THE TRIP TO FRANCE
September 24th, Day 1
Early in the morning Edyta and I rose to the sound so of my mobile telling me it was time to get up. Edyta did. I chose to test the snooze function. But by the time the sun was starting to come up we were ready to begin travelling. The biggest problem is that we should have already begun. So I grabbed our one suitcase, climbed into my ubiquitous backpack and dashed out the door, down the stairs, up some stairs and down the hill. Dragging the suitcase was to slow and carrying it was awkward so I hoisted it up onto my shoulders. Our trip to France began with me huffing and puffing and cursing all the way to the train. Then I bought our train tickets - they cost £30; by the time we pay for the return trip and the trip to the airport it will have cost us more than the flight to France itself. At Reading we dashed out to the coach and were lucky to get on-board. The driver was already a minute or two late and wanted to leave but I ran into the terminal to buy some tickets while I left Edyta to stall him.
Once on the bus the rest of the trip was easy. We had a bit of spare time at Heathrow but we are already getting far to familiar with that airport so didn't have much to do. We just cruised around in the library - I mean newsagent - reading mags and children's books (no points for guessing who read which). I think newsagents would make more money by charging a small admission into the store and discounting magazines rather than sticking to the high prices of the magazines. The AirFrance flight was a pleasant surprise, I prepared us for a budget flight where you might have to buy water and we managed to get a free croissant. I came to loathe croissants. But at first it was a pleasant treat. Moving through French customs was pleasant too, they just sneer at you and wave you through.
Getting into Paris isn't so pleasant. First you have to find the train station from Charles de Gaulle airport, which is easy once you understand that the French use a down arrow to point for directions ahead instead of behind you. Once at the station I had to get a ticket. I couldn't have booked the ticket before because the French require you to book one week in advance if you are overseas (i.e. British) so they can send the tickets to you. The other alternative is standing in a long queue to buy train tickets. The French don't seem to mind long queues and so they always try to have the minimal amount of staff available at the busiest locations. You can shortcut the long queues by using one of the automatic ticket machines that have shorter queues, but those gadgets only work in French. As my knowledge of French extended as far as knowing that wearing a beret makes you look like a dork I chose the long line where the staff spoke English. From the airport into Paris I got to relive the nightmare of hauling luggage through a subway system (the Metropolitan, or Metro to the locals). Luckily the bag was smaller. And the Metro is just as easy to ride as the Tube. Our stop was Parmentier.
We emerged above ground on the edge of a major intersection. I got out my directions and looked at a local street map with Edyta. We plotted our course. The roads are well marked and the directions seemed simple. Except the map didn't quite seem to match the ground and I had no bearing on which way both pointed. The intersection was about three roads crossing, two with so little degrees between them that they shared the crossing lanes and another main one at a more obtuse angle with smaller streets feeding into it just by the intersection. The end result of this geometric nightmare was that we first walked one completely wrong way. We retraced back to the Metro stop and got the correct directions. And then we walked another completely wrong way. So we came back to the starting point and went down the street adjacent it - the right street now but the wrong direction. So we went back to the starting point and then on in the correct direction and successfully found our hotel.
Hotel De Nemours
The hotel was two star. The neighbourhood was one. There were big piles of rubbish around but I think it was just garbage day. It would have helped explain some of the stink of the city. All the buildings are at least six stories tall and look like something out of a movie set in Paris. Dingy little cafe's cling to the corners of buildings and grocers pushing their wares spill onto the pavement. The city does have a different feel to it than English type cities. Perhaps one of desperate immigrants in our area, but hey, we are tourists and can't make comments. The hotel proved to have the tiniest elevator in the world. Once the bag and Edyta were in the lift there was barely enough room to close the door. It was probably better than climbing the six flights of winding stairs that I clambered up. The hotel was servicable but we weren't intending to stay - the the time was well past when Edyta and I should have been fed.
We went back to the Parmentier because I had seen a cafe on our journey and was interested in trying it. It was all in French though, so we ended up taking the safer options of a McDonald's (welcome to France, where you can buy American foods - but the Americans wont sell you 'French' fries). I tried to order a large big mac meal and a salad meal. They were out of the salad. Large is maxi, meal is menu. Don't say those words and they are lost. And forget about asking for a Diet Coke, it must be Coca-Cola Light. In the end I didn't get a coco-cola light, just the water. I think I paid for everything but I'm not sure. So there we have it, by lunch the first day the French had already robbed us.
The Adelaide plys Paris waters
For the afternoon we went for a walk. We found a canal running through the city not far from the hotel so we started our way along it. It turned out to be a long canal, going from the river out of Paris proper (we never did catch the name of the river in the middle of Paris). The journey involved stops in small stores and crossing bridges back and forth. Along the canal were toilet booths, where for 40 euro cents you could duck into somewhere to do your business. We only had 50 euro cent pieces and the toilets didn't accept them. At one stage we crossed the canal to enter an old church. The church wasn't spectacular but was dark. There was a small Joan of Arc statue in there.
Some simple things need to be explained in France
We stopped following the canal when we came across a big park by the edge of Paris. This was the home of a big under-cover market, but the market was closed and the building being repaired. There was a big children's playground that looked pretty interesting, if you were a kid (or a parent of said item). We strolled up around some gardens where African tribal drumming was being belted out and a couple decided that all you needed for privacy when making-out was a cardigan over both your heads (and a good inch or so of female arse-crack hanging out).
A complete French servo
We emerged from the drummers and the paths over the canal and past a giant bicycle buried in the ground artwork to be starring at the Cite Industrie and Science (basically a huge museum dedicated to industry and science). We found a cheaper toilet machine, 30 euro cents, but it still didn't accept the 50 euro cent coins I had. The museum had a huge mirrored dome and a submarine that you could walk around (but these were closed by now). We started back to a Metro station and came across a Quick restaurant. This seems to be a competitor to McDonald's and may be American but at first we thought it was just French. In any case a fast-food restaurant is a free toilet restaurant (provided you ignore the security guards standing at the door - or hope they don't force you to buy food first). The toilet in this restaurant was dual-sex, quite so, for the men's urinals where just around the side from the shared sinks. There were kids playing in there so I commandeered the disabled toilets just for a bit of privacy.
A fun French fair
We headed to the eastern part of Paris for tea. This was done on a whim, we didn't know where to go and there is food everywhere anyway. We walked past the edge of a cemetery where I could see mausoleums piled up higher than the ten foot stone walls. At the end of a street we were getting keen to find a place to eat. I saw a restaurant that looked more like a pub with a few tables and no English menu. That seemed like a good enough place so I dragged us in. It turns out there was no English at the counter either, but the barman knew enough to produce a menu (a word the English and French fortunately share). The pair of us did some gesturing and trying to communicate when a couple of American's in the bar offered us some assistance. They had pretty much done the same as us, except the restaurant had been recommended to them. My original meal was to be a steak tartare - till I discovered it is just raw steak smashed flat and buried in spices! I ended up with a grilled on the outside, raw on the inside steak and fries meal. Edyta was luckier and enjoyed a magnificent cous-cous meal that filled up our tiny table.
Happily bloated and lazy from walking we made our way back to the hotel. On the way we stopped into a little store crowded with cheap Asian merchandise (many, many Manga in a languages I couldn't follow). it was one of the few stores opened at that time of the night so we went in. The owner of the store was desperate to impress the tourists so he showed us his favourite item, a stuffed chicken that when provoked played the chicken dance. While doing this it would move it's feet around, but instead of dancing it would just topple over on the spot. When the arm waving parts came the chicken would make quacking noises, and to emphasize this the store owner would yank the poor chicken up by the throat and strangle it. This was too bizarre a selling technique for us so we returned to our hotel.
A big sphere thing
At the hotel I climbed into the elevator with Edyta. I think I would have felt safer walking up the stairs again. I was hunched over Edyta because of my backpack and the door kept catching on me when closing. The lift did manage to carry us up to the top and we retired for the night. While Edyta was bathing I looked at what was on offer on French TV. It seems to be all American shows, but unlike Poland they replace the voices here, they don't use a mono-tone narrator. I was watching Charmed in French but the interesting thing was the plot was still simple to follow. I did catch the result of the AFL final on CNN, that seems to have been a close game. Go Sydney!
And now, go to sleep.