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Parisian Jaunt

02/20/2013

Upon deciding which city to do my Erasmus exchange in, I picked Amsterdam because of its central location.  I persuaded myself that it would be possible to take short trips to other European countries by rail.  Since I hate flying this mode of transportation has really grown on me.  When in Australia I was lucky to discover that there was a Great Southern railways pass for AU$600.  That particular journey took me from Sydney to Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Alice Springs and Melbourne, all within six months.  That was an epic journey if ever there was one, and very memorable indeed.  However I found myself having been in Amsterdam for five months and not done any travelling further than Haarlem.  That had to be fixed, and my trips to Delft and Belgium had been a remedy for that.

However after signing up for Facebook I found that I had some friends living in the City of Light, and thought it would be a great tragedy not to visit them.  Visiting such a fabulous city with a guaranteed place to stay and reliable tour guide seemed to good to miss.  I timed my visit to the weekend just after Valentines Day, being an incurable romantic I just couldn’t resist.  So I found myself waiting on a platform on Friday evening to set off for one of my favourite European cities.

The train journey was a pleasure, as I always seem to find them.  The crowds that surged onto the train in Bruxelles was due to an earlier train between the two cities being cancelled, however I soon engaged in conversation with an Irish traveller.  This led to an interesting conversation about travel, politics and study, all subjects at which the Irish seem to excel.  He was kind enough to give me directions to the metro stop where my friends lived, and I was at La Defence within a half hour of arriving.

I soon found myself enjoying a convivial glass of red wine with my friends, eating the goats cheese I had brought from the Netherlands.  It seemed like an interesting cultural exchange, even though the thought of bringing cheese to France seemed like sacrilege.  However it was a good start to the weekend, and the glorious weather which followed for the next two days was unseasonal but nonetheless fantastic.  My friends were kind enough to give me a walking tour along the Seine, using board walks down by the river I had not known about before.

We walked across the city in the wonderful weather, stopping to enjoy a coffee in a lovely little cafe to watch the world go by.  As I had seen the interior of many attractions before, and the sun was so bright, it seemed a waste not to enjoy the weather.  We reached the Tulleries Gardens as evening approached, and the fine dry evening was utterly charming.

Dinner was at a lovely little restaurant which my friends recommended, up in the Montmarte.  I had fears about the expense, but this lovely little place cooked us a fantastic meal which came to a hundred euro for the three of us.  And this included a delicious bottle of Bordeaux with which to wash it down.  Perhaps it is no surprise we ended up in an Irish pub afterwards, due to one of my friends being Irish.  I settled for a pint of cider from Normandy, and I will commit heresy and claim I prefer it to Irish cider.

I was treated to a traditional French breakfast the next morning, after standing in a queue outside the boulangerie.  Shortly thereafter we headed to the Metro station for the trip into the city to meet another Irish friend for lunch.  As we ascended the stairs, my friend showed me the view of the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, which one could see from where we stood.  I must confess it was a wonderful weekend from the gastronomic viewpoint, and I broke more than one Lenten pledge.

We had a delicious meal near the rue Moufftard, and my lamb in garlic sauce was just too wonderful for words.  The reputation of France as a nation of gastronomic genius is utterly justified, and I heartily recommend visitors to be very adventurous indeed.  We followed our lunch with a long afternoon stroll, the weather was very generous, and my friend showed me the old Irish college.  This was where the Catholic gentry sent their sons to be educated in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Penal laws were in force.  Many of these Irishmen ended up in the French army, indeed all over Europe.  Ireland’s loss turned out to benefit other countries, a process which continues to this day.

Our afternoon stroll continued down to the Odeon, a part of Paris which I always love.  The shops and cafeterias are wonderful, although they can be expensive.  One can always indulge in what the French refer to as “window licking” or window shopping.  That is mostly what we did, but I was tempted by a vintage clothes shop which sold clothes by weight.  We did however in a hot chocolate eventually, as evening brought a nip in the air.  We eventually ended up having a quiet evening, drinking some red wine and watching an American sitcom (sacre bleu!).

II left early on Monday morning for Amsterdam.  How many times can you begin a week by leaving Paris?  I am sure that for many people this is a regular occurrence, but for me it was a delight.  I had not seen any museums, art galleries or shows.  I did not spend a lot of money or fall in love.  I had some great food, with good friends and the weather was kind.  In Paris, just after Valentines Day..

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