Summary: Second date with Patrick in Europe: Paris, London, Amsterdam, Marseille, Barcelona, Collioure, Aix en Provence.
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Michael O'Brien dropped me off at the airport today. I'm going to Europe for the first time! I'd gotten my passport, gone to Rick Steves seminars, bought my money belt and backpack/suitcase, and bought lots of guide books I didn't have time to read. I left Seattle at 10:28 AM on Boeing 757 via United. Arrived in Chicago for a 75-minute layover, then switched to a Boeing 777 and arrived in Paris at 8:35 AM on May 2. The planes were great—each seat had an LCD monitor showing the flight position on a map, the outside temperature, origin and destination local times, airspeed, and altitude. 9 channels of video, 21 channels of audio. The map also showed multiple views from the pilot's point of view. Cool! Exchange rates at this time were: 1 British Pound = US$1.53. 1 Dutch Guilder = US$0.43. 1 French franc = US$0.15. 100 Spanish pesetas = US$0.57. (The euro was not yet in place by a year or two.)
I took the Roissybus to the center of Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport, about US$8. (Next time, I'd take the RER instead, to avoid traffic.) Checked in to a single at Hotel Saint-Honore (85 rue St. Honore, 1er, 011 33 1 42 36 20 38, 290 French francs per night, 3 nights = 870 Ff = US$130.50). Chatted with 2 young guys I met outside of The Spot, a little deli down the street from my hotel. Their names were Scot and Roman. We didn't chat long. One of them was learning English and although I talked to them in French (successfully, I think), he insisted on trying out his English on me. He was not terribly fluent, but it was very charming. After a few minutes of chat, they said they had to go. I wanted to follow them wherever they went. "I could help you with your English," I wanted to say, but couldn't get it out. They were beautiful, and I admit I was still entranced by them both for at least several hours after they departed. Paris is foggy with cold breezes and heavy mist. I took photos of Jardin des Fleurs, Jardin du Palais Royal, the entrance to the Louvre. Took a nap. Fashion: I noticed that everyone is wearing very unfinished blue jeans. I sat next to a guy at dinner at Le Coffee Shop de Open Cafe. He was wearing a safety orange heavy cloth oxford. Black is very common. I also saw 2 pretty, young boys who shared a bar stool, arms around each other's shoulders, each with a pack of cigarettes in the other hand, like a French version of a Norman Rockwell portrait.
My notes from today say "4th and 5th" but since I didn't type these journal notes until March 2003 (lazy boy, me) I think this meant I explored the 4th and 5th arrondisements. I visited le Musee d'Orsay, la Place de la Concorde. The Orsay was packed and literally breathtaking. Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir. Renoir's portrait of Monet. Took a nap. Holga photos taken this afternoon were with Ilford HPS+ 400.
Visited Pere Lachaise and Grande Arche de la Defense. Pere Lachaise is a graveyard a short trip out from the center of town. I saw creepy things like tombs with the door partly open and grave covers next to earth which had given way and you could sort of see a hole in the ground below. A number of graves had obviously-too-bright flowers, and I wondered if the dead thought plastic flowers were okay. The grave of Victor Noir (27 July 1848 to 10 January 1870): who was he? how did he die? More creepy stuff: a grave next to a tree whose roots made it seem as though the deceased were trying to get out. There is some kind of grade school below and beyond the southeast wall. i never realized how much kids at play sounds exactly like kids being tortured. I also saw a cat in the cemetary trying to catch pigeons, ironic, I thought, that the balance between life and death exists even here in this resting place. I boarded a Metro train today and heard accordian music playing old French tunes. I thought it was piped in for the tourists, but was surprised when I turned around and it was a live musician. It was charming because the music was good, but annoying that Paris permits them to aggressively beg for money when you're just trying to get from point A to point B. The more I rode the Metro, the more musicians I saw. Another time it was 2 musicians, one playing guitar, the other on the flute. The Grande Arche de la Defense is a building that resembles a giant Borg cube that has been exquisitely hollowed out and painted with glass. The view from the top was terrible due to the fog. I had lunch at Le Ferney, which was the closest authentic French dining I could find in this touristy area. Luckily, the waiter I got knew both French and English. I got the menu prix fixe for 89 francs: a nicoise salad and a brouchette of beef. The salad was like garden vegetable spaghetti sauce on some mixed greens. The brouchette was a little too rare for me, in other words perfectly cooked. It came with grilled potatoes, a little too salty. A kir au sauvignon topped off the meal. Holga photos taken this afternoon were with Ilford X82 Super 400 C41. In the afternoon, I took a walking tour of the historic Marais with Paris Walking Tours (60 francs). The tour was given by Oriel Caine, and I highly recommend taking a tour with her. She took our tour group all through the Marais, explaining history that fascinated me as I listened but subsequently forgot. From my notes, she showed us a tower that was built in 1200 which was part of the old city wall, part of the city pawnbroker's building so there are many valuable objects (something - my notes are incomplete). Chez Ma Tante. Credi-municipale. Hotel Saubise: Soubise family, 14th century, home of the Geeze family (murderers), then the Soubise. Musee Picasso aka L'Hotel Sellé. L'Orangerie means "the greenhouse." Hotel Carnavale: 16th century. Our tour ended in Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. The trees were all green and were trimmed in perfect box shapes. Very charming. Lots of people about enjoying the warm weather.
At 12:19 PM, I took the Eurostar train to Waterloo station in London. The trip takes about 2 hours. From Waterloo, I took the Tube to King's Cross, checked in to Ashlee House, a very inexpensive hostel (cash only, 261-265 Gray's Inn Rd, 44 171 8339400, £15 x 3 nights = £45 = US$71.10). Ashlee House isn't bad if you don't mind that your bathroom is down the hall and your sleeping quarters resemble military barracks. Smoking isn't allowed in the living quarters, so people smoke just outside the door and when people come and go the wind from outside blows the smoke inward everywhere—not a very effective non-smoking policy. Had lunch at Wagamama. This noodle house was packed—a long line out the door to get in. People sit farm-style at crowded picnic tables to eat Asian noodle soups. Servers take your order with handheld electronic devices that wirelessly transmit the orders to the chefs in the kitchen. Eating here felt very weird to me because there were probably several hundred people in the room, but I was one of perhaps 5 or 10 Asians. I couldn't understand why this place was so popular. Explored Soho. Stopped at Old Compton Cafe, a popular gay spot that's open 24 hours a day.
Did the Shakespeare's London walking tour with London Walks. The tour was awful except that it included a boat trip up and down the Thames. The woman who gave it was terrible at explaining history and quite simply wasn't very eloquent. The tour was so bad that many people (including me) ditched her before it ended. I would not trust London Walks again. Had lunch with a guy I met online at a restaurant and bar called Match. Saw the Esoterics in a 40-minute free concert at the Holy Trinity Church in Sloane Square. Spent the afternoon at a sauna called Chariots (Tube: Liverpool).
Found an Internet cafe called Easy Everything: 2300 computers open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in 5 stores throughout London. Went back to Chariots again today.
Returned to Paris via Eurostar, returned to the Saint Honore, this time a single for 1 night (290 francs), then a double for 2 nights (760 francs). Today I did laundry. Dinner at Benjamin. Here are some notes I have about Paris but I don't recall which day I made them: There's a great little restaurant at 4 Rue de Mauvais Garcons ("bad boys street"!) in the Marais you go up a short flight of steps and the door enters right into the dining room with a curtain of some sort covering the entrance. At dinner, candles provide dramatic lighting to the unpolished but charming décor. The whole restaurant is really not much bigger than a suburban American living room. Everyone sits really close together, and there's a house bull dog that runs free in the dining room. (Yes, I guess the health laws are different in Paris.) Run by just a couple of guys—friendly, accommodating. If you order a steak, remember that "bleu" in French means "very rare"—not "blue cheese." If you don't have wine with your meal, they will know you are a tourist. Dinner: duck with orange sauce, pepper steak, creme brulee with honey, chocolate fondant cake, salmon ravioli, salad with hot goat cheese. To drink: mineral water, a house Bouguiel from 1999, cafe au lait. Also somewhere in that area is a clothes shop where I bought a pair of French army pants. They're better than American army pants because American army pants have pockets which cover (and hide) the ass. Not the French—they know the beauty of a French soldier's ass, so they don't put pockets down there! The guy behind the counter could very well have been a porn star—another reason to go shopping. Hopefully you'll see some real French soldiers while you're there. They're quite tasty!
Got a hair cut, ran errands. Patrick arrives at the Saint Honore. L'Amazonial. Meal at Buddha Bar (8 rue Boissy d'Anglas - 75008, 01 53 05 90 00 - Metro: Concorde): spring rolls, assorted dumplings, peking duck, potato-wrapped salmon, brouilly, san pellegrino, orange juice. No coffee or dessert because service was horrible.
All I have for my notes today is: Champs-Élysées, train station, L'Arc de Triomphe.
Patrick and I took an 11:55 AM train 2nd class from Paris Gare du Nord via Thalys 9329 (Comfort 1) and arrived in Amsterdam Central Station at 4:08 PM. We checked in to Hotel de Munck (cash only, 195 Hft x 4 nights = 780 Hft = US$335.40, includes breakfast and tax). We had dinner at Five Flies (Restaurant d'Vijff Vlieghen), a restaurant that we happened upon by wandering and which turned out to be one of the best places we had eaten on our trip. Not only was the food excellent, but the dining rooms are set in 17th-century buildings. Ours resembled a wine cellar.
Patrick and I rode the Museumboot, a motorboat which toured the canals of Amsterdam letting you see the streets, architecture, and waterways all at the same time. A guide described the highlights in English with a witty and sarcastic humor. Afterwards we visited the Blue Boy Club (but nothing was happening at the time) as well as Global Village, where we met and chatted with a bicyclist. We found a cybercafe and checked e-mail.
back from europe. dinner with mikeob and tina at new american broadway grill.