There is a useful app available to travellers in the city called Next Stop Paris, which became our bible when navigating around the Metro. Over all, I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting, as it gives specific instructions of changes to make to get yourself from A to B, has a user friendly interface, and is available in a few languages. The Metro itself can too be commended, with it’s simple colour coded and numbered lines making it easier for the foreign traveller to understand than, say, the ‘Hammersmith & City’ line in London. On our trip to Gentle Gourmet (our pre-booked restaurant that evening) however, what was indicated by the app as a 25 minute, single change journey to Bastille, took over an hour, with a long slog through the enormous Gare du Nord to make the connection (a five minute connection eh, Next Stop Paris?).
As a result we arrived half an hour late for our reservation, but were accommodated by the friendly staff and invited to sit wherever we wished. This 100% vegan restaurant has the mission to ‘combine the finesse of French gastronomy with an ethical and ecological dimension’, and it was very swanky. There was an amuse bouche of some kind of purified vegetable in a shot glass (which could have put hairs on your chest), then I had a main of seitan in black olive and ‘chorizo’ crust, artichoke barigoule, quinoa salad and a ‘chorizo’ cream, presented in a fashion that befitted the gourmet price tag, but lacking slightly in substance and flavour. I enviously eyed Sammy’s portobello mushroom and aubergine burger with roasted veg, while nursing a €7, 250ml bottle of underwhelming beer.
Without a real plan for the rest of our evening we headed into Bastille, which had woken from its slumber into an energetic and rowdy party zone, with packed bars, music, and a Frenchman screaming down the street clutching a can of 1664 in each hand. With full bellies and a need to make plans for the following day, we opted to continue walking until we found a suitably peaceful establishment, making the most of the opportunity to wander through the streets and appreciate the architecture. Over an hour later and having walked the length of Boulevard Voltaire, we pitched up at a bar with two drunks performing excruciatingly poor salsa dancing, sumo wrestling on the TVs, and strong Belgian beer on tap. We sat and enjoyed our surroundings for a while, before admitting that we would actually rather be in Dirty Dick’s again.
My Solihull friend welcomed us back, and once again donated a free drink to the Dyson cause, something which he described only as ‘fresh’ and ‘to be downed in one at the bar’, which I did, before sloping down on the couch next to Sammy to sit and smile for a while.
Waking a little later than planned, we wasted no more time and headed straight to the Louvre. If you’ve never been, let me tell you the place is huge, and if you take the time to stop and appreciate everything on display, you could easily spend the rest of your life there. If you would like a critique on the works of art housed in the Louvre, asking me would be like asking a squirrel to perform open heart surgery, but what I can confidently say is for the €10 entry fee, even the most philistine amongst us will get our money’s worth.
Probably the most famous piece in the Louvre is the Mona Lisa, so it was no surprise to us that the room in which it was located the busiest in the museum. Everyone came to clamber over each other with cameras and phones hoist into the air to get a shot of the world’s most famous painting, and I could only assume that this is because no other pictures of it are available anywhere else. I thought it a shame that there were no professionally taken photographs in existence, and these poor people had to trample each other to death to get a snap, blurred and filled mainly by the flailing limbs and phones of those around them. With no desire to join the mosh pit, we stayed ever so slightly to one side with an unobstructed view, as close as was possible to stand, and smugly enjoyed being in the presence of something priceless. It wasn’t until afterwards when doing a Google search that I discovered there actually ARE other photos of the Mona Lisa available online, millions of them! If only those poor souls had have known.
Next on our itinerary was Galeries Lafayette, but not before lunch. Hoping to just pop into a café on the way, we headed in the general direction of the famous department store to find most of the streets deserted. Paris closes on Sundays. We weren’t aware. Almost every café we approached was shut, so we aimlessly roamed through the streets, one of which turned out to be Rue Saint-Honore – the real designer alley of Paris, with every famous luxury brand on the planet you can possibly imagine. These too were all closed (bummer eh…), but eventually we managed to find La Cour de Rome, a restaurant which provided Sammy with a salad with the eggs picked out, and a belly busting three cheese pasta for me.
Entering Galeries Lafayette was for me, much like entering a cathedral. I have no interest in anything the proprietors are trying to flog me, but I can appreciate the artistic spectacle and architectural genius that goes into building it. This early 20th century built department store is a beast, with seven floors surrounding a wide open central cylinder, topped by colossal glass dome that allows natural light to fill the expanse, and a roof terrace offering views over the city. It was so beautifully distracting that I didn’t even have chance to choke when Sammy picked up some shoes costing €1,000 (in the sale). She put them back.
Deciding to have dinner that evening in Montmatre, we found limited options available for vegans in the restaurants until a friendly waiter at La Vrai offered to arrange some roasted veg and fries for Sammy. I indulged in something that had always intrigued me, steak tartar. It was by far the best meal of the trip, and I haven’t shut up about it since. The idea of raw beef may sound horrendous to some, but the combination of flavours and the delicate meat almost brought a tear to my eye, and was one more meal ticked off the ‘beef bucket list’. I fear I’m going to struggle to kick that bucket.
With midnight (and therefore Sammy’s birthday) rapidly approaching, I nervously watched the weather outside. I’d formed a plan, you see. A plan to convince her to join me in climbing back up to Sacre Coeur, and to take in the night time views over the city while I produced her birthday present. Within minutes, droplets of rain became torrents, the sky illuminated with lightning, and the cobbled streets became gushing streams. We would later find out that it was the most rainfall on a Paris July day since 1880, a record that was certainly not part of my plans.
Huddled under an umbrella we managed to dash to Dirty Dick’s (obviously), where I again kept an eye on the outside world, waiting to seize a moment of dryness, and in the meantime get a few cocktails into Sammy so she would be less resistant to the idea of climbing up those hundreds of steps again. Being so late at night I was a little concerned for our safety, so we stopped off en route at the hotel, where I emptied my wallet of all cards and most of my cash, saving only a €10 note and whatever shrapnel was in there. The idea was that should I get mugged, I would happily hand over the decoy wallet, and draw attention away from the fact that in my pocket was one of the most expensive things I’ve ever bought. A platinum diamond engagement ring.
On reaching the summit the church was largely deserted, so we paused to look out over the midnight Paris skyline, then walked around the grounds taking photos of the now illuminated Sacre Coeur. There was a doorway, secluded, away from any potential gatecrashers, so I took Sammy’s hand and led her up the steps. I asked her if she was happy, and if she would like her birthday present. I told her to close her eyes while I dug the ring from my pocket, then told her to open them.
She said yes.
In giddy excitement we dashed back down the steps to buy champagne and celebrate. I found the nearest shop, picked up one of the few refrigerated bottles they had, and was told it would be €20 – bargain. Forgetting the actions of my safety conscious former self, I withdrew my wallet to be met with a €10E note and very little else. I poured the coins onto the counter and counted out (an admittedly better than expected) €8.57, which combined with the note gave me just enough to barter with the shopkeeper to buy the champagne, which on our return to the hotel we drank from tiny wine glasses until the early hours, feeling very happy with ourselves.