I was sick on the train ride into Paris. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of sick where your insides feel like they’re being ripped apart by zombie piranhas. I had some kind of sinus infection and I think also a mild fever. Either way, it was very uncomfortable and made my six-hour journey from Frankfurt to Paris seem to take forever. I remember trying not to move, the side of my face pressed against the window as I went in and out of a half sleep, half daze.
The other passengers could tell I wasn’t all there, particularly since I probably looked like Gollum. They nicely left me alone either out of courtesy or fear of catching whatever it was I had. I was just glad I didn’t have a horrible illness like leprosy, or malaria, or whatever brain-eating parasite the Westboro Baptist Church has. Just think if I did have any of that nastiness. I could have spread it around the train and unwillingly caused it to spread in the French capitol. I’m sure some would say, “so what”, but I liked Paris.
By the time my train arrived at the east train station, it was around 3:30pm and I was feeling a little better. I knew this because I was very hungry. Good thing I was in France, which is world-renowned for its great food. But for now, I settled for a train station baguette sandwich. I remember it being kind of bland, but still good. Just the baguette with some ham and cheese on it.
While walking through the train station, I finished my impromptu lunch and looked around for a trash can to throw away the baguette wrapper. That’s when I first noticed the difference between Germany and France. In the train station in Frankfurt, everything was tidy and neat. There were trash receptacles evenly spaced throughout; each one was divided into fours. Yes, the Germans were even efficient at refuse disposal to where the garbage cans had a section for regular trash, plastic recycle, paper recycle, and aluminum recycle.
In the Paris train station it was a different story. So different in fact, that there were no trash cans. None at all. I looked around everywhere and didn’t see a single one. Well, I thought, there’s bound to be one outside by the taxi stands. I went outside to the front of the station. Paris traffic was already busy and racing by, but the taxis were still pulling up in front. There was a long line of people waiting to get one, so I didn’t bother. Besides, I like to walk in a new city.
Even if I didn’t find a trash can to throw my baguette wrapper. Le sigh.
At this moment, a French hobo accosted me for money. At least, I think he was a French hobo and I think he was begging for change. I wasn’t sure because I don’t speak French,(I thought of trying to write out the dialogue here to make the story more interesting, but I don’t really remember what was said, particularly because I don’t know a word of French. Also, if I tried to write what he said in a silly French accent, I would just look like I mashed my fist into the keyboard).
Anyway, the hobo, or reject drunken mall Santa, held out his grimy hand while speaking to me. I told him that I didn’t speak French and shook my head. He said, “okay”, and continued holding his hand out. I repeated myself and he said, “okay” again. Strangely, he smiled just before patting me on the shoulder and walking off to beggar the people in the taxi queue.
I continued my quest down the street for some kind of public trash bin. It was all for naught because there was none to be found. It felt like the quest for the Lost Ark. I stood there wondering what to do when I noticed a Parisian across the street toss a food wrapper onto the street. No one seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn’t care. It was then that I noticed food wrappers or other bits of rubbish scattered willy-nilly about the streets and sidewalks. Ah…Paris.
What’s the phrase? When in Rome? Or Paris, I suppose.
With my little baguette dilemma solved, I merrily skipped away from the train station and down Boulevard De Strasbourg. In case you’re wondering, yes I did skip. It being Paris, no one seemed to notice or care. My freaky skipping didn’t last long though because I was hefting a full backpack and tired quickly.
I strolled down Boulevard De Strasbourg for nearly an hour. Let me tell you something about Paris. It is actually quite large. The map in my guidebook is very deceiving. The small picture for the downtown map led me to believe it wouldn’t take long for me reach the Seine from the train station. Oh no. After an hour, I was maybe half way.
My energy had waned quickly, since I still had this annoying sinus infection, so I decided to get a hotel. In this part of Paris, hotels are everywhere. I also didn’t have the energy to make it to the hostel address I had written down. The address placed it near the Eiffel Tower, which was still 547 light years away.
I walked into the first hotel I found, and approached the woman behind the reception desk. There was a sign with prices and rooms above the desk. I said “hello” to the woman, pointed to the lowest-priced room, and grunted. You see, if you don’t speak the country’s native language, it’s possible for you to communicate by pointing and grunting.
The receptionist knew what I meant, accepted my fifty Euros for the night, and gave me the key. I walked up to my room, took off my pack, and promptly collapsed onto the bed. I awoke about three hours later. That nice, little nap made me feel much better. Better enough to hike to the Eiffel Tower and back. It was the early part of June, so it was still light outside. The sun didn’t set until around 10:00pm which means I had plenty of time.
Let me tell you something. The architecture in Paris is amazing and chaotic. It’s as if every building was sculpted when an artist and an architect got drunk together, said “fuck the Germans and their OCD neatness” and got to work. There are drab apartments right next to turn of the century Art Nouveau buildings; a mishmash of old and new.
Only nowadays, some of those Art Nouveau buildings have a Mcdonald’s on the ground floor.
On my trek to the Eiffel tower, I noticed that it was like a distant mirage. I could see it, but it never seemed to get any closer. But still, I weaved my way through the labyrinth of Paris’ street system and arrived at the Louvre. It was around 9:00pm by this time, so it was closed. I could still walk around the old palace area. Since the museum itself was closed, there were no crowds; just a few of us tourists wandering the 18th Century palace courtyards.
Not far from the Louvre, it an ancient Egyptian obelisk. It’s in the middle of a major square with a lot of traffic zipping past. What’s a piece of ancient Egypt doing in the middle of Paris you ask? Well, it was a common thing for European conquering armies to take pieces of Egypt back home. Mummies, sarcophagi, small obelisks, large obelisks, and other phallic symbols were all looted.
After seeing the obelisk, I continued on and finally got close enough to the Eiffel Tower to see all the way down to its base. It was already dark by this point. The lights had come and lit up the whole thing. It’s quite a sight. I recommend everyone should see it at least once in their life.
I made my way towards the Tower, but first I had to cross a busy intersection. No problem, right? Wrong. This is Paris. There are absolutely no procedures or etiquette that need not be adhered to. Let me explain this further.
The major traffic intersection in question has several lanes of traffic going in each direction. In most Western cities, streets are laid out in a grid fashion, so there are four streets converging at the intersection. In Paris, there is no such thing. Grid sections are for pussies, le hmmph! At this intersection, five or six different streets came together along with the traffic from the bridge, Pont d’lena, plus a wormhole or two.
Now, there are crosswalks and stoplights just like many parts of the world. But this is Paris. The stoplights ran through their cycles of red, yellow, and green, but the Parisian drivers didn’t seem to notice or care. They just crammed themselves into the intersection all at once, weaving through each other amidst a din of honking horns, shouted curses, and over-revved engines.
It’s really not all that much different from watching the House of Commons in Britain. Someone should tell those MPs to park outside.
Anyway, I safely crossed this madness feeling like I was playing human Frogger, to stand before the Eiffel Tower. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go up. At 10:00pm, the queue for the elevator was still longer than the ending in “The Return of the King”, and I wasn’t about to take the stairs. After my two or more hour hike, my illness had caught up to me. I felt the ickyness in my sinuses and the subtle weakness of my light fever return. I knew then that I had to cut it short, so I hailed a taxi to take me back to the hotel.
I knew that I would return another day. Just not today. Le sigh.
At least I got to eat in a French restaurant before I left even though I didn’t know a lick of the language. Remember what I said about effective communication earlier? Yep, when the waitress came, I simply pointed to what I wanted on the menu while grunting, then pointed to my mouth while rubbing my stomach. Then grunted again.
I didn’t, however, snort. That would’ve been rude.