Category Archives: Paris

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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Europe, Travel and first day… and travel and second day…


The alarm went off at 5:30 am, just like it was supposed to; the electronic klaxon ringing it’s beep beep beep tune across my condo, to wake me up on the start of a new adventure. My heart was in the right place when I had set that alarm. I wanted to get an early start to the day, the first day of a European journey that would take me to parts of the UK and France over the next month.

My travel companions and I had been planning this trip for quite a while, with many hours of research and reading, maps and websites, chats and emails. An itinerary had been drawn up, accommodations booked, and travel tickets purchased. So this little alarm clock was marking a very important moment in time. Day one, hour one, minute one of another lengthy trip abroad.

But the beep beeps were useless. They didn’t wake me up. The urgent electronic call to arise and begin the day, fell on deaf ears and the one job that this little alarm clock was designed to do, was never realised.

It was never realised because I was sitting, watching it count down the seconds, fully dressed with my luggage strapped to my back since 4am, coat and boots on, wide eyed in anticipation as I slapped the off button on the alarm.

I messaged L that I was on my way and she said that Z would be by to pick us up for the airport soon. So I walked out the door, leaving the alarm clock and my condo in the dust.

L is within walking distance to my place, and I was anxious to try out my new travel backpack(s), so I walked out into the cold April morning in Winnipeg, and trudged through the muck and falling snow in my neighbourhood, careful not to slip on the ice that had formed overnight.

Z picked us up, and we were off to Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, one of many stations that we will be waiting at during day one and the first part of this trip.

SO, we enter Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, check in, check bags, check wallet for passport, check time. Through security, quite quickly and without incident, and into the domestic/international departure section of the airport. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, and we look out into the beauty of the area around the airport, and the Manitoba spring.

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Board the plane, on time, take off, peruse onboard entertainment package… oh wait… that’s disappointing

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Oh well. Pull out an Apple mobile accessory, play mindless video game, open snacks that were purchased at movie theatre prices, served coffee, and look out window at the advice on the wing of the aircraft.

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Sip coffee. Sneer at brown water concoction that pretends to be “coffee”, read a little, look out window, land in Montréal.

Into Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, walk a long walk to the gate for our next plane which is on time. Six hour wait. Hmm.

Purchase sandwich and salad combo from airport vendor. Edible. Doesn’t kill us. Good sign. Wander the halls looking into stores and restaurants. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, but this time we practice our french.

Wander around some more. Five hours left. Repeat above steps five times.

Discover that jet airplane engines can also be used as hand dryers in public restrooms.

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Board plane, slightly late, no huge deal, settle in. Take off, 20 minutes late, not bad, open snacks and water, and look over extensive entertainment package in the seat.

Watch a Bollywood superhero movie called Krrish 3 (actually the fourth in the series, never saw the first three), hindi with subtitles. I’m surprised at how much hindi I can remember. Movie is hilarious, especially when the superheroes and villains break out into song and dance. Giggle uproariously.

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Meal. Ask for the chicken, get the beef. Stroganoff concoction with a tasteless cabbage and corn slaw, petrified bread product, and sandpaper brownie. Definitely not the worst airplane meal I’ve ever had. Partake in another cup of the brown water coffee like drink and mourn. Order another cup when flight attendant comes around.

Watch a second Bollywood movie, also in hindi with subtitles. This one called Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biography picture about Milkha Singh. Very good, well acted, entertaining. Love that they break out into song and dance, even in sports biography pictures.

Nap.

Meal…. sort of. A cellophane wrapped piece of banana loaf for breakfast, which isn’t too bad. More coffee flavoured brown water while looking at the sunrise.

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Land at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and disembark towards immigration. Prepare for onslaught of questions about why I’m visiting and possible cavity searches. Practice french responses: “Non, monsieur, ce n’est pas une arme à feu dans ma poche, je suis heureux de vous voir.”

Hand my passport to the officer. He opens it, looks at me, stamps it, waves me through. Thirty seconds. Fastest I’ve ever been through customs, anywhere.

Wait for half an hour for luggage (they were expecting security to hold us up too I guess), and then a three mile walk through the airport to the Réseau Express Régional B train station “in” the airport. Figure out ticketing system, follow signs to platform, and then think we are lost. Look inside parked train, realise we are not lost but in the correct place and board the train.

Look out window. L exclaims “OH MY GOD! LOOK! VEGETATION! EVERYTHING IS GREEN!”

Arrive at Paris Gare du Nord train station and wander around looking for the Eurostar section of the station. Months earlier we had booked these tickets and there was a promotion for lower cost first class tickets (less than economy) so we booked them.

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Figured out ticket machines, found the gate. 3 hour wait. Starbucks, water and snacks are purchased, consumed. Find a recycling bin. The french think recycling is hardcore by the looks of the iconography. When in France…

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Board ultra-highspeed Eurostar bullet train. Board luxurious train car, with really really comfortable reclining seats and huge windows.

Meal. This time it’s a gourmet spring chicken in tomato reduction with a light mango chutney, saffron basmati, choice of FRESH dinner roll, or two, or three, complimentary wine and/or beer, and a fresh raspberry tart for dessert. Everything was great. I, of course, finish with a coffee. This time it’s a delicious french press style cup which I sip and watch the lush green french country side go by.

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Nap.

Train stops. There is a delay at the Chunnel. A different train is stuck and they are down to one set of tracks so they have to wait their turn to enter. Might be a couple of hours.

Shrug. Continue nap in reclining high class train seat.

Hour and a half later, underway. Now in the UK. Total time in France is six hours. Fond memories.

Reach London’s St Pancras international railway station, trundle our way to the shared Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station and purchase tickets for the Hammersmith & City line’s journey to Paddington Underground H&C station. Ten minutes.

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Make our way to the Paddington Railway station that is connected, and find a FastTicket machine and withdraw ALL of our train tickets for the UK that we will use over the next few weeks (7 each). This wait was to be almost 5 hours but because of the Chunnel delay, it will now only be 2 and a bit.

Look at departure boards. Stare at them in confusion until we find our train. There is no gate number on the board. Find Station Manager Rajesh Patel and ask him where our gate will be. He asks where we are coming from and I relay the journey so far. He calls me “daft” for travelling so much in one day and informs me that gates are assigned 15 minutes prior to departure.

The smell of the Paddington station Burger King is starting to affect me so I go and get a Whopper to eat while we wait. Mistakenly hand a £100 note to Dave at the Burger King, thinking it was a £10. Dave kindly points out my error and doesn’t rob me blind. Nice.

Gate announced, rush the train (general seating), comfortable hour and a half to the Castle Cary railway station through Reading. Nap most of the way. Disembark, picked up in prearranged cab by Ian Corbett of Zero-Nine Taxi and he gives us a lovely tour of Glastonbury, which is lost on me a little because of weariness. Dropped off at the incredible Parsnips B&B in Glastonbury. Pot of tea, shower, bed, pillow, and a deep sleep complete with snores that peel the wallpaper and frighten the cows.

SO, after three airports, two airplanes, six train stations, four trains, nineteen cups of coffee (some good, some bad, one extraordinary), a car, a cab, and a combined thirty three hours of travel time, we’re in Glastonbury… and since I was greeted with a view of the garden at dawn, I couldn’t be happier.

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