Wednesday May 5
Another day where I wake before the alarm and with good reason, we are going to Pear E! How could I not be excited about this? I will be sad to leave London, but after 15 days I am ready to move onto my next adventure. I am excited and nervous because of the language difference but I check and double check just to make sure I haven’t lost my French phrasebook. Luckily this book is hard to lose with its huge white block capital letters on it announcing to everyone everyone that I am a tourist, no I am not FRENCH. Please see ways to make yourself look like a tourist 101 and you will see this listed as one of the top five only preceded by opening up a map to figure out where you are in a very crowded area and taking a snapshot of yourself in front of a monument.
Packing up my bag is like packing up a tent after taking it out, things just don’t seem to fit in the same way. I contemplate getting rid of some stuff but decide to put it off until we reach the next destination.
We depart for our last tube ride and I am again a little sad. I am going to miss the smell of stale air and charged metal along with the rush of wind that comes every time right before the train arrives. Bye tube.
We arrive at Kings Cross St. Pancras to board our train into France. We go through some security checks, but it is fast and easy and we make our way to a coach two out of sixteen I think. This is a long long train. When we get in it is almost completely packed and we are surrounded by French people that seem to be on their way home. I see the pressing need for me to review my phrasebook even more and so I get it out and try to look over and say words and phrases without seeming laughable to all of the French about the cabin. Hmm… this won’t work, so I decide to just type something up.
Things go dark pretty fast, meaning we aren’t above ground for long before the train goes into blackness. The train goes under and over ground many times and for a good length of time I am confused whether or not we have actually gone through the Channel, but then I feel a deep fullness in my ears and realize we are finally just now going through the Channel. As a child, after the ‘89 earthquake in the Bay Area I avoided all transportation under water or on bridges at all costs. Who wants to be stuck in a tunnel when there is the potential threat of drowning to death?
Of course we make it to France alright. I only realize we are in France once we have made it above ground and I see a freeway sign that I can’t understand and I am excited! At least I am excited for the moment.
When we get off the train, the real test begins. Shall we find our hostel? Larsen has mapped out the directions to the hostel, but it becomes a matter of whether we can tell North from South or read any of the street signs correctly. We are at Gare du Nord, one of the major train stops and right next to the Montemartre District. Montemartre is both the red light and arts district so we have been warned to watch out for bad behavior and to not walk the streets at night alone. When we leave the station the street is bright and bustling. Horns are honking and we are honestly not exactly sure what way to go.
“Should we get a taxi?” Larsen asks.
I am so anti-taxi or any form of transportation that will cost me a lot of euros that of course I say no. I say no because according to Larsen’s planned route it should only be an eight minute walk to our hostel. We look at a map and walk in the direction that we think we should be walking. Unfortunately, a few blocks down we realize that this is not the direction and have to turn around.
“Should we get a taxi?” She asks again. Once again I am still resistant. We’ve only been walking a few minutes, let’s just turn around and go the correct direction. It is easier for me to walk around because I have a backpack while she has a bag with wheels. This is one of those times I am grateful of the ease and maneuverability this bag affords me while roaming streets and taking metros.
The streets here are filled with trash and women that want to know if “we speak English.” Apparently this is a scam to get tourists to give them money. I am not exactly sure how speaking English will scam me, I have certainly seen better scams, but Nicole warns me anyhow and we walk away. Eventually, after what is definitely more than an eight minute walk from the station down the well worn streets of Paris, we make it to our hostel. We make it there and then are told that they overbooked and have now booked us in their sister hotel that is another five minute walk away or so. They say we can either walk or they will book a cab and pay. Of course we say yes to this cab offer, without realizing what we’re getting into.
What we didn’t do right as we made it into Paris was get any cash. We had assumed the hostel would come out and pay the cab or the hotel would, but instead as we were getting in he said, “oh, just pay the taxi and we will reimburse you.” Great, we both think. Neither of us as any euros nor any idea how to speak French. We are basically f’d here. Approximately a five minute drive later, the driver points to a door and I’m sure is saying something like this is your stop, but we are a little confused about whether or not we should get out because he doesn’t and our stuff is in the back of the car. He begins to get angry because of our confusion. Finally I just get out and then so does he and grabs our stuff. He tells us how much and of course neither of us have the cash, but Larsen has a wad of American money and tries to ask him if he’ll take it. Meanwhile, I run into the hotel to see if perhaps they can just give us some money to pay the taxi driver with, but the clerk is with two confused tourists that are trying to get who the hell knows where. He is going rather slowly and I want to interrupt, but I’m not sure how, but Larsen walks in and the taxi is gone.
“How did you pay?”
“Oh, I just gave him a $20.” Mind you this is way more than the actual cost of the ride, which I believe was around 8 euros, so I think well… he should be happy with that tip even though he was annoyed with the Americans. We are just happy to be at our hotel and after a long wait get checked in and go up to see our small mustard colored room with twin beds ready for us to sleep in.
We settle in and figure out a plan. Well, I think Larsen actually figures out a plan because I am doing no real planning on this trip besides making sure I have a bed to stay in for the entirety of it. She decides on going to see the Sacre-Couer, a big beautiful Catholic Church at the top of Montemartre. We walk what I now know as North and get lost in the tiny streets strewn with garbage, fast cars, and scooters. We pass many tourist stands and finally we see the Sacre-Couer standing high above us. We will have to make it up many steps to the top, but I am happy for the walk since we have been sitting a lot that day.
There are too many people. I mean, literally too many people. From street vendors, to tourists, to scam artists, and buskers there is just no end to people in sight. I check my pockets. My money is still there. I decided to switch from my money belt to my jacket pockets about a week before because it just gets really hard to access a money belt under the dresses that I wear. Luckily, these pockets zip up so it would take extra effort for a pick pocket to pick one of these, but I am still ultra paranoid and even though I just checked will likely check again a few minutes later.
The Sacre-Couer is at the highest point in the city and overlooks much of the enormous city of Paris. Everything seems covered with a fine mist. Today is cold and windy which makes the rest of Paris seem very cold. I am delighted to go into the Church just to get a little warmer. Inside there are even more people and it is loud though a Church should be quieter. There are kids screaming and the sound of shuffling feet.
I try to ignore that and look at the beauty of the stained glass that surrounds us from at least eight sides, though it is hard to truly enjoy this place among so many people. It seems like we do just a quick walk through and then we walk right out. We are now left on the streets of Montmarte. What to do next?
There is a walking tour of the area and after getting a little lost on streets where artists were painting and singing we find a couple of places like Van Gogh’s house, where technically he only lived for two years, but the blue door is lovely.
After a short walking tour it seems time to try Parisian food now, the problem is that we don’t know where to go and of course we don’t speak any French. We make it to a cafe on some corner and sit down for a meal. I attempt to say something like “Je voudrais un cafe” but it doesn’t go over well and we are grateful that the woman speaks English. The food here is not very good and I am almost completely sure it’s because it caters to tourists. I order grilled chicken and it comes with fries. I am for some reason very happy about the fries, but the chicken is undercooked and lacks flavor. Oh well… next time we will find better at least we are no longer hungry.
We decide that on our first we should find Crepes. We find a place close to our hotel and split a Banana Nutella crepe and I fall in love. This is likely one of the best things I have eaten in my life and I could eat it everyday I think if not for so much chocolate. Any day that ends with a crepe is a day ended well. We are satisfied and happy to be out of the cold. We are tired of the chill after days of being immersed in the wet and wind. We head back to our little hotel room and make plans for the next.
Wednesday May 5