This morning was a struggle; I’m not too keen on early rises on the best of days, yet due to a mixture of excitement and watching too much late night television, I didn’t sleep last night at all, meaning that the 6am rush to the train station was something I didn’t particular enjoy. The train to London was, thankfully, without delay, and with the exception of having to sit on our bags in between carriages, we made it to St Pancras without any drama whatsoever, which my tired brain was extremely grateful for. Once there, we picked up some snacks from the station, went through Eurostar security (which, by the way, is well worth arriving early for, as we had no queues whatsoever), and soon found ourselves en route to Paris.
I had stirred from my zombie state by the time we stepped onto Gare du Nord, and we embraced the warmth of the foreign sun by sitting outside the exit, figuring out where on Earth our hotel was in relation to our position. After a brief session of map reading, we realised it was a simple 1km walk in a straight line; the weight of our bags and the bustle of Paris meant that we didn’t really stop to take in any sights, choosing to dump our bags in the safety of the hotel before popping back out onto the street. For obvious reasons, I won’t release the hotel name until after we have departed, but I’ll be sure to include a thorough review as and when we leave. I will say, however, that it’s been okay so far, but most definitely not the best.
After a little break to change our clothes and refresh, we decided to not look at any maps or plan anything, but to stroll around the immediate area and gather our bearings; this turned out to be a really nice way to get a little perspective on our location and see what was on our doorstep; I was pleasantly surprising by the vibrant textiles stores and the numerous stands/shops selling antiques, restored furniture, and cute little trinkets that my grandmother and girlfriend would have both loved. Feeling a little peckish after our brief recon, we decided to stop somewhere for some food, and chose a little street café called ‘Le Panorama’, which was full of locals enjoying a bowl of nuts and a beer. We ordered ‘Poulet frites’, expecting an escalope style chicken dish with french fries, yet we were given a plate laden with a huge chunk of slow cooked, incredibly tender chicken glazed in a sauce of mushrooms, onion, and celery on a bed of thick and chunky chips. It may not have been what we imagined, but it was certainly tasty, and even with our ravished appetite we only managed to eat a little more than half of the serving. With two bottles of Coke, the bill came to EUR.30, and we both left with full stomachs.
We had heard about a funky little bar/club hybrid called ‘Le Comptoir General‘, and we decided we should go and check it out; heading back to the hotel, we changed out of our shorts, donned some trousers and a shirt, and began to find our way. The walk was about a mile and a half of gentle downhill, accompanied by the aroma of freshly baked bread and the gentle buzz of calming traffic; we were both taken aback at how empty the streets were, and beyond a few packed bars, the majority of the journey was comprised of stretches of quiet roads populated by the occasional cyclist – it was bliss. We crossed the canal and attempted to find the bar.
Eventually, we discovered it hiding behind a giant green gate that seemed slightly ominous; we were unsure of what we were heading into, but boy were we glad we went. We entered through a dimly lit hallway adorned with giant paintings, photographs, and tribal artwork, walking over stretched rugs that led the way. The hum and buzz of a busy bar began to echo, and we found ourselves in a large, open space furnished with antique oddities, giant rum casks, and palm trees, all bathing under a rusty amber glow. Crowds of locals, ranging in a manner of styles and ages, laughed and chatted away from the comfort of the sofas, popping back and forth from the incredibly cool bar; it looked like it had been taken from an old wooden ship, with false candles shedding a morsel of carefully position light onto the shelves lined with dusty bottles, shells, and ropes. This pirate theme wasn’t too “fancy dress-esque” and retained a cool, intriguing mystery that was reflected in the drinks menu; we approached the friendly barman and I managed to choke on some GCSE French, ordering a “Rhum Gingembre” (rum, pineapple and ginger) for myself, whilst Jacob opted for the rather ambiguous “Ti-Punch” (rum, sugar and mint). The barman nodded, turned to a selection of steel vats behind him, poured our cocktails, and took our money in about ten seconds, leaving us a bit confused as to what had happened. Both drinks were amazing, yet Jacob’s quite literally was just rum and sugar, so he opted for a “Planteur” next, our favourite of the night: rum, banana, guava, mango and orange served over ice with a big wedge of lime. Drinks were EUR. 8, and certainly worth it.
As the slow ooze of French hip-hop poured out from the speakers, we headed to the smoking area, which was revealed to be a small room with benches running either side; we sat and listened to a woman sing French lullabies to her boyfriend, had a cigarette, and decided not to dwell on the surreal nature of what had happened. We stayed for an hour or so, and decided to move next door, enjoying a kerbside table at “Canelleto Caffé“. We shared a EUR. 10 stone baked pizza, packed with fresh mozzarella and basil, enjoyed a beer, and went back to the hotel, where I am now lying, falling slowly into slumber, trying desperately to make this understandable.
Tomorrow, we’re heading to bookstores. I’m excited. Photos of today will follow as soon as I get them from my SD card and find good enough wifi to upload.