25 January, 2010

Paris with Mary - Monday

Having abandoned this blog in January 2008 at the end of Mary's visit it seems appropriate to begin this attempt to restart with her visit two years later. This time we did something special while Mary was here: we all took a trip on the Eurostar for a three-day, two-night trip to Paris!

Now, Paris is my all-time favourite city but I haven't been able to visit since our trip in July 2002. This has entirely been down to lack of funds but Mary very generously swept this aside by paying for our train tickets and hotel rooms. Given that our hotel, the Normandy, is a four-star establishment located just two blocks north of the rue de Rivoli you can appreciate just what a magnanimous gesture this was!

So, it was with great excitement that we set out, pre-dawn on Monday morning, on the first leg of the journey: the Cambridge Cruiser non-stop service to King's Cross. From King's Cross, it's just a step across the road to St. Pancras International from where the Eurostar services run. Back in 2002, we'd had to cross London to Waterloo to pick up the Eurostar; so already we were having a better experience!

We were travelling on the first "normal" day of Eurostar services after several days of cancellations and service suspensions caused by "the wrong kind of snow" so, although our train was running as scheduled, we knew it was being combined with the previous service and therefore were unsurprised when we were re-allocated to alternative seats on arrival at the International terminal. The terminal looked nice and new but was so jam packed with travellers that it was hard to form any real opinion of the place. Fortunately we didn't have too long to wait before embarking. As we settled into our re-assigned seats I observed that we were in what would normally be first-class accommodation, in spite of having economy class tickets but assumed that this was just a first-class coach that had been re-designated due to the combining of the two train-loads of passengers. You can imagine our delight when it emerged that we were to be treated to the full first class service anyway!

So we had a pretty luxurious ride to Paris and disembarked at Gare du Nord in good spirits. Gare du Nord looked just as it did eight years and more ago and the long queue for taxis was the same old mix of fast movement, animated exchanges and semi-chaos as ever. Our driver seemed to be pretty on the ball and got us to the Normandy in good time through the rush-hour traffic and we were soon checked in and dispatched to our rooms. Although provided with all mod cons, the Normandy could hardly be more unlike a modern identikit business hotel: charming and quirky with meandering corridors that rose and fell by several steps in places and spacious rooms with high ceilings. What a lovely place!

Only having such a short time in the city we wanted to do something useful with our first evening and so, unpacked and freshened up, we met up in the foyer and ventured out to the nearest metro station (Palais Royal Musée du Louvre) emerging at Trocadéro from where we walked down through the Palais de Chaillot and across Pont d'Iena to the Eiffel Tower. Temperatures in Paris were no warmer than those we'd left behind in Cambridge, hovering around zero, and the fountains and pools were frozen solid. In the gathering gloom we didn't have to queue to ascend to the second stage of the tower (the top was not open) and were soon braving the cold and wind to look out over the city as night fell. When we'd done we retreated back across the river, admiring the illuminated tower, and found ourselves a typical Parisian brasserie in which to take an early dinner.

Dinner was at the Café Kleber in Place du Trocadero and we were among the first diners of the evening. Lisa and I started with half a dozen escargots each, prepared in the traditional way with parsley butter, while Mary went for a salad. Lisa followed up with a rump steak while Mary and I plumped for onglet à l'échalote (skirt steak with shallots). The steaks, delightfully rare and juicy, were served with the traditional frîtes and we enjoyed a bottle of Sancerre with all that (Mary's not a red wine person). We passed on dessert and moved straight to coffee (Lisa & I) and hot chocolate (Mary) and Lisa and Mary topped off with a Grand Marnier each.

Dinner over, we took the metro back to the hotel and chatted over a round of drinks in the hotel bar before calling it a night.