Taking a two-hour train ride anywhere in the United States has a minimal impact on one’s existence. Perhaps you’ll cross from Red Sox country into the Yankee’s Evil Empire. Maybe a sub will be called a grinder. But by and large things are pretty much the same. The people, language and culture in America changes so gradually that you’ve really got to travel a long distance to feel like an alien.
A two hour ride on the Eurostar, however, transports you to another world entirely. Disembarking at Gard du Nord is like traveling back in time, from the thoroughly modernized City of London to the wonderfully stubborn ancien regime of Paris.
One’s first impression of Paris is of the amazing consistency of the Parisian streets: five-floor buildings wrapped in wrought iron, cafés on every corner and spectacular classical buildings rising up the skyline and down every street. It’s truly a breathtaking sight, and even the slightly grungy neighborhood around the train station can’t take away from how Paris is truly different, beautiful and amazing.
(Actually, one’s first impression of Paris is of the filthy pay toilet in the subterranean basement of the dingy train station. They really set the bar low when you first arrive.)
Spoiler warning: I loved Paris. No disrespect to London, which is a fun, world-class city that I’d happily visit at any time. But Paris is on another level entirely. Paris is so magical that it’s almost unreal. I can’t wait to go back to Paris.
Fighting through traffic our taxi took us to our hotel in the Sixth district. We stayed at the Hotel Le Six which was great in every way. The staff was super-friendly and accommodating, the room was comfortable, the A/C was necessary given the heat wave, and the location was convenient – right off Montparnasse and a short walk to St. Germain, which kind of became our home base for our visit.
Well, it wasn’t a short walk when we first left the hotel and tried to find the Eiffel Tower. A bad map, a foreign language and absolutely no knowledge of the city found us walking in a circle for the first 40 minutes or so, doing that thing where you’re like “did we pass that cafe already?” But finally we found Invalides and stopped for our first taste of the cafe life, getting some wine, cheese and smoked salmon to reward our efforts.
Side note: yes, me, noted drink of shitty American beers drank wine while in France. I tried to find the most Manischewitz-y wine that I could find which pretty much meant sweet white and rose wines. I guess I’m sophisticated now!
As far as we could tell a day in the life of a Parisian consists of exercising, smoking, drinking wine, smoking, eating bread, smoking, sitting in the park, smoking, eating dinner, smoking and walking. It’s amazing how different the culture is when it comes to smoking. I mean the Brits smoke a lot but everyone smokes in France. Kids smoke in France. Dogs smoke in France. We learned that the key to a good cafe experience is to try to claim a spot among Americans and people with e-cigs, otherwise the secondhand smoke will be out of control – and that’s coming from someone who is generally fine with people smoking.
From there we hit the Eiffel Tower which was really impressive. It’s a nice looking structure and much bigger than you expect. I mean after seeing “Big” Ben we were a little worried that the tower wouldn’t be that big, but it was the perfect size. We didn’t have any tour tickets and weren’t going to wait 45 minutes to walk up it, so we gawked for a while and headed for the Seine.
Quick question about the guys selling the mini Eiffel Towers everywhere: they’re pickpockets, right? There’s no way that many guys throughout the city could make any money selling the exact same chintzy thing, right?
Walking along the River Seine is as lovely as everyone says. There are beautiful bridges everywhere and as you walk through the city you see more and more cool stuff. There are so many incredible buildings that after a while you almost become numb to them. Buildings that would be landmarks in other cities are on every corner in Paris. It’s a city that definitely requires many visits to appreciate everything.
Our last stop for the evening was dinner on St. Germain at a place called Le Deux Magots, which we assumed stood for the delicious-sounding “The Two Maggots”. I had the veal and Lyn had the steak, both of which were very good. We couldn’t help but laugh when some lady sat next to us and smoked a cigar throughout her meal. She inhaled it too! That lady was definitely the smoking champ of Paris, and there’s a lot of contenders for that crown.
All in all we managed to squeeze a nice full day out of a travel day and we were pretty beat from walking many miles in the hot sun, powered only by prodigious amounts of wine and butter.