6.08.2009

Paris: Memoir of a failure

When we were on the train leaving Paris today, I could only think one thing: I'm so done with this place. Sure, Paris is beautiful and full of history and a must-see for any European traveler. But you know how people say that the French people hate Americans? Well I'm going to take that one step further: the country, it's land and it's atmosphere hate Americans.

I already talked about our run-in with the French police. It just got worse from there.
On Saturday we decided to take yet another NewEurope free tour. They've been good so far, so we figured it would be the best way to quickly see the city. We had to move to a new hostel because we couldn't get a second night at St. Christopher's -- the best hostel we've had so far -- so we got a train to the opposite side of the city.
We should have known better with a place called "Aloha," but it was cheap and available. It was a piece of trash. The people at the desk were disagreeable, the place was falling apart and our door didn't have a lock on it. It looked like a closet beside the stairwell. But we were going to be gone most of the day so we just left our stuff and moved on.
The tour was great. We were really hoping our streak of Australian tour guides would keep going, but Sam didn't seem to fit the description. Then she told us she was from Melbourne and Thomas and I yelled and high-fived. She looked at us a little weird. Now we're three for three.
We walked around and saw all the big sites: Notre Dame, Louvre, walked by the river, saw big pretty buildings and, of course, the Arc de Triumph and the Eiffel Tower. Oh, and McDonalds. We went there for our break and I'm sad to say that it's one of the most substantial meals I've had all trip. What happens when you travel on a budget....We didn't really get to go close to the Arc and the Eiffel, so Thomas and I decided to get a closer look.
The Arc is huge and surrounded by the worlds worst traffic circle. It's like 12 lanes of traffic and there's supposed to be a wreck every 30 minutes. I wouldn't drive there for anything. We took the underground tunnel to get under it, but decided not to go up because it was pretty expensive, like everything else in Paris. We walked about 20 minutes to get over to the Eiffel Tower. It was weird seeing it in person. It's a lot bigger than I expected. But it's right around this beautiful area in the city. Being cheap travelers, we decided that it would be a better idea to walk up the tower to the second level for 3 Euro instead of taking the elevator for nine. Seven hundred stairs later, I'm not so sure it was a good idea. But the view was miraculous. You could see the city stretching all the way out to the horizon. We didn't get to go all the way to the top (you have to take the elevator) but we got a great view anyway.
After the stairs, we were pretty exhausted, but we needed to get to the train station to book our train to Florence. About halfway to the train station I realize I don't have my Eurail pass. So we go back to the hostel. When we finally get to the train station -- somewhere around 10:30 -- the ticket booths are closed. No way to get tickets. We just wasted three hours and four Metro tickets. Awesome.
When we get back to the hostel and finally decide to go to bed, we find that two guys have taken our beds. Luckily these two Spanish girls next door had free beds so we were able to get some sleep. The next morning we went to the train station again to book our train. We wanted to take a night train that night (Sunday night) so that we could spend all of Monday in Florence. We were informed that there was no such train. In fact, there was no train to Florence period. Great. Milan? Yes, but no night train. Only one that leaves at seven in the morning. So we took that. We just wanted to get to Italy.
But we still needed a place to stay that night, so we ran over to an internet cafe and booked St. Christopher's again. And, wouldn't you know it, we got the exact same room. So we decided to make the most of our day and visit the Catacombs.
The Catacombs are exactly what they sound like: windy passages deep under the earth that used to be used as a graveyard and a religious area. At first we were just wandering through dark tunnels and I was beginning to wonder if we were going to see anything else. Then, suddenly, we walked into the main part of the Catacombs. All around us, stacked in neat little piles and formations, are thousands of human bones and skulls. It went on like this for a while. A little unsettling, but interesting nonetheless.
We finally crawled out of the hole and decided to go to Roland Garros, where the French Open final was being played. It was about two hours into the match, but I was hoping they would be showing it on a screen outside and had some souvenir stands so I could get some official French Open stuff. But, of course, I was wrong on both counts. We walked around the entire thing and there were no souvenirs, no screens, no nothing. We heard when Federer won and I got a picture of one of the outer courts, but that's it. And to make matters worse, it started pouring down rain as we walked to the metro.
In our last attempt to do something for the day, we tried to make it to the Pablo Picasso museum. I love his work and all the museums are free on Sunday. Win-win, right? Wrong. Of course we show up and it was closed. Four more metro tickets wasted.
We gave up and went back to the hostel to get dinner and pass out. For dinner I had a Croque Madame, which I had heard about from someone we met in Frankfurt. It's basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. Delicious! I'm definitely trying that at home. After our long day, Thomas and I decided to drown away our sorrows with some nice cheap wine from the corner market. It improved our spirits. That is, until the next morning.
I wake up and it's really light outside. "Crap," I think, "there's no way it's 6:30." That's when Thomas set his alarm for so that we could get to the train. Sure enough, I look at my watch and it's 9 a.m. Awesome. I roll over and eventually here Thomas wake up and say the same thing. Paris just must hate us.
We roll out of bed and head to the train station around 11. The woman there says our tickets are no good, so we have to reserve two different ones (not expensive, thanks to Eurail) for 2 p.m. Not wanting to miss another train, we sat around the train station for three hours, feeling awful. I began to feel better once we got on the train. I put my headphones in and dozed. When I looked out one time, we were in the middle of a beautiful mountain range. Snow-capped peaks and clouds and fog covering the tips of the mountains with little towns nestled in the valleys. It was stunning. After studying a map for a while I realize it's the Alps that we're going through. I could get used to this part of France.
We finally roll up to Milan at about 9:30, find our hostel, which is an actual hotel this time, and get some gelato to make ourselves feel better. We're trying to learn from our mistakes and have the whole rest of the week mapped out, assuming that trains work in our favor. Tomorrow we're going to go see a couple of things in Milan, then go to the train station and try to get a train either to Florence or Cinquaterra, which is a group of five towns (thus the name) on the coast that is supposed to be amazing! Whereever we go, we're going to stay there for two nights. Then Thursday, we're going to come back to Milan and try to find a connection to Munich, where we will stay Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday night we'll be back in Frankfurt so that we can catch our plane the next day.
I hope it will all work like this, but I've come to expect some bumps in the road. I hope I'll be getting internet sometime soon so that I can update again. And as for pictures, my computer doesn't like me to upload things, so I guess they're just going to have to wait until I get home. Then Facebook will blow up with the amount of pictures I've taken!! Sorry for the delay, but there's nothing I can do!

Here's to a good last week! Ciao!

3 comments:

Salvation Holdout said...

It's hard to pick anything over Florence if you're forced to choose one. But I'm sure wherever you went you enjoyed it.

Paris...yeah. The more I walk around Paris and learn about the city from people who live there, the more I like it. But touring Paris on any reasonable budget will make you dislike it pretty quickly.

Monica said...

Okay, I have to vote for Cinque Terre. Toby and I went there twice in the six months we were studying abroad in Vienna, and it was absolutely beautiful. Lots of fun to hike around, it's relaxing, really good food, friendly people, and awesome scenery. Oh, and try the Limoncello. And the pizza in the town with all the steps. Anyway, glad you're having fun, and thanks for letting us read all about it! :)

Mom said...

I have also heard wonderful things about Cinque Terre. It looks beautiful online! I tell you, reading your blog gives me great stress! COME HOME SOON---DON'T MISS THE PLANE! Love you!