Paris – spring 2012

Paris is a city I know quite well. As a young woman I studied at Sorbonne University. I used to love living in Paris, felt as if I was on a perpetual holiday. Even the peculiar smell of the Parisian underground did not bother me. Over the years I have returned to Paris many times. I used to run courses there, travelling to Paris on the Friday returning on the Monday. Such lovely memories. It has been a while since I was in Paris last, maybe as much as two years or even a bit longer. A friend who recently came to visit brought a book by Sempé, one of my favourite illustrators. His drawings are such a delight. He is very famous in France and quite well-known even abroad, particularly in America because he has done many covers for the New Yorker magazine. Anyway, my friend told me that currently there was an exhibition of Sempé’s art on in Paris. He also said this exhibition was ending on the 31st of March. I immediately arranged to go to Paris. And so there I was, on a train, nothing could stop me. I simply have to see this exhibition.
TGV (DSCN1185)
From Amsterdam, travelling to Paris is best done by train. No long waits at the airport and no hassle having to leave your toiletries home because of strict security regulations. Besides with Thalys it’s only 4,5 hours away. Since I do quite a bit of air travel, travelling by rail is a nice change. There is a special feel to it. But then I do like travelling in general. Once I’m settled in my chair, be it in an aircraft, or a train, there is this sense of letting go. You definitely cannot go anywhere, so you just allow yourself to relax where you are and indulge in reading, napping and in my case: writing.

Also in a train you see far more than in an aircraft. Besides scenery outside, people are forever walking by, going to the bar, to the loo or just for a walk. Take just now for instance. This elderly couple, grey haired and by the looks of their clothing quite well off, just came back from the restaurant carriage. The lady carefully walks by. I can see her looking intently at the numbers above the seats. She moves determinedly towards her seat. Her husband however stops a few rows back from mine. He looks at his wife wearily. Shaking his head he calls her name. She simply walked right past their seats. He smiles almost in a fatherly way. She quickly turns round and walks back up to him, smiling apologetically. There is an underlying sense of compassionateness to this couple. A lovely thing to spot. I feel quite content already and my journey has only just begun.

Another couple caught my eye. This couple had to be about 65ish. They entered the train at The Hague and were both carrying quite heavy rucksacks. They carried walking sticks and on the gentleman’s rucksack was a sticker of St Jacques pilgrimage in a prominent position. Obviously this couple were on their way to doing a walk. No need to be a detective here. I supposed they were on the Saint Jacques de Compostella trail, but I could not be sure. However what I intend to do is go and have a chat with them at some point. Since I am planning on doing a long distance walk for the very first time in my life this coming summer, who can give me better tips than those who are accustomed to walking. Dyed in the wool walkers so to speak. Although I am quite determined to go and ask them, I get a little doubtful a few hours later. Maybe they will take it as prying. Just as I am debating in my mind whether I should go and talk to them or not, the gentleman passes by. He’s off to the toilet. This is my chance. I follow him and await him in the corridor outside the loo. Not exactly the nicest of places on a train, but I wanted to chat to him and not have other passengers listen in on us. So there I was. The gentleman came out, I asked him would he mind if I were to enquire about his intended walk and he said not at all.

Indeed they were on their way to finish off the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage. They had started it ten years ago at Pieterburen in the Netherlands. A hint of pride rang in his voice as he told me loads of pensioners say they are ‘doing Compostella’, but actually they only walk the last part from the Pyrenées to Compostella in Spain. Not them though. They did part of the pilgrimage every year and were now off to finish it. They intended to do the final 800 kilometers in approximately 7 weeks. I asked him if he could give a starting walker like myself any hints or tips. His creed was: ‘Anything you leave home is a bonus’ (alas the pun is lost in the translation from Dutch). No more than 3 sets of clothing, food, a light weight sleeping bag for colder areas, (maybe just a sleeping sheet for France where it’s quite warm), some Teva sandals for the evenings. And some first aid kit for insects bites or blister band aids.

I asked him if walking sticks were recommended. He said they both used sticks. He explained that two walking sticks was not his thing. It gave him a restless feel (reminded him too much of Nordic Walking, which is a sport that has gained some popularity in Holland over the past years, mainly with people who want to lose weight). However, just for the tougher climbing parts he did carry a second stick which was folded away until needed in his backpack.

Sleeping they did at pilgrims hostels. He said they could be quite cheap ranging anywhere between 5 to 10 Euro a night. He also told me to check out a website Which I obviously did upon coming home. On that site I found for this particular pilgrimage you can get a pilgrims passport which is handy because among other things it allows you to sleep cheap in hostels.

I thanked Mister Walker profusely and wished him a wonderful finish. He wished me luck on my first camino to come. Upon arrival in Paris, him and his wife were the first to get off the train. I simply had to take their pictures and so forgive me for the quality, they were taken through the window.

Mrs Walker Mr Walker

See the big rucksacks they are carrying? They must be quite heavy. Mr Walker told me that each time they arrive at a hostel they wash some clothing. That’s why they are using special lightweight and quick drying stuff.

The sun awaited us in Paris. Quite a relief. Holland was dreary, after a period of lovely sunny weather, the cold had returned and clouds turned everything to grey. Not so in Paris. Know that song, ‘I love Paris in the Spring time..’ Well I agree.

We headed for the RER, the underground in Paris is the fastest way to get anywhere you want. We bought ‘un carnet’ which is ten tickets. There may be cheaper options, but we just went with what we were used to. However the Métro stops as each station, so sometimes it’s handier to take the fast train for part of the journey. The RER. Which we did.

Ticket machine Paris Metro Paris

Metro Paris metro sign

We crossed Paris to Montrouge where we had reserved a small hotel. As I can be quite obsessed sometimes I actually hoped we could quickly drop our luggage off and then be in time for the Sempé exhibition at Hôtel de Ville. So we went back to the city centre and walked across the Ile de la Cité towards Hôtel de Ville. Nôtre Dame was still standing. Majestically. We quickly walked on. Arriving at Hôtel de Ville at 18.30. Too late to enter the exhibition.

notre dame de ParisSo we strolled back and wandered back to the Île de la Cité. I had done some research before coming here, just the day before leaving I found there had to be a little park at the tip of the island. We decided to have a look.

Notre DâmeParis garden  Ile de la Cité

Quite a nice little spot to sit in the sun isn’t it?

We strolled along to the other side of the island on our way to get a bite to eat. At a corner of a street a lovely little band were playing. I made a little video. My first ever so please make allowances for the quality.

Notice the lady in green dancing to the left. Isn’t that lovely?

We passed quite a busy street with terraces on either side. One restaurant was called the Café de Paris and since I liked the look of the salads which other guests were having, we decided to sit and eat right there. It was a good choice to have French food as our first meal. It had been too long since we were in France. Do you like the look of my salad? As a vegetarian it is quite easy to eat in Paris. Just have ‘une salade crottin de Chavignol’, a goat’s cheese salad.

goat's cheese salad

It was lovely. The French Garçon (waiter) chatting as they do about the wine. Smiling, joking. It was nice to be back. Only a train ride away awaits a totally different world. Travelling definitely opens up horizons. Do have a look at the other pages of my blog to read all about the exhibitions, bookshops and Parisian parks.