm was low, and after about two hours, L headed back to the apartment.

After the Louvre I strolled along the Palais Royal gardens… which stretched on forever and supplied the senses with endless sights, sounds, and smells. There seemed to be a fountain and a sculpture every few meters and the supplied plastic chaise were full of sun worshippers.

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The smells of the area drifted between fresh bread from the pastry carts, newly bloomed flowers, ground coffee from the garden cafés…. and urine. In fact, most of downtown Paris wafted between the scents of “Ahhh”, “Yum!”, and “Ewwww”.

I shouldn’t complain, the exchange district in Winnipeg sometimes smells the same during the heat of July.

Because I was in Paris, I felt that I needed to see the Eiffel Tower, just like I felt like I should see the Taj Mahal when I was in Agra. So I started to walk down the Seine towards the icon that jutted out into the sky.

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When I arrived at the tower, I went into forty five minute queue to get a ticket, and then the half an hour queue to get to the first elevator, then another twenty minute queue to get to the last elevator. I skipped the long cue that led to the fast food counter that offered an Eiffel dog and a Coke for €11, which saved some time and probably some indigestion.

The views of Paris were admittedly pretty spectacular,

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and reading about the history of the structure along with the exhibit of Mr. Eiffel’s apartment was interesting, but after spending fifteen minutes looking around… I’d seen all I wanted to see, and started to make my way back into the queues for the elevators to take me back down. After the first queue, I decided to take the stairs for the rest of the descent, and that turned out to be the most pleasant part of the entire excursion. Unobstructed views, very few people, and quiet.

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After the tower, I took the Metro back to the 17th arrondissement and had a good meal at one of the restaurants on Oliver’s local map.

The following day was spent exploring the local area of the 17th and 8th arrondissement with some shopping, exploring, and organizing luggage for air travel. That night we decided on Restaurant Un Air de Famille for our last european meal, and it turned out to be an extraordinary three course meal of outstanding food, and smiles and laughter with the best of company. I don’t think I could have had a better final night in Europe.

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The next morning, after a cab ride to Gare du Nord, we found out that the train gods still had a beef with us. The rush hour crowds for the RER B were enormous and there was no room for us to get on the train with our luggage, and after I swore to the gods that this was the last train that I would be on and I wouldn’t be bothering the SNCF again, they sent an empty train and we were able to get to Charles de Gaulle airport for the flight back to Canada.

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As I was spending the last of my Euros at the duty free shop, I thought about the previous month and all of the things I saw. The highlights for me was Glastonbury and Huelgoat with the convention in Chepstow next. I come back with a grater appreciation for great food in smaller portions, and will strive to find the brilliant 2oz fillet of longline sablefish served over perfectly prepared sides and take my time to enjoy it, instead of the just edible 34oz pollock with endless week old bread basket served with a 32 minute consumption time limit. I will appreciate local produce that is brought to market because it tastes good, not because it can travel well and has the consistency of packing material.

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I will remember D-day and not let it become a mere curiosity.

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But mostly, I’ll remember how much fun I had on this trip and how relaxing it was in comparison to trips past.

I’m sure I’ll be back.

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Train angst and side trips…


The next morning in Bayeux marked the beginning of a whirlwind of activity that would take us to our last days in Europe, and that whirlwind started with a 3 hour train ride into Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare.

The train system in France is basically like spokes of a big wheel, with the center of that wheel being Paris. All of the main Paris train stations (Austerlitz, Bercy, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Nord, and Saint-Lazare)are termini and the spokes of the wheel go out from these stations. For example, all the trains coming from the northwestern parts of France like Brittany and Normandy end at Gare Saint-Lazare, and all the trains coming from the North Eastern parts like Calais and the chunnel to London end at Nord, (also known as Paris Nord, or Gare du Nord).

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So, if you are traveling from one section of France to a different section by train, you have to go through Paris, most of the time there is no other way, and some of these stations in Paris are quite far apart, however all of the stations are connected by the RER system and the Metro.

We were prepared for a three hour layover in Paris which would give us plenty of time to get from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord using the RER E commuter train that travels between the two stations.

No problem.

Gare Saint-Lazare is basically a huge shopping mall that has a train station attached to it. Loads of shops, cafés, fast food kiosks, etc. and all of the crowds that go with it, so it was a little overwhelming trying to navigate through the crowds with large pieces of luggage during the lunch rush hour when we arrived, but we were armed with research and all we needed to do was follow the signs and get to the RER platform and we would be fine.

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When we got close to the platform at a junction in a hallway, there were two SCNF officials blocking the way to the RER E and a large crowd of people pointing to the metro map and waving their arms. I waded into the crowd to see what was what, and found out there was a problem with the train so they were giving instructions on a convoluted alternate route involving two Metro trains and a walk down a street that I couldn’t quite follow from the poor woman trying to explain it to me.

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SO, instead of taking the chance of getting lost and missing our train out of Nord to Calais, we decided to go to the taxi stand and cab it. I was a little nervous about taking a taxi because I had read how large Paris is in area (14th largest city in the world) and we didn’t know how far it was or whether we would encounter gridlock in a Parisian rush hour, or even what the rates were.

Ten minutes and seven Euros later, we arrived at Gare du Nord and I exclaimed out of surprise “That’s it!?”

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The lesson learned from this, for me, was that the area within the inner part of Paris isn’t nearly as large as I imagined it, and this trip gave me a scale in my head that I could apply when looking at a map, which would be helpful when we got back here in a few days.

We killed some time in Gare du Nord (wishing that we were killing time in Gare Saint-Lazare instead) where L found a great bakery for some bread and pastry and then it was off to Calais and a lovely beachside suburb called Sangatte. The Kerloan B&B where we were staying was right across from the beach and right beside a great restaurant called Le Relais de Sangatte (formerly called the Country Cottage Pub if you’re looking for it on Trip Advisor), so our first night was filled with great food and some fantastic scenery.

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The next morning, very early, we made a side trip.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original plans for the area wasn’t going to happen. L had noticed that the Eurostar stopped in Calais and it was only a 55 minute train ride into London (actually closer than Paris) and there was a Vikings exhibit on at the British Museum.

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So after some more confusing times with a French train (there are no machines to collect the Eurostar tickets in the Calais-Fréthun train station and you have to wait until the gates open 1/2 hour before the train leaves to collect your tickets and go through security and customs… which turns out is plenty of time, but there wasn’t a single indicator or instruction anywhere about it including the website) it was off to London for about 8 hours to see some wonderful exhibits…

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…and fantastic sculpture.

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After the museum, we had a lovely walk to St Pancras station where there was a Marks and Spencer and we loaded up on snacks and Welsh Cakes.

We took the Eurostar back to Calais, and repeated the previous night with some food at Le Relais de Sangatte and another sunset on the beach.

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The following morning, it was a first class train ride back to the final destination, Paris.

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