The light at the end of a 9 and a half hour journey

Yesterday, the crew from the 6th trip to Chateau Duffy returned from a week of fun, food and a lot of work. In a moment, I’m off to see how much of my ‘tan’ is left once I’ve had a thoroughly good shower, but first, I’m going to revel in the memories of what I was doing exactly 8 days ago.

Given that the dates for the trip were fixed in late 2013, it’s pretty ridiculous that I ended up delaying my flight booking until the only flight to Limoges on the 26th was fully booked! An alternative route to the Chateau was required – Eurostar was full too (curse school holidays) but as long as I could get myself to Paris I could join a car convoy heading south. And thus, I found myself at Victoria Coach Station on a Friday evening, ready to board a 9 and a half hour coach journey to the French capital. Nine and a half hours. Overnight. On a coach (and a ferry). Not at all my kind of transport! [Incidentally, when you start telling people that you’re planning on taking this trip, everyone will turn out to have their own horror story of the one time they did it. No one, it appears, does it more than once!]

In all honesty, it was fine. Aside from the couple in front of me who snogged consistently throughout the journey, except when they were asleep – at which point they both fully reclined their seats squashing me into a teeny-tiny space. And aside from having to get onto a ferry at 1am. And aside from it being a flipping long time. But all was forgotten when we pulled into the coach park at Port Malliot. I woke up (three and a half hours of sleep, that’s a win) just as we slowed down and caught a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe out of my window. Immediately, all plans of heading straight to where my friends were staying (and waking them up in the process) were shelved, and instead, I had a overwhelming desire to see as much of Paris as I could, in the few hours I had available to me.

Arc de Triomphe

Paris at 7am on a Saturday morning is a very quiet place. The only people I saw were through the windows of boulangeries and a long line at the Algerian embassy. It was a massive contrast to my first trip to the city three years before, when hoards of tourists ploughed through the streets, taking all the obligatory photos. I walked towards the Arch, arriving at 7am to a sight that very few tourists have photographed:

Triomphe, desertedNo people. No cars. Only pigeons. 

A fifteen minute walk down one of the roads off the circle stood the Eiffel Tower (well, the park across the river from it – but it was the view I wanted). A few more people were around by this point, but mostly the ever-present Parisian hawkers and just a few bleary eyed tourists. This is clearly when they take the postcard photos.

Eiffel reflected

I was on a roll. I checked a map to see what else I could hit before needing to rendez-vous at Gare du Nord and figured that a walk along the Seine at 7.30am would be a good way to spend an hour. Would it matter that I was still towing my suitcase along? No. This was too good an opportunity to miss. After all, I just spent the night in a cramped coach seat, and was about to take a 4 hour drive, so the leg stretching was definitely needed.

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Musee d'Orsay

Louvre

One of my favourite spots in Paris is the area around Notre Dame, but I was aware from my map reading that this was a long way from where I’d begun my riverside stroll. (I’ve just checked, it’s 3 miles – and I’d already walked 2 to get there.) However, when I’ve got a target in mind, I’m a determined individual, so despite the 14kg case and the sleep deprivation, onwards I went!

A glimpse of Notre Dame

Shakespeare & CoOnly disadvantage of it still being pre-10am was that this fabulous place was still shut.

It’s unsurprising that by the time I decided I should catch the Metro and find my friends I was rather over-tired and unable to make sense of Parisian transport and its weekend engineering works. But, being Paris, there was an attractive French man who came to my aid not once but twice (well, the first time he managed to point me towards a closed station, so it was only fair that he rescue me again) – even carrying my bag down to the platform and engaging me in London-based conversation until we reached his stop. Paris, you were an excellent place to be that morning!

So, the moral is this. (There is a moral, this wasn’t simply an excuse to drop a ton of holiday photos on you.) Get up early. Get out and walk around. See the touristy sights, but do it when the regular tourists are still sleeping or just sinking their teeth into a glorious croissant. You don’t need to get an overnight bus to do it (you really, really do not) but just make the effort, you really will be rewarded. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt from my years of occasionally walking across London first thing in the morning – you see things in a new, cleaner way and the light is so much better. Plus, you’ll feel slightly smug for the rest of the day.

Actually, I’ll be feeling slightly smug for quite some time – I’ll be keeping that Arc de Triomphe photo on my phone for ages, just to prove that I was there when no one else was!

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