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  • Dougie

Bienvenue a Paris

Updated: May 18, 2022

What has it been? Forty hours or thereabouts since Spike loaded the car, said her goodbyes to Thistle the cat, and we set off on our holiday. We've used planes, trains and an automobile (but with fewer calamities and not as many jokes as the John Candy movie).

Our first proper destination is a stone's throw (literally) from here, the entrance to the Gare du Nord in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris. Even at the end of 40 hours travelling, the station -- with its 36 platforms and grand façade -- is an imposing structure. It is one of the six great cathedrals of modernity that are the railway stations of Paris.

Paris-Nord, as it was known, belongs to the first great age of the train; trans-continental travel in every direction at speeds never known before to human beings. Faster than a galloping horse for as long as there was coal and a furnace and steam to drive forward the mid-19th Century revolution that was the chemin de fer.

Right now though, none of that matters. We need to sleep.

We find refuge in our hotel across the road from the station, the quirky -- oh so French -- 25hours Hotel Paris Terminus Nord. It's quaint and comfortable, hospitable and friendly, and honed to the point of perfection; teetering precariously on the brink of cliché and manufactured to within a centimetre of parody (but just on the right side of either equation). It's the hotel version of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film Amelie. Both are versions of a France that has never existed in the real world. But we love the idea of the France they project. We feel welcome and warm and safe; cosmopolitan and urbane yet, somehow, bohemian. And we feel all this at one and the same time.

But none of that matters either. We still need to sleep.

But not just yet.

The last trick played on us humans by long haul travel, it seems to me, is the mess it makes of your post-journey sleep patterns.

You find your bed in your quirky French hotel and collapse, telling yourself, "I just need a quick nap then I'll be alright. No more than 20 minutes." Give in and you're doomed.

You wake up, startled, in the pitch dark of your first night in Paris or London or New York or Sydney or wherever you landed. It takes five minutes to work out where you are. You check the time and are surprised to discover it's 2:00 a.m. And you're wide awake. The Duracell bunny of international jet-lagging. And there's nothing you can do to alter that fact.

So on our first late-afternoon / early-evening in Paris we took a stroll in the warm spring air to ward off those jet lag sirens of a night's lost sleep. We weave our way carefully through the Formula 1 race track that is the Gare du Nord taxi rank, only half-remembering that here in Europe they drive on the 'wrong side of the road'. We evade the army of young men outside the station entrance willing to sell anything they can to newly-arrived tourists like us: a 'good price' SIM card, special rate hotel accommodation, a secondhand Tour Eiffel.

We saunter along the nearby Boulevard de Magenta with its many many stores, still open at 7:30 p.m. selling more 'fashion' wigs than you ever imagined Paris might need or want, shoes for ballroom dancing, sparkling evening gowns and sharp, shiny suits which, I suspect, not even the most outré of the Kardashians would contemplate.

And more young men look ready to offer us SIM cards, 100% authentic bargain Nike shoes or an almost good as new Arche de Triomphe.

At which point, we admit defeat. We have been too long on the road. Paris is too Parisian, too big with too many people, too fast, too busy, too ... too ... much ... entirely (right now).

We are tired and a long way from home,

We need sleep. And our bed at l'hotel Terminus Nord is calling.

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