I booked a quick return flight to Paris the other day for a meeting this Saturday, blithely assuming the flight times would be the ones they have been for the last nine years or so from our local airport: a late mid-morning outward flight and an early afternoon return flight.
It was only by extraordinary good fortune that I discovered the outward departure was actually timed for 08.10, and the return was nearer 18.00. This effectively gives me three days in the City of Light instead of the bare 48 hours I was expecting.
So I thought through an interesting Alternative Visit Plan for today, capitalising on all those extra hours I had been graced with. I decided that instead of racing on arrival straight through Terminal 3 and the train station to the city centre, I would take it all slowly, meander around the station, perhaps have a coffee in the sunny courtyard of the Ibis hotel adjoining, and, most excitingly of all, I would break the journey into town by stopping off at one of those anonymous suburban towns the airport train has to flash through.
Aulnay-sous-Bois, Drancy and Le Bourget have intrigued me for years with their peculiar streets all seeming to abut the railway line in a series of odd diagonals. I became entranced by the idea of stopping off for a mid morning coffee in the sunshine on some bland shopping street in some unidentifiable dormitory town.
But whether I was being unnecessarily patronizing or was full of ill-founded assumptions about the nature of these suburbs, I never got to find out today. Having strolled round the crowded station, explored the newsagents (the same as every other Relais at every other station) and failing to find a way in to the sunny Ibis courtyard, I was sadly disappointed to see that for the next hour at least, there were no stopping trains. For the first time ever, every train was non-stop into Gare du Nord.
And so my explorations of the quotidian in the Parisian suburbs must await another time. I feel quite disappointed, I must say.