I consider it a milestone in my recovery from foot surgery that I recently managed to take a short holiday. It was the reason for me posting late again. My wife planned a visit to both London and Paris spread over a week. I have to admit that I was not sure if I was ready for this physically, but mentally I certainly was.
The trip to London was inspired by our son’s 21st birthday. When he was younger we had gotten permission to take him out of school for his birthday and we went on a family holiday to London. The highlight was a trip to London Zoo. I do not think that we appreciated how much of an impact this made on him as he wanted to repeat the experience.
I was using my crutches to get about. Thanks to previous visits I knew that London Zoon was simply too large for me to get around comfortably or even at a reasonable speed, so I ordered a wheelchair. I do not like using wheelchairs. People treat you differently when you are sat in a wheelchair. However, in this instance I swallowed my pride and did the right thing. I also do not like zoos, but I do see them as necessary considering the destruction that our civilisation causes to ecologies and habitats around the world.
We stayed at an Airbnb house in Somers Town. It was a relatively short distance from Kings Cross Station and surprisingly close to Regent’s Park. Public transport is excellent in London. We have Oyster cards and they can be used on both buses and the underground. This makes getting around, even for someone with impaired mobility like me, easy. I would not take a wheelchair on the underground, but there are many stations that have improved access for disabled people. The crowds can be a problem but to be honest I have found that most people tend to treat me with consideration.
After three days we said goodbye to our son and daughter and moved from Somers Town to Saint Pancras, the district not the hotel. As it was our 25th Wedding Anniversary we had decided to celebrate with a dinner and dance at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly. It was worth getting dressed up for. My wife loves ‘putting on the Ritz’. She had her hair done at a local hairdresser’s and I booked a rather swish black Mercedes-Benz to get us to Piccadilly. I have to admit that we were somewhat disappointed by our experience. A friend had told me that staff at the Ritz treat all their guests the same and he was using personal experience to inform his opinion. When we arrived on time we were told that our table was not ready. It was suggested that we go and sit down while we waited. There was nowhere to sit. The only vacant table had a ‘Reserved’ notice on it, not that there seemed to be many chairs to sit down at anyway. We were left to walk up and down the corridor, me limping and leaning on my walking stick.
When we did get inside the dining room the situation seemed to improve. The décor was excellent, as was the food. I indulged us in buying the most expensive bottle of wine to date. I asked the waiter if we could keep the cork, we have a collection of them in a large glass vase at home. He said we could but then failed to give it to us. I reminded him again a little later and he said that he would bring it to us; of course, he never did. Entertainment was provided by two young dancers who did amazingly well with a very small dancefloor. There was also a band who played a variety of swing numbers. After we had eaten our meal it proved a little difficult to get a waiter’s attention so that we could pay the bill. I have to admit that we have received better treatment at other hotels.
The following day we headed for Paris, a city that I have wanted to visit for a very long
time. We used Eurostar from St. Pancras. On arrival there seemed to be a lot of people milling around not knowing what to do. There were two Eurostar employees, but they seemed disinterested in helping anyone. Even when asked for guidance their attitude was far from positive. Passing through security and passport control was very similar to any airport. This has really taken the joy out of travelling for me. A necessary evil, I suppose, but it just increases the feeling that travellers are just being herded together. The passenger lounge was large, uninspiring, and not particularly comfortable. It was also quite noisy. There was no glamour. Even when we boarded the train the situation was not improved by discovering that the toilets in our carriage were not only out of commission but apparently leaking!
The journey to Paris is nothing spectacular but it is a journey to Paris. Once we arrived in Gare du Nord it began to feel that this part of the holiday was beginning to get interested. Our hotel was in Porte de Clichy in north Paris. It was close to both a metro station and a main service bus stop, however, this was a coach holiday. My wife had decided that seeing as I was still on crutches it would be easier for both of us if we took advantage of the organised trips and saw Paris from the comfort of the coach. We did get off at every stop though.
Our second day was spent at Versailles. I was encouraged by a member of staff there to use one of their wheelchairs. I was trying to get about on my crutches, but the palace is huge, and the crowds were going to increase too. I surrendered my independence once again and I must admit that it was the right thing to do. My wife did not have to worry about me getting pushed about by eager photographers and I did not get over tired.
We have visited several famous cities now, but Paris is the first time that I have
immediately felt an affinity for the place. There is just something about it. Paris does not fail to please. Also, I found the people to be surprisingly friendly. Considering all the absurdity of Brexit (I hate that term) we, as English tourists, were not subjected to anything but consideration, well, accept for staff at Eurostar that is. I am not going to blame Paris for that, however. Thanks to the tour guide we got to see a very good Parisian cabaret, saw Paris by night, including the Eiffel Tower light show at 11pm, drove around the Arc de Triumphe several times, always fun, and visited Montmarte. The latter is a very beautiful and yet quint part of the city. There was not enough time to visit the Louvre, but we did take a sail down the Seine and got to see Notre Dame, obviously scarred by the recent fire.
Our return to London seemed to come all too quickly. We had one more night there and spent the next day watching Kelsey Grammer, of ‘Cheers’ and ‘Frasier’ fame, in ‘The Man from La Mancha’, which was excellent. At the end of the holiday I my foot and leg were quite swollen and uncomfortable. There just never seemed to be time to rest, which normally is a good thing when visiting places like London and Paris. For me, however, this proved detrimental. I had to spend my first day at home laid up, trying to encourage the swelling to reduce. I do not regret anything though. I also plan to return to Paris when I am fully able to walk without crutches or have to use a wheelchair again. I have got my travelling legs back!