Today is our liminal day, leaving Barcelona and spending a large portion of our waking hours on a train before arriving in Paris. We’re up and out of the Barcelo Sants after a pretty decent buffet breakfast. Here’s one of our rare actual pieces of traveling advice: you just gotta get over the breakfast thing. It’s not going to be what you’re used to (barring some fairly unusual breakfast practices for an American). Scrambled eggs are usually more of an… egg porridge? Bacon will almost never be bacon, although it’s often better [one man’s opinion -J]. There will be more sweet things than you might expect – small cakes, glazed or filled pastries, even petits fours. Europe has a sweet tooth in the morning, I don’t know what else to say. (To be clear, even amongst other European countries Portugal stands out.) Anyway, for your own peace of mind you’ve just got to accept this. Navigate your way through your breakfast options and piece together a meal you can get by on. There are usually dry cereals and perhaps a toasting station. Just… you’ll spend your whole trip grousing about breakfast if you let it get to you. For your own sake make peace with breakfast. AAAANYWAY. As mentioned in our last post, the trip from the hotel to the security queue for our train really was about 4 minutes; you cannot beat the convenience! We had a modest wait in a holding area, then were released down a level to the actual train platform.
So, about trains. John in particular has long romanticized the notion of train travel. He hasn’t done it much, and he just thinks of it as a far more civilized way to get around the continent. To be sure, there are benefits. Airports tend to be on the outskirts of cities, and really truly in Europe they often stretch this further than we’re used to in the US; it can be an hour or more commute to get to/from your airport terminal. Train stations, on the other hand, are historically buried deep within the city. This means that your commute from A to B is the actual travel time, plus maybe 15 minutes on either end, and at “B” you are already in your desired locale. That’s awesome. The security / ticket-taking lines are also far simpler and more easily navigated with train travel. Luggage restrictions are almost non-existant. So, for example, after breakfast we spent about 10 minutes (plus a little waiting, maybe 10-15 minutes) before we were on our train, and when we came to a stop in Paris we were … call it 10 minutes from being inside a taxi for a 10-ish minute drive through the city to our flat for the week. You do your own comparison for what your experience with air travel timing is like.
That’s all great. HOWEVER. The train is signiiiiificantly slower than an airplane. I mean, duh, right? But still, 6 hours in any chair is eventually going get uncomfortable, and the fact that there’s 80% less noise than on a plane (that constant wooshing/whining sound is just not there) doesn’t really make up for that. Plus, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re sitting face-to-face with strangers. Like, I hope you’re the sociable type, but then there’s no telling if they are or not. On top of all this, these features are considered, economically, to be a fair trade with air travel because it’s not all that much cheaper to take the train; in fact, Ryanair spit, sign of the Evil Eye and similar low-cost airlines beat the train on price in many cases. So, the upside of train travel better really be an upside to you. Having only done it a little, our jury is still out, but John’s train romanticism definitely took a hit.
Nevertheless, we did arrive in Paris safe and sound, and indeed our taxi ride was both uneventful and quick. Soon enough we were tucked into our flat in the Marais.
Gods I just love saying things like “our flat in the Marais.” I mean COME ON.
Whew. So yeah, we get to the flat and get settled in. It’s a charming apartment 2 flights up from the street level (which for our building means a Birkenstock store, go fig). We have absolutely adored the sheer charm of having our big, classic French windows looking down on a ridiculously-characteristic side street, a mix of cafes and shops, with a local museum a block or so to our right. The Marais is a neighborhood in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. What’s an arrondissement? An administrative district which, while not neighborhoods per se, is the easiest way to think of it if you aren’t going to live in Paris (imo). There are 20 of them and they spiral out from the center, so the low numbers are the fancier ones close to the iconic stuff you think of when you think “Paris”, not that the big-number ones can’t be nice, too. Anyway, the Marais is a charming neighborhood that was super aristocratic, then fell into a shabby state, and is now rebounding in a big way (pretty typical story of neighborhoods in cities from what I can tell). In the days to come we will not have to walk more than 5 minutes to dinner, and that’s only for variety. There is an adorable courtyard about 100m from our place that is essentially a ring of bistros. Heaven. This first night, however, Lisa had a reservation in place at Cafe Des Musees. You should definitely go read her review, but what I remember is giggling through the meal at just how $#*(&^@ delicious everything was. Maybe train travel was romanticized, but “the food is good in Paris” might as well be the 4th Law of Thermodynamics. With full stomachs and slightly sore tuchuses, we repaired to bed to rest up for our first day of exploration.