Saturday, 20 September 2014

Part 3 - Je ne parle pas français

I felt a tad seedy and blurry eyed the next morning while I tried to silently go about getting ready without waking the others. The ziiiip of my little suitcase woke them up, and a quick hug and a thank you and I was out the door, ticket to Paris in hand.

The streets were quiet and deserted, and it was going to be a stunning day. I grabbed a stale sandwich at the train station and waited for the platform number to be called. Luckily I was early, as it took me a few minutes to realise I was standing in entirely the wrong place to board my number 17 carriage and, once in board, settled down next to a rather strange woman and closed my eyes. I let the next couple hours go by in a little bit of a dozy haze, trying to catch up on some much needed sleep.

A couple of hours later it was time to disembark and, grabbing my things, I emerged into an enormous train station. I google maps'd my way out and stood, blinking, at Paris.

First impressions, especially after Strasbourg? Want me to be honest? It was covered in a haze and smelt like piss. I was a little way out of the touristy zone as I was staying at the St Chrisopher's near Gare du Nord and wondered if this was what it was all like. I had been warned and prewarned and underwarned and overwarned about pick pockets, scams and muggings in Paris and so my guard was up. Google maps in hand, I began walking towards the hostel, feeling like I was being leered at on all sides. 
"Speak English?" 
Look straight ahead and keep walking.

With relief I arrived at my hostel, checked in, was too early to check in, and deposited my things in the lockers downstairs. First port of call: a walking tour, starting at 1pm. Plenty of time. I'll grab a cider and work out which train to catch. After I downed my breakfast of champions, I wandered back to the train station where much to my dismay I realised I had no idea how to buy a ticket or even where to get a train from. This wasn't going to do. I knew my starting point was roughly a 35 minute walk and so I set off, with exactly 35 minutes to spare.

It was hot. The streets were seedy. I walked as fast as my little legs would carry me and sweat was pooling in the small of my back. Suddenly, the streets became greener and clearer, cafes started to appear, the sky seemed to brighten. I was making my way towards the epicentre, the Paris of the postcards. Google maps says 5 minutes left to walk. 3 minutes. 2. Ah, there they are! I spotted a big group and joined the list. I was doing a Sandeman's tour of Paris which is free - but the guides are paid by tips and so they try extra hard to try to get bigger tips. It's a great way to have a very good tour.

Our tour guide was a spunky gal named Harry. It was a lot to take in and I can't remember the names of all the places we went or all of the stories she regaled us with, but some of note include the Notre Dame, the Love Lock Bridge, and the Louvre. I had a good chat with quite a few people on the tour, and at the end arranged to meet up with two of the girls under the Eiffel Tower at 9.30pm. I wrote down all the instructions but I was not convinced I would actually be able to get to the right place by the right time.

It was time to go back to the hostel and check in and possibly collapse from exhaustion. I google maps'd my way back (sensing a trend here?), gathered my things and went and stood in the express queue. And waited. And waited. I was sweaty and exhausted and mumbled something under my breath about the expressness of the express queue, which inspired the gentleman, Anthony, in front of me to strike up a conversation. We had a bit of a chat while we waited (and people in the non-express queue were being served), and figured we'd catch a drink down in the bar if neither of us were doing anything. And so I started to make friends :)

So with my nap foregone, I quickly showered, became acquainted with my room (a very nice hostel, to be fair, little curtain on the bed and everything) and made my way down to the bar with my phone and charger in hand. I perched myself up at the power station, which basically became the place to be to meet people. Shortly after there was a small group of us all gathered near the power and we got to chatting, double shot vodka red-bull waking me up nicely. I told them of my plans to try to figure out how to get to the Eiffel Tower to watch it at night and, they not having plans, decided to join me. 

With Angus and Rick in tow (that's actually not true at all - I had zero idea where we were going and was actually the one in tow) we jumped on a couple of tubes and popped out near the Eiffel Tower. We needed to get some wine first, and so we walked out near the moment and rounded a corner. I stopped dead. And gaped. And stared. I peeked at my watch - it had just turned 9pm. I was the closest I had been to the Eiffel Tower and not only was it all aglow with yellow, but right at that moment, the sparkling lights had begun. It was beautiful and left me speechless. I was able to stand and stare while Angus grabbed some food.

I dragged myself away, knowing we would be coming back here shortly. We found a bottle store, purchased a few bottles of cheap vino, a bottle opener and some plastic cups and set off back towards the Eiffel Tower, stopping periodically to take pictures at various angles. The moon was perfectly round and partly hidden behind a cloud, and the whole scene was breathtaking. Somehow Rick understood my instructions to meet the girls at the "grassy bit where people aren't allowed to go" and we walked towards, then underneath, then out the other side of the Tower. To my shock I saw the girls, Rose and Kay from the walking tour this morning, waiting at a corner and gave them both a big hug, all of us surprised to have actually worked out where to meet without any kind of contact details at all.

Kay and Rose had the foresight to bring a picnic rug (or more accurately, Rose's blanket off her bed) and together we shared bottle after bottle of red wine, rose and champagne and delicious cheese and bread under the spectacle that was the Eiffel Tower at night. Soon our party numbered 6, as Anthony from earlier joined us and we continued to eat, drink and be merry. On the hour, every hour, the Eiffel Tower began to twinkle in the perfect stillness of the night. We photographed and selfied, and drank and talked. We purchased more wine from the travelling liquor salesmen for grossly inflated prices.

Soon after midnight, it was time to leave as the Eiffel Tower had sparkled one last time. We gathered our things and made our way back to our respective hostels (to be entirely frank, I get a little hazy around here, I think there may have been a taxi ride, some standing on the street for a while and a strange guy that kept talking about bears). And thus was my first night in Paris - I was initiated.

The wonder of travelling alone is the people you meet. This was my first time entirely alone and it was rather daunting for me and, even though I don't have any problem talking to people, I get unsure if people want to continue talking to me. So if those folks I met that night in Paris are reading this, I want to thank you and wish you all the best with your onward travels. If you're ever in London-town, hit me up for a bevvie.

Til next time.


Pity about the graffiti, but still enjoy this picture.
Love Lock Bridge 
Simply stunning
But first, just let me take a selfie..
Cheap vino! And it was delicious! #jokersmile
Stahp being so pretty.