So a few days later, when they asked me if I wanted to go on my own Little Break to either Paris, Lille or Brussels, I gave a little squeal of excitement and bounced up and down in my chair. I chose Paris, having only been there once before when I was dragged around the place on my art A Level trip. Back then, a gaggle of over-excited 17 year old girls are predisposed to guzzle down 3 Euro bottles of plonk and in the ensuing hangover, I didn't feel as if I really embraced the experience. We did something crazy like 700 galleries in 2 days (yes, I exaggerate; but only a bit) and the over-riding memory is one of exhaustion.
The premise of Little Break, Big Difference is that you can travel to either Paris, Lille or Brussels from £59 return for October. Not only that, but you get a seat in Leisure Select, where they serve you a meal and drinks, including Champagne on the way home. This really takes the chore out of travelling; the check-in and passport control for Eurostar is much quicker than at an airport, and you actually get leg room.
I decided just to go for the day, and that I would do Paris on a budget. Rather, it wasn't so much a decision I made, but one that was forced upon me, considering my folorn bank account. I skidded towards the Eurostar gates with barely a minute to spare, and a friend and I set off on our little break.
Of course, food is always at the forefront of my mind, so I did a little cursory research into cheap bistros to lunch at. I didn't want to plan too much, as it can sometimes take away the adventure aspect of the trip, but with a vague idea in mind we headed off in search of the Eiffel Tower.
It was a speedy ascent up the stairs to begin with, and then as my smoker's lungs started to heave a little, I turned to my friend. Her face was white. "Mate, I think I'm going to vom". I laughed, until I realised she did look a bit peaky. Little did either of us know that her dislike of heights was actually vertigo. We had a long way to go until we reached the first platform. We were rewarded with a pretty good view or two.
We began the much slower ascent to the second level. We had only the thought of getting to the top in our heads now. Her face grew ever more worried and I refrained from telling her that the people down below looked like ants. I myself lost balance and had a good ol' wobble.
Alas, ths is as high as we went. We bought tickets thinking that they'd take us all the way to the top, but when we got to the second stage they tried to charge us again and we balked, favouring to get the lift down to safe ground.
All this clambering up stairs really got our appetites up, and by the time we found Le Repaire de Cartouche, it was 1:30pm, we'd been up for 8 hours, and we were pretty famished. We entered into a dark and busy dining room, with tables packed closely together and squeezed into our seats. We had specifically chosen this bistro because of it's 14 Euro lunch menu. With a choice of 4 starters to choose from and two mains, I went for the 'Salade Escarolle avec Mimmosa' which was just that; leaves well dressed into a fruity olive oil, topped with hard boiled egg pushed through a sieve.
Across the other side of the table, the 'Terrine de Campagne' was a hearty slice and sat atop a salad of herbs. I was jealous, even if I did get to eat half of it, as it was the better of the two. For mains, a pan-fried slice of cod with a caper butter sauce was over-salted, but otherwise a good solid dish. We washed all this down with a bottle of Côteaux d’Aix en Provence rosé which was light and refreshing, and helped take the edge off the embarrassment of being stared at quite openly by our fellow diners. We were taking pictures of the food, after all.
After a cheeky Leffe, we then strolled down the banks of the Seine, to the Louvre.
We didn't much fancy going inside and were rapidly running out of time, and so we decided to jump on the Metro to the Champs-Élysées.
It was high time for another drink and some nibbles and so we attempted to go to Racines, a wine bar recommended by Time Out. It was supposedly hidden down this eerily quiet alley way, but it seems to have closed down as we walked round it twice and couldn't find it.
Somewhat dejected, we decided to plonk ourselves down at a nearby bar for an eye-watering 8 Euro beer. Ouch. By this time our 5am wake-ups were starting to get the better of us. We stared off into space, cigarettes dangling between fingers, barely able to string a sentence together. Food bloggers need regular feeding, otherwise this is what becomes of us.
Not to be beaten, we decided to go back to Le Gare du Nord, to see if we could find anything there. Somewhat apprehensively we asked a nice lady in the pharmacy if she could recommend anywhere to eat; she replied enthusiastically. The little restaurant was empty save two or three tables, but it looked homely. After we ordered our four course menu (the only available), we realised there was no way we could finish it in the 50 minutes it was until our train to take us home. The waiter agreed to let us have just a starter and a main.The rillettes of rabbit was huge. Accompanied by a basket of bread and a pot or gherkins, I was pretty full when I finished this. The tender meat was generously seasoned, and the acidity of the gherkins cut through the richness well.
We scoffed our starters down, and waited impatiently for the main. The clock ticked by slowly and I wondered if we would be stranded in Paris, having missed the last train home. Our mains arrived shortly after, and this beef dish was delicious; the consommé was delicately spiced with star anise and the pieces of fennel added to the aniseed aroma. The beef was tender and slightly gelatinous. I scoffed it down in 10 minutes flat. We slapped down the very last of our Euros, finished off the dregs of our beers and legged it for our train.
Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the restaurant. If it helps, it's opposite a pharmacy around the corner from a wedding dress shop by Le Gare du Nord.
Thankfully, we made it. We were exhausted, full and more than a little sleepy. It was a long day - I left the house at 6am and got home at 11:30pm - but well worth it. I spent exactly 100 Euros, which was the budget I was hoping for. While sipping on the complimentary Champagne on the way home, we mused over the day's events; we'd crammed a lot in. Perhaps we could have been more organised, since we did do a bit of a zig zag around the city, but we're not really that type of people and our way had suited us fine.
So there you have it - a whirlwind tour of Paris. Whilst I would recommend staying a bit longer if you wanted to actually go into the museums and galleries, we had a brilliant time having a good walk around and taking in the sights. And no, we did not go to Ladurée or Pierre Hermé for macarons. We didn't have cakes or pastries; neither of us have a sweet tooth and it didn't appeal.
For the full Flickr set, including Helen's fear face, click here.