I awoke around 8 am and waited for 2 girls, their dogs and a man to leave before I headed out. Apparently the train was late and had I realized this I could have received a refund. To do this I would have had to give up my ticket which I didn’t want to do. That was my souvenir of the amazing trip!
I stepped outside and was greeted by a fresh pee stain, unknown whether it was human or dog, but an interesting way to start out any morning, much less in Paris. It was cold so I had to put on my long sleeve shirt. This had turned out to be the best item I decided to wear at the last moment. It’s warm in Europe during the summer but not all day and all the time. Its helped out many mornings.
I passed a newspaper stand and bought a lighter. Bic is how you say lighter in French I think that or maybe the guy didn’t understand and told me the brand name. I walked aimlessly just hoping to find a street café with outside seating. I wanted to have a French breakfast with coffee and cigarettes. I kept walking, the city was just waking up or in some cases winding down. What amazed me the most is there seemed to be street sweepers and trash collectors everywhere. The street sweepers were 1 person vehicles with a big broom on the bottom just like here. They seemed to want to keep the city cleaned, but it did smell a bit.
Around 8:30 I found a café on a corner and stopped in. I picked a seat where I could see people. A waiter stopped by and I just said café and he went away. He came back with a large cup of the best coffee I’ve ever drank. It wasn’t too sweet or tart, but it was milky. They do know what they are doing in Paris when I comes to coffee.
I did a bit of writing and smoking. Soon a group of men stopped in for coffee and wine. This is 8 am mind you. Everyone of them chain smoked. They soon left and my stomach started to growl. I looked around for my waiter. He had brought a check when he brought the coffee. Maybe he didn’t want me there. So I waited, kept my head up looking for him. I noted the time as I have heard of the shoddy French service. Total wait time 45 min to order a cheese omelet, salad and milk. I had to change seats so I was right by the door before finally I saw a female and raised my eyes and nodded, ‘I’m ready,’ I gestured.
What amazed me about this situation is how fast the omelet arrived. It was maybe 5 min, for sure not enough time to smoke a cig. It’s like the cook cracked the eggs and cooked it immediately after I ordered. I guess that is how they do it out there, you wait for a long time, get really hungry and BAM food is out!
The milk was very fresh, cold. It was different color than I’ve seen before, not pure white, sort of yellowish white. It sure was rich though. I don’t think they know what 2% is, this was whole probably unpasteurized, straight from farm milk! One of the better meals I had on the trip.
I located Notre Dame and the big sites on a map and began walking in the direction I thought they were. It was late in the trip that I discovered my Iphone has a compass so I could figure out which direction I was going. I walked by KFC, I mean Kentucky Fried Chicken, they seem to appreciate the colonel outside the US, they were everywhere. After maybe 10 min I realize the truth in about coffee and cigs in the morning. It hit me all of a sudden and bad too. In the US you can pop into a fast food joint and sneak in no prob. In Europe there are signs saying ‘no public restroom.’ They also weren’t very busy so they would notice and want me to buy something. I did discover on every other street or so there was a large box: ah a public toilet. The only problem is trying to figure out how to open the door when directions are in French. How about some pics people?! Oh well first one was broken.
I walked possibly the longest walk ever to find the next one. Once I found one it was private room in Paris for a few minutes. The door closed and everything. I quickly changed into a fresh shirt as it was warming up. Sadly I couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet, I sure hope it was an automatic cleaning bathroom.
After finding a street map I discovered I was way off from where I wanted to be. I looked up and damnation, it was looking like rain. I didn’t have any place to go, no umbrella, nothing. I decided I needed to locate the tram and take that to where I needed to be. Surely there would be an obvious stop by or at Notre Dame. Found a park and headed in, if nothing else maybe I could hide out under a tree or something. It was a wonderful, green park with lots of joggers and strollers. I found my way to a bench and sat down for a moment. I took it all in and looked up: cloudy, dark, dreary, rain very soon. I had to find that blasted tram and get cover. I found my way outside the park and it was right by a tram station. I had to believe that my subconscious recalled the map and I followed it, that’s the only explanation for why I seemed to find my way around the whole trip.
Once inside I had to figure out the tram ticket kiosk. As luck would have it, there were English instructions though it wouldn’t take my card. I didn’t have enough change and it didn’t take bills. Luckily a man stopped by and was able to help me by changing a large bill into coins. My eyes lit up and I said, merci as best I could. He waved. I think he was a college kid so he felt sorry for me. I checked my route and noted the name of my stop. I was headed to Notre Dame!
I arrived at my stop and got out. The sky cleared as if on cue and I was able to spend a couple of hours hanging around the island that Notre Dame and other sites were located.
I’m not sure if it technically was an island, but it was in the middle of the Seine only accessible via bridge. I walked around for a bit and took some pics. I found a mail center and tried to buy postage. Everything seemed to be exact change and the mail attended did not want to make change. She merely showed me how to use the kiosk which again wouldn’t process my debit card. I sauntered off and bought a severely overpriced bottle of water for 2€, one that was 12 oz, cest le vie!
I moseyed around the island thing alternating on upper and lower walking areas by the river. It turned into a lovely afternoon. I walked past a building dedicated to Charles de Gaulle, street artist w work better than I’ve ever seen and the usual souvenir hawkers. I suppose I could have and should have taken a tram to the Eiffel tower, but then I wouldn’t have seen the Seine like I did. I looped around the Champs-Élysées and west toward the tower. I didn’t use a map, the tower was so tall you could probably see the whole city, it was by far the tallest building in Paris. By this point I had been walking a few hours and was dog tired. I stopped for a moment on the congress of France. Checking my cell, I had very little juice left. I might run out and not photograph the tower. I had to press on or find an outlet.
I kept walking towards the tower but lost sight of it after walking into a neighborhood. Turned out to be fortunate as I saw how the locals lived. There seemed to be bar on every corner that also served some of the basics, groceries and things. People seemed to always be out drinking, smoking, enjoying life. This is the way to go.
I headed south or the way I figured the tower would be. After several more blocks, the neighborhood ended and I hit the Champ de Mars. It was very cool indeed to walk towards the tower from the lawn in front. First thing that hit me was the lawn was crowded couples and souvenir hawkers. What was odd was the cops would come in and everyone would scramble to hide their wares. I guess it’s illegal to sell in front of the tower or maybe tower images have a copyright they are trying to enforce, but there were dudes everywhere. They spread out things on a blanket and could easily ball them up and sling it over their shoulder if the need arose.
The closer I got to the tower the more people there were. I saw several dudes on their knee proposing to ecstatic women. How many of these would last? One thing is certain, there isn’t a more romantic location than this to propose though I would suspect Venice on a gondola would be right up there too. I arrived at the base of the tower and gazed up into the guts of the building. Lots of rivets, not much solid structure. It was fairly expensive admission to even climb the stairs, not to mention the insanely long lines. I opted for a soda and ice cream cone. Besides it was clouding up, probably would rain soon, the ozone was thick in the air. My Iphone ran out of juice a couple of moments before I arrived at the tower. Also for some reason the camera option would freeze up too. This only happened overseas. Why?!
Sure enough, the rain came and I was able to find a free bench under a tree to wait it out. So funny watching everyone scramble to seek shelter. There were a lot of picnickers and people sprawled out on the lawn that had to make a mad dash. It was amazing and a relief to rest. My feet were super sore. I was wearing sneakers so they were made for walking but I was averaging probably 10 miles of walking a day. It was what I wanted to do, to set my feet on the cities and countries, to see the locals in action. It was rough but what the hey.
It was getting late in the afternoon and I figured I needed to secure transportation outside the city. Paris is super expensive and I wanted to save as much money as I could. I located a tram and headed to the northern train station, appropriately named, Nord. It was crazy packed. I looked around for ticket counters for out of city and finally found a long snaking line. What always amazes me is how people who work in places like this seem to always move in super slow motion no matter how long the line is. The DMV is a perfect parallel. I saw supervisors and ticket sellers having full conversations while everyone waited. They knew the score, we are on their timetable and we have to wait for them.
I think it took about an hour before I made it to the ticket guy. I said English s‘il vous plaît. He knew English. I said train out of Paris, nearest city, didn’t matter, just needed to go north towards Amsterdam. All the trains are full tonight. I can sell you a ticket to ride in the morning to Lille, it is on the way and you can transfer to wherever you want to go, including Amsterdam. Well good and bad news I suppose. I paid only 10€ I think and procured a ticket for 9 am to Lille, France. I now had the prospect of finding a computer room and hostel in the dark. It should be easy I was right by a major train station.
You get to a certain point in every vacation where you say, ‘dammit, I’m on vacation and when will I ever be in this city again?! I’m going all out!’ that’s when you realize you’ll be paying for this trip for the next few months but they won’t be able to take that memory away from you. Take your house, car etc but not memories, not yet. I proceeded to head to the nearest hotel, asked for a room w a balcony. Headed up, took a shower, the first since Barcelona well over 24 hours ago and took a nap.
Upon waking up my phone was charged and I could hook into the hotel’s WiFi so no data fees! I felt hungry so I looked around for a reasonably priced meal. Found a place directly across from the train station. Seemed ok, probably the least visited restaurant in France by French people. It did fine though, I mean you have an endless stream of people to watch, coming and going. So many different moods, emotions and expressions . You know there are families shipping of a daughter, son, or spouse. Maybe they were taking the big trip, the going away forever sort of permanent trip. These could also be happy moments, the return of a family member, or friend, anyone really. It’s all possible, every one of those situations is happening right now & that is amazing
I grabbed a table, a beer and a waiter, but not in that order. They all came in due time which meant I people watched for a bit. It was fine, I mean waiting in Paris is a very different thing than waiting for just about anything you could think of anywhere else. I’d wait on the mail in Paris.
A few minutes later, the time one might take to drink 1 pint of beer, that sort of time frame, a steak + fries arrived. Of course I got a side of mayo, I was in France and again my point of reference is fries in mayo at Burger King, a much different thing to frites and real mayo in Paris. It does taste better, but still not good. I ordered another beer. I had decided that I was in good position, namely less than 3 blocks from my room. I had a key, I knew the precise route to take. I decided to get a couple more beers.
This was my first real food since earlier, the omelets and salad. I probably walked a good 10 miles that day. For sure I walked from Notre Dame to the Eiffel tower and got lost going from the train station to Notre Dame. What I’m really saying is those beers effected me greatly. I spoke w the waiter for a bit, trying to understand Paris. It’s not possible, there can be no explanation, Paris just is.