InterRail, Me & My Life, Travelling

9th May: Hostel Survival

I’m sitting around a pond in the Jardin des Tuileries1.

A pond in the Jardin des Tuileries

It’s Sunday, my last full day in Paris for this part of the trip. Today’s not been the best day but I want to talk about yesterday first. Actually, I need to go back to Friday before I get to that.

The Hostel

I arrived at my first hostel2 at about 3pm on Friday, shortly after writing my previous entry. It was alright. It seemed clean and quiet, and the receptionist was helpful and pleasant – I told him that I’d never ‘hostelled’ before. I was put in a double room3, and on the way there I passed my roommate of the first two nights. He’s Japanese, but speaks English quite well and is quiet and polite. Excellent.

He gave me the room key.

This is how the system works at this hostel: there is one key for each room, and the last person4 to leave the room drops it off4 at reception. When you return to the hostel, you either pick up the deposited key from reception, or if it’s not there, then it means that someone is already in4, so you just go up to your room to find it unlocked but occupied4. Ideally. And in theory no one steals your stuff.

Bunk beds

Hanging space & safes

Sleeping Arrangments

French windows in FranceOpen windows! And Balcony!

Depth of Balcony

I trudged up to my room, 495. I found the room tidy but small and with a nice Parisian view. There’s a ‘balcony’ – basically just French windows with a 6-inch ledge on the outside that you can put your foot on. If you lean out you can see the Sacré-Cœur to the right. I liked the hustle-and-bustle.

I took photos of the vantage point.

Sacré-Coeur in the distanceSacré-Coeur in the distance at night

Out the window, to the right at night

Out the window, to the left 1Out the window, to the left 2

Then I just sat down for ages. I’d left Perth at 9am on Thursday, and had not showered or cleaned or even changed since. I slowly checked myself over. From the aching in my feet, I was worried that I’d permanently damaged them, but I’d escaped quite lightly. I was blistered, but the blisters were largely painless. I’m going to be walking a lot this month, and any foot injury would be a disaster.

Me, fucking tired.

I showered. Man, it felt good, despite the feeble flow6. Afterwards, I massaged Germolene7 onto the painful and sore areas, and I dressed myself again8.

There was only one electrical outlet in the room. It didn’t cause any problems, and I managed to charge my phone and iPod, but it certainly had the potential to be a bastard. 1 is not enough.

Sink area and sole charger

The bathrooms were disgusting. Take a look at this picture of one of the toilets. Ugh. What’s worse are the signs on the doors to the rooms apologising and asking for patience whilst the staff work to improve the facilities. Judging by many reviews that I’ve seen since on the internet, those signs are a decoy. A distraction. A lie. Those signs have been up for year.

What’s even worse is that it’s all unisex. Poor girls.

If you’ve got the time, I encourage you to read a review on Trip Advisor, written by a Canadian woman who goes by the name kal_87. She stayed at the hostel in March 2011. Her review is shown as the first one shown on this page, but for posterity I’m going to quote it in its entirety here. I don’t think that she would mind; judging by her tone I’m guessing that she’d be keen for me to help spread the word. If you are kal_87 and would like me to remove it, please let me know:

I stayed in Paris with my Mother for three days at this hostel. Though the room looked like it had not been mopped in a year, we were happy to be able to be in a two person private room with a sink. It had two old chairs and a wobbling table. The room did have french doors that opened onto a small balcony, and with some minor upkeep and cleaning this could have been a nice room.

Unfortunately for most, the cleaning/breakfast lady is a absolute nightmare. While my mother and I were amused by her bluntness and crazy antics, she offended and angered most people. The staff is awaful, perhaps except for one woman.

The security in this hostel is non exisitant as the lockers were broken and you had only one key. There is nothing stopping people from walking off the street and going upstairs to any of the rooms. I felt it was only eminent that I get robbed but luckily did not. The computers are awful and internet expensive, breakfast dull, and the showers and toilets absolutely dreadful. They claim to be doing maintenance but looking at the other reviews shows this is a lie.

We had to move rooms our third night into a 4 bedroom dorm which we were told was female only. We came back to the hostel to find that there was a man in our room, which was quite disturbing as the morning before the was some commotion in another all female room where a man was found sleeping in their bed.

The best is still yet to come, however. As we try to come to terms with this man being in our room, at approximately 3 am a smelly, turbuculosis couch transient man comes into our room and stares in our faces while we were sleeping. We panic and alert the staff. He is a guest, they say! He has nowhere else to stay and has been hanging around the hostel for months bumming and drinking and now he is IN OUR ROOM! We struggled to go back to our room but what other choice did we have? The hostel was full and it was 3 am. He didn’t sleep that night and I feared that something horrible would happen to me the whole time. At 8 am, we gathered our things and basically fled. My mother went back to the room as she forgot something, only to find the transient man fondling himself in the bed I had been in. It was truly horrifiying. The staff were surprisingly non-chalant at all of this.

STAY AWAY!

As for security in the hostel, the Japanese guy9 had left his bag in the room. He’s clearly a very trusting guy, so I decided that I would be trusting too. For Friday and Saturday, then, I left my big bag in the room. There was a small locker10 in the room11 for each guest. I secured my most valuable possessions in it when in the shower, and my less valuable stuff in it when I was out and about in Paris12. After a long break, and finding some Wi-Fi out on the balcony13, I wanted to go for a walk.

The canal up the street 1The canal up the street 2

I was amazed to find a Lidl opposite the hostel! What are the chances?! I bought some grub: yoghurts, pain au chocolats, orange juice, water, strawberries; and then I got on the Métro to the Latin Quarter. I was looking for the comic book store14 to maybe buy a French comic or two. I found it, but it was too close to closing time to go in, I thought. Another day. I ended up walking back to hostel which took much longer than I thought. The Métro must travel pretty quickly to cover the distance is does in such a short time.

Gibert

Notre Dame

It was a lovely evening.

Setting sun over the Seine

When I got back, I went to my dorm and then pretty much went straight to sleep, though not until I’d found out about the election. For fuck’s sake.

  • Random thought: D. Gibbons is a bad man.

On Saturday morning I woke early. After a while of enjoying that time when you can relax in bed and not have to hurry out of bed, I got dressed and went for breakfast. It was bread, confit de pomme, tea and orange juice15. The food wasn’t bad, it was just boring and not particularly fresh16. I never have a real appetite at 8 in the morning anyway, which made the food even less enticing.

The main problem wasn’t the food but the staff. The breakfast lady – who made cups of tea for people and dished out the food – looked as if she hated being there and hated every one of the hostellers17, as well as hating herself. She refused to speak to anyone in English (even though she clearly understood) and was as rude and unhelpful as I could imagine someone to be.

During breakfast I sat next to another Japanese guy, and this one was from Yokohama. The Japanese people that I’ve spoken to have always been older than I thought they looked – my room-mate is a 26 year-old train driver, but he looks about 1218! From what I gathered during our conversation, May is a big holiday time for people in Japan, which is why I’ve seen a lot in Paris so far. That’s interesting; I know very little about Japanese culture.

Whilst I was eating, I noticed that there some stairs leading down to a locker room. I later investigated, but found that it costs €2 each time to open it! I couldn’t even work out how to use them, in case I do decide to use one. A French man in the room tried to explain it to me, but to no avail. My Advanced Higher French does stretch to talking about security lockers.

I then went back to my room, and I decided which train reservations I would need to make so that I could do that trip that I’d planned. Although I’d bought my InterRail ticket online before setting off for France, many of my journeys will be on trains – such as the TGVs – which require you to have a reservation for the specific journey. You can’t just turn up and go. As far as I could tell, it was no possible to make such reservations from home, so I had to leave that until I was out here and could visit a booking office in person.

Planning my journeys was surprisingly difficult. I used this website to see which trains were available, what type and times they were and whether I would need a reservation. In preparation for making my reservations, I noted which train I would prefer to travel on, second and possibly third choices in case the first was booked up, and any options (usually considerable longer and with more changes) which didn’t require a reservation in case all else failed.

Just before 10 o’clock19 I left and walked to Gare de L’Est, the closest station to my hostel. I’d wanted to buy some stamps as well, but all of the post offices on my route seemed shut. Why? It’s a Saturday morning!

The front of Gare de L'Est

In Gare de L'Est

Platforms at Gare de L'EstMore platforms at Gare de L'Est

When I got to Gare de L’est, I was fucking worried. It looked like the booking office was shut too! Fuck! If I was shut on Saturday it would presumably be shut on Sunday too, and then Monday is the day that I leave, which would be too late to make a reservation! Thankfully there was another office which was still open. I queued and then bought my 6 reservations: Paris – Grenoble, Marseille – Nimes and back, Nice to Carcassonne, Carcassonne to Bordeaux and finally La Rochelle to Paris. Strange, my card didn’t seem to register the chip so I had to sign for my transaction – I’ve never had to do that before. In all it cost €18, not bad20! The service was cheerful and polite, and the guy’s English was fantastic21. Thank you, SNCF.

Best named shop in the world

Afterwards, seeing as I was in the area, I thought that I would check out Gare du Nord. It’s fucking huge. I’ll be leaving from there on the 1st June back to London, and I’ve decided that I’ll arrive 2 hours early when the day comes.

Gare du Nord

Main facade of Gare du Nord

Inside Gare du Nord

Then I walked to the Sacré-Cœur. I bought a €3 Nutella crêpe on the way there. Bitch reheated an old one for me, right after I saw her cooking a fresh one for a French customer! Fuck her.

Sacré-Coeur

I sat down on a bench after climbing the first section of steps up to the top of the hill. I applied suncream22 and then checked my reservations over.

As I’ll need to travel by train on 9 days, and my InterRail ticket only allows me to travel on separate 8 days in a month, I will need to buy an additional for one of my journeys. I decided that it would make most sense for that journey to be the Nimes – Marseille leg, due to the abundance of walk-on trains and the short distance which would keep costs down. The thing is, not thinking of this earlier, I had already reserved a seat for that journey, so I would no longer need it. The reservations that I’d bought were marked as only valid with “EURAIL”. Then I wondered if EURAIL was the same as InterRail – I didn’t want reservations that weren’t valid with my ticket! I could ask about it later on the way back to the hostel.

View from the Sacré-Coeur

I walked up to the Basilica, took some photos, and then came back down. Some black people were arguing; I kept my distance. There were so many street sellers. Scum. A couple of them accosted me – one grabbed my arm when I ignored him (“I said good morning!”). It hurt, and I forcefully told him to let go. He did, the bastard.

I bought some postcards for €0.20 each. The man in the shop insisted I take a proper bag (which had a seal) for my coins after he saw my money bag, because he thought I was going to lose it. I thought he was trying to sell me it at first, but it seemed like he was just being a bad guy! Maybe it’s dodgy; I took it anyway.

Shortly after, I think23, I saw one of those street scammers. This guy was running something like a shell game or a Three-card Monte, a game where the punter, a member of the public, puts a wager on something that seems easy but there is absolutely no chance of them winning. The conmen often give the person a chance of a ‘double or nothing‘ when they lose a round, and as there’s still no chance of winning, they can bleed them dry even further. At the point I walked past, it was pretty clear that someone was clearly in deep to one of those fuckers, and was refusing to pay. Obviously the conman wasn’t taking this too well. Why anyone would expect people to play by the rules when they don’t play by the rules themselves? I don’t know, but then that’s not the point is it? They don’t care. It made me feel awful. It was slightly heartbreaking, and I hurried off.

I didn’t want to think about it.

I walked along the Boulevard de Rochechouart and the Boulevard de Clichy to Moulin Rouge. I love the shops there, and I remembered walking along the same road with Lucie back in 2008 and laughing at ‘Souvenirs Sexy’ and ‘Supermarché Erotique’. I also noticed, for the first time, lots of ‘free’ public toilet booths – how do they make money, then? There were lots of bikes, too.

L'EntrevueSex Shop

Souvenirs Sexy / Pussy'sThe Love

Musée de l'eroticismeSEX and Porno Store (Literally)

Supermarché ErotiqueSex Shops, Sexy Store

Moulin Rouge

After reaching the Moulin Rouge, I walked back to Gare de L’Est. I asked some questions that I’d been thinking of, and it wasn’t a problem to change reservations24. I got the refund that I wanted and bought a reservation from Marseille to Nice for only €1.50. TGV!

Cluny La Sorbonne Métro Station 1

Cluny La Sorbonne Métro Station 2

I took the Métro to Austerlitz (I like the overground bit on that line!), then changed lines and took on to Sorbonne. I walked to the Panthéon and looked around the area for cheap lunch restaurants25 but I was not at all impressed with any of the offerings. So what should I do in such a situation? I went to McDonald’s.

The Panthéon

Royale Deluxe avec des frites et un Fanta (I ordered in French26).

I went to sit in the Jardin de Luxembourgh to eat my tasty burger. I listened to the first Kickstarter podcast27. I wrote a few postcards to some of my family members.

Jardin du Luxembourg

After spending a couple of hours there writing and relaxing, I headed to Jardin des Plantes, via a bookshop called Gibert where I bought 2 science fiction books which had been translated into French: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and an Isaac Asimov now. It came to €3.90 in total. Then I stopped by Album, the comic book store. What I hadn’t realised the previous time I was here was that basically all of the comics were American DC imports! I’d wanted to buy French language one, so I left empty handed.

FYI, my feet gave been very sweaty when I’ve worn these new Tesco thin socks – with both my boots and my trainers trainers. It’s happened on all 3 days so far. Whilst the Sun itself is warm when it manages to shine, the air is still cool28, so I’m not sure why they’re getting so sweaty. It’s crazy that last week the temperature here was 25°C. I was still in Perth back then.

Nearing Jardin de Plants, I thought it was shutting due to shut any time29 but actually it’s open till sunset. I walked around the gardens and listened to The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (by Richard P. Feynman), but it soon started raining. There was no reason for me to get wet.

Jardin des Plantes 2Jardin des Plantes 2

I took the Métro from Austerlitz back to Republique, and I walked back to my hostel via Lidl30. My Japanese roommate31 was using the internet in the reception area as I entered. I had to get the key off him. I went up to the room and spent a while using the internet on my iPod. I ate, had ended up having a later-than-desired post-shower bedtime.

  • Random thought: Fuck the Tories.

Today is Sunday. Tsi left this morning when I was at breakfast32. Shit. So what do I do now: leave my big bag in room all day and risk the new roommate being a thief? No way, I don’t trust this place. I decided to pay the €2 for a locker. I can afford €2, and I’m assuming that the lockers are secure. We’ll see when I get back…

Lidl was shut. Apparently the French take every opportunity they can to have a day off. I took a Métro to the Louvre. I was denied entry to the amazing Apple Store which is there as it was before 10am! Wow, I didn’t know they opened so late. Lazy people.

I walked past a Post Office down there too, and amazingly it’s open on a Sunday, starting at 10:3033. That is insane. Mind-blowing. I went and bought a €9.50 ticket for entrance to the museum, not noticing or not seeing that 18-25 year-olds go free if they’re European. I must have glanced at any relevant signs and assumed it was saying something about students, and as I’m not a student I thought I would be paying full price34. Anyway, I later realised my error and now I’m kicking myself. I hate when I waste money, but I hate myself more for getting so annoying about it.

What of the Louvre? You know what, as impressive and grand as it is, 3 hours was plennnnty for me. It seems like art is… not really my thing. Half of it was shiny cutlery, and the rest was painting and sculptures that I’d’ve been happy seeing pictures of. I don’t need to travel to France to see that, and I wouldn’t end up with the sore feet.

A room in the Louvre

My favourite thing in the Louvre

After seeing the Mona Lisa35 and some Egyptian bits, I went out to the Jardin des Tuileries ages, which is where I sit to write this, right now.

The view out of the Louvre onto the Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Now. I really need a piss36, where should I go? I just drank loads of orange juice. I could try the Louvre toilets again I suppose37.

After urination, I’ll get Métro to La Defense because I want to see the Grande Arche38, then perhaps finally I’ll go to Austerlitz again to enjoy the Jardin de Plants. I like it there. Then I think I’ll see about a having a meal in an actual French restaurant.

I’m going to get an early night tonight, so that I’m ready and keen to go to Grenoble tomorrow morning. Before I go, I’ll need to stock up on grub at Lidl. I’ll get to Gare de Lyon 1 hour early.

All in all: Paris is nice, but I wish it would warm up.

I’m excited about travelling on a TGV Duplex tomorrow! My first real high speed rail experience!

Me



Footnotes:
  1. Approx: 48.862710, 2.329073. 
  2. “Auberge Jules Ferry” 
  3. That is, one with a lone bunk bed set. 
  4. In theory.    
  5. 4th floor! Fuck me. 
  6. During one of my showers when I stayed at this hostel, the pressure literally dropped so far that no more than a drip came out of the shower head. Pathetic. 
  7. Thanks Mum, that was a good idea. 
  8. Clean underwear aside, I think I dressed the same as before – although maybe I wore trainers instead of my boots. My clothes weren’t too bad and I want to conserve as many fresh articles as I can. 
  9. Sorry, I’ve forget your name, mate. 
  10. Or a mini safe, if you like 
  11. Above the wardrobe – fancy that! 
  12. Stuff like my phone charger, etc. Very valuable stuff like travel documents and money I keep with me at all times. 
  13. Very briefly, but I found it again another time, which was long enough to write a few emails to my family. 
  14. Called Album
  15. I didn’t think to take any pictures. I should’ve. 
  16. Though, really, what should I expect for €23.50 per night? 
  17. Though maybe she’s on the right lines there… 
  18. In all seriousness, he does look younger than me. 
  19. The hostel has a 10:00 – 14:00 lockout during which time all guests have to leave the hostel. It’s time for cleaning, that kind of thing, and probably also for the staff to go through our belongings. 
  20. Although…. my InterRail ticket itself had cost something like €200. 
  21. I didn’t fancy risking using my French. A fuck-up could be a disaster. 
  22. Because it was sunny! 
  23. Though this could have been a separate time; I’m writing this in 2011 and can’t remember exactly. 
  24. I did have to queue for a while though, the station had got a lot busier since the morning. 
  25. It was about 2pm. 
  26. I’d used English at Gare de L’Est, again. 
  27. Incidentally, I listened to Windows Weekly whilst around the Moulin Rouge area, the episode called Are You Glistening? I don’t know why I listened to it. 
  28. 16°C max, I say. 
  29. It was 6pm and my guide had listed that as a closing time. 
  30. Wherein I bough orange juice, water, yoghurts and beetroot. 
  31. Tsi, is that his name? Maybe 
  32. Same again. 
  33. “Quelle sorte de stampe est necessaires pour envoyer les postcartes à l’Angleterre?” I bought 15 x 70¢ stamps. I hope they’re the right ones. 
  34. Again, that’s what I had gathered would be the case from my piece of shit AA Paris book. 
  35. She really is quite small. 
  36. What a surprise. 
  37. As my ticket is still valid, but it would mean queueing for a long time for entrance to to get through security. 
  38. = Grand Arch. 

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