Paris Christmas 2009
December 27th 2009 - January 3rd 2010
Day One - Arriving
After much concern about the Eurostar, we made it to Gare De Nord without any incident at all. Weeks of poor weather had actually shut down the service for a few days, stranding thousands of travellers just before Christmas - evidently it was the wrong kind of snow, after 15 years of service. Either way, both Jamie and I slept pretty much the entire way, both of us falling asleep as we pulled out of St Pancras in London and only really waking up for the annoying Australians in front of us getting very excited and loud while talking about cricket.
Well rested, we braved the hordes at Gare de Nord - neither of us have ever seen it so busy! We had to buy tickets for the metro, however the ticket machine didn`t seem to want to take credit/debit cards (we have British cards, so there shouldn't have been issue - seemed the whole system was down). Jamie cleverly discovered that the little shop next to the ticket machines sold carnets of 10 tickets for the same prices as the machine, with the bonus of not having a massive queue.
Two changes on the metro and more stairs than I care to think about, we made it to Parmentier metro station in the trendy (think up and coming trendy, rather than already there trendy) 11th arrondisment. Our garret flat was a short walk from the metro station, even with our giant suitcases - it seems that winter packing is much heavier than summer packing.
The flat turned out to be at the top of 6 floors - 101 stairs, if you're wondering. I think Jamie almost died. I, on the other hand, am extremely fit and sporty, and was fine. The flat is tiny - maybe 150 square metres in total, but only 200Euro/week, which is hard to argue with. It has everything you'd need - a bed, a small kitchen, a TINY bathroom, and a few windows (plus wifi, which is always a good thing). It seems to be in a good neighbourhood - loads of little bistros and cafes, a place that it seems that Parisians actually live in, rather than the tourist-infested Latin Quartier or St Germain.
We dropped off our bags, shared a glass of champagne with the wall (Jamie discovered that the table is a bit tippy - alcohol abuse if you ask me) (champagne thoughtfully provided by Dave and Aralynn who we rented the flat from). A brief peruse of the neighbourhood guide and the green guide and we felt ready to hit the streets. A few minutes walk brought us to the Republic, where we found both a bank machine and an Alsatian restaurant for some onion soup and a tarte flambe (we spent last Christmas in Strasbourg, so this seemed appropriate). Unfortunately both the soup and tarte flambe were average at best, although the alsatian wine was excellent (Tokay pinot gris) - sweet and flavourful for a pinot gris.
Full and happy, we walked down Rue St Martin towards the Seine, checking out the windows of mostly closed restaurants and shops on the way - it's amazing how much of non-touristy Paris shuts down on Sundays, especially at Christmas. We ended up at the sparkly Hotel de Ville, fully decorated with lights, a skating rink, and two carousels. Over the river and past Notre Dame, we ended up walking through a full-on protest, complete with flags, French riot police (I think the French do riot police the best - fully done up in shoulder pads, shin pads, helmets, batons, and shields...they could be playing ice hockey!). We were going to go to a cafe that we've been to the last three times we've been to Paris just behind the fountain at St Michel, however the music from the protest van (they really get organized here) was far too loud, so we went a few cafes back and found a convienient window seat and a glass of wine (okay, a pichet, but who's counting).
After a bit of wine, we wandered up the road to Chez Calde on Rue St-Andre des Arts. I'd like to say that we had a good meal, but we didn't. Apparently, it has been recommended on Trip Advisor, according to the sticker on the window. It had great potential - good decor, sort of attentive service, let down by pretty crap food. Jamie had the cassoulet, which was surprisingly bland and had the most hideous toulouse sausage I've ever seen. I ordered the steak with chips and peppercorn sauce - a Parisian classic that should be hard to screw up. They served me the wrong dish, with a far cheaper cut of beef than I'd ordered, soggy roasted potatoes, and onion gravy. I got the chips replaced first, then the sauce. Clearly a bag sauce special rather than real peppercorn sauce the way it should be done. Just after I'd had my meal fixed, a girl at the table behind us had exactly the same issue - clearly having steak on the specials and a slightly different steak on the a al carte menu was a bridge too far for the kitchen.
Before dinner, we'd noticed that the 96 bus went from St Michel to Republic/Parmentier, which was perfect for us - a direct bus rather than changing metro lines several times. We crammed into the crowded bus and enjoyed the slightly scenic route back to the Eleventh. We braved the 101 steps up to the flat to grab our books, then back down and across the street to L'Autre Cafe for a final glass of wine (okay, bottle, but who's counting?). We ended up not reading at all, spending our time engaging in our favourite passtimes - people watching and talking (and drinking). While we didn't eat there, the food looked and smelled AMAZING. Unlike the Latin Quartier and St Germain, I think we were probably the only tourists in the place, which was nice.
After our wine, we came back up to the garret, full, happy, and tired. Tomorrow I think we're going to try to find a market, which evidently may be a mission on a Monday, and hopefully take some photos of the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysees if the weather holds out.
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