It just turned midnight and I’ve now been away from home for more than two months. Surrounded by chatter in a number of languages, I write this while in the “common” room of the Yellow Hostel in Roma, Italy. My day leaving Dublin went much smoother than the day I arrived there. I was preparing to head to Paris and start my killer-budgeted Mainland Europe trip spending nearly 20 euro a night on a hostel – not something I was looking forward to. Checking my e-mail quickly before heading to the Dublin airport and in turn to Paris, I had received a ray of sunshine in my inbox. A girl I had been in touch with a couple months ago through Globalfreeloaders had written me at the 11th Hour to let me know she had a place for me to stay in Paris. So, with a quick call to her mobile, I confirmed that it would be ok and I headed toward the airport.
Once there I had some serious time to kill and decided I’d see if Joey was working (she works at the bookstore there). As I was looking to see where the bookstore was, she came up beside me. We spent her break together and got rid of some of the weirdness that things had been left with. With plans to move to Belfast, I trust I’ll see her again, and I can’t wait.
Eventually I caught my plane without hassel and I headed to Paris. I landed at Beauvais Paris airport – which though it has Paris in its name, it really has NOTHING to do with Paris. It’s about an hour from the city centre, so a 10 euro bus ride later and I was about two blocks away from the Arc de Triumph. Now, I just needed to find a phone. Oh, this phone needs a card, must be some business thing, I’ll find one on the street that accepts coins. About 30 minutes and a kilometre and a half later I was no closer to finding a phone that accepted coins. So, I decided to try my luck with a local. A guy was just closing up a cafe and I stumbled my way (using many hand jestures) that I needed a phone. He didn’t speak a word of English, and those of you who know me, know I speak only a very little amount of French. After a bit of negotiations I got him to let me use the phone for 3 Euros, and on top of that he walked me right to the Metro. It was a very funny experience as we did the WHOLE thing without sharing a single common word, except “ummm” and “ahhh”.
So, I got to Amelie’s and got sorted. We chatted for an hour or two and then she insisted on getting to bed as she had to work in the morning. My first day in Paris was absolutely beautiful. I started by taking the Metro to the Arc De Triumph, basically a big stoney staple looking thing a few blocks north of the Seine (the river that runs through Paris). I must admit, and much to the objections to a drunkin’ good-olde Cambridge lad a few days later, I was less than impressed. I didn’t pay the few euros to go to the top and get the “great” view, and the shots I did take were marred with scaffolding.
From the Arc I did the 20-30 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower and man, as cliche as the whole thing is, was I ever impressed. The sheer size of the thing made me dizzy. I opted to do the 3.50 climb to the second level (a mere 700 stairs) as opposed to the 10.50 elevator ride to the top. I think I chose wisely, as the view from the second level is amazing (it’s REALLY high – in photos it’s the last sort of leveled area before the big stretch to the top) and climbing it gave me time to absorb the whole thing. I spent about an hour or two all said climbing, viewing and decending. Then I headed further up the lot to get a good full shot of the tower, before taking the Metro to the Louvre. Now, keep in mind I’ve visited TONNES of museums and galleries since I left Canada – but I was still really exited to get to the Louvre… but meh, I went in, walked around a bit, paid the After-Three-PM discounted 5 euros and basically went straight to the Aphrodite (Venus De Milo) scuplture and the Mona Lisa. The two were pretty far apart so I got to check out a bit more of the museum, but really at that point I was just hungry and tired.
Getting back to Amelie’s she informed me we were going out to a “cheap” place for dinner with some of her friends. I figured if it was cheap I could manage it. The cheap place closed before we got there, so we went to a more expensive place and one of her friends treated us! It was great. I had a nice steak (not really all that amazing by North American standards, but meh) and fries – sorta a French version of fish and chips. We then went to an Irish bar that was covered in English signage – oh my god was I excited about that after sitting through an entire meal of people speaking French. Doing her part, Amelie tried a number of times to get the convo going in English, but when it’s not someone’s native tongue, it’s a tough proposition. On the drive home we drove through the tunnel where Princess Di met her untimely demise – there is still paint on the cement posts in the tunnel – creepy.
Thursday I spent pretty much just hanging about the house. I made Amelie the now famous “Simon’s Pasta” and we prepared to have a bunch of people over for dinner, wine and cheese. Well, no one showed up – so we just stuffed ourselves and chatted, it was cool. Friday I had made plans to meet up with an Aussie girl named Cathy I met of the Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet’s message board). We had planned to go to the Pere Lachaise, a monsterous cemetary that hosts the decomposing bodies of Jim Morrison, Chopin, Edith Pilaf and a load of others… and I mean a LOAD – it is HUGE! However, our directions got jumbled and while I was waiting for her (and cursing under my breath) at the Pere Lachaise Metro station, she was at the metro station by Amelie’s – thinking that that was the one I had said to meet at. Bullocks. So, I just cruised the cemetary by myself and then eventually headed south to Notre Dame and all around that area. I walked and walked and walked thinking I’d find an internet or call shop to get in touch with her, but no go, so when I finally got to a train station to check out trains to Rome for the following day, I called Amelie and she told me that Cathy had called her earlier – blah. So… finding out that she was staying at the Three Ducks I headed down there to find out if she was there. No go. But in leaving there it was now after dark and I was only about 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower and I’d had been meaning to take a photo of it all lit up. This girl left the hostel near the same time I did, and looked just as lost – so after about 5 minutes of us following each other, I asked her if she knew where the Eiffel Tower was, she said she didn’t and was actually looking for a supermarche. Turns out she was from Wisconsin and it was her first day in Paris. We walked and talked to the Eiffel Tower and just generally wandered around for a bit. I left her at the metro station so I could get back to Amelie’s and get some food in me. When I got there Cathy called and told me that they were going to hang out and drink tonight and invited me along. So, after a few fromage et jambon crepes I headed back to the Three Ducks. We sat and drank there for a while and then tried to find a club, with no luck we returned to the Duck’s bar and just drank there for a few hours. On the journey I met a guy that was travelling the world in his PJ’s and a house coat. He is writing a book about his experience, so keep an eye out for it. Cathy was staying in a room with four beds and only two people so I just snuck in and slept there with the hostel none the wiser (as the metro stopped running at like midnight and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a night bus home).
Cathy and I, at some point in the night, decided that we would travel together to Italy and Greece. So we returned to Amelie’s in the morning to sort my stuff out and eat! We took a train to Venezia (Venice) last night (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) and scored by getting a couchette (a sleep train with beds). After a big fiasco with the tickets, we settled in to our little cabin that we were sharing with Mamadu, a Senegalian who spoke French and Italian but no English. Cathy and I broke out our dictionaries and much hilarity ensued. The sleep was a little rough, but we got to Venice this morning in one piece. We planned to spend the day in Venice and then head to Florence to a place I had set up with a fellow GFLer. We found out that the place was a no go now that I had an extra travel companion, so decided to skip Florence and head directly to Rome. Venezia, much to my surprise, was very cold and foggy – though AMAZINGLY beautiful. It is a bizarre place as there isn’t a single car in the place. It is literally a city without roads. It has a MILLION little canals that run between a bunch of islands that are connected by bridges and pathways. It was really cool, but after a while in the cold, it got a bit redundant.
We got to Roma at about 7 p.m. and went straight to a hostel I got a pamphlet for in Galway. The Yellow Hostel is just a couple blocks away from the train station, which is a nice feature. They also have free internet access, which is cool. But the common room is EXTREMELY small and the rooms leave something to be desired. We ended up getting a special dinner deal at a local restaurante whereby we got a glass of wine, bread, a salad and a plate of pasta for 9 euros. It was a bit out of my budget, but the supermarket was closed and we were starving. The Maitra’d convinced Cathy to come back down at 11 to share a bottle of wine with him, so here I sit, in the common room, at about ten to one in the morning, with most a bottle of French wine I bought the other day for 3 euros running through my veins. This place isn’t so bad, but it defintely isn’t the Kinlay House (where I stayed in Galway). Cathy and I are going to the Colosseum tomorrow and then maybe to Vatican City or the ruins or something, not too sure. It is a weird feeling being in the cradle of Western Civilization. Sometimes it doesn’t sink in right away. I got off the train in Venezia this morning and it just hit me, CIAO VENEZIA! I was ACTUALLY in Venice!! Though it is costing me more than I’d like to be spending, I am having an AMAZING time – I just need to be cautious about over spending. We’ll only be here a couple nights though and then off to what I think will be a cheaper stay in Napoli (Naples) and then to the even cheaper Greece.
Still haven’t sorted out the photo situation – so I’ll just put my photos on the site and give the link I think.
Venezia (Venice) Photos