Paris in the wintertime

My weekend trip to Paris got off to a lousy start. After I inserted my ticket for the Eurostar train at the check-in gates at Waterloo, it got swallowed. When I eventually found someone from Eurostar to complain to about this, they told me I’d have to pay 15 pounds to get a new one printed, despite the problem being their fault. Given that the train was imminently due to depart, there was no time to argue, so I paid the fee with a very ill grace, and immediately started composing an abusive letter to Eurostar management.

After that stuff-up, though, the trip went painlessly (I passed the time listening to a BBC radio production of The Importance Of Being Earnest). I landed at the Gare du Nord, checked into my hotel (the nearby Comfort Hotel Gare du Nord, which proved surprisingly spacious and comfortable), and jumped on the Metro to catch up with my friends Kerrie Murphy and Garth Montgomery, fellow journalists who are holidaying in Europe at the moment and had arrived from Amsterdam the day before.

The view from my hotel window

The weather was cold (though not actually freezing), so we decided to spend the afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay, checking out art nouveau furniture and impressionist painters. Lots of nice stuff on display, even if ignorant Americans were cheerfully ignoring the admonitions against flash photography. After that, we jumped on the Metro (great service, shame about the map!), headed to Montmartre, knocked back some beer, had dinner at a very friendly bistro, had some more beer at a Belgian bar and then decided to call it a night.

Musee D'Orsay

All of this gave me some limited opportunities to practice my very rusty schoolboy French, though Parisians seem more willing to speak English these days. I was nonetheless pleased that I managed to check in and out of my hotel without using English, which is not something I thought I’d be able to manage.

After loading up on breakfast near Kerrie and Garth’s hotel the next day and noting some passing flurries of snow (yet again), we decided to head to the Catacombs, a two-kilometre stretch of underground passages beneath Paris originally created by mining activities and then used, improbably, to store the bones from anonymous corpses. The lighting was dim and flash photography was again forbidden, which is my excuse for the graininess of the following shot, taken just before we reached the massed skeletons:

Kerrie and Garth in the Catacombs

There’s something weird and unique about the catacombs, even in a city that’s got more than its fair share of cemeteries. Having to sort skulls, femurs and bones to create displays like the one below would have been an odd job, to say the least. One woman touring the catacombs had come equipped with her own head-mounted torch, which seems just a tad over-prepared if you ask me.

Never argue with your builder

After that, there was only time for a quick trip to the Centre Pompidou (my favourite architectural monument) before I had to get back on the train to return to London. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Paris. This is my fifth visit to the city, but the first where I’ve been largely responsible for my own navigation. I’ll have to return sometime soon, possibly when it’s a tad less cold!

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