France (Part 2/5) – Paris & Marseille
17th May 2007
I got up at 6am this morning and made my way back to the Gare De Lyon station to dump my rucksack in a locker so that I could explore Paris with only a backpack. I will collect it once I head to Marseille.
It rained all day so my new North Face jacket came in handy as it was lightweight and water proof. I didn’t want to see things like the Eiffel Tower today or the Arc De Triomphe since visibility was very poor. I’d save it for Sunday when I am back in Paris and hope the weather is a bit better.
Starting from Gare De Lyon I walked to Bastille then down to Palace Des Vosges, past the Hotel De Ville, down the Rue De Rivoli where I then arrived at the Louvre Museum. I walked down the Jardon Des Tuileries and in the process passing the Arc De Triomphe Du Carrousel which is probably the smaller cousin to the Arc De Triomphe Etoile which everyone knows about. I then crossed the Seine River and headed back to Notre Dame and then finally back to Gare De Lyon. This was a 6hr journey which I nearly didn’t complete.
Paris is very large and dense. Buildings and apartments have the old European flavor I’ve seen in other countries. On roads that occupy at least 4 or 5 lines the French don’t believe in lanes so you always hear cars beeping and you witness numerous close shaves between vehicles. The French always seem really impatient as well, you can hear them swearing or saying something nasty in French. Talk about road rage.
I didn’t realize how big the Louvre Museum was until I went inside and walked around. The Lonely Planet guide recommends at least a week that the museum to see everything in detail. Honestly I got bored after one hour and then scuttled out of there. I’m not very artistic nor have any interest in art so getting bored so quickly is no surprise. Why did I go then? I was curious to see why it was so popular.
Most areas of the museum, photography is allowed but in the paintings area it is forbidden to take photos. However you always see the odd Asian tourist ignoring these rules and taking photos regardless. How ignorant! I should just slap them with a painting to teach them a lesson; “what part of the NO PHOTOGRAPHY don’t you understand?”
I don’t know why the Mona Lisa is such a stand out painting with its own viewing area and guards. Sure the painting is somewhat astonishing in that at every angle you look Mona Lisa is staring back at you as though it’s following you. I think there were more outstanding paintings than the Mona Lisa.
I can’t believe how much people visit the Louvre. The queues were quite long coming in but that was probably due to the baggage checks. Come in early to avoid the ticket queues. Then just grab a map and begin the long journey around the museum. There were droves of tour groups that were ushered around by a guide. I don’t think I could have toured with a guide; they would have bored me to death.
Along the Seine River there was something I’d never expect and that was people pitching tents and squatting inside them. I’m not sure if this is legal but its quite peculiar to see pockets of tents in along the Seine River under bridges or in between trees. This must be the cheapest accommodation by far especially in the heart of Paris.
When I arrived at Notre Dame which is a very well known cathedral, a mass was being held. I’ve never seen a cathedral crammed with so many tourists before. Perhaps the Vatican City will have a larger population of tourist. This cathedral is so popular that you can even do guided tours around and up on top of the cathedral. There is probably a fee to tour the cathedral but there are only donation boxes if you want to enter inside the cathedral.
While at Notre Dame there was also a bread & pastry show going on in the square so I thought I’d check it out. I had this really nice soft bread freshly baked smothered in Nutella (chocolate) which was delicious. I also had an assortment of cheeses around France and sampled some of France’s finest … milk! The cheese was awful and definitely didn’t go well with my taste buds. Had a nibble on each type of cheese and off to the bin it went. The milk was great with a hint of vanilla.
In France there are not many people who speak English so it’s very hard to communicate. France has been invaded so many times by all sorts of armies from the Italians, Germans, Normans (English) and even the Vikings. So I can see how it would be hard to learn all those languages if you are under direct rule from so many different nationalities and regimes.
I got into a bit of strife as I was heading back to Gare De Lyon. I think I had pulled some ligaments in my right ankle and it was so painful that I could barely walk. Each step I took felt like a sharp stab to my ankle. I don’t know how my ankle suffered came to this state and if it continues to pain like this, it would certainly spoil the rest of my trip. If took me about an hour to get back to the station on my poor ankle. I’ve never felt this sensation before in my ankle so I didn’t know what to get from the pharmacy to relieve this pain. We’ll see how it fairs up tomorrow.
At the Gare De Lyon there are an abundance of security men keeping things in order. There are also armed French soldiers on patrol carrying Famas guns in case they need to pop a bullet into someone’s ass. With all this tight security at train stations they are relatively safe and free of trouble makers, beggars, loiterers and pesky thieves. I think the security is only for the TGV trains area as they go from city to city. The metro and RER trains don’t have this sort of security so just be cautious.
The train from Gare De Lyon to Marseille takes approximately 3hrs and I managed to score a 1st class ticket! I don’t think there is too much difference from 2nd class. The seat has a bit more leg room and the seats recline ever so slightly. Oh there’s also someone who goes around asking if you want to order anything. Just go to the café in the middle of the train and get something, its a lot quicker. It was nice to get out of my boots and rest my ankle. I don’t think my socks were smelly as no one complained.
Before heading to Marseille I grabbed a chicken baguette minus the tomato which I had trouble removing as the lady who served me didn’t understand. I just said “Tomach, pull out.” While eating my baguette at the standing table I made room for a Frenchman who had a coffee and scroll. He proceeded to ask me for water which I had a bottle of and I thought maybe it was to wash his hands. I gave him my water bottle which I had been drinking out of and suddenly he poured some of it into his coffee. WTF? He used it to dilute the coffee or make it cooler so that he could dip his scroll into it. “Je vous en prie” mate!
Another strange thing I found whilst walking around Paris was when I arrived at the fountain just after the mini Arc De Triomphe. I was taking photos around the fountain when I suddenly spotted some CARP in the fountain. I was quite bemused to see these pests in a fountain. Fountains usually just have water, algae or coins in them, not fish and definitely not carp! It would be highly amusing if someone started fishing in the fountain after all there are seats surrounding it.
Marseille has a splendid and grand train station with its trademark steep steps leading up to the entrance. At the top of the steps you have a great panoramic view of the city as the city sit below the train station opposing some hills and mountains. The city itself doesn’t feel unique at all as it looks a bit Roman and resembles a city in Italy.
Marseille has its own fair share of dodgy characters but as always I will always get strange looks in this continent since I’m walking around alone and I also have an Asian complexion. Nevertheless I don’t care what they say or care if they give me dirty looks. I just walk past them like anyone else would.
I think its best to avoid the area near the train station as it doesn’t feel safe at all with unemployed people sit around and wait for people to throw money into their hats. Locals like to sit around on benches or fountains and do nothing but have a yarn. Since the weather is quite sunny I don’t see why they would contemplate being indoors.
The stand out feature of the city I think is the Cathedral which is perched high and mighty above the city. It would have some fantastic views up there if you had the chance to go up there. Other things which strike my appeal are the port or marina with all the yachts and boats moored to various piers. There are also the two forts down by the marina which has some great views of the main city of Marseille and also on the other side of the city which appears to be the industrial area.
My hotel was only about 2 minutes from the train station which was nice for a change. I didn’t have to hike or get lost for an hr before finding my bed. My room itself had 2 beds and also a window that opens fully and a tiny balcony. The views are limited because the buildings adjacent are taller so there weren’t much good photo opportunity.
There was only 1 English channel on TV and that was CNN. All the other channels were French or Italian. I had remembered some shows while I was in Italy. While flicking through the channels I happened to find out that the Cannes Film Festival was on and was going to run for 12 days. After finding out about that, I went down stairs, checked the trains and then planned for a trip there tomorrow afternoon.
Before turning out the lights I remembered a funny incident at the train station this afternoon. I got off at Marseille and followed everyone out of the station. There were a few people holding up signs with names so that it helps people find each other. There was this one guy holding up a pink piece of paper and written on it was the letters “PMS”. Plenty of women were about so he could have collected them all.