The lunch pack of Notre Dame Day Paris

As I type we are arguing about the quality of the title I have given this post at its inception. Our champagne is in constant danger of going flying, and neither of us can remember the apparently blinding pun I came up with about 6 hours ago. Let's see how this post goes...

Hello. I'm on Eurostar, with Helen. It's about fuck-knows o'clock on Saturday March 12th, a day which had been marked as DARREN KEEP THIS DAY FREE in the calendar since Christmas 2015. With only Morecambe vs AFC Wimbledon to tempt* me away this was not a hard task, much easier in fact than Helen found keeping a secret what it was she had planned for me/us.

Christmas present

Honestly this is a moderately challenging post to write already; since the arguments about the main title (which may yet be resolved before the thing is complete), I am also being passed notes about the pungency of cheese in our possession and our fellow passengers' reactions to it. I can't smell a fuckng thing, and I've no idea how Helen has suddenly developed a nose that works so well either.

Anyway. I'm trying not to digress. It's March 12th, and this morning I woke up still with no idea where we were going today. The Christmas present was "a day trip" and all I knew for sure was:

  • it was somewhere foreign
  • I would be wearing newly purchased merch of a band from the country we'd be visiting
  • there was no flying involved
  • it was a day trip, no overnight stay

Helen wasn't sure how I knew there'd be no flying. I'm convinced she had said exactly that, when telling me why there was a bottle of champagne in her fridge - 'for the trip'. We were hardly going to check it in as luggage to somewhere.

Several people did know where we were going. Iza got told near Christmas when visiting Surrey. Wooj and Ian got told at a recent meal. Loz and Arnold got told in the garden at the Antelope, and Arnold was all like "yeah, I think that'll be good" (in particular about the band and t-shirt). The merch is because I realised I'd accidentally worn a band shirt of the country I was visiting in my Jan and Feb foreign trips, so she was keen for that to continue. Bravo, says I.

Other things had been mentioned in the intervening months: she was worried I was going to hate it, organisation was still incomplete on the morning of March 11th, and, um, no I think that was about it. So that's the back story. A secret well kept. Given the logistical challenges, my guesses had been limited to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Ireland seems a stretch and I'm not sure you can get to Spain and back in a day by boat. If I'd been forced to place a bet, I'd have gone all-in on Belgium,

I went to work on Friday with my passport a bag of blogging paraphernalia. Within an hour I'd felt dizzy, unable to read my watch, irritable, starving hungry and thirsty, wobbly and just generally all kinds of fucked up so left before lunch, which kinda made me wonder if Saturday would even be on at all. Went straight to Helen's via a litre of sugary drinks after a remote diagnosis of hypoglycaemia and promptly fell asleep for 4 hours. (This paragraph is largely for the benefit of any colleagues, regardless of seniority, who thought maybe I was slacking off: fuck you! I thought I was going to pass out at my desk!)

Come the evening and I feel up to a couple of beers. While watching a documentary about fans of disabled porn, Helen manages to keep mostly schtum, except for revealing that lots of travelling would be on trains. Aha! Though realisitically that only knocked out... nowhere. Spain I guess. Alarms are set for 6am, though. Perhaps Spain is still on?

As usual the feline alarm goes off first, and I am presented with page 1 of what is, sadly, a 1 page information back about the day. Pages 2 and further would have been produced but I interrupted the day off with my illness so this was my lot. Also, a t-shirt.

Champagne! Huzzah! And a picture of St Pancras and a Gojira t-shirt. Well, I guess we're going to France then. Tres bien! And given that I'd apparently recently mentioned our destination as somewhere I hate, it must surely be Paris. Mais oui!

Earlier than a commute, we're at a very misty Thames Ditton station in plenty of time for the 0726. There's lots of sugary breakfast to be eaten, for numerous reasons including my clear requirement for sucrose and early nourishment lest I have another passing out moment. I'm also given the news that Salford council have recently banned swearing at the quays. you fucking what?

At Vauxhall we change for the Victoria line, and at St Pancras after a quick vape we go through the rigmarole of making our way towards a platform. First, boarding passes. Then security. Then the UK exit border. Then the Schengen area entry border. Maybe that's not the right order, I dunno, but bloody hell. Anyway then we are trainside and looking for somewhere to sit. This proves difficult, because there are fucking hundreds of people around includng what seems to be 4 or 5 entire schools.

Sat in the priority seats (for no reason other than they were the only ones spare) but not in the lounge, we have more sugar. I used to have a card that let me in the lounge y'know. Used it twice in 7 years. Ah well.

The wait's quality improves when vast quantities of children board the 0858 to fuck knows where. We're on the 0924 to Paris, along with hundreds of other people. Before boarding I discover Eurostar have some new trains and obviously this excites me. Helen has never been on Eurostar despite some school or sixth form thing she was in where they sang a song about the channel tunnel ("sur la mer!") and did so well they got taken to France to perform it... by boat.

But, anyway, yes, new trains. After much faffing I figure out the new trains have 16 coaches instead of 18, and coach 14 is standard premier or business premier. We aren't premier in any way so must be on a crappy old train, and so it proves. We find the seats pretty quickly but with 15 minutes before departure I'm like, fuck it, think I'll go get a picture of the front of the train.

Walking up the platform, at the front there are loads of these cart things that look like the crates they load onto planes. Does Eurostar even have checked luggage? They're taking up a lot of the platform and as I skirt around shiftily behind them a man in a high-vis security jacket says "are you alright there, sir?" to me. "I just want a photo of the front of the train mate" says I. "Follow me, sir" and hey presto, I get escorted around the crates and beyond the "no passengers beyond this point" sign just so I can get a photo of a train I know fuck all about because for fucks sake, I am not Mark nor Silky nor t'other Mark. Cool escort though.

Back at the carriage and it's carnage. A huge gang of sixth formers plus 2 or 3 teachers have gotten on. Helen and I have table seats with no-one opposite us, and the teachers across the aisle eye our 0920 champagne with jealousy. Oh, is it only 0920 and we're on the champagne? I guess it is and I guess we are (and I guess I've written this much already, eesh).

It's under 3 hours by train to Paris Gare du Nord, so there's not much I can write about. Helen correctly opines "we should always travel with champagne!" and we debate her ability to be deprived of nicotine on an 11hr flight. There's a huge queue of cargo vans waiting at Ashford to get into the tunnel. We chat about and other geeky shit like that, and I say how I've had this idea that I should finish a day trip to France blog post with like a 1920s silent French cinema final shot of like a framed "Fin" or something.

This leads to a good hour or so of me trying to create a "fin" shot from a terrible photo of some trees from a fast moving train while she shows off her writing and drawing skill. I wish I could do shit like this.

She draws real matches when I tell her most goregrind band logos look like someone's thrown a bunch of matches or twigs on a table and say, fuck it, our name's in there somewhere. Her attempt to decipher the old (and better) Waking the Cadaver logo ends with an almost violent proclamation that it says Woking Camel.

Oh, and then we're in Paris! Fuck! It's just coming up to 1pm and as we disembark the teacher leading the sixth formers is warning her students that the metro is horrible. I've warned Helen of this too, and away we go to find the RER line B. I don't know where we're going, but apparently we've got about 90 minutes to get somewhere and the train will take 30 so there's a fair bit of grace.

Paris public transport is awful and one of the reasons for my previously proclaimed hatred. It stinks and is full of wankers. We need an identikit mother and daughter to begrudgingly move their feet from some spare seats so we can rest our totally-not-weary-legs for the reeks-of-eggs two stop trip.

Oh, we're outside Notre Dame, some famous cathedral or other. It's on an island in the middle of the Seine. I've been to Paris several times before but honestly I'm not sure if I've been here. That's not to say I haven't, but I don't remember it. It's lovely, the sun is out and the place looks great. Teeming with people, obviously, but still lovely.

There's a statue of a pope who Helen is convinced is the nazi but I'm like, no, JP2 was Polish, you're on about the guy I saw a picture of in Germany... Ratzinger. There's a bloke using a humongous selfie-stick with a full-on DSLR camera and he looks phenomenally stupid.

Round the back of Notre Dame is this garden and it's still early spring so no leaves but everything looks nice anyway and I take a fairly throwaway shot of the rear of the cathedral. Fast forward to a few hours later and with one single click of a tweak (the "noir" filter, I think) I am staring at a photo I think might be one of the best I've ever taken. Here, have a look.

Maybe I'm going a bit overboard. I'm not the most sober I've ever been. But whatever, I'm extraordinarily happy with that photo up there.

the bloke in the flat cap is right shifty

Anyway after that I go for a piss and we wander across a bridge off the island, to get a photo of one of the gorgeous metro station signs. The walk involves going past lots of meat wagons and roaming armed rozzers and there seems to be some kind of political unrest brewing just over the way. Helen wants to join in, kind of, but I'm a bit more circumspect based on not being able to discern the political orientation of the mob. Also we have places to be.

Not that I actually know where we have to be, mind. All I know is there's a 2.30pm thing happening. By now it's about 2pm and we go for a sit down in a park at the end of the island. It's nice, and there's a stone with its own plaque 'n that, but we're restless souls so we go stand next to a statue of a horse. I've actually been told there's a horse we need to find, but this is at least the second horse so who knows if it's the right one. (Helen knows).

After a few minutes of hanging around while a bloke does a circuit of the area shouting "LOCKS! LOCKS! LOCK!" at everyone, I am convinced that our 2.30pm appointment is either a City Sightseeing bus turning up or some private transport like one of them cyclists with passenger things. But then at about 2.35pm Helen says "Oh, hello!" to a man with a balloon who shakes our hands, gives her two bags, and fucks off. What the deuce?

Holy shit, it's a picnic. On a really sunny day (luckily!) next to a lovely park on Île de la Cité she's only gone and arranged for some bloke to hand over some bags full of French bread and meats and cheeses and a salad and some grapefruit and orange fruit dish and a decadent cake and a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Evian and, um, a packet of English crisps. Well let's just ignore them. Fucking hell!

So it's totally scoffing time. Everything is ace. Well, I say everything; we didn't eat the crisps, and I thought the cake was fucking rank because of the overpowering coffee taste. Also the champagne remained untouched because, well, frankly all the food required at least two hands to serve and eat and by the time we'd finished scoffing that there were only 40 minutes remaining until the next thing on the itinerary.

Is this a good Christmas present or what?

So that there next thing, she accidentally revealed in conversation while we were eating. I was saying I didn't want to neck the bubbly so let's leave it 'til Eurostar, and she said 'OK but I wonder if we can get any booze for the boat'. Aha! A boat!

Turns out this park what where we was eating, underneath the fromage cheval, is also the departure point for a tour company who sell hour long cruises up and down the Seine. We had a ticket valid on any afternoon trip so fuck it, let's get on the 1530. A tactical piss (who runs a boats with no loos?) means we are too late to get a seat upstairs and on the edge but the windows downstairs are full height and we get some decent seats halfway back on the right hand side.

There's a map brochure in four languages, none of which are French or English. Helen tries bravely to translate the Dutch but things aren't going well, then she spots an English brochure. We can each tell that the text is different depending on the language, so fuck knows what we're going to learn.

The weather remains great and we go up and down the Seine past loads of big hitters. Starting at the Louvre, we head up past place de la Concorde, the Trocadero, some big tower or other, back past Notre Dame, under loads of bridges, etc etc. There's Musee D'Orsay which used to be the terminus Paris Orleans, and there's an academy where each year a bunch of people get together and decide what goes in and what stays out of the French language, all official like. I think Paris also has the official kilogram somewhere. But frankly, none of you are reading this to learn actually about Paris and neither should you be.

The Louvre has 17km of corridors and stuff. Or something.

I have no idea what this is. The Louvre again?

Nor this. Royal Bridge? Fuck knows.

Pretty sure this is the Eiffel Tower.

Boring picture of a fairly impressive and open to the public barge.

Musee D'Orsay?

Bridge looks wooden. Isn't. Also I don't like the reflections, but Helen thinks she could make great art out of this.

Near the end of the journey we see people seemingly walk on water, on the only-just-flooded walkways of the Seine, and seemingly the whole boat spots this one guy standing up facing the wall sunbathing. Standing up. There is much laughter and wtfness.

Off the boat and we kinda wish we could go on the small grimy bar on the pier called Captain's Bar, but we actually have no euros at all. This is also a source of embarrassment beause apparently everyone tips on the way off the vessel. Oops.

Back on the street there's a region with a bit of life up by the metro station, and we've got an hour or more 'til we need to head back to Gare du Nord so it's time to look for a pint. The BNP ATM refuses to even acknowledge my card so Helen gets out €30, but nowhere looks particularly intriguing for us to spend it. Well, that's not true. The Canadian Pub and the Gentleman Pub are intriguing, but not remotely tempting. In the end we think, fuck it, let's find a loo for a tactical and then head back to the main station.

It's a long walk to the free loos, time-wise, because we are both captivated by the roadside book-, map-, and art-sellers. Could really do with a shitload of cash, time, and space for all this great stuff. The island is busier than before and the loos a traumatic experience. Then we fail dismally to find the RER station, taking a ridiculously long route.

2 stations of eggy smells later and we're at Gare du Nord, still with an hour or so to kill before the train. Outside there are competing establishments: Cafe Nord, and Nord Cafe. I can't remember which one we opt for but like the good culturally immersed folk we are, we nonchalantly take our seats out on the pavement and wait to be served.

10 minutes or so later with no sign of anyone, we fuck off back to the station and go through boarding, security, passports, and passports again. Somehow we get ushered across to the Business Premier line. I approve.

Trainside, there's what passes for a bar. We make a massive pig's ear of ordering stuff to begin with but eventually, after a 100% in-French conversation between Helen and the server, (yes, she made me write that, and in bold too) a small wine, large muffin, and bottles of lemonade and Grimbergen blanche are in front of us. We try and find out why so many statues were blindfolded today but Google wants to sell us bondage.

AFC Wimbledon lose 2-1 away at Morecambe, and Helen goes off to buy cheese and wine. The former is a monstrously stinky Camembert. I mean fucking hell, I like dirty stinky smelly pungent cheese but this is taking the piss.

Eventually the train starts to board, and amidst photography confusion and some alarm over this appearing to be a new train (which therefore shouldn't have a standard class coach 14) we board. The seats are new and great. Legroom is wonderful. Our champagne makes those across the aisle jealous and within 5 minutes of departure they buy their own. Then we start to argue about titles for this blog post and, oh, that's where we came in.

She's been asleep on my shoulder for most of the journey since then. St Pancras International is only a couple of minutes away.

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