Sunday, April 7, 2013

Paris - Day 1 - Eurostar & the Bastille

It was the longest morning in the history of mornings. It just seemed to stretch on forever. I woke up. I unpacked and repacked my bag. I made myself lunch (because, yup, I slept late). I watched old episodes of Murder, She Wrote and The Middleman. I Skyped with my mom. I waited. Finally, Christa and her mom - a lovely woman named Tina - arrived on my doorstep (their original plan to check out the British Museum was a bust when it turned out their baggage was too big to be checked so they opted to meet up at my place early). And then we waited some more. I thought I would die from all the waiting. 4:22PM could not have come too soon!

Finally, after it turned out that, nope, wasn't going to die after all, it was time to head out for St Pancras train station. We hopped the Piccadilly and thirty minutes later realized we were way too early and went in search of supper. Ended up grabbing burgers at some frou-frou burger place...Burgers Inc or Gourmet Burger or something like that. Ironically, we were almost late snagging our train. We went through security - where lucky me got a pat down - and then had to dash to make it. I didn't get the window seat. This was a travisty of epic proportions, but I opted to be the big girl I appear to be on the outside and downplay my horror. Woman sitting next to me had her husband seated in the window seat on the opposite side...and across the aisle. He was surrounded by this Jewish family's children; a daughter next to him, and two more daughters and a son across from him, all under the age of 7ish. I offered to switch and so did Christa, but he claimed it was fine. Half an hour in, the kids were all out like lights so he may have been on to something.

We took the Eurostar, did I mention that? It was a two and a half hour ride that travelled under the Channel for a leg and gave some pretty nifty views of both the English and the French countrysides. Unfortunately, it also travelled so fast that said views were gone as quickly as they came and photos were impossible.

We reached Paris. Walked out into the station, navigated ourselves out to the street, walked in the wrong direction, corrected our course, and found our hostel. I discovered I am a magnet for strange men - most of the crazy, drunk, or just plain weird variety - wanting either directions or to offer directions. That was fun.

After settling in, we went back out with the intention of checking out Sacre Couer. Unfortunately we went south instead of north and, after getting lost and found, we opted to see the Bastille instead. Anyone who has ever heard of the French Revolution has heard of the Bastille. Once upon a time, it was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. It played an important role in the internal conflicts of France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. You've heard of the Tower of London? The Bastille was essentially its French counterpart, where kings would put the prisoners too important or influential for the head-chopping part of the program. Like Voltaire. Its Revolution fame came when it was stormed by a crowd on 14 July 1789, thus becoming an important symbol for the French Republican movement. Unlike the Tower of London, however, the Bastille did not survive to today and was eventually demolished. The Place de la Bastille took its place.

Afterward, we grabbed supper at McDonald's. Don't give me that look - after much debating, we just went with what was nearby and it happened to be McDonald's. Don't give me that look - it's true!

We had a small debate on how to best work out ticket purchasing for the next few days (whether to but ticket booklet or multi-day pass) where I got to break out my French - that was fun; Quebec would be so proud - and then it was back to the hostel to rest up before Day 2 - AKA our first full day of Paris exploration!

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