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Paris -The Five Day Tour 2023

It might be that only on Day Two of my trip to Paris that I realised that my niece was trying to accelerate her inheritance.  “It’s only 20,000 steps Uncle Sam, why are you so slow!”

Five solid days of near 20,000 steps and quite often steep steps because Paris may look flat from on up high but at street level, they went step crazy and I can tell you when I got to the bottom of the Sacre Coeur steps and stared ever upwards it was a ‘to hell with it, I’ll just sit here and have a coffee, you go and tick that box.’

Tabytha Paris

Tabytha had won a free trip to France from Canada courtesy of St Remy (the brandy people) for a cocktail she invented. Tab is a mixologist and sommelier living in Vancouver. So finally we could catch up.

Paris is a tick box city. Blame Amelie or recently Emily, everyone wants to go there and tick the boxes.  When I was younger, we just enjoyed the city serendipity style and like now walked miles. But the crowds that throng Paris today is something else.  It’s way too much. Yes I know we are doing the same but it is chocker blocker full already.

Back to day one. Arrival by Eurostar. At least going you get all the unpleasantness over border issues over with on UK soil. It is set to get a lot worse from November when new rules and restrictions are imposed.  I’d booked a hotel for us near Gare d’Est which has been recently renovated (The Station not the hotel). Something that is desperately required by Gare Du Nord. (The toilets in the Gare du Nord Eurostar section are a total disgrace with doors torn off, no paper or water).  My niece Tabytha had booked dinner at a vegan restaurant, so I didn’t have to worry about finding something for the first night.  Our shared hotel room was tiny and as we later discovered extremely noisy at around 2am when people in the street outside start screaming at each other for no reason we could discern.  We don’t know the French for ‘Please go and stab each other someplace else’.

Once we had bought our weeks supply of Metro tickets (soon to go all digital, beware) we set off on foot to find this Instagram ready vegan restaurant. All very smart and Gen Z, although I thought my mashed cashews and a green twig a tad overpriced at 30 Euros. Luckily organic wine was on hand to dull the pain. Tab liked it and ticked the box.  Somehow, we did only 16,000 steps that night.

Musee d'Orsay The next day she’d booked a river cruise and the Musée d’Orsay Gallery. Unfortunately so had around 50,000 other tick boxers.  Even though we had tickets the line-up took three hours to get on the boat and it’s a bit unspectacular from the water line. (Better to have a dinner cruise if you want to be a dedicated tick boxer).

The crowds in the Musée d’Orsay were shocking.  The former station building is spectacular as ever and Tab didn’t believe me that when I first came here there were only maybe a few hundred people wandering around looking at Van Gough’s art. Now it’s like the Cup Final and to actually glimpse a Monet or Manet over the heads of all these people is rare. Lunch in the clock tower was unexpectedly pleasant however and a relief. There is a huge amount of art in there but time to pause and reflect there is none.

(Photo of Tabytha in the Clock Restaurant at the top floor).
Escape at last. I walked Tabytha to something that wasn’t on her list, the beautifully restored Art Nouveau Samaritaine department store overlooking the Pont Neuf bridge.  Built in 1869 it closed in 2005 and was restored to full glory by LVMH and the prices inside somewhat reflect that.

There is also a 5-Star Cheval Blanc hotel incorporated into the structure and a rooftop restaurant that reveals the beautiful Art Nouveau murals.  Without the crowds that choke the museums, a visit to Samaritaine is a must, but first you probably need to explain what a department store is to younger visitors.
Tab at Samaritaine

Tabytha informed me there was another box to tick, the day wasn’t over. An Insta friendly cocktail bar in the Republic Square area beckoned.  You have the obligatory line up and the bouncer will let you in two by two at his choosing.  I was beginning to notice something, no French people were lining up.  In fact, I don’t recall seeing any French people at any of the galleries or other venues.  We finally got into the bar (18 Euros per cocktail). Tabytha instantly recognised four Insta people from Toronto in the bar.  All ticking that box.

Finally, it was time to eat and to hell with an instagrammed anything I explained the concept of serendipity to Tab, and we ended up by chance at Chez Omar - 47 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd arrondissement  It's a really lovely traditional North African cuisine French restaurant with white paper table cloths, couscous and everyone eating cheek by jowl.  The food was amazing and as we looked around, we realised we recognised many faces – actors, producers, and directors.  We couldn’t remember any names but knew everyone but us was famous. Amusing.  *Suggest you go there before all the waiters die off – they are older than Biden. No you can't book. Line-up only.

It was a long walk back to the hotel along Magenta Avenue and Tab was walking at least ten paces ahead as she has no patience for ‘old people’ of which I am now a prime example. This is when I realised, she was trying to kill me.

The next day, a Monday, she wanted to go to Reims to Champagne country. (The unfriendly staff in Gare d’Est finally allowed us to buy a ticket and we took the TGV to Reims).

Reims Auto Museum Unfortunately, no one had mentioned that this was a public holiday.  We arrived in Reims at 9.20 am and it was like walking into a scene from 28 Days Later. No one was out. No one.  No restaurants open, no cafes, more importantly, no coffee.  We walked and walked and in desperation (but to my pleasure) we found the amazing Motor Museum open with toilets. Phew!!!  The place is filled with 250 cars and many rare French models I never knew existed and some I did. Even Tabytha was impressed (or faked it well) and we saw her mother’s treasured Simca was there too.
Pommery Caves Caves

We finally arrived at Chateau Pommery – yes of Champagne fame and we bought tickets to see the caves (cellars where they store the champagne).  Wow, impressive. Once I got down all the darn stairs. Art works have been set loose down here and it is wonderful experience. Followed by glasses of champagne of course. I can’t abide the stuff, so Tab drank mine. 

Finally, we braved the walked back into the town dreading the many hours before our train was due to return to Paris. We spotted a Pizza place and piled in. It is a family run affair and once they had got over the shock of us ordering a cheeseless Pizza (sans fromage) produced one of the best short crust pizzas ever and didn’t kick us out despite the fact everyone had left, including the staff. Excellent. *Sorry can't remember the name. Not near the main street.

We were looking for a pharmacy for my sore feet and discovered they don’t open on holidays. We then, quite by chance, found the high street and it suddenly came to life (like a moment from the Truman Show) and everyone was piling into the stores as if there was no tomorrow. We got back to Paris and by accident discovered a modern veganish restaurant right by Gare d’Est (The Place To) and despite sore ‘pieds’ a pleasant evening ensued.

Versailles Tuesday was Versailles day and Tab had booked tickets. It was raining buckets. We took the RER train as did thousands of others and then the walk to the line up at Versailles. It was total chaos. No one manning ticket lines. Thousands of wet steaming people snaking in A or B or the WTF line and when we finally got in an hour after our ‘slot’ it was even worse. (The line-up for the loo was horrendous). Then there was the business of gawking at the rooms. It didn’t help when I told Tab that I had done all this back in the sixties on a school trip and there were at most a hundred people walking around that day. Versailles needs to limit the numbers drastically or raise the prices to Beyonce Concert levels to get a handle on the experience.
Paris Steps We finally escaped and found a vegan restaurant in the nearby town where we had a splendid lunch. Anything else to tick box I asked nervously? Sacre Coeur, Montmartre she answered brightly, raring to go.  You know the rest.

We never did get to the flea market as the rain continued but she had held back one more tick box. Champs Elysée and then to take a photo at a particular bridge (Mirabeau) of a statue and the original Statue of Liberty. Naturally we walked. By now I was probably needing surgery but ‘it’s just one more bridge I swear’ kept me gamely hobbling behind.
Eifle Tower
Liberty Paris

Finally, we saw the Eifel tower lit up at night and I accidentally found for her an excellent steak restaurant on the corner of Mirabeau, right opposite Radio France HQ where a nice bottle of Medoc was shared.

Anna Karina My Paris is different to Tabs. It’s in black and white for a start. I explained how I had idealised Anna Karina (from the Jean Luc Goddard movies) and listened to Francois Hardy. Watched the student riots of ’68. Enjoyed the paranoid thrillers starring Jean Louis Trintignant. I’ve been back many times since, but it definitely costs way more than I remember. Despite all the walking, it was a real pleasure to spend time talking about books and movies and comparing wines with my niece after ten years apart. (Even if she was trying to kill me).
© San Hawksmoor June 2023


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