Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gay or straight, it's still Paris!

I booked my accommodation for Paris a week ago, but I didn’t book my train.

Because I had a free return trip to Paris as a result of my disastrous first visit, I decided it would be alright to leave it until the last minute to get tickets…

So I got up this morning, nice and early, and called the Eurostar office. I was on hold for 20 minutes before a recorded voice told me that it was outside opening hours, and that they would open again around 8am. Hmm. 8am I rang and spoke to a very lovely woman for around 20 minutes, before she decided that she wasn’t the person I had to talk to (though she ‘appreciated the chat’(!) ), and so she very kindly transferred me to ‘customer care’, where I waited on hold for another 30 minutes before a recorded message very politely advised me that there was a currently a fire alert in the building, and that nobody could take my call. So I waited, and rang back. Fire alert.

I did the only thing I could think of – I strapped on my backpack, and marched down to the train station to book the tickets in person, even if it meant putting out the fire myself.

When I arrived at the station, I actually found the whole process rather simple and had tickets within 20 minutes of arriving.

You’ll be surprised/pleased to know that the trip itself was rather uneventful – and I arrived bang on time.

I found my hostel easily enough (read: only got lost twice) – I’m staying in a place called ‘Vintage Hostel’, which seems to be anything but vintage. I’m not complaining about the quality in the least; it’s actually quite a nice place to stay (and they include linen in the accommodation charge). It’s 5 minutes walk from the Montmarte district and Sacre Cour.

I did notice that I had forgotten my soap and shampoo, so I had to buy that, but otherwise everything seems in order. I’m staying in a three bedroom ‘mixed dorm’ accommodation, and have so far met one of my roommates – a Japanese guy called “So”.

We hung out for the afternoon and explored a little, and stumbled upon Sacre Cour (a very cool Catholic Cathedral/Church?).

Once we got past the panhandlers and carnies out the front (I now have a wristband, making me ‘a friend of Ghana’), we went inside (admission free – hoorah!), and I was instantly struck by how cool it was. As soon as you walk in you are drawn to the magnificent altar at the far end, and the surrounding mosaics. The rest of the church was cool – it took an hour to wander around and marvel at all the chapellettes and alters to various Saints and other icons. There was often a queue to touch and pray at the feet of either the Madonna, Saint Pierre, or Jesus (this was noticeably the longest queue). Nicest Catholic church by far.

After that, we left the main entrance to find that for five Euros, we could climb the steps of Sacre Cour to the top of the dome. So we did. By the time we got up there (20 minutes of climbing, 5 minutes to catch my breath), the view was spectacular – my first day in Paris and I had a complete panoramic view of the city. I took advantage of the pay binoculars up there, and peered into the Eiffel Tower – and quite possibly imagined somebody doing the exact same thing to me. So I waved. I don’t know if anybody waved back, but I realized in hindsight that I must have looked like a complete muppet standing on the top of the dome of Sacre Cour and waving to the Eiffel Tower. I only hope that somebody over there suffered a similar fate, and that we shared that moment together.

Once we had gotten our fill of the skyline that was Paris, we headed down the steps towards what appeared to be a couple of shops, and turned out to be Montmarte – the classical cultural capital of Paris. Turning the corner we were greeted by the sounds of a musette, and many sketch artists panhandling their work to anyone that would support them through art school. It was as though I had walked into a scene from “an American in Paris”, only without the extended dream sequence.

I think I’m going to like it here.

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