I’m a big fan of Eurostar, so it was a pleasure to help them launch their new #WheninParis campaign by taking a mini excursion to the city.
Eurostar sent me to Paris with a mission. To capture stories in Paris. My Paris.
Ten years ago, a coach took me to see the surprisingly tiny Mona Lisa in the Louvre, and Kandinsky in the Pompidou Centre.
It was a school art trip that saw my friends and I snickering on the Metro to the red light district, visiting sex shops and Le Chat Noir. By day we visited the Notre Dame. We raced each other down the hill from the Sacre Coeur. We ascended the Eiffel Tower and braved the fierce winds that howled at our faces.
And then couple of years ago I went to house sit for a family friend in Noisy-le-Sec, on the outskirts of Paris, which has a large North African and Algerian community. The station was also where many soldiers left from to serve in the Great War from 1914 – 1918 and a plaque there commemorates this.
The English friend in Noisy-le-Sec had lived mainly around that area for 30 years. Her flat was up a curling French staircase and was cosy and colourful. This somewhat grittier version of Paris, with many main roads and flyovers to tackle on foot, involved negotiating RER trains to get into the centre, where I visited Père Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père Lachaise) twice, as well as Montmartre. Friends took me on a film tour of Montmartre, that included the vegetable shop and cafe from the film Amelie.
The following summer I returned again, on my way to Palermo, Sicily, by train from London. I stopped over and stayed at a friend’s apartment in central Paris and visited the Catacombs.
He took me out to Nouille on 1 rue Faidherbe, where they make their own noodles and then to drink margaritas in a Spanish bar called Candelaria.
This time, with Eurostar #WheninParis, I wanted to filter these experiences into what a typical visit might be for me. I was put up at the Mercure Terminus Nord right opposite Gard du Nord. The room was on the fifth floor and had quite simply, the best view I’ve had from a hotel.
I arranged to see both friends I had previously stayed with and to revisit the Notre Dame and Père Lachaise.
The first evening, I met the family friend and she took me to La Paella, not far from Gare du Nord, where we ordered tapas.
I found the French Hunter S. Thompson…
I went back to the hotel via Gare du Nord…
And after a good sleep, I was up early to visit Père Lachaise…
Afterwards, I met the friend who’d once shown me the noodle bar and we walked beside the Seine, from where the river comes out of the ground, to a wonderful French Bistro called Chez Prune.
I ordered a steak with potatoes dauphinoise and a glass of organic wine. My friend had the fish parcels. After lunch I took the Metro to the Notre Dame and photographed people on their way to wherever they were going.
One girl posed for me and smiled…
When I arrived at the Notre Dame it was raining and there was a queue. Two elderly tourists had bright umbrellas that blew upwards in the wind. I took their photograph.
I went inside. Tourists filed around the cathedral rustling and clicking. And I left following an epiphany of sorts. The story was no longer in the landmarks for me, it was in the people. And when I thought about, this was probably true of most places, for me. I vowed to visit the people before the obvious landmarks in future.
I passed a man making Nutella crepes and bought one before scuttling back on to the Metro to take photographs and returning to the Gare du Nord to catch the train back to London.