In Nantes now after opening the vacay with three nights in Paris.
I took a high-speed train operated by SNCF from Paris-Montparnasse to the main train station in Nantes at midday Thursday. We covered the 240 mile distance between the two cities in an amazing two hours and four minutes.
It doesn’t take long once you get outside Paris for the train to blast off into max fastness. My ears popped repeatedly throughout the ride. I felt occasional nauseousness looking out the window because the scenery is more blur than absorbable. It didn’t help that my seat faced the opposition direction of the train’s path. Wind turbines could be seen all along the route. They are a sight for sore eyes.
The train ticket cost 29 euros bought about a month in advance. I had a “second class” seat in a coach car that had a weathered, worn out interior. I stowed my suitcase on a rack near the entry door to the coach. Nobody checked my ticket at any point during boarding or on the ride.
To recap Paris a bit:
I joined Seb and his friends Kate and Marie for the Spiral Stairs gig Wednesday night in Barbes. Spiral (Scott Kannberg) was the second guitar player in Pavement and penned a handful of the band’s songs including Date with Ikea. A full US-based band backed him for the performance which is part of a Euro tour that comes after a slew of well-received dates in the states. Spiral opened the show with an explanation for an absence that kept him away from the stage since the Pavement reunion tour seven years ago. “Life got in the way,” he said.
Complaints about an inoperative sound monitor positioned in front of him was becoming a downward Spiral of whininess until I think Kannberg realized he might be losing the audience with an attitude that didn’t merit the somewhat minor obstacle of not hearing one’s own voice.
Assured by members of the crowd that his vocals were loud and clear on our end, he proceeded sans sour grapes. Admission was just 10 euros. The crowd at the Olympic Cafe numbered perhaps 75. Kennel District, Date, Two States and the PSOI number Caught in the Rain garnered the biggest reaction.
I found a really good beer bar Monday night near the Gare de Lyon. Tipped off in a roundabout way by the US internet resource Beer Menus, I enjoyed a couple of solid French-made IPA’s that stacked up decently with what I’ve started to become hooked on in NYC.
The name of the bar is Express de Lyon. Inside and out, it had all appearances of a pretty typical Paris brasserie. But a chalkboard menu of beer offerings was dominated by hop-heavy stuff rather than the basic lagers, saisons and strong Belgian ales usually seen at most French watering holes. Clearly, small beer-makers doing IPA’s is in its infancy here but the ones I had here offer promise.
The “Sous Senart” is a solid west coast US-style IPA golden in color at 7.6 on the Rick. Made at a small brewery south of Paris in a commune called “Epinay-sous-Senart,” it cost 4.2 euros for a 25 ml pour. As is custom at Paris bars, if you sat outside watching the world go by drinking same said beer, it cost a little more at 4.8 euros.
Also delish was the “Ad Lib,” made by the Hoppy Road brewery in Maxeville in the northeast of France. Dubbed a “session,” it’s only 4.0 on the booze scale but it was bursting with smell, fruity flavor and bubbles. Hoppy Road is launching with an official public grand opening of its space on September 30.
I ate an excellent salad topped with slices of terrine and only-in-France-type tomatoes for dinner at the bar. The proprietor was friendly – and clearly proud of his niche as a conduit for good beer.
On Tuesday night, I attended the Ligue 2 soccer match between Paris Football Club and Orleans. I wasn’t dressed properly and froze late in the match, a 1-nil win for PFC. After complete domination by the hosts, especially in the second half, PFC’s Malik Tchokounte stutter-stepped his way into an open shot to a score in the 79th minute. Attendance was announced at 1659 in a venue that holds 20-thousand. I bought a ticket at the door for 10 euros. From the center of Paris, Stade Charlety was easy to reach via a short walk from the commuter train stop south of the city. More of a track and field venue, it obviously felt flat with such a small crowd on a chilly night. The only beer for sale was of the non-alcohol variety so I got a hot tea and a sandwich with ham for 4 euros.
My hotel in Paris was fantastic. I booked it early at 65 bucks a night. It was tiny but clean and just steps from the Cambronne Metro stop on the 6 line.
There was no moment during the three days in Paris that I wasn’t wide-eyed with the intensity and craziness of it all. It’s really crazy. An amazing place. Far more intense, I beleive than New York. The Metro takes serious getting used to (odd car configuration and cumbersome transfer tunnel/stairwells) compared to NYC Subway but it runs way more frequently. You never have to wait. The street markets are incredible. The focus on politics, news and the arts is way more pronounced in Paris, for sure.
As I was leaving Thursday, I reflected on how little I actually I saw and did vs. what I planned. But no regrets. I was able to see Seb and Julien – two Toulouse guys – who I admire. I ate and drank well. And I hope to come back.