To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, Jacqui and I went to Paris for a long weekend, one of the best little trips we have ever done! We weren’t exactly flush with funds in those days, so we didn’t fly over; instead we took a much more interesting, if more exhausting, method of travel and I’m glad we did.
We started out from Bath with a taxi from our flat, followed by the rail trip up to London, a journey of about 1.5 hours, on a yet-to-be-modernised train, one of those you see frequently in Hercule Poirot films, split into separate compartments, with a corridor running down one side connecting them all to the exits. In London we changed to the Dover train, where we were to catch one of the many ferries plying their trade across the English Channel to Calais. This was in the days before the Channel Tunnel had even been thought of, of course, but at least we were on one of the monster hovercrafts that did the trip, and that was thrill enough because the sea was pretty choppy and although these big half-plane-half-ships were supposed to be flying over the water no matter what the weather was like, it was still distinctly rough – but we survived! Then it was by train again, this time all the way to Paris.
It was well worth the long and tiring trip! Even considering the well-known arrogance of Parisiennes and their refusal to admit they can speak English, we had a truly wonderful two days there, a rich mixture of broad streets, elegant buildings, statues at virtually every corner and of course, restaurants – most of which serve food to die for; it was like being in one enormous art gallery, with included café facilities. Everything is joined up effortlessly by the Métro, the Paris equivalent of London’s underground, like its counterpart in many ways, except for their wonderful idea of fitting rubber tyres to the wheels of all trains, so they run quiet as a mouse, almost. The only way you can tell the train is approaching is by the blast of air it pushes along the tunnel in front of itself, creating a sudden gale at the next station.
Then there is the Eiffel Tower. This really is an experience that shouldn’t be missed, even though many towers around the world are much taller these days. The Eiffel Tower still has a certain magic; its odd shape for a start, tapering dramatically towards the top, which means it is impossible to get up there by one lift, or even two!
The first lift, which took us from ground level to a level just above the ached base, is of a very special design that manages to keep the floor of the carriage flat even though it’s following a fairly steep curve. The second carried us to the level of restaurants and shops, still travelling on an angle, but without the tricky curves of below. The final, major ride then travels all the way to the top viewing level – as high as visitors are permitted to go – in small lifts with glass walls and roof permitting wonderfully frightening views of the disappearing vista below, and the mass of ironwork all around you. Then the crowning achievement, the wonderful views of the city, with all the world-famous buildings and monuments laid out below, just like some beautifully built model.
We then went to the Notre-Dame Cathedral at the very centre of the city. Fun fact: there is a bronze plaque just outside the church with a small dot engraved in the centre of it, from which all road measurements in France are supposed to be measured. We went into the building, which itself is another work of art, and found that, for a small fee we could go up into the very top of the place, to see just how it was built, and of course to admire that great view of Paris again, though it’s not as impressive here as from up the Eiffel Tower! It was fun though, to go to the very balcony, high on the west face, where Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre-Dame in Victor Hugo’s famous novel is supposed to have committed suicide.
Jacqui had already visited Paris with a school party many years earlier, so she pretended to be a little blasé about the whole thing, but I knew she was just as impressed as I was at how fantastic Paris was to visit. Just to prove it, we went there again a few months before we left England for Australia, and it was just as exciting on the third visit as on the first – we’d leap at the chance to go there again, should the opportunity arise!