Unsurprisingly, we awoke a little later on the morning following our engagement celebrations. With changeable weather forecast again, we put off plans to visit Disneyland until the following day and instead headed to Sainte Chappelle, a royal chapel in the Île de la Cité, near to Notre Dame.
Sometimes I walk into a religious building and can’t help but release an audible ‘wow’, and this one was up there with the wow I let go at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The upper floor’s fifteen enormous thirteenth century stained glass windows are breath taking, and while they don’t quite measure up to Dirty Dick’s mural of a bikini clad babe on a beach, they’re pretty special, and would make Sainte Chappelle the most beautiful building we visited in Paris.
Notre Dame had a lot to live up to, and I’m not sure if I was all churched out by this point, or whether the stunning Sainte Chappelle still had our eyes dazzling with stained glass, but we didn’t end up spending too much time in what is possibly the most famous cathedral in the world. Of course, Notre Dame has its own stained glass to show off, with its three rose windows allowing light to beam into an otherwise gloomy interior, and the stone work and Gothic architecture are things to be marvelled at, but there was no Quasimodo, and we’d had a late night, so we grabbed some lunch near to Eglise Saint Paul, considered walking to visit the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, but was put off by a bit of rain so went back to the hotel for a nap instead.
That evening we dined at La Palanche D’Aulac, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant which offered up more faux meat that even the most discerning carnivore would have failed to spot. My ‘four seasons’, a selection of skewered ‘meats’, was to die for, and Sammy’s smoked tofu in a vegetable broth tasted a great deal better than it sounds. Coming in at under €40 including a bottle of house red and a shared starter, made this meal not only one of the best, but also the cheapest. Perhaps it’s because veganism is struggling to break its way into the psyche of the average diner that restaurants such as this and Vegebowl’s prices remain so low, but judging by the number of customers we saw packed around their tables, you certainly get the impression that there is room for more of them in the market.
We walked to Pont Alexandre III (that big fancy bridge) in the dark so that we could see the city at night, particularly the Eiffel Tower, which on the hour, every hour, performs its impersonation of a giant Christmas tree, rapidly sparkling its lights and beaming a searchlight across the city. Unfortunately for me, nature was calling quite urgently, so I made a beeline for a public toilet booth, only to find it engaged. When the door slid open I ceased my little dance and ran straight inside, much to the protestations of the taxi driver that had just exited. Assuming he was disgruntled because I hadn’t paid a fee to enter, I ignored his wild Gallic gesticulations and carried on in, but he was not having it at all. I walked back out and tried to communicate with my very limited French to his non-existent English that time was of the essence, however he continued pointing at a sign on the door and making the international sign for ‘shower’, until it began to dawn on me that this man had just saved me from a disaster. The door slowly closed behind me and a washing machine-like whirring stirred within. I was unaware that the public toilets in Paris began a complete deep clean cycle after every use, where the whole cubicle is blasted with hot water and then dried. Great idea. We should do it here. I just had no idea.
After the obligatory nightcap at Dirty Dick’s, we bid farewell to our favourite bar of the trip and retired to the hotel, where I polished off some more of that strong Belgian beer, and Sammy began to peruse wedding venues.
Our final day was the postponed trip to Disneyland. Travelling to the park was easy enough on the direct train from Nation station, if a little crowded to begin with. As you would expect, Disneyland was full of children of all ages, most of whom I found intolerable. I told my new fiancée that I would be getting a vasectomy on our return to England, to prevent any possibility of acquiring a child of my own. (This statement has since been retracted pending further review.)
Disneyland is exactly what you would expect it to be, a huge commercial venture aimed at giving children and fans of all ages the full Disney experience, meeting cartoon heroes while simultaneously emptying the wallets of anyone with a wallet. For me personally, the highlights were the rides, with the Hollywood Tower of Terror and Star Wars re-branded Hyperspace Mountain just about justifying the hour long queues for each. Sammy enjoyed the many giftshops that were dotted all over the park, each exactly the same as the last in my eyes, each unique and full of completely different merchandise in hers.
We were tired. We had managed to pack in so much in the four days preceding Disneyland, and exerted so much energy in the process, that by late afternoon we couldn’t face another queue. With all of the gifts bought, we went back into Paris and returned to Vegebowl, where I had something that was so duck-like (soft flesh, crispy skin, coated in hoi-sin sauce) that there is no possibility that that stuff had never quacked.
There were a lot of things for us to take home from Paris. A new engagement ring for Sammy, significantly less money that we left with, the experience of visiting some of the most famous, and most beautiful landmarks in the world, and a better understanding of the troubles facing the city and its less fortunate occupants. I’ll admit, before our trip I had my concerns about going. Over recent years the City of Love’s reputation has taken a bit of a bashing, with stories of terrorism and gang violence slipping into our collective consciousness and tarnishing public opinion. You only have to look at the hundreds of paranoid tourists milling around the place with their rucksacks worn the wrong way around, so that the bag is against their chest like a papoose, to see that the fear of becoming a victim of crime is prevalent. Perhaps we were lucky, that we lasted the five days blissfully unscathed and ignorant to any criminality, and that our encounters with the locals were on the whole, very pleasant. What’s more likely I believe, is that Paris is a city like any other. There are good areas and bad, there are good people and bad. I didn’t feel any more or less safe than in London, Amsterdam, or Bradford, (Okay, I felt marginally safer than in Bradford), and were it not for Sammy’s overwhelming desire to spend her thirtieth birthday there, Paris would, due to these misconceptions, have been very low on my ‘to visit’ list, which would have been a terrible shame.
The main thing I brought back from Paris, was happiness. I saw so much, I did so much, I felt so much, and best of all, the person who made it all happen has agreed to spend the rest of her life with me.