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European travel journal – Day 6: Paris, the tourism bureau, Notre Dame, historic walk, and a boat ride

I flew 4000 miles to London and took a two-hour train ride to Paris to find myself back at Indiana.

The restaurant Indiana

This is the restaurant that greeted me as I emerged from the metro station near my hotel. There’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a McDonalds on the square too. The McDonalds serves Kit Kat McFlurries, so at least that was worth the trip. One item that didn’t make the trip from London to Paris was my universal power outlet converter which allows me to do silly things like recharge my camera battery and write these travel blogs on my computer. To the person who discovers my outlet converter in a socket at the Eurostar station in London, have fun plugging in worldwide, my treat!

My mind had been on other things, like OMG WHERE IS MY RAIL PASS I JUST HAD IT A SECOND – oh it’s in my other pocket. I’d also spent five minutes wondering around Marks & Spencer’s before I left Britain trying to find anything I could buy with the 42 pence the currency exchange bureau didn’t think was worth converting. I’d tried the small pharmacy stand, not I couldn’t even afford a pack of gum due to marked up prices. Wow. My choices at M&S were either a huge bottle of sparkling Scottish water or a M&S candy bar. I will leave my final choice unknown to keep some mystery in life.

As the train sped off for Paris, the air pressure in my ears kept popping. I was saddened that they didn’t tell us when we were entering the Chunnel. It just got dark for a long time and I figured we were going under the water. Then I don’t remember much of anything because I took a nap, but became fully awake when I was wondering around a train station where all the signs were written in a language I only 20% understand and spent 15 minutes figuring out the Metro ticket machines. I finally solved all the puzzles and arrived at my Metro stop and then walked right by my hotel without seeing it, just like I’d walked by the tea shop the day before. I truly go out of my way to get lost.

But there I was, digging through all my luggage, and my power adaptor was NOT there. It couldn’t be hiding anywhere in my closet room, because the bed fills up literally half the floor and the bathroom really puts the “closet” in water closet. As I realized my power converter was not there, my autonomic nervous system started to rev up like one of those black scooters I’d seen all over town. I told myself, It’s ok. You can buy one, and if you had to lose anything that was better than your passport or credit cards. Only I didn’t know where in town to buy one and I needed to do it soon or else I’d have no digital images of my travels to make people at home madly jealous of me.

I stepped outside to go to the Metro and I was wet. It was raining. I went back inside and got my hat. Then I went to the Metro station and inserted my ticket in the turnstile. The doors did not open. The machine at the station I arrived at only took coins and I only had enough coins for two tickets. I had left the other ticket in my room because I thought it was the used one. There were no ticket machines in my current station. I walked back to the hotel and got my other ticket, a flimsy rectangular slice of paper with a magnetic strip running down the back. I saw discarded tickets on the subway floors and longed for the easy plastic rectangle of familiarity that was my London Oyster card. Finally, I got on the subway and got on the train and arrived at the station near Notre Dame, my first stop. Thankfully, the rain stopped, which I’m sure the people at the bread festival on Notre Dame’s front lawn appreciated. Or it might have been a pain festival, but there was bread inside, not iron maidens, so I think it was a bread festival.

Pain festival

As I walked for the three arches above the front doors, I saw a booth for the tourism office, so I decided to buy a 2-day museum pass which allows me to see lots of museums for the price of the card and lets me skip ticket lines. Ben was very nice explaining the pass to me and I liked him a lot until I smacked face first into the language barrier and he charged me for two 2-day passes when I had wanted only one.

“The machine doesn’t let us do refunds here. You’ll have to go to the tourism office.” My autonomic nervous system loved to hear that. I tried not to let my primitive brain know that I was also worried about finding an ATM to get some Euros, because I knew that would cause me to seize up right next to the crypt, where they would conveniently bury me.

Ben wrote down the address, marked it on one of the fifty maps they had in the booth, and told me to get off at the Pyramids Metro station. I walked to the nearest station and gazed and stared and focused on the Metro map, but I could not find the Pyramids station. The Paris metro is far more confusing than the London tube, and not just because it’s in French. Fuck this. I’ll just walk. And that is how I found myself walking past Le Forum des Halles and the Opera House.

I walked over a mile for this picture

This is also why I was walking the streets of Paris muttering to myself, “Stupid fucking Paris. Why am I visiting a city where I don’t speak the language? And why did I think I should do this alone? And where am I going to find an ATM that will accept my card? And where the hell am I going to buy a power converter? And how does the stupid fucking train system work?” But at least it wasn’t raining.

I told myself to go with the flow and not struggle too hard to make my scheduled itinerary for the day. “What will happen, will happen,” and other tautologies like that repeated in my brain. I finally found the tourism bureau, after walking right past it even though they have huge letters in the window saying “PARIS TOURISM.” They had the credit card machine that could refund my extra ticket. They also explained the train passes to me and could sell me one, so I shelled out for the 5-day, 3 zone, pass just so I wouldn’t have to bother with those stupid, disposable tickets anymore. Then they told me I could buy a power converter at the Monoprix department store which was just around the corner and not a mile away like the tourism bureau had been. Big props to the staff of the tourism bureau! Luckily, I also found an ATM on my way and stuffed hundreds of Euros into my pants. After I bought the converter all the stress items were crossed off my list, but it still took my body another 30 minutes to get the message and chill out.

I found the Pyramids metro station, which was on the map, just hard to find because of all the other lines and dots and colors, and sped back to Notre Dame by 4:30, starting my planned activities for the day even though the day was mostly over.

Me and the old lady

Notre Dame is beautiful and ornate, but I had mixed feelings about how tourist-y it is. At Westminster Abbey, they forbid photography, which annoyed me when I was there, but now I appreciated the flash-free environment it created. It seems like people are so insistent on capturing a moment with their cameras that they forget to be in the moment and experience it now, not when they’re looking through a scrapbook. I also wonder what the builders of the cathedral would feel if they knew the building they worked so long and hard to create was now not primarily a place of worship, but a place for a gift shop and souvenir coin machines.

Souvenir coin machine

I followed the Rick Steves Guidebook’s historic Paris walk, which was quite informative and led me to lovely parts of the city I didn’t know about and wouldn’t have found otherwise. I particularly liked the street next to St. Severin’s which was filled with quaint cafes and shops. The same vibe flowed into the St. Michel area and I found myself feeling a mild hum of euphoria over the aching of my feet as I walked down cobblestone streets with people of different nationalities and reading signs in foreign languages. This was a foreign country in a way that Britain wasn’t. It was more foreign than foreign.

I walked past Sainte-Chapelle, a church with marvelous stained glass windows. Next there was the Palais de Justice, a quant park grove called Place Dauphine, and a park at the point of the island called Pont Neuf. I walked back to Place St. Michel and bought a falafel even if my French sucks. (My apologies to my two college TAs. I should have paid more attention.) I went back to the little island behind the bigger island Notre Dame is on and had some Berthillon ice cream. I had another 45 minutes to kill before the Seine boat site-seeing cruise I’d bought a ticket for, so I ordered a hot chocolate at a cafe and the waiter sat me in a table with this view.

Nice view

Not too shabby.

Then it was on to the twilight cruise, which was beautiful but cold because both Paris and London have required a sweater I did not pack in my carry-on. Like at Notre Dame, my stomach felt a little weird as I saw a luxury cruise boat full of people eating dinner sail by a row of tents on the pier which I assume are for homeless people. Then we circled by the Eiffel Tower which was alight and towering like its name.

 Eiffel Tower

Finally I walked home to the Metro and back to the hotel feeling like I’d seen Paris, not all of it but enough. If I only had one day, this one would suffice, anxiety and unexpected disasters included.

Then I let my computer run all night and uploaded a bazillion travel photos to Flickr, no doubt annoying anyone else trying to use the network. Enjoy! I should warn you that these journal entries are being posted one day after everything that happened, so don’t be confused when you see pictures of Versailles in my stream and wonder why I never mentioned the hall or mirrors. There will be more photos to come now that I can charge my battery.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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23 Comments

Jane • May 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm

i am surely not the first to mention this, but you’d be CRAZY not to make these posts into a travel book. you are doing a fantastic job! i feel like i’m there and since i am planning my first trip to europe next summer, i am soaking this up! i know i’ll want to reference it again and again over the next year. please publish!

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fd • May 16, 2009 at 6:19 pm

hope you’ve enjoyed the eurovision final! and that you got commentary in a language you understand. and that you’re eating pain au chocolat. lots of them. breakfast is the best meal in france.

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Missy • May 16, 2009 at 6:23 pm

PQ do they still have the McKrispies in Paris. I went to Europe in 2001 and of course we had to check out the McDonalds everywhere we went. In the Paris McDonalds there was this awesome desert. It was like a warmed up Little Debbie’s Star Crunch and it was called McKrispie. If they are still on the menu I would try one. It is a delicious warm chocolately treat.

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Nina • May 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Reading this makes me so homesick for Europe. I can’t wait to go back next year.

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Anonymous • May 16, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I’m really enjoying your travelogue, and I have to ask: Did you plan your itinerary yourself? You’ve done a fantastic job of seeing so many high spots. It’s such a pleasure to read – I’m going to miss the installments when you get back home!

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Rachel • May 16, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Ha!

I just moved to Paris three weeks ago, and I know well the feeling of getting lost on the metro and muttering “stupid fucking Paris” all the way home.

But then turning the corner and seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night, or walking through the Jardins de Tuileries makes me feel like I’ll never be able to live anywhere else again.

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Rachel • May 16, 2009 at 7:27 pm

That picture of you in front of Notre Dame is so cute. I love your hair with the hat. I’m loving your commentary on your adventures. Thank you for sharing them.

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Carolyn • May 16, 2009 at 10:54 pm

If you have time, you should go to Paris Disneyland – it’s so different looking from the US parks and a nice change of pace from museums and other historical sites.

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Erin • May 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Paris was my favorite city when I went to Europe on a high school trip years ago, I have a picture with my foot on the Pont neuf marker, our tourguide said it was legend that if you stood on pont neuf it meant that you would always come back to Paris.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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Deb • May 16, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Quite an adventure you are having. Your description of your hotel room reminds me completely of the one I shared with a friend their a few years ago.

I am in complete agreement with you on the not experiencing the moment because you are seeing everything through a camera lense. I think I was guilty of that during my European trip. I came back with hundreds of photos that look mostly alike and then I wished I had spent less time clicking away.

Super cute hat, BTW.

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Tyler • May 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm

What an incredible journey you are on. Take advantage and enjoy because you will remember it for the rest of your life.

I agree about the Metro in Paris. Confusing, though luxurious compared to some of the subways in the US. The other memorable aspect about the Metro was that it took FOREVER to get out of it. It must have been a mile underground.

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Danielle • May 17, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Just in case you happen to read the comments while you’re in Paris (even though I hope you’re out having fun, not sitting inside reading your e-mails) can you please go to one of those street vendors and have a crepe for me, ideally with Nutella and banana, but your choice. ;>)

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Jen Hughes • May 17, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Apparently, that is a Tex-Mex type of place. Some of my friends were in Paris a few years ago and a cab driver asked where they were from. When they said Indiana, the driver kept saying “Oh, yes, Tex-Mex!”. They didn’t get it until they stumbled upon that restaurant. :0

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Amalily • May 17, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I am glad you are having a great time seeing all the sights. You take great pictures

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Ang • May 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I juat have to say again, you are AWESOME for making this trip on your own! But, maybe you feel like you have all your readers along with you are really traveling with lots of people.

You are truly inspiring!

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RG • May 18, 2009 at 9:56 am

Unfortunately, travel and lost adapters seem like a common problem. I’m thinking I should buy a backup if I ever notice a cheap one just because it seems 1. inevitable and 2. really is expensive to replace (plus time lost) on the fly. And the getting lost – I think that’s the point of travel, to knock us out of our comfort zone. Which reminds us 1. how capable we are and 2. how nice it is not to be lost and 3. wherever I go, there I am, meaning that it gave me insight into the role I play into the situations I run into.

I was thinking that I did a big London/Paris trip at 24, when it was more expensive but hey. Knew enough French to feel pretty comfortable, and remember zero problems with the metro but did waste a few hours in London because my compatriot thought the bus driver was going to be more helpful than he was. I was never bit by the travel bug, mostly because I’ve lived in cities and there’s usually so many subcultures that can fill my time.

Gelato, in the US too, generally comes with small gelato spoons (like espresso spoons but flat) to remind you to savor. It works with strong ice cream, too!

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Lirpa • May 18, 2009 at 11:13 am

I just have to tell you that i really feel for you in that i get myself lost so easily too! I really felt your pain in this post. I am constantly walking or driving by where it is i am trying to get to, and forgetting things at home or wherever, and get so frustrated and angry with myself! this especially happens when i’m travelling and know i only have a limited amount of time to see what i want to see and go where i want to go and do what i want to do, and then i get sidetracked and think FUCK! SHIT! DAMN! and yes, even when everything is o.k. again, it takes my body close to an hour to catch up and really calm down. So i felt like i was right there in that moment with you when you were explaining it! I’m so sorry you had such a rough day! Glad it all worked out in the end though. I am so impressed with you travelling to a foreign speaking country and touring all by yourself! You are much braver than me! You must be very proud of yourself. That must be an awesome feeling of accomplishment and self-reliance. Way to go! :)

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Debbie • May 18, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Your entries bring back lots of memories of my trips to London and Paris – glad you are having fun! The restaurant “Indiana” always caused DH and me to go into hysterics, especially its Indian-head logo. Serves great Indiana regional cuisine, no? LOL

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victoria • May 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I love it that you had a McFlurry in Paris. So . . . defiant. I’m also very impressed with how much you’re covering in a single day. Talk about stamina!

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Jennifer • May 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I visited Europe with my brother back in 1994 after having lived there as a child. We bought eurail passes and our least favorite part was Paris. The weather was horrendous (coming from warm Spain and Italy), and even with 5 years of french under my belt I still struggled with communicating. We loved the street crepes though!

We visited Jim Morrison’s grave, went to Notre Dame which was under construction and covered in scaffolding…then the Eiffel Tower which only the bottom 1/3 was visible due to fog. Ick.

Glad you were able to replace your converter

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Sunnie • May 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I took a transatlantic cruise with my mom Spring 08, and got one 12 hour day trip to Paris, and fell instantly, totally, head-over-heels in love with that city. It’s a driving force in my life to return with my husband. Congrats on getting to see/enjoy so much more of it!!!! Yes, we’ll always have Paris. :)

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Jocelyn • May 23, 2009 at 6:10 am

I went to Rome last year (at this exact time, actually) and decided to start learning Italian … on the plane ride over. D’oh! Oh, and I didn’t get any money changed beforehand, so I spent the entire first day there with 1 euro 90 because we had to pay the hostel in cash, and panicked that I wouldn’t be able to get any money from an ATM ever, holy jesus what am I doing here I want to go home! The first day was the worst, then it was wonderful x infinity. Enjoy your trip, I’m loving reading about it!!

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Eddie Mikell • July 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I whizzed off to Paris a couple of years ago, to leave from the airport and travel to a small chalet I rented outside of Orleans.

I knew I was in deep crap the moment I tried to leave the rental car place at the airport. I was told that only a lunatic were drive in Paris, but since I regularly drove in New York, what the heck…

All was well, or so I thought, until I got about an hour outside of Paris. Ahhh, I made it.

2 seconds later a large transport truck slammed into the front of my car sending me off the road and over an embankment.

All my traveling companions suffered broken backs, ribs, and worse. As I stood on the shoulder of the road watching them all bleed to death, a French fireman drove up. NO ONE, spoke English. Not even one word. Fortunely he called the cops, and got us to a local hospital. For two weeks, I roamed the hospital, unable to speak to anyone, except to draw pictures. I could not figure the damn phone system out, and couldn’t tell anyone what happened.

That was probably the longest, and worst two weeks of my life.

I keep saying the same things. Damn, what was I thinking, or damn Rick Steves said everyone spoke English, or damn why didn’t I have a cell phone that work, etc.

Eddie.

ps, everyone lived, although two will always have to have back braces. pps, the insurance company handling the claims in Europe is …. AIG!!!!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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