On Sunday 29 Jun we took Dan to the airport, making the entire excursion on the metro and RER, as Dan muscled his suitcase over and through the various turnstiles. We waved goodbye sadly as he strode away toward his departure gate. (It turns out we had not pointed him in the right direction, but he recovered.) We came back into the Gare du Nord and walked back to the apartment and stayed home for the rest of the day, unable to motivate ourselves for any sightseeing. We picked up and did little chores while the hours ticked away. We missed him! On Monday we were in somewhat brighter spirits, but still spent a quiet day in the apartment, working on our list of genealogical plans and things to do, and starting to compile them into a large database. We went out to lunch at the Rose Bleu Restaurant, recommended by our landlord. Elsa had soupe au poissons and calamari and ile flottant, while Bob had terrine and steak tartare and creme caramel. We're enjoying every bit of French cuisine, knowing that English and American fast foods await us all too soon! Arras market and town hall
We still had eight days ahead of us in Paris before returning to London. When we made our original plans, we thought we'd save this time to do the Parisian sightseeing which wouldn't interest Dan. But since everything interested him, we now realized we had seen all of the places on the top of our personal lists! So we opted for an out-of-town excursion.
We got a fistful of railway timetables, and were somewhat surprised to find that there were fewer interesting day trips out of Paris than out of London -- or so it seemed. The timetables focused on two kinds of travelers, it seemed. First, the people who wanted to take long trips -- to Marseilles, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, etc. Second, the commuters who wanted to go in and out of Paris from the suburbs. We tried to find places about one hour from Paris that would be interesting to visit, and came to three choices. One town used to have coal mines, but we'd seen enough in Newcastle. Another made champagne, but we didn't fancy a trip to a winery. So we settled on the third town, Arras, which we thought might have some mediaeval buildings and something to do with tapestry. In any event, it was a trip to the country.
The first thing we discovered is that unlike England, which has privatized its railroads and has cheap train trips, our one hour excursion to Arras would be expensive -- 39 euros each. A comparable trip in England might have been half that price. We did travel on a TGV train, however; oddly enough, tickets on the slow train to Arras were more expensive!
Arriving in Arras we left the train station and found ourselves in a hot, characterless plaza.. The news-stand attendant pointed us toward the tourist information office in centre ville where we found two large Belgian-style squares, each surrounded by attractive arcade-fronted buildings, certainly not in the same league with Brussels' Grand Place, but with a certain slightly run-down charm . The central squares were used for general car parks and one had a morning flea market which was quickly shutting down as rain showers commenced.. On one side of the Place des Heros was the Hotel de Ville with the Tourist Information. We did get a map with a walking tour. Inside the Hotel de Ville were some interesting pictures of Arras during WW I when it housed a Highland brigade. British troops stayed here in both the World Wars. The cathedral was closed and definitely no longer in use. The Beaux Arts Museum was closed or was not closed -- we never found the front door - but we decided 17th century large French religious paintings were not on our agendas so we checked out some restaurant menus. We passed a visit to Robespierre's birthplace, as the guidebook said the house was a Masonic museum with no interesting exhibits about the aristocrat turned revolutionary citizen. We did spot some art deco and some nice house decorations, and photographed some of the more interesting examples. Arras square without market
We found a pretty nice seafood restaurant and had moules marinieres for entree (there were dozens, in a nice broth, with celery and onions and tarragon and white wine) followed by sandre with a tarragon cream sauce and rice. The moules were 4.50 and were a specialty, while the sandre was 10.50 and was not that much better. It was a good town lunch. We walked some more after lunch and saw nothing breathtaking. The town map didn't show many exciting attractions and the sun was quite hot, so we came to the conclusion that we'd seen about all there was to see and thought about returning to Paris.
Just for grins we decided we might return to Paris via a bus; we had in mind something like a America's Greyhound or England's National Express. So we found the only bus station, next to the train station, and inquired about returning to Paris by bus. This was an interesting question for the young lady at the counter; who wondered why anyone would want to travel by bus when the train was available. The buses at her station just served Arras and the suburbs of Arras, sorry. Armed with that information, we returned to the train station, and took the TGV back to the Gare du Nord. Our excursion, although interesting, had not been interesting enough to encourage us to see where else we might visit on the SNCF!
On the way back we stopped at the internet cafe, at the grocery store, and on the street for Bob to fall and twist his ankle. He made a graceful descent to the pavement, and immediately attracted the attention of other old men who hastened to help him arise; the young men and women just watched. Fortunately there was a Sunday pharmacy just around the corner, who produced a rather flimsy elastic bandage. The ankle was merely twisted and not sprained, and had been strengthened by months of walking and climbing, so the healing process was pretty fast. But he really should find some wonderful shoes that fit his EEE feet and wrap around his ankles. . . perhaps when we return to the U.S.
As we slowly walked up Rue Victor Masse, we noticed a cool stiff breeze picking up. The change in pressure was almost palpable as Mr. Weather decided to show our neighborhood his bag of tricks. We looked out our windows on the quatrieme etage with wonder as the temperature continued to drop and drop until it was quite cold, the wind became gustier and gustier, papers blew off the table, the sky grew darker and darker, and soon a mixture of rain and hail was pelting down hard on the Parisians in the street below. Almost as soon as we had closed the windows and turned on the heaters the storm had passed; within half an hour the evening sunset lit Sacre Coeur up on the hillside. What a display! We could tell that this storm was exceedingly localized; perhaps only a few blocks actually felt the hail, although the rain cut a wider swath.