Living as we do surrounded by beautiful countryside and within easy reach of the coast when we fancy a change we tend to go for a city break and this is what we did recently. On the day of our departure we woke to pouring rain but by the time we set off for the station it had turned to a misty drizzle. As the train sped towards London the clouds began to break up and a watery sun to poke through so that on arrival at Waterloo we left the station in sunshine! We caught the bus, bus passes at the ready, to St Pancras (what a shame for us that Eurostar moved its terminus from Waterloo to St Pancras in 2007!)
However St Pancras is a fascinating place and a famous landmark in the city. Opened in 1868 it had taken 6000 men and 1000 horses (wonder which bits the horses constructed!) over 4 years to build and is an ornate red brick Victorian edifice as you can see. Over time it fell into decline and in 1990s was a sad symbol of UK railways neglect. Sir John Betjemin campaigned to have it restored as he said it would be "a folly to destroy a building which conjured up wondrous images of architecture and light in the minds of every Londoner" and eventually it was in fact renovated which took 6 years and cost £800 million and has given us "a glittering emblem of the future for railways". It took 18,000 panes of glass in the restored roof, 150 tonnes of dirt were removed from the brickwork (probably much of it due to the smoke from all those steam trains) and 20,000 litres of blue paint were used to repaint the ironwork. Now it is a fabulous place with shops and restaurants and various events including music and art. As St Pancras is where my paternal grandfather apparently worked and as I have always loved railways I am glad to think that the future may be bright for railways!
here , here and here ) We decided that we could do the same independently as the company Paris Walks offers plenty of other walks we hadn't already done and all you have to do for most of them is to turn up and pay 12 euros and off you go. So Mr M did his research and we found a hotel we liked the look of, booked tickets on Eurostar at a good rate, by booking back in July, and we were all set. This is a great way to travel - it's quick and comfortable and as green as it gets and as I said I love trains!
As the train sped through the rather dull and flat countryside of northern France it began to rain and the drops slid horizontally across the windows, no doubt due to the speed we were travelling, so we arrived in Paris in the rain! We made our way to the hotel which turned out to be very pleasant, comfortable and with friendly staff. Luckily it stopped raining and by the time we'd made ourselves a cup of tea and unpacked etc it was time to go out and find somewhere to eat. The area had lots of little restaurants and we were spoilt for choice.
We woke on our first day to a cloudy but dry morning and after breakfast - the one downside to the hotel was the small size of the breakfast room which made for rather cramped eating - we set off on foot to explore.
Parc Monceau - an English style garden with a more natural design than the usual formal symetrical French designs. There were several pieces of statuary set amongst the plants including this rather lovely range of columns curving round the pond.
I didn't realise I had this chap in the photo which I took to show the long straight avenue of trees on the Champs Elysee but this was yet another contrast that I noticed - that between the poor (this man had shoes that were in tatters and the soles coming away from the uppers) and the wealth as was obvious in some of the shops such as Louis Vuitton which shouted money as we passed.
As we walked we came across this sign and I suggested that we might take advantage of using the facilities knowing how few and far between toilets are in France and how often they leave a lot to be desired.
The toilets were in a small boutique which sold all manner of things to do with toilets such as toilet seats, wash basins, toilet rolls in every colour imaginable and some with crosswords and so on printed on them as well as cleaning materials and so forth. Each cubicle was decorated in a different style and this was the one I chose - the wall paper was available to buy as were the articles in the glass fronted showcase behind. It was absolutely spotless and the hand washing facilities too on leaving the cubicle were also amazing!! I felt it had been worth the 2 euros it had cost!!!
Credit Municipal de Paris and it is one of the oldest financial institutions in Paris and is being used even more in the current recession - see the link.
Built of bricks which is a contrast to the golden stone of most ancient buildings in Paris.
There are covered arcades housing shops and apparently the curved windows above the shop fronts were where the artisans and shopkeepers used to sleep and store their materials and goods. Not sure what's up there now of course.
We decided to walk to Montmartre which is an area I find fascinating and where I know there are some wonderful fabric shops.
Pere Lachaise which was said to be worth visiting but we discovered this cemetery at Montmartre and had a look round here and decided that if Pere Lachaise was larger than this one we'd never find any of the interesting graves anyway and when one has seen one French graveyard one has perhaps seen them all!
Viaduct des Arts .
By now our legs were tired and we took the Metro back to our hotel stopping on the way to buy some strawberries which we ate with a cup of tea sitting on the bed!
There is more but I think that I will stop here and do the rest another time as I am sure if you are still with me you will have by now lost the will to live?