Here’s part 2 of the story of our first visit to Paris in 15 years. We had only three days in the capital, and so we were determined to make the most of it. Our shoe leather was definitely more worn by the end, but central Paris is compact enough to make walking the easiest form of transport. As well as things we had done before, we also made a point of trying new experiences.
No stay in Paris is complete without a visit to Notre-Dame on l’Ile de la Cité. In fact, I had never been there before, to my great shame. This soaring monument, whose construction began in 1163, is a tribute to the skills of medieval architects and builders. Damaged during the aftermath of the French Revolution, it was restored in the 19th century.
Notre-Dame is one of the enduring emblems of Paris and has inspired writers and painters throughout the centuries. Having done a lot of walking, I’m afraid we didn’t climb the 422 steps for the legendary view of Paris. There is a pleasant garden beside the cathedral, where the footsore can rest and enjoy the cherry trees in flower in early April.
A visit to another Paris legend, Shakespeare and Company, just across the river from Notre-Dame, was also in order. This English-language bookshop was founded in 1951 in a rambling building that was originally a monastery. It quickly became known as a literary centre and visiting writers and intellectuals were invited to sleep among the bookshelves.
They didn’t have my book in stock, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight.
Shakespeare’s also has a café next door, where we drank an overpriced and insipid pot of tea. It may be an Anglophone bookshop, but they could do with a crash course in tea-making.
La grande bouffe
Above all, Paris is a foodie capital. But be warned. Some of the famous eateries live on their reputation and both service and food can be indifferent. I can recommend Le Cinq Mars, 51 rue de Verneuil in the 7th Arrondissement, which specialises in classic French cuisine and has a reasonably-priced set lunch menu. Some people I used to work with kindly took us there for lunch.
The brasserie opposite la Gare d’Austerlitz, our return station, isn’t bad either. It’s not haute cuisine, but you can get typical brasserie-type food for a sensible price. Beforehand, we sat by the Natural History Museum in the nearby Jardins des Plantes, enjoying the sunshine and watching joggers torturing themselves.
We were surprised that Paris wasn’t busier. Was this the effect of terrorist attacks or simply that early April is not yet the main tourist season? We didn’t have to queue at all to get into le Musée d’Orsay, even though we hadn’t pre-booked tickets. It was pleasant to walk around the streets and the buses, although busy, weren’t disagreeably crowded.
The traffic seemed to move relatively easy, although there was the mother of all traffic jams in the street outside our hotel one morning. A delivery van had parked and blocked the street. It doesn’t take long for a Parisian’s hand to connect with le klaxon and a cacophony of horns soon serenaded us.
Unfortunately, the number of homeless on the streets had risen noticeably since our last visit, in common with other towns and cities. Every evening we passed groups of the poor souls huddled in shop doorways. It’s still cold at night in Paris, even in April.
I don’t think we’ll leave it another 15 years before visiting Paris again. From July this year, a faster TGV line will operate from Bordeaux, cutting the journey time from Montauban to about three hours.
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