Day 10, Paris – Heidelberg

I woke up ready to go. Did my teeth and hair and had breakfast with Swang, then checked out for the pair of us (just for the record, I owe him €4), and walked with my bags to Gare de l’Est where my train was to depart. 

There I panicked for a little, unable to figure out which is my train based on name or number. Eventually I asked and the guy says 20 minutes. Blue screen. So I go and look at the blue screen again and I’m still confused. I go to a different information desk, this time with a woman, hoping for a little more friendliness. I did not find it there. Again she says 20 minutes, and responds with ‘i don’t know’ when I ask for the gate number. At this point I’m getting my translation app open but she asks the next person and I’m dismissed. 

I sit down and translate the board, figuring out the bits I can’t guess and studying the numbers. Eventually I see that my train is starting service with another, which is why didn’t immediately register the number (that, and the train I’m on goes to Karlsruhe where I change, but it just said Stuttgart on the board). So with that sorted, and my assumptions confirmed that the gate will appear 20 minutes before departure, I waited. The number appeared, I went to the gate. I sat down. I saw each car was numbered and each seat too – but I had a lot of numbers on my printout which was only in German, so I asked a man. 

The following occurs in German unless otherwise noted: 

Excuse me, are you German? 


Do we have places we must sit, like numbers? 

Yes, do you have your ticket? 

(I hand him my ticket) 

Ah ok… Are you French? (Speaks a sentence in French) 

No, English-

(His wife interjects) he just spoke German to you. Speak German! 

Oh right! You’re in carriage 21, seat.. 73.

A man in the row adjacent is laughing and I ask which direction that is – he tells me, I begin to go that way. 

The first man then laughs as he makes fun of the fact he responded in French when I spoke in German. 

I found my seat and sat down, and because of the recent pick pocketing was on edge even though the train was comfortable, spacious, and kind of empty. Eventually at Strasbourg I managed to start relaxing, and noticed I was connecting to which was exciting for me. On the way out of Strasbourg I noticed a couple of.. communities? Where there were ramshackle houses all over the plots. Maybe huts is a better word. In the second set I also saw greenhouses. Google did not enlighten me so I have no idea what they were. 

Then as we moved through into Germany , 4 police officers who had walked to the front of the train began to walk through to check passports. I got a quick look and a thank you before they moved on. 

We pulled into the station at Karlsruhe and waited around a bit, still not yet hungry. Got on the train and stared at the rail map inside until I was sure the train was going the right way, and sat waiting for the train to leave, rudely eavesdropping on conversations now that I can finally understand the language. 

Eventually the train arrived in Heidelberg and I had pre-googled a place to stay called Steffis Hostel, which is really nice. Very homely. I got to the counter and asked to book a room, but once she asked for some ID and she saw my passport, she switched to English and says oh, you’re from New Zealand? She’s been there before she Australia, and is going to do a placement in Dunedin. So we chatted about Dunedin and New Zealand (this did not net me any discounts when it came to adding breakfast unfortunately). 

I got up to my 10 person dorm, claimed and made a bed and had a bit of a sit. It was about twenty to 4 and I realised I was pretty hungry. So I unpacked all my laundry and took it to the desk where I paid €5 to have it washed and dried by someone else, so like 8 bucks. I left and walked across the bridge and sheen the waterfront in the direction of the castle, enjoying the view and taking some photos of the water and castle.

I must have worked up quite the hunger, or at least my eyes did, as I bought a full meal of schnitzel and cheese noodles called Spätzle (in a pepper- cream sauce, said the lactose intolerant), with a salad. Oh, and a boot full of coke. Which is a litre. He took my mostly empty plates away and left me with half a bit of coke for a while until I felt like I could do desert. 

So I walked down the main street of Heidelberg, looking at all the shops and a couple of department stores, nothing what I would like to come back to later. I accidentally went into an ice cream store and got some gelato, Nutella flavor. I then walked back to the hostel and gave Amy a quick Skype (Happy Birthday!!) and got ready for bed. 

One room mate was already there, and was very quiet. Then another came in and asked if she could open the window (she’s German, so in German) – the other guy manages a noise, so I’m not sure where he is from, but I say sure please do. Now I already knew this, but over here they have windows which open towards you from the top as though there hinges are at the bottom. But they all have a trick so you can make them open like regular windows… I just forgot that trick.  

So I watch her open them and wonder how she did it, eventually plucking up the courage to say ‘so, this is a dumb question, but how did you open the window?’ 

She looks at me like I had just dropped my pants and begun to defecate in front of her. Then she laughs and repeats my question, her German maybe a little more fluent sounding than mine (on account of her likely German heritage).

I tell her I tried before but it came towards me, and mimed it working. She showed me what to do and I told her it’s not something we really have in New Zealand (throwing all of us under the bus, as though none of us have ever seen them before). 

In case you want to know, usually a half turn opens them like a regular window. Turn it too far and it opens as though the hinge is at the bottom. 

Matt’s handy hints number 2 
That’s a ploy. You see, now everyone will go hey, what was the first one again? And then scroll through my other posts looking for the first hint. 


Day 9, Paris 3 (Paris thoughts)

We had to get up early on the morning, I ripped through a shower and then we ran downstairs and had brekkie. We caught the train to Versailles, and a tour guide took us around the gardens. 

In one section, a modern grove, he described the below as ‘supposed to be Louis 14’s dance movements (his hands and feet), but looks more like something from the red light district in Amsterdam’

Good tour, better than just walking around the palace aimlessly. However I would say going in summer is better. There were covered over the stairs to protect the marble from the cold, the trees were bare, there were bugger-all flowers, and the fountains won’t go at all. 

We looked at photos inside, and while it’s nice, it would just be for the photos. The tour was much more worthwhile. You can get a combo ticket of another set of gardens and the palace for two euros more than the price entry price itself (€18) so if you had all day, that woukd be perfect. 

It was actually beautiful

We left and went to get food because my back and hip were hurting (classic Matt) and stopped in a cafe, I believe called Creperie la place Versailles, where we wondered to ourselves, because of the rude server. 

I have been wondering if it’s: 

  • because it is the French culture, 
  • because it’s the fact that we are foreigners, 
  • because it’s the Paris way, 
  • or because of the language barrier,

But I don’t think, other than one single cafe experience near the pantheon, have I felt welcome in Paris. If course unlike Swang I don’t think I’ll be experiencing France outside Paris, so my view is a bit skewed, but everywhere (even when I try to speak French, greet them, and order in French) I’ve gone has been harsh and cold in response to just sitting down for a bite to eat.

In Japan, even though I obviously was a foreigner, and at times we had a language barrier, I almost always felt like people on the other side of the counter etc. we’re friendly and hospitals, but here it seems like they are constantly against us, even if I don’t open my mouth in an attempt to fit in. 

The other thing is that I’m probably biased, I was told by more than one friends to make sure I’m nice and polite because they can be rude to foreigners, which may already have me looking at them in a negative light, but also because of things like the server in the cafe who just seemed angry at everyone and everything. 

Here’s a map of Versailles palace and grounds, to give you an idea of the size, and to break up my rant

Finally, at the train station this afternoon I got into a crowded train and checked that my pockets were all zipped up etc., and carried my bag at my feet instead of on my back. The train was very crowded, and one large man to my left was close. A pamphlet in his hands fell onto my coat and I hadn’t taken notice until I felt a light tugging on my jacket. He was unzipping my pocket, which contained my wallet – a pocket I had always seen as super safe given how it is on me at all times AND it’s a water-proofed zipper, which is a lot stiffer and harder to open. I reached my hand up and realised what he was doing in the commotion as the train was coming to a stop. I immediately pushed him away and he calmly walked into the crowd getting off the train as I told him loudly to get the fuck out. A few people looked over but just turned their heads away, indifferent. I immediately chose an empty seat and made it so no pockets couldn’t be monitored, but after that I started to think I was about ready to leave Paris for Germany, perhaps Heidelberg, which I’ve heard a lot of, from people I know. 

I talked with Nikki and Swang the day before when we were downstairs having dinner in the bar after the boat ride, I was pleased to find out that Nikki didn’t really agree with the stereotypical opinion of Paris. And while I know people will pick holes in my reasoning for not liking my time in France, the fact remains that is how I used my time here and what I felt. I’m glad I did it, but I didn’t like it. I guess I should just be summing up Paris rather than France in general – so, it was rude and unfriendly for the most part, really I found it just a dirty, littered city, it’s lucky it has some incredible history and monuments. Yes I’m pleased I came, no I can’t say it was in any way a city of love as it has been painted as, and no I don’t think I would like to come back. 

So I got back to the hostel and I tried to nap. I had a crisis, and called my girlfriend, ego sorted me out. Half an hour later I was sitting in the bar waiting on my Mediterranean salad, alone, sipping cola with a ticket from Paris, France to Heidelberg, Germany safely locked away in my bag. 

Swang, as the Eiffel tower

Day 8, Paris 2

Got a good sleep in, and breakfast where I thought a little more on what I want and where I want to go. I think I’m really keen to get to Germany and re-experience the culture and things I learned during my time at uni, see places I talked about but never visited. I think it’s getting in the way of my enjoyment of other places. I’ve enjoyed Paris, but wasn’t overjoyed. Though I’ve never been overly interested in France or the language until getting here, and it’s partially by necessity. 

On the way to the Notre Dame, stumbled into the NOTre Dame (heh, get it? Cause it wasn’t the Notre Dame), St Severin – took photos there of the faded paintings on the walls, because I found you can see the colours and images better on my camera than in real life. Very nice cathedral, if I’m honest that struck more of a chord with me than the Notre Dame, where we went next. Swang and I circled it and swang recalled going there in a video game about assassins, then waited in line to go inside. It was lovely, but I wasn’t overcome with joy. I didn’t cry. I didn’t have a religious experience (unless you count bumping into someone, almost dropping my camera, and shout-whispering ‘oh my God!’).

I actually found some of the smaller churches around to be more rewarding, but now I can say I went inside the Notre Dame

From there we walked to the Pantheon. It was fucking freezing, both in there and also downstairs in the crypt. It was also dwarfing. Paintings and high ceilings, it was also bright in there so you got a good look at everything, including the big drive slabs in the crypt downstairs (another place Swang had visited in that game). After, we had to sit on the steps of the Pantheon in the sun to defrost. 

I forgot to take a picture with my phone in the Pantheon, so here’s one of a train with rubber wheels!!

Back where we came, I got a crepe and hot chocolate in a little cafe and the lady at the counter gave us a quick French lesson, which was really pleasant. She was lovely but I can’t recall the name of the place unfortunately. 

We took the train to the Arch de Triompe and took some photos. Unfortunately we had a while to wait until it was dark so we could go on the boat tour, so we popped down the road to a cathedral.. but really we were just looking for a comfortable place to sit… so we got McDonald’s (I’m sorry, I will undoubtedly not have mentioned this to you Amy) and stayed for an hour or so (I wrote in my blog, Swang had a nap) and then we set of for the Eiffel tower again, where the boat tour began. 

I also forgot to snap one of the arch with my phone, so here’s a snapchat we sent Chloe, who is terrified of birds

We ran around like headless chickens for a few minutes, going to the wrong pier, then having to wait in line for ages before finally boarding. But it was worth it. Was just heading to twilight when we started, and we passed by the Notre Dame all lit up, other buildings I couldn’t bene along the way, and by the time we got back the Eiffel tower was lit up. For her final trick, the Eiffel tower then began to flash like a Christmas tree. But it wasn’t tacky, I really liked it and snapped far too many photos. 

We disembarked as the tower stopped flashing, and went back up to the plaza area where we originally took photos, and snapped some really good ones. Paris at night is well worth it if you’re a magpie. 

Once that was over we were freezing, back into the subway and a couple of tired, confused trips later, we arrived back at the hostel and went straight to the bar for a feed. 

A little story from that day: we noticed a busker putting cup too far out and a couple of people knocked his measly amount of cents over again and again, I wondered if this was on purpose. Make them feel extra sorry when your money goes everywhere. Apologise with more. 

Day 7, Paris

Woke up in the morning and had a little sleep in until about 9:00, has a shower and meet Swang downstairs for breakfast. There were few seats so we sat with a couple of Canadian girls and chatted about booking tickets online as perhaps a cheaper alternative to booking at the attraction, or even booking at the hostel (spoiler alert, the cheapest way to book tour and attraction tickets is through the hostel). 

98% awake, 2% sexy

So we went to the hostel counter and bought tickets for catacombs, Swang thought he was giving me change (gave me two euros for a nine euro ticket) and then stared at me blankly as I questioned his change and asked for more money. 

The free walking tour was meant to be from 10 – 1, butwas more like ten until two. Someone leads you from your hostel on the train to the meeting point, and there we were introduced to Oliver, our tour guide from Birmingham. He took us all over the show, from the Latin District, the Notre Dame, lovelock bridge, the Luvre and more (pictures at the bottom). He was very theatrical and funny, which made the history lessons great as well as informative. He also told us about scams to watch out for, such as when people come up asking if you speak English and have you donate for their sick grandmother, where you find a gold ring, or where they tie string around your wrist and have you pay for a bracelet. I also told him about how I worked as a tour guide also and he gave me this little number:

“There’s a Cadbury factory in Birmingham, you probably already know. My grandmother workered there – they would give her a lot of free chocolate… and then they have her diabetes.”

He was the kind of tour guide I would have aspired to be. Acting as a king on his deathbed, talking to the to-be king below:

Once that your finished, Swang and I bought tickets to a boat tour and Versailles, the former we intended to do that evening. We grabbed a bite with a trio from our tour group and say by the fountain. Eventually we left, taking a New Zealander called Nikki with us to go visit the Eiffel tower. I’m glad I cansay I’ve seen it, but it was just a tall pike of iron to me if I’m radically honest. Still plenty of selfies were taken. 

The perfect selfie

We then took the train to the catacombs, where Nikki didn’t have a ticket and there line was huge. As Swangand I pre-bought tickets, we jumped took the front of the queue and walked in immediately, we ultimately left Nikki to go down to the catacombs (which we felt bad about, but I forgot once it down there – it was incredible. I’ve you made your way through all the tunnels you got to the section with bones. Pre-booking at the hostel may have also netted is an English audio guide? Very informative, as we hard how the bones were moved and stacked there. We mostly saw hundreds of skills and thousands of femurs (not exaggerating, I’m probably underselling it if anything), many in formations like crosses (one in a heart shape).

All the stacks pictured are femurs, leg bones. Apart from the spherical ones, those are all skulls
We were there for over an hour – left and went to a bakery (unlikely a good French one as it had English translations for the food) and then began to take the train to the Eiffel tower to get ready for the boat tour. On the way Swang said he was kinda tired. I agreed, and we decided to do the boat tour the next day – so we hopped around the track and then got it back to where we came from, and then up to Gare du Nord to the hostel again. 

At the hostel we had a really good chat with the two American blokes in our room, and started taking about where we will go after Tuesday and their plans. We then all decided to go to McDonald’s, and I got 20 chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce, which they seem to call classic Chinese.
Walked down the road looking for gelato or crepes, then into a corner store for drinks before dawdling upstairs to the room, where I realised my bag was missing and traced my steps back to McDonald’s where I forgot to pick it up. For maybe 15 or 20 minutes I hadn’t noticed it was gone – over a week of constant vigilance with my wallet, passport, pockets, and bags, and I still manage to have a tired lapse in concentration. So I sprint down the two floors, out the door and around the block, then down a couple of blocks, across the road, into McDonald’s and up the stairs to find… 

my bag. Sitting where I left it. Still containing my camera. Overjoyed, I left McDonald’s to see Swang across the street, smirking. I joined him and went to the hostel to calm down and hit the hay. 

No caption needed
The bridge opposite love-lock bridge, covered in love-locks, but not called love-lock bridge
Notre Dame (not pictured: me, acting like the hunchback)