My 2 cents

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Travelogue: Danke Deutschland, Merci LePari, Hey Brussels, Oh hell yeah!!

Part 2:

The train ride to Paris was great. My co-passenger was an middle aged women from Brussels. Got a sight of the countryside and the wonderful farmlands in Brussels; and so on Friday afternoon I was in Le Paris. I had no clue where my hotel was, and what I wanted to see in the city. Got all the maps form the train station visitor center, marked out my hotel map and studied the metro map. And off I was to the hotel in the metro. For me, this was the perfect example of exploring the city. Checked into the hotel and whoa was it small or what? I paid close to 200 $ for 2 nights and the space in the room was enough for just a single bed and a case – I guess that’s what you get in a city. Went on a cruise on the Seine river and ‘lalala’ with the full moon in the background, the river and the monuments it was a sight. The river cuts across the city and you get to see the Eiffel tower, Notre Dam and all the other famous sights from the boat. Had an enthusiastic crowd with me on the boat and there was lot of screaming going around as we went under the 37 bridges that span the river.

Paris is a beautiful city especially for a couple but in my case, who cared? French girls are beautiful but too extravagant in dressing and life style for my taste and so I would definitely prefer German women. I then decided to go to the trendy part of the city – Paris is divided into various sectors and the map told me exactly where I had to go. I had dinner – French wine and bread in a traditional French restaurant and wandered into a French bar. Met a Tunisian bartender, Muhammad, and he was friendly bar tender. A couple of drinks and chatting around with him, I saw a guitar being passed to me and something said to me in French. I just stared back and stared at the guitar for few minutes. The people around had a laugh and a guy came up to me and took the guitar. A small crowd had gathered around the table and a lady started singing beautiful French songs with the guy on the guitar. The songs and the atmosphere cannot be expressed in words. And of course, she sang the lovely song from Jules et Jim movie that I recently saw. I am so glad that I decided to explore Paris on my own rather than take one of those tours. After spending a couple of hours at the bar, it was midnight; I decided to checkout the nightlife. Searched for ‘something’ that my roommate asked me to get and it took me to interesting places, but I was unsuccessful in my attempts. ☺. I then ventured into a nightclub and this one beat the one I had visited in Germany – what more can I say! It was 3 am when I got out and with the metro shut down I had to take a taxi to the hotel. Was surprised to see Paris still alive and couples having fun, compared with the cities in the US. Was back at my room at 4 am. Getting to venture out in the city and staying till 4am on the very first night, gave me a lot of confidence about the city.

Next day got up at 9 am, spent a good deal of time at the Eiffel towers, Champs De Elysess. Took lot of ‘Patel’ snaps as I was threatened that I had to fill up at least 1 GB of memory card else face dire consequences. Met some folks from Holland and we had an interesting conversation about Holland, France, the differences in the culture etc. They had just bought the movie “Tare Zamein Par” and I was taken by surprise. The guy then asked me a lot of questions about my work and later said that he works for an’ innovation in media ‘ company and was doing his PhD and that my thoughts were informative. I took a bus tour of the city visiting the tourist places like the Assembly, the various palaces, the museums, opera houses etc. Spent only a few minutes at some of the places and then headed over to the Louvre.

Spent the rest of the day at Louvre, a Polish couple gracefully gave me their unused tickets for free to save a few bucks from my already costly trip. For the uninitiated, Louvre is massive, the biggest museum in the world, and if you are into art or history you can spend weeks here. Saw the famed Mona Lisa painting and lots of other pieces of history. Napoleons mansion exhibits were placed and boy oh boy it was stunning. The only sour point of the museum and Paris in general, is the lack of use of other languages. Even the metro ticket vending machines are in French, and you can figure them out soon but the subtitles for all the exhibits, even those not from France, were only in French and that drove me nuts. Wandered around at night to see some place where the guidebook told me that I would find street artistes exhibiting their craft unfortunately, never found them probably because it was raining. After walking for an hour, hopped into a French brassiere, spent some time mingling and talking to strangers and off I was on the metro back to the hotel. And was I dog tired? I had no Internet connection and no phone connection, spent some time with the brilliant power hungry phone that I have to check my email that I had no clue when I dozed off.

Next day, up bright and early I went to the Invalides to get a glimpse of French history, revolution and the world wars. The armory used, attack of the Bastille, and life of the kings, the French part during the world wars – it was easy to note the bias towards France in the descriptions and audio-visuals. I then headed towards the Dome Church to see the tomb of Napoleon. Thankfully, they had an English audio version describing the church and the relics. I was then off to the famous Cathedral Notre Dame. And I was spell bound by the architecture, the spirals, and the large bell. If you are interested you can read about it on the net and it’s worth a read. Decided to climb the 422 steps to the towers and get a view of the city. Had to wait in line for 1 hour but it was worth every second. A couple of folks were gracious enough to hold my place for me, while I headed out to have some French crepes for lunch. I have had crepes before but having it on the roadside in Paris, is a different feeling all-together. I then spent sometime to visit the booksellers by the Seine, bought some gifts from my friends and family. Didn’t get a reasonably priced item that my roommate asked for, but got something interesting and lets see if he puts the effort to put it together. It was late afternoon and with my train back to Bonn in the night, I had a couple of choices – visit the State de France or Bastille that’s been converted into an Opera house. Given the sports fan that I am and the fact that it was not the original Bastille, it was the State de France. Took the RER – a fast train service to the State de France. The tour was scheduled for half past the hour and I didn’t have enough time to wait for it. The people at the State de France were gracious enough to let me in early. After seeing the stadium, I was just spellbound. I could feel the Mexican wave and Zidane and Henry playing – no I am not exaggerating, the people who know my love for sports will attest to this. The stadium was empty and grass being re-worked but just being there was something else – hope to see a Rugby world cup final or a word cup football match (yes I call it football since this is the real football, American football is more like Bangalore playing Mysore or Chennai playing Madurai).

State-de –France – where dreams really come true. Having exhausted my buffer time and the Metro taking much much longer for some reason that I had expected, I knew I was in trouble to catch my train. Told my taxi driver to get me there in time to get a good tip and thanks to the stupid drivers who parked their cars in the wrong places saw me miss by train by 2 minutes, yeah 2 minutes!

With the prospect of spending another night in Paris and getting my whole flight schedule messed up as I had to fly back, it was suggested that I take a series of local trains- from Paris to Brussels, Brussels to Liege-Guillemins, from Liege-Guillemins to Aachen (pronounced as Aaahen) and from there to Köln (Kern) and then to Bonn. With no tickets to any of these trains I decided to do it and I must say it was a blessing in disguise. Got to spend some time in Belgium as I had sometime between trains, ventured out in the streets of Brussels. Traveling in these local trains were not at all stressful, I was buying the tickets either on the train for the same price or at the local station. At a couple of places the time difference between the trains was just 10 minutes for me to alight, book the tickets and go to another platform to board the next train. I was so sure I am going to miss one of them but was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was. The local trains were surprisingly fast and good. Met some German folks who got a drink and were having fun. I reached Bonn at 1 am and was greeted at the Hilton by folks who knew my name – yeah that feels great. After the brilliant trip I was back to getting some royal treatment courtesy my company. Got up early the next day and was pleasantly surprised to see snow falling in Bonn. I have been to places covered with snow, but never experienced walking in falling snow. Guess, the city had to be cleansed after my visit. I was off to Munich and frustrated again to see the extra security checks for US flights. I wondered as to why I end up getting bad seats at the back of the plane time and again, probably because I don’t check in before online. I went to the gate to get my boarding pass to Chicago and they fiddled around with their systems. “Today is your lucky day. We are going to fly you business class”, said the lady behind the counter. Looking at my beaming face she remarked, “Its these moments that make our job wonderful”. Having never traveled in business class before, I was excited. Hearing that its good and experiencing it are two totally different worlds. A funny incident to wrap up my trip. Sat at a coffee shop in the airport to have tea and my ignorance of the German script got me confused between salt and sugar. And I made the wrong choice. The people sitting in the next table were chukling away to glory.

A work trip combined with an unplanned pleasure trip that turned out to be an excellent backpacking trip – it was a memorable experience. Waiting for my next opportunity to explore other parts of Europe.


Blogger Nat said...

Brilliant!! you had me riveted while reading both the posts. Both places sound lovely, you lived out a dream of most - backpacking through Europe :). Hope your roommate enjoys the jigsaw puzzle and boy am I jealous of your first class treatment!

Some people like planning trips and knowing exactly what they will be doing, you obviously are not in that category. There's nothing wrong with that, but next time, atleast book the nights stay.

Great post and nice description. Hope we don't have to wait for your next trip to europe for the next post.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Akansha said...

Wow ! What a trip ! You had so much fun. A bit too much fun with Deutsche Frauen, methinks ;P !!!

When I started reading the blog, it seemed kind of long, but before I knew it, I was so hooked onto it - I couldnt stop myself till i read the last sentence. I felt like I was there ! The louvre sounded like heaven. Cant wait to see myself.

You did so much in the span of a few days - not to mention, you had work to do too, wow ! Thanks for sending me the link to the travelogue - it was a fun read.

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