Welcome to a new post in my weekly blog series, Passionate About Paris. Maybe you’re a first-time visitor, or like me a can’t-get-enough-of-Paris devotee. Perhaps you’re mildly curious about the City of Light. Whatever your feelings about Paris, I hope you’ll find in these posts some ideas to inspire, hints to help and a sense of sharing what’s great about this awesome city.
During the last few days there’s been a lot in the news about airport delays due to the weather and potential rises in Air Passenger Duty, added to perennial grumbling about airport security queues and 100ml bottles. It led me to reflect on my own travels to Paris and once again to relish the delights of travelling to Paris by train. I’m known to wax lyrically on the topic, but bear with me here. I can honestly say that when I go to Paris my holiday (and importantly, the dropping of the shoulders) starts as I shut the front door behind me – and that’s a terrific plus.
On the subject of delays, it would be wrong to suggest that the train schedules aren’t subject to their own disruptions from time to time, but taking the Eurostar to Paris is such a civilised experience that I can’t imagine ever wanting to fly there.
Firstly, I’m very fortunate that from my corner of England I can get to London’s St Pancras International station, or the Eurostar Ebbsfleet or Ashford stations in Kent with ease, although the car parking charges are eye-watering and for Kent I have to factor in the vagaries of travelling on the M25. So, the train takes the strain from home to London. Job done: the holiday begins as we leave home and no carbon to offset. Result!
Nor would I want to suggest that Eurostar don’t take security seriously – they most certainly do. Quite rightly, they have a list of prohibited articles which cannot be carried in passengers’ luggage without being checked into the hold (full details on their website) and both you and your luggage will be scanned before departure.
But – and here I become positively evangelical – the deep joy of just turning up, scanning your ticket, passing through the security and passport control check points (a queue in my experience is half a dozen people ahead of me), with no concern about my little plastic bag of mini-toiletries and none of the fiddling about with them which precedes the trip. (An airport official once told me quite testily that my plastic bag was too big, even though it was less than a quarter full). Luggage must meet certain size limits but there’s no weight restriction, thus putting an end to dancing on the scales at home.
Seats on board the train are pre-assigned and before you know it the train is pulling into the Gare du Nord. Because all passport and immigration checks are completed before departure, there’s no groan-worthy immigration line, nor worries about (and time wasted) transferring into the city from a far-flung airport. Step off the train in the centre of Paris et voila! the holiday begins. If I sound like an ardent devotee, it’s because I’m totally enamoured of this relaxing way to start my holiday.
In Paris on a Thursday? Looking for a cheap lunch and to do something different? Buy your baguette and head off to the Studio of the Opera Bastille, Place de la Bastille in the 12th arrondissement, métro: Bastille. For 5€ you can join the Parisians office escapees listening to a string quartet, or a soprano or baritone singing excerpts from the opera.
Concerts begin at 1300 sharp (best to get there half an hour early) and tickets are available from the ticket office at the Opera Bastille (tickets are not sold at the Studio itself). http://www.operadeparis.fr (link to English version).
Staying with the budget theme, a cheap but filling lunch may be had in the shadow of the mighty Notre Dame Cathedral by visiting Maoz in the Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement). The Quarter’s cobbled and winding lanes may be something of a tourist mecca, but Maoz ticks the budget-dining boxes with a 3€ hearty and delicious portion of falafel and salad in pitta bread (with chips if you have room). Eat in, or cross the road on to the Quai Montebello and find a picnic spot by the Seine; or walk along the Quai to the square in front of Notre Dame. If you hanker for something sweet after Maoz’ generous helpings, slip back into the Latin Quarter into Patisserie Sud Tunisien, at 17 Rue de la Harpe. This small bakery has enough sweetmeats to satisfy the sweetest tooth. Maoz can be found at 8 rue Xavier Privas. (Métro: St-Michel).
And finally….The 18-month transformation of the Musée d’Orsay’s Pavillon Amont is complete, with the four new levels of galleries which have been created opening recently. The Pavillon Amont is the old train station’s engine house which was an open space with a very high ceiling and the four new levels house decorative arts and Art Nouveau furniture. The Orsay’s treasure trove of 19th century Impressionist masterworks is now housed in a stunningly renovated fifth-floor gallery. Paintings and sculptures from the same period have been placed here to show historical connections. The Musée d’Orsay: 1 rue de la Legion d’Honneur in the 7th arrondissement, métro Solferino or Musée d’Orsay. http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html
Vous voir bientôt!