So anyway: with the lingering taste of the barnyard floor on my tongue (see Pt 1), Wendy and I set forth up the slopes of Montmartre. If you haven't been to this part of Paris, it's wonderful: more like a small market town than the heart of a great city.
The streets are narrow, twisting, often cobbled, and lined with tall trees and Victorian-looking streetlamps. The houses and shops press together along the pavements, shoulder to shoulder like a crowd of spectators hoping for a glimpse of some passing parade. It's completely charming.
It's also pretty steep, and famous for its long flights of steps, so by the time we found the Avenue Junot, we were more than ready to dump our bags.
You find Hotel Particulier behind an electronic gate, up a cobbly path, and past a big, odd-looking lump of stone known locally as Rocher de la Sorcière: 'The Witch's Rock'. Then, past another, older gate of black timber is a little garden, and a beautiful old, converted townhouse.
We started to feel that we'd really got a bargain here. Especially when we saw the Eames furniture in the bureau, and our very large, very beautiful suite. I've never had a private steam room before.
Hotel Particulier only has five rooms - all suites, and each designed differently, in collaboration with a contemporary artist. Ours was one of the more restrained: walls hung with beautiful brown silk; opulent curtains; an enormous bed. The art came in the form of a cabinet on the wall, full of sculpted models of food and - er - well, let's call them 'intimate playthings'. At least I think that's what they were. All splendidly bonkers, anyway.
Freed of our baggage, and feeling we'd got away with commercial murder on the room rate, we headed off to Sacre Coeur, which it turned out Wendy had never seen.
After almost getting enmeshed in Mass (we found ourselves standing among the congregation, holding orders of service in our hands, before we could blink), we escaped and found the way up to the dome. This is reached by way of 300 narrow, winding, spiral stairs, which bring you out among the rooftops of the cathedral - and in our case, into a biting wind.
Apart from my vertigo, and irrational fear that the little boy running delightedly around the dome was about to be blown clean off the roof, it was wonderful.
Not only was there a clear view over the whole of Paris, but we were in time to see the sunset begin in earnest - my cue to take about 175 pictures like this one:
The lights of Paris - La Ville Lumiere - came twinkling on, and we gazed out at it all feeling very lucky, completely bewitched, and really very chilly.
The chills were solved with coffee back at Hotel Particulier, and a steam for Wendy. I'd have tried out this novelty too, except my arm is currently in plaster (don't ask), and the doctor had been very clear on the question of moisture.
My dinner with Jarvis
By now, our stomachs were rumbling. So we asked the very nice lady in reception where we should go for dinner. She got on the phone to her friend Momo, who owned a little restaurant two minutes away, and sorted us out with a table.
'It is very small,' she said, 'and very friendly. Red and white tablecloths. Good wine. Good, Frenchy food, you know?'
She was right on all counts. Au Virage Lepic was exactly the sort of restaurant you hope to stumble across in Paris. Not much bigger than an average front room, with as many tables as possible crammed in together. Every wall was plastered with flyers and photographs, mostly of film stars. The bar groaned with bottles and glassware. And the very jolly, friendly host bustled cheerfully about.
Not sure what Health & Safety will say about those lampshades.
My terrine, and the steak au poivre that followed it, were delicious, and trumped only by an absolutely exquisite tarte tatin. We ate and drank happily, trying to decide if the dark-haired American girl at the next table really was Liv Tyler. We decided she wasn't, but the night was not without its stars: as we neared the end of our meal, the bell over the door tinkled and a rumpled-looking Jarvis Cocker, all trademark specs and tousled hair, drifted in with an unidentified woman.
Escaping the tourist trap
It was all very marvellous. And then we made a mistake. Keen to see more of Montmartre, we decided to have a drink somewhere else, and headed off up the hill.
We went into one of the large cafés set around a pretty square - and stood staring in dawning misery at the bright lights, shiny menus and efficient waiters. It was like abandoning The Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street for a bar at the Trocadero. And it would never do. We scampered back to Virage Lepic, calmed our nerves with Armagnac and coffee, and vowed never to leave again.
We had to, of course, but that was okay: there was brandy at the hotel too. Not just brandy either, but wonderful Camus cognac that cost an arm and a leg, and was worth both. Then it was up to our room with a Hitchcock DVD from the hotel's collection, which we dozed happily off in front of.
Not really The End
And that was only the first day. But don't worry - I'm not about to launch into as long a description of the second.
That was lovely too: a lazy morning followed by a nose around the splendid Shakespeare and Company (thanks, Amandine), and then lunch and lots of mooching around the limitless chambers of the Louvre. (Note to self: never eat at the Louvre again. Bag of crisps: €2.60.)
But it was that first day in Montmartre, the discovery of the gorgeous Hotel Particulier, and our night out at Au Virage Lepic, that was the really magical part of the trip. For two knackered, over-worked parents, it was an enormous treat that left us refreshed and rejuvenated. (Suckers for punishment can find more of my Parisian pics on Flickr.)
So thanks very much to David, for picking me out of the hat; to Sarah at We Are Social who arranged the tickets; and to my mother-in-law Jean, who took care of our two boys while we were away.
And thanks to you, for indulging my reminiscences here. Sorry they're so long. But trust me, they could have been much, much longer. C'est tout.Au revoir.
"Well, I really don't know about this, Yuki. I'm blowing hot and cold, I really am. So I've consulted my readership and there are some pretty strong views about this: some think it might just be a bit of harmless fun and that I shouldn't worry myself about pocketing a bit of money in the process; whilst others think it would be akin to Robert Johnson walking down to the crossroad.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, you have to entice me further with a firm financial offer.
Over to you...
Do you think that Yuki will stump up enough cash to tempt me? Or will she merely brush me aside as being a bothersome so-and-so?
Who would ever have thought that beer could be so interesting, eh?
Well, that's nice to hear about Mike's (and Mrs Mike's) Paris jaunt, isn't it? And I'm really looking forward to part two. Ou la partie deux, I suppose I ought to say.
So let's stick with all that French stuff for a bit, because yesterday I popped along to Tate Britain (as one does) to take a peek at 'Peinture Sur Le Motif Pour Le Nouvel Age Post-Photographique'. Not a title that you're familiar with, I would imagine. But if I tell you that the English title is 'Bigger Trees Near Warter', then you might then work out that I'm talking about the biggest painting that David Hockney has ever produced, and which he has donated to the Tate. And boy, it certainly is big.
This is my hasty snap of it, which doesn't do it justice at all - but it does give you some idea of the scale. What this picture doesn't show, though, nor any other that I've seen, is that actually the painting covers three walls of the gallery. That was something that disconcerted me when I first walked in: because I hadn't expected to see three of the things. And at first I couldn't quite work out what was going on. Because my brain was telling me that here were three separate paintings, with the assumption that they must somehow be different to each other. But a closer examination revealed that the two on the flanking walls were colour photographic copies. But it took me a little while to work it out. That's a clever trick that Hockney's pulled off there. Because it makes one consider (or at least it made me consider) the differences between the painting itself and the photographic copies. Because, make no mistake about it, those copies are as faithful as one can get. But the more you look, the more you realise there's a subtlety and a 'soul' to what's on canvas which pixels alone simply can't capture. And if you want to know what I'm talking about, go along and have a very careful look at the area of pink branches to the left of that woman in my snap above. Consider just how many different pinks you can see in that cluster of branches - then compare to the photographic copies, and you'll see exactly what I mean.
And while you're about it, go up really close and take a good look at the third canvas up on the far left and in the top right-hand corner you might spot a stray pubic hair trapped in the oil paint which defines one of the single branches. Whether or not it's David Hockney's though, I couldn't tell you.
Ah, Paris. City of joie de vivre, esprit de corps, and that certain je ne sais quoi. After I won David's competition, and secured my two free Eurostar tickets, David asked if I'd write a post or two reporting back from my travels. So here I am. If you're one of those for whom holiday snaps and anecdotes produce instant narcolepsy, it's probably best you stop here.
Un peu d'un bargain
Okay, so for those still reading, this jaunt began in earnest when we (my wife, Wendy, and I) decided it was last-minute enough to try some last-minute hotel deals.
After plenty of surfing, we found what looked like an amazing deal on the Mr & Mrs Smith site: one of those hidden-gem boutique hotels, tucked away behind a garden wall in the hodge-podge of streets around Montmartre: Le Hotel Particuliere (of which more in Pt 2). It was advertised at €160 (about £140 these days), instead of the usual €390. Wow: you don't see bargains like that very often. We tapped the card details in at top speed before it went away.
Well, to cut a long story short, it turned out the price was a mistake, and we were asked to pay €90 more. I got very huffy, and consulted the Twitterverse:
Twitter, as ever, was swift and accurate with the answer: essentially, 'No.' Arse. Still fuming, I wrote a snotty email to Mr & Mrs Smith. Shortly after, the phone rang and a very nice lady from Mr & Mrs Smith told Wendy we could have the price as originally quoted. I suddenly felt a bit guilty for writing such a 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' message. Still, it did the trick.
The names on the trains
With our two boys safely in the hands of their Granny (God bless Grannies), we wanted to make the most of our two days in France, so we got up ridiculously early and made the 6.40 train to London. By 9am we were in our 'Leisure Select' seats on the Eurostar.
Wendy settles in
I know I should have been relaxing, but that name, 'Leisure Select', got my copywriter brain going. It's actually First Class, although they don't call it that any more because they've made their Business Premier class the top level.
But 'Leisure Select' doesn't sound like First Class, does it? To me, it sounds more like a bus ticket or something: one of those rather basic products that's given a slightly aspirational-sounding name to make you (or, more often, the provider) feel better about it.
Naming aside, though, the seats were great. And two hours, 20 minutes later we were in Paris. (Only slightly longer than the journey from Dorking to St Pancras.)
Le Tour Eiffel from Montmartre
Montmartre isn't far from the Gare du Nord, so we walked it, and arrived among the steep, cobbled avenues and the endless flights of steps feeling happy but hungry. In Montmartre, you can't throw a pain au chocolat without hitting a charming little bistro, so we went into the first one we stopped outside: Le Progres, it was called.
We squeezed either side of a tiny table just inside the door, and soon enough were presented with two great-looking plates: chicken and chips for Wendy, which of course sounds better as poulet au frites, and a huge slice of roast salmon for me.
Alongside this splendid bit of fish were two odd-looking discs that I took for mushrooms. I love my food, and am always keen to try something new, so popped one of these peculiar-looking things into my mouth.
It was not a mushroom.
Whatever it was, it was the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. It was like chewing on a slice of ripe, aged dog turd. At least, that was the first image that came to mind as my tastebuds howled in protest and searched desperately for the exit.
Eventually I swallowed the damn thing, my vision started to clear, and over Wendy's shoulder I saw three middle-aged French women convulsed with laughter at my tortured expressions. One was even reduced to holding her napkin over her eyes, to soak up the tears. Every time they started to calm down, one of them would glance over at me, and they'd be in hysterics again.
I have a theory these jolly femmes go regularly to Le Progres, to watch idiot Englishmen like me eat whole slices of what I now know to be Andouille: boiled and roasted tripe sausage.
The English waiter explained what it was, and that 'it's not very popular with foreigners.' Indeed. Still, it was an excuse for another beer to wash it all down. And the rest of the food was fantastic.
It was also nice to reflect that I could honestly claim to have made three local women very happy within less than two hours of arriving.
There's more to tell, but you'll have to wait (with bated breath, no doubt) while I get some work done. Look out for Part 2, kids! << Update: Part Two is now up here.
I expect you're wondering what's going on around here these days? Nothing but questions, isn't it? And posts without pictures - that's not how it's meant to be, now is it?
But I've just been asked if I'd like to be paid to post a video feature which advertises beer. Yes, you read that right: beer. And not even designer beer. But the sort of beer that scallywags in Liverpool down by the four-pack. Before they hot wire the beemer. (By the way, if you're from Liverpool, I'm just pulling your leg. There's no offence intended.)
Of course, they haven't told me exactly how much money. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it'll be considerably less than they'd pay to get the same video onto TV. And there's a condition: 75% of you have to be over the age of 18. So how am I supposed to know how old you are?
What shall I do? Shall I take the money and run? Or should I tell them where to stick it?
And if I do take the money, do I draw the line at alcohol? Or shall I go for for broke and hustle around for a tobacco deal, and maybe a little porn on the side?
"well, let us begin. first of all, u suck. u suck
because every time i look at your work i feel like I've thought of the
same things u design but u beat me to it. i know its easier said than
done. well i would like to actually say thank you. first of all because
you inspired me to be a designer and also because you still inspire me
to stick to it. I'm 22 years old, and its hard being an armature
graphic designer since there are so many prodigies in this field who
seem to get younger and younger. then you come out with of the
blue... start out at 25 or 26
(cant really remember) and still be able to create such kick ass work
with such passion and start a rucks in the design world. u r the cliche
of breaking the rules and making it work and that is just cool man."
Yes, that's where I've been (not that one, though - a different one, although still with the missing apostrophe). And I'm not supposed to talk about it. Though it's difficult to know what I can't talk about, when the proceedings are held in public (that is the public can attend, although they don't). But the press sometimes attends, I've discovered. But they have to have a reason. Like being able to file a report containing the words 'home to the families of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson and socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson' no matter how tenuous the link to the actual case. Nothing sells newspapers quite like upper-class crumpet, obviously.
Actually, I do know what I can't talk about; and that's the process by which we (as in we the jury) reached our decisions. And there were four decisions: four deaths over two days. Three hangings in prison and one man struck by a train. And, yes, it's grim. And thought-provoking. And profoundly sad. And 'there but for the grace of God go I'. But if you ever get asked to sit on a jury (actually you'll be issued with a 'summons') do go and do it. Even if it's only out of public duty.
Meanwhile I have to get my brain back into the land of the living.
Bienvenue a my little stint on David's blog. In fact, it's not even a stint, really. It's just after I emerged as the lucky winner from David's splendid hat, he asked if I'd report back from my Eurostar jaunt with a post or two. It seems a small price to pay.
(There must be more to Paris than this. From Panoramio)
I also thought you lot probably know all manner of hidden Parisian gems that my wife Wendy and I could explore during our two days there. So I thought I'd ask for suggestions, and then report on them. Or at least one or two of them.
In fact, inspired by Ben, I've even grabbed the TypePad iPhone app, so may even blog from the locations themselves. Try to contain your excitement.
All I have at the moment is the Eurostar tickets. We're going to do the last-minute hotel thing (again, recommendations gratefully received), but the schedule for our two days is pretty much clear. We both want to go back to the Musée D'Orsay, because, well, why wouldn't you? But what else should we know about that's a bit more off the beaten track? Galleries, restaurants, shops, historic monuments, whatever. I don't know Paris all that well, and would love to hear your ideas.
All thoughts welcome in the comments, and thanks in advance for helping me enjoy my prize.