Long Weekend

08 May 2008

The first morning goes as the first morning always does. Up at four, into the taxi at four-twenty. I'm so tightly packed that I don't have loose change for a tip, though the driver deserves one. Drift off as the Eurostar nails the 465km to Paris in two hours and fifteen minutes. Step off the train and suddenly it's on as our couchsurfer meets us at the station. Swap greetings and comments on the weather. Try to buy metro tickets with twenty-euro notes. Stop for croissants at a corner bakery.

I still haven't had a coffee.

We've been to Paris before. Seen the sights, ticked the boxes. This trip is ours. That's a really strange thing to say and a strange thing to think, but there's no getting away from it. It takes more discipline than we - or nearly anyone - has to spend a few days only in a city and not see the things that make it famous.

That's why the second trip is better.

But we don't slow down. We hike around the local area - the Couchsurfing Hello - meet friends for dinner, have too many drinks. I lose a wheel on the hard cobblestones and disqualify myself from the Friday Night Skate. I'm not really sorry; Lyn's positively glad. We crash at 1am, sleeping on the bed while our couchsurfer surfs his own couch.

Saturday. The weather's the kind we used to take for granted. We play scavenger-hunt on Rue Saint-Antoine and hike to the banks of the Seine with the treasures: cheese, strawberries, baguettes, wine. I fall asleep in the sun. Why is unconsciousness so precious? Is it just lack of sleep that makes me think so?

And what does that say about our lifestyles?

Sunday. I smack my wrist-guards on my knee-pads, my elbow-pads just as tight as the skates locked on to my feet. I feel heavily armoured but I'm horrifically vulnerable. Twenty kilometres, three hours - doesn't sound fast, but there's a break in the middle, and we spend a lot of time waiting for the thousands-strong crowd to catch up.

Near the end of the route I run into an old friend by sheer coincidence. I briefly speak to her in French while at speed in the middle of the road. Somewhere in my mind, some boxes get ticked, and "skating" and "french" move back to the end of the queue.

We run into the Free Hugs movement while watching a busker by Notre Dame. I always thought that it would be smelly old men, not shy, beautiful French girls. As always, I can transmit, not receive, so I'll never know what she said to me.

Monday. Back to Montmartre; it hasn't changed. Saint-Germain De Pres is lovely, but I know myself well enough to know when I have to either take my skates off, or get run over. We're wearing down. But somehow we can't stop.

Tuesday. We're inspired by an exhibition of videos of French couples arguing. Fortunately, we're in a hotel for the last night. Ticketing for the Kylie concert is a shambles, as usual, but I only feel angry, not inspired to fix it. While Lyn's dazzled by lights, I'm pushing the edges, following up a disgusting Pizza Hut takeaway with a twenty-euro bottle of wine.

Not all travel stereotypes are true. Not all the time.

The last morning goes as the last morning always does. Down at 1am, up at five, I ride the Paris metro to Gare Du Nord, fail to understand the security guard's French, doze on the Eurostar, tube back to Belsize Park for the grey-blue half-light and the long walk home. I lose my keys. I'm late to work. I snap at a colleague, survive the meeting, leave early, somehow get home alive. Everything already feels like a dream. About eleven I finally crash, dead-tired but too unbalanced to sleep.

It's been a long weekend.