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 6, London – Paris (London thoughts)

Woke up bright and early, made my way downstairs to check, and yes – breakfast hadn’t started yet. So I gathered my things up and had a quick wash, then walked to Westminster because I knew there was a direct line to Victoria, and also I wanted to see Big Ben and the eye again as I crossed the bridge. 

Tube to Victoria, didn’t realise how big the station is there – shaped a quick photo and made my way down the road to the coach station to wait for Swang. He popped up at about half past seven, we got directions to the Europe check-in, ran on down and got our tickets. As I hopped on the bus, Swang went to get food and I listened to the driver get into an argument with a previous passenger. 

Victoria station, presumably before it gets busy
The driver and his… co-driver(?) were quite short with their responses to our  questions, it cane across as rude but I think given they are both French it could just be a language thing (you don’t learn to mitigate speech the same as a native speaker) – but I have heard stories of them being rude to foreigners, so I talked to a couple of friends and got some kinda common sense advice really. Just greet them and be friendly and try to speak French when I can – so I downloaded some apps I used on the trip, as it took from 8 – 4 to get to Paris. 

Chipper and ready to go
By 9:45 we made it to the port, where the the bus went a through checkpoint and our passports were checked. Eventually we drove into the train and it took us across the water – you’re in complete darkness, so nothing to see, but we were over by about half past 11 into Calais.

Five minutes after the previous photo
Which of course was half past 12 given the time zone change. I immediately noticed a difference in building style as we went through and into the countryside. But it was pretty much just greenery until we got to Paris. Refreshing given the concrete jungle you’re immersed in when you stay in London. 

Artsy as fuck, or as we like to refer to it, AAF.
I’m a fan
Though we were scheduled to arrive at 5, we stepped off the bus at about 4pm. We bought a pack of ten tickets for the train and a navigated couple of lines to Gare du Nord to get to St. Christopher’s Inn, our backpackers. 
I’m photogenic 20% of the time, all of the time

Well what a difference to the backpackers in England. Each bed is a little self contained section with a curtain and powerboats, and personal light. It’s also a lot cleaner and there are proper places to lock luggage, which I didn’t have at the Walrus in London. There’s also breakfast! 

Downstairs we grabbed a snack at the bar (read: 12 BBQ wings) and waltzed off to a cathedral called Sacré Coeur – it was pretty impressive, and you can go inside for free – but there’s no photography (which is a shame because the mosaic tiles and things would make for excellent photos). 

No photos

So we left and walked the streets to find food, and came across a little bar/pub where we sat down in the back and had a fantastic time listening to a couple of guys play some excellent guitar and even sing a little. Swang ordered a Bordeaux, expecting a beer, so was shocked to find a wine delivered to our table.

“I thought I ordered a Bordeaux”

Then sauntered on back to the hostel and I was out for the night. Well, after meeting our room mates, a whole group of Asian-American dudebros. The thrilling conversation included who was the biggest pussy, whether or not the hot water from the basin in our room could cook ramen, and what race has the craziest girls (in case you wanted to know the verdict, I believe they decided on Korean). So, you win some, you lose some. 

I don’t really wanna do the wrap up for London now since I plan on going back early (both to see Cathy and Chloe again, to check out some things I’ve missed, and to relieve the stress of traveling back home by being super prepared), but I thought it was excellent. There was lots of things to see and do, like we could have spent the whole day at the market. If I lived there I would have purchased so much more, and I would go there often. The waterfront busking was much more entertaining and professional than back home, and I barely scrapped the surface of what is out there. I think it’s going to be a reoccurring theme that I have enough time in each place as long as I want to fit in as many places as I do. Either I stay longer and visit fewer places, or I leave early. As it is I’ve narrowed my scope to a handful of places during my 40 days here.