When I was in London last month, I decided to take a day trip to Paris. Why? Because I could! There is something very cool about boarding a train in London and coming out in the heart of Paris just a little more than two hours later. And, if you book far enough ahead of time, the fares for the Eurostar high-speed rail are pretty inexpensive. I took the earliest train from London St. Pancras, which leaves at 7:00am.
I got to the station in plenty of time to grab a coffee and a croissant. I meant to exchange some money for Euros, but I didn’t have time…I figured I’d do that when I got to Gare du Nord. The train was comfortable and I napped most of the way. When we arrived in Paris, I immediately went to the nearest Bureau du Change and inserted my debit card into the machine – as I have done many, many times before in many, many places. Only this time, the machine gave me this message:
“Transaction défendue. Carte retenue.”
Which means “Transaction denied. Card retained.”
I stood staring stupidly at the machine for at least a minute. Then I went over to one of the women behind the change booth. “Your machine kept my card,” I told her. “Cards are a 12% commission,” she replied. I tried again. “The machine didn’t give me my card back!” She looked at me with a bored expression. “That’s not our machine,” she said.
I went back to the machine and looked at it again. My card had not magically reappeared. I went to the second booth and changed the measly £30 (pounds) I had into €30 (Euros) which theoretically should have been about €37, but there apparently was a 10% commission on cash. Whatever. I tried one more time to find out what to do about the card-consuming machine. This time, I was told, “There’s a number on the machine you can call.”
Figuring that trying to get someone out there to open up the machine and return my card would likely eat into most of my day, I decided to forget it. I now had a bit of cash, I had other credit cards and most places took credit anyway. I walked out into the bright Paris sunshine and started to walk towards Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sienne.
I have a love-hate relationship with Paris. It is not a very friendly city. People are brusque and sometimes downright rude. The streets can be crowded and confusing. But – you are never more than 500 meters from a metro station…and wherever you walk, you see gorgeous architecture, fountains and statues.
It was a hot and sunny day and I stopped frequently to sit, take pictures and just soak in the busy-ness of Paris. Finally I reached Notre Dame Cathedral.
Entrance to the cathedral is free, but the line snaked all the way around the block…and I have been inside before. I love the square, though and the magnificent statues around the arches of the doors.
I found a little cafe a couple of blocks away and had a lunch of home-made pâté, crusty bread, poached salmon with potatoes and red wine. I mentioned my problems with the cash machine to the waiter and he told me he thought all the machines at Gare de Nord were faulty. Luckily, this place took American Express.
I then continued my walk along the Sienne. There are beautiful bridges and a walkway right down by the river. One of them is the famous “Pont des Arts” where it has become a tradition for lovers to “lock up” their love by putting a padlock on the bridge and then throwing the key into the river. IN recent years, this has become a problem, as there are now so many locks on the bridge that there is danger of collapse and rust from the locks is leaching into the Sienne. Apparently, a portion of the railing actually did collapse this past June and was replaced by plywood. There has been talk of trying to ban the practice of placing locks, but to my eyes, this has not had much effect.
I continued walking until I came to the Tuileries Garden. This used to be part of the Tuileries Palace, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The Gardens are now open to the public, with many beautiful fountains, statues and plantings. It is a popular place to walk, sit, read, get a bite to eat and just hang out.
I found a public toilet at the end of the garden. Unlike London, which prides itself on its many available, clean and free public toilets, Paris’ facilities will cost you 2 euros. $2.65. To have a pee. I was outraged. However, I didn’t think anyone would take kindly to my using a bush in the public garden…so I coughed up my €2.
By this time, I could clearly see “la tour Eiffel” in the distance.
I continued out of the Tuileries and along Avenue des Champs-Elysées…that very famous street with the Arc de Triomphe at the end.
There was a lovely side section along the Champs-Elysees called “Allée Marcel Proust” with some benches, green grass and a couple of statues dedicated to the writer. I got myself a fruit drink from a vendor, spread my scarf out in the shade and lay down.
When I woke up, it was a bit cooler. I continued to walk, past the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais and across the Sienne again. I made my way down to the pedestrian walkway right on the river and stopped at a cafe for a cappuccino and some people-watching. I was right by the Pont Alexandre – such a beautiful bridge.
By now it was getting to be late afternoon. I decided to re-cross the Sienne one last time and find myself a new place for dinner. I had dearly wanted cassoulet, but it was really too hot for it, so I opted for some delicious French onion soup and a huge salad Niçoise (tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies with a vinaigrette dressing.) Accompanied by crusty bread and wine, of course!
I took the Metro back to Gare de Nord, went through passport control and found my seat in a half-empty train. I dozed most of the way back to London and thought what a great thing it had been – to go to Paris for the day.