Brian The American (Part Three)
Trip Start Jun 01, 2002
33Trip End Oct 15, 2002
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Paris..... It's like London, but with all the ugly people removed and replaced with supermodels.
Our coach got in at about 5pm. We wondered around for a while, and stopped for a drink at some cafe. It cost €11 for two glasses of coke. The most expensive drinks in the world. Oh well.
After talking to travel agents, policemen and random passers by, we were pointed in the direction of the only camp site in Paris - the Bois De Bologne. After an hour or two trying to suss out the metro and the buses, we were kind of near where we wanted to be. Trouble was, it was already after 7. We stopped at a supermarket to buy some food. Still hadn't really grasped the concept of buying food for ourselves. We would congratulate each other on how cheaply we were getting by, and then buy bread, ham (two types), cheese (three types), and some sausages (two types). It would, of course, cost a fortune and whatever wasn't eaten that day usually had to be chucked. And the wine of course - that went without saying. We quickly learned that in France wine is broken down into two categories. There are the bottles that cost more than one Euro, which are drinkable, and those that cost less - which aren't.
We found the Bois de Bologne, which was actually a forest. And it was actually quite big. And we were on the east side, and the camp site was on the west. There were quite a few joggers around, limbering up and looking annoyingly healthy. We stopped a few and asked them about the camp site. The first few didn't know where it was. This didn't exactly make us happy. Then success - one guy knew where it was. And it was, as we thought, just on the other side of the forest. Trouble was, that was 5km away.
"Pas problem!" We declared brightly, not wanting to show ourselves up in front of all these Parisian joggers. "We'll sort that one out in half an hour!" We waited for the joggers to go before we started swearing.
We trudged into the forest, and it was already starting to get dark. Using the compass to guide us west, assuming that this would do. But we knew that in all actuality we wouldn't get there before it was pitch black. So, we resigned ourselves to sleeping rough, and after an hour of walking we started to look for the perfect location. We climbed a fence and camped down under some trees. It was all rather well done. We even went so far as to get out the camping stove and have a cooked dinner. Lord Of The Rings started earning it's keep, as it was used as a base for the stove to prevent a forest fire. Due to the amount of bugs around we tried to sleep with our sleeping bags tied up tight, covering our faces, but it was too hot - I woke up a few hours later sprawled across the forest floor and itching like hell.
On balance though, it was a good night's sleep, and who else could say there first night's accommodation in Paris was free? It was only a few weeks later that we found out that the area we were sleeping in was actually notorious for being the meeting point for Paris's hookers, pushers, rent-boys and junkies. Oh well.
We found the camp site the next morning and set up the tent. We had our first taste of camp sites without grass. The Lord Of The Rings was again invaluable, this time as a hammer for the pegs. I was starting to be really glad that I brought it - although I hadn't actually started reading it yet. We didn't bother going into Paris town that day, as we had earned a rest with all our walking and roughing it. Instead, we acquired some alcohol and sat outside the tent in the evening drinking.
It was at this point that we met Brian The American. He turned up at around midnight, and by this time we were pissed enough to force him to come and join us. He was from San Francisco, travelling Europe on a motorcycle. He had one of those little goatee beards, that kind of looks like he's got a Shredded Wheat stuck to his chin and everyone's too polite to tell him. Brian The American was the first proper traveller we met, and we fell into what would be a pattern over the weeks. Exchange stories and anecdotes, give advice and warnings, and then take the piss out of George Bush. Karim didn't really like me taking the piss out of our new friend's president, but I always justify it by slating Tony Blair as well. Fair's fair.
The next day we thought we'd get all the sight-seeing out of the way. Our experience in Amsterdam had given us a strange confidence about finding our way around. In Amsterdam, we wondered around so much that we knew our way around the entire city, and (for some reason) would always end up back at the red light district. So, we figured we'd just repeat this in Paris. To this end, we caught a metro as far to the west as we could, and then started walking back east, thinking we'd take in the major sights en route back to the camp site.
We didn't take into account, of course, that Paris is several times bigger than Amsterdam. And it all looks the same. And we had no map, and no sense of direction between us. What we did have, was a compass. But we didn't actually use it. This is why we spent the first hour walking in the wrong direction, and the second hour walking back.
Then we tried to find Notre-Dame, but couldn't. We knew it was around somewhere, and there were even signs, but something went wrong in the actual finding. At about two in the afternoon, after wondering around for four hours and seeing nothing of interest, we decided sod it - we were going for the big time.
We got on the metro, and got off at the Eiffel Tower station. Walking up out of the subway, we expected to be under the legs of the beast. But, as was starting to be a theme, we couldn't actually see the thing. It wasn't anywhere. Bloody rude if you ask me, but such is life. We wondered around for a while, trying very hard not to look like we were looking for the Eiffel Tower, which in itself is quite tricky. We found some other people looking for it as well so we divided our efforts. Eventually, we tracked the thing down - it was hiding behind a building.
"Don't think much of the colour", I said. It was brown. What on earth could have possessed the French to paint their tower brown? Was it on sale at B&Q? I'd heard that for the millennium they'd painted it gold. That would have been all right, but brown?
Anyway, we felt now that our five hours of sight seeing hadn't been completely wasted. We climbed the stairs to the top (only babies take the lift, and besides, it cost more) and the view was something special. Much better than the view from the bottom. And we realised, as we looked at built up city in every direction, how ambitious our earlier idea of walking across Paris had been. At the top you can stick your head through the railings and look straight down. You're so high up that even the legs of the tower itself look tiny. I recommend that to everyone.
We met up with Brian the American that night and had a few beers. It seemed to us that Brian The American just didn't get the whole travelling thing. He was one of these people that goes to a new city with a list of things he 'has' to see. He starts early in the morning, after spending the night before planning the best route ("I found out that Le Louvre is cheaper after 3pm, so by visiting Jim Morison's grave first thing I was able to..."). I wondered what went through his mind when he got to these places. I imagined it was a kind of "OK, well.... one less thing". I was already finding that ignorance and chance were the only guide anyone really needed.
At, or around this time, Karim and I decided it would be a good idea to go to La Rochelle. The reason behind this was a simple one: when we were at school learning French, everyone in the text books always came from La Rochelle, always worked in the Biblioteque or the Patisserie, and were always called Monsieur Dupont. We wanted to find him.
Then, as an extension of this, we thought it would be a good idea to walk from La Rochelle to Bordeaux. Now, I am not sure exactly why we thought this was a good idea, but it started as a suggestion and then got more serious when Brian The American said "you'll never do that". Bloody Americans. Besides, it was only 180KM, and our bags only weighed 50lbs, and we were, on balance, completely unfit. What more could we need?
We stayed four nights at the campsite, and due to some rather complicated verbal gymnastics by myself, we only paid for two nights. That was five nights in total, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, for about €22 between us. Works out about £1.50 each per night. We were getting good at this travelling lark....