Wanting to avoid spending a ton of money, I decided to stay over here for Christmas. My friend invited me and our other friend to come have Christmas with her in the south of France in Pau, near the Pyrenees. I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord (foul train station). I stayed at a hotel across the street from the Train station, which was surprisingly pleasant considering the surrounding area was rather dodgy. I was told everyone spoke a bit of english in Paris, but that’s not really the case. Some spoke some english, and at that moment my french was limited to Yes, Please and Thank You. I decided to not try to go to a cafe and suffer through the language issues since I was on my own anyway. I went to McDonald’s and ordered from one of the digital kiosks thinking I was very smart. Turns out, they call your number in French to pick up your food and there weren’t any screens showing what numbers had been called. Finally figured out what number 23 sounded like and was able to get my dinner. I also managed to pick up a bottle of wine and some cookies from the local grocery store (the Monop’ – an abbreviated version of the larger Monoprix). I got back to my hotel room only to discover the wine was not a screw top as I had gotten used to in England. I had no corkscrew. Cue the violins playing me a sad song.
The next morning I got a cab to go to Gare Montparnasse (3 miles away took 40 minutes). Apparently going through Place de la Concorde is the best way to go (WHY I ASK YOU!?!? WHY!??) Finally got to Gare Montparnasse and hopped my SNCF train to Pau – about a 4 1/2 hour journey. The train was comfortable and I was able to sleep in my seat on the top level of the train. We passed through the French countryside, Bordeaux, Dax and on to Pau. Once I arrived I was informed by google maps that the funicular would be part of my journey. Hooray! I love that kind of stuff! The town runs a free Funiculaire from the bottom of the hill across the street from the train station to the top where the town centre is. You can walk it and it’s not bad, but why do that when you can take a fun inclined train!
Pau is a lovely town. It was the birthplace and a favourite of Henry the IV and he had a Chateau there which you can easily walk to from the town centre. I really enjoyed walking around there and looking at the shops and vantage points facing the Pyrenees. Next to our hotel was a Christmas Market. There was a stage where traditional french and christmas songs were played, lots of stalls selling artisan goods and food and had lovely fairy lights strung up all around. It really felt like Christmas.The family who hosted us for Christmas was so wonderful! Amazing food, great company and a perfect Christmas Eve.
A note about French home dining: Before you try to tackle a holiday meal (or a few) at the home of French people, prepare yourself. It’s a lot of delicious rich food. I don’t mean quantity, I mean theres a main meat and a side (in this case turkey and Hungarian sauerkraut). But we also had a starter of Foie Gras and homemade gingerbread. I don’t know how or why it happens but the loveliness and richness of the food creeps up on you and all of the sudden you are FULL, even if you didn’t eat a lot. Condition yourself is all I’m saying. 😀
My friend who was with me ended up having some sort of stomach bug so Christmas Day she spent in bed and I stayed in town having a wander. I managed to find a Cambodian Restaurant open at night (which really was a Christmas miracle!) so I was able to get some steamed rice for her tummy.
Boxing Day I hopped the train back to Paris Montparnasse took another cab back to Gare du Nord where I was to wait for 4 hours for my Eurostar train. What a mess! There were so many people and so many delays due to the volume trying to get through security and customs that many people missed their trains. My particular customs agent was very funny and nice and I was surprised he wasn’t more frustrated than the other guys around him. Luckily I made my train with about 20 minutes to spare because they wouldn’t let me check in earlier than an hour and 10 minutes before my train. Finally after 12+ hours of traveling I made it back to my flat.