Chuck's travels

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Netherlands - Post 2 - An evening (or two) in Paris

Hi guys,
Now for my trip to Paris ... some details.

I was always planning to go to Paris this weekend but we were all planning together - akka, myself, SriKrishna and Moinu. I tried to get phone numbers for tours and travels etc but didn't meet with too much success. The others weren't too much help either, all of them asking "are we going to Paris" but not doing anything about it. I got some phone numbers finally but one was boooked full, another was going friday morning while we wanted to go friday evening after work and another yapped a lot in dutch and dind't reply when I spoke in English. I told akka that if something got arranged then I would take her with me else I wouldn;t go with her coz it would be too much of a headache taking care of her. MAybe someone would argue she doens't need taking care of but I kinda don't feel very comfortable thinking of akka roaming paris with me with both os us not knowing what is happening and what to do. Annyway, it finally happend that i told her she comes with me if things get araanged with a travel agent and she doesn't comem with me if something does not get arranged. By Thursday, we still hadn't arranged anything and I was seriously wonderinf whether to go it alone or not. After looking at various options on the net, I had decided that if I had to go it alone, the Thalis was the train to go and come back by ... though expensive, it would be the most convenient one. Someone told me that I would get tickets from the Ede-Waginengen station near my place ... so Thurday evening after coming from office, I went to the station and tried to get tickets only to be told that the tickets could not be reserved there and anyway if I went somewhere else, the counters would be closed by now. So I went back home Thursday night with no plan at all. Only thing was that the lady at the ticket counter at Ede-Waginengen gave me a number of NS international and told me I could book my tickets from this number. Since I had never done anything like that before I was pretty much sure I wasn't going to France this weekend.

Anyway, the next morning I kept my thermals in my bag with an extra sweater just in case I got a plan from somewhere. I also kept my camera in my bag just in case. SOon after coming to office, I made a call to the NS Internation number just to see what happend and to my shock the lady in question said "Oh yes sir, i can book tickets for you tonight. Kindly tell me the details". It was about 10 AM and that was the first time I realized that i might be going to France in the evening. Anyway i told her my name and she guided me through the various schedules and helped me choose the best trains ... anyway when I had been looking up the Thalis timings on the net the day before I had made up my mind, if the chance came, to catch the 7:50 pm Thalis train to Paris, reaching there around 11:05 pm and to get the return ticket for Sunday evening 6:55 pm Thalis. I gave her all the details and in the process she asked me the office address, phone no and fax number ... none of which I knew. This is where a guy named Marcel came to my rescue ... he is a member of the PTG here and he is also testing EES along with akka and myself ... very serious guy, very brainy and very helpful. He ran around while I was talking on the phone since he didn't know the address and fax number either ... and got both for me and gave me his direct number (we share one rooom together in office ... two of us quietly going about our work) for the phone no which I promptly relayed over the phone. This whole phone conversation took about 15 minutes and I was just thinking that id I had this conversation in India, the person on the other end of the phoen would have banged it down after the first couple of minutes, the way I was uncertain about everything I said to the lady at the NS counter ... making her wait for my phone no and my fax number etc. Anyway the conversation ended with the lady telling me my tickets were reserved and I could collect them from Rotterdam statino one hour before departure and pay for them there. The cost of the two way tickets to and fro Paris was a whopping 136 euros but hell, thats ok ... i am not paying for it ... ;-). She then faxed me a confirmation of my reservation and i was impressed - now I know why they say "phoren mein everythign is so efficient and so easy to do" ... without knowing anything i had just booked myself tickets to France for that evening ... cool.

One word about this guy Marcel whose room i sit in .... he has six children and is still a young man .... and he works only 4 days a week coz every monday he is a teacher at a school .... isn't that cool???

Anyway, now I had almost made up my mind that i was going to France that night and I immediately called up SriKrishna and Moinu to ask if they would join me ... I was pretty certain that I wasn;t taking akka on this madcap arrangement. Srikrishna refused saying he would go with akka later and Moinu said he had plans with his group somewhere so it was decided I was going alone.

There is this site on the net where you can look up train schedules .... btw, all trains run exactly on time as do buses... and when I say exactly I mean exactly ... if u reach a bus station or railway station at 10:20 for the 10:18 train/bus then you won't get it ... its that accurate. I looked up the way to Rotterdam and noted it down on paper. That was the first time I was going to travel alone in Holland and I had no idea how to look up trains at the platforms and the different routes the various trains go on etc... I just planned to blindly follow what the website told me.

I took an apple from office and set out from office at 4:45 pm ... went to the barneveld noord station ... caught a train to Uttrecht Centraal ... and from there to Rotterdam Centraal ... I think this is the route I took though I am not sure now ... anyway I changed a couple of trains and I reached Rotterdam centraal at 6:30pm. I collected my tickets from the NS international counter and did the payment. Then I did the first sensible thing since I decided to go alone to PAris and I askd the lady at the counter to change my booking for the return journey to the Thalis leaving Paris at 16:55 instead of 18:55 as I had reserved over the phhone ... I realized that with the buses and trains stopping after a certain time in NL, if I landed here late I could be stuck in Rotterdam without any way to reach home to my apartment in Groenhof, Ede. As it turned out that was the most sensible decision I have taken in my life coz I eventually reached back home on Sunday at 11:15 PM. Anyway, I was now 100% sure I was going to France in a couple of hours. Great.

Spent some time eating a pizza slice and drinking a coke at the station and at 7:54 pm exactly the Thalis moved from the station towards paris ... this train can reach a peak speed of around 300 KMph and takes about 3 hours 10 minutes for the trip to Paris and is the fastest option in trains. It was dark outside so I coudn'y see how fast the train was going but inside though the train swayed now and then u coudln't really make out the train was moving very fast. Anyway exactly on time at 11:06 pm, the train stopped at Paris Noord station and I was out on my own .... with no idea what to do next.

I had the phoen no of some youth hostels in my pocket and I immediately searched a phone to make the calls ... only problem was I coudn't find a phone that took coins and I dind't have a phone card ... I wandered here and there and it was 11:45 at night and I was cussing myself for having come without a phoen card .... that is when I met a Sri Lankan tamil guy and I asked him for help and he gave me his phone card ... u get these budget cards for about 7-10 euros and u can make calls for a fixed amounr of time on each card ... he said not much time was left on the card but I could use whateger was left. So I managed to call one of the youth hostels who told me they were full and gave me another number and told me to call up there. It was about 12:00 at nigth then and I was wondering if I had made a mistake in coming to Paris without a proper plan in mind. Anyway, I got through to this second youth hostel and the guy said - yeah we have acco available for 19 euros per night with breakfast included ... I asked him for directions to get to his place and he said (in a french accent I could hardly understand) - catch metro ABC1 to place X, change to metro ABC2 to place Y, change to another metro ABC3 to place Z and you are there .... I said great, what is the name of your hostel coz I can catch all those metros but what do I do after I get down at that last place ... right at the moment fate played a cruel joke and the line went dead ... the phone card had expired. I was left with directions to the metro station very near the houth hostel but no address or name of the youth hostel itself ... it was like saying "I live in Banjara Hills ... come find me" ... bloody hell. It was about 12:15 and I wondered what to do ... I had a wild idea that if i went to the metro station something would suggest itself ... so asking someone i reached the metro station and found a barrier in front of me which needed tickets to cross ... and I dind't have a ticket and the counters were closed ... and all automatic ticket counters require cards. Annyway, one negro saw me and he had an extra ticket in hand and he punched it in for me ... and I went in .... I had not learned yet that when u get stuck at the turnstile without a ticket, you jump it .... it was my first hour in France and the first time I had been into a Metro station and I had several things to learn about it. Anyway, i reached the platform and then realized it wasn't going to be as easy as I had thought... I didn't know where to get down and how to change metros ... though later I found it was quite easy, at that moment I lost my nerve thinking about the three metros I had to change. So i retraced my steps and came back out of the metro station and back to the Paris Noord station where I had started out from after getting down from the train. It was about 12:40 and I was on the streets without a place to stay ... I always wanted adventure but I wasn't sure I meant France at 12:40 at night without knowing the language (about 10% people in france speak english or acknowledge knowing english ... the other 90% simply wave their hands at u and glare at u when u talk with them in English).

I started hunting around the hotels near the station and came across hotels offering rooms at 55 euros per night, 75 euros per night and 60 euros per night and I was thinking the amount of money I had in my pocket was going to wear very thin very soon indeed. Then I saw a bar with a Hotel sign above it and the barman (who was drunk stiff ... all day he probably had been selling drinks with a "one for u and one for me" policy) said - "Thotty Yurros" when I made a sign with my fingers to indicate money ... he dind't speak English either. 30 euros looked like a godsend and I didn;t argue any more and I was in a room dumping my bag and washing my face at about 1 AM. I then went down and had a beer to relax and the barman grumbled at me coz he was closing up when I had come ... if I had been about 10 minutes late then he would have closed and I would still be out on the streets. Anyway, I slept at about 1:30 AM knowing i was in France and I was surviving .... cool.

Next mornign I awoke at 10 AM .... by the time I left my hotel it was about 10:45 AM ... I had a burger (with beef) at MacDonalds - the girl at the counter gawked stupidly when I said "vegetarian burger??? vegetarian sandwich??? (she dind;t speak English either) - and then started walking around trying to get my bearings so I could easily make my way back on Sunday evening when I came to catch my train back. I saw a shop that was run by a Indian chap and took some directions from him - in Hindi .. heh heh - and he told me to take a bus no 30 to eiffel tower. So I took bus no 30 and about half hour ride later I was somewhere near the Eiffel tower.

After that i walked. Till about 9 at night, I walked. I walked all around the Eiffel tower ... looking at it from different angles and admiring it from different vantage points ... at peace with the world and myself. U can go up the eiffel towers in lifts (u pay money for it) or walk up the stairs to one floor but there was long long lines for all of this and I thought it would be a waste of time to do this right now ... I had plenty of time and Paris was mine for the next many hours. I kept walking and through the various streets in front of me ... reached a museum call "La Amaire" or something ... I don;'t remember its name but it also had a small building beside it that is actually Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb. So I visited both and had a good time knowing I was in Europe looking at Napoleon's tomb ... cool.

Then i walked some more ... to the Louvre .... even from outside it is beautiful .... u can go there and take plenty of photos even without bothering to go inside ... and I did take some photos there. One place, I asked a french guy to take my photo for me and he waved his hand and walked away and this girl comes upto me and asks (thankfully) in English - "u want me to take ur photo"??? She and her friend were from Canada and she took my photo and I took theirs... she was very pretty ... ;-).

Then I was to another place ... like the Eiffel i walked all around the Louvre ennjoying it from different angles and different vantage points. I met this canadian girl again at another vantage point where we again took each other's photo ... ;-) .... I dunno if she was following me but honesty forces me to say it probably was an accident.... ;-(

Then i went into the museum and looked at various stuff .... I saw the Venus De Milo and the Mona Lisa ... hell, I am really very cultured now. Roamed around a lot though I don't have that mind of an artist, I found things to be interesting and generally enjoyed myself.

When I came out of the Louvre, I made for the Cathaderel of Notre Dame but rain delayed me and I lost one hour standing under a shelter near the Louvre ... of course it wasn't a total loss since I got to just look around a lot. There was a lovely English girl also sheltering from the rain and though i didn't speak with her (another guy was trying to pick her up ... telling her he thought she was beautoiful and asking if she wanted to come for a drink .. etc etc etc ... the girl kept refusing ... finally walking away unpicked after the rain stopped).

I walked and walked ... it was about 4:30 pm now and I had been walking since 12 noon and I was walking in the general direction of Notre Dame .... and just near Notre dame I saw a boat cruise sign for a cruise on the Seine river. I had been going to and fro the river on the various bridges all day long during my walkings but I really wanted to go on this boat cruise so I delayed Notre Dame for later and bought a ticket .... the boat cruise was cool .... I sat on the open top of the boat for this one hour cruise and it was very cold with a chilly breeze blowing and I loved every moment of it ... I was really regretting it when the ride ended one hour later.

Now, I decided to forget Notre Dame for today and instead concentrate on finding an acco for the night, the previous night having taught me the importance of concentrating on this important job. Since I had the general directions the previous night I had marked it on my map and made sure that the way I was navigating all day long took me rouhgly in the direction the youth hostel was located though i still dind't know its name or address. Now I went with a total focus on finding the hostel and walked through lots of places asking directions and stuff .... I reached a place called Bastille, very near the place where the youth hostel was .... but still didn't know how exactly to reach the place itself. I had bought a phone card for myself in the day .... the place where I bought it from said I could only use it from inside France and so I bought a real cheap card for 3 euros .... and the bloody thing behaved like a cheap card. You are supposed to call a number and enter the code in the card and then the phone numeber u want to connect to and the bloody thing wouldn't connect at all .... the only advantage I had at that time was it was early in the day ... about 7 pm and shops were open and people all around and this was better than roaming around emoty streets as I had the night earlier. SO I finally entered a shop owned by 2 Sri Lankan tamil guys and they allowed me to make a call from their phone .... in fact one of them took the directions from his place to the hostel and noted it down for me .... the hostel turned out to be very near to the place, about 10 minutes walk and at 8:45 at night I was at the hostel .... Cool. I checked in and washed my face and felt I wasn't doing too bad after all. Heh heh.

After the burger (with beef in it as mentioned earlier) in the morning, I had eaten the apple I had brought fromm Amsterdam in the afternoon and since I had not found anything vegetarian in my travels (I hadn;t searched for food too hard ... i was busy walking and seeing Paris to care about food ,... I had just asked a couple of places here and there), I hadn;t eaten anything else since and just before entering the hostel I found a place nearby that had rice and finger chips which I had ... tasted nice ... ;-) ... it turns out that there are plenty of shops that sell idli and vada and sambhar etc near the eiffel tower but since i didn't know it, i didn't even try to find those shhops ... now i think of it, i don't even regret it coz if i had spent time eating and searching for food then i woudn't have been able to traverse so much on foot .... i walked so much even when i wasn't making exactly for some tourist spot that i saw a lot of paris ... a lot... though i don't remember even 5% of the names of the places.

Anyway after checking into the hostel, i went down to get a drink of water and met a girl who was also staying at the same hostel ... she was Norweigian and was named Benedicta ... she was slim and she was cute and she spoke english very well ... ;-) ... we talked and we talked and we talked ... just randomly ... and it was about 12:30 at night when we parted to sleep (yeah, we slept in our own rooms ... u perverts) .... she said about three times during our conversartion - "you have never been to paris ... first time u r going out of ur country .. u don't know the language here ... and u just walked into paris .... cool ... so awesome". I totally agreed with this coz I thought i was totally awesome and we parted on friendly terms.

Woke up morning at 8:30 AM ... had breakfast at 9 and walked out of the hostel at 9:30 after saying bye to Benedicta who was having breakfast then ... ;-(. This time I had a different plan in mind for the day ... the previous day I had walked a lot and seen a lot of the city and today since I had a train to catch at 4:55 pm, i just wanted to go to select places, spend tiem and reach the station by 4 pm, just to make sure. I didn't have too much money in my pocket and if I missed my train to NL then i was sunk ... dead ... destroyed. Also I had not yet used the Metro and I had heard so much about it .... I thought it would be a pity to go back without experiencing it .... i had a bad experience the first night when i went to the metro station but i realized that was an accident and i should take another shot at it. The map I had been following all day the previous day gave all the required info about the mteros but i hadn' used it but i was going to now .... and now that I tried it, it was the easiest thing possible .... I had bought a weekend ticket for metro/bus the previous day though i hadn;t used it at all the previous day except the first bus i took .... on sunday, i used the metro to go to place X, change over and take a metro to Notre Dame cathaderel ... and I was there in ten minutes. It was sunday mass at the cathaderel and I attended about half hour of the mass ... and took another half hour in roaming around inside the cathederel itself .... and outside of course .... just looking at the cathederel from the outside and decided I was the King ... no two questions about it ... i was the king.

I was about to leave the Notre Dame area when i saw an old man feeding birds by holding grain his palm ... I aksed him if I could do the same and he gave me some bird seed and I stood there with the seed in my palm and the birds simply flew up and sat on my hand and ate the birdseed from my palm ... at one time i had about five sparrows sitting in my palm... some other tourists even took mu photo with the birds sitting on my palm .... heh heh ... people in various parts of the world will know my face even though the birds will be the main focus of the photo.

I then caught another metro and went to Eiffel Tower again .... this time made straight for the line to go up the tower ... took ticket and went up right to the top of the tower ... the bloody very top. Going up, looking around from there and coming back down took about 2 hours and when i finally was ready to leave the Eiffel, it was about 2 pm. It was drizzling again and I again took the metro and went to the Champs de Elysses - I know the spelling is wrong but I give a shit ... people who have been to Paris know whatg place I am talking about. It is a big street with lots of shopping and lots od babes and it was nice roaming there .... in one shop i bought two dolls for my niece .. one a slightly big doll and one a slightly small doll .... Uncle Chuck, thats me. I also saw the Arch de Triumph, which is totally like our India Gate and Gateway of India .... and it was time to make for the station aqain to catch my train back. I caught another two metros and was back at the station at 4:10 for my train that was suposed to start at 4:55 .... something went wrong and the train started at 4:56 .... I wondered whether to sue them but then left it ... I am happy, why to make someone else unhappy by sueing them?

I landed in Rotterdam at 8:10 and then caught a train to Uttrecht centraal and then to Ede Waginengen which is my station ... on the way home, I dind't have a ticket - they had made an announcement on the Thalis itself that the train to Uttrecht cenntraal would leave from platform xyz ten minutes after we reached Rotterdam ... Rashmi anyway had told me I could buy a ticket on the train itseld if the checker came ... though that wasn't the regular thing to do ... people kmew u were buying a ticket on the train coz u didn't buy it on the station like everyone else ... but I really had no choice ... i wasn't taking a chance on missing my last bus home - and the checker came checking and asked me for the ticket. I shocked him by asking for a ticket very coolly and told him I had come from Paris by the Thalis ten minutes back and hadn;t had the time to buy one at the station ... i further told him to give me a ticket to ede-wageningen instead of uttrecht centraal where the train ended so that i wouldn't have to go through this again in my next train ... the guy dind't know what to make of me but he gave me my ticket.

Down at uttrecht centraal ... change train and got down at ede-wageningen ... ran to the bus stop and fond I had missed the bus by 4 minutes ... the next bus was at 10:56 .... about one hour later .. and i stood around for one hour then caught the bus at 10:56 and reached home at 11:15.

So ended my trip to Paris. It was absoutely awesome.

Chuck, the world traveler.


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