The EuroStar heads straight to the English Channel and ducks 75 meters (246 feet) below sea level for the 50.45 km (31.3 mile) run through the Channel Tunnel ("Chunnel") to France at the Strait of Dover. Our train reaches a peak speed of 294 km/hour (183 miles/hour), with a note that the highest speed ever achieved on the journey was 334.7 km/hour (208 miles/hour).
St. Pancras station
Arriving in Paris at Gare du Nord around 6pm, we weave our way through the heavy crowds to the Metro and are soon at our hotel near the Arc de Triomphe at Place de l'Etoile (also known as Place Charles de Gaule) on the Champs Élysées. Place de l'Etoile (Etoile is "Star" in English) is formed by the intersection of 12 roads that flow into the square and driving around it, with 12 exits and entrances, is always quite an adventure.
Arc de Triomphe
After checking in at our hotel, we head out and look for dinner near our hotel as it starts to rain (spring showers). We spot some good prospects about two blocks away and study the menus. It's hard to choose, but I see that one of them, La Mascotte, has octopus, the first time I've seen it on a menu in Paris and I have to have it (the restaurant next door has duck, but I want to try octopus in Paris). We take a seat outside, order some wine, and watch the rain fall.
Wine in the rain
To start, we share a plate of Serrano ham and a plate of smoked mozzarella. They both go incredibly with the wine.
Smoked mozzarella and serrano ham
We follow that with dinner of chicken with rigatoni and chestnuts in a small pot and grilled octopus with potatoes, olive oil, and spices.
Chicken with rigatoni and octopus with potatoes
Ok, we are starting to settle into Paris and end with a lemon tart and two cognacs. The long journey is over and we now remember why we keep coming back.
Lemon tart, cognac
But, we're not done yet! We stop at an inviting restaurant on our walk back and have a little more Bordeaux at their bar, before calling it a day. We sit in the window at L'Etoile 1903, named in honor of the car race from Paris to Madrid in 1903, and share a 50 cl pitcher. The room is quiet as it gets late (near midnight) and diners finish their meals and a few of us enjoy our nightcaps.
L'Etoile 1903 view inside from our table in the window
Our first few hours in Paris are over and we feel like we belong, but it is time to sleep and prepare to enjoy the city for a few days.