Wednesday, 27 January 2016

In Paris, pretending to be in the secret service...

Room 507 – too many pillows again...
The last time I was here in the French capital was January 2013 and now I'm back after a relatively smooth journey on the Eurostar from London. I was on the 1531hrs from St Pancras International, sitting in seat 51 and reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. I can't pass judgement on the book yet as I've only just started it, but it's a promising yarn, I can tell you that much.

At this stage in the proceedings I think it only right to warn you: I am a complete and utter cock. Whenever I travel, while I like to think that I'm some kind of government agent on a special mission, a man who can tell the time just by looking at the sun, even when it's cloudy, a man raised by wolves who sleeps with his eyes open and is more important to global security than Jason Bourne and James Bond rolled into one, the reality is something completely different.

With my casual air, I breezed off the Eurostar at the Gare du Nord in full spy mode: head down, but aware of those around me, ready, should it be necessary, to engage a lone wolf Jihadi in mortal combat. I am, of course, a black belt in origami. I can make a paper dog with one hand tied behind my back and blindfolded.

I loitered for a while on the station concourse, wondering whether to take a taxi to the hotel or jump on the metro. The latter was my preferred option as it meant I could carry on the spy fantasy, pretend I was being followed by somebody from the Romanian secret police and barge my way through from carriage to carriage, pushing innocent passengers out of the way in my attempt to escape until my only option is to run into the tunnel itself where, no doubt, I'll a meet a down-and-out who turns out to be from the CIA and knows a safe house.

I put my suitcase on the counter of an information booth, unzipped it and took out my travel documents. I needed to check on the address of the hotel, give them a call and see if it was possible to catch the metro. This I did and in the process I discovered that it was possible. I put my travel documents in my lightweight briefcase, pulled my suitcase off the counter... and, because I hadn't zipped it up after opening it, I deposited the entire contents (shirt, trousers, lap top, camera, various leads, underwear, socks, the lot) on the floor. It made such a din and turned the heads of those who previously must have been thinking 'wow, this guy must be with the secret service, I bet he can tell the time just by looking at the sun'. But oh no. This guy is, quite simply, a complete and utter cock, somebody not to be trusted with sparklers, let alone small arms and plastic explosives.

A hotel room with a hallway...not bad, eh?
As a loud cheer went up and was followed by some applause, I stood there, utterly humiliated, wondering what to do. There was only one option. With an awkward smile I bowed to my audience and then self-consciously set about gathering my belongings together, stuffing them back in the case and making a hasty escape. How embarrassing.

Once on the metro, my neck still feeling red and tingly with humiliation, I decided just to stand there and not even bother about the Romanian secret police. I changed from line four to line seven, jumped out a couple of stops later and then trundled my way up the road, dragging my troublesome suitcase behind me as if it were an unruly toddler on the first day of school term.

After about five or 10 minutes I reached my hotel and tried every locked door before I found the ostentatious main entrance where I was greeted by a cheery porter who carried my suitcase to the reception area. I went through the usual procedure of checking in and was eventually given a key card and told to make my way to the fifth floor and room 507. The porter carried my suitcase, but having only small change in my pocket, I didn't furnish him with a tip. He didn't seem too bothered and besides, tips aren't claimable on expenses. Perhaps I should have told him that.

These days when I check into a hotel I'm always thinking about those pesky jihadists. What if they turn up later on, all guns blazing? How the hell would I escape? Well, in the case of room 507, with great difficulty. While it is possible to open the window, I'd have to be anorexic to get through the thin gap as the window refuses to open more than about five inches. Outside there is a ledge, which I could easily walk along, even though it's five floors up from street level, but the whole thing is academic, unless I smashed the window and if I did that then the jihadist could follow me. What's the good of that?

It's 2030hrs and I need some dinner. There's a restaurant downstairs and I've been given a piece of card that entitles me to a 20% discounted meal. Well it beats pounding the streets looking for somewhere decent, but ending up in a restaurant with a silly name, like Hippopotamus (I've done that before).

Tonight, Josefin, definitely...
I've just eaten in the best hotel restaurant ever; well, the best since the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California back in 2013. First, the service – faultless. Then the food – amazing. Things can't get better than this, surely?

Banke is a boutique hotel. It has to be because it's full of quirky this and quirky that, slightly loud furniture and fittings and a hip vibe that I rather like. The smell of burning incense followed me wherever I went. Well, not in the public areas, but in the corridors, in the lifts, it was there and it was kind of pleasant. The corridors were a bit dark, but that was all part of the X-Files chic of the place – the room numbers were somehow projected on to the walls by the side of the doors. Fantastic.

Qua, qua, qua, qua quirky – facing the strange
I moseyed on down to Josefin, the hotel restaurant on the ground floor opposite a noisy bar and part of a rather splendid – and slightly over-the-top – galleried area that embraced the front desk and the elevators. But wow! What a restaurant. And what amazing service too – thanks to the waitress who was called Alice. The menu was fantastic too. Starters – branded here as 'foreplay' and followed by the 'flavours of the sea'. Well, hasn't that always been the case?

I opted for cooked ham with peppers and followed by roasted cod and an amazing Tahon Rioja and then I made the mistake of ordering dessert (a long French name, but it involved a pear and sorbet and some kind of bakery item with cream). The mistake was the accompanying cocktail, but I still managed to finish it and then I thought I ought to take some air. It was getting late, but I decided to walk further along the street, all the way to a shop that sold electric bikes – it was closed. An electric bike is the equivalent of an electric rowing machine – why bother if you're not getting any exercise?

Another humiliating experience...
It was gone 2230hrs, but there were a few people about so I walked along the Rue La Fayette for roughly 30 minutes (15 minutes each way) and then retraced my steps to the hotel in the spitting rain. And then, once more, I made a complete fool of myself. This time it was back at the hotel. The aforementioned galleried and ornate reception area is also very dark and when an employee of the hotel, wearing a silly hat, greeted me, I took my eye off the ball (taken aback by his ridiculous appearance) and managed to trip over a step that I should have seen coming (it was around seven or eight inches high). I stumbled spectacularly, but somehow managed to remain on two feet.

Hastily I made my escape, into Schindler's Lift and away from the source of humiliation. And now, at almost 2330hrs, it's time for bed.

The view from room 507, Hotel Banke, Paris – a wonderful hotel
During the night I awoke, first at 0345hrs and then again at 0705hrs. The room was miles too hot, I realised, blaming the heat rather than the rich meal on the fact that my pulse was up and my mouth was dry. I'd been having fretful dreams too. One involved meeting a former work colleague by a babbling brook and simply chewing the fat; another involved holding a baby and then finally I was in a hotel corridor, it was painted white, brilliant white, and I was making my way to room 207. It was fretful because I had meant to check out some time ago. When I reached the room a chambermaid with one of those trolleys full of soaps and clean towels told me I couldn't go in. She spoke in French, which I couldn't understand, but I told her that all my stuff was in the room. For some reason I was topless – first naked, now topless, what's going on? She pretended not to understand me and then, with a smile, started to talk English in an American accident, as if to say 'only kidding'. At that stage I woke up and it was just past seven in the morning. Better get some breakfast...


The Banke Hotel was so good, I thought I'd provide the contact details for the Josefin restaurant in addition to the link for the hotel, which appears earlier in this post.

For a related post, click here.

hotel Banke
20 rue la fayette - 75009 paris
Tel: + 33 (0) 1 55 33 22 22


  1. An entertaining blogpost, monsieur Bond...

  2. Great post, very entertaining. I hope to try this venue at some point.