March 14 – London to Paris
I arose early in the morning to check out of the hostel. Because you are staying with about seven other strangers in the room, you have to be careful of your belongings and at the same time, be as quiet as you can while packing. Another thing about hostels is that people come and go, and it’s hard to take notice of who left and who came in. After packing a little in the dark, I decided it wasn’t going to work out so I lugged everything to the lobby, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.
I collected my laptop from the reception and returned the bedlinen I had used and started to repack my bag. It was funny because I had brought some food from the US on Rowie’s request because they were too expensive in the UK. Plus she left a bag behind in London and I was asked to bring it with me and pass it to her when we met in Liverpool. So half my bag was items for Rowie (I kid you not) and these items were going to tour Paris with me before returning to the UK.
After I was done packing, I said goodbye to the receptionist and made my way across the street to the train station where I was to catch the Thameslink to London Luton airport, which is a terminal for budget flights. It was a foggy day as I went past the outskirts of the city – the first time I had seen London’s legendary fog.
The flight went pretty well, there was an empty seat next to mine so it was rather comfy. I know there have been people who swam across the Channel before but after flying over it, all kudos to them because it seemed a long distance even on a plane. We touched down at the Charles de Gaulle airport not too long later and I found myself getting somewhat disoriented by the language barrier. Hafiz and Rowie had earlier provided some tips to communicating with the locals, always starting with “Bonjour” as a greeting, followed by “Do you speak English?” and ending it off with “merci”.
I bought a two-day metro pass and boarded the RER metro towards the city. One of the French guys I met in London told me that the French are stereotyped as being cold and unfriendly but he explained that those were the Parisians, and he said outside Paris, the French were really much nicer. I got the first taste of that on the metro when it started getting crowded and the lady sitting opposite me gave me many cold stares – I assume because my bag was taking up too much space.
I got off at Volontaires and found Aloha Hostel according to the instructions from the website. I checked in and paid, was told that there’s no access to all rooms until 5pm so I had to leave my bags in storage. With a map and metro guide, I sat down for a good twenty minutes to plan some sort of an itinerary. After feeling that I was good to go, I headed to a bookstore on a street further up and bought a English-French translation book, optimistic that I could somehow pick up basic French. My first meal in Paris was an omelette and iced tea at a cafe across the street. On the left is a section of Rue de Vaugirard, which is the street perpendicular to Rue Borromee, where my hostel was. Maybe it is psychological, but Parisian air smelt nice and I was glad to be there.
My first stop was the Eiffel Tower and via the metro, it was only about ten minutes away. One thing I immediately noticed about the area surrounding the Tower is that there are not many tall buildings, if any at all. And this just accentuates the beauty of the Tower. La Défense (the CBD) is some distance away so it doesn’t mess with the Eiffel Tower’s spot in the skyline. And again, like in London, there was restoration works going on so a portion of it was wrapped in green sheets.
At the base of the Eiffel Tower, compare it to the little people standing around.
When can spring come to Ithaca?
Le Classique Tour Eiffel
Starting to really dig this black and white stuff.
How difficult could it be to get me and the entire Tower in one frame?
Paris is a photographer’s dream city, maybe.
Very neat gardens indeed.
Took this one for my mom.
Palais de Chaillot
La Seine, behind every great city lies a river.
Paris was certainly a very overwhelming city and I felt so lost in it, not knowing the language. I don’t know if it was fatigue or I was getting lonely but after looking at the Eiffel Tower, I headed back to my hostel. It was after 5pm so I could enter the room and settle in a little. I had planned to meet Jean-Michel for dinner. Jean-Michel is French, he was in NTU for exchange last year and he stayed in my hall, so kind of got to know him through Mario, my Swiss roommate.
So I unpacked a little and lazed a bit in the room. There’s only one key to be shared among all of us but I haven’t yet met the other three people in the room. A Spanish guy came knocking and said he was from the room but had to get his bags because he was changing to another room within the same hostel. I found out that people like him who do not make reservations have to constantly switch rooms when new guests come in. That’s what happens when you live day-to-day without knowing if you’ll be staying or going. Sometimes hostels have a maximum stay of 14 days to prevent people like him from overstaying. Anyway, the Spanish guy told me that there was a Ukrainian guy and a couple from Chile in the room, grabbed his bags and left.
Jean-Michel called not too long later and we arranged to meet at Montparnasse for dinner. I found Montparnasse to be a rather hip neighborhood with many cafes, in fact, every building had a cafe occupying its ground floor. As you can see in the picture, there is outdoor dining that follows the tradition of Parisian cafes by the roadside.
We settled at a Fondue and Raclette place. Before you think that it’s a dessert place, think again. When they say fondue, they really mean a cheese fondue. I know! So unhealthy! So I had a Raclette but unfortunately no photos to show. We were served lots of cheese and meat, with baguette and baked potato. I had no idea how to do it, so I was doing what Jean-Michel did. You melt the cheese over a stove and cook the meat as well. Then you spread the melted cheese over the baguette pieces or potato. Very sinful and rich, artery-clogging meal.
That was Day One of Paris!