Friday, 19 December 2014

Paris Musings

It hit me today as I relaxed into my seat on the train, I've been travelling around Europe for three weeks now.

It doesn't seem that long. Most likely because the first part of our travels was with a bunch of footballers so it was more like hanging out with friends, watching football games, laughing heaps, and doing the odd touristy thing.
The Football crowd
Now that my family of four are on our own I've had to be more organised, had to pay attention, and can't goof off as much.

We've just left Paris, the first stop in our White Christmas holiday. I'm sitting in the very spacious first class carriage on a TGV train on my way to Munich. There is a 12 minute dash in Stuttgart to get to our connecting train. Will we make it? I really don't know but will let you know.

Is it rude to say the best thing about Paris is sitting in this luxurious train seat heading out of it? Yeah, probably is. I should put it into context I suppose.
Waiting to leave Paris
We arrived in Paris from London via the Eurostar. I've never travelled so fast in a train before, I've never had to equalise my ears so much either as we rapidly went to and from 250km/hour. We were only in the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) for such a brief time before popping up in France. I didn't realise how far inland Paris was before the longer, slower train ride into the city.

We disembarked at the bustling Paris Gare du Nord train station, a large mixture/interchange station. The immediate vibe was tension. Soldiers fully armed patrolled in groups of three, similarly the police. Groups of older teens with their hoods up seemed to take delight stalking menacingly through the crowds of people. There were no gentle conversations, it seemed as though everyone was being confrontational with everyone else. In amongst all this, we quietly stood.

The phrase "Circle the wagons!" was used for the first time. Our suitcases were pushed against each other to form a tightly packed box shape with our carry on bags placed on top and we stood casually at points around them. This allowed two or three of us to go away knowing, whilst not impossible, a bad guy would have to work to get something of ours.

As we had been given instructions to phone with an arrival time to be let into our Paris apartment, Dear Hub went on the hunt for a public phone. He approached the Information service and was given a bum steer, and then a business owner was incredibly rude when he asked for directions (strike one to the French).

Luckily Miss G had credit and roaming available on her phone so we used it to make contact.

Next came the taxi ride. Our apartment was only a kilometer away but not knowing the area we thought a taxi was the way to go. Fortunately we got one that was able to fit all four suitcases in the back and us in the front and middle. GPS got us to the address and the meter read €8.30, it was only a kilometer after all. Next thing the driver pushes a few buttons and the tally changed to €20!
What do you do?
We weren't about to debate and haggle over the price, so Dear Hub gave him the amount he asked for (strike two to the French) and we stood in front of our building.
Our Paris apatment, way up the top
The agent greeted us and let us in.

Immediately we hit the stairs, as in physically... it was a tight squishy two person space.

They were a narrow, steep, uneven, oval shaped, spiral staircase that took us up to our apartment, which of course was on the top floor. Mr J helped me with my suitcase, it was the heaviest at 26kg's.

With a staircase not much wider than my suitcase I led the way. I climbed while holding the top handle, Mr J lifted and carried the back end with one hand whilst the other lifted his own case. Dear Hub did the same with Miss G. I made it to the second level when the giggles burst forth. The absurdity of what we were doing struck me along with the picture in my head of how the hell do we get them back down again!

The apartment agent gave us the tour inside, surprise more stairs even narrower and steeper to get to the attic level bedrooms and bathroom. The apartment looked lovely, decorated very French, very provincial, even though we were just down from Notre Dame Cathedral. A €750 bond was taken (hope we see that again) and we were left alone.

Then Miss G crumbled.

Her knees had been aching throughout the football tour but for the most part she coped really well, her only struggle was going up stairs. She'd just done five flights while half hauling her suitcase! It's so easy to forget she has pain because she looks so perfect.
More stairs, leading to the bedrooms and bathroom
Tears and a cuddle, nurofen, and the boys were off searching for easy food to bring back to tide us over for the evening.

They were shouted out of KFC, they had no chicken! McDonald's was too complicated, electronic ordering and only in French. A small grocery store, like a tiny IGA, provided cheese, meat, pizza, water, crackers and chips, life's essentials. It got us through.

Then I started laundering... two and a half weeks worth of washing... in a front loading machine... that took two hours for one load... that took a maximum of ten items per load... that I now hate and vow as long as I live I shall continue to love, and adore, and exclusively use top loading machines until the day I die!

The new day saw the sun shining and us up and ready to explore. We had pre-purchased a hop-on/hop-off bus tour and had our tickets ready to go. We strolled down towards Notre Dame, along the way ordering fresh crepes to eat and picking up some souvenirs. A walk through the cathedral, some quick snaps, and we hopped on the bus.

Best. Thing. Ever.

The bus took us everywhere. We also learned quickly when the people up the front moved, grab their seats. The front seats are sort of protected from the wind, certainly better than anywhere else on the top level of the bus. We half listened to the English guide through our complimentary fluoro green earbuds. I found the continuous 60's French music too much to bear and gave up on them so missed out on vital stats like how high the Eiffel Tower is (320 meters) and the Revolution stuff (which luckily I read up on to help Mr J with a school assignment a few years back).
View from the front of the bus
We got off at the Eiffel tower, had a walk around and found all but two food stalls closed. They would all be open the next day as part of a Christmas market. So one that was open we battled through the line and got some hot food and drink. We'd learned the French were very receptive to me so I was shoved up to do the gesturing and smiling. A frozen Miss G got hot chocolate and hot chips. I ordered a small hot wine and expected a 200ml cup I'd seen others walk about with. The gentleman shoved a 500ml cup, oh hell let's just call it a bucket, of steaming hot wine into my hands with a wink and a nod. I just smiled, what else do you do. And shared, I shared it around the four of us trying to lessen the burden.

Within ten minutes I was slurring a little bit, my children thought it hilarious. I had to hang on to Mr J while I walked, I couldn't keep up with Dear Hub. I got a bit giggly when we couldn't find the bus stop, but that didn't matter. When the bus started to approach us, and even though we weren't at a designated stop, I drunkenly smiled and waved, lo and behold the bus did an unscheduled stop on the side of the road and collected us... take back one strike against the French.

The rain started by the time we left for home. Dinner was pasta and pizza while the laundering continued slowly... and continued... and continued.

The rain settled in for the next day. Miss G's knees were achy, and Mr J's ankle had swollen up quite a bit. So dear hub and I did some recon. We found a post office and found how to get to the train station for the next day's departure.

Two parcel boxes were brought back to the apartment and Mr J unloaded all his now clean football gear into one, and I did the same. So much room has been freed up in our cases now, room for other stuff we haven't got yet. And they are so much lighter to haul about now as well, bonus!

Dinner was again supplied by a local grocery store and the last load was completed by bed time.

This morning saw us clean the apartment in the hopes of getting our bond back, that will remain a mystery until we check the credit card statement. I did do a photo run around the apartment to have some sort of proof of the lovely state we left it in... score one for the thinker.

We walked the one kilometer to the train station this morning. It wasn't raining, we knew where to go, and so we took it relatively easy as it was a gentle uphill slope plus we didn't want to push Miss G's knees too much.
Our suitcases all still have four functioning wheels on them,  none of them tore off on the walk/drag, winning!

Things were smooth at the train station. Our Euro rail passes have been activated and we can travel freely within the EU on the train line. We had time to grab some food and enjoy a Starbucks drink. Though the lovely gentleman who served me when given my name, Deb, three times, managed to hear and write down Sem... yeah, I don't know what to say about that one. And Miss G's Vanilla Frappuccino became a Caramel one, and then a Strawberry one, which she took in the end just to have something to drink. It's wise to know when to cut your losses.

So we are on the TVG train, and in the first class carriage. Much like the airlines we've been served a lovely three course meal, we have very large, luxurious, electronic seats, and power cables to plug in our devices... noice, right! The toilet's fancy too but too squashy for my phone's camera and I didn't want to stand in the hall taking a pic of a loo, got to maintain some mystique.
First class meal service and comfy seats... awesome!
So Paris, and now France are long gone.

I think in hindsight our approach to Paris was, and even when we booked it, was to be a catch up zone. A place to sort out the football gear and get ready for the White Christmas trip coming up. We didn't count on the injuries flaring up, we didn't count on an apartment in the sky, and we didn't count on our location in relation to the things we would have been keen on seeing in Paris. Luckily though there will always be a next time. I'm not ready to completely wipe a country because it has some arseholes in it... hey, I'm Australian and we have plenty of them too. Next time I won't be a novice, I won't be coming from a football tour, and I will know better.

In a nutshell I'd do it again, but do it differently.

Addendum... we made the train change over at Stuttgart, but standing room only. In first class people are sitting on the floor, or 3 squashed into 2 seats and the like. Suitcases and bags everywhere... wow Calcutta much!!!
The lads, standing in the 1st class passageway.
Baby girl resting her knees in the train doorway... yep, 1st class!


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