Monday, 29 June 2015

France – not a single f#*k shall be given

Not a single f#*k shall be given. At least that’s what we’re told to expect. Particularly when you don’t speak French. It turns out to be far from the truth but it certainly starts that way – going through border control in London the Frenchman barely acknowledges our existence, grunts a little, and sends us on our way. A mere two hours by train and we’re there. London to Paris. Boom. It’s a bit odd when you’ve been living in Western Australia where two hours travel, even flying, will barely get you out of the state, let alone to another country!

Paris hotels are really expensive so Em and I are staying in a little apartment we rented via AirBnB - a basic apartment with a little bit of noise at times but it’s all we need. It’s in St Germain, the 6th Arrondissement (suburb) of Paris It’s an amazing area to stay in – within walking distance to most of the main attractions, it’s very safe, and tourists are relatively scarce (personally I hate staying somewhere crawling with tourists). If you’re heading there you could also try this one that my mate Fi stayed in

There’s also a bike hire station right next to us. It’s a brilliant system as there are thousands of bikes available for rent around Paris and the docking stations are regularly spaced.

Emily rocking the Velib bike

“Selfie, selfie”. The ubiquitous marketing catch-phrase; visit any of the main attractions in Paris and you’ll have to evade the hordes of hawkers selling tacky mini-Eiffel tower keyrings and selfie sticks. It’s hilarious as they all sell exactly the same shit and all have the same marketing catch-phrase. If I had a Euro for every time I hear the words “Selfie, Selfie” over the next week I’d probably pay for the entire honeymoon.  

The Louvre Museum. Mind-bogglingly massive. With over 35,000 pieces of artwork, if you were to catch just a glimpse of each one it would take you over six months! And busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad – over 15,000 visitors per day. Naturally, you need to have a bit of a game plan – we choose to visit old mate Mona Lisa and tick that box. The room where the painting is kept is a madhouse with hundreds of people pushing and shoving to catch a glimpse of her. We also check out some Egyptian tombs, mummies etc. The mummies in particular are pretty awesome – the one we see is in a glass cabinet but you can get right up close. It’s a strange feeling to be looking at a body that’s a couple of thousand years old. 
Don’t be like us and plan to visit it for a second time on a Tuesday - The Louvre just happens to be closed every Tuesday. Eejits!

The Eiffel tower. Built for the 1889 World Fair, the original plan was to demolish it after a short period (way too much cash to burn). Fortunately it brought in so much money that they kept it and tourists like us still get to visit it today. It's much bigger than we expected. Emily and I buy a few things from a local food market nearby and have a picnic on the grassy area in front. Heaps of tourists do this – there’s plenty of space and it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. Just don’t be fooled by the guys wandering around trying to sell the fake champagne! 

Unless you’re physically unable to, I’d recommend taking the stairs (as opposed to the lift) to the first and second levels of the Eiffel tower - it’s only about twenty minutes of walking, it’s cheaper and the queue for the stairs is much shorter. It amuses me that able people would rather wait in line for three hours just to avoid twenty minutes of exercise! Once you get to the top of the stairs you have the option to catch the lift to get up to the top (more queues!) – we decide to do this but the view is not any better so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t be bothered with this. 



Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. Construction began way back in the 12th Century AD. The queue to get up the tower is about three hours so we flag it - get there early to beat the crowds if you want to do this! 


L’Entrecote. We meet up with Isa (who I’d met on the Salkantay trek in Peru a couple of years earlier) and her mate Sophie one evening for a few drinks and some dinner. We head to an amazing steak restaurant called L’Entrecote. There’s a fixed menu; just steak and French fries. They don’t take bookings and there’s usually a big line outside unless you rock up early (note – early in France is around 7pm which is when most restaurants start serving). It sounds a bit boring but it’s done very well and is great value. 

Moulin Rouge. Boobs. So many boobs! Coupled with some pretty awesome dancing skills. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed so you don’t get any photos =(

Laduree. This café/patisserie is the definition of decadence. Kind of like the sweet tooth version of an English high tea. Definitely come here if you’re in Paris. The one in St Germain is much quieter than the one near Champs-Elysees (expect to queue if you head to the latter). 

 Lucky we walked a lot in Paris...

Military museum. Worth a look if you're into it. The collection of old swords and armour is pretty amazing.

Military museum entrance

Napolean's tomb at the military museum

Le Procope. One of the oldest restaurants in Paris (founded in 1686!) that we chanced onto one night when walking through a little cobblestone alleyway. We went for a couple of adventurous options - I had the braised calf head and Emily had snails - both were actually really good! Napoleon left his hat here once to pay for a meal – still proudly on display at the restaurant.

Snails - actually pretty damn good. Once you get over the fact that you're eating snails..

Le Meurice. Date night with my beautiful wife. Pretty extravagent. 

Coffee in France. Pretty shit in general. There’s an app/website called Beanhunter to help you find a decent caffeine hit. It works all around the world by the way - great tool for my fellow caffeine addicts.
There was one little gem we found - Dose cafe. Amazing coffee with free wifi

Arc de Triomphe. Don’t be like us and be tempted to cross the road on the mental five lane roundabout to get to it – there’s a walkway underneath (which we found after reasoning that there’d be a lot more squashed tourists if that was the only way across). Anzacs should keep an eye out for photo of the Otago Regiment uniform in the Unknown Soldier photo exhibition within the building (pretty cool for me too as my dad and grandad are from Otago). 

Otago Regiment uniform

Our next stop is a cool little town called Beaune, in the Burgundy region. It sounds a little like ‘bone’ - but try as many subtle variations as you like, you will still get the pronunciation wrong and no one from France will know where the hell you’re talking about anyway. 

Wine country!

We arrive by train on a Tuesday morning, when there happens to be a Farmers Market in the town square – we load up on fresh bread, fruit, cheeses and ridiculously amazing éclairs and head to the nearest park to pig out. 

Our hotel, Najeti Hôtel de la Poste, is a nice place to stay with great customer service. Highly recommend it. There’s a cool little wine bar just up the road (Café du Square) that’s well worth checking out. We head there in the evening then to an AMAZING pork restaurant called Le Goret. They say never trust a skinny chef, well if the inverse is true then I think we’re in safe hands. There’s a massive language barrier as the staff don’t speak a word of English but they’re super friendly and with a bit of sign language we get by. Pretty sure we eat our body weight in pork before we roll out of there – the portion sizes are HUGE!! The chef brings out some gnarly alcohol/rocket fuel aperitif that's only brewed in Beaune and he seems pretty amused watching me try and stomach it without wincing or spontaneously combusting.

Ridiculously massive pork feast at Le Goret. Meat sweats.

The chef at Le Goret - what a legend!!! 

Lyon, the ‘gastronomical capital of France’ is next on the agenda. 

It’s a pretty little student town with a couple of rivers flowing around it. If you’re into good food then it’s well worth a visit. We love the chilled out vibe of this place, the good prices, and lack of tourists. Not a single selfie stick seller in sight! We’d definitely recommend staying in the same cool little self-contained apartment as we did La Morille restaurant is worth checking out if you’re here too -

 Scallops for entree at La Morille - amazing

Lyon at night

Biarritz. Like Cottesloe in Perth on ‘roids. But less pretentious with fewer rules. I really like this about the French – they seem to have the balance between rules and self-regulation pretty right. For example, there are beachside bars where you can just come in from a surf and grab a beer. No ID checks, no bouncers, no one sending you away because you’re in bare feet. Nobody telling you off because you’ve stepped half a metre outside the premises and you’ll kickstart the zombie apocalypse if you don’t step back in immediately. At night the bars spill out onto the streets – people just step aside if a car comes through. And, shock, horror, they even serve your beer in real glass! If you hurt yourself because of your own choices, then it’s just tough titties.

I buy a board here and finally get my surfing fix - a couple of days of fun 2-3 foot surf. Lots of power for the size. When it's 6ft+ I imagine that boards would be snapped left, right and centre!

Typical Biarritz beach - I had a heap of fun on the punchy little 2ft beachies 

We meet up with one of Emily’s family friends, Karen, who now lives in Biarritz.  She’s stoked to show us around. It’s only a 30 minute drive to San Sebastian in Spain from Biarritz, so we head down there one evening for a few drinks and some tapas – it’s quite surreal that in thirty minutes you’re immersed in a completely different culture.

Bayonne (a ten minute drive from Biarritz)

We’re on the night train. Bayonne to Paris. I amuse myself (and annoy the shit out of Emily) with my repeated karaoke version of Guns ‘n Roses Night Train. It’s a great way to travel – they have full beds so you sleep while you move and save a night’s accommodation. You can go for first class (four beds to a room) or second class (smaller beds and six to a room). Em and I manage to get a room to ourselves – winning. We’ve got the arvo in Paris before the flight to Italy.


Bonus Pictures that don't really fit into the story but I figure are worthy additions...

Get it? Sugar Daddy. Heh heh

What a cool idea - free USB chargers attached to exercise bikes

Amazing permaculture building near the Eiffel Tower

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