It was our first time in Paris, the city of love.
We were young and had recently become the beneficiary of a mewling newborn. Finn was only 4 months old when we left our shores, and immobile. He was sleepy and quiet, and when he wasn’t, the sight of my wife’s perky breasts would generally persuade him so to be.
We had purchased the cheapest of prams for getting around town on the basis that we would dispose of it at the airport before leaving for home, and shunned the travel cot. Instead, we had packed our luggage in an oversized suitcase, which we emptied of clothes every night to reveal a purpose made mattress. It was the perfect crime.
Unfortunately, one cannot guarantee that a reputable airline will not lose one’s luggage, and we emerged from Charles de Galle airport sans perambulator. We still had a papoose-style carrier for the little chap, and we decided to make do until the object was found or an alternative purchased.
We paid a taxi to bring us from the airport into the centre of the city, and, in the grand tradition of drivers the world over, we were grandly ripped off. Sure, he had the meter on, but the price he called for on arrival bore no mathematical resemblance to it. A certain lack of language skills made disputation difficult. Jo did have a smattering of high school French, and would be called upon to make reservations when necessary.
The Hotel Euro-Leige was on a grimy street, so close to exciting, cosmopolitan Paris and yet completely removed from it. We pushed our way through the tiny door and found the tiny reception desk. Jo checked in – we had prebooked. Perhaps if we had not, an attempt would have been made to find alternate digs, but Finn was tired and we all wanted to put our feet up.
The lift was big enough for only two persons, but only if one of them was the size of a loaf of bread. We took several trips in this moving coffin up to our room, ferrying luggage in stages. A pattern was emerging.
Our room was perfectly consistent with the pattern. They had thoughtfully provided us with a portable cot, but it was too big for the room, and blocked passage from the bed to the bathroom. Nevertheless, it was Paris! The tiny window overlooked tiled French roofs, and for a moment, there was even a certain romance in the grime.
We were hungry, and in due course left the room to seek out sustenance. Thus follows the typical Parisian tourist comedy, whereby one bounces from eatery to eatery, trying to find one which meets all of the required criteria: authenticity, cheapness, and quality. In the end, we settle for none of the above, and end up purchasing a greasy pizza for more than the cost of the flight from London. Dissatisfied, we lose our way on the dark streets, and accidentally stumble on the hotel hours later, just when we had lost all hope.
Maybe Paris would be brighter tomorrow, we hope, and crash into bed, sleeping instantly.
The next morning we nod to the manager as we leave the hotel. A phone call to the airline discloses that the pram is probably in Buenos Aires by now, and they offer to purchase one of equivalent value. The metro delivered us to an appropriate supermarket, and after that to Notre Dame. To my delight, we learn that it is free to climb the tower. Unfortunately, the line is so long that I would need an extra day, and give up in frustration.
It’s a truly beautiful building inside though, and I’m not annoyed for having made the effort. Not only that, it seems that there is to be a performance in the cathedral, tomorrow night. Gregorian Chanting! That would be an amazing experience, and Jo tries out her French skills and negotiates the purchase of tickets. Things are looking up.
I won’t bore you with what we did for the rest of the day. Suffice to say that we found the usual structures, climbed some, strolled others, looked at famous paintings. Waited in lines longer than the Great Wall of China. Loved every minute of it.
That sort of activity takes it out of you. We relaxed with a beer and an expensive dinner in the Latin Quarter before wandering, foot-sore but contented, back into the hotel at about 9pm. We took the micro-lift up to the room.
Jo put in the key and opened the door.
There were people inside. Quite a lot of them. Lounging around in their underwear. Making themselves comfortable. And, if this description is not clear, those people were not us.
(Next week: A slight disagreement – The gendarmes)