Friday, January 25, 2008

Paris, Trains, Stress, and Coffee

Day Six
The Wander


Today started late and thank God for that. By late I mean 9:30. We went pretty much straight up to Sacre Caeur. It was a beautiful church, and I’d like to spend a whole day wandering around it. However, there was a lot to do today and the day was already flying by.

After the church, where I lit a votive candle and stole another one… we went back down to this quaint little place called the Columbus CafĂ©. Lucky for us they had internet. So we were able to answer emails, blog, etc. After that we hopped straight onto the metro and went to Notre Dame. Yes, two massive churches one after the other!

Notre Dame was very neutral in how it struck me. I wasn’t blown away, nor sent to tears or anything like that, but I was far from disappointed. It was a stunning place. I also took a candle from there. They were suggested donations… and the candles said take away candles. I just didn’t have any money on me. I prayed and hoped that God would understand. And think, every time I light it when I’m home it’ll make me think of that great time I had in Notre Dame in his breathtaking cathedral!

It may have been my imagination, but I feel like it was around this time that Katie and I started to become irritated with each other. There were silent undercurrents that were brewing some noxious pot. It was after Notre Dame and in the Louvre that it felt particularly poignant.

Speaking of Natalie, I thought about her today. As I walked along the Seine in the pouring rain, Katie and I did not speak. We often have such silences. My mind wandered to Natalie and how she had told me about her time in France; how she had strolled along the Seine once too. When we came upon the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t help but wish she was there instead of Kate. Regardless, It was so beautiful.

I forgot to speak about the Louvre. This building is absolutely massive and very cool. Each floor is a bit like a maze and I got really turned around inside of it. This didn’t help my irritation nor my patience with Katie. We ended up splitting up a lot in the Louvre, she gave me her watch and we would meet at a certain time. I saw some cool Egyptian things, some Greek sculptures, some French and Italian paintings (including the Mona Lisa), but overall I was more disoriented and overwhelmed than impressed by the artwork. It is something that needs a day in itself, and the fact that we were on a time limit coupled with the fact that I was already stressed and tired from the previous two sights, well… the Louvre did not sit well with me. I’d like to give it another chance, and more time, at a future date. Although, when we left today I can say it was a great relief.

After walking from the Louvre to the tower in the pouring rain, we stood and gawked at that rising golden glowing mass of iron then hopped on the nearest metro and took the most direct route home. Getting back to the hotel was somewhat of a relief. I put on a movie and Kate went downstairs to check the internet. So we got some time from each other. This alone time I mentioned earlier would be a necessity on our trip if we were going to make it back without killing each other.

I’ve been eating really poorly, that’s probably to do with the fact that we’re traveling. You know you’re on a low budget backpacking expedition across Europe when you shop at the local supermarkets instead of eating out, and when you spread cheese on bread with a leatherman tool. Yeah. My diet has consisted mostly of one coffee in the morning (generally cappuccino because they’re cheaper) and some sort of pastry. During the day I’ll eat one of the many pieces of fruit I’ve carried all day, along with some water. And at dinner time I always overeat on shit food. Tonight, I had water and two carrots, followed by probably 200grams of cashews, five little pieces of bread with brie spread on them, and a can of olives. You thought it was starting out well didn’t you? I did too. I think we’ve had olives every night. I also think that the dinner would be fine minus the nuts, be them peanuts or cashews, I always eat too many then feel overly full afterwards. They’re just SOO GOOD!

Right. Our train is at 8 tomorrow, we’re all packed up and I’d like to be out by 7, just to be sure. I’m… overly cautious one might say. I’ll slip downstairs for a sec to check the internet, then I’m off to sleep!

Day 7
The Wander

Today has started early but not early enough to ease my anxious nature. Our train was leaving the station at 8:04. We left our hostel at 7. Ideally, I would have left at half six. The reason is simple, don’t plan for the minimum amount of time from point A to B, plan for a leisurely travel time with room for error. Had I not acted quickly this morning in the train metro station, we may very well have missed our train, or even worse, gotten on the wrong one.

We got on the metro easily enough, though for some reason Kate’s metro pass that she had bought in advance didn’t work; She had to buy another one. She was looking on the map, and voiced her skepticism about my route, which was good actually because I did make one mistake. (The overall route was fine, it was the colour metro that I had mistaken.) No matter, we get off the metro and we’re meant to take the Green line to Gare De Lyon. Well, we follow the signs to green lines, and we’re standing at the platform but nowhere is there any information about where the trains are going. Time for action!

I stepped near an older couple having a conversation. “Excusez-moi? Parlez-vous anglais?” The older man grinned from ear to ear and gave a chuckle. He held out his hand and rocked it back and forth, “a little” I inferred. It couldn’t have been a more perfect sign because I too am a man who speaks with his hands! I spoke a bit slowly, not so much to sound pretentious, then pointed at the ground and asked, “Does this train go to Gare de Lyon?” To which he relied with a very upbeat tone, “No, not at all!”

He turned to the woman, whom I’m assuming was his wife, and I think he must have asked her if he had time to show us where the proper platform was. She looked at her watched and waved us on. “Come, this way.” He said. He led us back up the stairs and to the other side of the station, where the trains were going the other way. When we got there, a train was waiting with open doors for us.

We hopped on and turned around, he leaned in against the door and told us that there were only two stops until Gare De Lyon, the first one was the city centre and the next was our destination! We beaming smiles and many “merci’s” we were off to the train station.

I have to say that Gare de Lyon is nothing like it’s bigger brother Gare du Nord. Gare du Nord is very clean, and easy to maneuver. Gare de Lyon smells like urine, it’s dirty, and the signs make it quite confusing to traverse. However, we got there on time, with about 20 minutes to spare, which was ample time to get a coffee and a maxi chocolate croissant. Mmm.

On the train, we found out seats without too much difficulty, and now we’re streaming across the French countryside, literally going from the northern most part of France, to its southern most. The train ride, though incredibly long, is a welcome one, as we’ve been walking for days.

We have accommodation for Nice, and tonight we’re going to book out train to either Florence or Siena, and book out accommodation there as well. I’m going to push for booking the train to Rome from there, as well as booking a bungalow in Villa Camping Roma again. That place was amazing.

When we get to Nice I’m going to shave my beard first thing, and continue to monitor my eating vigorously. It’s hard to do because we walk around all day and don’t eat much, so at the end of the day I’m starving and I gorge. My hypothesis is that my body is actually converting as much food as possible to fat to be able to endure the long periods without sustenance. I just need to carry more food, preferably fruits and veg, with me, so I can continue to stay fit. I’m walking a lot, but not running, and we do some exercises in the morning, (Kate’s better at that then I am)

I pretty much only drink water and coffee; One coffee in the morning, water the rest of the day. Yet I still feel… like i'm regressing. That's possibly to do with my constant paranoia that i'm getting unfit again. I never want to go back to where I came from, and that mindset is reflected in my self image unfortunately. So I suppose to keep my mind at bay i'll just eat my vegetables I suppose, and less cheese, peanuts, and bread. I had a good system in Bristol. It worked quite well, coffee in the morning, and a mixture of bread, veg, and protein at night. That system is out the window now. I just have to keep working on it is all.

So I wrote all that on the train to Nice. I did not end up at Nice.

We woke up this morning at that special time when the blazing sun just broke the earths crest. Fully loaded with our proper hiking backpacks slung over our shoulders, and our smaller backpacks put backwards onto our chests, we stomped down the steps to the Metro station nearest us (that is the subway), it's called Anvers. We made our way through the maze of different coloured metro lines until we breached the earth again at Gare de Lyon, our train station.

This all happened before 8:00 in the morning.

We got on our train without too much trouble and we were off. From Gare de Lyon to Nice Villa was about a 4 and a half hour train ride. It gave us time to relax from the epic amount of walking we'd done in the days previous. On our journey south, we basically made our way from the North of France, to it's Southern most point, crossing unknown acres of green feilds, rolling hills, and vineyards. It was close to the conclusion of our journey that our train started following the coast of southern France; That's when we were awed by it's fantastic beauty.

Some of the hills rolled with yellow earth, some hills of vibrant red seemed to erupt from the ground, and some rocks lay surrounded by the sea being helplessly eroded away. We passed this place in complete silence, though i could feel the electricity of excitement. In our dreams, Nice would be something like this; it had to be.

Upon our arrival to Nice Villa, the central train depot in Nice, we were... sorely disappointed. Instead of beautiful rolling hills and the sea lapping on white sand, there were dirty high rise appartments, graffitti covering everything, and the sea wasn't even within view. I suggested, rather off handedly, that we go back.

The idea stuck.

So we hopped on the first train back to Saint Raphael; It was the only stop near all the beautiful places we had seen and that is where we are now. We were lucky to find cheap accommodation, right near a bunch of quaint shops which i'll photograph and post, and we are but mere minutes from the ocean and the train station. Things couldn't have worked out better in our wildest imaginings!!

I'm in a coffee shop now abusing their free wireless.The Cafe is called Migaya and it is well worth a visit if you're ever in Saint Raphael (which you should do as soon as is humanly possible!!!) For now, i should go, there are many things to do and only a bit of time to do it. But before I go, i'll mention that our entire trip has been rearranged around this place. We've cut out Tuscany so we can spend another day here and add another day onto Roma. It is just that amazing!!

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