Europe trip: Day 7 (Paris Day 6)

Places visited:
Notre damn
Latin Quarter
La Défence
(Note: this was written on days 10 to 12, so some details could have been forgotten)
I went to the Nora Damn (fix spelling later), which was located on the same island I was at days earlier, but at the south-eastern corner of it. I only went to the north-west, north, and south-west of the island that other day.
To get there, take the train to Citié. There is only one entrance to the station, and it’s quite easy to miss due to the construction around it and not being well signed. It’s one of those that you would need to have arrived there by train to know where exactly.
Citié station by itself looks like one big ventilation shaft with stairs around one end later. They look quite old, and a set of stairs that branches of it (identical to the stairs from platform and one that does lead to the exit) appeared blocked off. A look on the other side reveals that the (modern) ticket barrier is above it. The stairs is a long climb up, but fortunately there is an elevator.  (No elevator from the ticket barrier to surface level though)
From there, it’s a relatively straightforward way to get there as there are signs pointing to the place. Well, as well as knowing that the place is in the south-east of the island and using the compass as aid.
The Notre-Dame (?) is this big cathedral visible from far for its sheer size and design. I didn’t know how old it was until I saw signs that celebrated its 850th anniversary. So, I guessing that is the year 1163? I hardly know any building older than from the 19th century besides the Osaka castle, but this is the oldest structure that isn’t a ruin that I’ve ever stepped into!
Just on the opposite side from the south side of the island is the area known as the Latin Quarter. Its a place known for its history of being where Paris was founded centuries ago.  Besides cafes, restaurants, and bars of today, there isn’t really anything there for me.
From there, I headed to a place called La Défence. It’s a business district at the outskirts of Paris. With so many modern office buildings that seem to have been built in the last two decades, it seems so very different from the rest of Paris with tall buildings everywhere. Paris could have become something like this if the city weren’t made into a UNESCO world heritage site. Landmarks would look out of place if buildings surrounding it at the time it was erected aren’t conserved too. The train station located there is underground and seems like a major station with interchange of many different lines along with some bus terminals.
It was also there where I entered the first shopping mall in France. Shops at Champs Elise are more like a collection of shops with their own building next to each other.
What isn’t clear to a casual observer is how dirty the place is… For example, it’s rare to find a phone booth in Paris that isn’t vandalized, or there are a lot of spit marks on the floor of the bus terminal.
I wonder what other places in France are like? I heard that Paris itself is a world of its own.

Europe trip: Day 5 & 6 (Paris Day 4 & 5)

For these two days, I visited two different museums: the Lourve (glass pyramid) and the Pompidou (building with pipes on the outside). Day 5 was the first Sunday of the month, so admission was free that day. However, that also meant that there are large crowds there.
So, I took a look at the area of the Lourve 2 days earlier where the queue was long. What caught me off guard? The queue that Sunday was 4-5 times longer!
 It took about 2 hours to clear it.
So what was inside there? A lot of ancient paintings and sculptures on display. It takes a whole day just covering one wing. You wouldn’t believe how many people crowded around a particular painting armed with cameras. What is this painting in question?
Mona Lisa. Yes, it’s the real deal, though you would be disappointed about its small size.
Actually, I visited to most of the other exhibits of that wing before heading there.
I then got hungry. However, the prices at the cafes are crazy high. It was a tough decision of leaving the place.
After eating, where to head next?
It seems that the museum at the Pompidou  is free on that day too. It is where the “more recent art” are on display. Was too tired and sleepy from waiting in line earlier, and left midway.
I did return the following day and continued where I left off, though had to pay the admission fee. I spent most of the day there until it was about to close (10pm), though I had just seen everything by then.

Europe trip: Day 3 & 4 (Paris Day 2 & 3)

Still recovering from the jet lag, I woke up early (5am) to explore the area and buy some toiletries that couldn’t be brought though airport security. There was no 7-11 in sight, and stores did not open until 8am.
A lot of walking was involved: more than 12 hours of walking though the streets, and ignoring most of the red pedestrian lights. (They appear annoyingly frequent, and there was no warning before the green man turned into red.)
I went to the Louve to check out the place and did not go in (until day 5). I took pictures of the area and realized that there was a long queue (3 times longer in day 5) because of security checks and such.
Following the wide open area from there seems to be a large park with many people, fountains,  and ducks. Following even further, we ended up at Chaps Elésee, and the triumph arch.
Really. That was all not planned or expected. The Eiffel tower could be seen from the arch.
So, what about food? Well, there was no convince store. Sandwiches were expensive. KFC was nowhere to be seen, MacDonald was more expensive than back home. 
Well, the supermarkets we encountered were too small too have a large cold food section. I did saw a Carrefour while wandering aimlessly, but it was not yet open at that time and did not come across another outlet afterwards.
Bought some snacks, but they don’t fill my hunger. There were bakery that sells the baguette for around €1. (The euro signs in French are written after the number. Euro-cent divider was either a comma or the euro sign itself in place of the dot.)
Then I stumbled upon a supermarket near were I stayed that sells nothing but (store branded) frozen food. It’s cheap (by European standards), but stuff from Asia are expensive and packaged like some exotic food. (I saw a box of sushi selling for €12.) The fries I bought there for €1 per box had about 26 pieces and, after using the microwave oven, actually tastes quite nice. Shame I bought only 2 boxes.  Did buy other stuff though they were completely depleted by day 6.
Why the inconvenient operating hours?
On day 4, I did not went out until evening. I wondered around aimlessly again along river Sene, not too far away from the Louve.  There was an island in the middle of the river that is said to have been where Paris was founded, though, except for the nice scenery, there wasn’t really anything there. There was also a bridge that was full of paddocks that said something about a woman’s heart. I don’t recall what exactly, but the sight of paddocks was mind blowing. (Oldest padlock I could find there out of the thousands I saw [of course i did not look through every single one of them] was in 2004, though the majority were from 2011 and 2012)
We wandered around further along the river until night has fallen. That happened at 10pm.
You wouldn’t believe that a picture I took that appears to be daytime was at 8pm.

Europe trip: Day 1 & 2 (London Day 1 + Paris Day 1)

So the day has finally arrived! The plane departed the airport at the night of the 29th.
To cut down the cost of the ticket, the flight had a stopover at Doha, Qatar. Quite a number of people don’t seem to know where this is: it’s in the Middle East. Surrounding countries include Saudi Arabia and Dubai (part of UAE).
About 7 hours later, we arrived in Doha. What I was not expecting was that there were shuttle buses to the terminal instead of walking to it or having a bridge. The colour of the ticket holder and luggage tag I was given determines if I were to head to the arrival hall, transfer hall, the premium terminal, or the satellite wing. It took a while to step out of the plane as the shuttle bus could not accommodate every one. Really, why this, and why are they all at different areas?
The terminal was crowded, and I could only find one toilet there that itself was full. When waiting, every seat was occupied. The sitting area after the collection of tickets to wait for the shuttle bus was small, with the bus itself not being able to accommodate everyone that was standing there. Heck, there isn’t even room to stand too.
Anyway, another 7 or so hours later, I reached into Heathrow airport. The queue into customs was long too. (Might be a good thing in terms of what immigration would look at.)
There was really nothing cheap eating place to look for there even as I made my way to an another terminal.
I bought my Oyster Card there for £5, plus £10 for the balance. It took a while for the train to reach St. Pancras, where the onward train to Paris is. It wasn’t until there where I had bought something to eat.
On reaching Gare du Nord in Paris, I headed straight for the metro for where the accommodation is. (Encountered touts along the way, and they are usually always of African decent.) I did not have any Euro coins, so I couldn’t use the ticket machine. However, the nearby customer service counter was not operating, so there was quite a number of walking and searching. (And more of those touts.)
What are the station platforms and trains like? The train frequency may be good, but the stations themselves doesn’t seem comfortable, and there are noticeable broken tiles and graffiti on them. Except for the newer trains, you had to pull a latch to open the doors individually, and there are no system announcement to say what station you are at, so you have to look out of the window to look out for the station sign, which are thankfully huge.
Another odd thing is how you get out of the paid area, which is just a one way automatic barrier that doesn’t require your ticket. (I have seen people entering though them from the opposite side.) There are, however, some stations that has a ticket barrier that is like the same as getting in, or ticket inspectors to check for fare evasion. The scale of people evading fares are mind boggling, and even done in front of me by jumping over the barrier.
From there on, it was just booking in and catching sleep. Total journey time from starting at home was more than 24 hours. Couldn’t get comfortable sleep since 12 hours prior to that, so it was a big relief.
Also done was to sort out the junk and mess accumulated along the way. Couldn’t really do that properly out in the public.

Europe Trip Preparation: Packing

With experience from my previous travels, I have learnt on what to pack, and what not to pack. What complicates this is what could (or rather not) be brought through the airport and customs. Another thing to consider is the type of bag to bring along, and, if it has wheels, the “retain” it would be brought through outside the airport.

You know those big fat bags with built in wheels and a handle that many people passing through the airport seem to be bringing along? You don’t need to have/buy those bags. If it weren’t for the handle, it would be difficult to carry, but what makes it difficult to carry in the first place? The shape of the bag, and, because of the bag’s capacity, you tend to fill it up and even exceed the allowed weight of check-in and have to pay more (not cheap) if you still insist on not lightening the load to drop to the limit. Don’t forget that the weight of the bag itself, including its handle and wheels, has its own weight. Also, those bags scream “I am a tourist” out loud to people around you. Not a good thing if you want to avoid being robbed.

If you have carried anything for long periods of time, no matter how light or heavy it may be, you would find that the item seem to get heavier even if it’s actual weight never changed that could turn out to be worse if it’s heavy. Don’t forget, every single thing, no matter how small or light, adds up to the total weight!

There are also things that you might think of bringing along, but you don’t actually need. There might also be essentials, but you could just buy it at your destination city instead of bringing it along. If it’s liquid based, you probably can’t bring it through the airport security anyway.

Here are some things that you do not need to bring for a holiday:

  • Toiletries
    • You can buy them later
  • Bags that uses the vacuum to make it air tight
    • It doesn’t reduce weight, and also, what are the chances of coming across a vacuum during the trip?
  • Laptops
    • Heavy, and you are likely to find a PC with internet or Wi-Fi hotspot at your hotel anyway
  • Several/Thick books
    • I know you want to kill time on the long flight, but these takes up precious space and weight
    • Use an e-book instead. Just one of these is far thinner and lighter than that physical copy of that Steve Jobs book you are so interested in. In fact, you can put in several hundreds of book content on to it and still not take up additional space.
  • Pillows
    • Hotels provide them, or you can use your clothes, or your bag (assuming that it’s not hard-shelled) as subsitute
    • You would be surprised how many people bring them along. Saw a lot of people while queuing at immigration at the Bangkok airport.

Now, excuse me while I figure out what to pack: departing at the night of the day after tomorrow… *looks at time while writing this section* I mean tomorrow night.

Europe trip preparation: Accomodation

One of the most important aspect of traveling far away from home is finding a place to stay, especially if there isn’t anyone in that area to stay with that I know of.

Not including my online friends that I have never met in real life, not many people I know of lived abroad. Heck, most of the people I know of hasn’t even been abroad. Basically, I have no one.
Due to the flight being booked less than a month prior to the departure day, that also naturally meant that hotels aren’t booked earlier since the exact dates aren’t known before booking the flight.
As Paris was the first destination in Europe, that naturally means that the accommodation dates are closer, which also translates to lesser odds of finding a room at a good hotel as other people had booked it, way earlier. Sure there may be vacancies, but of non-consecutive dates, or of an undesirable price. I ended up booking an apartment, which works out to be cheaper than the available hotels I came across by as much as half.
Have yet to book accommodation elsewhere due to uncertainty of balancing the days following that.
The clock is ticking, and with each passing moment, a room at a hotel is being booked, but that’s the problem with traveling with someone else who is too particular about things.

Europe trip preparation: Inter-city travel

As part of planning, how do I get around plays a large part of how much things cost, where and how to get to and from accommodation, along with related activity relating to getting to and from there.

Taxis in London are obviously out for me.
Before I talk about intercity travel, I did take a look at getting to Paris from London via Train + ferry + Train combo as opposed to taking another plane or taking the more famous Eurostar. The cost seemed only marginally cheaper, though Eurostar might be cheaper if booked months in advance, but hey, we didn’t even book the plane to Europe until less than a month to departure, and obviously I can’t book a train with dates unknown. The big turndown was that, this route, meant that I could have possibly missed the last train into Paris after alighting the ferry at the France side of the English Channel. The town we would be stuck at seems like a small town with only a few hotels. We decided to take the Eurostar in the end.
Either way, how do I get around within those cities?
Well. The subways of course. Once I could figure out the unfamiliar names of the stations and the lines that is.
With all the discount tickets and such, figuring out what ticket is the most cost effective requires some advanced planning. Some cards are promoted to visitors can end up costing more (or very close at the very least) than normal fares. Those additional discounts they offer at select stores with that card? Ignore that: it’s of stores/items that I’m not interested in, or the validity of the offer is in such a way that its easy to use it in an invalid period if you don’t pay attention.
What is clear, however, is that using things like the Oyster Card (London) or buying tickets in sets of 10 (Paris) turns out to be cheaper than a single regular ticket.
Still have yet to figure out transport around Venice and, tenitively, Rome.