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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Week in Paris - Day 1

A retrospective blog from 23rd to 30th August 2007

Day 1
I am leaving a grey and wet London early this morning to start the long bus trip over to Paris. I have chosen the bus rather than the high speed train so that I can see more of the gorgeous French countryside. It is also my first experience of the Chunnel, the 38 klm long tunnel that connects Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles in Pas de Calais, France. By taking the bus, I get to experience peak hour in London, driving right through the south-eastern suburbs and through Kent. Once we reach the Chunnel, I am surprised to see how big the complex is. Many large semi-trailers, buses all line up in lanes, waiting to drive onto the train which will transport us under the English Channel and onto French soil. The wait is long and I feel a little uneasy anticipation of what to expect as we board the hollow cases on the carriages. It is dark and a little claustrophobic. After a long wait in the cocooned bus while we wait for the train to fully load, we suddenly take off. The feeling of motion is slight and it is hard to know if we are moving or not. Within a surprisingly short amount of time – just over half an hour – we see daylight and emerge out of the tunnel in Calais. Amazing!

I settle down now to enjoy the six hours or so drive through the north-west French countryside. As the names of villages and towns pass by the bus window, my mind cannot help but look at the peaceful, green countryside and try to envisage the churned up, trench riddled mess that this ground was during the wars. Village after village pass by my window, each with at least one beautiful church spire dominating the huddle of buildings and homes. Armentières, Bethune, Arras, Bapaume, Amiens. There are several monuments along the side of the highway thanking the Allies for freeing the French people. I can’t help but try to imagine how it must feel to have a foreign country trudge ruthlessly across this verdant and rich countryside, invading villages and homes, and eventually the capital itself. I would feel so violated. It is a testament to the strength of the French psyche that they rebuilt their homes and their lives after such trauma. I peer through the rain-spotted window glass, enjoying the long drive and letting my mind conjure up stories, history and other pieces of knowledge I have acquired over the years about this place I am travelling through.

I arrive in Paris around 2pm and find that my next challenge is to try and get the right Metro (underground train) to Place de Clichy, and then to find the Hotel de Cabourg where I am staying. A kind Frenchman notices me trying to decipher the Metro map and tells me which train to catch. I board the train, tired, and a little nervous (or maybe just excited), but I suddenly realise I am alone in a foreign country. I am amazed that I am such an adventurous person and am quietly pleased with myself.

I alight the train at Place de Clichy Metro station. There are two sets of stairs to take me up to street level. I feel disappointment that there are no escalators, as my suitcase is heavy. I pick one exit – who knows if I am right – and struggle up the stairs. Another kind Frenchman grabs my suitcase and carries it to the top of the stairs for me. Merci beaucoup, monsieur!

I emerge into daylight and find myself standing on an island, complete with statue, in the middle of a five street junction. Traffic rushing around me as only the French can rush, noisy Vespas with long French breadsticks sticking out from baskets flying past, weaving in and out of cars, chaos for my tired and confused mind. I dig my map out and try to work out which road I should venture up. Firstly I need to negotiate the death-defying feat of crossing the road. Pedestrian crossing? Ha, a joke. Crossing the road here is a challenge between who is brave enough to keep going, and who hesitates momentarily. I eventually reach the relative safety of the footpath and set off to systematically walk around the five roads, looking for the Boulevard de Clichy, and from there I know I can navigate my way to Rue du Mont Doré where the Hotel de Cabourg is situated. I eventually find it, and a helpful Parisian woman sees me as an obvious tourist and gives me further instructions on how to find the hotel, despite my lack of French and her lack of English. It is amazing how well humans can communicate even without a common language. I am again pleasantly amazed at the friendliness and helpfulness of the local people.

I find the Hotel de Cabourg, check in, and am pleasantly surprised by the room. Small, but clean and comfortable, and the location is fantastic. It is located in the 17th Arondissement (Quarter) of Paris, in the Batignolles district. It is a short walk to Montmartre, and only 10 minutes by foot to the large department stores (Printemps, Galarie Lafayette), the Moulin Rouge, the Sacre-Coeur church, the Champs Elysees and the beautiful Monceau park! I am a genius at finding great hotels at a great price in a great location – all via internet from Australia!

As always, I take a photo from my hotel window.
I leave my suitcase there and start walking back up to the Place de Clichy where I head straight for one of the sidewalk cafes that I had spotted earlier when I first arrived. I order some wine and a ham baguette and sit there, marvelling at how lucky I am to be sitting in beautiful Paris, the ‘City of Lights’, by myself. Place de Clichy by night
I must be the luckiest person on earth! I am exhausted from my big day, but revel in sitting here watching the traffic go round and round the statue, listening to the people near me speaking French (why am I so surprised to hear this??), and trying to absorb the sheer ‘Frenchness’ of it all through the pores of my skin. After the glass of wine, I am feeling very proud of myself. I know many people my age who would never dare to travel to the Queen Street Mall on their own, let alone to Paris.

After my little rest, I start walking the streets, map in hand. I walk with no particular destination in mind and soon find myself in an area that has some fairly adult content type of shops and establishments. A little disconcerting, however I plough on and it is not until I come to the very familiar landmark of the windmill outside Moulin Rouge that I realise I am smack in the middle of the Pigalle district, Paris’s well known red light area. I feel a little silly, because of all the places I could reach on foot from my hotel, I end up here. Oh well. C’est la vie!

I start walking back roughly in the direction of Place de Clichy, stopping to look in shop windows and generally just sight seeing. I go in search of a supermarket and find one not too far from the hotel. I buy cheeses, bread, paté, grapes, juice and wine. My son Matt is arriving tonight from London and he will be hungry.
Place de Clichy by day
Matt doesn’t arrive until 11pm, tired after a long day at the office, then catching his flight to Charles de Gaulle and then negotiating his way via Metro to the hotel in the dark. We snack on cheese and lovely French wine, and pore over maps and guides well into the early morning, excitedly planning our first real day together in Paris. The last time I was here was 1977 – little did I ever think I would once again return, exactly thirty years later, with my son. Bienvenue à Paris mon fils!

1 comment:

  1. Me again! Still enjoying reading each day of yours in Paris. What a coincidence because I, too, traveled to Paris for the first time over 30 years ago (1976!). I stayed just 2-3 days and that was ridiculously short. Congratulations for doing so much alone. I'm comfortable being alone, too, if necessary, so I know what you mean.