eating my way around the world

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” --St. Augustine

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Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Twitter @nikonjunkie

13 June 2005

3 June 2005 :: Paris to Rome

This morning, the group split into segments as some headed back home, some headed to Amsterdam, and the other third of us went off to Rome. I confess I was so worn out from staying out clubbing the night before, I couldn't be bothered to wake up and say goodbyes at breakfast. I gave my roommate Nena a hug and she took off back to the States while I slept in. About 2 minutes before I was to get kicked out of the hotel room, I packed it up and wandered downstairs to stow my luggage so I could enjoy one last day in Paris before catching the train to Rome that evening.

Saw a few of my tourmates downstairs also trying to store luggage and sat around chatting trying to figure out what to do that day. I was very short on cash, as I was apparently throwing money around like a rock star the night before. After checking my bank account online and noticing it was extremely low and my rent still hadn't cleared, I put aside a moment of panic and decided to lock it down on the spending. While the others sat around enjoying some juice, I wandered upstairs into the shopping mall to find an ATM. Unfortunately, the bank was just closing, and the ATM wasn't cooperating.

OK, I am officially panicking. You can't do much in Paris without some cash on you. This includes storing your luggage, so I managed to bum some Euros off one of the Wood brothers from Florida and threw everything in the locker. I had about $80 in U.S. dollars on me, but without a bank, these are about as useful as toilet paper. Well, given the scarcity of toilet paper in some French bathrooms, even less so.

Wandering around the Auchan grocery store, I noticed that there aren't many ready-made things to eat like in America. Yes, we're an impatient culture. I sucked it up and whipped out the plastic (pathetic) to pay for a €6 lunch at a takeout deli in the mall, then wandered back to the lobby to eat and chitchat with my Rome-bound tourmates. I'd had a PowerBar for breakfast and would've eaten a shoe by now, so the turkey & swiss with Dijon on a wonderfully flaky baguette was incredible. The mustard they have in France is a magnificent thing. :D Some of the guys said they'd bought bottles to take back - a great idea that somehow eluded me.

On a positive note, the hotel's vending machine is seemingly the only place in France where you can get a Coke for less than €4.00. Yay! No Orangina this morning. We were all pretty tired and hungover, so nobody was overly motivated to venture out, especially now that it had started to sprinkle.

When it rains in Paris, nothing stays clean. The street grime will become one with your clothes. Also, by this point my panic at not having cash on me had reached full tilt. Fortunately Blake, another tourmate, mentioned that he too had problems withdrawing cash from the ATM upstairs. Whew - maybe my bank hadn't cut me off. There was hope. When the rain lifted, a few of us walked a couple of blocks and found a working ATM ("Hallelujah!"). Newly emboldened, I decided not to waste the day.

After sitting around chatting too long, I thought, "Dammit, you're in Paris, stop wasting time and get off your ass and see something else - rain or no rain." So, I left everyone chilling in the lobby and wandered out. Bought a roundtrip pass from a confused-looking metro ticket vendor and ventured out into the Paris Metro system myself (gulp). An eternity later, I hopped off at the Anvers station in the historic Montmartre district and started hiking up the hill towards Sacre-Coeur.

Thankfully, the rain had ceased, and it was another gorgeous day out. After a heart-busting walk up endless steps to the cathedral, I got a gorgeous view of Paris from the top.

Some fellow Americans stopped to ask me to take their picture. Hope I got a good shot for them - I tried to frame it well. It's always nice to hear your own language. :) By now, it was getting late in the afternoon, and I had a good 45-minute metro ride back to the hotel, but I couldn't leave without at least setting foot in Printemps - the department store recommended by my world-traveler friend Rebecca as well as Joey's well-dressed girlfriend.

I managed to change metro lines at the Place de Clichy station without getting on the train going in the wrong direction (always a good feeling) and hopped off at the St-Lazare station. A short walk down Rue du Havre and I'd found it - Printemps! I gave myself 20 minutes and did the quick tour. I have to say, I'm now more impressed with Houston shopping in that I didn't really see anything I wanted that I couldn't get back home - at least in a similar style - where I didn't have to cough up the 17% Value Added Tax (VAT). Yay, Texas.

Walked by an H&M on the way back to the train and decided that it wasn't just London - H&M is overrated. Unfortunately, one of the big items on my hit list - the fabulous Galeries Lafayette department store - would have to wait until another trip despite being on the same block as Printemps. If I stayed 15 minutes longer, I'd be chilling in Paris while the rest of my group boarded the train to Rome. This would not be a good thing, given my scarcity of funds and prepaid hotel room waiting in Rome. I headed back for my last trek to Gallieni station.

At 5pm, we all piled out luggage outside, said our goodbyes to the few stragglers that still hadn't departed for the airport yet, and boarded the shuttle buses for Paris Bercy train station. By now, our trusted tour guides Joey and Gareth were on their way back to London with the bus and the Amsterdam crowd, so we were left to fend for ourselves. Blake had the bus information, so we only halfway panicked when a train arrived and we started to board a Trenitalia coach, only halfway confident it was going to Italy.

In their infinite wisdom, it is Contiki's policy to split up males and females (including married couples) once on the train. We were each assigned to a four-person "first class" sleeper cabin, which was essentially a small room with two facing sofas and two similar-sized bunks that flipped out of the wall overhead. The only problem was that now we had an uneven number of girls, and in my wonderful run of this day's luck, I end up assigned to a cabin with three strangers - including a strange beady-eyed French man. Yes, this is far safer than putting me in a cabin with males I've already known for a week (eye roll). I wasn't having it.

Blake's wife Katie (already split off from Blake) and I decided to comandeer a still-empty cabin, and when the Italian train conductor came around to question us frantically about this, we emphatically answered in Spanglish (closest thing to Italian that we knew) that this was horsesh*t, and I wasn't going to share a sleeping berth with a strange man (the reasons for this will later become apparent). Flustered, he left us be. Somewhat satisfied and confident we were indeed going to Italy, we settled in for a 15-hour journey and got underway.

I spotted the high-speed TGV stopped at a station we passed. Too bad we weren't on that train.

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Dinner rolled around, and we all headed down the "dining cabin." I put most everything in quotes when referring to the features of the train, just like you'd refer to a plane lavatory as a "bathroom." By the time I reached the front of the line, the spaghetti was gone, so I settled for a cold sub of eggplant and mushroom. Actually not bad, but not great either, so the only thing to make a cold dinner better is, what else? A cold beer. I paid an ungodly amount for a Birra Moretti and decided that my first experience with Italian food once actually in Rome had to be an improvement on this. Meanwhile, Katie and I prayed that nobody else was assigned to this cabin at a later stop. No such luck.

Later in the evening, a French couple boarded the train and appeared at our doorway. We scooted our luggage aside, crestfallen, but somewhat relieved they were at least a well-dressed couple and not some strange single man of questionable hygiene. Through the few English words they knew, the few French words we knew and a lot of hand movements, we all decided to get ready for bedtime.

Luckily, I am a somewhat narrow person and pack a day bag like a Boy Scout, so I managed to achieve some semblance of cleanliness in the 2-foot-square "bathroom" before bed. Armed with my own travel pillow, ear plugs, sleep mask and a dose of Benadryl, I managed to fall dead asleep despite the rocking of the train. While I slept, we'd be crossing through Switzerland, the Alps and a bit of Tuscany before heading deep into Italy. Little did we know, this would not be an uneventful night . . .

Today's Lessons:
1. Always withdraw more cash when you're down to your last €50.
2. With a compass and a Metro map, I can navigate Paris alone. Yay!
3. French mustard is fabulous.
4. Traveling by train sucks and is no cheaper or more romantic than just flying EasyJet.

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