As happens sometimes, I am having a hankering for Paris. It’s one of those top favourite places that haunts me from time to time, until the urge to go becomes irresistible and I find myself on the Eurostar. It is still endlessly exciting to me, no matter how many times I do it, that I can just get on a train in London and then be in Paris for lunch, or even breakfast. Especially now that this journey starts at St Pancras, so the glamour begins with the very first step as well as it feeling like the most civilised way to travel.
My first trip to Paris was at the age of (I think) 8. I was a precocious child (I know; you’re shocked), who was slightly obsessed with the idea of Paris and as such was avidly learning the language, with a ridiculous accent that I thought was way sophisticated. So as a special treat of the highest order, my parents took me by myself, for the day, by aeroplane in the years before Eurostar, for St Valentine’s Day. I insisted upon wearing a beret, refusing to believe my mum’s explanation that French people didn’t wear berets every day – I clearly thought that not to wear one would show me up as the gauche little rosbif that I was. I drank chocolat chaud, had my portrait drawn in Montmartre, and had an early dinner in Chartier before jetting back home with a new love in my life.
Since then, I have been a regular visitor, and I always make sure that each trip includes at least one meal at Chartier – possibly my favourite restaurant in the world.
Other memorable Parisian jaunts include my visits to see Rachael when she was living and studying there for a year. She lived in a postage-stamp-sized studio apartment that she shared with another girl, at the very top of the archetypal tall rickety Paris house, and if you really craned your neck you could see the Eiffel Tower from her kitchenette window. I have fond memories of us deciding to stay up all night, as I had to be at the airport at something like 5AM for my flight back to London, drinking coffee outside in the Latin Quarter and talking nonstop so as not to fall asleep.
Another flying daytrip was for my mum’s birthday six or seven years ago – it fell on a weekday and for some reason all of the menfolk were busy. So, she decided to take my sister, my nan and me for an impromptu ladies’ day out. Another of those pinch-yourself surreal days where you really are suddenly at an Amelie-style café in time for your morning coffee. I remember we flew back late in the evening and I went straight on to a friend’s house party for another birthday, turning up straight from the airport with a cheese platter I’d bought only a couple of hours before.
In homage to, well I suppose kinda myself, I took Jimmy to Paris as a surprise for our first Valentine’s day. The Chartier tradition continued.
My last visit was last March, en route to a ski trip – taking the train from London to Geneva and then a bus on to Chamonix – with a night’s stopover in Paris, perfectly timed to coincide with Jimmy’s birthday. So, of course, just time for a quick visit to the Louvre and dinner at Chartier, before we stayed overnight in a hotel and caught the early train up to the Alps the following morning. We stayed in an amazing hotel, with opulently themed rooms (I seem to remember that we stayed in ‘Mistinguett’ – look her up – although we could have had Coco Chanel or Josephine Baker), where they played Lady Gaga in the hallways, right slap bang in the middle of the Pigalle district. That seedy old red light area is actually one of my favourite parts of Paris. I woke up in the middle of the night, possibly due to the thumping music from the nightclub next door, and upon staggering sleepily into the old-fashioned bathroom, I found the room flooded with Moulin Rouge neon light filtered through tatty old lace curtains. I decided to have a bath just to enjoy the light while I could. It was perfect.
Now the time has come that I am definitely due a return. Before the summer is out, I think.