We got up at 8, packed up our remaining stuff, and headed on foot to St Pancras. Not only were we carrying the same heavy backpacks, Matt now had a Harrod’s bag full of booze, and I had all the other souvenirs crammed into a reusable bag I’d tied closed for safety. It seemed like a very long walk to the train station.
We already had our tickets, so we headed to security. They put the bags through scanners but didn’t seem to care about the contents. Then we passed through French passport control (which was sort of confusing since we were going to Belgium again) and ended up in a big waiting area with several restaurants around it. It was a much larger terminal than the one in Brussels.
We went to Caffe Nero and got cappuccinos and pastries for breakfast, and also grabbed sandwiches to take on the train for lunch. We grabbed seats in the lobby, and were very excited to find out that St Pancras had free wifi. NOBODY has free unprotected wifi in Europe. Right as we finished eating, they announced our train. We went up the escalator to the platform and found our car, which happened to be the same one as before. We just had way more stuff to cram onto the overhead racks.
Once we got far enough out of London that we knew the Chunnel had to be close, we kept an eye out for it. The problem with the UK side is that there are many, many regular train tunnels, so you end up getting excited about being in the Chunnel, then suddenly emerging into the light again. Finally we got outside Dover, saw the white cliffs, and were in the real thing. We had our sandwiches and G&Ts in a can to celebrate. (Just so you know, this is a picture of Bally in the Chunnel. It’s hard to tell it’s not just dark out.)
I was reading a book on my Kindle that kept making me cry. I wanted to stop reading it, but then I knew I’d have to just delay the crying til later. So yeah, I was sitting around crying on the Eurostar.
We arrived at Brussels Midi around 2pm. The shops were all closed and the station was nearly empty, because it was a bank holiday there. Even the parking ramp was deserted, which thankfully made it really easy to find the President there. He was waiting with all of our luggage intact!
Matt set the course for Paris, and we got on our way. I was sleepy most of the way, so we stopped halfway for beverages and snacks. We marveled at all of France’s famous farms again, and made it to our hotel exit shortly after 5. The Mercure Ponte de Pantin parking involved navigating a narrow driveway into a parking garage with tiny spots, so at that point I wasn’t at all thrilled with our gigantic Citroen. Getting into the last spot in the lot involved about a 40-point turn, but I made it!
Though we were only staying two nights, we had to unload absolutely everything from the car so we could reorganize our luggage for the return trip. We hauled it all in in their tiny elevator, checked in, and went to our room. It smelled like smoke when we got there, but we opened the windows and it aired out right away.
We were tired, so we decided to go find dinner somewhere, then pick up beers and bring them back so we could do the big packing/reorganizing project. We were tired, and figured we wouldn’t have time to see any of Paris before dark anyway. After hanging out in the room for a bit, we suddenly realized we didn’t have Bally. I knew we had just left him sitting on the dashboard in the car, but that still didn’t hold back a slight feeling of panic. We both went down to get him from the car in the garage. BALLY IS VERY IMPORTANT. Hey, we don’t have kids or pets, right?
We also knew hardly anything about the layout of Paris or the landmarks, so we looked at the metro map and picked a stop with a name we knew that was also on our same metro line for convenience. We walked the couple of blocks to the Hoche stop and rode to Bastille. The station exited right out onto the Opera plaza, and there were people everywhere. Walking right out onto the street in the middle of Paris was pretty exciting, I admit.
We headed in the direction of a bunch of restaurants and started looking at menus. A few blocks away, we found a place called the Iguana Cafe that looked alright. The downstairs was packed, but the guy at the bar said we could go sit upstairs. It was empty so we had little hope of getting a server, but shortly after we grabbed a table, other people started coming up. A server showed up with menus, we ordered food and drinks, and all was good.
While we were waiting for our dinner, Matt was watching people out on the street from the upper level. We were across the street from a bread and pastry shop. Suddenly his face lit up, and he excitedly told me that he just saw a man walking down the street carrying five baguettes under his arm. That was the most Paris thing we could possibly imagine. So funny.
I had four-cheese tagliatelle and a mojito, and Matt got steak frites and a Moscow mule. Matt declared himself an expert on Paris after seeing the baguette guy, so he started regaling me with facts. We were pleasantly surprised at the decent service we got; after other encounters with French-speakers, we were absolutely convinced that everyone in Paris would be a huge asshole. We were glad to be (mostly) proven wrong.
We were revitalized after dinner, so we decided to walk the few blocks down Ave de Henry IV to the Seine and see what the view was like. We got there and were initially confused, then realized we were at the portion of the river on either side of Ile St-Louis. We saw the very top of Notre Dame poking up over the buildings, so we walked down one side of the river in that direction.
Paris was gorgeous. I don’t know why that should seem surprising at all. I guess I’d heard the ‘romantic Paris’ stuff so often I figured it was a bunch of crap, but it’s totally true. It felt like place you’d be sad to be single in, though!
We crossed a bridge over to the backside of Notre Dame, looked at the gardens, then went around front. We weren’t really planning to do any touristy stuff that evening in Paris, but it was there, and it was really impressive.
Entry was free, so we went inside. They were just beginning some kind of strange projected mass on a screen in front, and the church was quiet and very dark. That added to the atmosphere, and also meant the windows were well-lit from the outside at sunset.
We crossed back to the north side of the river, walked a few blocks, and ended up at the Hotel de Ville. There were a ton of basketball hoops set up outside it, so we had to go check that out. It turned out that the French basketball association was having some kind of kids’ event, and there was a big billboard with Tony Parker and other basketball players there. We vowed to bring Bally back there the next day to take his picture.
I was really glad we’d gotten to see some of Paris, because it made me a lot more excited about the rest of it!
We took the metro back to the hotel and got to our repacking project. It was a lot of work, but we got all the souvenirs stashed away safely, and the weight of the suitcases seemed like it would work out after everything else was added.
We sampled a few of our scotches from London, and headed to bed shortly after midnight.