I am safely enroute to Bruges! Before I mention anything about the trip I have to tell you about Paris.
While I was on my way to Paris it occurred to me that i hadn’t arranged accommodation for my first night. I could blame the BusAbout website for that but the truth is that I should have double checked my booking. I called the place I’d planned to stay the following two nights and they said they were completely booked out. Although there was a brief moment of panic, I got over it pretty quick because I knew that these are the things that make backpacking what it is… An adventure! I made the plan to find my way to St Christopher’s Hostel on arrival, I knew they would help with finding accommodation.
This may be easier said than done… We arrived in Paris in a dark and miserable looking bus station. The walls were blackened with soot and there was a dog chained up in the corner. I got off the bus and picked up my bag. This was it. I had now officially stepped into the unknown and for the first time I had a complete sense of self. There was no one to help, I had to do this on my own. There wasn’t anyone to pick me up from the bus station and I had to somehow make my way to the hostel. I left the terminal and using the wise words of the well travelled Kim, I set about looking for a McDonalds.
I found an adjacent shopping centre and with my full pack on my back I want in. I could feel the glances from people as I wondered the centre and promptly found a Mickey D’s I had a look on the map to find where I was and where i needed to get to. Since the first thing I found when I exited the bus terminal was a bus staton, I figured that’s how I would get to the hostel. I went to information centre and found my first opportunity to use my Europe language guide…
” parles veaux Englese?”
“wi misure” he then made a hand gesture to show that he wasn’t sure of his ability as he said ” errr ..little”
He looked at me me with a smile and I knew that this is no time to test his english ability, so I showed him the address I needed to get to and he was unexpectedly very helpful.
He tapped away at a keyboard then said something in French. I think he was trying to give me directions. Then he turned the screen and showed me what was on it. There was my trip, each stop, the bus numbers and the expected travel times. I took a photo of the instructions and he gestured toward a bus stop. So far so good. I hopped on the bus.
After one change I found my way to my stop, Monte Matre.
While on my bus ride I noticed a few things about the people of Paris. Firstly, there is a substantial black population here, there were more pairs of Jordans being worn by the general public than I’ve seen anywhere and that the general driving style of the Parisians is impatient. A place where it’s history is so valuable and all people want to do is rush to get to a place. If you show any hesitation at a set of lights there is a blast of a horn followed by another and another to get the driver on front to keep moving.
So I’ve arrived in Montmartre. This is a beautiful place, the buildings are all about 5 stories high and there is a great sense if cultural diversity. I didn’t have a map on me and I thought that I would just be able to walk around for a bit to get my bearings. I walked for about an hour and ended up right where I began. Oh crap! A moment passed when I thought I am never going to find this place. I had a look at my phone that was able to show me my location on a small map I loaded up while at Macca’s. I was about a hundred metres from where I needed to be. Finally I got to St Christopher’s.
I was in reception and again described my predicament. The staff again checked for availability… None. At this point I had two options. Either I wait until two AM and hope for a no show, or I look for a place to stay using their computers. They let me use them free of charge for twenty minutes. It didn’t take too long to find a place to stay. This was outside the city though and was about 20 mins travel on the metro. I made my booking and had it confirmed. It was about 10pm and I was exhausted. At least I knew I had a bed… Yay bed! Can’t wait.
Off I went again into the great unknown… The dark streets of Paris. I walked to the metro which was not too far and I was able to get a map form the hostel. I got to Crimee station and was presented with another problem… I can’t read French! I had to buy a ticket for the train and the whole thing was in french… The ticket dispenser was quite different to anything I was used to.
There was a metal rolling pin type thing with confirm (Validate) and cancel buttons either side. I some how managed to buy a ticket, €1.70 then headed into the metro.
The metro stations are All the same in appearance, white tiled walls with drab dark grey floors. There are promo posters every where but all the promos are in French… Well I am in France so that was standard. I had written down the details to get to the station I was headed for and followed them without too much hassle. From Crimee to Opera, then changed and went to Louise Michel. I when I got out of at Louise Michel, it was very dark and I had been told to walk to the end of the street and turn left at Rue Jean Jaures.
I walked to the end of the street and could not see any signs for Jean Jaures. I must have walked in the wrong direction… I turned around and walked back to the station, and continued to the other end if the street… Still no sign of the street they told me… I had walked about 5 blocks then returned to the station. The only thing to do was to call the hotel and get the directions again.
It turned out that I had walked in the right direction the first time. The guy on the phone said just turn left when you get to the end of the street and you will find us. Off I go again… Back to the end of the street which was clearly not the right street, by the way the street signs are posted high on the building walls… That’s when they actually had a sign. I got the the address I was given and as expected… It was not the place I was meant to be. Keep in mind that my shoulders were sore from carting around my pack and all I wanted to do was drop my kit and sleep! I had spotted another McDonalds on across the road and went there. Bring on Google maps! I was so close to where I needed to be but it felt like a million miles away. When the directions were given to me they should have said to cross the road at the end of the street and go around the corner to rue Jean Jaures. I got to my hostel. It was 11:50pm. I then had a five story stair case to climb. On the upside, I got to my room, I had a warm bed an ensuite and pretty view of the town I was in.