Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paris 2013: To the Top of the Tower!

I'm sure the British countryside is lovely, and the French countryside perhaps even more so. Sadly, I might never know for sure.

Come 7am the day after Wembley, (read: 4 hours sleep later) we were to be found dragging our suitcases down Belgrave Road, in the direction of Victoria Coach Station. Roughly 100m down the road, we decided that it would be far better to hail a cab - although we're treated to a raised eyebrow and a "It's right over there." from the driver, it is without a doubt the best 6 Pounds we've ever spent.

Of course our coach would leave from the very furthest possible gate, cue dragging bags even further. I attempt to revive myself with a doughnut and cup of tea although opening and closing my mouth to chew proves too much effort for my exhausted self, and I give up and clutch said doughnut like a comfort blanket instead. On the coach, I'm not even aware that it begins to move. I have no idea which direction we head, the next time I'm vaguely conscious is when passport control boards to bus to stamp us into France just before we go through the Channel Tunnel. I see a sign that says 'France', and although I intend to take a photo of it, I cannot find any such photograph later, so I'll assume that I failed here. The coach is loaded onto some form of train to navigate the tunnel, and after being inside this train for about 15 minutes, I begin to wonder when we're actually going to start moving. Five minutes later, when we emerge, I realise we had been moving. Oh.

And that's it, goodbye England, hello France. We're driving on the wrong side of the road! But of course in Europe it's the correct side. But really, last night's limited sleep means that I'm conscious for about ten minutes while the bus makes a petrol stop; 5 minutes when we stop to drop passengers at the airport; and then again about 20 minutes from our stop in Paris.

Now, apparently the Ibis is a relatively decent budget hotel, much like a Travelodge. Seems legit, right? Well, sure, but who knew that this particular Ibis was located in the heart of the ghetto? Not us, that's for sure. After dragging aforementioned luggage through the station (which smelled a lot like wee to me), we located what we thought was the entrance to the hotel down an alley and up a flight or five of stairs. Whilst I resolutely refuse to stand alone for fear of axe murderers, we eventually figure out that the entrance is actually up a different flight of stairs. Which also smells like wee. Enter room (which does at least have wi-fi, or wee-fee as the receptionist pronounces it) to find no kettle. At least there's a shower curtain though. This is already promising to be an interesting few days.

Morning dawns chilly and overcast, and after finally getting a breakfast (petit dejouner, which does not include tea, but they hadn't counted on me having my own tea with me, ha! Also, they don't seem to use plates, it's quite odd really), we attempt to make our way into central town. I feel that the Paris Metro is slightly more confusing than the London Underground: for one, no one speaks English, so there's no way you're asking for help if you get lost; secondly, the lines are numbered as opposed to named; and thirdly, everything is kind of dirty, gross and old-looking. But we end up at Notre Dame without any majors issues. Not that we can get inside, with the lines of tourist going around the block about 17 times. This place is busier than I've ever seen London, and 90% of the tourists are American. It would normally be annoying, but in this country full of people I can't understand, hearing English is so welcome.

The next much welcome piece of American culture is the Starbucks - they even make a great cup of tea. We walk up and down the streets for a while, before crossing the river to find the Louvre. By now I'm beginning to wonder where all of the high-fashion shops are - all I've seen are some street vendors, one of which happened to be selling a scarf in the exact pattern of a certain starry shirt belonging to one Mr Flowers. It's almost lunchtime, and this has been my only purchase so far.

The entrance to the square in which one will find the Louvre's giant glass pyramid is unfortunately decorated with a group of young girls claiming to be 'mute', but who are able to shout to each other very quickly as soon as a police car drives down the street. It seems nowhere is without corruption. But then there's the actual glass pyramid itself: in the movie of The Da Vinci Code, a police officer (I think his name was Bezu Fache, but don't quote me) describes the pyramid as a scar on the face of the city. He couldn't be more wrong. Of course I need one of those awful tourist shots of myself 'touching the top', This involves standing on top of a pillar, which is of course perilous for someone with balancing skills like mine.

Tourist photos complete, we decide it's time to fill our stomachs.The first restaurant is rejected simply on the basis of not being able to read the menu - and the fact that nothing is under about 13 Euro... we'd like some money left for the rest of the trip, thanks. We end up in a little sidewalk cafe, and I end up disappointed that my spaghetti bolognaise renders me too full to try one of the amazing-looking desserts in the window.

On to the next thing then: the Champs-Elysees. Ah, here are those designer shops. Since there's no McD's or Starbucks nearby, we stop at a 'mall' for the loo... 2 Euro each later, at least we've had the chance to use pink loo roll once in our lives.

At the end of the Champs-Elysees stands the Arc de Triomphe, necessitating even more tourist photos. Feeling adventurous, we head in what we hope is the direction of a certain Tour Eiffel. Before long, we're rewarded with a glimpse of the beast of a building - it's massive. Truly huge, and truly impressive. I mean, when I set eyes on Stonehenge, I laughed at how small it was. I'd later do the same thing upon spotting the Leaning Tower of Pisa - that one is so small that it's actually cute. But there's nothing cute about the Eiffel Tower. It's just a monster of architecture and engineering. Once the tourist photos have been completed, we fall in line for a ticket to the top. Half an hour later (which isn't really that long, considering the line), we step into the giant double elevator to the first level. It's not that high really, but the view is great. Paris is very pretty from the top, and it's also massive, going on as far as the eye can see in any direction.

But then we step into the second lift to the very top, and my life flashes before my eyes. I'm not lying, we're going up into the clouds! This is high up on a whole new level. Well, that would be because it's 280m up into the air. I wish I could say that the view makes you forget how high up you are, but if anything it just keeps reminding you. It is completely and utterly worth it though, probably one of the most stunning views you'll see in your life.

By the time we're down and have made our way back to the metro station, it's 8pm, although you'd never say so from the way that the sun (which has now decided to come out) is shining. We easily make it back to the hotel room long before dark, but I'm disappointed when the McDonald's at the station tells me that they don't serve tea with milk. Sigh.

With most of Paris completed in one day, we still have day to make the trip to the Palace of Versailles, half an hour out of town. Upon disembarking the train, we follow a long line of tourists in the hope that we're all headed to the same destination. As much as I don't advise this type of chance-y optimism, I will admit that it paid off this time. The Palace is easy to identify simply because the opulent gold gates and fence are visible from at least a mile away. As usual, we're already thinking of food, and a cute restaurant in the gardens happens to serve Nutella crepes, something I'd been looking forward to since I'd first set foot in France. I was not disappointed. In fact, Nutella would become my staple food for the next two weeks.

The palace gardens are huge, and one could probably get lost amongst the maze-like hedges, fountains and ponds quite easily ... were it not for the 45 million tourists. But let me not complain, I was one of those annoying tourists of the worst kind: ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everything and snapping photos every few seconds. Apparently in 1901, two women experience a time-slip in these gardens: they claim to have gone back in time and seen Marie Antionette or something... but then again, they may have simply indulged in a it too much red wine and fallen asleep on a bench in the sun. As much as I'd love to have sent some of the thousands of school groups slipping away through time, I found Marie Antionette largely absent during my visit. How disappointing.

We're leaving Paris tomorrow, so a good night's sleep is in order before we go and board that train to who-knows-where...

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