Travelling to Paris

August 11, 2015 - Paris, France

As we went down to breakfast we stopped at the desk and booked a taxi for 9:45am so we would be at St Pancras International Station to get the 11:31am Eurostar to Paris. We then went downstairs to breakfast. In keeping with the grand nature of Reception the Dining Room is completely over the top. Art Deco figures, fountains and fish tanks. The Breakfast Area itself is surrounded by mirrors and gilt or brass stylised peacocks. There was plenty to eat for breakfast except toast. A management decision two years ago I was told. Not that it was a problem as there was plenty in the way of juice, cereals, and fruit (from a tin), rolls, croissants and cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes (from a tin) and baked beans, and tea or coffee to wash it all down. Enough to fortify a person for the day.

We were well short of trying everything but very satisfied when we went up to do a final pack before going down to wait for our taxi. Very soon afterward our driver arrived and hustled us out taking Margaret's case and trundling off across London Road. We followed more cautiously through the traffic and caught up as he stowed the suitcase in the back of Toyota Prius. Our 'Taxi' to the station is not. Not a Taxi, a mini-cab or even Uber car, but perhaps just a friend of the reception staff at the hotel. We piled in the rest of our luggage and jumped in while the driver put the destination into the GPS navigator. How difficult could it be to find your way from here to Kings Cross? I settled my mind by saying he probably wanted it for traffic information rather than the route. We actually arrived safe and sound and in reasonable time. We had seen several boards around the Paddington area that advertised Mini-cabs and cars to Kings Cross and £12 per person was the going rate, probably less than that for two in a Black Cab so I wasn't surprised to be asked for £20.

Once inside the station complex we follwed the signs to the Eurostar area and waited about 15 minutes before we could check in. I would rather wait a little while than arrive just before the gates close and have to push through the crowds. Our print at home tickets operated the scanner at the gate and we arrived at the security checks. We had been warned that we should allow 45 minutes now as French Border Security had been ramped up recently. Still the same old thing really, or maybe 90's type airport security. Bags on the conveyor for x-ray and self through the metal detector. I lifted Margaret's case up onto the belt and into a tray before putting mine up as well. Another tray for our hand luggage and through we went. What a surprise to be called aside at the other end and asked if I minded a search of my bag. 'Hey, ho, why me again', I thought but stood patiently while the officer carefully removed items into a tray. She eventually reminded me I had a pocketknife in my suitcase. A handy item for travelling and OK in checked luggage on an aeroplane but not in luggage in my possession on the train, of course. I could let her dispose of it or pay for it to be transported separately and collect it at the other end.

With a sudden inspiration I asked if the whole bag could go as checked luggage. I was told it may cost slightly more but yes it could and as we were early it could go on the same train. Meanwhile Margaret was left standing somewhat puzzled in the background but agreed to wait just there while another officer took my bag and led me through a maze of other x-ray machines through a metal detector which we set off but didn't worry about as we were going out of the secure area rather than in. We arrived at a little booth where a genial chap agreed to check my bag into the luggage on our train and proceeded to do the paperwork. I had been told that it would be £20 for a single item like my knife but £30 for my bag but for this fellow, 'Dis ownly a small bag, mon' I was told, 'jes twenty pond', so it was an inspired idea to send the whole lot. The officer with me and the luggage check fellow explained that I could either collect my bag from the baggage car (car 9 or 10) or from the Luggage Office and I was given a map to help me find it. The officer then led me back through another x-ray and metal detector check and back to where Margaret was waiting.

We waited then for the boarding call and as it happened we were right beside the inclined travelator leading to our platform so it did not take long to find our train and then walk from Car 7 all the way to Car 17 . Car 18 was the last, but actually the first as we would be heading out that way. The trip seemed to take very little time as we sped through the landscape of southern England, through the Channel Tunnel and into France. I took particular note of the maze of security fences as we emerged from the tunnel as I had just read a newspaper report of a chap who managed to get to within 700 yards of the English end of the tunnel before he was apprehended. It was amazing to me that he managed to get through the border defences and get so far through the tunnel. Apparently he had been detected earlier and trains were diverted to the parallel tunnel but he must still have been close to the speeding trains at times.

Our train flashed through the French countryside with barely time to read roadsigns on the motorway and no time to even focus on Station names as we swept past. Very soon we arrived at Paris Gare du Nord and quietly collected ourselves together as others jammed the aisles in their rush to disembark. When our chance arrived we collected Margaret's case from the racks and clambered down two steps to the platform. I left Margaret beside a flight of stairs near our carriage along with her case and our hand luggage and made my way against the flow of people to find Cars 9 and 10. There were several enclosed trolleys of luggage and I went around to the carriage doors and asked a chap there about luggage, mainly by waving my piece of paper but he just directed me to the collection area outside. As I headed back toward Margaret there was a small baggage train heading in the same direction and I could see my bag just behind the driver. 'Excusez moi', I called to get the drivers attention and waved my piece of paper. The african chap's face lit up in a big grin and he turned immediately to my bag and extracted it even before he checked my receipt and I gratefully exchanged my paper for the bag. Once more re-acquainted with my luggage I followed the baggage train back to Margaret and we strolled out to look for the Metro signs.

There were lines of people waiting to get to the Ticket Office and to the one solitary ticket machine nearby but while I waited in line Margaret went off to look around the corner on the way into the Metro. She soon came back to say there were several machines there and we left the line to try our luck on the machines. We were soon able to a) tell the machine to speak English, b) tell the machine we wanted tickets for the Paris City area only and c) tell the machine we would use a card to pay (the machines only take coins or cards). With just €3.60 extracted from the card we had two tickets in our hand which got us through the turnstile gates. (Luggage in front was a lesson we learned when we were first in Paris.) When we reached the platform there was a fair sized crowd but we were appalled when the first Metro arrived. It seemed packed before it pulled in and only a few people got off. We joined a dozen other people jamming through the doors nearest to us and we both managed to squeeze in with only a few bruises to my shoulders as the doors slammed against them.

At the next stop a fellow near me squeezed out (perhaps even with a pop like a cork from a bottle) and I stacked our suitcases and hand luggage in the spot he had vacated which made it easier for both of us to breathe. The crowd reduced a little as we rode on through the Ile de la Cite and then it was our stop at Saint-Michel where we tumbled out and sorted the luggage so that I could hump the cases up the inevitable Metro stairs. But no, this time there were signs for escalier mechanique; this is new. Unfortunately they were not moving today so we carried on up the stairs and emerged at the Fontaine Saint-Michel where there were crowds gathered around a man making large, large bubbles to the enjoyment of all the kids, and camera buffs.

After watching for a little while, and after several photographs we crossed the road and headed around the back way to the Rue Git le Couer to our hotel. We knew that was the easiest way to wheel our cases and we were soon greeting the day manager at the hotel. As usual I left the talking to Margaret who took delight in trying out her conversational French once again. After confirming our identity Margaret went on to explain we had been there two years ago and enjoyed the hotel and the area so much we had returned. The manager continued to explain the hotel operation in French and went on to the WiFi registration as well. Of course I knew what he was talking about as I had just been reading the same (in English) from a paper on the desk. He did explain in English as well but seemed to thoroughly enjoy Margaret's French and encouraged her to continue the conversation. Although my French is very poor I can follow some of the conversation and I feel comfortable with the place and this hotel.

Once we had unpacked I sent a text message to Bex to say we had arrived and that we would meet her at Shakespeare and Co. as we had arranged on Saturday and by text messages yesterday. She is stopping overnight in Paris on her way to Toulouse to visit a friend. We were only at Shakespeare and Co. a very short time (not long enough for Margaret to be enfolded within it's wings) when Bex appeared and after a short discussion decided we would walk around to the Tourisme Francaise shopfront on the Quai des Grands Augustins before continuing on toward the Rue St-Andre des Arts for dinner. We were disappointed at both stops. First the evening tours of the Louvre were €42 each which seems very expensive compared to last time. Second the Vins et Terroirs where we planned to have dinner wasn't open that early. We completed a circuit back to Shakespeare and Co. via the Boulevarde St Germaine and had dinner at La Bucherie, which is next door but one to the bookshop.

We had a good meal and a couple of Heineken each (this is a tourist cafe so it was all foreign beers). Margaret and Bex had Salmon while I had Farmhouse Chicken and mash. We sat over our meals and drinks and talked for quite a while and Margaret and I added a Creme Brulee to our sins.

As the evening turned to night we walked Bex back to her hotel on the Rue des Ecoles and said our goodbyes before walking back to our hotel. Our first night in Paris already feels very familiar but at this time of the year the temperature is higher and the crowds are bigger.


Pictures

Reception area at the Westpoint Hotel
Breakfast area at the Westpoint Hotel
St Pancras station
Place St Michel
 
 
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