The last few weeks have been pretty hectic for both myself and my wife, with weekends and evenings frequently acting as extensions to the regular working week as much as anything else, and as such the trip we’d booked to Paris a few months back kinda snuck up on us - pretty much before we knew it, we’re sat in a cafe blinking at the sun, frantically trying to excavate memories of school French lessons buried under 15 years of neglect.
Our ‘planning’ consisted of remembering to pack in time, and rushing about to buy a new camera the day before, since ours suddenly decided that it wanted to pursue a new career as simply a pint-sized viewer of existing photos, rather than actually detecting and recording anything new (translation - le CCD est mort). As such we mostly winged it, alternating between ‘doing’ the major sights and just wandering about aimlessly to see what we’d encounter. Luckily Paris is a perfect city for that, easily walkable with great public transport, the architecture and layout is interesting in itself, and the smaller streets are peppered with curios shops, art galleries and cafes that will sell you delicious coffee and heaven in a pastry casing every 20 feet. A perfect environment to point randomly in a direction and decide to see what’s over there.
It reminded me of Rome in that regard, with the exception that if you suddenly realise you’re an hour’s walk from the hotel with flagging feet, there’s always a Métro station nearby to come to your rescue. We’d been warned that the Métro could be confusing, but once we tried it we struggled to know what the fuss was about and used it all the time. Maybe it’s familiarity borne from my frequent use of the London Underground in years gone by, but it really couldn’t be simpler - even the busy hub stations were pretty easily navigable provided you kept your wits about you. All in all, hugely convenient and much less claustrophobic than the London equivalent, since the trains are larger and both directions typically run next to each other, rather than in separate tunnels like in London, which makes the stations roomier and less stuffy.
Culture abounded of course, we spent most of my birthday in the Louvre and still only covered about 2/3rds of it, and even then not in a level of detail that could be considered any more than ‘passing’. Expecting crowds, we headed to the ‘big hitters’ early to leave time for more leisurely exploration later, but it’s perhaps telling of my psyche that whilst gazing at one of the most celebrated paintings in the world I was easily distracted by how our new camera’s face recognition algorithms locked on to the Mona Lisa’s face from way across the room. Somehow exclaiming ‘cool!’ and tinkering with a new gadget in the presence of a 500 year old masterpiece seemed disrespectful, but I couldn’t help myself. So I’m a geek and a philistine.
The only issue we did have was that on our return flight from Charles de Galle didn’t go particularly smoothly - on arrival the airport didn’t seem to have any record of our return flight, and for a while the check-in staff were all Gallic shrugs and ‘come back in 15 minutes, maybe it will show up then’. Eventually they figured it out and it turned out the flight did exist despite never showing up on the departure boards, just as I was trying to phone the airline myself (this was a brand new route on a budget carrier, so it was feasible they’d reorganised it without telling us). After that we got to stand in a passport control line for 40 minutes, rather bizarrely since we were leaving rather than arriving, while 2 bored-looking officials flanked by huge lines of unoccupied booths (I assume everyone else was on lunch) processed the hundreds of people all gazing repeatedly at their watches wondering if they would make it to the gate on time. It certainly convinced me that if I was looking for an alternative international hub to go through for future trips, Charles de Galle would not be high on my list. Gatwick and Heathrow might be chaotic cattle markets, but at least they exude an air of efficiency most of the time, which was entirely absent here.
On the whole though, a great short break - just long enough to unwind a bit, but not too long as to let things pile up too much 😉 If you sent me an email or something in the last week, rest assured I’ll be catching up in the next few days.