I wanted to arrive in Paris in style and so I took the Eurostar. In New Zealand, high speed trains simply do not exist and I do not think they will for a very long time. This is why when one is in Europe one must make the most of the high speed rail network. The Eurostar is like no other train ride in the world and this is partly due to the unique breed of passengers you will find in your carriage. I was sitting next to a writer who whipped out his brown leather notebook when we were passing beneath the English Channel and started to scribble down little verses of poetry. He had pulled down the tray table from the seat in front to write and was writing so intensely that the tray was jiggling up and down. I didn’t want to disturb him so I went for a stroll through the carriage. There were businessmen pounding the keys on their laptops, teenagers staring nonchalantly at their iPad screens and perfectly coiffed women flicking languourously through the pages of Vogue.
On the Eurostar you can buy strawberry cheesecake in a jar. I ate mine while staring out at the little villages of northern France blanketed in snow. Roads weaved through the snow like black ribbon. The Eurostar has its own bilingual magazine called Metropolitain with humorous little articles about life in Paris and London. You should really have a read of it sometime.
As the Eurostar chugged into the Gare du Nord I stared out the foggy window. The rooftop of Sacre Coeur was barely distinguishable above the hazy grey parisian sky. Smoke billowed from chimney tops. Little attic rooms dotted the skyline. I imagined sitting in one of those attic rooms and looking down at the lights of Paris at night.
If you don’t want to be swept away by a sea of people at the Gare du Nord, you have to stand your ground. This might mean shoving past people who get in your way. This worked out for me just fine because my colossal backpack acted like a battering ram. “Watch out for pickpocketers. Il faut faire attention, hein” warned my friend who rescued me and showed me the way to the metro. My pack was so heavy that it felt like I was giving a piggy back ride to an obese 12 year old.
Paris is associated with glamour. Fashion week, models, decadent gateaux, dashing young men roaming around in designer Hermes suits, a romantic wine on a balcony at sunset. In reality Paris is just like any other big city. It is filled with crime, homelessness and doggy do. Every day I walk past a homeless person curled up in a sleeping bag under a bench at a metro station. Despite this, Paris happens to house more museums than almost any other city in the world. And the museums are astounding. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I saw Rodin’s L’Age d’Airain up close at the Musee d’Orsay. Behold those sculpted muscles. Quelle finesse.