La Ville De L'amour (Première Partie)

A photo of the Eiffel Tower
Deux jours de tomber amoureux (Two days of falling in love)

Bonjour, chers lecteurs! Can you guess where I've been at the weekend? If you say Blackpool, you'll get a virtual slap! Oui, mes amours, I've been to 'le Gai Paris' (lee gay pa-ree), or in English, Paris! Yes, the city of love! It's a city I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember, and a few months ago, Anneka's dad said he was going there to photograph the Paris to Versailles La Grande Classique race. A 16km road race with several thousand runners, which goes from Paris to Versailles. He asked if I was going to come along. Gee, lemme think about that for a nanosecond! Well, duh! So, there was much frantic saving and getting of a passport. I've never had my own passport as I've not been abroad since I was a child - at a time when you travelled on your parent's passports. As this would be my first adult one, I had to go for an interview. (One which turned out to be a completely pointless waste of my time it turned out.)

(By the way, I'll stop mixing French in with English now - except for where I need a noun, obviously. I'm also going to split this over a few posts, as we did quite a few things over a long weekend.)

The weekend was organised by a friend of Anneka's dad, and we'd be taking a coach. I was a little apprehensive about this, as I'd not been on a coach trip since school and the drivers were awful. (It turned out that this one would be no different...) We left very early on Saturday morning to travel to our hotel, as we'd need to be up very early on Sunday to get to the start of the race. On the way there, the coach driver managed to act like a typical tourist and not pay much attention. There was a moment when we all thought we'd be stuck forever. You see, he'd turned off a main road somewhere just outside of Paris and ignored what we were all shouting at him... As he turned, I noticed a sign that made it very clear the road was not suitable for coaches. (Given that this road has such a sign, you'd imagine it must happen quite a lot.) I pointed this out, followed by about ten other people, but he continued. Naturally, we got stuck - or rather the driver got us stuck. Nothing quite says you're a tourist in another country like the look of exasperation on the faces of the locals...

Eventually, after much staring, shouting and honking of horns, and with careful navigation from about 20 passengers, we were on our way again. We were staying at the Novotel Rueil-Malmaison, just outside Paris. It's quite a nice area, and although a big hotel it's on a quiet street so we had a peaceful time there. The reception staff were very friendly and helpful, and gave us this map of the local area when we asked where the metro station was.

I hadn't brushed up on my French, so when I went to get metro tickets it was a bit of a struggle. Eventually the lady and I managed to vaguely understand each other and I'd got two weekend tickets for the entire public transport system in the city. It was an absolute bargain too!

We'd arrived at the hotel slightly before lunch on Saturday afternoon, so once we checked in we hopped onto to the metro and went to explore at little bit of Paris. Our first stop was outside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. As we'd only taken Anneka's camera, it was the only place we took any photos - and even those are poor! Her cheap little camera is only about the size of a matchbox, and weighs hardly anything. With being accustomed to carrying around my heavy SLR, along with suffering with a slight tremor, I couldn't hold it steady!

After we'd decided that we'd come back here if we had more time, we headed to Jardin des Tuileries. There is a little bit of history about the gardens on the website, but it's now basically a rather well maintained public park. Still, we managed to sit of the grass for nearly an hour, just watching the world go by. Although it's just north-east of the Louvre, it's mainly visited by Parisians rather than tourists. It was enjoyable doing a little people watching, and seeing if we could guess who was French and who wasn't! Eventually, though, we notcied the time. That meant we had to get back to the hotel, shower and change ready for our evening out.

Being a vegetarian, and with my french being a little rusty, I knew we'd need to book a table at a restaurant where they spoke a little English. We'd left the hotel in plenty of time to get to the restaraunt - too much time as it turned out - so we ended up on Boulevard Saint-Germain at a little bar. We had a beer and, forgetting that continental sizes are a little different to ours, ended up ordering two large ones! In France, a large beer is 600ml, which is a little more than an imperial pint and not what the locals usually drink (they usually have a small, at 300ml.) The two photos below are the large sizes (taken at the restaurant, not the bar.)

As you can see, both glasses are bigger than my hands! I don't think either of us was quite prepared for it, but it wasn't really a struggle! Unfortunately though, this marked us out as tourists to the local rose seller. They get people in this area searching for couples in bars who are obviously on a romantic night out, and then trying to sell the man a rose to give to his partner. I'd already done my research, and knew that these were licenses and controlled properly, and that they are often doing it to supplement a very low income. So when one approached us I didn't mind too much, and Anneka got two roses out of it, which kept her happy for a while. I even joked with him that by having large drinks we'd made it too easy for him to spot us.

Once we had finished our drinks, we made our way to the restaurant. I'd chosen Bouillon Racine (which literally means 'root broth', although the French refer to a bouillon restaurant as a 'soup kitchen') because as well as being highly rated, it offered menus in English and the staff spoke English. I thought this would be useful, as my French is a little rusty! It's a fantastic little place, which is in the Art Nouveau style. I had fallen into disrepair, but was completely restored in the 1990's. It really is spectacular! We'd only taken Anneka's small camera, as my SLR would be a bit too intrusive in such a small space, so apologies for the poor quality photos!

We learned two important things by eating here. Firstly, if you want real French cuisine, you must go to France. Secondly, if you say you're a vegetarian, you also have to explain what that means. The French have a word for it (végétarien, curiously enough) but they don't really have vegetarianism like we do! Sadly, the only main course option available to me was a green salad, and that just wouldn't do (they had sold out of the other choices on the menu.) They did however have a chicken salad that, without the dead animal, would be perfect. It took a full five minutes for the waiter to understand why I wanted the chicken salad without the chicken! I started by saying I was a vegetarian, and he just gave me a rather puzzled look. He understood what I said, but didn't understand why - it's a very strange concept to the French. Eventually he cottoned on, and shortly after I had what turned about to be a very large, and utterly delicious, green salad, with avocado, walnuts, etc. in front of me, with no death in sight!

For dessert we both had crème brûlée. I've only ever had this dessert twice in my entire life, and I've never liked it. However, we were in France and they have a way with all things sweet. It was absolutely wonderful! Très magnifique! The service was excellent, the food was delicious, and the place had a great atmosphere. We really enjoyed our meal here, and I dare say we'll be back at some stage in the future.

In part two, you'll read about how we went to photograph the Paris to Versailles La Grande Classique.

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