Summer ends (France)

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Friday, September 10, 2004

"Savoir faire is everywhere" - a French mouse used to say that in the cartoon Klondike Kat. Despite the stereotype, French people really aren't that rude. At least that's been my experience...maybe it helps that I attempt to speak French.

My first stop in France was Bordeaux. ...hmmm, what to say about Bordeaux. It's, uhhh, like a city in France. I arrived on Sunday (Aug 29) and can't say that I found it to be too special or unique. Cathedral - every city seems to have a big cathedral, pedestrian area - every city has one of these, botanical gardens - that was a nice retreat from the urban area. There were a couple nice little "places" (plazas) with cafes. It's tram system worked well at getting me around!

I had heard about the French not cleaning up after their dogs, and immediately found this to be true. You have to keep one eye on the sidewalk at all times.
The computer keyboards are all wacky here! You have to SHIFT to do a period (.), SHIFT to do a number and several letters are swapped around. They probably just wanted to be different than the English.

There are a lot of street kids around France. Mostly teenagers or in their young 20s. They dress and look like a cross between punks and hippies (hip-punks or punkpies). Kind of feel sorry for them but at the same time they're making no effort to improve their situation. I'm not sure if France has anything in place to help them.

The next day was planned all around getting me to Toulouse by the early evening to catch a bus to Andorra (I checked all the schedules online). My first stop was in the village of Sarlat. It was a cool little village with narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings. The rail stations in France's small towns and cities don't have baggage storage, so I was stuck hauling my backpack with me all around Sarlat. I caught a bus from there to another town where I got a train to Toulouse. Once there I went to the bus station and found out there is only a bus to Andorra on Fridays and Sundays. *#!!! That screwed up my plans for the next week (I had already made reservations places). So I went to Carcassonne ahead of schedule. After a long, frustrating day I got to have even more fun locating the youth hostel there. Lonely Planet provided the excellent description of it being in the center of the city. I went to the central area and called the hostel and found out it's behind the post office. Got directions from a person to the post office and looked all around it, but no hostel. Asked someone else where the hostel is and found out it's in the "old city" across the river. So now I hike across the river and look around for a post office or hostel. Ask some people there where the post office is and they say on the other side of town.!!!! But then I ask about the youth hostel, and they say it's up in castle. I didn't know there was an actual town in there. Hike up a steep hill and finally make it to the hostel (all sweaty and gross, of course). By then it was late, so I just got some food and did a quick explore of the town. Carcassonne's old city is really cool. All within the walls of the castle and very medieval feeling. Lots of cool buildings and picture points. I wandered out by some vineyards for pics of the city. It's lit up cool at night, but unfortunately my cheap-o camera sucks and can't take night pictures.

Carcassonne

I left Carcassonne early in the morning to get a train to Avignon. France's train reservation system is rather screwy. It seems to provide you with the shortest routes possible (which probably equates to lowest cost) but offers no alternatives. And if you go to a person, they just give you the same (same computer info). They gave me a ticket to Narbonne where I'd have to wait two hours for a train to Avignon. I discovered on my own I could stay on the same train and go to Arles and catch a train from there to Avignon within a half hour of arrival. Ummm, hellllloooo France train people!?!? The joy I'm filled with knowing I'm stuck using this system for the next few weeks. Anyway, I stopped in Arles for a look around (again having to carry my bag around). Van Gogh painted several of his paintings in this town, including sunflowers. Cute little town with some nice cafe areas.
Avignon was the seat of the papacy in the 14c and is dominated by the Palais des Papes. I stopped in Avignon 11 years ago when I did a quick tour around Europe. That time I arrived late, it was raining and I had no place to stay. This time I arrived in the early afternoon, it was bright and sunny and I had a reservation. Much better circumstances. I wandered around town seeing the Palais des Papes, Pont St Benezet and the town. Found a place with cheap crepes too! I likes me chocolate/banana crepes! A bit later I went to some sunflower fields, but it was past their blooming time. I sat out by the river for a bit before getting some pizza for dinner and wandering around town. Lots of cafes where people hang out...when you're traveling solo, hanging out at a cafe by yourself isn't too exciting of a prospect.

Pont St Benezet with Palais in background

A typical weekend for me, I thought I'd chill out on the French Riviera. The weather in Nice was great...lots of sun! My first day there I went out to Cannes and checked it out. The building that hosts the film festival is actually quite ugly. The city has nice beaches though (real sand! Nice's beaches are all rocky.). The hostel I stayed at didn't have much of a common area, but I still met other people. A group of us went out to a few bars that evening.

Cannes

I chilled out on the beach on Saturday and met up with Petra's dad later that afternoon and got my good camera back (finally!) - many thanks to Marcela and Leif for getting it to me. There was a festival that evening at the port with fireworks and live music I went to go see with people from the hostel. The group got separated and a few of us bar hopped between the few places that were open late.
Sunday I went out to Monaco and looked around. The casino machines required tokens that you have to buy in large amounts, so I didn't bet nothin'. While at the train station, I met a young Russian named Olga who is studying in Nice learning French. We chatted on the train then got a drink and wandered around town. She had to get back to her host family's place for dinner though.

YHA affiliated hostels like to put their hostels in hard to reach locations. The one in Lyon was up a steep hill. It did have a good view overlooking the city though. The subway there has windows in front (no driver) so you can watch as you go through the tunnel...it's pretty cool. I was wandering around the old town not watching where I was going, so of course stepped in some dog crap. Those #*$%@ French! The old town area was kind of neat despite the dog crap.

Next stop was Dijon. It has a lot of renaissance architecture throughout the city which makes for pleasant viewing while strolling along. There were some nice looking churches and small cafe-lined streets. Otherwise not too spectacular.

I got to Paris around 11:30am on Wednesday, checked into the hostel and was off for an eleven hour exploration of the city. First stop was Pere Lachaise Cemetery to see Jim Morrison's grave. Then all the typical touristy stuff - Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty (mini), Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysees, Louvre (though didn't go in this time round) and Notre Dame. Went up to Sacre Couer and Moulin Rouge. Realized the problem with having my good camera again is that I had to go back to most these places and now get night pics. So after 11 hours out and about, I made it back to the hostel and crashed.

Arc de Triumph by night

Thursday I decided I'd go to Disneyland for an escape from reality. Funny how the happiest place on earth has so many screaming kids and bitchy parents. It was actually quite fun though. Their Indiana Jones ride is a rollercoaster (no storyline) and has a loop. Space Mountain has a loop and corkscrew, so a couple of their rides are better than regular Disneyland. They have a Skull Island area to run around on that looks cool for pics. Not quite as many rides altogether though.

Disneyland Castle

I went back into Paris by an area near Notre Dame for dinner. There are a bunch of restaurants with €10 set menus (starter, main, dessert). That's a pretty good deal in any European city, but very good in Paris.

I fly back to Seattle tomorrow for family reasons. Part I of the trip is over but the journey has just begun. Stay tuned...
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