A much needed break

14 December 2018

The last few weeks have been difficult and disappointing in equal measure but I’m not going to elaborate or dwell on them. Suffice to say I felt an overwhelming urge to run away and hide from a situation that was not of my making and a lot of questions I didn’t feel at liberty to answer. Damned if you do dammned if you don’t kind of stuff. Luckily, Commando had just the thing to put a smile back on my face. While I’d been hiding away he’d been booking a weekend in Paris.

We had a very early start, a taxi to the station, a train, underground and finally, after a bit of a wait, Eurostar. This was my second under the sea crossing and this time I wasn’t quite as worried about being under the actual sea. That part of the journey is only about twenty minutes or so anyway and even I can stop worrying about the water all around for that long. The darkness outside the train window is a bit disconcerting but it’s soon over and then there are French fields to look at. Truthfully, it’s much more relaxed than flying and there’s none of that worrying about your luggage not turning up at the other end either.

By the time we arrived at Gare du Nord the light was fading. The first thing we noticed was how much colder Paris was than home. My small case was filled with jumpers and warm things though so I pulled on my wooly hat and gloves and we hurried across the road from the station to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed in on our last visit was closed for refurbishment so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. What we got was a small reception, a very friendly welcome and a tiny, somewhat quirky lift to the top floor. The lift door opened right onto a spiralling wooden staircase, no landing, just stairs. It reminded me of the hotel I stayed in the first time I was in Paris back in 1980. Then I’d stayed in a room with a bidet but no toilet, that tiny convenience with its ornate cast iron cistern high on the wall, had been half way up the stairs. Perhaps this lift had once been a toilet? It was certainly small enough.

The only word to describe our room is bijou. It was a typical Parisian garret room with sloping beamed ceilings and a dormer window. The bed, small desk and chair almost filled it but there was a little bathroom with a bath, shower, sink and, most importantly, a toilet. Back in the 1800’s, when buildings like these were built all over Paris, these attic rooms would have been the least prestigious. In those days there were no lifts so the less important you were higher you had to climb. This was the kind of room where all the starving writers and artists would have lived. Needless to say I loved it.

From our window we had a marvellous view of Gare du Nord and the tiny, ant like people walking about below. Once we’d rested and freshened up we went back out to join them.

Our first stop was the Starbucks on the edge of the station. Not very imaginative in a city filled with cafes I know, but it was convenient and I needed coffee badly at this point. As usual the barista asked for my name. In the past this has caused both difficulties and amusement in France. With a name like Marie you’d think it would be simple but, for some reason, although they understand all the other French words I say, no matter how I say my name, the French don’t seem to understand it. Try as I might to pronounce my name in a more French way, in Starbucks all over France I’ve received cups with amusing things written on them, Mattie, Murray, Mary but never actually Marie. This time I thought I’d done quite well. There was no questioning look from the barista, no need to repeat it several times. The coffee I got though had the name Stephanie written on it. Thinking it belonged to someone else I questioned it but it really was my coffee. Commando was very, very amused. He called me Stephanie all evening.

There was another reason for choosing to buy and drink our coffee at the Gare du Nord Starbucks. When we arrived we’d both noticed a strange little crooked house on the pavement outside the station. We were positive it hadn’t been there last time we were in Paris. As we drank our coffee we looked out of the window at this odd little building trying to work out its purpose. It looked like a slice had been taken from one of the hotels opposite, complete with attic room, and dropped into the pavement. There were windows with curtains but no door we could see. The people of Paris seemed to be walking around it as if it didn’t exist.

The peculiar little house was, I later discovered, a piece of art. It’s called Madison Fond, or melting house, and it was created by Argentinean sculptor, Leandro Erlich, as a symbol for climate change. It was built at the time of the Paris climate change conference and is designed to look as if it’s melting into the pavement.

The main reason for our little jaunt to Paris was for Commando to run the Paris parkrun. Come on, you all knew there had to be some running in there somewhere. Once we’d had our coffee we stopped to check out the maps on the street, trying to work out how best to get to the park in the morning. The first thing we discovered was that Bois de Boulogne is a very big park. As the people of Paris are not yet sold on parkrun and the runners averagely number just thirty three, it might not be as easy to find as Commando thought. This was the moment when I realised I should have done some research before we left home rather than moping about feeling sorry for myself.

Luckily, the parkrun website did have information about where in the park the start was. Of course it was in French so it took me a while to get my head around it. There was a metro station, Porte d’Auteuil, fairly close so I took a photo of the metro map to try to work out a plan.

Much as I’d have liked to wander the streets for a while, it was far too cold and we were both far too tired after our long journey. After a quick shuffle up and down the impressive array of restaurants and cafes on offer, we settled on Au Baroudeur Patient, on Boulevard de Denain. The service was friendly, the food was good and Commando had even remembered his glasses so he could read the menu.

This was the full extent of the Paris nightlife we saw. The long day of travel and an early start in the morning, not to mention the cold, had us scurrying back to our garret room for an early night.

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Under the sea to gay Paree

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21 November 2014

Friday morning began with a latte in Costa Coffee and a long wait on the cold platform of Southampton Central Station. We’d arrived way too early. The lesser of two evils, it was that or leave later, get stuck in rush hour traffic and possibly miss the train. In my time I’ve spent many hours on platform one of this station. As a teenager I worked in the offices above and caught the train to and from work every week day for five years. On Staurdays in the summer I helped out on the platform, guiding people to their connecting trains. Some of the announcements are imprinted on my brain. Continue reading Under the sea to gay Paree