Paris, France (Part One)
The drive to Paris was not nearly as interesting as the last few days, and there was nowhere noteworthy to stop along the way. Of course there was a stop at Maccas to check out caravan parks in Paris. We discovered that three were open in February, so we chose the cheapest one and headed for it. Our GPS failed us again (it didn't even recognise the town the caravan park was located) so we sort of had to guess from a crude map on Danny's phone. We eventually found it with only a handful of wrong turns.
The man running the caravan park couldn't really speak English but we could decipher from his facial expressions he was blown away that we hadn't booked. It turned out they were quite busy and we were lucky to secure a spot in a muddy patch. We set up the van and for the first time we could say hello to electricity! Finally! The interior was so bright when the lights were on, and the hot water was a nice surprise. Plus I could use the computer, charge my camera and phone, and I would have watched TV if it had worked. Who knows why it didn't. It was like five star living - it's amazing how the small things can make so much of a difference.
About half an hour before arriving at the caravan park the brakes on Prince Albert started failing on us. They still worked a bit but Danny basically had to use the handbrake most of the way. As soon as we had claimed our campsite we went in search of a repair centre, finding one at the end of the street. The mechanic (who didn't speak any English) found the problem straight away: a loose belt that needed to be replaced (as told to us via a helpful translator). The mechanic thought he could have the part tomorrow. He didn't want us to drive it but as this was our bed for the night (which he found highly amusing), we drove it away and promised we would bring it back in the morning.
As soon as we were back in the caravan park the first thing I did was have a shower in the communal shower block, my first in 4½ days. We were both pretty dirty and gross, and I felt sorry for everyone we had come in contact with recently. It was the best shower I have ever had. Danny thought he would wait for the hot water to be ready in our van, then changed his mind and used the public shower too.
We came across a small, local supermarket where we bought veggies, pasta and sauce and had our first proper home-cooked meal in the van. I pulled on my lazy pants and chilled out while Danny slaved away in the kitchen (the advantages of having a chef on board). Luckily for me, he was happy to be cooking, almost like he was having withdrawals. Dinner was delicious and it was great to eat a decent serving of vegetables. For dessert we had warm baguette with Camembert, which was absolutely incredible. We also drank the Burgundy we bought a couple of days ago, while listening to music playing on the computer. Now it was starting to feel like home. I could get used to living like this.
Our first official day of sight-seeing in Paris! We managed to find the train station and buy tickets easily enough, but then our train stopped two stations short of our destination. After five minutes an announcement came over (in French) and everyone suddenly departed the train. Not knowing what was going on we followed everyone else and suddenly found ourselves on the street outside the station. Once we were out we couldn't re-enter without buying another ticket. We decided we could walk to our first stop on today's itinerary, but after studying the map we realised the station we wanted was over 5 km away. We changed our plans.
First stop was Cathedral Notre-Dame (yet another one). This one was probably the biggest and the best. There was the option of going up a tower inside the church to see a view over the city but the queue went on forever so we skipped over that. Instead we marvelled at the beautiful structures inside the church, along with a thousand or so other tourists. Afterwards we did a quick walk around a little island in the middle of the Seine, before deciding to go our own ways because we wanted to explore different areas. Unbeknownst to us until later, we both ended up wandering around the Latin Quarter but in different directions. Danny stopped for coffee and beer. I went off to see everything.
There was a lot of church sight-seeing. I walked through the free ones and took photos outside the non-free ones. They all blended into each other after a while. Then it was onto the Palais and Jardin du Luxembourg, which were beautiful and took up most of my morning. The Sorbonne (the Paris university) was also impressive. I caught a glimpse of the top of the Eiffel tower on my travels, which peaked my excitement a little. Really it was all about the architecture, which resembled nothing that I was used to seeing in Australia. I think I spent most of the morning with my jaw-hanging open and my camera continuously on, fully fitting the part of stereotypical tourist.
I managed a little French eating on my tight budget. In the St Germain market I happily devoured a huge, freshly made croissant (telling myself that all the walking burned off the calories). For lunch a grabbed a gigantic baguette from a street vendor, which was cheap and filling, ticking two boxes. I think my diet will consist solely of carbs while I'm in this country.
After I passed another university, a lovely garden and fountain and paid 40 cents to use the toilet (paying for toilets??), Danny and I met up again to visit the Catacombs. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The tour started by walking through an underground tunnel, where there were a few remarkable structures sculpted out of the rock. It wasn't long after this that we hit the bones. In the 18th-19th centuries, Paris closed down their graveyard due to health reasons and started storing bodies in disused quarries. Someone decided to arrange them in a decorative way, and allowing us to walk past six million skeletons in 800 metres, stacked floor to roof. It was, well, interesting, if not downright creepy.
We picked up our van from the mechanic, expecting to pay through the roof but it only came to €50, which was fantastic. They also fixed the power steering, which wasn't working before now. Danny was one happy man. I'm sure I would be happy too, once I learned how to drive it.
On our second sightseeing day we hit the Lourve. And that's about it. It took pretty much the whole day.
The Lourve is HUGE!! I spent half my time trying to figure out where I was and where I wanted to go. Somehow I managed to get around it all, although I think I sprinted through sections. Some parts were okay, and other parts I wish I had skipped, but the highlight for me was the building itself. It was indescribably beautiful. I don't think I would ever return but if I did, I would probably purchase an audioguide as most of the signs were in French and I had no idea what I was looking at.
Six exhausting hours later we left the Lourve to wander around the sights outside. This included the Jardin des Tuileries (basically a fountain, some statues and some trees), Place de la Concorde (tall structure and non-working fountain), ferris wheel (we didn't go on it), Eglise de la Madaleine (church, which was in service and involved a male choir singing hymns on stage) and Palais Royal gardens (another fountain/garden combination). That pretty much wiped us out.
We found a cute little French restaurant to have dinner, as Danny was keen to try traditional French dishes. He ordered a beef dish with foie gras (I know, I know, it's disgusting, I berated him a lot), while I chose duck. I knew the French were big on carbohydrates but I had no idea they cooked everything in as much fat as they could get their hands on. I actually think my duck leg was deep fried, plus half of my plate was covered with thick slices of deep fried potato. And this is where Danny gets his cooking inspiration from...