Our second day in Paris dawned exactly as every other residential school trip dawns: to the sound of multiple alarms on different students’ phones being muffled by pillows, smothered with a sleepy hand, or abused violently by sleep-deprived teenagers desperate for another few minutes of peace. Or, if they belong to me, completely ignored as I slept through it entirely, waking up several minutes later when somebody else’s alarm went off.
From there it continued with a disappointing breakfast and then, after maybe lying about how many keys they’d actually given us to our room to cover up the fact we’d lost one of them, out onto the streets of Paris, where we visited Sacre Coeur basilica. It looked wonderful, perched on top of a hill with steps leading up to it from street level … until we realised we had to climb all the way up.
However, it had its own amusing moments. A tourist in a frankly hilarious yellow hat photobombed almost all our pictures, presumably accidentally; there was some sort of classic car event going on with some lovely vehicles, some interesting mopeds, and a collection of inexplicable tractors. Armed police were everywhere, as they had been the day before, but in daylight at least they were a little less intimidating.
And we soon worked out why they were there. People selling tourist tat were everywhere, mostly model Eiffel towers despite the fact that we were nowhere near it, but it turns out they’re not allowed to sell it there. Security intercepted one of them, throwing his products on the floor and telling tourists to help themselves. Five minutes later the police were gone and the guy set out a new load to start selling again. What a joke.
The basilica was beautiful, inside and out. It had a decorative ceiling – hard to tell if it was mosaic or painted from the distance, but anyway there was a terrifyingly large Jesus judging you from on high – and statues and stuff everywhere. All the paraphernalia of a fancy Catholic basilica, really. But it was hard to enjoy the obvious beauty when there were beggars on the steps, a blind man sitting there, an old woman asking for money.
I know the basilica was built hundreds of years ago. It says inside that it’s maintained solely by donations and asking people to give generously so that they can keep the building beautiful. But it didn’t seem right that there were enough donations to maintain something so sumptuous while there were homeless people right outside.
Maybe I get too hung up on stuff like this – I had the same issue at Notre Dame – but I’m pretty sure in the Bible it says, “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked, you clothed me.” You know, all that stuff. Not, “When I was an omniscient deity, you built me a whopping great cathedral.”
I just feel like the medieval and renaissance Church didn’t have its priorities straight. And the modern Church hasn’t made up for it yet.
From there we travelled to the Eiffel Tower, got spectacularly lost, and spent far too long looking for a freaking huge metal tower in the middle of a city. I mean, you’d think we’d be able to see it, right? Wrong. It was pretty cloudy, very cold, and the foggy clouds were low enough that the top of the Tower was entirely hidden from view, even up close. So we really didn’t have a chance.
We got there in the end, though. It’s on quite an exposed area, and we were absolutely freezing by that point. The top level was closed due to the cloud anyway, but we were pretty glad we weren’t climbing it. At any height I think the January air would have been unbearable.
After walking around and taking some Eiffel Tower selfies (okay, just me?) we caught the RER, an alternative to the Paris Metro. From what our teacher told us, there are three lines: the A is useless and never turns up, the B is a scuzz-pit and smells absolutely rank, and the C is pretty nice and also … DOUBLE DECKER TRAINS.
Yeah, we were very excited about that. And of course, we insisted on going on the top deck, because what’s the point in a double decker train if you don’t go on the top?
Our sightseeing ‘tour’ as it were took us to the Louvre. While we didn’t go in, we admired the architecture from outside and examined the bizarre glass pyramids dutifully, though I can’t see for the life of me what the point of them is. (I’m sure there is one.) Then we walked through the park on the other side, after being accosted by more illegal Eiffel Tower sellers, past a lot of bizarre sculptures involving headless children, and reached a small market which seemed to be left over from Christmas.
And bought crepes. I ordered mine with sugar only; too late I saw they had lemon too, and I could have had my favourite pancake combination. Never mind.
Our hunger somewhat assuaged, we headed back to the Metro and managed to lose the station, so two of our group were dispatched to ask a nearby policeman where it was in brave, if not flawless, French. After reaching it, we consulted on routes and I’m proud of myself for being able to spot on the map that we could take the 8 and change, rather than the route our teacher initially suggested because she hadn’t realised we could take the 8 from there.
That took us back in the direction of our hostel, and we settled down to eat lunch in a restaurant. We’d have plenty of time to eat dessert here, right? No more mousse au chocolat moments. We’d eat, fetch our bags from the hostel, and catch the Eurostar in plenty of time.
Except after we placed our order it took about forty minutes for them even to bring us drinks. And another twenty after that to bring us food. (I had chicken and chips. Like the day before. Three meals in a row – I was bored sick of it.) We wolfed down our main course, but we only had twenty minutes to get to the Eurostar check-in. Half our group were still eating, so my table upped and offed to fetch the suitcases from the lockers in the hostel, abandoning everybody else to finish and face the questions.
Half-running along, we all took as many bags as we could manage and headed back to the restaurant. We’d already gathered the money, which was just as well, because we were supposed to be checked in at the station by that point. Our teacher shoved the money in the direction of the waiters – “If it covers it, it covers it, and if it doesn’t, they don’t deserve it anyway. We should’ve just walked out” – and we hurried over the road to Gare du Nord for the journey home.
We’d missed group check-in, so entirely unsuspiciously, we attempted to check in as individuals despite the fact our tickets had our school name printed on. We must have been the most suspicious group of teenagers ever, half of us saying we were a group, the other half saying we weren’t, variations within the answers (“just friends” or “a school group”), but nobody accused us of terrorism and we made it through.
And of course we were in plenty of time for our train, even if there was nowhere comfortable to sit in the terminal, and once we got there and were seated it was smooth travelling all the way home, where I ate hurriedly a meal that wasn’t chicken or chips and settled down to watch Sherlock.
Ah, Paris. Protests, poverty, and restaurants that – to borrow a phrase from St Mall’s – were slower than a snail walking backwards through treacle. Which I guess they’d probably eat. You know, being French.
I’m sure there are half a dozen different things that I’ve forgotten to include, like the way the phrase “mousse au chocolat” will cause anyone on the trip to crease up into laughter, or the way we threatened to walk out of the restaurant at least twice, and I’m sure my fellow travellers have plenty of stories to add.
But that’s what I remember of it, so I suppose that’s all that can have been interesting enough to stay in my memory, ha ha!
I have some photos from Paris on my Facebook page, but other than that, I’m probably not going to talk about it again. That’s the story. Voila, ended.