Paris, U2 and us

Here’s a quick summation of our trip to Paris during the week. We stayed in the Pigalle district, which turned out to be better than expected. The area is full of sex shops and other dens of whatever you’re having yourself, but also terrific cafes, bars and restaurants.

Day one we arrived in late afternoon, so after a quick drink in a local bar, we went for a tasting meal at restaurant whose name escapes me now. It washat packed and when I tell you that there were five entrees with monkfish and tuna among the main courses, then you’ll know I wasn’t especially pleased. But I ate away, even getting through those fishy thingies which I generally avoid like the plague. We even had two desserts, and the last one looked really nice. We were told to down it in one mouthful, but mine crashed off the side of my face to leave me with, literally, egg running down the side of my face. Egg and meringue? Yuck. Still, we laughed our way through the meal.


Afterwards, Trish, who is a great believer in the night being young no matter how late, decided we should make for one of her bucket list nominees – the Ritz, so off we went. We made for the nearest indoor bar where a pianist was effortlessly at work, but we were directed – actually escorted – to the Hemingway Bar passing a sumptuous arcade of boutiques from Prada to God knows what. I clutched on tightly to my credit cards as we arrived at the dazzling Hemingway, complete with menu which is available to purchase for €5.

Some well dressed Americans dazzled with their not-Dunnes Stores best, while we grabbed a table and ordered gin and tonic, plus a Baileys. Well, they offered their own version of Baileys and it’s fair to say I was less than impressed with the bitter concoction, though at the price I swallowed the drink and my pride. We had a second round, luxuriated in the surroundings, while indulging in that well-known Irish habit of people watching. A couple of people over for the U2 concert got our attention because they wore their VIP ID badges dangling from their necks. Some people have no class.

The following morning we ordered breakfast in a local cafe. Thirty minutes waiting for the breakfast to arrive left us less than impressed so we left. Trish suggested a trek up the Champs-Élysées so a taxi dropped us about halfway up and we checked out some shops as we walked. Begging is not unusual in Paris, as we were to discover, but what surprised me on the Champs was a facially disfigured man with his hand out. I guess he resonated with me more than others for obvious reasons and he smiled when I dropped a note in his money box.

Thirteen years ago Trish, myself and Sarah Jane spent a lovely week in Paris exploring the sights, so there was no pressure on Trish and I this time round. However, the sight of the Arc de Triomphe proved irresistible, so we opted to climb to the top. After 280-plus steps it didn’t seem like such a good idea. Still the views from above were gorgeous. After that marathon effort we were happy to grab a bite to eat and recover.

An Uber ride to the Stade de France stadium for the  U2 concert provided a surprise. Not far from our destination we came across hundreds of small tents pitched on underpasses and the sides of the motorway by migrants. Obviously I knew thousands of migrants had been forcibly moved from the centre of Paris recently, but in our happy mood we had forgotten them.

Inside the atmosphere was building nicely. We had seats that gave us terrific views of the many thousands already there, but my impatience waiting for the main act was not helping my mood. I guess not being a regular concert-goer showed!

When U2 did launch into that first song the stadium really erupted. Now, I am a huge U2 fan, but never saw them live, much to my shame. So I was overjoyed when each song sounded exactly the same live as on the record, a testament to the band’s enormous professionalism and Bono’s healthy lungs. The stage was incredible, enhancing the music and the concert performance.

Around me the crowd had long since left their seats, dancing, waving their hands, or even singing along. A French woman in her early 40s danced the whole night while her husband had to admit defeat several times and sit down. I could sympathise.

A seven-song encore really raised the roof, and I was thrilled when the final number was ‘I Will Follow’, the single which first introduced me to the band all those years ago.

And then it was all over far too soon. I grabbed a couple of U2 t-shirts. Pricey at €35 each, but what the hell. A heavy security presence guided us out of the stadium and when we got back to Pigalle there was just enough time to grab a few drinks before bed.

Our last full day in Paris meant a trip to Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. If you don’t know this elegant department store (actually there are several clustered together, but the women’s store is the most beautiful) then make it your business to go there. After browsing through several departments Trish found  a couple of items and bought them immediately, so we headed for the rooftop terrace restaurant for lunch (€25-27 for main course). We were able to grab a table with spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower and other top attractions, and I highly recommend it to cap your visit to Paris. Incidentally, there is a terraced area sandwiched between the bar and restaurant where many people can savour the views for free.

We checked out a few more shops, stopped at a cafe for coffee before heading back to our apartment to rest up before heading out locally for the evening. It was almost time to say goodbye. Our final morning we had plenty of time to take breakfast outdoors, before having a final drink and saying au revouir to Paris and our flight home.

We’ll definitely be back, except we won’t wait another 13 years.

 

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