This was not in any way on my bucket list, nor indeed was anywhere in France. I’ve always been a timid and not very adventurous traveller, especially if I do not know the language; and I am ashamed French is one of them, although I can always have a reasonable guess at recognising a word here and there. However, I digress because I found myself travelling on the train up to Waterloo at 8.30 a.m. one morning to catch the Eurostar to Paris from St. Pancras on the morning of our 3rd wedding anniversary. And what an eye-opener that was.
We couldn’t have chosen the worst weekend to travel as it was also the start of the French holiday season as well as the second week of our own UK one and it was heaving. We were fortunate to be taken pity on and waved through and bypassed a considerable number of queues to the passport and security control as my other half walks with a stick and it was obvious he was struggling. Eventually we managed to board, settle into our seats and wait for the off. If we ever do this trip again we vowed to drive directly to Ebbsfleet, near Ashford and board there, even though it would mean a good three hours journey in advance from our south coast home. The Eurostar trip itself was brilliant with a meal delivered on proper plates and stainless
steel cutlery, wine, tea or coffee and speeds touching 200 mph.
Arrival in Paris was hot and again we were escorted through the queues, this time by a very kind police officer, into one of the many waiting taxis outside the Gare du Nord and on to our hotel in the Latin Quarter of the city. After collapsing in our room and recuperating from the journey we moved on to the most important part of the evening, that of discovering a reasonable restaurant. We had read of a certain one to visit but of course turned the wrong way out of the hotel and spent the next hour, getting more exasperated, hot and weary. Eventually we retraced our steps and just one minute (!) from our hotel found it! Cafe Latin serves a choice of dishes, mainly fish, and a specials board all with English explanations and nearly everyone, everywhere, including the cabbies, speaks at least a smattering of English; so you can manage to get through that trauma!
Next day was even hotter and as we only had this as a full day decided cabs were the only way to see as much as we could as fast and as comfortably as we could. Forget the comfortable – the cars drivers are maniacal and crazy, even the cyclists and pedestrians; how accidents didn’t happen more frequently I really do not know. The Place du Trocadero in the 16th – 17th Arrondissement was our first port of call with a picture-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower without getting caught up in the immediate crowds of the Tower, then criss-crossing the river Seine to other attractions we found ourselves quite unexpectedly in the Alma Tunnel, below the Place de l’Alma, where Princess Diana lost her life – a rather chilling reminder. With so much to see it was impossible and at the mention of a walk along the Seine I gave in and we returned to our hotel, absolutely shattered.
We were met with cold rain the next morning and as our train had to be caught it was a rush out, after struggling to get up for a late breakfast of omelettes at a local cafe, to find the nearest patisserie for macarons and delicious chocs. From the start we had felt perfectly safe everywhere we ventured. Groups of four, five, even six police and at least four in a group of troops were constantly around being extremely vigilant. Unfortunately after our departure from Gare du Nord the next morning six troops not far from there were ambushed by a vehicle and we felt extremely concerned for them. Sadly, wherever you are in the world now, this is a fact of life.
There is an incredible amount to explore but if you are of limited mobility it does take longer and this has to be allowed for. Next time, however, and there will be a next time, it will not be at the peak of the holidays!