I forced myself to have a good time. No matter what. I would NOT let anything get in my way of having a great time today.
Before I get to the good stuff and the story let's get the bad stuff out of the way.
1. The weather. It was lightly raining and overcast. It wasn't that cold but it seemed like it might be and most people (including myself) were dressed for November or March type weather! The main problem with the weather was not the rain or the clouds but the extremely high humidity which made me sweat like crazy even though it was only somewhere around 17-22°. However, if I had worn fewer clothes I would have also frozen so it was hard to know what to wear in this strange weather.
2. The romance of Paris. You can't escape it. Recently I went through some events which sort of feel like a break up and it hurts. And then every millisecond my eyes were assaulted by lovey dovey couples. Ouch. It hurts so bad. There's nothing I can do except be happy for them and wish one day I could be in Paris with my love and make out everywhere and not care who is watching!
3. I had a shit problem with my hotel booking where I nearly had a spack attack. Because I had so many credit cards in my wallet that got stolen and they are now blocked and I don't have a single accessible card at the moment, they couldn't reserve the room for me. Even though I said I can pay them in cash it didn't matter. The guy at reception said I HAD to have a credit card to book the room. What could I do? I could have gone elsewhere but I couldn't guarantee that they'd have a room available and for the same or less price. Plus I had accumulated some bags/stuff and did not feel like traipsing around wasting my whole day looking for another hotel!!
At first I tried calling my bank in France because I was due to collect my credit card there the very next day and hoped they could just give me the number of my new card over the phone (since I don't need the PIN or anything) but all I got was voicemail. D'oh!
When all else fails I can only rely on one person who never fails me: my father. Thank God it was still a decent time in Australia. It was 2pm here and 10pm there. Luckily it wasn't much later. So I called him on my mobile thinking it would cost 2chf a minute (that's what my phone told me when I crossed borders but then I realised in hindsight that was probably only the call cost to France). I quickly explained what happened (he had no idea I was in Paris. In fact I barely told anyone it was such a last minute thing!) and asked if I could use his credit card saying they weren't even going to charge it, it was just to book/reserve the room. He gave me his credit card number and I gave it to the reception guy thinking it was all OK now.
No.... being French everything must be in writing. Oh fuck. I forgot about that! He wouldn't accept it saying he needed 'authorisation' from my father to use my card. I said, "But you heard our entire conversation!" So I had to call my father back, and ask him to get on the email to send an email to the hotel regarding authorisation to use his credit card for my room. Oh My Fucking God. I felt so bad for bothering my father and felt so crap for all this time I was wasting. Meanwhile I decided to check the credit on my phone... I only just added 30chf credit yesterday! It should be at 28 or 29chf ish. When I checked my credit I had only 12chf left. I nearly had a heart attack. The call must've cost me around 5chf per minute! ARGH. Still there was nothing I could do about it now, and at least I had a hotel room for tonight! I decided not to let it upset me too much other than I had wasted some of my precious sightseeing time.
OK now let me go to the beginning of my story.
As usual I don't sleep much before big trip and I only had 4 hours sleep. I had to get up so early to walk about 10 minutes to a bus stop a bit further away, take the bus, get off the bus and walk some more and wait at the station for my train. I got there way too early I could've caught an earlier train but decided not to and just stick to my original plan.
When I got on the TGV headed for Paris I went to find my seat hoping the train would not be full (it was almost empty!) The guy yesterday booked me a couloir (corridor/aisle) seat in the lower level. The worst!! He didn't ask me what I wanted otherwise I would always choose a window (fenêtre) seat.
I quickly realised I could have a window seat afterall... I found myself sitting opposite a fairly good-looking French guy who reminded me a lot of my former teacher in Alliance Française in Sydney. He was travelling with his friend who sat across the aisle, taking up all 4 seats.
It was going to be a 3 hour train ride and I really felt like talking to the guy sitting opposite me but I talked myself out of it. Besides, he seemed to be seriously occupied (addicted?) to his iphone! So I got on my computer and did some work and then I tried to go to sleep. As often happens on train trips, right where I get to the point where I'm almost asleep the inspector comes to check the tickets. Why the heck can't they just check it at the beginning? So of course I never did fall asleep during the entire trip but I was in that sort of sleepy drowsy mode which was nice given I didn't get enough sleep the night before as usual.
Towards the end of the train trip the guy opposite me started reading a novel. Without even thinking and pondering and dwelling too much (allowing me time to get nervous about it), "That's it!" I thought. I was going to talk to him and I knew the EXACT way to start the conversation because it's something I've been wondering for ages.
Back in June-July 2010 not long before I left for France, I invited a French guy over to my place for lunch. Actually I invited other people too but he was the only one who could make it that day. We met on Couchsurfing and were going to do a language exchange with each other. I remember him showing me this cool bi-lingual novel where you open at any page, and one side is in French and one side is in English. As well as that, there are translations and phrase explanations at the bottom of each page. It was so cool and whenever I've been in a bookshop in France or Geneva I'd look for a book like that but never found one. Then again I never looked for it seriously or even asked for assistance (thinking they just didn't exist in a bookstore that's not huge)... but given this guy was reading a book, I thought it would kill two birds with one store: it's a way for me to start a conversation with him AND find out the answer to something I've been dying to know (assuming he knows the answer).
I started with something like, "Excusez-moi s'il vous plaît mais est-ce que vous venez de Paris?" (Excuse me please but do you come from Paris?) He answered "Oui" (phew)... OK so I asked him and he told me I could try Shakespeare & Co bookstore and even drew me a map! He suggested I could also try FNAC (which I know of because they are in Geneva too and obviously I'd seen them before during my travels around France but I had no idea of their locations in Paris since I'd never been to one there). He tried to look it up for me on his iphone but there was no connection. D'oh! Still... at least it gave me two ideas of places to try.
And then we got talking about our lives. I said I used to live in France but now live and work in Geneva. And just when we had to get off the train I finally found out what HE does. He told me he's a musician and would be playing tonight at the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) starting at around 19h30 and invited me to come. It wasn't till much much much later in the day (night) that I realised I didn't even get his name or his band's name so I had no idea who he plays for! (ETA: I do now)
I love that I've been to Paris enough times now that I don't have a big long list of touristy things to do and can just do whatever I want. I LOVE not having any concrete plans. It's fun to go with the flow. I had no plans other than the one important thing that I had to do.
I couldn't check into my hotel until 2pm so I had some time to kill. First of all I needed to get a map of Paris since I left mine at home. After that I needed to go to the Post Office but I had no idea where one was (I couldn't remember the address of the awesome one I went to last time) so I just decided to go to the Hôtel de Ville for a few reasons: 1) it's only a few stops away on one métro line from Gare de Lyon, 2) I could check out what would be going on tonight regarding the free music concert, and 3) It's a big enough landmark so I guessed there must be one somewhere around there...
As luck would have it, there was an information stand (which was staffed by some young, good-looking AND friendly Parisians) one of whom told me there was a post office right IN (sort of underneath on the left as you're looking at it) the Town Hall. Wow, I'd guessed right!
With that out of the way I thought I could go straight to Levallois to do my 'business' but something happened.. I kind of took a shopping detour.
At first I thought I'd go and find FNAC (since I remember him saying there was one around there) so I went back to the Info desk to ask the same girl where it is. She explained but I got lost. I asked a random man in the street and he didn't know either. Hmm... so I just kept walking and saw a nice bag shop that had heaps of backpacks in it, many of which were on sale.
I couldn't help but go in for a peek. I really need to replace my beloved backpack that got stolen but I put it off because one of a similar size/style cost 129 chf in Geneva. However, I could get one cheaper here! After spending ages through them all there weren't that many that were big enough. And not all were on sale. In the end I chose the only one that fitted all my criteria and it was 90 euros down to 60euros so I was really happy with that. It's the very pouplar Eastpak brand and it has a 30 year guarantee! I still miss my baby like crazy and hope that he turns up in Lost and Found (I had him for 10 years :( ) but this one is a nice replacement.
So then I asked the salesperson guy (who was super nice.. who says Parisians are rude?!) where FNAC was and he said it's in Forum Les Halles, a big shopping centre a bit further down the road.
Following his instructions I did manage to find it. This FNAC was HUGE! OMG I was in book heaven.
Allow me to go off on a tangent a bit. I LOVE books. When I was in primary school we got these catalogues for 'book club' and my father usually let me choose 2 or 3 books in each catalogue and I always had such a hard time narrowing down my choices. I still have all those books I got from book club! Also, I was a 'library monitor' in 5th and 6th grade and one time we went on a school excursion where I got to meet some famous children's authors which was awesome.
Buying books in Australia was kind of shit because a large majority were imported from the US and even though our currency is almost equa,l the prices of the books were usually double! Eg a book which costs 9.95 USD ends up costing 19.95 AUD. Sometimes it was even MORE than double. Because of this, most people now buy their books online (Amazon and Book Depository) and because of that, recently a lot of bookstores in Australia closed down! In Geneva I have the exact same problem as I did in Sydney. A lot of the books are imported from France and the prices are double! Now the Euro is stronger than the Swiss Franc but still.. the prices are a joke!
Meanwhile shopping for books in France is a dream come true. The range is HUGE and the prices are good. I cannot believe you can buy paperback novels for 5 or 6 euros. Novels cost at least 20 and often 30 Australian dollars in Australia!!
I could have spent all day in FNAC but just focused on what I wanted. After asking two different salespeople I finally found the section with the bi-lingual books my suspicion was right. The section was quite small and given this is a huge bookstore I doubt a small bookstore would even have these types of books.
I got 1) Alice in Wonderland (Alice au pays des Merveilles) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (Petit déjeuner chez Tiffany). I've never even seen the film and didn't know it was based on a book! There were classic novels like Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck etc but I want to read something that actually interests me and most classic novels bore me because they were set so long ago...
After that I went to check out the foreign languages section. The selection in Payot Librarie in Geneva actually has a bigger section for learning French! But that makes sense given most people in Paris already know how to speak French :P Not long ago I almost ordered Assimil German from Book Depository online (where I buy all my books). I couldn't decide whether to get it in English or in French (ie learning German comparing it to English, or to French). The thing I wanted to buy wasn't on the shelf so I asked a staff member if he had it. He promptly went out the back and brought back 2 copies to put on the shelf. While i was there a lady was also enquiring about it and we both ended up buying it! It was too tempting not to because it was cheaper than Book Depository already AND there was 20% off! Bonus!
The lady asked me if I thought it was good and I said I used it to learn French! I told her as much as I could about it and she seemed generally grateful for my advice with just makes my day (when I feel like I've helped someone).
After buying a big backpack, 2 books and the very heavy Assimil kit (book and CDs) AS WELL AS carrying my existing bags which had my 2kg laptop inside, my back and arms were killing me and now I was dying to get back to the hotel, just about time too.
First I had to get myself to the metro at Châtelet Les Halles. Now, I've only ever heard bad things about this place. That it's dangerous at night. That's its huge and overcrowded, etc. So knowing this I wasn't in a hurry to dilly dally but being so huge it took me a while to get me to where I wanted to go!
When I got to Gare de Lyon I bought a maxi pain au chocolat as I hadn't eaten since about 8am and was now totally starving.
So I got to my hotel and I already told you what happened...
By the time I left the hotel it was almost 3pm and I STILL hadn't done what I set out to do and I didn't even know what time they closed. I prayed to God they didn't close at 4 or else I might be stuffed as I didn't think I could get there before 4pm. It was quite far away and I had to change metro lines twice.
Still, I made it at 4 on the dot and they didn't close until 5 anyway. Levallois. I'd heard of this place before in Sarah Turnbull's book Almost French. It's just out of the ring road so technically it's another city! I went to two cities in one day hehehe.
As soon as I stepped out of the metro I thought, " Wow, it's so much cleaner/quieter/less crowded than the city and still just as beautiful." I can't believe how much she whinged in the book about living there. Actually I'm tired of these spoilt 20 something year old brats from well to do families (they are always from upper middle class families, aren't they?) whinging about stuff when they have a place to live for FREE in Paris, an instant companion, an instant and free French tutor... I'm sorry for sounding bitter but I had none of this when I arrived and now it's a constantly struggled to provide for myself and to make friends, etc etc. Levallois is beautiful and tranquil and not that far from Paris. Man! I wouldn't mind living there if I had a free place to live in!
Anyway so... after doing what I came to do, I popped into a supermarket where I bought 2 sandwiches which cost less than 2 euros each (bargain!) as I still hadn't even had lunch yet. I sat on a park bench and ate my lunch and then...
I checked out the very beautiful gardens of the Hôtel de Ville there. There were so many different kinds of flowers and at that exact moment I was there, the sun came out! Ah the sun... how I've missed you.
So with that, that was my queue to high tail it to La Tour Eiffel. I knew the sun wouldn't last long and I was right. It was gone by the time I got to Trocadéro. The reason why I wanted to go back to the Tower is because I've seen it in autumn, winter and spring and now I finally get to see it in summer completing my cycle of 4 seasons :) although my spring photo looks far more like summer than today's photo!
I'm still struck with awe the moment I see it from Trocadéro. No matter how many times I see it I want to gasp.
|Lovey dovey couples everywhere...|
Around Gare de Lyon and around that area I saw HEAPS of police and men in army uniform. HEAPS and heaps and all carrying weapons. On one hand it feels weird but on the other it makes me feel safer which is a good thing. And without fail all the policemen were hot hot hot! ;)
Anyway so I took the same photos as I always take at the Eiffel Tower, squeezing in trying to find a space between all the other tourists.
Then I realised I really needed to use the toilet. I couldn't find one anywhere. I managed to distract myself with a small market where I bought a cheap, soft case for my mobile phone (since that was also stolen along with my phone!!). I asked a stallholder where the toilet was and she told me it was downstairs near the boats. When I got there I was told they were closed. WTF? The one up near the markets was also locked. The lady at one of the restaurants told me to go to the actual Tower. Geez. I tell you what, I was that close to to finding a quiet secluded spot...
I got to the Tower and asked some policemen where the toilets were. I started off being quite angry (that there were no toilets anywhere in such a busy, crowded place?) but they were so good-humored I actually left smiling. Apart from the rude hotel reception guy every other Parisian I dealt with was super nice and friendly!!
She joked about going behind a tree and I said I already thought of that.. she said there were two toilets. One you have to pay for (which you didn't!) and another one. She suggested the one further away because the queue would be shorter (it wasn't). Now I never say, "je m'en fous" because it means "I don't care" but it can ALSO mean "I don't give a fuck" but given I was about to piss my pants and she asked me if I cared about paying, I said, "je m'en fous".. other giving me instructions to the other one (of course I initially got lost) she said "bon courage mademoiselle" which made me laugh.
I did eventually find it and there were 7 people in front of me! Thank God the queue moved relatively quickly AND it was free. Usually all public toilets are paying in France!
|I was really glad to see this sign after my bag was pickpocketed in Geneva|
|There were lots of police and army presence!|
And then I had to get back on the metro again and I'd forgotten just how far Bir Hakeim station was. It felt like I had to walk 20 minutes to get to it!
I still hadn't finished my shopping fix so I wanted to get to the shops before 7pm (I assumed they close at either 7 or 8pm). Luckily for me though, since it was Thursday, the shops don't close until 9pm! (and usually 8 or even 8:30pm which is such a change from Geneva!)
I went to Galeries Lafayette not that I can afford anything there but just to look at it because the interior is so beautiful. For the first time I checked out the kids/toy section (amazing) and also the top floor with the souvenir shop, a book shop, a tea room, and cafeteria (and also a nice rooftop view out the windows). And there, I found a FREE toilet - woohoo! It is such an incredibly beautiful (and huge) department store. I still remember my last trip there during Christmas with the beautiful moving window displays.
|Lots of lovely books about Paris|
I got my macaron fix too at the Pierre Hermé stand and bought two macarons.
On leaving Galeries Lafayette I couldn't help but notice the chic 'school uniforms' in the window. It's a bit of a novelty for me to realise that 1) kids don't wear uniforms and 2) school starts in September and therefore school diaries start in September (and not January)! Right now in Geneva and Paris and probably everywhere else in Europe, they are selling back-to-school supplies and I just go gaga over the gorgeous stationery and beautiful things, the kind of stuff which did NOT exist when I was in school! An surely still doesn't exist in Australia. The range of incredibly beautiful and cute back-to-school supplies is mind boggling.
Then, finally, after I had finished my checklist I could go back to the Town Hall to check out the concert.
I didn't want to change metro lines ago (which drives me nuts!) so I just decided to get off a bit further away at Pont Neuf. I'm really glad I did because I walked along the Seine and saw Paris Plage. I was fascinated with it ever since I heard about it 2 years ago and today was the opening day for this year! Unfortunately, it wasn't beach weather though :( Still, there were quite a few people taking advantage of the beach chairs and enjoying the atmosphere. There was a band and they were awesome. I looked down on them from above.. Just loved the music.
|Would have been a gorgeous sunset without all those clouds|
By the time I got to the Town Hall it was already 21h30, two hours after 19h30 so I didn't get to see the guy on the train :( Still, I quite enjoyed myself. There was quite a big turnout despite the miserable grey weather. I LOVE live music. The only thing I really really wished (and I wished all day long) is that I had someone to share my day with. Not necessarily a guy, but even a good friend from home. That would have been the icing on the cake!
It's funny how things turn out though. If I didn't meet the guy on the train I probably wouldn't have gone to FNAC and wouldn't have gone to or even known about the concert at the Town Hall. So many "ifs".. If I didn't get off at Pont Neuf I wouldn't have seen Paris Plage, etc etc. I wanted to stay at the Town Hall forever. I got that horrible feeling I get at the end of every holiday. That I have to leave this city/country and soon go back to every day life...
Regarding the title of this blog post.. there seem to be very very very few fat people in Paris and those that are overweight are over 45 or 50 years old. I am guessing it has something to do with the metro. Taking the metro I feel like I've walked thousands of steps and kms of tunnels. Sooooooo much walking and it's one thing I don't like about Paris. Those long underground metro tunnels and tonnes of stairs. I'm simply exhausted! Also, the Parisians are sooooo good looking. Both the guys and the girls. I can hardly stop staring. There is quite a large percentage of good looking people here! AND they seem taller than the average French person (who is shorter than the average Anglo or Northern European person). Weird. Are they all super lucky with genes or what?!
But it was a very successful day indeed and like all my previous Paris trips, I could barely keep the smile off my face all day :D