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FIRSTLY, MY TRIP WAS NOT INTENDED to be some frivolous jaunt across Europe.
I had two very special people to visit in Switzerland: my youngest son Nibby in Gstaad; and a lady in Zermatt. And I wanted to do it all by rail, for a change.
My adventure commenced at Eurostar check-in, London St Pancras Int’l. In the busy café I encountered a delightful woman who’d been a fashion photographer in the 1960s. She wasn’t one for namedropping, other than mentioning she’d been commissioned by Vogue and had worked in all the chic places – Cannes, Rome, and London. I sipped a couple of bitter expressos and heard tales of her posting rolls of Kodak film back from Le Touquet to London in time to make deadlines. Fleet Street was highly competitive, their editors unforgiving.
Once aboard the high-speed train it was time to relax and enjoy the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Paris. As the Kent countryside disappears you are hardly aware of entering the tunnel sous la Manche and the next thing you know, you are pulling into Gare du Nord. There is no customs check on French soil, that had been taken care of in London.
Outside the famous old station, you are immediately descended upon by disreputable characters offering to sell you anything money can buy. And this included a two-kilometre taxi journey for fifty Euros. Being too stingy to part with such a sum I headed on foot down Rue de Magenta towards Place de la Republique. After fifteen minutes or so my suitcase got the better of me and I asked a taxi driver how far it was to Rue Amelot – ‘six Euros, depending on traffic, M’sieur’, he said with a wry smile. I got into the dented Peugeot, grateful to be off my feet.
My hotel in the 11th Arrondissement had been described as ‘bijou’ , but pokey would certainly have described the bathroom. It was miniscule! After an early evening mooch around the streets of Bastille in search of a dinner that was not ‘touristy’ it was time to start the real adventure. I climbed into bed and listened to Sidney Bechet on a French radio station. The mood was set, and I was already looking forward to my petit dejeuner in the morning: croissants and apricot preserve never tasted the same outside France, particularly when dipped into a black Americano.