I'll tell you one thing, the French serve a rotten cup of tea. Twice we were given cups of not-boiling water, with a tea bag lying beside it, sealed in an envelope that took so long to rip open the water could only get colder. And once we had the same, but with the milk already in it. Yeuch. Never order a cup of tea up the Eiffel Tower.
It was Hev's birthday so we went to Paris. That's the long and the short of it really. At this point a good journalist would spin a yarn about the real reason behind the trip, maybe the guy was going to propose or tell the family he had a terminal disease. But, reassuringly I'd say, I had no ulterior motive other than to make up for last year when I was away in Jordan working over her birthday, and seeing if we could improve on her 2013 birthday which we spent in a cold and rainy Dublin, again thanks to my work.
We flew on Saturday midday, arriving early afternoon, then enjoyed a perfect meander to the Eiffel tower. The perfect romantic Paris visit there, all in the first day.
The flat was great too, overlooking the Natural History Museum, right by the Seine and Gare D'Austerlitz, it made everywhere easy to get to and navigate, in theory, though by god I had fun with Apple Maps on my phone (since it upgraded to the latest operating system, the maps are rubbish and seem never to tell you where you really are or where you should be going, which rather negates their usefulness).
On Sunday, which felt like our Saturday, we went to the Centre Pompidou via a meander through the streets of the South Bank, but only saw the free exhbitions, there being a 75 minute queue to get to any of the paid shows. And there were plenty more shops and galleries to peruse which kept us more than busy enough. And rather than knocking ourselves out like youngsters with a late night, back in the flat in the evening we watched movie on Netflix on the laptop (a very disappointing Ridley Scott thing called Body Of Lies, which Hev wisely slept through most of).
Oh yeah, they have tons of graffitti. And not like the visual extravaganzas you get on the walls of Bristol, it's mostly overgrown tags straight out of 1970s New York. It reminds you that we do have an equivalent alongside the railtracks of Britain: large grey rectangles where they've been painted out by the British Transport Police. It's hard to know which looks worse. The unimaginative repetitive old school tags that make your underground look like a war zone, or boring grey squares that hide the truth.
Monday we were flying back in the evening, which meant depositing our bags in a locker at Gare Du Nord before going off to do Montmartre. The area around Gare Du Nord has become pretty grotty in recent years, and I must admit today was the day that was hardest going and left us with the abiding memory of Paris as a slightly down at heel, slightly inconvenient, and tiring place to visit. We had a great time on this visit, but this third draining day slightly took the gilt off the gingerbread as Apple Maps sent us the wrong way up streets thronged with folks who looked, to paraphrase The Fast Show, "a little bit whee a little bit whoo".
And France's security alert situation really made itself known. Airports aside, we had to go through four X ray machines or metal detectors: to get up the Eiffel Tower, to get into Centre Pompidou, to get into the lockers at Gare Du Nord, and to get into Galeries Lafayate. Understandable obviously, as were the occasional groups of police with machine guns in popular parts of town, but with the resultant queueing it slowed the days down and must be getting to the locals no end.
We did Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, we meandered to Galeries Lafayete, got lots of good photos, saw lots of great sights, and even bought some stuff. For my part I got a copy of Spirou and Charlie Hebdo, which is what I seem to come home with after every trip to France.
We gave ourselves lots of time to get to the airport and to catch our 9.20pm flight, and a good job too, as no part of the process was anything less than a slog. Picking up our bags in a rush hour crowded Gare Du Nord was made more fun by the fact that the lockers had a glitch so they were printing out blank receipts which, had we not spotted it in time, would mean not only would we not have been able to extract our bags, we wouldn't have remembered which of the identical lockers they were in.
The rush hour tube train was the busiest I can remember being on for a very long time. They employ people in uniform to squeeze punters on the trains. I remember seeing that in documentaries about Japan 30 years and thinking it could never happen here. Well, it's happening in Paris.
Having left the shops at 4.30, taking an easy stroll to the station then getting caught up in the hustle and bustle, we made it to the airport at 7.20, spot on in time for bag drop opening, then 2 hours to fill trying to find somewhere to eat. Thanks to building work (we think) Paris's Charles De Gaulle airport has fewer places to eat than Bristol airport. I know. And, as if we weren't drained enough, the flight was delayed from 9.20 to 10pm, a good wodge of which we spent stood up in the bus to the plane as a result of the pilot - who subsequently came out and apologised to us all in person - being directed to the wrong parking space. (With his plane, that is). Add to all of this our drive back from Bristol airport being extended due to flooded roads (we missed a very wet weekend back home), and our journey home from Paris had taken so long we would have been quicker driving.
A draining journey notwithstanding, it was a glorious holiday weekend and I hope Hev enjoyed it as much as I did. I've already collated the best of the photos up into a Blurb book, which is a mark of a memorable trip in our house (past collections include Venice, Malta and a couple of Edinburghs).
Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. View the promo video here.
TOUR DATES 2017
Feb 15 - Buxton Pavilion Arts Centre Studio
Feb 17 & 18 6.50pm - Kayal, Leicester Comedy Fest
March 9 - Aberystwyth Arts Centre
March 15 & 16 - Dram! Glasgow Com Fest
March 23 - The Bill Murray, London
Apr 6 - Victoria Theatre Halifax
Apr 8 - Rondo Bath
Apr 13 - Hexham Queen Hall
Apr 22 - Swindon Arts
Apr 27 - Stroud Subscription Rooms
Apr 28 - Merlin Theatre Frome
May 1 - Chiddingstone Castle Kent
May 5 - Artrix Bromsgrove
May 6 - Stafford Gatehouse
May 13 (4.30pm) & May 14 (5.30pm) Komedia Brighton
May 19 - Carriageworks Leeds
June 2 - Eden Ct Inverness
June 15 - Crescent Arts, Belfast
June 17 - Dalkey Festival, Dublin
June 24 - Ludlow Fringe