London to Paris to Geneva

We arrived early to St. Pancras International station for the Eurostar back to Paris for what was going to be a long day of travel. The station across the street, King’s Cross, has some sort of Harry Potter related thing my travel companions wanted to see so we figured we would have breakfast there and they could run across for the photo op. It turns out there are a few Potter fans out there. They waited about half an hour in line and just as they were about to have their photo taken, they had to split back to the bags and me since they were closing check in for our train. This was one of the casualties of a short stay and poor planning on our part. I guess we will have to go back. This will also give me time to see the Harry Potter flicks, as I haven’t yet (or read the books. My nephews think I’m insane, or maybe a generation older than I am).

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The passport control line seemed to take longer in London that in Paris, despite the French folks not chatting with me about records or anything for that matter, just a scan of the passport to see that I’m not wanted by INTERPOL. We boarded in plenty of time and zipped across the Channel. I purchased an over priced half bottle of Champaign because drinking Champaign at approximately 150mph while under the sea seemed like something that I never really wanted to do until I knew I could do it. I regret nothing!

We arrived on time to Gare du Nord and then had to make our way to Gare de Lyon, which was about a 20-minute car ride away. Once again we sprung for a van since we were bogged down with several days of souvenirs from two countries.

Gare de Lyon is a beautiful station from the outside. Now that I think of it, all the train stations we went to so far on this trip were beautiful. We had some time to kill that I had built into this part of the trip just to be safe and spent it at a café at the station. The station is open to the outside so it was a tad chilly, but nothing a little hot cocoa or wine couldn’t knock out.

 

Being a rail fan, I was excited about the TGV-Lyria train we would be taking from Paris to Geneva. It was a smooth and relatively fast trip to Geneva, but it was also dark since I booked a train later in the day just in case we got held up making our way from London. I’m guessing the journey was pretty especially once we slowed down entering the Alps. Since the journey to Switzerland was short like London, it was more important to get there than to see the sights along the way. Just one more reason to go back, I say that a lot.

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24 Hours in London

For a quick 24 hours in London, there is not much to report. My main goal of going to the record fair at Old Spitalfields Market was met after a great lunch there. Lots of food stalls set up selling amazing foods from around the world. I had Turkish for the first time and it was amazing. So amazing that once I found the pizza place selling any pizza for £5, I still felt like I made the correct choice.

I picked up about twenty 45s at decent prices. Including my favorite Jam single “Going Underground” a few more Slade and Thin Lizzy singles and surprises by The Rezillos and Captain Sensible thrown in. Lots of overpriced stuff, at least in my opinion, but you can find a few bargains. I had more than one dealer remind me that the better show was the next day (sorry, I’ll be on my way to Switzerland), and the biggest show is in the Netherlands. Well, I guess I’ll have to come back then.

Upon walking back to the tube we stumbled upon a chocolate shop. Same thing happened in Paris. We all showed much restraint, but I did get a few things including a small bottle of gin infused with cocoa. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll report back when I do.

Had a great dinner at an Indian place near the hotel and met three locals getting together for the first time since they were at university together about 30 years ago. The food and the company really stand out as a highlight on the trip and it was all unplanned. We just stumbled upon it all. I plan before each trip and try to have as much plotted out in advance as possible, but as with life itself, it is the unexpected that can be amazing and most memorable.

We turned in early to get ready for the next day which would see us travel via rail to three countries. I’m already planning for my next trip to London, whenever that may be.

Paris to London

If the Channel Tunnel does not impress you, I’m not sure we can really communicate and thus it may be hard for us to be friends. When we were putting this trip together, my two travel companions had their own idea as to what would make a great one-day side trip. One said he wanted to go to London. I told him in 24 hours you won’t get to see or do much, but he said he wanted to see it and to travel via the Chunnel. That sold me that it would be worth the expense and hassle. I’ve been to London a few times but never by train so I was in.

We got up and packed and I ordered a van to take us from our flat to the Gare du Nord (I believe this is French for “north station”, not very imaginative but apt). We had quite a bit of luggage and the walk from the Metro to the flat on the first day was a bit much so we sprung for a driver. This went better than I had planned and we got there rather quickly. I am usually against cars in cities I’ve not been to before if I can help it. I hate being stuck in traffic AND paying for it while a train is moving swiftly below me.

Since we were going from a Schengen Area country to one that was not, I knew we would have to go through customs, I was just surprised that UK customs had set up at the train station in Paris. I’m not sure why this surprised me, maybe I’m just not used to things making sense. You must forgive me; I do live in America after all. It wasn’t the first train of the day but there was a bit of a line to have our passports inspected.

I got up before one of the two customs and border agents, who was a guy my age or a bit older. He immediately asked how long I was going to stay in the UK. “A day”, I said.

Border guy: “What are your plans for that day?”

Me: “Old Spitalfields Market for a record fair, lunch and then maybe the British Museum”

Border guy: “What is your interest in old record albums?”

Me: “I’m an old guy and I like to listen to old records”

Border guy: “What kinds of records are you looking for?”

Me: “60s and 70s soul, mostly American soul. From the late 70s and early 80s UK punk and new wave.”

At this point I was getting a bit nervous, the interview was getting a bit long compared to what I’m used to. In Beijing, hardly a word (of course they had tons of info ahead of time via my visa application), in Japan they took my fingerprints but didn’t ask too much, but this was turning into a real interview and the line was still behind me.

Border guy: “What’s your favorite album?”

I’ve had a lifetime to think about this but hadn’t really been able to come up with an answer. I have a couple thousand in my collection, and I’m not sure I could really name a favorite. I’m not sure why, but to me it seemed like an odd question to ask someone at the border. Sure, if I’d said something like Up by Right Said Fred, that is probably a well known terrorist favorite that will get you an “enhanced” screening, but you never know if however you answer a question at the border will seem legitimate. I thought of an album that if I had only it on a deserted island, I could listen to it longer than any other before I threw my stereo in the ocean (or tried to make a boat out of it)

Me: “That’s a tough question, but I’ll answer London Calling by the Clash”

Border guy: “Well done…the Clash are my favorite too.”

Then as he stamped my passport he looked over at his partner and said one of the coolest things someone has ever said about me: “This guy’s got a lot of stamps”. My first passport had exactly one stamp during its ten years. I’ve tried to make up for that injustice with my current one. Looks like I’m doing an OK job with it.

Nothing to worry about, I wasn’t about to be denied entry, I was just picked for an enhanced interview by a fellow music fan who just happened to be stationed at the border crossing that I was at that day. It was kind of a highlight of the trip.

We went through security (it was nearly airport level) and boarded our train for the quick trip to London. The train, as with all trains I’ve been on outside of the US, left on time and we were on our way to London.

Paris Day Trois

We decided that our last full day in Paris would be devoted to two big landmarks and one museum, then back to the flat to pack for a morning train to London. First thing on the list was the Eiffel Tower.

Tour Eiffel
Impressive from all angles

While I’m sure it was light compared to the summer months, there was a bit of a wait in line to get tickets to ride to the top. There was security checks at two points. Do not bring any pocket knives you may have bought the day before. My friend will vouch for this.

What is there to say about the tower other than the views are impressive and the structure is beautiful? Maybe the views are beautiful and the structure is impressive?

After finishing at the tower, we decided to move on to the Arc de Triomphe. This was the rare landmark that look much bigger once you are in its presence.

Arc de Triomphe
It’s huge. The traffic is nuts. Take the tunnel or probably die.

While not nearly has high as the Eiffel Tower, it seems to have better views from the top. Mainly because you can see the Eiffel Tower.

 

Eiffel Tower From Arc de Triomphe
See?
Scary Arc de T
“Join us or die! Can you do any less?”* Also, lots of naked dude statues in France.

The Arc de Triomphe is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI.

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After we finished touring the Arc, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then stopped at a café in order to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day. The third Thursday every November is the first day that that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau can be sold. We downed a bottle at a café along a busy Paris street.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2017
Marc and I drank the whole bottle.

 

Once we were done at the café, we went to the last stop of the day, the Museé d’Orsay. But while en route to the museum we passed a boulangerie and were lured inside by the items they displayed in their window. Once inside, I jumped at the chance to buy my very first authentic French baguette and carried it with me to the museum. One of my travel companions named it Philippe.

At the museum we had to pass through metal detectors and have our bags scanned, and I was certain they would never allow my baguette inside, but since it didn’t set off the metal detector I was good. It is not everyday that you see a guy walking around Van Goghs with a baguette under his arm, but I only got a few looks from the other patrons so maybe it is not as uncommon as it felt at the time. I don’t have a bucket list, but if I ever decide to make one, I’m going to add “Stand in front of a Van Gogh painting in Paris with a loaf of bread under my arm” as the first item and go ahead and check it off.

Me, Philippe, and Van Gogh
Starry Night Over the Rhône with Baguette 2017 M. Michael / V. Van Gogh

We caught the Metro back to the flat to pack for the train to London in the morning and to feast upon Philippe. He was delicious and everything I have heard a real baguette should be. He will be missed.

 

*See Mr. Sparkle episode of The Simpsons to get this.

Paris Day Deux

We decided to start the second day of Paris with a visit to The Louvre. It was about a fifteen minute walk from our flat which gave us an opportunity to wander into anything that caught our fancy along the way. The architecture was amazing and we also found lunch at a cool spot named Rotistreet that advertised in English “street food”. “Street food” must have a different meaning in French because this stuff was much better than street food and was not on a stick. It was a quick lunch spot that did mostly take away business due to it being across the street from The Bank of France, but it did have a few tables for eat in customers.

After lunch we arrived at The Louvre. It was much bigger than I thought it would be and I thought it would be pretty big.

The Louvre

We had purchased a two-day Paris Museum Pass which gives access to a long list of museums. We didn’t plan to go to enough to make it a financial slam dunk, but it does give quicker access to the people who have them. This time of year we didn’t run into any long lines, but we did have our own security line here that was much shorter.

I had read in advance that it was advised to get the audio guide because there was little information in English on the exhibits. I usually like to explore on my own and declined to purchase one. I should have because the guidebook was right, there was not a lot of English to be seen. It was more of an issue with the ancient artifacts. You can still enjoy art without needing to know too much about it.

As far as the art is concerned that place is an art textbook come to life. The biggest crowd was for The Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa Lookers

I thought there were much better paintings in the room.

We spent several hours there and saw so much but didn’t even make a dent in the place. If you want to see a particular list of things, plan ahead because they may be spread out and there will be lots of walking. Going midweek at the time of year we were here probably made the experience better. I can’t imagine how crowded this place gets on a weekend or in the high season.

 

All that culture and walking wore us out so we decided to a little souvenir shopping near there and head back to the flat. On our way to the metro we saw this for the first time:

Giant Paris Tower

 

In the same building as the flat was an Italian place we noticed the day before and we decided to try it. I know what you are thinking, why would we eat Italian in Paris? Well,

  • Italian is awesome
  • Paris Italian food must be good or else it wouldn’t exist
  • Every time is a good time for pizza
  • It was close
  • They had wine

Don’t judge. It was amazing and I had a limoncello tiramisu that was insane.

Tomorrow we go to the top of the…..whatever they call that big Paris tower thing.