Postcard - Pommes Frites en Paris
November 2008©Nigel Spiers

The day after the US elections and there seems to be an air of expectancy aboard our 747-400 bound for LAX. A new start with a new president elect - Barack Obama. Even the notoriously surly customs staff at LAX whisk us through at record speed and where are all those hustlers in the arrivals hall?
Day two and a glorious, clear Los Angeles autumn day - we simply must do something iconic on our only day in this famous city. Universal Studios is the winner and as the taxi driver takes us through Beverley Hills to the San Fernando Valley the annual fires above the city are nowhere to be seen and instead the beautiful canyons are every shade of purple, orange and blue. The charming Albanian driver turns off his meter and says he will drive past all his favourite mansions of the stars. I have visions of homicidal maniacs and Harry Bosch, Milo Sturgis and all Lincoln Rhyme’s villainous adversaries. But no – it is an absolutely splendid day and we are mighty impressed with the Universal Studios back lot, working studios and a lunchtime concert by the Blues Brothers and Aretha Franklin look-a-likes.
Through Chile, Peru and Venezuela and on to the tropical wonders of Costa Rica. Yes its World Travel Market (WTM) week in London again and despite the international financial crash of the last few months 50,000 travel buyers and sellers from all over the world flock into the Excel centre in London’s Docklands.

The impressive & highly successful 100% Pure stand at WTM 2008 where New Zealand won the 'Overall Winner' and 'Best Destination' categories in the 2008 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards. The awards recognise destinations and organisations that are making a positive contribution to local cultures, economies and the environment through tourism. New Zealand was nominated for the first time this year, alongside 1900 other countries.

Ahh Paris – so much to admire, so much to enjoy and so bloody frustrating. If London is solid and scruffy – like Billy Bunter with a little breakfast spilled down the front of his blazer Paris is entirely feminine. The tall beautifully proportioned casement windows are pure Audrey Hepburn and the black wrought iron adorning the balconies is the lace on the hem of her stylish little black dress. It’s a mild Autumnal day with the plane trees on the banks of the Seine valiantly display one final burst of colour before winter sets in. The family splits up to cover more ground with Georgina and Oliver doing the Tower, Louvre and Champs Elysees while Roz and I stroll through the Louvre, over the Seine and down the left bank to one of our favourite galleries Musee d’Orsay.

Carpeaux’s titillating sculpture ‘La Dance’ that
scandalized Paris in the 1860’s.

It’s been eight years since we last visited and there’s always a slight doubt in the back of your mind when you return to a cherished memory. We really want to go straight to the fifth floor for the main course (the sensational Degas collection) but we first dawdle over the entree – the current exhibitions on the ground floor and getting reacquainted with this extraordinary building. The Musee d’Orsay was opened in 1986 in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. It holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography, and is probably best known for its extensive collection of impressionist masterpieces.

One of the gallery’s many spectacular features are the huge black wrought iron clocks built into the walls of each level and carefully placed to offer glimpses of famous Parisian landmarks.

Sacre Coeur and Montmarte from the 5th floor of the Musee d’Orsay.

By lunchtime we have walked ourselves to a standstill and need a reviving bottle of champagne, hamburgers and chips. The traditional café on Avenue de l’Opera obliges with a Veuve Clicquot that is so light it is like an Angel dancing on your tongue. The French take their meat and chips very seriously and the Pommes Frites are out of this world – crisp golden brown works of art cooked to perfection. I read somewhere that what makes the chips cooked in France so special is that they are often cooked in duck fat and that they must always be double cooked. Sorry to go on about the bloody Pommes Frites – they were outrageously expensive and I’m not even a ‘foodie’ but they were so good I am sitting at my desk putting on a kilo just reminiscing.

Our lovely hotel is on the outskirts of Paris and so despite our previous bad experiences with the Paris Metro we decide to give it a go and that’s where the trouble started your honour. With a Paris map in hand and our hotel circled in red we ask numerous Metro conductors, information booth staff and officials for the nearest station. Most staff shrug their shoulders or tell us they are not interested in our question and turn their backs. A few are absolutely certain but each answer is in a totally different direction. We finally acknowledge that the centuries old antipathy between the English and French is alive and well in Paris and chose a station, buy tickets and board the train. A small disheveled conductor, straight out of a Peter Sellers movie, comes through the carriage and asks to see our tickets. His face lights up when he discovers that we are on an express to Charles De Gaulle airport and our tickets are for the previous station. With a greasy smile and smirks from all the swaying locals on the train he fines us 100 Euro and asks for my credit card. After an extended discussion we flee the train at the next stop and George has to break a window to get out of the station.

Au revoir mon amis

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