I’m back from Paris and back in my old apartment! It’s weird, I don’t think that I have been away for that long before from my dear old place – 2,5 weeks! It is now T’s place, but he’s gone to The Hague on a business trip and he told me that I could stay as long as I want. I just had dinner at Pitta La Chasse, which is O’s favourite place for kebab (in Brussels people call them pittas, which for me is just the bread and I spell it pita, and I have falafel dürüm (the flat bread that you roll around the filling) anyway!) with S & I (the Flemish couple), Y & W (the French-Chinese couple, visiting from Australia) and R (Spanish Belgian).
So, how was Paris? Just lovely! My friend S and I were visiting our friend C – the background is that S and C are two of my [many] French former colleagues from the European Commission Secretariat General where I worked for 2,5 years (2002-2004). C moved to Madrid in 2005 with her Spanish boyfriend, and moved back to France in January this year. S and I thought that it was high time to visit her in Paris, especially as I am leaving Europe soon.
It takes 1,5 hours to go to Paris from Brussels with the high-speed train Thalys. We had bought the cheapest tickets (around 80 EUR return), which meant that we didn’t leave until 21.30 and arrived in Paris at 23.00. We told C that we could meet her at home in the 12e arrondissement (close to Place de la Nation, east of Place de la Bastille). The metro was full of Irish rugby fans going in all directions which confused us a little until we realised that 1) the game was over 2) they probably didn’t all see the game live at the stadion anyway. The question still remained, which team won? We saw THREE French rugby fans, who were teasing the Irish with thick French accents Your country is small, small, small… The Irish just ignored them, and we were still not any clearer on the winner [it turned out to be France]. Can you imagine if it had been football instead? European football fans are scary… [it is the rugby World Cup at the moment, forgot to mention that… and France is the host nation]
C was eagerly awaiting us at home, with a cold, poor girl. She has a surprisingly spacious apartment (for Paris), 34 m2 in a very calm street. I was very impressed with the thick red carpets on the floors in the staircase – it felt like a hotel! We were chatting and catching up until 02 before we decided to call it a night.
We didn’t really get up that early yesterday and then C went out for some pains au chocolat & croissants, which meant that we had a long, cosy breakfast at home. It was a nice day and when we finally managed to leave the apartment, the sun came out and it got warmer as we arrived to Place de la Bastille. I told the girls the story of my 2nd visit to Paris in 1993 (first one was in 1982) with my French class. The two most annoying girls of the class (and with the highest grades), went to the square and asked some passer-by where la Bastille was… I remember how stupid my friend Å and I thought that they were – did you ever hear of the revolution in 1789?? One of the main events during the revolution was the demolition of the prison (la Bastille) … it’s one of those basic things that you learn in history class!
From Bastille, one of the busiest round-abouts in Paris, we walked through the area called Le Marais. Through the courtyards of Hôtel de Sully to Place des Voges, we followed the sound of classical music (I think it was Vivaldi) – there was a string quartet playing under the arches of the square. From this square, we visited the gardens of the Musée Carnavalet and arrived to the Pletzl, the traditional Jewish area of Le Marais, and is full of small designer shops, Jewish book- and art shops, falafel places and expensive boutiques. Of course everything was closed as it was Saturday and Sabbath. And not just any Sabbath, it is Jom Kippur at the moment we were told, which is the day of atonement [repentance]. I was in the Middle East last year at this time and “got stuck” in Jordan as the Israeli border crossings are closed during this holiday.
Nevertheless, the area is very pretty and it has a special atmosphere. S told us that she had lived in the Jewish area of Strasbourg and she was always woken up by the Jewish prayers on Saturday mornings. I didn’t really understand what she meant (I was thinking of the Muslim prayer calls but how do Jews pray?) until we walked by a building with the sign Schule (school in German) – from inside we could hear men singing prayers – it sounded beautiful.
At Le Palais des thés, a chain tea shop that I have already written about, we smelled different teas, admired the beautiful tea cups and had some free thé du hammam (a great green tea). Lunch was eaten in one of the small cafés of the area, while people-watching and gossiping about mutual friends back in Brussels ;-). After lunch we crossed la Seine by le Pont Neuf, and we, S and I, told C the story of the film Les amants du Pont-Neuf, a film with Juliette Binoche about a love story between two homeless persons who live on the bridge (I think that the film was actually filmed on location as the bridge really was closed for several years). I saw that film and Les nuits fauves (a film about an HIV-infected man and his girlfriend who doesn’t know about his illness) together with my French class in high school, and gave me the impression that all French films are soooo heavy and depressing – which is not really true I have discovered later on!
In the sunshine we met up on le Pont des Arts with S’s friend F, who is the cousin to one of our other former colleagues! This bridge is wooden and pedestrian with a perfect view of Île de la Cité (where you find Notre-Dame). We decided that we really needed to sit down again, so at le Louvre, in the courtyard and in front of the glass pyramides (the biggest one is the main entrance to the museum), we found seats on the terrace of le Café Marly. Not the cheapest place (a Coke was 6 EUR), but great for relaxing in the sun and soaking up some Parisian atmosphere. F left and another friend of S joined us as well as another former colleage, P. All of a sudden my friend L called from Stockholm, she told me that she had seen on facebook that I was in Paris, and even though she wasn’t there, her boyfriend was! Her boyfriend F, is from Marseille and felt a little lonely and bored in Paris so she was wondering if she could give him my phone number. Of course, not that I know him very well, we only met twice in August in Sweden, but why not!
The sun had already set when F joined us, and it turned out that meeting in the courtyard of the Louvre in the dark was not very easy… We did manage to find each other and the 6 of us walked to the Japanese street of Paris, i.e Rue Sainte Anne just next to L’Opéra. We had a good, cheap Japanese dinner (no sushi) in a restaurant full of Japanese people, and F entertained us with telling us the romantic story of how he and my friend L met, and impressing the 4 French girls with his knowledge of Swedish! It was a great evening and I was really happy to meet up with F again – it was a bit funny to speak French to him as we had been speaking English when we met in Sweden (L doesn’t speak French yet).
We had quite an early night and today we headed to Gare du Nord straight from C’s place as our train back to Brussels was already at 14.30. We did the tourist thing and sat down at the café just across from the station, probably called Café du Nord, and had lunch among Irish and New Zeelander rugby fans. We were sad to leave Paris and C, but we had a great weekend together. It was nice to be able to catch up and just have some quality time together.