That was the question we had to answer very quickly one night when Eurostar announced its January sale and tickets for trains at reasonable hours were disappearing .
It came down to this: we’d been to Paris, several times, but never Brussels. ‘Brussels!’ announced Pete on a whim. ‘Booked!’ I replied.
I announced the happy news on Facebook and then the jibes started. Why did we want to go to Brussels? Brussels is boring! Go to Paris, it’s way better! Or Bruges. Or Ghent. Basically anywhere but the poor old capital of Belgium.
I wrote on The Journey’s the thing that I missed getting a shot of the underground tropical garden paradise on the Paris Metro (Line 14, platform on the Olympiades direction side). But I got it on the way back.
Here it is…
As Robert Louis Stevenson said in 1881:
“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive..”
The journey can be its own reward – unless you’ve ever endured an overnight bus journey in Asia – and I admit, I was very much looking forward to today’s 11-hour multi-rail trip. Here was the route:
Bournville-Birmingham New Street-London Euston-St Pancras International-Paris Gard du Nord-Paris Bercy-Clermont-Ferrand.
I didn’t go by rail for any amazing views, though there were some to be had, but I badly needed the chance to watch the world go by for a few hours and just catch up on ‘stuff’. There is also something of the romance of travel in the variety of rail stations you pass through – something you don’t get with modern airports.
The other thing that fascinates about ground travel is that everything is looked at afresh, eagerly and vividly – from the continuous line of graffiti on the approach to Paris to patterns in the paving stones in historic Clermont. I didn’t manage to snap the unexpected tropical garden, complete with palm trees, beside the No 14 line from Gare de Lyon (update: got it on the return journey) but I snapped all else that caught my eye today.
Below is the story of the journey in pictures and there are more in the full set of lo-fi phone pics is on Flickr. Continue reading
After shunting Paris out of the limelight in my last post, I’m now driven to post some of the less obvious pictures of the city to rebalance the universe. This ‘surprise’ selection is all taken from my trip there in April 2010.
1. Walking through walls
2. Giant bicycle
3. Urban cows
4. Bloody face
5. La chaise (geddit?)
6. Surprise bear
7. Mushroom chimneys
8. Copper Metro
9. Photographic grave
10. Pavement art by Louis Trondheim
11. Giant mirrorball
12. Verdigris body
13. Bonus cemetery cat
15. Sunny yellow seats
16. Mosaic grafitti artist
17. Parc de la Villette folly
18. The kiss
19. Optical lines
20. I spy
Each time I go to Paris – five or six times now – the experience is different, even though the city remains pretty much the same. On arrival I notice… The lack of homogenous high streets. How boxy the trains are on the Metro. The colourful shiny riveted-on plastic bucket seats on the platform. Tourists, hawkers and buskers outside Sacre Coeur; while at the still centre, the altar glows peaceful as a nativity scene. City cemeteries with their own route maps to the dead rich and dead famous. Historic, grandiose architecture up above; streets lined with mopeds, bicycles, windmills and people below. Boutique shops. Crabby hotels. Swarms of tourists. Les cafés. Gauloises. Drains. Panorama. Abundant life.
But, in reality and selfishly, this is all just backdrop for some of the stories of my life. Paris is where I spent my 21st birthday with four friends, drinking tequila slammers in honour of Betty Blue, my favourite film at the time. Paris is a competition win, when we won free tickets in The Great British Airways Seat Giveaway (when every BA seat was given away one St George’s Day); on the same trip, I came down with chicken pox. It is where my best friend and I killed an evening between trains from London to Venice, and again on the way back at dawn between Munich and London. And this year, it was the first-ever Content Strategy conference, and a photographic outing (see next post ‘Unexpected Paris‘) with TTV Pete (pictured above).
Looking back I realise I’ve always been there with a precious person or people, and that’s what makes the city great and good and interesting and memorable for me. Those friends/lovers are as much a part of the fabric of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. And the two can’t be separated. In other places, it’s the people I meet there; in Paris, it’s the people who’ve come with me.