11 July 2008

We’ll I’ve arrived in Paris!

It’s 10:15pm Paris time. I left London at 4:25pm (London time). It’s only just getting dark now. Like London, the sun sets much later than Canberra.

I booked the train and hotel online using Eurostar. They had a ‘deal’ which bundled the return train and 2 nights accommodation plus a ticket on a tour bus where I can “hop on / hop off” as needed.

At the train station – London St Pancras, I had a coffee and croissant – the waiter was French and I hadn’t even left London yet! Collecting my ticket was easy – there are machines that look like ATMs. I simply inserted my credit card and it spat out the tickets.

After a 2.5 hour train ride from London, I arrived right in the heart of Paris, the station is Paris Nord.

On the train, I watched the countryside go by. It reminded me of The Great Escape. Rolling hills, wide skies … the occasional village … there was invariably the steeple of the church that stood out. I took photos out the window as the landscape sped by.

Next to me was, was what I assumed to be a French man – pink Lacoste shirt, reading a newspaper in French. In front of me were 4 young English girls. The had small bottles of some pink alcoholic drink. Their conversation getting louder as time went by and the alcohol took effect.

Over to my right was a young French mother with 3 young, noisy children. They looked like they were aged between 2 and 6. The eldest seemed polite as he struck up a short conversation with the 4 English girls – they were nice to him .. asking him the usual “How old are you? what class are you in at school?”.

I put on my iPod and listened to Weather Report (their classic Heavy Weather album), Dido and Faithless.

The train sped along its way, my ears popping each time we entered a tunnel. I napped for about 15 minutes before waking up and soaking in the scenery speed past.

When I arrived at Paris Nord, the first thing I needed to do was change some money and find the hotel. I went to a currency exchange desk and said “I want to change $100 Australian dollars into French currency… I had forgotten it was all in Euros. The lady proceeded to process my credit card then pulled out $100 Australian dollars! .. So, I had to explain that I wanted Euro, not Australian money. So I think I lost a little during the exchange but she was kind enough to waive the commission.

Then, I had to find the right platform. The train station is huge and everything is in … French 🙂

Before I left London, my work colleague, Rebecca, was kind enough to give me some bus/train tickets – she said she travels to Paris fairly regularly. How kind is that?!!

I’m staying at Sofitel Paris La Défense.

So, putting on my best French accent – thinking that would make it easier for them to understand me – I proceeded to ask the information desk where I should go to get to La Defense. As it happened I had to change trains along the way.

So far, everyone is surprisingly polite and helpful. I had expected the stereotypical rude arrogance the French are reputed to have.

After a reasonably short train ride, I arrived at La Défense. I found the way out – Sortie – and found myself surrounded modern buildings – post modern in style with glass curtain walls exposing the insides of the buildings. I was like a scene out of a science fiction movie like … like I Robot or Minority Report.

La Defense, Paris

La Defense, Paris

So, I wandered around taking some photos … thinking “I hope the hotel is close. What should I do .. ask someone? catch a taxi?” … then, as a walked further down the Esplanade de La Defense, I noticed the Sofitel was within walking distance! Whew!

So, here I am in the plush hotel room thinking about dinner and realising that I’d forgotten to print my bus tickets whilst in London when I had access to a printer. I called reception and “ofcourse” they have a printer I can use.

Well.. that’s all for now. More soon 🙂