An unusual day in Paris… scammed but not mugged and full of art in the City of Light

I was looking forward to our day in Paris. My husband and I had a hectic schedule planned. But then everything looks good on paper.

After a very early departure from London’s Waterloo Station at 5.34AM on the high speed Eurostar (the very best way to get to Paris from London) to the City of Light’s centrally located station, Gare de Nord, I admit I was a bit apprehensive. It would be a very full day before heading back on the late train which would get us to London by midnight.

Here’s my bit about truly believing I was a savvy and jaded traveler. Sure, as a travel/lifestyle journalist, I’ve been around the world a few times, never encountered any problems, hardly ever been sick, certainly never seriously and never ever mugged or accosted. My rule of thumb is to stay in the right public areas and eat the freshest food. It’s always worked for me.

But I admit, within the first hour stepping off the Eurostar, we were scammed and in a posh area to boot. Now we look back and laugh and have gotten mileage out of telling the tale. Having walked passed the Louvre over the bridge which spans the Seine River to Rive Gauche, on a particularly splendid sunny, warm day, towards the entrance of the Musee d’Orsay on rue de Lille, a well dressed, tidy woman walking in front of us, suddenly stopped, bent down as though picking up something. As we approached, she suddenly stopped us. Ah, she said in French which ‘mon mari’ understands better than ‘moi,’ she pointed to a gold ring. “This must be yours,” she insisted, en francais. I immediately told her there that was ‘impossible’ since we hadn’t even reached the spot where she had ‘found’ the piece of jewellery nor did I own a ring like that. “It is “un cadeau from de ciel”, elle a dit. And continued speaking in French,

“Today is my ‘anniversaire’ (birthday) and it is such a sunny, wonderful perfect day, I want to give a gift to you.” Quickly, I congratulated her on her birthday…all in broken French as we started to walk away. But she followed and insisted I take this ‘petit cadeau’, actually placing it in my palm. What could I do, so I thanked her. And suddenly she said, “Alors, c’est jour est tres speciale. I would like to celebrate in a good café.” Of course, at that moment we knew we had been ‘had’. But she had done such a fine acting job, we couldn’t resist and ‘mon mari’ reached in for a 10 Euro bill, (since we hadn’t yet spent a Euro we had very few small bills or change) She looked aghast. “Mais non,” c’est impossible. That won’t do,” she told us. So stunned as we were, he then held out another 5 Euro note which she grabbed. Suddenly, she disappeared, as though it had all been an apparition.

The ring? Well, I haven’t taken it to a jeweller for appraisal nor have I worn it. But it sits on my dresser as a momento of my over inflated confidence about my travelling smarts. However, I may have been outsmarted but those Euros were well worth the story.

Giggling and giddy with our naivete, we entered Musee d’Orsay, my favourite Paris museum. This grande dame was once a train station cum hotel and for a short time, an auction house. It opened as the Musee d’Orsay in 1986 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The permanent collection is exhibited on three levels starting at the main artery of the great hall to the side galleries. And even though I’ve been there several times, and even though the renovations and its new persona are still a controversial subject with the Parisians, I adore the space and the collection of impressionists and post impressionist art. But don’t deceive yourself. Who ever said the French are more polite than in past years, well that’s a myth that didn’t take a moment to become a rude reality. With my broken French, I asked directions to the new temporary exhibit. Instead of a polite answer, as I walked away, I heard them laughing hysterically about the ‘stupid tourist’. “Don’t they know we can speak English?”

And it didn’t end there. In museums I prefer to be on my own. So after making plans to meet my husband at a certain time and place, off I went. About 1 hour later, in great need of a shot of caffeine, I went to the second floor café. I was shown to a seat. It was about 11AM, certainly not full, so I ordered an espresso and a slice of a delicious looking tarte de pomme. It took ages for it to come and finally after 20 minutes, I beckoned the waiter to ask if I could get my mere request stating that someone would be waiting for me in 10 minutes. “If you wanted fast food, you should have gone upstairs,” he said pointing to a stand- up bar that I didn’t know existed. Naturally, trying hard not to be as supercilious, I suggested that he not tell me where I could sit or what I should order. Bullies usually back down which he did but in his French fashion. The coolish coffee arrived but the tarte remained in the glass case. The hostess apologized when I related this unpleasant scenario. But that incident didn’t dampen the marvellous exhibit and I’ll continue to visit this splendid museum whenever I’m in the City of Light—but I’ll have my coffee around the corner at a friendly café.

When in Paris, walk. And after our stroll on Boulevard St. Germaine, we headed to Rue de Grenelle and to one of my favourite cafes. The weather was perfect for a small outside lunch surrounded by locals at Le Croix Rouge, a smart bistro/café. Up the hill and away from the boulevard this bistro had such a buzz and ambiance that just can’t be duplicated at the more famous but touristy cafes like Flore and Les Deux Magots.

Once you get the hang of the Metro, it’s simple. We decided to head to Le Marais’ Temple Street to the Musee d’Art et d’historie de Judaisme to see the temporary exhibit on Alfred Dreyfus- The Fight for Justice. Anyone who has read J’Accuse by Emile Zola, will know the history of this injustice.

This building dates back to the 18th century and in the late 1900s, the then mayor, Jacques Chirac, gifted the former Hotel de St. Aignan to become a museum of Jewish civilization. It was inaugurated in 1998 and opened to the public a few months later. Restoration included mezzanine floors were added, the courtyard and garden cleared and the façade and entire roof restored as were the important trompe l’oeil on the façade. In keeping with the accordance and the principle of restoring the mansion to its state at the beginning of the 18th, much of the original building remains intact. Even the interior, although modernized, has retained original niches and murals.

As we entered the large graveled courtyard leading to the entrance, there was a grand statue of Alfred Dreyfus placed centrally in the large space. Unfortunately, when the show closed in October, the statue was placed elsewhere. But at this time no one knows where.

Although this wonderful exhibit was only on for a few months, the permanent collection is well worth the visit where there are many Judaic memorabilia and art by Jewish artists. The one drawback is that the audio tours are only in French.

Hot, as only Paree could be in the summer, we needed to stop constantly for various cool drinks and Le Marais has a plethora of outdoor cafes. Yes, it was great for cooling off but equally enjoyable for people watching.

After walking around Place des Voges, visiting more art galleries, soon it was time to think about heading back to the Gare de Nord.

Because of our concern about the always juggernaut of Paris traffic and lack of cabs, we opted for the reliable Metro. Perhaps our worst decision of the day was to eat near the station. But since our lunch had been sparse but delicious and we had arrived far too early at the station and even though our first class tickets included a meal (which never happened. Read on.) We decided to have a small snack at what looked like a decent restaurant. It had all the trimmings, white table clothes, waiters with aprons. But who says there’s no bad food in Paris. We may have found the only restaurant that should be given a minus 4 star rating. What we discovered when we went to the station was that the cafes available there got rave reviews from our fellow passengers.

Since we were about one hour early for boarding, and with our first class tickets in hand we naturally headed to the lounge. Oops, we weren’t allowed in because of some strange rule that you have to have a certain ticket or silver American Express. The Eurostar has three distinct classes: Standard, Leisure Select and Business Premier. And when I asked why we were asked to leave, I was told that due to space constraints, lounge access is only available to Business Premier travellers.

Luckily, in this very crowded waiting area, we found the last two seats. Finally on the train and recalling the last time I visited Paris via Eurostar, our stomachs aching from hunger, we were looking forward to meals on wheels. But, and here’s a big but, as we neared Lille, we were notified us there was some technical problems and therefore, we would have to wait for the train arriving from London where we would all exchange trains, which we did. But no meal.

Good day, bad day, in the end we would do it all over again and already are making plans, especially back to Le Marais and Musee d’Art et historie de Judaisme and their ever changing exhibits.

Alors, I’ll just have to take another Eurostar journey but next time it will be Business Premier. I want all the bells and whistles.


New Business Premier Class includes fast track check-in, access to Business Lounge, a three course meal served at your seat.

New Leisure Select class can check in 30 minutes before and a three course meal served at your seat

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