09 May 2013

marching round france...with a hop to belgium

From Egypt I flew back to Rome, Italy, collected my bag and checked in for my flight to Paris, France.  When I landed I made my way to hub of Paris to find the flat I would be staying at--thanks to wonderfully generous friends.  I was delighted with the flat and the location.  It was on an island in the Seine River and felt quite luxurious.  When I looked out the living area windows I could see the back of the Notre Dame!  Awesome location.  My week in France was mostly a chilled week.  I hadn't really planned much but it was so nice not to run from one location to the next sight seeing.  I took it easy, relaxed and enjoyed some space to myself.  Not to say I did nothing of course.

I decided one day to go look the Notre Dame Cathedral.  I opted not to wait in line, pay and go up the steps to the top.  Instead I went inside for free.  It wasn't until I got home to Australia that I realised that's what I did last time which was why I was thinking of going up this time.  Ha ha.  Never mind.  I relaxed back at the flat cooking myself some tea and watching the final Twilight Saga movie while all cosy in my room.

On the Tuesday I went on a day trip, skipping countries, to squeeze in my visit to Brugge, Belgium that I'd been trying to work in for the past year.  It was cold and it's sometimes a tad boring daytripping on your own but it was an okay day.  We walked from the bus to the centre of the old town where we then had a boat ride on the canal.  Wasn't too fussed about the boat ride, especially feeling cold the whole time but got to see some interesting buildings.  We then had a few hours to go free range and so I wandered around the streets, looked in shops, took photos of the buildings that make Brugge interesting, bought Belgium chocolate because I simply had to and eventually sat down for some lunch.  The day turned into a long day trip when on our way back the driver pulled over to check the van.  After a bit of a look we attempted again but didn't leave the service station because it was just not a healthy van.  So we ended up waiting for quite some time for a truck to come tow us away.  Once the van was loaded onto the truck we all squeezed into double cabin of the truck and went back to Lille which we'd just passed.  There we waited outside in the cold in the street in the dark while our guide sorted something out.  At least half an hour later or more some taxis came and picked us up to take us to the train station.  We then waited there at McDonalds for a short while until our first class train ride back to Paris.  Nice to ride first class but it's actually not much different to the regular class.  Back in Paris we were picked up by the tour company and dropped back at the door of our accommodation.  So when I was due to be back at 7pm, it was 11pm when I got back to the flat.  I had nothing planned for the next day so it was all fine for me.  It was an amusing, unexpected event though if I'd had a choice there were other things I'd rather do than all that waiting in the cold. Oh, and as it was a French tour group for English/Spanish speakers and I was the only one who spoke English as my first (and only) language, everyone else was talking to the tour guide and discussing what was going on with getting home in either French or Spanish.  So I didn't have much idea what was going on.  Ha ha.  Understanding wouldn't have made much difference to the situation anyway.

My Wednesday was another lazy day but I did get out in the afternoon and go to the Louvre Museum.  Last time I was in Paris I only went to the outside so I decided I'd go in this time.  I went first to the Egyptian area and spent most of my time there.  It was intriguing to see all the artefacts rather than just tombs, temples and the paintings and carvings that cover them.  Probably particularly interesting since I'd just come from Egypt.  I then went through the Islamic display which pretty much artefacts with Arabic scrawled artfully upon them.  I was beginning to tire and completely skipped over the paintings (more of the same sort of stuff you see all over Europe...the kind I'm not that interested in) but I made sure I went and found the Mona Lisa.  It was much smaller than I expected and being so famous a painting the room was crowded, it had a plastic protector in front of it and a curved barricade keeping people from getting too close.  Bit disappointing really that you can't view it well.  I was done.  I walked back along the river's edge enjoying the sunshine; back to the flat for some more relaxing with food and a movie and indulging in my Belgium chocolates.

Thursday I got up early and caught the train to Strasbourg, France.  One thing I decided to do this week was see another part of France as the France I'd previously done was Paris.  Strasbourg was quite pretty, particularly the Petite France area.  The buildings were awesome to see and walking beside the river in the sunshine was super nice.  I poked around the shops and made my way to the centre of town.  When it was almost noon I went inside the Cathedral, found a good spot and waited with the gathering crowd.  At 12 o'clock a video was shown of the astronomical clock that stood in the corner followed at 12:30pm by the clock's 'chiming'.  It has figures up near the top of the twelve apostles who come out in a line and pause by the Jesus figure for a blessing.  There's also a mechanical cock at the top that "crows thrice".  The clock also has a perpetual calendar and an orrery which displays the real position of the sun and moon and the eclipses.  All lavishly decorated with paintings of course.

I wandered around the streets trying to decide what I wanted to eat for my late lunch before finally choosing a pub that had an indoor verandah area where I could sit in the sunshine.  I then made my way back toward the train station, using up some of my waiting time drooling around an art supply store before the ride back to Paris.

Friday I hung out in the flat again in the morning and slowly sorted out my bag again before leaving early afternoon for another adventure I wanted to tick off my list.  Riding the train under the sea!  I got to Gare du Nord (train station) a little later than I meant to.  I misread my ticket thinking I had to be there 30mins prior but realised I was meant to check in then.  So not knowing how this worked exactly, feeling a bit anxious I asked someone where the Eurostar was and then hurried upstairs where they directed.  The whole process had me in a bit of a tizz.  For starters, I'm not sure where the 'checking in' part happened.  I guess when I swiped my ticket to get through the station gates to the Eurostar area.  There was no check in like the airports.  I went through security and lined up for the next section anxious to get through in time.  Noticing a pile of landing cards, I picked one up knowing I'd need to fill it in later and moved to another line that moved faster.  When I got to the front, the guy checked my passport, looked at me, looked again at my passport...  I'd heard tales.  I was prepared for this but the hold up when I was running out of time was annoying.  He asked me a few questions because my visa had expired.  I showed him a copy of my flight booking home to Australia to prove I would definitely be leaving the country again.  He filled in a bit of paper work and then asked for my card...which wasn't filled in yet and sent me to the back of the line.  I was in a hurry and I was being sent back to the end of the line.  Arrg!  It still didn't quite click at that point that this was border control meaning I was officially entering England...in France.  Usually on the planes you fill it out on board and hand it in when you land and that's what I was expecting; to need to have it done for the end of my journey.  I got back in line while scribbling the info down but the line moved fast and I had to step aside to finish filling it in and let a couple of people go ahead.  Thankfully no one made me go to the back of the line again and I passed to the next stage.  It took me a while trying to read different screens and my ticket and figure out where I was supposed to be.  I'm not sure if it was unclear or if perhaps I was just anxious and unfamiliar with using the Eurostar but I found where I was supposed to be in time.  I only had to wait a few minutes before we were let out onto the platform and I walked alongside the train to find my carriage and then my seat.  Finally I could settle in for the trip.  It took about 2hrs 20mins to get from Paris to London and only about 20-30mins in the tunnel.  But I've done it.  ^^

I was back in England. As a tourist.  I made my way through the London tube system back to my old 'hood.  Back to my previous home where my friends from Australia, having arrived the day before, were waiting for me. The France journey over, I flopped happily into the familiar house and the company of a friend I knew (and the friend I was just meeting), my final England adventure set to begin.

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