Paris for a Hockey Game
It is a known fact that all the best ideas happen in bars. This one was no exception. Sitting in a pub in south London with a friend, we saw an add on the tv for the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) championship games which the pub was going to show. The games themselves would be played in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France. This sparked the idea of wouldn’t it be great to go to Paris to watch Canada play hockey? What a story that would be. We tossed the ideas out to the larger circle of expats we’re part of, then there were nine of us on our way to the city of lights.
We had tickets to see Canada vs. Czech Republic on the evening of the 5th of May and Canada vs. Slovenia on the afternoon of the 7th. My work schedule meant that I had the 4th off, so in my infinite wisdom I picked an early flight with the intent of getting a full day to enjoy the city. What I didn’t plan on was the fact that I got only about an hour and a half sleep–most of that on the plane–and that I would be exhausted. Wonderfully intelligent things I did that morning include locking my keys in my suitcase and locking my room keys in my room. Not hideous gaffs, but usually I am standing on the other side of the hostel counter for those particular conversations. Speaking of hostels, if you are looking for a hostel in Paris, I really did love Les Piaules. In an area with great cheap eats, modern, clean, comfortable, friendly, and complete with a great bar down stairs and a stunning roof top view. Next time I’m in Paris I will be staying there again.
Working in the tourism industry in London I’ve collected a series of suggestions for the question “I just arrived in London, what should I do?” One of my favorite ones is the hop on hop off tours. A tourist staple of any major city, it is very much one of the thing that every self proclaimed traveler cringes at. But hear me out on this. Imagine you’ve never been to a city, you don’t know your way around, and you’re exhausted. Buy a ticket for the hop on hop off tour and just sit there and ride around the city. You get an idea of where things are, you can check off a lot of the major sites–like the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe–that you only want to see from the outside anyway, and you can do all that in a couple hours. It also gives you some time to come up with a game plan of what you really want to see and where it is. Taking my own advise I bought a ticket, and then promptly fell asleep on the bus. A bit of wandering, a great pizza dinner (’cause why not eat Italian in France!), and back to the hostel to see the sunset over the city.
One of the great things about Paris is breakfast. There is something about the quality of the light and having coffee and croissants that is just different in Paris than it is in any other place in the world. I was moving to an Air B&B around 2:00 pm, so I had a bit more of a wander before grabbing my stuff to join the others.
That night we went to our first hockey game–Canada vs. Czech Republic. Food around the stadium is very expensive, and food available inside is expensive and bland. Eat else where before you show up for the game. Another thing to know, is you can’t buy beer in the stadium. Before you enter into the main concourse there is one bar where you can buy an over priced beer, but that’s it. Do not be fooled by the beer taps you see at food vendors near the gates, it’s non-alcoholic beer. There was a cruel pleasure it watching people walk up to the counter and be informed that the beer is sans alcohol. Two nations known for the their beer culture unable to get beer while watching sports. Drink before.
We had one full day in the city with no hockey and no travel, so this was going to be our day to go to Versailles. I have been to Paris before–I was 11 so it really doesn’t count–but on that trip I didn’t make it to Versailles. It is a remarkably easy train trip from the center of the city on the C train to the palace.
As we walked up to the main gates we see a long line of people stretched across the court yard. We of course, had to join that line. I had assumed that on a rainy day in early May there wouldn’t be that many people. I was wrong. Truly I can’t imagine how awful that place is in on a sunny day in July, it was so packed on a bad weather day at the end of the off tourist season. Is it worth it? Yes it is, in the way that all famous tourist sites are. They are the things that we do once, that are part of the fundamental narrative of a place. The hall of mirrors is impressive. You can stand there and it is easy in your minds eye to remove the tour groups and repopulate the room with 17th century aristocrats. It makes real the cause for revolution and at the same time indulges all your fantasies of being a princess. Pack some patience that day, but do go see it.
If you want to go to Versailles but are both cheap and wanting to avoid crowds, here is a fun tip: you can bring food and drinks into the gardens! Yep, this goes for alcohol too. We had stopped at the grocery store the day before and picked up the fixings for a great picnic–baguettes, cheese, meats, fruit, and wine. Normally it is free to go into the gardens, though since they were doing a concert series at the time meaning there was a small fee (though access to the gardens was included in our tickets). We found a bench in the Orangery and had our lunch. As a bit of a history nerd I enjoyed knowing that I now had something in common with french royalty–I’ve now been tipsy in the gardens of Versailles!
Back in the city, we met up with the rest of the group and went searching for a place to have dinner–which is a bit difficult when you have a 9 person group. We went on a wander around the Le Marais district until we found a place that would take us and was reasonably priced. This was going to be a splurge night and we all knew it. But when in Paris! After dinner we went out to the Eiffel Tower to go see it lit up at night. Do be aware that the metro stops running sometime after midnight. So if you are relying on that as your way home, plan accordingly.
Our last day in Paris dawned all too soon. We had another hockey game, though this one was at noon. By the time we had packed up and cleared out of the Air B&B we had to head straight to the stadium. Having learned from the last time we knew enough to eat before hand and how to clear the security checks quickly. That day Canada played Slovenia–thankfully we won, I work with a few Slovenians, so if we’d lost I’d have never heard the end of it.
After the game we all started to go our separate ways, some of us had flights home that day, some of us stayed on, and some had only had tickets to the game on the 5th and were already out exploring the city. My flight wasn’t until early the next morning, so I moved to the St. Christopher’s hostel near the Gare du Nord station. The other girls wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower, I decided to give it a pass and went shopping. Normally I’m not a big shopper when I travel. I usually send all my money on food and drinks. But Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world, at minimum I was going to do some window shopping in all the fancy places that I couldn’t afford to even step into. I did buy one thing–I got myself a new scarf. I love a good scarf, one really can never have too many of them. In my rush to get out in the early hours of the 4th I had forgotten mine in London, so what better excuse did I need to go get a new one?
Also true to my love of food I stopped at Laduree for some macarons. Yes, they were extensive, but yes it was worth it. I had my snack in the Tuilerie gardens, even thought it was a bit chilly and had been raining on and off all day.
As I tried to meet up with the other girls for dinner I found myself in one of those situations that you never really want to be in as a traveler–a political demonstration. It was the night of the French presidential election and the Emmanuel Macron camp was set up in the forecourt of the Louvre. There were streams of people with flags standing around waiting to hear the results at 8:00 pm, and there was an equally large police presence there as well. When I see dozens of vans with police in body armor I generally try to get away as far as I can. I wasn’t far enough away when the results were announced. I knew the moment because I heard the shouts from the crowd behind me instantly followed by police whistles and sirens as more police streamed into the area. I couldn’t tell at that that time if they were celebrating or mourning. All I knew was I didn’t want to be there either way. I found the girls and a quick Google search told us that Macron has won–things would quiet down quickly after the announcement of the results.
Another early morning trip to the airport and a quick flight back to London. I went straight from the airport to work. Exhausted but so worth it!