Posted: 7/7/2008


   A few days ago I arrived in "the City of Light" on the TGV train Train Grande Vitesse(very fast train )of SNCF-French Rail- from Stuttgart via a 5 minute stop in Strasbourg on the border, just over the River Rhine from Germany.  A couple of years ago it used to take 4 1/2 hours from Strasbourg to Paris, but now it's just over 2 hours.

   You relax at a speed of 320 km/h or 198 mph, which will soon speed up to 270mph and they serve a 3 course lunch with wine or other choice of drink at your seat. Paris was as hot as it could be as I arrived at Gare de l'Est, the gateway to the East-one of six major stations in the capital. In fact the very first Orient Express left here for Istanbul  on October 4th, 1883 in the 'Age of Steam' and even more luxury. I always stop and pause a moment at the memorial to the hundreds of thousands who were transported from this very station to Germany and concentration camps after the fall of Paris in June, 1940.

   Its only 400 meters to walk to Gare du Nord where the TGV was to whisk me to the channel port of Calais, and the 90 minute ferry to Dover.  I always pick up a copy of the sports daily 'L'Equipe' and 'France Football' for all the news. The headline was 'Domenech Divise La France', referring to the fact that after the failure of 'Les Blues' at EURO 2008 the country was divided as to whether the coach Raymond Domenech should stay on for the campaign starting soon to get the team to FIFA World Cup 2010. Half the country would like a change with Didier Deschamps the most popular name, but also Arsene Wenger, Laurent Blanc, Jean Tigana and Gerard Houlier also mentioned.

   As it was, Domenech has survived as did the city itself in 1944. There is a great book, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, written and then made into a movie in 1966, titled 'Is Paris Burning? On the eve of the Liberation of Paris on 25th August 1944, Adolph Hitler had instructed his Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl to contact miltary governor Dietrich von Choltitz to check if he had razed the city to the ground, as he had ordered 'Paris brule-t-il?.  As it was, von Choltitz refused and surrendered his 17,000 strong occupying force to the Communist, Gaullist and Free French forces at yet another station, Gare Montparnasse, which is now the starting point and terminus for TGV Atlantique to Nantes, Bordeaux and the west.

   We are now a few days into the 2008 Tour de France, at present in Brittany, and French riders have won the last couple of stages and hold the yellow jersey. It was back in 1985 that a Frenchman last won the race, 5 times winner Bernard Hinault. Perhaps there will be another French champion at the final stage of the 95th Tour down the Champs Elysees on July 27th after 21 stages and 3,500 kilometres.