18 Oct

Au revoir France
by Tracey Nelson
18 Oct 2007

RWC2007My RWC trip ended by travelling from London to Paris on the Eurostar, a very quick and smooth ride once you hit the high speed tracks on the French side of the Chunnel.  I must say though, that I am not a fan of travelling through the Chunnel – the thought of being underground with all that water above just doesn’t bear thinking about!

The train was loaded up with England supporters travelling over for their semi-final against France that night, and when we arrived into Gare de Nord we were met by hordes of people trying to sell tickets to the game – not something I was all that happy to see, as I had six tickets we had organised to sell to English supporters who were arriving on trains after mine and the prices being asked at the station were lower than our agreed sale price.

I met up with my mates Tony and Clare, and Paul, and we then attempted to navigate our way out to St Denis on the Metro as there were two tickets we still needed to pick up from the ticket office at the ground before we could meet out buyers.  It was a surprisingly short trip out to the St Denis station, but then a good 10 minute walk to get to the stadium itself.  With all the tickets in our hot little hands it was just a case of finding a bar, organising rendezvous times and waiting for our buyers to turn up.  In due course they did, and we went through the slightly awkward task of having to count out hundreds of pounds in public and then handing the tickets over.  Once that was done, we headed back into Paris on the Metro with Clare and myself clutching our bags closely and feeling slightly uneasy with carrying all that money around with us.

Once we were back at Gard de Nord it was a case of working out which Metro line we had to get on next to make our way to the Eiffel Tower and the Parc du Champs de Mars below it where the big screens were up for the public to watch the games.  We had to take Line 14, which is a faster line than the rest of the Metro trains and is also fully automated with no driver.  When the train arrived the platform doors slid open to give access to the train, but there were a lot of people getting off at Gare de Nord so we had to wait for them before we boarded.  As the guy infront of us went to get on the train doors and platform doors slid shut, jamming one of his arms in the train while his body was still on the small piece of platform between the train and the platform doors.  There was much alarm amongst both those on the train and on the platform, as people from both sides yelled and rushed to pull the two sets of doors apart to free the poor guy.  This in turn made all the doors open so more people, including ourselves, went to jump on.  Of course, the doors then shut just as quickly again with Paul and I only just made it on (getting our arms jammed as we did) while Tony and Clare were left on the platform.  It was a case of mouthing and gesticulating to say we would wait for them at our next destination before the train shot off into the tunnel – somewhat reminscent of a cheesy movie in a lot of ways.  Mind you, we were pretty wary of Metro train doors after that.

Once we had regrouped at the next station we continued our journey to the Eiffel Tower, and what a sight she is at night all lit up and towering into the Paris sky.  There is a beacon light that swings around the Paris skyline from the very top of the tower, while sparkling white lights strobe on and off like stars from time to time.  No matter how many times you see the Eiffel Tower it still looks magnificent, and is just so quintessentially “the” French landmark that you can’t help but smile.  There were thousands of locals crammed into the Parc, to the point where even though you could see the screens it was impossible make out what was happening so we decided to ajourn to a small cafe nearby and watch it there whilst having a feed.

Of course, France lost (and how predictable was that – every time they beat us they fall over in the very next game!) so Paris became a little subdued after the game.  And we suddenly got ignored by the cafe staff, who obviously thought we were English because we were speaking English, even though we had been cheering for France during the match. We hastened to assure them we were New Zealanders and lo and behold, regular service was resumed.  This wasn’t something I had experienced before, but Tony and Clare had had a taste of it a few nights earlier in a small town en route to Paris.  Much later that evening we decided to call it a night, and thinking that the Metro was shut we cleverly decided that we could stroll back along the Seine to our hotels. One and a half hours and several sore feet later, we made it to the doors vowing that the next night we would not be walking.

Sunday, while the others went to the Louvre and walked the Champs Elysee, I met up with one of my French students who had done a 6 month stint with us in NZ earlier this year and was treated to a superb lunch with his family. I tell you what, the French may be clueless when it comes to a lot of things, but food is not one of them.  Magnifique!  I then met up with the others at the Arc de Triomphe and we headed for the Eiffel Tower.  I decided I would go up again with the boys, but Clare wasn’t keen so she went to visit the 100% Pure New Zealand display in the giant rugby ball at the end of the Parc du Champs de Mars.  After a lengthy wait in the queue, we made it to the top and discovered just exactly how prime a site the NZ display was sitting on, as it was the first thing you saw when you looked down from the top of the Eiffel Tower.  So at least there was still some NZ presence in Paris, even if it wasn’t at the stadium.

We watched the second semi final at a well-known French rugby bar Le Sous Bock which had been packed the night before.  However, Sunday night it was almost empty and we had our choice of tables which was good as we were running a bit late and turned up about 5 minutes before kickoff.  Paris really was a bit of a wasteland following their demise the night before.  Around 12.30am we decided to head back to our hotels and walked to the nearest Metro station only to discover that the Metro was shut.  Arghhhh.  More walking, although at least this time we were only half an hour away as opposed to one and half.

Last day in Paris, and we headed up to Monmatre to see the Sacre Coeur church as grey clouds rolled in across Paris and the temperature began to drop rapidly.  Next was Notre Dame, but first we stopped for lunch in a small cafe and I suggested that given we were in France perhaps we should try some escargot.  So we ordered six, Tony and Paul manfully downed two each, while Clare bravely put her one in her mouth and managed to swallow it.  But I have to confess I took a small bite of mine and despite the large amounts of garlic butter it was smothered in I liked neither the taste nor texture so attempted to hide the remainder under the spoon on my plate.  Busted!  I think I will get grief for a while about that, as Clare only ate her one as she thought I’d eaten mine…

In Notre Dame we got an unexpected treat as a female soloist was there practising a piece. The sound of her voice and the organ soaring through the high, vaulted ceilings of the cathedral was so evocative and compelling that the usual low hum of tourist voices fell to a deathly hush as she sang.  Even the half-wits taking flash photos (even though there are signs requesting you not to) stopped what they were doing to listen.   Finally it was time to head back to the hotel, grab my suitcase from the baggage holding room and head off to Charles de Gaulle airport for my flight back to New Zealand.

Au revoir France 2007.  It may not have been the result I, and the rest of NZ, was hoping for but I’ve had fun along the way.  I shall retain fond memories of places such as Lyon, the wonderful food and wine throughout, the pool games in the warmth of the south of France, the trials and tribulations of train travel, and all the great people I met along the way.

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