Sunday has become a good day for comforts on this trip — last Sunday, I decided to take it a little bit easier and go out later in the day than I usually have, and this Sunday (exactly two weeks into my month long trip, so that was interesting), I also decided to sleep in a little bit. Then I took on a task that I don’t really like doing no matter what country I’m in: The laundry.
My clothing gamble has pretty much worked out — as I described way back when I started the trip, I really only brought about five days’ worth of clothes with me, and my goal was to just wash those as needed. The mix I brought was pretty good (mostly t-shirts and jeans, though I did bring a few collared shirts along so I could dress up if needed). Honestly, though, despite the fact that I’m a traveler on a budget in a strange land, I have felt a little underdressed. I’ve been wearing my hoodie around almost every day, and it’s been a bit cold here. Not to mention that most of the men I’ve seen around Europe have been pretty remarkably dressed — full suit and tie, and in some cases, even a formal three piece suit, along with a bowler. It’s inspired me, when I get back home, to dress even nicer, maybe get some more ties and well-fitting suits and wear those.
In short, if I had it to do all over again, I would probably give up on the whole backpack idea (though the Tom Bihn bag I’ve been using has been great), and just go with a rolling suitcase, as well as a second bag for my laptop and other tech gear. That’s my usual setup for trips to conventions and things, and I didn’t go with that originally just because I figured I’d be more nomadic. But maybe it’s because I’m just too old, or because I found it hostel life just too stressful — I’ve only really made about three moves so far, and I’m only going to make a few more (once to Berlin, and then once to Prague, and then home), so the rolling suitcase would probably have worked just fine.
Oh yes, about Prague. So my original plan was to go to Berlin next and then Amsterdam for a few days. But there’s a holiday coming up in Amsterdam called Queen’s Day that takes place on April 29th and 30th, in which 750,000 people all pile into the city, dress up in orange, and get really, really drunk. When I first heard about this holiday, I figured that it sounded awesome — I would be lucky to see it. But as I’ve thought more about it, and actually looked at some prices for booking travel there, I have decided that it would probably be a nightmare for me. Most of those people come in on train (as I would be coming in), and I probably wouldn’t get any sleep or rest at all (keep in mind this is where I’ll be after a full month of traveling). My original plan was just to see Amsterdam and lazily wander its streets for a bit, but with the city full of revelers, and me trying to get back to London all while this is going on, since my plane leaves on exactly May 1, my thought now is that going to Amsterdam would be way more trouble than it’s worth. That’s too bad, but I think it’s the right decision to stay away. I’ll have to come back sometime later in life.
So the question then came up of what to do for my last few days of the trip, and I eventually landed on the idea of going to visit Prague. I’ve heard great things about the city (though I’m a little worried, to be honest, about how tourist friendly it may or may not be). But I think what I will do after Berlin is ride a train down to Prague, explore the city for a few days, and then fly back up to London (flights are, as I’ve seen so far, pretty cheap). I’ll land in London, probably stay a night there (or just spend a few hours in the airport), and then jump on the plane back to Los Angeles, finishing my trip. So we’ll see — I haven’t booked that travel yet, but I think that’s what I’ll do. The other options are to go somewhere else, like Brussels or Munich, but I think Prague will be easiest and most interesting. I could also stay a few more days in Berlin, but that’s boring, right?
The other interesting thing about laundry in France is that it’s actually much easier than America. I’m not sure if this is because I’m staying in a hotel or because this is how it’s done over here, but the laundry detergent actually comes with the fee for the washer here. You just put your clothes in, pay your money, hit go, and the washer automatically adds soap for you. Very snazzy, and made things a little easier for me.
With a fully clean set of laundry on a Sunday afternoon, I decided it would be lame to waste all day in my hotel room, so I headed back in to Paris to see something that wasn’t originally on my trip plan: The Champs Elysees. Patrick Beja had talked to me about it the other day, and I decided I did want to see the Arc de Triomphe, so I headed over to check it all out. I got off at the station I’ve been using to enter the city, called Chatelet Les Halles, and decided to walk past the Louvre and the Tuleries again to start the Place de Concorde, which is the beginning of the Champs Elysees road, one of the most famous streets in the world.
Right at the Place de Concord (which is really just a big plaza with a monument in the middle of it), I was stopped by a few cops, and a large gathering of people all built up around a temporary stage. There was a politically rally going on, it turns out — the French elections are being held at the end of the month here, and I’ve seen elections posters all over the city this past week. The incumbent, Sarkozy, was either about to have a rally or had just had one, and there were people with his posters all over the streets, and big French flags to wave around. I didn’t stay long to see what was happening, because a) I am obviously not voting in the elections, and b) I didn’t want to accidentally stand in the wrong place, and accidentally get picked up by the gendarmes. I swung wide, but got a few good pictures of the proceedings, and continued on to the boulevard.
I had downloaded a walking tour on my iPhone for this area, but honestly, there wasn’t much to see. The Presidential Palace is right off the road, and I did see the gates for that, and there are a few other old and famous buildings in the gardens off the road, including an old theater, one of the world’s oldest puppet shows, and a few famous statues (including one of a strutting Charles de Gaulle). But the real draw of the Champs Elysees for most people is the second half — there’s a whole row of high end retail and restaurant stores, sort of like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles (though it’s not quite as pricey as Rodeo Drive, according to what I saw). Normally, I’ve avoided this kind of stuff on my trip, because I’m really here for the history and the culture, but I figured what the heck. Sunday was my comfort day, and at the top of the hill, anyway, was the Arc de Triomphe. As long as I saw that, the day wouldn’t be wasted, I figured.
I did find some fun in those stores, though — in the Virgin Megastore (which I thought didn’t exist any more), I found a bunch of DVDs for French versions of American films, and it was really wild trying to guess what the movies were based off of the French titles. Les Simpsons was one of the funnier ones, but I also saw Edward Aux Mains D’Argent (Edward Scissorhands) and Sixeme Sens (The Sixth Sense). Shame, the recent film with Michael Fassbender about sex addiction, was called Hunger in the French version, and I couldn’t tell if it was because the film was actually about Hunger, or if “hunger” means “shame” in French. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve heard it’s good. Also, this was the funniest French title I saw:
Well done! There were also some movie theaters along the road, and I really wanted to go and see a movie, but unfortunately, nothing I wanted to see was playing at the right time for me to see it (I had a chance to go and see Battleship, but I decided it would be sacrilege to see that movie in France, a place known for its film history). It’s interesting how the French film industry works, too: They have American movies here, and most of those are listed as “VO”, which stands for Version Originale. That means they’re showing in English, with French subtitles (which would have worked fine for me). Some of the movies are listed as VF, which I believe means it’s a version with French voiceover, and no subtitles.
And there were some French-made movies as well, both some mainstream movies (there was one starring a little cartoon animal called Marsupilami, which I guess is a famous little cartoon guy in French culture created by a guy named Alain Chabat — who also starred in the live action movie? I didn’t quite understand) and some more artsy ones. I would have gone to see one of the art films, but then I decided seeing a movie completely in French probably wouldn’t be worth it, even just to say that I saw a good film in France. I may go out again this evening and try to see a movie, however.
I also tried some French fast food. After last Sunday’s trip to Subway, I promised you all that I wouldn’t participate in any more American fast food franchises while overseas, and I haven’t, especially in France. But there was a place on the road called Quick, which appears to me to be a uniquely French (or at least European) fast food place. The impression I got of the place was that the French were laughing at McDonald’s one day, until one of them actually realized how much money McDonald’s was making off of their countrymen, and decided to make a place of their own. I went in, ordered a Giant burger and some country fries (none of this, save for the word “Giant,” was in English; I’m sparing you the translation), waited for my number to come up (with some difficulty — since I didn’t know what it would sound like when my number was called, I just looked for a meal that looked like mine and then took it when it came up), and sat down to have a look at what they’d made for me.
It wasn’t bad — a pretty good reproduction of a cheap American fast food meal. The fries were the best part — they tasted like curly fries, though they were called something like “rustic country fries” on the menu. The burger was kind of terrible, but good in that fast food, full of fake flavor way. I expected it would be full of pickles or something French, but it actually just had some lettuce, onions, and a secret sauce that was probably some mix of mayo and ketchup. (You’ll notice that I got mayo for my fries as well; when in Europe, my friends.) The meat itself was very cheap, but the bun was my biggest disappointment — you’d think, after all of the great bread they have in France, that they’d come up with something better than a spongey thing that had clearly been frozen and unfrozen a few times. Poor form.
The weirdest thing about the meal was that the soda (“Coke Light” is what they call diet here) had no ice at all. There was room in it for ice, but I didn’t see a machine around — maybe I had to ask for it and didn’t. All in all, the meal was about what you’d expect from terrible fast food, but I ate it, so shame on me. Don’t worry, Los Angeles — with the likes of In ‘n’ Out and Five Guys, we’re still decades ahead on our fast food burger technology.
Finally, I arrived at the Arc, and it looked just as great as you’d imagine. The circle of cars going around it is huge, and the only way to get back and forth to it is by going underground down some stairs. They were charging 9 euros to actually go up to the street level (and you could even climb to the top), but I decided that wasn’t worth it, and I wanted to save the money. I did get an idea, though — all of the time I’ve spent in Paris has mostly been while the sun is out. I wanted to get some good night-time shots of the Arc, so I decided to stick around there until the lights came on, which was about two hours away.
So I walked a little bit back down the Champs to look for dinner. Along the way, I found a Pierre Hermé — I’ve been told by multiple people to try their macaroons while in Paris, and so I did. They were excellent, of course — I had one flavored with vanilla and one flavored with rose petals, and they were both very good. Macarroons are kind of a girly thing to eat, I think, however. I probably would have been better served buying another crepe filled with nutella — oh man that thing was so good. But I did try them, and given that I’ve seen macaroons everywhere, I can at least check that off the list.
Afterwards, I spurned a few high-end retail stores (105 euros for a shirt?!? I did want a few more nice collared shirts for the trip, but not at that price) and big-time restaurants which are apparently frequented by celebrities visiting Paris to go and get some pizza. I’d had some pizza in England and found it less than appealing, so I was interested in giving France their shot. Now, the place I eventually went was basically full of tourists, so I probably haven’t really given France their due just yet — I’ve seen pizza slices in vendor stalls around town, and that pizza is probably a little more local than the one I had. But it wasn’t a bad pie that they brought to my table — the crust was thin but good, there was mozzarella, chicken, and peppers on there, and in general I enjoyed it, along with the big pint of Stella that I got with it.
But there was one issue, the same one I had in England: The pizza wasn’t cut at all. And this wasn’t a personal-sized pizza — this was about a 12-inch pizza, that showed up at my table completely uncut. I had to sit there, with a knife and fork, slicing away at it and ripping it apart to eat it. I don’t know: Are you supposed to ask for them to cut your pizza in Europe? Do they not have pizza cutters here? Is it a gourmet thing? I would have much preferred to have slices rather than what I had. Maybe someone looking to make a lot of money should put up a few European infomercials for a “Cutter de pizza,” because they could really use it here.
And this is when my day went bad for a while: After finishing that pizza (as well as the book I’ve been reading on my iPhone during the trip), the lights on the Arc still hadn’t come on. The sun was down, and the Arc itself sits at the top of a hill in Paris, so it was quite cold and windy up there, and all I had on was my hoodie and a t-shirt underneath. I huddled in on a bus bench, freezing, just waiting for the lights to come up so I could get this stupid picture. I didn’t want to leave Paris without seeing the Arc at night, so for you, dear reader, I stayed up at the top of that hill for another hour, freezing cold, all so I could get this:
I hope it was worth it. Maybe it wasn’t, but at least the story is. On the way down the hill, I grabbed some coffee to keep warm, and made my way back to the station (grabbing a few shots of the Louvre and Eiffel Tower at night, so it probably was worth me staying out) and then home for the night.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Turpster got some video of the trip we made to the Tower of London. It’s over on Youtube for your viewing pleasure right now.
Posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012 at 5:05 am. Filed under general.