25/7/01 - 26/7/01
I had to leave the country because you have to be out when a work visa application is submitted. Unfortunately, nobody told me that to get the best price on Eurostar you should book in advance. I turned up at Waterloo at 9am the day I was to leave and attempted to buy a ticket, thinking it would cost no more than £100. Well, £300 later I was on the train (keep in mind that you can go over for the day for £50, if you book 3 days in advance).
The train ride itself isn't too bad - it takes around 4 hours city to city (the distance is 350 miles). The tunnel itself only takes 20 minutes. In England, the train travels around as fast as most trains (100km/h?) however when you get past the tunnel it really starts moving, reaching speeds of around 200km/h. One of the things I was totally unprepared for was that when you arrived into France, the announcements were spoken first in French and then in English. This may seem like a small thing, but at that point I realised that I couldn't speak French.
So when the train pulled into the station and everybody started to get off, I didnt know where to go. I couldnt read any of the signs. I didnt even take French in school, so I didnt even know basic words. For the first time in my life, I truely didnt know what to do. I know most people in Europe can speak english, but it's not when they first try to speak to you in. Even beggars would talk to me in French. My only saving grace was that the number system and symbols were the same, so at least I could read street numbers (if not names) and prices for food, etc. Also, you must realise that I didn't arrive with a friend I could speak with (to work out a plan), or a tour group I could follow who had somebody who had been there before. And to top it all off, I didnt even have a map - so I didnt know where I was. I realise that people have been in this situation before, but you must remember that this is my very first time overseas, and it's by myself.
In the end, I worked out how to get out of the train station and found a symbol I knew - McDonalds. I was hungry so I went in and discovered 2 things: (1) Sorry Mr. Travolta, but they *don't* call it "Le Big Mac" and (2) The French make *bad* French fries. But atleast I wasn't hungry anymore. I then walked back into the train station and bought a map, intending to find a cheap hotel. In the end, instead of potentially getting myself lost I checked into a hotel across the road from the train station, for the price of 1100 Francs, £110, or AU$330.
So after being raped on the price of the travel and accomodation, I wondered what the next move was. I couldnt read the tourist information in my map, but I did recognise one - TOUR EIFFEL. "Yeah, I've always wanted to see the tour!" I thought to myself. So I spent half an hour trying to read streetsigns and refering to my map. "I think im on .. something.. Rue". Then found out that Rue probably means road - they are all called Rue. I then worked out how to use the train system - it's not too hard after you work out what line you need to be on, and your destination. But I never did work out the ticketing system - all the machines are in French. I tried to buy some sort of daypass, but they either dont exist or I missed something.
Anyway, after plenty of fumbling around I made it to the tour. And what a tour. It is tall - and quite a feat of engineering if you consider it's over 100 year old. You pay 20 francs (£2, AU$6) to climb to the second level. Did I say climb? yep. Each of the 4 legs have a staircase of *lots* of stairs. I was pretty stuffed after ascending to the first level. But they have a resturant, post office and gift shop up there. It's actually pretty impressive. The second level is stairs again, with another gift shop at the summit. The 3rd level (the very top) is by elevator and you pay another 20 francs to use it. The view isn't bad - although it's probably not worth climbing all those stairs just for the view. I guess you go there just so you can say you have.
So after the afternoon of excitement, I returned to the hotel. I considered going to a resturant, however I always hate eating by myself at resturants. So I got room service and watched the only english channel - CNN. The next morning I was woken by a guy leaning on his horn outside - and I got a few laughs at the guy boxed in (NO room) between 2 cars. But I was sick of Paris already, so I caught the next train home (10:30am I think). The things I learned on my trip were:
Ill probably return to Paris, although next time Ill take somebody with me.
Some photos from the trip (taken with the videocamera, which is why the picture quality sucks)