A brief overview of my eight days traveling:
Lauren and I left Huddersfield at around 1 pm, took a taxi to the Huddersfield train station where we took the train to Leeds, waited for the shuttle outside of the Leeds train station to take us to the Leeds/Bradford Airport, arrived WAY too early–there was literally NO line to pick up our tickets or to go through security. We waited for a few hours to board the plane, which is never fun. Once we had taken off, though, we landed in what felt like, and more or less was, no time at all. The flight to Paris took about an hour! Lauren and I met Sarah, who had flown in from Scotland and arrived about five hours before we did, at the airport. At this point, it was about 8:00, and we had to make our way, using public transportation and French directions, to the 3 Ducks Hostel in the Eiffel Tower area of Paris. This was, in short, unsuccessful. We took the Metro a few stops to where we were supposed to catch our connecting train, which was not running due to the strikes. Finally, we caught a taxi outside the train station which took us to our hostel, and, thanks to our friendly driver, past the Eiffel Tower and Arch du Triumph. After checking in and putting our bags down in our tiny little 10-person room, inside of which all seven of our other roommates were already asleep, we searched the area for somewhere to eat. All we could find was a little cafe that was still serving the smaller food items on its menu. I was happy enough with this, but Sarah and Lauren, ever the picky eaters, watched me eat my baguette with chevre before we left to go to the 24-hour McDonalds. At least I’m able to say that my first meal in France was actually French!
After our meal, we walked back to the hostel and crashed. Our room was insanely hot that night. It reminded me of New Paltz dorms in the summer, when I wake up several times during the night because I literally cannot breathe. That was great.
Our first full day in Paris was a long one. We woke up at about 9 and left the hostel at 10. We got coffee at a brasserie just a block from our hostel and made our way over, by foot, to the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my last entry (or maybe my two last entries), I went to Paris (and London) with my dad and stepmom when I was 11 and have already seen the Eiffel Tower–but I did NOT remember it being anywhere near as big as it is. Despite our being New Yorkers, the three of us were really in awe. After taking pictures of the Tower, pictures of each other with the Tower, and pictures of each other taking pictures of the Tower, we walked past the Ecole Militare, or Military School, which was, even to a staunch pacifist, incredible. We walked around the outside of the Hotel Invalides (I’m still not sure how that’s pronounced–we called it the “Invalid” in over-Americanized accents the entire time), which is a beautiful building with a huge gold dome that can be seen from quite far away, and is where Napolean’s tomb is located. We then sat down in the adjacent Jardin du Luxembourg, the most wonderful-smelling garden ever, probably. We got lunch at a lovely little restaurant called Au Chien Qui Fume, literally “To the Dog Who Smokes”. I translated the name of the restaurant myself, based on the Latin and Spanish I know, and when Lauren, who knows a bit of French, validated my translation, I exclaimed “I’M SO SMART!” in excitement. Sarah and I both ordered croques, which are big pieces of bread with melted gruyere cheese, spices, tomatoes (I think) and a sunny-side-up egg. This might have been the best meal I had in Paris. Sarah and I split a caraffe of white wine, and felt tres Parisienne. Au Chien Qui Fume even had a little corner with a counter guarding a wall of cigarettes, in true Amelie fashion. We then wandered our way over to and across the Seine and into Notre Dame. I remembered the cathedral surprisingly well, but was certainly more struck by its beauty this time. It’s amazing how a few years, well, nine, can allow you to take in an entire city as if you’ve never seen it before. I was hoping this would happen, and it really did.
Finally, after walking literally about 15 miles (thank you, Lauren’s pedometer), we found our way to the metro and back to the hostel for a well-earned nap. When we got up, we picked a restaurant to eat dinner that looked nice, but whose wait-staff was anything BUT nice. When we entered the restaurant, the only English-speaking waiter, a 30-year-old man who would be a great subject for the game “European or Gay?” enthusiastically showed us to our table and told us to let him know if we needed any help translating the items on the menu. When we were ready to order, the man looked a bit insulted that Lauren and Sarah both ordered the “American Burger”, and even more insulted when we told him we would have water from the tap, and no wine (because the cheapest wine was something like 14 Euros, or about $20, per glass!) He slammed the pitcher of water on our table without even looking at us, and said nothing when he brought the food to our table. We ate silently, save for a few jokes about Parisian waiters and the distinct possibility that we might not make it out of the restaurant alive. When we asked for a dessert menu and decided we’d rather get pastries at a patisserie than pay 10 Euro for a scoop of ice cream, our waiter snatched the menus out of our hands and walked away in a huff. It seemed pretty clear that either he was telling the other customers that there was a table of rude American girls that he couldn’t wait to get rid of, or that we were becoming increasingly paranoid. We waited for the bill for about 20 minutes, positive that the waiter was ignoring us except for a few dirty looks every now and then, until we realized that we needed to pay for our meal at the counter. We paid, mostly in change, and left the restaurant as quickly as possible.
We decided that that night was the night we were going to be true Paris tourists and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We walked over, but when we got in line to buy tickets, we learned that the ride to the top of the Tower stop at 10:30, after which, we could only get to the second floor. It was 10:45. As the Brits say, we were “gutted”! After being harassed by all 500 of the men selling mini Eiffel Towers within a 100-foot radius, we made our way over to a cafe with a great view of the Tower for dessert and coffee. Of course, this didn’t go smoothly either. The outside of the cafe was lined with patrons sitting in chairs, as are most cafes and brasseries in Paris. We decided we wanted to sit inside. After we ordered our dessert–Lauren got chocolate mousse and Sarah and I got coffee and asked to split creme brulee, we noticed a stray cat come into the cafe. The cat was adorable and was clearly a regular at the cafe, so we watched it do what looked like a little dance, cheerfully. The cat stopped dancing, though, and started pooping. In the cafe. Right next to us. We didn’t know how to react except to burst into a fit of laughter, not only at the cat, but at the day as a whole. When we finally alerted our waiter about the cat poop in the otherwise clean establishment, he gave us a cold look and shouted something in French to a younger waiter, who begrudgingly walked toward us with a mop. We relocated to an outside seat, which for some reason upset our waiter. At least the creme brulee well made up for a day of rude French waiters.
We walked back to our hostel and sat outside in the courtyard with other guests from places including Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and Buffalo, and talked until 2 am, which was quite nice.
Today was the day we were going to see the Louvre! We took the metro and walked around the outside of the Museum, not caring about the rain, because the buildings were beautiful and we’d be dry soon enough… or so we thought, until we discovered that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Great. So, we ventured forth and saw The Obelisque, some weird modern art, and a lot of fountains (can you tell I was thrilled to be walking in the rain on my poor, exhausted feet?) Once the rain had cleared up, we decided to walk along the Champs Elysees and to the Arch du Triumph, with some shopping on the way. This definitely made me feel better. We browsed in a few stores and got the chance to sit down, something we hadn’t had much of a chance to do the day before. We found ourselves in a store called Promod for an amazing two hours. It was well worth it though, as we were each quite pleased with our purchases. Of course, Sarah and I bought the same dress in different colors. Sarah and I are, most of the time, the same person. We walked the rest of the short distance to the Arch du Triumph and spent about 20 minutes looking at/in it.
Back to the hostel we went, and took another well-deserved nap. At this point, we noticed that three of the other girls in our room, who spoke a mystery language that sounded like a mix between Russian and French, had not left the room since we first got to Paris. Whenever we saw them, they were either sleeping or sitting in their beds, speaking their mystery language and eating baguettes. They also went to sleep for the night at about 9 every night.
After we got up, we had dinner, and walked, yet again, to the Eiffel Tower. On our way, we stopped to get crepes. We chatted with Harry the Crepe man for a good 15 minutes as he made our crepes–he was pretty hilarious and very Greek. I had a Nutella and banana crepe, which was WONDERFUL.
We bought our tickets and waited in line to go up to the top of the Tower. The elevator ride up was really cool, because you could see the metal pieces of the Tower and the lights around it. There were many levels of the Tower, and we looked around all but the very top one, mostly because Sarah was wearing a dress and the wind on the lower levels was not conducive to staying covered, so she would certainly not have had better luck on the top level. My favorite level was one that had the names of different cities encircling it, and each city was placed where the Tower faced it. It was so interesting! I really find geography fascinating, and being able to know that I was facing New York in one spot, and Sydney from just a few yards away, seemed to put a lot of things into perspective, somehow.
Today was the REAL day of the Louvre. To be up front, I’m not the hugest fan of art museums. I wish I were, but I never really was great at “understanding art”. I can only handle so much before I get bored. Luckily, since Sarah and I are the same person, she feels the same way. Sarah and I wandered around the museum at our own pace, looking at French, Spanish, British, Egyptian, Greek, and African art for about three hours. Some of it was quite interesting, but we did eventually decide that sitting down with coffee was more appealing than seeing the rest of the museum. Shortly after that, Lauren, who had sped through almost the entire museum, seeing everything she could manage, met up with us, and we headed back to the hostel. After what had become our gratuitous nap, we got dinner at Le Shanghai, because how could we not? That was an experience in itself, as the man behind the counter did not speak English. Another man who may or may not have worked there was able to loosely translate for us, and finally I was told what food was vegetarian. We ate inside the shabby little place, thankful that we weren’t being served by Parisians. On the way back to the hostel, we stopped at a patisserie for eclairs, which was a wonderful decision. Once we got back, we changed in silence and darkness out of respect for the three sleeping, mystery-language-speaking roommates, and got ready for a night out. We took the metro to the Bastille area, where we were told we’d find lots of bars and nightclubs. Unfortunately, since it was a Wednesday, the nightclubs weren’t very busy. We found ourselves in a little bar with a lot of young Parisians who were standing around chatting with each other. We were graciously accepted by all the drunk Europeans who found us exotic. This made for a pretty hilarious night. At one point, I had a conversation with a Romanian man in Spanish, for which I was perhaps a bit too proud. The night was a lot of fun, and a great way to end the Paris half of our trip.
Our last morning in Paris, we decided it would only be appropriate to have a little picnic by the Eiffel Tower before heading to London. We stopped at La Fromagerie, just a couple of blocks from our hostel, which we’d been planning on visiting. Sarah and I got a big piece of a semi-stinky, creamy cheese. We got a baguette and grapes, and were all set. Our picnic was just as French as it sounded, except for the other group of American girls having a picnic at the Eiffel Tower, who were rather overzealous with taking pictures with a bottle of champagne they bought from some man selling bottle of champagne to stupid Americans picnicing by the Eiffel Tower. In our wisdom, we did not partake. After our picnic, we went back to the hostel, got our bags, and headed to the airport.
Our flight took about five seconds, but by the time we FINALLY found our hostel, we were exhausted and starving and generally cranky. The hostel was situated in Zone 1 of London, which is the central part, in a Middle Eastern neighborhood. We searched for blocks for an inexpensive-yet-suitable-for-picky-eaters-and-vegetarians eatery of any kind. We found one, which was called Pizza and Chicken, and stuffed our faces with pizza and chicken, silent except when we said “No!” to a 12-year-old boy who offered to sell us pot. Welcome to London!
We walked back to the hostel and completely crashed.
On Friday, Sarah and I went to the Tower of London. Lauren didn’t join us because she went to London the week before with a friend who was visiting from home, and she’d already seen the Tower, and didn’t want to pay for it again. London Tower was great! We got a tour from a “Yeoman” who Sarah and I decided to name Yeoman Yellington. He gave us an in-depth and hilarious history of the Tower. I wish history were actually taught to be interesting in school, because it’s rare that I’ll be fascinated by a history class, even though I know it is inarguably important, and I do enjoy it when it’s not being taught to prepare me for a test. Sarah and I explored many of the buildings (and gift shops) and saw the Crown Jewels. After a few hours, we met up with Lauren. We walked along the Thames, past London Bridge, which was surprisingly disappointing, over the much more beautiful Southwark Bridge, into the part of Shakespeare’s Globe that was still open for the day, then back over the Millennium Bridge, which was just weird.
We took the Underground back to our hostel and got ready to go out to dinner with Kirstie, a friend Sarah worked with at camp (Sarah works at the sleepaway camp I was a camper at from ages 8-15, and a staff member at when I was 16–we met when we were 14). It was definitely nice to meet someone who was a native of the place we were visiting and was helpful in telling us what to do and where to go. It was also nice to talk about camp, even though I’d never met her. We ate at a place whose name, Pizza Express, was a bit misleading, because it was a sit-down restaurant with great brick oven pizza and wonderful pasta dishes.
After dinner, we parted ways with Kirstie and went back to the hostel for an early night.
On Saturday, Lauren went to the London Zoo while Sarah and I met up with another friend of hers from camp, Jean. Sarah, Jean and I went to the British Library, where we saw the Magna Carta, and then over to the Thames where we went on the London Eye. Despite the long queue (line) and high price, the London Eye was great–we got amazing views of all points in London, and since it took about half an hour to go all the way around, we were really able to absorb it (and take an obscene amount of photos).
When we got off the Eye, the three of us went to one of the cute restaurants along the Thames, Wagamama’s, which served all different types of Asian food. Let’s just say my Vermicelli was a lot better than what I had at Le Shanghai. After we ate, we went back to the hostel and met up with Lauren. All of us, including Jean, who shared (stole) Sarah’s bed, took naps before getting ready to eat dinner and go out for the night.
We headed over to Camden Tower, a long strip of bars, restaurants, and clubs. We didn’t get there until about 9:30, so most places weren’t serving food anymore. This is where America comes in handy–we managed to find The Diner, serving “authentic American food”, whatever that means. We got (veggie) burgers and a few drinks before going out to the Electric Ballroom. We danced there for probably four or five hours. They played the craziest array of music I could imagine, from hip hop to songs from the Grease soundtrack to Cotton Eyed Joe–which was great, because Sarah and I were teaching the dance to many a British onlooker–to the Macarena to real Latin music, which we started a conga line to. SO much fun! We left at about 3 and took a taxi back to the hostel, which we snuck Jean into for the night.
In the morning, we said goodbye to Jean and took the Underground to Buckinham Palace for the Changing of the Guards. Frankly, I remembered it being more exciting. We left the Palace at about 12:30 and went to a pub for lunch. The rest of the day was mostly spent getting souvenirs and shopping in Camden Tower, which, during the day, is Camden Market, a cross between a huge flea market and St. Marks Place in Manhattan. After a few hours of shopping, the week caught up with us and we decided to make our last night a lazy, cozy one back in the hostel.
When we got back, we changed into pajamas, went downstairs into the bar/lounge area, drank tea, watched TV, and ordered Indian food. Honestly, it felt totally perfect. We went to bed at around 10 and actually got a real night’s sleep.
On Monday morning, we packed up our stuff, left the hostel at about 10, got breakfast at Starbucks, and went to the Underground, where Lauren and I parted ways with Sarah, who had to catch a 12-hour bus back to Dundee from Victoria Station at noon.
Lauren and I got our train from the London Euston train station to Manchester, then the train from Manchester to Huddersfield. We walked into town where we caught the shuttle back to Storthes Hall, and FINALLY, we were home.
It’s funny, I’ve only been in Huddersfield for about a month and a half, but after a week of traveling, being back here feels so much like being back home. Maybe it’s because I actually have privacy and space and my own things here. I wonder what it’ll be like when it’s time to leave this home and go back to my Brooklyn home. I won’t even be in Brooklyn too long before it’s time to go back to my New Paltz home. What a strange, exciting age to be. I’m so glad I decided to study abroad, it’s already given me a greater appreciation for being away from home, and for what “home” really is.
Next stop, Scotland for Sarah’s birthday during the weekend of November 19th, then after that, Amsterdam from November 25-28th!
Pictures of this trip will follow shortly!