There is no doubt that 2015 was a most challenging year. There is no doubt it was a most rewarding year as well. The year ended in an unusual way for me. A Christmas party, African style, that ended at midnight. A New Year’s evening at a church bringing in 2016 with prayer and worship. 2015 was a year of extremes.
I decided to start 2016 in Nomad style. I would take my girlfriend for an extended weekend trip to Paris. This would be my third trip to the city of art, architecture and philosophy. I visited Paris first in my twenties, and then in my thirties. And so I would visit again in my fourties with my Rwandan princess.
We arose at 4.30 am on the Friday morning. We dressed and drove to Southampton airport. As is usual with Flybe - their no nonsense approach to air flight meant we were soon through security, boarded and on our way to Paris Orly airport. We arrived on time and swiftly made it through the border security check.
I had given some thought on how to make our way to our hotel, located in district one in Paris central. It does pay to do some preliminary research. A google search suggested a taxi would be between 40 and 50 Euro. As we entered into the foyer of the airport a man approached me offering a taxi. Asked how much it would cost for a trip to the St James Albany hotel on the Rue de Rivoli his response was - "sixty euro". "Too high", said I. He reduced the fee to fifty euro but I was rather suspicious. We proceeded to the official taxi rank and without wait entered the sedan and made our way to Paris central.
Driving through the streets of Paris it seemed that not much had changed since my last visit over a decade ago. London will not stand still but Paris is anchored in its deep history. The architecture, the signage, the ambience and the folk seem to stand firm against the power of change. And I had to admit - with such a fine city as this why would change be any such friend?
We arrived after half an hour and surprisingly the fee was only thirty euro.
From the reception bay the hotel looked very impressive. Marble floors, wooden panelled walls with fine paintings and huge mirrors. Orchids positioned in most corners. Prompt attendance. It all made a good impression. We were early so had a few hours to spare before we could have our room. The concierge took our luggage.
With some time available we went for a walk along the adjacent garden known as Jardin des Tuileries. Although the skies were clear the air was piercingly cold. A quick purchase of a hat and scarf went some way to kill the chill. How great it is to be in a foreign land without care for work or for responsibility, for duty or for conformability. We walked through this majestic garden and arrived at a market. As far as could be seen were little huts selling the stuff of the deli, or the confectioner or the souvenir peddler.
Those hours came and they went and it was time to return to our hotel. Unusually the abode consisted of two rooms. One room for dining, and to which were partitioned the toilet and bathroom - the other for sleeping and a TV for entertainment. In all my travels I don't recall a hotel with a toilet separated from a bathroom. It was a very comfortable place to be and very good value. The reason this four star hotel in the centre of Paris could be hired for less than 100 pounds a night soon became all too clear.
Dressed for the evening we left the hotel in search of a restaurant. As a child I do remember a film called The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston. Set in the streets of New York - the streets were deserted due to catastrophic warfare. Mutants would appear at night only and the protagonist had full use of the city to himself during the day. Paris was similar except the streets were also deserted at night. I put this down to the time of the year but the next day a taxi driver revealed the reason - terrorism.
It had been a concern. One Friday in November a gang of Islamists armed with guns had cut short the lives of 130 people in cafes, restaurants and theatres throughout the Northern sector of Paris. This was the biggest attack on Paris since WW2. Tourists were finding alternative destinations and citizens were staying off the street. By instinct risk assessment is part of my travelling agenda. And I had considered the threat of further attacks and the possibility of walking into harm’s way. Given the heightened levels of security and increased vigilance in general I had decided this risk was probably very low. Thankfully our trip was without incident.
We dined in a restaurant called Le Rotonde which was a 10 minute walk from the hotel. While the interior layout of this diner had the traditional Parisian ambience - the service and food was lacking. We quickly left and we did not return on any of our remaining days. I was shocked at the price of that which was ordered - and more so given our orders were only partially filled and had to be returned. Accommodation and transport were good value in Paris but the costs of dining and clothes and museum entrances - these were high and in my opinion overpriced.
We returned to the hotel. A good night's sleep and in the morning we dressed and began a walk along the river Seine until we reached the Eiffel tower. As we approached the great tower souvenir touts encircled us with their replicas. I quickly determined these to be inferior products and not worth the asking price. Such things should be brought from he official shops - unless your eye for quality can live with such second rate goods.
Unfortunately the top level of the tower was closed for maintenance - thus two tickets were purchased for the second level. The queuing was minimal and soon we were traversing the east pillar of the tower on the way to the second landing. I was surprised to see an ice rink on this level. The views were stunning and we warmed ourselves with some coffee and a pretzel while gazing over the skyline of Paris.
We stopped off at the first level. Walking over a glass floor provided the required adrenalin boost. I was surprised to find a stand up cinema in one quarter of the level. We stood there taking in footage of the tower throughout its history - the fireworks and the lighting displays that had dressed the tower on various occasions such as the millennium.
We spent a good couple of hours on this rather famous tower before taking the lift back down. Taxis were in no shortage due to the dearth in tourists and we had the good fortune of boarding a taxi driven by a lady from Vietnam. The good lady spoke basic English and explained to us some of her history. How she arrived in Paris fourty years in the past. How she had only a few days ago purchased this brand new Mercedes Benz to assist with her professional driving career. My mind was cast back to those childhood years in the city of Melbourne. Many of my friends were of Vietnamese origin and had arrived on the boats - a brave voyage from a land whose Communist governance imperilled their existence. Without exception a creative and intelligent people - polite and friendly and full of ambition. I felt great respect for this lady - proudly transporting fee paying customers in her new luxury vehicle. This lady who had made Paris her home. A boat and a hope - a dream in a new world. A survivor of many political and military storms of the past.
A change of clothes and out again. This time to be witness to the Parisian shopping experience. A taxi took us to Le Bon Marche shopping complex. Here we had a shop for those blessed with deep pockets. This was a week of sales and reductions. Unfortunately even with these rebates - most of these designer items were too expensive for us to consider. Is there really a need to spend 1500 Euro on a pair of shoes?
Back in sector one of Paris we dined at a superb brasserie called Le Musset. This traditional Parisian diner also had some television screens playing sport as well as a bar and a dining area. The food was of a high standard, along with the service. We felt at home and it was enjoyable to be amongst a friendly clientele sipping French wine underneath seventy style chandeliers. We were very impressed with this eatery - visit it at number 5 rue de L'eschell 75001 when in Paris. You will not be disappointed.
The next day - a Sunday with skies full of cloud and rain. It made sense to visit the Louvre Museum. Here you can see the famous Mona Lisa painting - due to low crowd numbers it was possible to get as close as the barrier allowed. I really love this painting - an optical illusion with the observer's perception switching between a frown and a smile. The museum is also famous for the glass pyramid atop the intersection between the four wings of the underground galleries. A ticket will cost you 15 Euro and although this may seem steep it really is great value. We only managed to visit the Italian collection on this day. Many days if not weeks could be spent by the art enthusiast examining the exhibits of this priceless collection.
All this walking and all this tourist business were exhausting. We took the opportunity on this last day of our little holiday to take a swim. We had use of a full length heated swimming pool and a sauna and this was indeed very refreshing to our tired limbs. And then it was that time for that which all tourists are familiar with - packing for home. The end of a get-away. Preparation for the duties of normal living once more.
The flight back on the following morning thankfully was without adventure and we were blessed with some great views. In this picture can be seen Hayling and my apartment is at the southern end of the T shaped island.
And so was our little getaway break to the romantic city of Paris at its end. I was thankful Paris had not disappointed. Thankful it was still the Paris of my twenties and my thirties. And I am hopeful it will remain the same Paris when it is visited once more when in my fifties.
Peace to All