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Published: October 29th 2006
The postcard shot
Except for the clouds...
Ahh, Paris. Where to begin? Well, how about the beginning! Not particularly eager to try to make a reservation to go from Luxemburg to Paris, I decided to be sneaky by taking a local train to Metz in France. Well, that worked just fine, but alas there were no local trains from Metz to Paris, so I was stuck having to make a mandatory reservation for the TGV leaving a couple hours later. As this was my first time attempting to get a reservation in french, I was a bit apprehensive. I approached the desk after waiting in line for a good 20 minutes. I managed to get out "parlez vous anglais" without too much trouble, and the response was "a little". So, I was totally encouraged and the actual reservation was easy enough to get. So much for what I had heard about there being an attitude problem for people who don't speak the language.
I rolled into Paris in the late afternoon to pouring rain. I had decided to stay at the Woodstock Hostel, but the map in the Lonely Planet was pretty useless other than giving me a general idea of where it was. After hanging around
Looking down the Champs Elyses
Gare du L'Est for a bit, the rain stopped and I set off to find a map. I couldn't find a tourist information at the station, and the big map outside didn't quite cover enough area for me to see the hostel. So, I made the decision to walk north (shocking) to Gare du Nord. There, I found another map that had the street I was looking for. Happy that I wouldn't be wandering around Paris indefinitely, I walked in the direction of the hostel. After some time I caught a glimpse of the top of the Eiffel tower above the buildings, and it was really cool to see. Plus, it meant I had a decent idea how to get there the next day. I found the hostel and got settled in. My room was on the top floor, so I hung out there a bit talking to this Aussie guy that was convinced I had an english accent (London specifically). I have no idea where he got that idea, but I've asked several other people (Aussies, a Kiwi, and a British dude) since and none of them think it sounds anything like an english accent. Anyway, he had a
map that he got at the tourist office at Gare du Nord, which I didn't even think to look in, so I hoofed it over there to get one for myself.
I arrived back at Gare du Nord at 6:03. What time did the office close? 6 of course!! Fucking hell. So, I walked back and grabbed some food on the way (sandwich and a liter of milk). I ate that and hung out talking to the people in the dorm before calling it a night pretty early.
The next morning was cloudy and the skies were threatening. I didn't come to Paris to sit around in the dorm room, though, so I headed off in the general direction (S) of the Seine. I found Paris, much more so than London or Berlin, to be much harder to get oriented in. The streets are a tangled mess, and unless you can see a landmark like the Eiffel tower, it can be a bit tough finding your way. That's where the tiny compass that I brought really comes in handy. I use the thing every single day, and it's saved me from being absolutely lost countless times.
I'll be back!
I emerged from the back streets onto a busy thoroughfare running alongside the Louvre. I walked west along the Louvre until I got to the Place de la Concord. I decided to walk along the Champs Elyses towards the Arc de Triomphe. That boulevard is an amazing sight. I'd obviously seen pictures before, but standing at the end looking at the Arc 2k away at the end really was cool. As I walked along the boulevard, I had to keep dodging the rain squalls under overhangs. I had made it most of the way there, when a woman steps right in front of me and asks (in perfect english) if I speak english. I replied that I do, and she proceeds to produce a note that mentions she's from Kosovo, and needs money to get home. As I read through the note, alarm bells started ringing in my mind. I remembered reading about this exact scam, and so I promply walked away. First time anyone has tried to scam me on this trip, and as it turns out it wasn't going to be the last.
I made it to the Arc, which was sufficiently impressive, but I didn't feel
like paying the fee to go to the top. So, after some pictures, I headed off in the direction of the Eiffel tower. When it finally came into view, I was only a kilometer or so away and it was a gorgeous sight. Unfortunately, the weather still was not cooperating and so I continued dodging the driving rain squalls. Eventually, I managed to get across the Seine and directly underneath the tower. Like the Arc, I decided not to pay the 7 or 8 euros to go to the top, and so I just took some photos from the other side and then continued on. I wanted to go see the mini statue of liberty, so that was my next stop. It's quite the underwhelming sight, unfortunately. The best viewing spot is from a bridge directly behind it, and so I walked up to the next bridge to see it from the front. It does make for a cool picture with the Eiffel tower in the background, but I think you need a much longer lens to make that photo work out.
From there, I walked back to the Louvre, which I wanted to scope out for the next
day. While I was standing around taking pictures, a group of people on Segways came by. It was pretty funny to see, especially since some of them were having obvious trouble making them work correctly. I seriously thought they were supposed to be idiot proof, but I guess they didn't figure these idiots into the equation. Stuff like stopping, and turning kept eluding this one woman as I watched her smack into the back of another one twice. Funny as hell. After they hummed off, I turned my attention to the really cool set of country flags they have flying out front. All of the flags are in black and white. It's a really cool concept that I haven't seen before. I took some photos of the outside of the Louvre, especially the glass pyramid, which I thought was pretty cool. There was no line at all, which I thought was a bit odd, but it turns out the Louvre was closed for the day.
Afterwards, I was getting hungry and I was in the mood for McDonalds. I mean it's Paris, what else am I going to have? I walked all the way back to Gare du Nord
since that was the only one I had come across. I went in and evaluated my choices. Royal Cheese looked good. As I was getting ready to order, I noticed you could get beer with it. Score! So, after some gesturing, I managed to convey what I wanted to eat and I took my meal upstairs. That's when I noticed how dodgy this Mickey D's was. It was by far the dirtiest I've seen in Europe, and there were people walking around begging in the restuarant itself. It felt like NYC, actually. Except that the restuarant didn't smell like urine. As I left, someone jumped in front of me, and said "do you speak english?" I didn't even stop this time. Damn, twice in one day, I thought. I wonder how many people they catch with this scam. That evening I didn't really do anything. I was pretty pooped after walking 20k or so (12 miles).
The next morning, the weather was shit again, although it wasn't actually raining when I left the dorm, which was a positive sign. My mission for the day was the Louvre, and I was prepared to wait in line for at least an
Statue of Liberty
Hmm, looks familiar
hour. Nope, it took all of 10 minutes to get my ticket, and I was on my way to the Mona Lisa. It's quite a hike from the entrance, but they have signs directing you so it wasn't tough to find. The painting is located in a large room, on its own wall that divides the room into two parts. The actual paiting is a bit underwhelming. It's pretty small, and the throng of people jockeying for position is a bit disheartening. I managed to work my way to the front, and it was definitely cool sitting there looking at it, but I eventually got sick of people elbowing me in the back (I managed to get in front of a chinese tour group and I don't think they could see past me) and so I moved on.
The rest of the museum is enormous and it would take days to give eveything the attention it deserves. Lucky for me, I found most of the rest of the stuff to be pretty dull, so I took off after a couple hours. I headed on past Notre Dame on my way to the Latin Quarter. I hung out there and got some food before deciding to go to the Musee d'Orsay. On my way to the museum, I stumbled across a used book store full of english books. I ended up picking up the 911 report, which I hadn't read yet. I figured it would keep me busy for a while.
The Musee d'Orsay is fantastic. I enjoyed it much more than the Louvre. It consists of pre-impressionist, impressionist, and post-impressionist works situated in an old train station. They had a phenomenal collection on Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir, etc. and I spent several hours taking it in. Plus, they let us take photographs, so that was cool as well.
When I got back to the hostel I started talking to this dude (Fernando) in the dorm room from Bolivia. He didn't speak english at all really, and so somehow we communicated using my awful spanish that slowly came back to me after 6 years. It was cool, though, being able to speak a little and it made me excited to get to Spain.
Later that evening we hung out with this Indian dude. Basically, we just walked around the streets of paris drinking and talking and giving directions to lost Parisians. It was a fun night, especially having a toast with a homeless dude.
The next day I got up early and went to the Sacre Coeur, which is a gorgeous church perched on a hill top. It was a short walk from the hostel, and as I reached the base of the hill it sits on I noticed a group of 6 or 7 guys accosting people trying to walk up the hill. As I got closer I realized what the deal was. They were trying to force people to buy worthless bracelets. When I reached them, one of the guys got in my way and tried to tie one on my wrist, but I managed to wriggle free and kept on going. Seriously, this is a major tourist attraction, not a back alley, why don't the Paris cops deal with this? I mean the french military was patrolling at the Eiffel tower (rifles and all), but there wasn't a cop to be seen here. I don't get it.
The church itself was gorgeous, and the view of Paris was equally rewarding. I sat for quite a while enjoying the nice weather (finally) before moving on. In the afternoon, I went and sat in a park in front of the Palace of Invalids for a couple hours writing postcards and my journal in the sun. It couldn't have been a better spot. There was a gap in the trees in front of me and the Eiffel Tower filled most of the gap.
That evening, I decided to go see the Moulin Rouge with Fernando, and we got some fun pictures of the outside. Afterwards, we decided to go to the Sacre Coeur since he hadn't seen it. We took the back way getting there, and got to catch part of the sunset, which was pretty spectacular from that vantage. On the way back we walked down the hill and the people were still there being a meance. For some reason, though, they didn't really mess with us. Maybe it was because Fernando was a pretty big guy and they didn't want to fuck with him, I dunno. I spent the evening talking with some people in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning.
That's about it for Paris. It's a beautiful and charming city, although I think it also provided a taste of what's to come in southern europe as far as scams go.
The next entry is from Normandy, so stay tuned for that.
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