Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Paris in the Springtime

Hello faithful blogfollowers,

Everything is going well here in London.  David is working hard at his programme (and rapidly approaching his summer break and the halfway mark!)  I continue to be happy in - and very grateful for - my job.  Only a few weeks in, the CEO of the international division came to visit our office from headquarters in Paris.  Apparently my fabulous execution of "un café?" impressed him, because he complimented my French and said I should really come and see people at the head office.  As luck would have it, there was an upcoming New Employees Integration seminar planned (which I had assumed I wouldn't be going to since I'm just a temp), and it was worked out that I would go for two of the three days.

What made it even better was that I was able to go down early, on Sunday morning, and spend a day on my own in Paris - Montmartre, to be exact.  Score!

I know everybody knows this already, but you can't beat the Eurostar for getting from London to Paris.  Wow.  I took the tube from our beloved Tooting to King's Cross and walked to the (gorgeously refurbished) St. Pancras International rail station.  I was travelling down with two other young women from my office, on the same train, but because I booked my ticket later we were in different cars.  So we texted each other a bit as we tried to get through security (the Eurostar lady was not impressed that I was scanning in to security 32-ish minutes before the train departed, because you have to be there 30 mins before.  Come on!)  We all made it onto the train and were bound for Paris!

Okay, so I've already gone on and on about how cool I think the Chunnel is - well, it was cool once again.  I found myself at Paris' Gare du nord around noon on Sunday morning.

My plan was, since the gare is north of the city, and Montmartre is west in a line with it, and the hotel we were staying in was just west again of that, I would spend my tourist day in Montmartre (instead of trying to head into the city itself) and then end up at the hotel.

My first wish list item of the day was a bust, unfortunately - I really wanted to poke around a librarie (bookstore) while in Paris.  I had noted down the location of one that people seemed to really like, and though I did find it en route to Montmartre, it was closed on Sundays!  I was gutted (as we say in London) because, peering in the darkened window, it looked totally adorable.  Sigh!

In early May Paris was already starting to hum with tourists.  I found my street up to Montmartre and stopped for une crêpe nature to nibble on my way.  

Okay, so as far as I'm concerned, the reason to hang around Montmartre (aside from the picturesque French ambiance) is to geek out on references to the movie Amélie.  Note the carousel as Exhibit A.  This was just after a couple of African guys had tried to tie a bracelet around my wrist that they would then charge me for.  "Non, merci."
"D'où viens-tu?"
"Non, merci!"
"Ah, une américaine!  Une américaine!  Ne pars pas!"

I've been once before to Paris, with David and his parents right after I graduated high school.  (And once again I say, Susan and George... thank you very much.)  David and I spent a morning in Montmartre (I seem to remember S&G heading off to check out... a fabric store?) and we had crêpes aux fraises at a café in the artists' plaza.  I loved seeing the Basilique du Sacré Coeur then, and we didn't go in that last trip, so I thought I would take the chance to poke around there more this time around (Amélie Exhibit B).

Amélie Exhibit C - the stairs she chases Nino up.

Please note that all the people on the steps are taking in a singer (complete with guitar, keyboard and amp) who is standing facing the basilica.  When I got there, he was singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah with his French accent.  So random...

I went inside the basilica (no pics unfortunately) and just sat for a while and took it in.  It's beautiful, but I found it a little bare inside.  It has beautiful mosaics (if I remember right) and paintings on the ceiling of the altar area (Catholic friends, do you use the word chancel or no?) but it was a lot of bare grey stone.  And huge posters of Pope John Paul... somebody please explain?

Then I went down and got a ticket to climb up to the dome.  €6 for the privilege of climbing up 300 steps... hmm...

On my way up...

Stone steps worn down by many many feet.

I made it!

I took a whole bunch of pictures up here because it was either hang around or head back down.

Well, what does up must come down.  I continued on my exploration of Montmartre.  I find it a really interesting tourist spot because the guidebooks must have such a specific depiction of what "Montmartre" is, and you get these streets that are jammed, and I mean jammed, with people and kitschy street vendors, and you go one block another way - to an equally, if not more, picturesque street - and there is personne (That means: nobody.  ...Which I've always found weird about French.)

 I decided to continue on my (vain, as it turned out) search for a librarie.  I did get to see lovely spots like the one above, though.  Then I wandered down to Abesses and looked in various shops, and had some gelato (framboise et mangue).

The Moulin de la galette.  Someone remind me why it's famous?
Can you see Amélie Exhibit D?

So, the Amélie nerdfest continued with a long, quiet meal at the Café des deux moulins, the brasserie where Amélie is a waitress in the movie.  It is still a cute French café, but of course they now capitalize on their link to the movie.

I had poulet rôti, vin rosé, and finished with café viennois.

Amélie didn't seem to be working that day.
After my big day of walking I... walked some more, actually, over to the hotel and checked in to my room.  It was great to have a quiet hotel room to relax in, and I put on the TV to some French channels.  (First was one of the Fast and the Furious sequels dubbed in French, which isn't very taxing linguistically, then Nixon.  Random - I'm sure Anthony Hopkins was doing a great impression of the guy but the French thing made it kind of hard to tell.)

The next day, it was time to get to work!

My company's headquarters in Gennevilliers, a suburb north of Paris, is lovely.  They have an entire building, very state-of-the-art (apparently designed very much to be green, though I didn't get to hear the whole story on that).  They have a large theatre-style meeting room with a huge screen, and we spent the first day introducing ourselves to our colleagues (about 30 people, all new to the company from different subsidiaries) and taking in presentations by the head office staff.

Looking down on the reception area from the second floor.

They have a nap room.  In case you're sleepy after lunch.  No foolin'.
We had been told that at the end of our first day, we'd be having dinner in a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower.

...before we left though, they let us know that we were actually going to be eating at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.  Wow!!

View from my table in the Eiffel Tower restaurant.
The food was lovely - an appetizer of smoked salmon and French bread, poulet rôti with come kind of amazing French cream sauce and that lovely white asparagus (is that just called white asparagus?) and an extremely rich and decadent chocolate mousse dessert.  Not to mention lovely red wine.  They told us not to sit with people from our own office, so I dutifully obeyed, and was the only one who listened.  So, I sat at a table of people from the Polish office.  I learned that in Polish culture, when you are out drinking with friends, it is considered rude to pour yourself a drink.  So, if you're all drinking wine, and you want some more, you pick up the bottle and start offering refills to your friends.  Then if your friend is nice, at the end they'll say "oh and Hilary, would you like some?" and serve you.  So we were having fun at that with the table, elaborately offering each other a drink.

What an adventure - I can't believe it!

Though it's hard to top dinner in the Eiffel Tower, the second day of the conference was interesting as well.  As I headed back toward Gare du nord to catch my train back to London, I had time to pass by the librarie - and it was open!  I had a lovely time browsing around and bought three books, including a modern novel that has had a lot of recognition - "le roman à 9 prix littéraires" - and which I'm enjoying reading.  I'll have to work my way through the others - a Jules Verne novel and a book about the court at Versailles - but I want to savour them, too.  I feel so lucky that my job has worked out so well!

Merci, Paris - j'espère bien te revoir bientôt.

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