Paris, Travel

A Multicultural Evening

Climbing the Eiffel Tower with my best friend had taken up much of the first night of my four day trip to Paris, and by the time we were done I no longer felt like eating, which was a shame as we’d planned on getting a nice, cliche, French meal. Instead we decided to meet again on Night 2 and try again.

We were all for Landmark meetups, so we decided to meet outside of the Notre-Dame at 8:00pm. That required me to take the Metro from the George V station near the hotel, to Chatelet, near the Notre-Dame. I had conquered the Metro that morning and felt confident in my abilities to get to Chatelet on time. It was on the same line as George V so it couldn’t be too hard.

The train delivered me as promised to the station, with enough time for my meeting. Or so I thought. I began to follow the large blue ‘Sortie’ (Exit) signs (which I would stupidly confuse for a station name the day after) and that’s when things started to get a little confusing. Turn after turn I followed these signs, but I never seemed to get closer to the actual exit. Soon I found myself in an incredibly long hallway with an incredibly long travelator running down the middle (See picture below). I was in a lane of traffic that didn’t end up on the travelator (grumble) and instead had to power walk the length. I was becoming so lost in this labyrinth and had walked so far that I figured, while it looked like the station would release me near Notre-Dame on the map, in real life, I might end up in the outer suburbs of Paris. Eventually I emerged from a Sortie, and had to try and work out where I was. What luck! I could see The Seine, and Notre-Dame is in the middle of The Seine. Off I walked.

On the walk to Notre-Dame I passed the Palais de Justice, which is the home to the French Judicial System. It is built on the site of the Royal Palace of Saint Louis (King of France from 1226 to 1270) and housed the French Parliament from the sixteenth century to the French Revolution. During the Revolution it began dealing out sentences, and held Marie Antoinette before she was taken to The French Razor. It’s gilded gates are to the left. Today it still operates as law courts, though nobody will lose their heads these days. The guillotine was axed in 1972.

Sorry. Bad pun.

Pushing to make 8pm I finally made it to Notre-Dame where I found Australian friends Grace and Hannah waiting for me. I noticed there was no line in front of the cathedral, which surprised me, as the day before the line appeared to be four hours long. It turned out there was an Easter service occurring inside, which I thought was perfect. We’d get to see the building in action, not just as a tourist attraction. Inside was crowded. All the pews were taken and large gatherings surrounded them in the aisles. The chapel was huge, its stone arch ceiling so high above, and lit in a certain way that it almost felt fake, as if a scenic artist had painted it on a normal flat ceiling. While it was great to see the service, and Notre-Dame operating in a more traditional sense, I did feel like I was interrupting a little, so we headed out to find a French restaurant for dinner.

Enroute to said restaurant we passed Shakespeare & Company, which I believe to be the finest bookshop in Paris. Obviously Grace and Hannah agreed because they disappeared inside. It’s an English bookshop, a tucked away little place for speakers of the English language to migrate to and share their thoughts and experiences of the world with like minded people. Books pile up everywhere in the modern bookstore, across two levels. There’s a tiny room with a typewriter where people tap out notes and poetry, and a piano where the tinkling of keys can often be heard. Originally opened in 1919 at another location, the store was a gathering place for writers including Ernest Hemingway, but it was sadly closed during World War 2. The current location opened in 1951 under the name of Le Mistral, before changing its name in 1964 as a tribute to the original store. You may have seen it in the recent film ‘Midnight In Paris’. The current location is built on the site of an old monastery evident in the mosaic tiled floor, and still houses those that make the pilgrimage to Paris. 13 beds are available for young writers to stay in exchange for working in the store. There are claims over 40,000 travellers have stayed at the store. I collect various editions of The Great Gatsby from all over the world, so this was the perfect location to get myself a new one. When you come here, don’t forget to get your book stamped! The store also offers poetry readings, educated discussions and literary festivals throughout the year.

We finally settled in to Cafe Panis for our cliche French meal. A chirpy French waiter took our orders, which we tried to speak in French (Grace being the best at the language.) Three glasses of Champagne, one hot chocolate (I was freezing after sitting outside Shakespeare and Company for an hour waiting for the girls and needed to warm up), escargot, French Onion Soup to start. I had eaten snails once before in America, but tonight they would be served in their shells. Fresh?

Conversation filled the air as we drank the lovely champagne and decided that we weren’t all that crazy about snails. I went from one end of the spectrum (Mmm squishy garlic bread) to the other (Ewwww this is a SNAIL in my mouth.) Eventually the first won. Which is lucky, because I didn’t really want to chew on a snail all night. For mains I had a croque provencal- a toasted sandwich with cheese, tomato and basil with ‘Supplemental Frittes’- a side of fries.

Soon the cafe was almost empty and it was only us left, so we gathered our belongings and headed for the metro; Australians who had just eaten French after visiting an English bookshop.

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About Sean Bryan

Creator of Mortimer Sparks, one part of Duck and Mouse.

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