Paris means a lot to me - my uncle used to live there so we'd often trot off to Victoria, catch the boat train to Dover or Folkestone, ferry across to Calais or Boulogne then clamber on board an SNCF train to Paris. Eight hours or so. Now, of course, Eurostar can get you there from St Pancras in just over two hours, making an easy day trip.
My friend Alison and I had planned this trip for a while - she hadn't been for ages and I never need an excuse to go to Paris or, indeed, to get on a train. Tiny trauma just as I scanned my ticket and passed through the barrier when Alison asked "so do I need my passport?" The world slowed and conflicting thoughts swirled in my brain - among them "NO!!" and "hell, I'm through now - I'm on my way!" Luckily, it turned out to be a rhetorical question (nice timing) and all was well.
A wonderfully uneventful journey later and we arrived at the Gare du Nord. Quick purchase of a carnet of tickets then on to the metro to the first sight - the Eiffel Tower. Stunning as ever and I wheeled out my usual "fact" - that all the gold discovered in the world so far could be melted down into a block that would fit under the tower - does anyone know if that's true?
Slight moment occurred when I noticed a pigeon had managed to poop on Alison's new jacket. My laughing was choked off when I realised I had suffered collateral damage - that must have been one sick bird.
Trauma over, on to the metro to the Arc de Triomphe then a walk down the Champs Elysees. Feeling hungry we struck off down a side street to look for a restaurant. In a slightly dodgy example of restaurant choosing I saw a beautiful Art Deco sign and in we went. It's called Le Boeuf sur le Toit and we made a good choice. Had some brilliant oysters, a beautiful sole and a chocolate souffle I will remember for a while. (Not as good as my mother's, clearly).
On with our walk down to the place de la Concorde and straight across through the Tuileries gardens, the Louvre and out across the pont des Arts to the Left Bank. Nipped into Notre Dame for a gawp at the stained glass windows, a wander round the islands then across to the metro for the trip up to Montmartre. By that time we were getting close to the time we had to get back to the station so to my secret relief we decided not to climb the stairs up to the Sacre Coeur. Walked back to the Gare du Nord and bizarrely bumped into an ex-colleague in the passport queue. Having said only a couple of hours previously that I felt as if we were going to bump into someone, this was an odd coincidence.
Train home and a perfect day was had. Alison's the best possible companion, the weather held steady apart from a couple of showers and apart from the bird shit nothing went wrong.
Next weekend - another major travel event as my friend Alex and I tackle the Metropolitan line.