Back to Paris
When the pandemic was at a peak and lockdown seemed to persist with no end in sight, I said to my husband “The minute we are able to travel, we are getting on a Eurostar and going to Paris!” For a couple who loves to travel and does it four times a year, not going somewhere or having a vacation to look forward to was very depressing. I understand that this is a massive privilege and not everyone has the luxury of travel in their lives for whatever reason, but we do and this is part of our happy life. So being London-locked (as much as I love London) was starting to grate.
The brief was clear: a few days in Paris to eat, drink and be merry. Hopping a train to the most romantic city in the world had previously been a breeze. When a single journey is roughly £29, it was also always a cheap way to travel. We were previously AirBNB fans, so we just felt like we were living the Parisian lifestyle. Now with COVID, things were a little more complicated. And not as cheap as before.
We had waited for a while before deciding to travel. I still was not 100% comfortable with traveling on the underground, and we both didn’t really feel like flying was an option we were yet ready for. Taking a train seemed to hit our comfort level. I know this sounds weird. The only difference between an enclosed plane and an enclosed train is where it is located in proximity to the ground. However, everyone has their own level of acceptance in the world of the new normal. I have a friend who is happy to go to the theatre, but isn’t quite ready for a busy restaurant. Now more than ever, it is important that YOU DO YOU!
So the decision for Eurostar was the right method of travel for us. Plus, going Eurostar is just easier. There is no limit on luggage weight, so the prospect of bringing back bottles of wine was unlimited. It takes 90 minutes minimum to get to an airport, but only 40 minutes to get from home to King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station. You can arrive at the departure gates about an hour prior to your train time, instead of two hours. Yet, in the new normal, there are more forms to fill out.
We traveled after 4th October, which meant that the regulations had changed — again! This time, UK passengers arriving in France did not need a COVID test before arrival or require quarantine, but they did require a Pass Sanitaire and a Declaration form. The Pass Sanitaire was proof that you had been vaccinated, and was easily obtained by downloading the NHS app and getting our medical records synced with our COVID shots. The Declaration form from the French government website was a passenger declaration that you had not been ill or experienced any symptoms in the last 14 days.
For the return journey, UK arrivals who had been vaccinated needed to complete a Passenger Locator Form, which included the booking of a Day 2 test. The tests are about £60 each, so this is probably a barrier for some. Once you booked the test (which we did before we left for the trip) you are given a unique identifier code. That is what you need to complete the Passenger Locator Form, which is done online from the UK government website and within 48 hours of your return journey.
Whew! All of that out of the way — and now it was a matter of planning the trip. We decided to go for a hotel instead of AirBNB. Again, we opted for this as a comfort level, thinking that cleaning of the room would be more frequent and monitored at a higher standard. I could be wrong, but these are the lies you tell yourself when you are trying to get to a real croissant.
On our previous Paris trip in 2017, we had planned to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and visit the Catacombs. Both of those events were cancelled because we arrived on the morning of the terrorist attacks. So, we decided to pick up where we left off and those two things were booked. We also booked a food tour of La Marais. Food tours have become a standard practice for all of our trips. We always book one for the first day we are there. Why? Because one of the best ways to experience a new culture is to ingest it! Eat the food!! Talk with a local!
Also, this was born out of necessity. As a London tour guide, I know where all the restaurants are and I have a list of ‘places to try’ saved to my Google map on my phone. When I am in a foreign city, I don’t know where the best food is, and when we get hungry, we get irritable. So, taking a food tour is great because you learn a little, you eat a little, and you find places you can easily come back to when the hunger demons begin to creep in.
Of course, we have visited Paris many times, so there are a few restaurants and food items that we already knew about. Priorities in order, I needed some decent croissants, but also crepes. I needed one with apricot jam and one with creme de marron (chestnut cream). My husband needed one with Speciloos butter. It tastes like a melted graham cracker. Nutella is for tourists and novices, of which we do not identify.
It was simply magical to walk around Paris and enjoy life. Masks were worn everywhere and we happily obliged. Metro riders all complied with a mask mandate, unlike the London Underground where no one seems to read the signs that ask you to wear a mask. Hand sanitiser was everywhere and used by everyone, unlike in London where bottles are left empty or have disappeared altogether. Entry into any location, be it restaurant, store or attraction, required a flash of your Pass Sanitaire. It was these small measures that made me feel safe. Again, everyone’s new normal is different.
Chatting with one of our taxi drivers, he said that vaccinations in France had rolled out well. He said that everyone was getting them. There was a new rule coming up at the end of October that stated that if you are vaccinated and you need a COVID test, it would be free. If you were not vaccinated, you would have to pay for the test. Tests are often required for travel or work or attending events, so having to pay for them would begin to add up.
For the first time, I went thrift shopping in Paris. After watching all of these TikTok videos of people thrift store shopping in America, I stumbled onto someone doing it in Paris. I had noted the names of the shops on my Google map list and made my way to the stores. Thrift shopping is hit or miss when you have curves like mine, but I was able to find many things that fit. I didn’t purchase much, only one white peasant blouse that looks like my Mary Poppins costume and my Ghost Pirate Tour costume decided to get together and have a baby. There were beautiful fur (fake or real, not sure) coats that were reasonably priced, but the shoulders were just a bit to snug for me. I’ll have to go back for more!
The biggest part of any vacation is the souvenirs. For us, it is more about consumable goods rather than nicknacks. In Paris, we had some stores that we had to visit to stock up. First, there is Maille, the French mustard shop where I always buy one of each flavour. They are small little pots of deliciousness, and I have a serious addiction to mustard. Next up was La Cure Gourmand. This is a French biscuit/cookie shop. They have these almond cookies that are super dense and flaky and they just melt in your mouth. Also the nougat is not to be missed.
Finally, I had to visit Conserverie la belle-iloise. They are a tinned fish company. I know… it sounds weird, but they have delicious tinned fish. Ok, so think sardines, but with extra flavours. I know this is available at local supermarkets, but this place is on a higher level. I often take a small tin of their fish and some crackers and have that as lunch. I would do this alot in between tours. Packed with protein, it kept me going when I had three tours a day. You could find me sitting at the steps of Duke of York column enjoying some Émietté de maquereau aux Graines de Paradis. They stopped shipping to the UK thanks to Brexit, so I made sure to stock up.
Overall, it was a very romantic week. Was it because we walked the streets of Montmarte and recalled our first trip to Paris (when we got engaged at Versailles)? Was it the fact that I didn’t plan anything before 11:30am so we could sleep in and then go for croissants at the local boulangerie? Was it the fact that I didn’t once think about having to do the dishes? Who knows…. one thing is for sure…Paris is always a good idea!