I rode the Eurostar to Paris just so I could say I'd ridden it and been through the 'Chunnel.' It really wasn't particularly interesting (I mean, it's a tunnel
, there's nothing to see in a tunnel.) , but it's probably around the same price as a cheap airplane ticket with less hassle if you book early. If you're going to go Eurostar, best to start checking the prices early, because pricing works pretty much like plane tickets - they change according to the whims of the statisticians/economists in charge of deciding when people are more likely to buy. You might also want to arrive a little earlier, since you will have to go through some security. They're not as fussy as airport security, but I remember getting there like half an hour before and wondering if I would get on the train in time. Most trains have little to no security - Eurostar was the only one I remember where they checked bags and stuff. Thankfully, the security people were nice enough to let you skip to the front if you had a ticket for a train that was leaving soon.
Paris was ... to say the least, interesting. I was only there for three days, but it was probably the most ... eventful place I'd been. So, for starters, within 15 minutes of arriving at Gard du Nord (north train station), I meet this nice looking little old man with a battered suitcase who was just so nice that he wanted to help a poor little lost tourist. I wasn't really lost, I'd just bought my subway map and was taking a look at it, but he insisted on leading me by the hand to the subway, so I figured, what the heck, why not? He's just some harmless little old guy who happens to be going my way. Then when we're waiting for the train, he starts rubbing my hand, and I'm just trying really hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, but then he kisses me on the cheek, and I'm like, "This is starting to get creeeeeepy." I'm trying to get away from this dude, but he's just trying to nuzzle me on the nose, and I was just so happy when the train came. I hurried to get on, and I swear to God, the dude groped my ass. That was not cool. So I got off at the next station and tried to ditch him. (If I weren't so timid, I probably would have just yelled at him and told him to bugger off, but that sort of confrontation is not in my blood, so I opted for giving him the slip.) I had almost convinced him I was going to get out at that stop, and he had almost gone through the turnstile while I lingered behind, but nooooooo, the old guy was wise to that trick. The bastard turned around to check I was still behind him, and when he saw I wasn't, he began following me again. I didn't want him following me to my hostel, because that would just be creepy, so I went back to the subway and waited for another train to come. I have never in my life been so
thankful to see a crowded subway train, and I probably never will be so thankful again. I just jammed my way in there, giant backpack and all, and thankfully, the old dude didn't feel like shoving himself into the mass, so I was able to leave him behind. And that was my introduction to Gay Paris. Creepy, but educational. DO NOT TRUST LITTLE OLD PARISIAN MEN ON THE SUBWAY. Lesson learned. (Also learned on the Paris subway: Beware the wrath of Zeus/Thor/[insert lightning god here]
After that little adventure, I was able to find my way to the hostel easily enough. I stayed at Caulaincourt Square Hostel, which was old and under renovation, but they have a nice cafe downstairs that looks new, and they offer a pretty nice breakfast. Croissants and rolls as only the French can do. :) It was pretty close to the subway exit, but make sure you don't make the same mistake as I did and try to walk up all those flights of stairs with your heavy ass backpack on. Just wait for the elevator. The receptionist guy seemed like one of those permanently grumpy people, but he would occasionally try to smile, which served only to creep me out. Stayed in a room with a girl from Michigan who was teaching English in Nice, and two Swedish guys, one of whom had actually studied abroad in Sacramento and had even been to a party in Davis. Since this was at the beginning of my trip, it was like, "Oh, wow! Who would have thought." How silly I was back then...
After I dropped my stuff off at the hostel, I went to check out Notre Dame and the underground crypt, which was mostly just a museum of old Roman stuff. Then I walked around looking for a restaurant that wasn't there, looked around for a restaurant that was there, but looked kinda small and dingy and closed, and finally settled on eating in the Latin Quarter because there were cheap restaurants everywhere. The problem with that area is that they have these guys who's job is to stand there outside the restaurant and lure people in, which means I got people bugging me the whole time. Usually those people just turned me off of the restaurant because I wouldn't even dare look at their menu or they'd start talking to me. I ended up at some random restaurant, and, of course, I had to try escargot (left), which really wasn't that
bad if you just remembered not to think about it.
In the afternoon, I went to the Eiffel Tower. No, I didn't go up. It's expensive! And I'm somewhat scared of heights anyway. It's weird to go there and see some dude in an Eiffel Tower costume walking around like it's Disneyworld. I got two great pictures from under the Eiffel Tower that you'd think were taken at different times
, but the sky was just that weird that day.
As I was leaving, some guy came up to me and asked me directions to the Grande Palace, and I tried to help him out, and then he asked me if I wanted to go there with him, and I was like, "No, thank you. I've had enough of creepy dudes for one day, thank you very much." Well, he didn't look that creepy, and he was around my age, but
still. He was just some random dude on the street asking me out. It's not the last time that would happen either. Although he was quite persistent. He asked me if I wanted to go the next day, and I was like, "Nope, gotta go to Versailles." "After that?" "After that... Barcelona. Sorry."
After that little encounter, I moseyed on over to the Museum of Modern Art at the Palais de Tokyo. I like going to modern art museums just to see what sort of weird stuff passes as art nowadays. Stacks of rotting oranges (right), poo chickens
, dumpsters overflowing with bubbles
, live birds with clipped wings waddling about in some stringy yellow stuff
It was pretty late after that, so I went to dinner, where I got to meet a genuine stereotypical French waiter. just weird because I ordered a set meal with a salad, but he comes back five minutes later asking if I wanted onion soup. I know he had the order right because he'd read it back to me, so I was baffled at the sudden interest in (Yes, I did just say, "genuine stereotypical." What're you gonna do about it?) Well, he wasn't that rude, but it was onion soup, which I didn't want. I wanted a salad because I was trying to eat healthy while traveling, so I told him, "No. I ordered the salad." He finally gets the point and walks away with the soup and brings me a salad. Then, while I'm eating my salad and reading a book, he comes up to my table, so I put my book down and look at him, wondering why he's there. Without a word, he grabs my plate with the last fourth of my salad and walks off before I can say, "Hey! I'm not done with that!" I wasn't pissed off or anything, just amused, but you certainly wouldn't see that in the States.
That morning, I got up early, had breakfast, saw a few minutes of Days of Our Lives (Des Jours Des Vies) in French and went to the Jardin des Tuileries in front of the Louvre. I didn't go in the Louvre because I'm not a big fan of paintings and classical art, and it's big and busy and crowded, and I'm not a fan of those either. The Jardin wasn't exactly in full bloom, it being early March, and it being so cold it actually started hailing soon afterwards when I was heading for the Pantheon (left). It was cool, though, I was having fun running around in the freezing cold in my t-shirt. The lady who was taking tickets at the Pantheon thought I was nuts. She thought I was even more nuts when I told her I was from California. It's hard to explain to people that California is a big state and not just Hollywood. I loved the Pantheon. The design was wonderful, and I just loved the way those domes fit together like that. I also went to the Jardin de Luxembourg, and I wanted to go see the Jewelry exhibit they were doing at the museum there, but it looked really crowded, and I didn't feel like I had the time to waste. Had lunch at the Latin Quarter again, and tried to get some ice cream from Berthillon
afterwards, but it was closed. There were places around that said they sold ice cream from Berthillon, though, so I got some from one of those places. I don't remember what flavor, but it was something chocolatey, I believe. It was good, but I wasn't knocked out. Next time I'll probably try a fruity flavor. Those are supposed to be really good.
In the afternoon, I went to the Arc de Triomphe (after I got some of the BEST chocolate ever
), which you can't get to unless you find the underground footpath. I spent like ten minutes walking around looking for a place to
cross and staring in disbelief at the giant circle of traffic around the thing and wondering why in the hell anyone would design a street like that before I realized I was supposed to go under. =P Walked up Champs-Élysées, which is just a really big shopping street. Stopped by the Virgin Megastore and got a Thomas Fersen CD and new headphones because my old pair was futzing up on the right side. I wanted to go to La Defense, but it's way out on the outskirts of the city, and I didn't want to be in a deserted business center in the evening. I pretty much just ate at the Latin Quarter the whole time I was in Paris, which was bad, but I couldn't find any of the restaurants I'd wanted to go to... This time, there, some dude asked me if I wanted to go eat with him, you know, 'cause I was alone, and he was alone, and food tastes better with company, or something like that. My French wasn't that good, and his English wasn't that good. I squashed the urge to complain about all the weirdos in Paris, and just brushed him off as politely as I could. Some people don't mind going out with random people off the street, but I'm just thinking, worst-case scenario: he's some creepy Jack the Ripper wannabe who kills tourists instead of prostitutes; best-case scenario: he turns out to be a great guy, and I fall in love; most-likely scenario: he's just looking for a free meal.
Next morning, I got up early to go to Sacre-Coeur (above right), which was really close to Caulaincourt, but I had a little trouble finding it. It was pretty empty that early, but I didn't have time to go inside because I wanted to get to Versailles (below) as soon as possible. The view from up on that hill is just amazing, though, definitely worth the climb. Didn't know how long it would take at Versailles, and I had a train to Barcelona that night, so I wanted to get that over with early. Versailles was overblown pomposity at its best. The place was just so overdone. Everything was gilded in gold, the fabrics all had fancy pants patterns, chandeliers all over the place... It was ridiculous. It's what Paris Hilton's bedroom would have looked like if she'd lived a couple hundred years ago. I'd show pictures, but we weren't supposed to take photos. Of course people always do, but I tried not to take very many, and I certainly didn't use flash. (I have to manually flip up the flash on my camera, so at least I didn't have to worry about it accidentally going off.) But yeah, I blew through Versailles pretty fast and was back in the city by the afternoon. I had some free time so I went to see the Pompidou Centre, which is interesting, but not actually very pretty to look at. I think there are things you can do inside, but I'll be damned if I could figure out what exactly. Also had time to find the Grande Place and walk around the Pont Alexander. The view from the bridge is just amazing. I loved how there were big fluffy white clouds in the sky, and you can see the Eiffel Tower in the background. Beautiful.
Had a quick dinner and rushed off to pick up my stuff and get to the train station to wait for my overnight to Barcelona. The guys I asked about berth numbers seemed quite amused that I had a second class Eurail pass but had sprung for a sleeper bunk. I just didn't want to arrive in Barcelona dead tired since I only had like half a day there. They actually give you some water and mints and some random little things for the overnight trip, which was a pleasant surprise. I ended up sharing a berth with two businessmen who seemed nice enough. One of them even explained all the stuff like locking the doors, lights, temperature control, etc. to me since it was my first time on one of those. I was quite amused because they provided seatbelts for the beds. I'm still not sure how that was supposed to work. I slept really well on the train, but I'm also a relatively heavy sleeper and used to live near train tracks, so it depends on how good you are at blocking out noise.
Next stop: Barcelona!