We got to sleep in a little bit this morning because our train wasn’t leaving until just after 10am but even still, people were looking a little bleary eyed this morning. You can tell we’re getting near the end of the trip and that we’ve been busy as the blisters and aching legs are starting to become more apparent.
We started the morning off with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Rachel who was turning 18 today… Not a bad way to spend your 18th birthday – starting in Nice and ending in Paris!
Getting to the train station was a piece of cake as our hotel was literally 300m from the station (good planning EF tours). Once at the station we hung out for a few minutes waiting for them to announce which track we would be leaving from and then made our way to Track B when it was announced. We drew the short straw in terms of the seat allocation for this trip so our group was spread out between 3 cars with 9 of the kids in car 18, 4 of the kids in car 16 and two people all by themselves in car 12… We put the 4 girls in car 16 which worked out well because they ended up in one of the 2 facing 2 configurations with a table between them so they could play cards, etc. The guys got a mix of 2 facing 2 seats and standard airplane style seats but seemed pretty content. Marie and I took the seats in car 12 so no one would be all by themselves… Turned out to be a great decision as our seats ended up being in first class! I won’t print what Frank (our tour director) said when I told him we’d gotten first class seats (this is a family blog after all). They were pretty swanky seats – only 3 seats in a row instead of the usual 4 so much wider seats and much cushier padding… We were at least 20 years younger than anyone else in the cabin, though, and did get a fair number of “what are you doing here” looks from the swanky first class folks… Considering they probably spent over 200 euros for their tickets, it’s a good thing they didn’t know we’d gotten ours for nothing! We made sure to check on the rest of our group a couple of times throughout the 5.5 hour trip and even offered to trade for a small fee (translation we went back a few times to gloat about our much comfier seats!)
When we arrived in Paris, we headed to our waiting charter bus (we’d said goodbye to our regular driver Natale the previous night in Nice) and headed for the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame cathedral. This is my favourite part of Paris (I think – it’s kind of hard to pick just one part of this amazing city)… It’s the area around the Sorbonne that is still home to a bunch of universities (the origin of the Latin Quarter comes from the fact that education used to be in Latin and this area was where most of the universities were located). It’s a maze of cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways and old, old churches (my favourite is St. Severin which I seem to recall is even older than Notre Dame). We did a quick walking tour of this interesting part of the city and then got turned loose for about an hour of free time. Our group headed into Notre Dame (it’s pretty hard to beat a cathedral started in 1163 for atmosphere and a sense of living history) and then quickly made our way to a macaron store a ways into the Latin Quarter to stock up on these tasty Parisienne treats. We made it back to the meeting place with one minute to spare (there were lots of jealous glances from the other group who didn’t get macarons).
After visiting Notre Dame and exploring the Latin Quarter for all too brief a time, we headed to our restaurant (Comptoir) and enjoyed a meal of slices of roast pork, mashed potatoes and green salad. Dessert tonight was chocolate mousse.
After dinner, we boarded our bus again and headed for Montmartre – my other favourite part of the city. Dominated by Sacre Coeur church, it’s the old artists quarter where the greats of the belle epoch used to hang out. The traffic between the Latin Quarter and Montmartre was horrible but our bus driver made liberal use of his horn and basically forced his way into places that buses should not go… We made it in one piece but I’m not entirely sure we didn’t take out a pedestrian or Vespa or two along the way. The kids seemed to particularly enjoy the brief drive through the red light district (home of the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret)… Montmartre’s proximity to the red light district was one of the reasons it was so popular with the artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as there was a ready source of young women willing to pose nude for painters.
We climbed the 26,000 steps (there’s not that many but after all the walking we’ve been doing, it felt like 26,000 steps) to reach Sacre Coeur and, after a brief orientation from Frank, scattered to explore this very interesting area. There’s a very old church (as in 9th century Romanesque!), a bunch of very quaint 19th century buildings housing creperies, shops, art shops and little pubs.
After our brief exploration of the area, it was time to get back on the bus (we only had the charter bus until 10pm) and head for our hotel – located in a suburb of Paris called Maison Lafitte. Once at the hotel, we handed out the keys to the rooms and sent everyone off to their rooms to prepare for our very busy last day in Paris. We also handed out the 20 euros each kid had given for “mad money” and were able to give all of them an extra 20 euros left over from the bake sale money so everyone would have a bit of money to spend in Paris at least (although most of them seem to have brought much more money than I did).