14 Agustus 2014

Surprising and Romantic Paris

It is going to be a long post, I try to write every details I see, feel, and listen. Please bear with me. 

From Vienna, I took a night train to München. The train arrived at midnight, so I was waiting in Wien Meidling Hauptbahnhof for quite a while. As I told you before, the wait was not too long because I met someone who lives in Worcester, Massachusetts, a town 2.5 hour away by train from Boston.

Wien Meidling Hauptbahnhof

When I hopped on to the Hungarian train, I was surprised by how empty the train was because I was supposed to share a ‘room’ with 2 other women, but I got the whole ‘room’ for myself. I reserved a sleeper for the night, which means, I got a simple bed, including pillow and blanket, in a ‘room’ with washbasin, and even hangers! I thought I would finally be able to sleep peacefully, but it was a train that kept moving and shaking after all. I only got few hours of sleep that night, but at least, I finally tried the night train.

Around 3 AM, I woke up because the train stopped. I opened the window’s blind and peeked outside; it was in Salzburg: the hometown of Mozart. Too bad, I could only see the sign of ‘Salzburg Hauptbahnhof’. Hopefully I will be able to visit and explore the city in the future.

Salzburg Hbf.
I really want to visit Salzburg not only because of Mozart. My father had a chance to explore Germany and Austria in 1980s for his work as a mechanical engineer, when my mother was pregnant of my older sister. There is a small town near Salzburg called Hallein which was really beautiful, and my father decided to name my sister ‘Halleina’. If you are curious, she’s now doing master and professional degree in Universitas Gajah Mada, Yogyakarta.

Back to my Eurotrip. I was really sleepy when I got to München. I was happy to be back in Germany, though, mainly because no-roaming charge for internet, haha. There was also a strange feeling, like being back at home, where everything felt familiar (even though I’ve never been to München Hauptbahnhof before). Maybe because the layout of all Hauptbahnhof in Germany is similar.

Then, I took ICE (German high speed train) to Mannheim, where I waited for another ICE to Paris Est. I swear, my ICE to Paris was the most crowded one I had so far. It was like, Damri (Indonesian public bus), where the aisle is full with stuffs. Usually, when I was on ICE, most people were taking short trips, so they did not bring much stuff. This time, everyone carried at least a 23-30kg suitcase, and there was no enough space for that. The babies were crying; the elders were dragging their suitcases frustratingly because they could not find any space. The interesting thing was, maximum speed of ICE in Germany is about 200kmph, but when this ICE crossed the border and entered France, the speed increased substantially to around 315kmph. I think the French has better railways for high speed train. It was so fast, that I could see the cumulus cloud being 3D instead of 2D.

I arrived at Paris Est in late afternoon, and was surprised by how Paris actually was. There were many immigrants who mostly came from Africa (United States is still more diverse, in my view), and the public place was dirty. The weather was ‘real summer’, too, it was way too hot for me. You could imagine, I was a little bit disappointed at first by this city. No wonder some people told me before, that Paris is a bit overrated.

Well, after checking in and dropping my stuff, I tried to explore my hostel area. I stayed near Gare du Nord, so the closest touristy place from there is Basilique du Sacré Cœur in Montmarte area. It was really crowded, but really beautiful!

The Basilica.
Paris view from Basilica.
Basilica from closer look.
The day after, I visited Musée du Louvre, and the line was already long when I came 1 hour before the museum open! Good thing, I chose to visit this place first thing in the morning. All sorts of art pieces (mostly paintings) from different periods are all exhibited here. I also saw Monalisa painting (which was guarded intensively), and Venus de Milo sculpture. This museum is super huge. Literally. I spent around 3 hours to go to 95% of the rooms and I didn’t even give a second glance to the art pieces there. I really recommend this to be on your top priority if you love fine arts.

Monalisa. You need to push people to be able to see it closer.
Venus de Milo. Again, you need to push people aside.
Near Louvre, there is a bridge called Pont des Arts, the place where the 'love-lock' tradition started. The bridge is not as big as the one in Cologne, but at least, the bridge was filled with locks, and there were some lock sellers on the sides.

Pont des Arts.
I also visited a museum of modern art, Centre du Pompidou (finally!). It was really interesting to see all the unthinkable forms of arts, and I definitely enjoyed this place more than Louvre, haha. When you come here, don’t forget to check the special exhibition in the top floor of Pompidou (when you come out of the main exhibition, take the elevator up).

I also went to Notre Dame Cathedral. The line was super long, and there was no big difference than other cathedrals I have seen before. I also paid a ticket to enter Sainte Chapelle, to see a chapel that is decorated with beautiful stained glass. However, 40% of the stained glass was currently renovated, and the place was dusty and really little. There were not many things to see, so I was a little bit disappointed.

Notre Dame Cathedral.
Then, I also went to see Panthéon, but I was not willing to pay some more Euros and was kind of tired of museum for the day. Paris is really expensive, maybe because it’s a world tourist destination. Eating a proper meal can cost at least 10 Euros, and for the students who don’t study in EU countries, there is no reduction in museum ticket. However, Panthéon is located near Université de Paris Sorbonne, and it was fascinating to see where Ikal and Arai, the characters in my favorite book, Laskar Pelangi tetralogy, study.

Sorbonne from Pantheon.
I also visited Jardin de Luxembourg and Jardin de Tuileries, where there were many French sunbathed and enjoyed the sun like there was no tomorrow. These two palces were really beautifu, but as I have told you before, the weather was too hot for me, so I just sat down on a bench under the shade, took a little break before continuing my walk.

Jardin du Luxembourg.
In Champs-Élysées, I could see some parts could not be accessed because they were preparing for Tour de France. Some seats were set up, and there were many people selling yellow merchandise to celebrate one of the most prestigious cycling tournaments in the world. Towards the end of this road, there were also some stores, some of them were high-end and created by top fashion designers. Me? I only passed by the street and observed people, haha. Well, I also got some macarons from Ladurée. They were really good (but also expensive, I got a 20 macaron box for 40.80 Euros). At the end of Champs-Élysées road, there is Arc de Triomphe, which was, again, really crowded.

Arc de Triomphe.
In late afternoon (by this, I mean 8:00 PM), I went to Eiffel Tower area. I think this is the highlight of my stay in Paris, regardless several disappointments that I had before because of high expectation. However, Eiffel is different. I was there for about 2 hours, and from the start until the end, it still felt unreal. It was huge and beautiful, of course, but there was something more to it.

If you have seen Eiffel before, you may have notice that there is a detailed part in the tower, where the French scientist names are inscribed, including Lavoisier, Proust, and other names. When you stay there until the sun sets, you can also see that Eiffel is much more beautiful at night. If you wait a little bit longer, you can also see how the lights all over Eiffel blink, which makes it a magnificent show to see.

Eiffel Tower.
It is not only about the tower itself, though. Over 2 hours of my stay there, I observed something really interesting about the place. We need to thank all the immigrant labors who make Eiffel the way it is. They are the ones who are building the image of Eiffel as a romantic place.

When the sun had not set, they were selling mineral water, and other flavored beverages in a bucket half-filled with water to keep the bottles cool. Some of them also had roses ready to be sold. When a couple came, they would give the flower to the woman, and asked the man to pay. Smart move to trick a couple, eh? Just like people who sell toys in a bus in Indonesia, they would give the toy first to the kid. Later on, when the kid enjoys playing it, their parents have no choice but to pay for it.

When the sun set, bottles of alcohol, ranging from beer to wine, were put inside the bucket instead of mineral waters. Then, they would do another round to sell them, because people like to chill in front of the tower while drinking when the sun sets. If they ran out of drinks, their friend would go to the closest Carrefour, buy 10-15 bottles at the same time, hid them in the bushes, and took them out when they needed. I still wonder until now, how much they actually earn from selling drinks (how much the price gap is).

“Satu Euro lima, satu Euro lima. Murah murah, murah murah.” (One Euro for five, one Euro for five. It’s cheap.) I was surprised at first when I heard it. The merchandise seller was definitely not an Indonesian, but he knew that I am. He knew that Indonesians like to buy merchandise for their families, friends, friends of their friends, and so on. That was why they learned a sentence in Bahasa Indonesia, because Indonesians would be more interested to buy it from them. Too bad, my suitcase was already full with winter jackets and clothes, and there was no space for extra merchandise.

It was already dark when I came back to the hostel. Moreover, some RER (regional) trains were shifted and cancelled, so I needed to change subways and trains three times to get to the hostel. Paris at night was really sketchy. Thankfully, I arrived at the hostel safely.

Paris was my last stop before heading home just to be on time to celebrate Eid with my big family. My flight to Amsterdam was early in the morning, so I had no option but to take a cab from the hostel to Charles de Gaulle airport. I knew it should be 35 Euros at the most, but I had to pay 45 Euros for it, sigh.

I was a little sad when it was over, though. Although I am going to the UK for one academic year starting this coming October, it was my last time in mainland Europe for this summer. I definitely learnt a lot and transformed into a more mature traveller. Hopefully, I am going to visit places I have visited before, and more places in the future.

Au revoir, Paris, merci!

The view from Garuda Indonesia plane CGK-JOG.

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