Monday, September 28, 2009

Left London bon jour France!

Today was another day of travel. We had to catch a 1 o'clock EuroStar to Paris from London. We woke up early and decided to give breakfast a miss because of the state of it the day before. We checked out and dropped our bags with more competent staff this time. We headed through Hyde Park on foot, our hotel being only two blocks away (what it lacked in niceness it made up for in location).

On the other side of the park we made a bee-line to Harrods only to find that it was closed until 11:30 (it was Sunday), the time we needed to be heading back to the hotel to collect our bags and get to Kings Cross for the EuroStar. So we made-do with peering through windows and looking at the beautiful window displays right the way around the block.

We were very disappointed not to see the food hall with its mountains of cheese and terrines. We caught the Underground back to Paddington to collect our bags and made for the international terminal at Kings Cross station.

The international station is in the same building as the regular Kings Cross station so lots of tourists and Londoners catch trains there and transfer. It seems that this has escaped the attention of the planners who have installed flights of stairs everywhere possible in order to interrupt the people travelling internationally with their belongings in suitcases.

Once in the international terminal it is different however; it's flat and open with the ticket check-in far away at the other end of the hall. You get through ticketing and 2 metres later there is security screening. As usual you remove belts, jackets keys etc and place them in a tray to go through the x-ray machine. In airports they have a bench where more then one person can remove these items. At Kings Cross not so, you stand at the end of the conveyor one at a time. Now, the conveyor is so close to ticketing that the queue extends from security through ticketing so people can't check in because security is so slow.

We got through security and then immigration and entered another vast room with a chain cafe at one end and two long escalators going to the two departure platforms. We bought a panini each and heard the boarding call for the train. There was a train for Brussels leaving at the same time.

The boarding train procedure goes like this: carriages 1 through 5 board through escalator 1 and carriages 5 through 19 escalator 2. Two trains' worth of people at the same time up two escalators through two doors with one man at each door checking tickets. There were no taped lanes for people to board through, it was a free-for-all and no one was happy. Trains are not like planes, they seat hundreds of people. It was the worst procedure we have ever seen.

Once on the train it was all good. It was comfortable and the train was quick. We went under the English Channel and started hurtling through France once again. As we entered the outskirts of Paris through the dodgy suburbs we became aware of some amazing graffiti that coated the train line walls for kilometres.

France is slack with security at the best of times but because we were already in Europe there was no security apparent at all, no passport checks, no customs so we changed to the Metro and caught the train to Les Halles station and walked to our Parisian apartment.

From our balcony!

Inside the flat.

The apartment is beautiful, clean and has a balcony above the street. We're about two blocks from the back of the Louvre, people and restaurants everywhere. We dumped our bags (by this stage it's about 6:30) and went for a walk to get out bearings. We settled on a little brasserie on the same street as the house and only a block away. L'Auberge du Louvre, a great little bistro.

The back of the Louvre, as the sun set.

Inside L'Auberge du Louvre.

We had some dishes to tick off our list while in Paris and L'Auberge du Louvre made it easy. We had an onion soup with cheesy croutons, snails, roast chicken and confit duck, washed down with a sancerre.

The table next to us was occupied by another Australian couple who gave us some advice about where to go and what to see, and suggested the chicken- we were going to have steak frites. The food was great.

Snails were served very simply just with bread and the garlicky herby butter. The soup was lighter than we expected which was good, as sometimes it's bitter and heavy. It had a very thick layer of stringy cheese and croutons.

Garlic snails.

Really bad photo but the soup was great.

The chicken was roasted whole and we got a leg - presumably you get a breast sometimes and a leg sometimes. It was served with a great pile of pommes frites and, according to the menu, "his juice" - thickened roasting juices. The duck was soft and perfectly salty with a large pile of saute potatoes in garlic and herbs.

Chicken in "his juice".

Confit duck leg.

We collected the bill and walked the block home and rolled into bed with a tub of ice cream we bought on the way home.

Initial impressions of Paris are great. Lots of people as there are in London but moving at a much more agreeable pace. They don't seem to hurry at anything in France!

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