Gare de l 'Est
None of us have been to Paris before so this was a new experience. Our first venture, having collected our luggage, was to acquire a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Opera Franklin which is off the Rue La Fayette. We took the next available from the rank which was driven by a gentleman of unknown origin who had never heard of either the hotel or the street. Luckily his satnav was able to direct him, though with my limited French, I disagreed with his interpretation of the final leg. It did not make any great difference as we arrived safely. The Opera Franklin, as I discovered from their welcome pack, is one of the Ibis group hotels and lives up to their reputation for basic, clean tidy accommodation. They are currently refurbishing the top three floors so there was a bit of a smell of fresh paint and the occasional crash of drilling, but nothing to to upset one unduly. The receptionist said that they hoped to have the bedrooms completed by July and the foyer area by September.
Having booked in and parked our cases we bought the two day tourists tickets for Les Cars Rouge (€24 unlimited travel) and set off to walk to the Opera, this being the nearest stop. This is Paris so nothing is as easy as it should be and we took a little time to find our bearings, even with the courtesy map! The bus is red (surprise, surprise) and similar to all other city tour vehicles except that this one offers complimentary earphones has a commentary system in a choice of eight languages. The French version definitely differs from the English but I am not sure by how much!
Although it was dry there was a biting wind and I was the only one who braved the upper deck and even then I made forays down stairs to get my fingers working again. We went round the complete circuit, Champs Elysée, Grand Palais, Invalides, Louvre, etc. and ended up for lunch in the brasserie of the Cafe de la Paix. This is decidedly on the posh side but the menu was pretty good and Trevor and I settled for the cappachio of beef with parmesan and capers which came served on a sheet of slate, Josephine had a croquet Monsieur and Helen settled on the home made Burger. Trevor and I finished off with coffee viennasoise. We did consider an Armagnac but at €40 a shot felt this was a little excessive.
We wended our way back to the hotel where we indulged in the said Armagnac at €4.80. I wondered if it were just a matter of the decimal point.
We had asked the hotel concierge to recommend a restaurant that evening and she sent us to Hugo a small bistro on the Rue de la Papillion about 10 minutes walk away. This is a truly memorable little restaurant and is described in more detail in the Eating Out section.
Day two started with breakfast which I was pleasantly surprised to find included salami, ham and cheese as well as the inevitable croissants and jam.
Following this we set off again to catch the Red Bus with the intention of visiting the Louvre and then the Musêe d’Orsay. We had noted quite a swish tailors the day before and I nepped in to see if I could get a bow tie (papillion, en français) but was a bit taken back to find they only sold ready tied. I tried a number of shops after this, including Galeries Lafayette, with no avail. So much for French savoire faire!.
We arrived at the Louvre which was not at all what I had expected. One it is a huge building set round an imposing square which then extend on two sides to form the Cour Napoléon which contains the fountains and three glass pyramids which look down into the the entrance to the museum itself. Froom here one moves out across the Jardin du Carrousel towards the Tuileries Gardens. We never did get to visit the museum itself as the queue was enormous. The visit was well worth it just for the arcitecture and overall view.
We headed over the Pont du Carrousel and down the Quai Voltaire for lunch in La Frégate, a typical brasserie with the usual parisian varieties on the menu. The Soupe à l ‘Oignon was a meal in itself, none of your dainty croutons, 3 slices of crusty topped with melted cheese. Trevor’s omelette aux champignons got lost in the system somewhere but turned up eventually! Everybody was very friendly and helpful as usual.
Following this we headed down to the Musêe d’Orsay. The queues there were even longer than those at the Louvre. It is definately a must to get tickets in advance! The rest of the party decided to take the bus back to the Opera but, haaving had enough of buses I elected to walk.
It is definately the way to see Paris once you have got your general bearings from the bus tour. From the Quai d’Orsay across the Pont de la Concorde and on across the great square with it fountains and statues and central obelisk. Across the road I noticed a Nicolas wine shop. My first bottle of red wine was bought from an “offy” in Birmingham around 1957 and was Vieux Ceps by Nicolas. Strangely for those days it had a plastic stopper. From there past the Marie Madeleine Church and Maxims. It was when I reached St. Lazare station that I realised that I should have taken a right at the Madelaine! Ah well It was a straight run back to the hotel past La Trinite, I would not have seen had I gone the right way.
Thinking that the rest of the party would already be back and resting I ordered a large Armagnac and collapsed into a chair in the lobby bar with a bowl of nibbles. Surprise, surprise the rest arrived five minutes later having stopped off to buy a handbag.
We had booked for a Seine Cruise and dinner with Bateaux Parisians as our farewell to Paris and an excellent evening it turned out to be. The service and food were excellent. I had not remembered that wine was included in the price and was a little taken aback to see that the cheapest red on the wine list was €75! On being seated we were served with a Kir cocktail and our waiter for the evening, Jacques, introduced himself. The menu is not extensive; one would not expect this on souch a tour, but it coveres most tastes, you’d be pretty miserable not find something suitable. Starters included a “cappuchino” style soup with lobster and slow cooked morels,absolutely delicious, and duck foie gras with asparagus. The veal with madeira sauce and truffle essence was robust and cooked to perfection and my companions reported the same about the Beef tournedos in a Bourdelaise wine sauce. The vegetables and potatoes passed muster with no complaint. My Crêpes Suzette, orange butter with Grand Marnier were flambéed at the table, nice touch, and I believe that the Cantai maature cheese with apple and grape condiment were not to be sniffed at (no pun intended). The wines, a 2008 Medoc and a Château la Capitelles Chardonnay, all French of course, complimented the meal perfectly as did the coffee. In fact the food was so good one was to be forgiven for not watching the Paris illuminations glide by. There was, in addition a very competent singer accompanied by a small combo to ensure that we did not get bored. We arrived back at the Eiffel tower to the spectacle of a fireword display which wound up the evening perfectly. On our way to the taxi rank at the tower we encountered our first roller skating gendarmes and security guards, neat!
On Saturday morning we set off to the Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar. This station does not rate as one of the top 100 stations I have been to. It did not help that there had been some sort of alert in the tunnel and that all trains had been halted. The poweres that be had roped off access to the Eurostar section of the station which is on the first floor and there seemed to be a general lack of information. Luckily, about 45 minutes later, it was announced that the problem had been cleared and that trains would begin to run again. In true French style the put up seperate queue notices for the two trains that were due to leave. After about fifteen minutes they changed the notices round so nobody knew which was which. Happy days!
We eventually boarded about an hour and a half late. We had booked Leisure First tickets which, seeing as we are all pensioners, coast about £15 a head more than the standard fare and gave us big comfortable seats free wine and an excellent three course meal. My choice of with a gorgonzola sauce was a definite hit. Not that I am obsessed with food you know. The rest of the journey was uneventful and Trevor was able to increase my knowledge of British rolling stock to quite a degree, but I was starting from a very low base.
I would recommend Eurostar; even with the delays it was smooth and quick and dropped us into the centre of London without the hassle of transfers.
As a final note we got a cab to Liverpool Street to catch the Stanstead Express and were treated to a true East End commentary on everything from the way to improve the economy to his holiday in Spain. Priceless and a great end to the holiday.
Click on the photo below to go to the full album and then choose slide show.
Back to Orient Express