Despite having made numerous trips to France – their first at nine weeks old – neither of the girls has ever really been to Paris (we took Sarah as a baby and we once drove through when we took a wrong turn on the way to Calais a few years back). This was something we felt we needed to remedy, and today was the day.
Sadly, it was a cold, grey and intermittently rainy day, but we managed to get the shuttle bus to the station and then the train into the centre of Paris without any trouble, and after a quick visit to the Arc de Triomphe, we caught the Metro to Trocadero station. It was raining a bit harder now, but we stopped outside the Théâtre National de Chaillot as there was a crowd outside, obviously awaiting the arrival of one or more notable personages. We didn’t spot anyone famous (to us anyway), but we did see several very dressed-up women arrive, all desperately trying to remain glamorous despite the wind and rain.
And then we turned the corner and came across that most famous of Paris residents, the Eiffel Tower. We walked down the steps, fending off the African trinket hawkers, crossed the Seine and walked to the base of the tower. With the Charlie Hebdo massacre not long past, there was a significant military presence around the pylons, but otherwise, it was all pretty quiet. After a bit of neck craning and general gawking, we headed off in search of somewhere to have lunch.
Now my knowledge of Paris is much like my knowledge of London – very patchy. I know a few bits quite well, but I don’t really know how they all connect up. And, like London, Paris itself is rather patchy. There are bits that are full of shops and restaurants and people, and other bits that are more residential, where roads are lined with rows of apartments punctuated by brasseries on the corner at intersections.
Walking away from the tower, we found ourselves on one of those roads, and walked and walked without coming across anywhere that we wanted to, or could afford to, eat. Finally, we took a slight detour to get closer to the Seine and stumbled across just what we had been looking for – a nice little bistro with a reasonably priced menu of French classics. It was really buzzing and we had to wait a while for a seat, but the staff were incredibly friendly (just where do you have to go to find these famously rude Parisians?) and before long we were warming up and tucking into a couple of plates of really nice food (and a nice glass of St Emilion).
After lunch, we visited Notre Dame and then wandered up to the George Pompidou Centre. Sadly, almost none of the latter is free to enter now, so after a quick toilet stop, we hopped back on the Metro and went in search of one of my favourite Paris landmarks – the huge Lavinia wine shop. I had a nice browse there, but the prices were astronomical, so I left empty handed.
By now it was dinner time, and as we were all rather cold, wet and tired, and just wanted to get back to the hotel, we settled for some pretty dreadful sushi and dumplings – a shame, because not much further down the street was one of those pockets of restaurants and wine bars that are dotted around Paris. I’m sure we could have done a lot better, but it did mean that we were back at the hotel at a reasonable hour.
Which was an important consideration. Throughout the trip, we’ve been playing things pretty loose in terms of planning. It has worked out fine so far, but we’re having a lot of trouble finding a place to stay for tomorrow night. You would have thought it would be easy to find a nice little cottage in Normandy for a reasonable price in the middle of winter, but the process of looking for one has been soul destroying. So many of the places in our price range look lovely from the outside, but the furnishings are so hideous, or the renovation so soulless, that the thought of spending a week in one makes our hearts sink (or, in some cases, our flesh crawl). Back in the hotel room, Kate and I took a computer each to cast our net wider, but by the time we got to sleep we still didn’t have anywhere sorted.