Paris by Eurostar. A girl friends day’s getaway

By Barbara Kingstone

September, October, these autumn months seem to merge. After all, summer is over, the nights have a chill and leafs begin to fall. But somehow my well planned change of season day trip on the Eurostar train (affectionally called the Chunnel) from London to Paris came to a colossal and gloomy prospect when I went to the spanking new St. Pancras International Station to pick up the tickets for the departure early next morning.

It was a long pre-planned “girls’ day away” although I must admit that neither of us can be accused of being girls but women of a certain age. But I digress. Anyway, there were no tickets and not even my reference number came up. My spirits dipped as did my very polite friend, Lady Trudi, titled, oh so modest who almost lost her stiff upper lip.

Horrified as I was, the caring staff finally figured out that the month had been incorrectly marked and our tickets had been cancelled. Our booking was for October, theirs had been for September and thinking back, it could have been my error. But Nicki and Joan, the two Euro star staff members -employees that every company would covet, promised to see what they could do. Although the Eurostar is always booked solidly, these two women were able, within 30 minutes, to discover the error and attempted to correct the mix up.

Soon we were told that indeed we would be able to purchase our tickets but would have to leave on the earlier than planned 7AM train, with the proviso that we get there one hour ahead for customs and security checks. Although I’m an early riser, poor Lady Trudi, although happy with the outcome, decided that she would need a couple of alarm clocks to get her up and ready for our taxi which would come first to ‘fetch” (love that English word) me at 5.35AM then to her home about 7 minutes away.

Well settled in our economy class seats, we were certainly in need of a strong cup of coffee from the well stocked dining car.

Although there had been a fire in the tunnel a few weeks before, this slowed up the usual 2.15 minute journey to 3 hours but time flew. The longest wait was in the snake of a line for le taxi at the Garde de Nord in central Paris.

Now close to noon, we decided to roam around the Left Bank area close to the brasserie where we had reserved a table for lunch. So with some window shopping and a quick browse through the always impressive, always filled with beaucoup designer labels at Le Bon Marche department store, we were just steps away from L’Epi Dupin, a highly rates, well recommended eatery. For Parisians in Euros, it isn’t considered expensive nor for Trudi who understands zeros at the end of the very high London price tags. However, as a Canadian with a sinking dollar, I decided to consider this a rare opportunity to lunch the way the French do since it seems to be their main meal of the day. We were welcomed into the fully packed small bistro with one empty table, ours. Since it’s a small venue, maybe accommodating 25 people, each table is about 5 inches from the other. The prix fixe menu has a choice of 2 selections for 25 Euros or three for 35 Euros.

As I sat down, the rotund and happy eater with whom I could easily rub shoulders had a heavy wonderful Charles Boyer French accent and asked how we had discovered this treasure, obviously sensing that we were foreigners. Although he was polite enough not to tell us that most of the regulars are Parisians. And just at that time, something soft brush against my leg. It was a large size golden Labrador who sat obediently on the floor next to his owner and my right foot. But for us Canadians, having any animal allowed in a restaurant is a rarity and oddity. However, our new ami kept feeding the well behaved chein some of Paris’s best bread. As an aside, it was probably one of the best breads I’ve eaten anywhere and I consider myself a bread aficionado.

We soon learned through our table talk he lives in the ‘quartier’ and comes to L’Epi Dupin for lunch several times a week.

“Ah, bein sur, Francois (Pasteau) is one of the best chefs in this city,” he told us. Apparently, Monsieur Pasteau heads to the Rungis market early each morning for fresh produce before planning his menu for the day and evening meals.

When we asked what we should order, our connoisseur at the next table commented “anything”. Every choice here is perfection.”

So I started with an eggplant and cheese topped square, unfortunately not heated as I had expected but served cold. Trudi’s choice was somewhat meeker, a picture perfect salad. For the main course Trudi had a crispy duck breast with the vegetables of the day, all locally grown. I ordered foie de veau, veal liver, pink please, also served with the same mix of el dente veggies. Both choices got raves from us and with the house wine- a light red- we were oohing and aahing. However, if there’s one fault, it’s the wait staffs that were helpful and ready to take our order almost before we had a chance to read the menu. What they really seemed to want was that the clients eat fast and leave quicker. After all, the more seats in the chairs, the more Euros for the coffers. It was a disappointment since I have always felt that the French want you to digest and discuss the meal and its preparation.

Now back out on the ‘rues’ we decided to walk down one of those boutique- filled streets on our way to Musee D’Orsay. But overwhelmed by the early start and after the unusually big noon meal, we were fatigued. Luckily were able to actually find a cab at a stand. With no time to waste we headed to the Musee D’Orsay. Since we had both been to this former railway station turned auction house now stunning, sophisticated and startling beautiful structure after viewing the collection, we were in need of some serious café filter. Where else could two touristy gals go for good coffee and the perfect perch to see other Parisians? We headed over to Angelina’s on the Right Bank on Rue de Rivoli, a landmark for their cakes and tarts. Trudi didn’t stop talking about the Mount Blanc for which they are famous. I opted for a raspberry tart. And while we were sipping, the rain came down in perfect sheets, making the City of Light, even shinier.

Now completely exhausted and knowing how difficult it is even in the sunniest day and at this time to get a taxi, we decided to try for one to be sure to get to the station on time. Luck had been with us throughout this day trip and within minutes, voila, we were on our way to the Garde de Norde, this time to the first class lounge. Ah, poor us, they were the only tickets that Joan and Nicki were able to obtain for us. And quelle supris, the comfortable lounge offered more food and wine, although neither of us even considered any. Besides, we were soon on the train on our way back to jolly olde London. As day trippers, we rehashed our tres jolie jour, hoping to repeat the Eurostar experience on my next trip to London. However, that will definitely be an overnighter. After all, if it’s that good for a day, it could only be better for two days. Mais oui???