Thursday, July 9, 2009

Are we in France? No this can’t be France

Thankfully I was feeling better the day we left Kent. We made it to Ashford with plenty of time to spare so that we could drop off the rental car and still be able to check in at the Eurostar terminal well ahead of time. My mum would have liked to arrive at the station the day before just to be on the safe side but I didn't think that would be necessary. After all, I now knew my way around like nobody’s business so what was there to worry about. It was just a simple matter of locating the rental car drop-off location at which point the nice lady would drive us all back to the station. Suffice to say, it didn’t go all that smoothly and when, after making yet another wrong turn off a roundabout, I recognized the parking lot where I had become intimately acquainted with a rather nice wall, I decided I had had enough of ‘bloody Ashford’ and was going to go to the station instead. I parked the car in the 20 minute zone, unloaded everyone and then called the car rental place. I started my sob story about getting lost and then lost again and then worrying about missing the train etc etc when she cut me off to say that I could leave the car there and that a tow truck was on its way to pick up the car. A tow truck! How embarrassing! Well whatever – it meant that I no longer had to tour around Ashford looking for an obscure location, and they were doing this with no extra cost to me. The tow truck showed up shortly and a very nice man with no teeth who looked rather like Punch of Punch and Judy fame, took the keys and the car and that was that.

I headed in to the international departures area, found the Eurostar terminal and the rest of my family, checked in and relaxed.

The train showed up shortly and we all climbed on, dragging our huge amount of luggage with us, and found our seats. Within seconds the thing shot off down the tracks at lightening speed. After what seemed like about 4 seconds, we descended into the dark of the Channel Tunnel, aka ‘the Chunnel’. 22 minutes and lots of ear-popping later we shot out into the light of day, and the following somewhat puzzling conversation:

Me: ‘We’re in France’  said excitedly to the the kids.

My Mum: ‘No we can’t be, not yet’

Me (slightly shocked): “ummmmmm. what?’

My Mum: ‘Well it still looks like England.’

Me: ‘Yes it does except for all those French-looking buildings and, Oh look! All the words are in French!’

My Mum: ‘Yes but it wasn’t long enough through the Chunnel’

Me: ‘Ok, Ummmmm. Well I’m pretty sure it’s France. That was the point after all…(what does one say in the face of such certainty?')

My Mum: Naaaa. It can’t be. Not yet. We must have gone through a first tunnel in England and THEN we’ll go through the Chunnel.’

Me: (WTF MUM!!!)  ‘Ummmm…I’m pretty sure we’re in France, Mum.’

My Mum (sniffing) ‘Hmph. We’ll see.’

Sometime later as we passed a highway with huge signs pointing the way to Paris I was able to convince her that we were indeed in France.

Arriving at Paris Gare du Nord was an experience. Without repeating the sordid details here, I’ll just say that we had a few encounters with Gypsies, and a man pretending to be a taxi-driver who was really just taking us the to the taxi stand and then charging a huge amount to do so (who, I’ll say here, my mum dispatched with finesse by giving him 5 euros and then saying ‘Merci Beaucoup’ repeatedly until he went away) but finally made it into a taxi and to our hotel before anyone collapsed.

I had found Hotel La Sanguine through a great website: Alistair Sawday’s Great Places to Stay. If you are coming to England or Europe you should check it out. Anyway. I had booked rooms here and I cannot say enough good things about this hotel. It is located on the Right Bank in the 8 arrondisement near La Place de la Madeleine. It is a tiny little place but such charm! Our miniature room (for the kids and myself) had everything: air conditioning (crucial in this hot weather), tv, mini-bar, ensuite bathroom, hairdryer, wifi, and comfortable beds. Madame runs the place with efficiency and charm dispatching employees to carry our bags, get us more pillows, etc etc. Tokyo the Weiner dog also has run of the place and provided much entertainment for the kids, running around with his squeak toy.


Le petit dejeuner (breakfast) was ‘taken’ (In France, one ‘takes’ breakfast) each morning and after the first day I began to look forward to it the night before. Monsieur would bring thé or cafe or chocolat (my favourite) along with fresh orange juice and a huge basket of pastries: fresh bread, croissants, and pain au chocolat with little dishes of homemade jam made with fruit from the orchard at Madame’s country house. Divine. DSC03934 

After settling in to the hotel we set out to explore the neighbourhood and managed to stumble on the best toy store I have ever been in. Zoe started salivating and Euros were soon changing hands. We pressed on and discovered many delightful areas including the Place de la Vendome which has at its centre a 3500 year old Egyptian Obelisk. From this square one can see the Tour Eiffel, the Jardin de Tuileries, Les Invalides where Napoleon is buried, and all the way down the Champs Elyseés to the Arc de Triumph.



It’s a great spot for immediate gratification. We wandered around, found a fair (more on that later) had ice creams, shopped, and then came back to the hotel to get ready to meet our friend Lila for dinner. Lila is a highschool friend of Kent’s who has been living in London for ages. She is a concert pianist who has changed course and is now finishing her law training there and managed to score a place with a firm who also has a Paris office, and so she is finishing up a six-month placement.

Madame passed on the details of where we were to meet and  we quickly got on a taxi to our destination, the restaurant Pain, Vin et Fromage. Could there be a better named restaurant for our first meal in Paris? We found Lila waiting for us and graciously declaring that we weren’t late at all (40 minutes yes were were!) and that it didn’t matter at all. The restaurant was a fondue and raclette house and it was delicious. A huge platter of cheese appeared followed by plates of charcuterie with little bowls of cornichons, a basket of warm bread, a salad of mixed greens with spiced walnuts and a bowl of steamed new potatoes. It was amazing.


Somehow we also had room for dessert and my mum managed to polish off a piece of carmelized apple pie, Jacob had a waffle covered in chocolate with pistachio ice cream and Lila and I scarfed down peach ice cream. Zoe has a thing for whipped cream and can often be found at parties quietly spooning down large mouthfuls of straight whipped cream so it was no surprise that she ordered a bowl of Chantilly cream-filled profiteroles covered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. They were magnificent. She tucked in with great enjoyment and at one point turned to Jacob and, holding up one of the chocolate covered profiteroles, declared ‘I have FOUR of these!’


We ended the evening by taking a taxi to Lila’s apartment where her fiancé Phil had just retuned from London where he teaches at the London School of Economics. That’s right, they’re a couple of real under-achievers :) We had a great visit and walked back to our hotel together and along the way Phil and Lila pointed out such locations as Chopin’s house, and the Ritz Hotel where the last photos of Princess Diana and Dodi where taken. It was a beautiful Paris evening and none of us wanted it to end. So great to see you, Lila & Phil!

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