Sunday, 31 August 2014

There and Back Again: An Unexpected Italian Journey

No, this isn’t some kind of weird mash-up between The Italian Job and the Hobbit. It is in fact a rather detailed account of my trip to Venice using the overnight train from Gare de Lyon with my forever faithful travelling companion, my darling sister – Pip. Now this sounds like a very good idea in theory, I will grant us that. We got extra time in Venice by sleeping on the train so we saved money on our “hostel” – definite bonus. The piece of the puzzle that we hadn’t banked on was other people. These other people were more specifically tourists. That group of people who seem to always be in the way when you don’t want them to be and who always scupper your plans for a nice relaxing break. Now obviously someone reading will be saying to themselves (either out loud or internally it depends on how vexed they are) “But Kate, surely you count as a tourist?!” Dear reader, you are sorely mistaken. Of course I’m not a tourist, I’m a Parisian (I can technically say this now after living here exactly a year!!!) We barge past as many tourists as we can; it’s like the city’s sport.
Anyway back to the story. So we were meant to be in a six bed sleeper compartment at the very end of the train.  We ended up being in a different compartment because being the kind citizens of the world that we are we swapped with someone in another compartment so that he could be with his family. I did have one thought that this could all go a bit Agatha Christie and one of us could get murdered in our sleep instead of this guy who was a secret Mafia boss – or at least he was in my head…..
Our new compartment consisted of us two, a Brazilian couple and an Italian couple. There was me thinking that I was going to be able to dazzle my fellow Parisians with my wonderful French. Sadly this pleasure was only for the train worker who took our passports for when we crossed over in Switzerland. The compartment itself was comfortable enough. There we two top bunks that were permanently there and the back rests for the seats folded down to make the bottom and middle bunks. Whoever got the bottom bunks were in for an interesting night as they also came with the headrests of the seats. One of these lucky people was me. It wasn’t the worst night’s sleep I have had but it certainly wasn’t the best. But I must concede that the benefit of being on the bottom was that I could look out of the window each time we stopped and have a good nosy at the different train stations we stopped at. My favourites were Lausanne in Switzerland and Milan in Italy, the worst being Venezia Saint Lucia our final destination. Maybe this last choice is out of anger from my latter experiences there but we will return there later, I must keep chronological!
Arriving in Venice our first thoughts were that is was beautiful and as people had told us before, just like the pictures. Indeed my pictures must look much like those that were taken by every other tourist there, save for a few very interesting selfies. The next step after actually arriving there was to find the hostel we had booked. The website said that it was in the centre of town and that if we got lost then we were to go to the only McDonalds in Venice and to ring them and someone would come and fetch us. We decided that it was probably best to go to Maccy Ds and to wait as we’d already got surprisingly lost in the 20 minutes that we had been there thanks to the myriad of dark little alleyways that are the main highways of Venice. So we were met around 10 minutes after I had called the hostel by an Italian woman and her 5 year-old son who was wearing matching green sandals and green glasses. No names were exchanged but she asked if we were the girls for the Rialto Star hostel. We said we were and that was that. She took us down “roads” that we would never have found by ourselves until we got to the building which contained our “apartment”, a room with two single beds with a door onto a kitchen and a bathroom down the corridor. Apparently there were two other people there but we never saw them!
We were then left to our own devices. So after tracking down vast quantities of pizza, pasta, spritz and a slack handful of museums whilst dodging all of the tourists with a sprinkling of ice cream for good measure we were Paris bound again. This time we thought that we were going to have a compartment to ourselves but alas we were joined 3 or 4 hours into our journey by an Italian girl who had the most luggage I have ever seen one person carrying!! This was fine until we were joined by three Korean lads at Milan who also had three enormous suitcases and rucksacks. We both managed to avoid the game of Tetris that was arranging our fellow travellers’ luggage by pretending to be asleep. A wise tactic I think you may agree!   

It was overall an enjoyable trip. Well any trip involving an overload of carbs and frozen dairy goods can’t be all that bad can it? But it’s good to be back in Paris where I can actually understand what people are saying and having a moody stare is obligatory. What I’m most looking forward to now after a short spell back at home is definitely getting back to uni (well Freshers Week) and fingers crossed finding a new job!

Monday, 11 August 2014

August in Paris

It is a truth universally known that Paris in constantly full of tourists. But this is so much more the case in August when all of the Parisians very sensibly decamp to their summer homes in the South. I have been reliably informed that this month is the best time to pick up a man who works in the city because all their wives have taken themselves down to the coast. Somehow my mind is more set on moving flats than become some sleazy guy’s mistress!
It’s strange though. The mood of the city has completely changed. Instead of being buffeted by clouds of endless cigarette smoke it is American tourists getting really excited at “authentic French food” in Monoprix. It makes going round and doing all the super touristy things that I secretly quite enjoy doing a lot easier as I don’t feel like I’m being judged by all of the super cool Parisians especially when we end up in the zoo despite our intention of going to the Natural History Museum in Jardin des Plantes….
Admittedly despite my usual hatred of tourists (they’re slow at walking and get in my way when I have too many bags of shopping) I’m quite liking them at the moment. Mostly due to the fact that all the usual places I go to are an awful lot quieter – take the supermarket for example there was hardly a soul around so I felt less judged taking my basket of pretty much completely Monoprix own-brand goods to the till.

So despite my initial apprehension when I arrived back here on Thursday night, I’m back enjoying myself again. Looking for the positives in everything. Even moving all of my things down my seven flights of stairs – free exercise right?!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Mon Retour

I’M BACK! After a whole month of being back on my native shores I am finally back in the land of frogs’ legs, cheese eating surrender monkeys and croissants. Naturally I have been welcomed back by no internet in my flat. How very kind and thoughtful of them! So I have reinstalled myself in Starbucks in much the same fashion as I did when I first moved out here except with larger coffees and more pastries.
So I got back last night after having had to sit next to the most annoying romantic break couple in the history of the universe. Luckily I bought myself some AMAZING headphones which blocked out their canoodaling (thank goodness for the wonders of TKMaxx and not having to pay full price) and my books of choice was Thank You Jeeves so at no point did I feel like I was plummeting into the depths of despair.
Instead of getting the RER back into town I decided on the bus as it has a much better aroma than the train plus you get to look out at much more interesting scenery. Indeed one scenic benefit of getting the bus as opposed to the train is that the graffiti is much better. The stuff you see from the train is very average I comparison to the surprisingly good Simpsons characters I saw last night as the bus wound through the Parisian suburbs. This was all helped along by a good soundtrack of superb Diana Ross classics such as Upside Down – in truth I must have looked truly bizarre bopping around in a disco fashion.

Backtracking a little bit here but I really do have to tell you about the taxi driver I had to the airport from lunch. Now I don’t have a good track record when talking to taxi drivers, in fact recently one tried to tell me that I didn’t sound like I came from the Wirral even though I’ve lived there all of my life….. But this one was alright after the usual chat inquiring as to where I was travelling etc and him asking me all sorts of questions about living in France namely what the weather was like and if I’m fluent in French. We also touched on the subject of how awful we both are at German. When we arrived at the wondrous John Lennon Airport (some people don’t believe me when I say that Liverpool named its airport after a Beatle but trust me it’s true) he commented on how delightful it was to talk to me – I may not be cursed with annoying taxi drivers after all!