And finally… it’s the last day of my trip. I was up early for a walk around the city to build up an appetite for breakfast.
After last night’s drizzle, the sunshine and blue sky was a pleasant surprise. I headed first to Place de la Republique…
…where all was quiet. No obvious signs of unrest in the night. I might assume city workers cleaning up from 3am (as in riots in 2011 in Salford, UK) but the refuse collectors have been on strike here so I doubt they’d be working through the night to clear up after other protestors.
Of course, I could be wrong.
Paris was quiet, but there were signs of waking up.
One of the loveliest aspects of this trip (particularly in Seville, not so much in other places in Spain), and I was forcefully struck by this last night, has been how lively and busy the bars and restaurants are on an evening. I’ve gone out for dinner and drinks in various parts of a Manchester over the last few months, and once lively scenes have been shadows of their former selves.
It’s good to see normal nightlife again. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed it.
Thinking back to the trips I took last year… it just wasn’t as busy as this. The Pandemic effects were still being felt strongly. (And of course, Covid-19 is still circulating).
As I write, the teenage boy across the aisle is highlighting to his group how fast the train is travelling: “Oh look, y’all… 216km per hour… we won’t go faster than that… oh wait, 219… oh back to 216… I think we’ve hit top speed… oh, no wait… 229 y’all.”
“Oh, wait, look how fast we’re going now…”
And now we’re onto his musings on life: “Why do you think they are called plug sockets?”
I wish I hadn’t packed my earplugs away.
One of the girls pointed out to her friends where the charging points were: “Alexa. They’re between the seats.”
For 10 seconds, I wondered why she had brought her Alexa wiretap with her… before realising she was addressing a human. I’m slightly appalled at myself for utterly associating the name ‘Alexa‘ with AI rather than people.
I wonder how Alexa, the one sitting across the aisle from me, feels about having a name that more and more people associate with hardware.
Meanwhile… we’re back on the speed commentary and he’s reading all of the screen updates out to the girls: “296… 300… for the comfort and safety of other passengers, please wear a mask”.
He doesn’t appear to have noticed that the girls have not replied to him for about ten minutes and are all pointedly staring at their phones.
…He’s singing now…
Oh hallelujah! He wants to go to the buffet car.
After breakfast at Terminus Nord, across the road from Gare du Nord, I continued my morning wanderings.
Refuse trucks appeared on a couple of streets. The workers appeared to be coĺlecting household bins – possibly recycling. I couldn’t see any signs of the piles of bin bags being cleared.
I found myself at a coffeeshop in Saint-Denis. Last coffee in Paris before catching the train back to London. This street was just lovely. It was simply full of grocery stores: a specialist cheese shop (a cremerie in this case, though I’m not sure how this differs from a fromagerie) and the smell emanating from within was divine; nextdoor a fishmonger (apparently specialising in oysters and langoustines); then a butcher (with cured meats hanging up in the window) and opposite, a green grocer. All were busy.
Of course, the busiest was the baker. A queue of people, probably about 20 minutes long, snaked along the cobbled street.
This was obviously a crowd of regulars. People greeted each other as they went in and out of the shops, while lengthy chats were occurring in the queue for the bakery. It’s such a different way of living to the weekly dash around the supermarket: a social experience rather than a mission to pick up commodities.
The last few times, I’ve caught the Eurostar home, it’s been a bit of a chore. Brexit really did not help – additional bureaucracy slowed the process and, as a result, the facility was overcrowded.
In order to facilitate a smoother experience, Eurostar has reduced the number of trains – one every two hours to London instead of every hour. It is such a shame… at a time when more people are trying to travel sustainably.
I’m not criticising Eurostar. I don’t see what other option there was.
And their actions worked. Checking in was incredibly smooth, and I was on my way back to England.