Europe trip: Day 12 & 13 (Paris Day 11 + Venice Day 1)

Places visited (Day 12):
Château de Vincennes, Gare de Lyon (via Vallorbe, Switzerland)

Places visited (Day 13):
Santa Lucia (Northern Venice)

(Note: this was written on day 27)
Day 12

The last day in Paris, and also where I would make my way to Venice. Because I was so cheap on expenses, the owner told me that I had to clean the room, or pay €20. Knowing how strong European European currency is, that is quite an amount in my home currency.

So where do I go between check out and boarding the train? Well, there is this place I always walk past, but never went in, to a place called Château de Vincennes. (Pronounced as sha-tou-deh-varn-sen) It’s an old castle, but I didn’t know the significance of it until I read that some well known authors were imprisoned there. Spent about 3 hours there.
Where to next? Well, there is this big library near one of the station I went past days earlier (don’t remember the name, but it interchanges with RER C and Métro line 14). The library was partially closed as it was a Sunday. Didn’t go in though. The buildings around the library seemed quite new.

I had already ran out of the tickets from the “book of 10 tickets” that I had already bought twice, but it would be impractical to buy another set. Single ticket it is then.

The train to Venice from Paris is at Gare de Lyon. We were several hours early, but many shops were closed and, among ones that are opened, cost quite an amount. (Plenty of restaurants, but no fast food restaurants.) I don’t know why.

The cabin I took is shared with other people: two Italian men that don’t seem to know each other, and a Chinese couple from China somewhere (based on there accent) that brought along too many things (the lady kept wanting to do makeup / moisturizer during the journey, which I find it to be an overkill).
The conductor came in to check on the tickets, but more surprising is that they took the passports from everyone (saw the bag full of it) “for their own reference”.
Day 13

Everyone is asleep, it’s still dark outside, but the train isn’t moving. The station stopped at has an unfamiliar name (Vallorbe) that, as far as I could see, appears small and quiet. My phone detects Switzerland networks. It seemed like a long time before the train started moving again.

I make my way around the trains to search for the carriage that sells food and drinks, but they were costly. Travelling between carriage is kind of strange with heavy sliding doors and the train shaking around violently. The water in the toilet was not drinkable.
The train stopped at about 4 stations (including Milan) before reaching Venice. By then, I had the cabin all to myself (well, and my older sibling).
The Venice saint Luca was the end of the line, and our destination. Before arriving, there was this long stretch of bridge that connects Venice to the mainland that looks beautiful.
I’m not that good with talking pictures from a moving vehicle or with a glass panel in between. Not sure if I took any, or looking good if I did.
From the moment I step out of the station I arrived at, I am already seeing a postcard-perfect scenery of Venice. It was that nice.

In Venice, there are mostly no roads at all, and only waterways and pedestrian footpaths. In addition to that, the streets themselves are like a maze, and, being how low the streets are from sea level, I need to climb steps to get over the canals that boats passes through. It is seriously a lot of walking if you are visiting Venice, because boats are the only quick way of getting around, and there is no room for buses, trains, or subways.
Like Paris, I saw a lot of restaurants, but, except for one lone McDonald’s in the whole of Venice, there are no fast food and more expensive restaurants. There are however, cheaper side stalls and supermarkets. (I wonder about the logistics of bring the goods there since there are no roads.)

When I reached the place, I just took my needed shower, and collapsed onto the bed.
What is the place like? To be honest, it looks like nobody has lived there in a long time. Design looks outdated (saw a 1994 calendar in one of the cupboards), toilet looks half renovated with the shower area lacking a shower screen or even the shower head itself. (There is an additional shower head by the bathtub nearby. It looks old too, but what to do?) The floor is kind of dusty, kitchen has (mismatched) chairs turned upside down on the table.
Well, what to do when you book the place as recent as while still in Paris? Venice is a major tourist destination, so rooms can become full easily, especially at the last minute.
I found out later that the famous Realto Bridge is nearby.

Europe trip: Day 10 (Paris Day 9)

Place visited: The Louve (again)
(Note: this was written on day 24. Some details might have been forgotten.)
Not being fully satisfied with the earlier visit (it was crowded), I decided to take another visit to the museum. This time, I had to pay the admission as it wasn’t the first Sunday of the month. On top of that, I am not eligible for the student/youth discount, which is reserved for EU citizens.
So, having there before, I kind of know where the other other entrance is, and what station to get off. The other entrance is not far from the subway station and then follow the underground shopping arcade that has an Apple store. There should be an inverted pyramid that lets light from outside in. (Guides and maps shows the entrance as the side of the nearby arch, visible from the glass pyramid main entrance, at ground level that goes below the ground.)
It was hard to take a picture of the inverted pyramid without someone posing in front of it.
Not much to say about what I saw: more of those paintings and sculpture that dates back to 19th century or earlier, which follows the tradition of what art is until recent times (Modernism art) where art in general looks radically different. A lot of unnecessary details on these old paintings that they kind of look alike, like a painting with so many people in it, or naked women, or whatever.
Art and more art… There’s just too much of it here!
If it weren’t for me having come with someone else and paid the admission fee, I would have left this place.
Oh, I also hung around to take a picture of the glass pyramid after sunset. Being early summer with daylight savings, that meant it happened at 9pm. Quite a nice sight.
Like Musée de Orsay, I went there without knowing that the specific day of the week that I went at has extended operating hours. What a coincidence.

Europe trip: Day 9 (Paris Day 8)

Places visited:
Musée d’Orsay (RER C, line 14)
(Note: this was written on day 16, 17, and 19, so some details might have been forgotten until I get to download pictures I had taken that day. Images and additional text added on 21 July)
So finally somewhere new: Musée d’Orsay. I knew where it’s location was because I did walk along there in the middle of the night some nights earlier, which was this massive building that, up until around the 1980s, was a train station. Because of how late I went out, I went around to find a place to eat beforehand. It was this fast food place called Quick near the Pompidou place I went to days earlier. Where to next? It was either the Musée d’Orsay or visiting the Lourve again. I did not explore everything on the last time I was there. Where we went affects the route to take.
Out of random, it was the first choice. Because I did saw an RER station right outside the station, and the station near where we were having both the metro and RER lines. A look on the map shows that it was actually shorter and quicker to take the RER. RER is the commute train within Ile-de-France and acts like a subway inside zone 1 (Paris) and there are no additional fees or tickets needed if your journey begins and ends with the subway (any zone) or RER (zone 1).
What I did not expect was that, immediately after passing through a ticket barrier, I have to enter through another barrier. I guess this tells the system that I had left the subway system and entered the commute train system, and not getting a free ride to outside zone 1.
The RER station platform seemed quite big, partly because larger trains are used, and the train length is longer. The trains carriages are either single deck or double. The carriage that stopped at where I was waiting has double carriages, which appears to be what most carriages are of. I never took a double decked train carriage before. (JR trains has it too, but they are classified as “green” carriages, and therefore pay more to get in.) 
The train seemed to also made up of several train sets linked together and, like the older subway trains, you had to push a button to open the doors. The carriage I took appear to be older than the other carriages of the same train: interior is full of brown, while the newer ones are colourful with a grey frame. What is the interior like? There are plenty of empty seats, but some seats seemed missing or worn out. There’s litter on the floor, and noticeable vandalism on the walls, doors, windows (with paint or, for the others, with something sharp), and even in the tunnels themselves. There’s also dried spit (those black round things on the floor) too. Not that much different from the subway in terms of cleanliness (or the lack of it). I’m surprised that there isn’t any disease outbreak. Really…? Who would have thought that Paris is this dirty?
In any case, the distance between each station is quite some distance, so it means that it didn’t take long to reach what would have otherwise meant passing through many subway stations. On stepping out on the exit pointing to the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was right at the doorstep of Orsay Museum. (The the station itself has very few passengers in case you were wondering.)
Like the other museums I went in Paris, there is a discount for my age from the full price. Even more so, it wasn’t until I looked at my (already purchased) ticket that the museum opens up until 9:30pm on Thursdays instead of 5:30pm for other days (closed for Mondays), which I certainly did not plan on, but good for me as I entered in the afternoon. There were more interesting exhibits at Orsay than the Lourve as there are more interesting and famous works there. It is a shame that photography was not allowed, or I would have shown you what interesting things I saw (even though, at time of writing, there aren’t any in this post at all).
I managed to secretly take this photo
We left the exhibition when it was closing at 9pm, though it was quite a rush during the last hour. Funny how bright the sunlight was.
On the way back to the hotel, I used Line 14, the newest line on the network. At one of the stations that lets me transfer to Line 1, I saw plants being grown with lights as bright as the sun even though I am some meters below ground level.
Am I seeing things?

Europe trip: Day 8 (Paris Day 7)

Places visited:
Eiffel tower
(Note: This was written on day 12 to 14. Some details might be forgotten until I take a look at pictures I took that day.)
I think I had gotten over my jet lag already: I’m waking up at the usual 9am without an alarm clock…
Anyway, on this day, I went to the Eiffel Tower. Yes, that famous pointed thing that everyone associated Paris with. I had been to the Tokyo Tower and the Personas Twin Towers that had been based on this, but this is the real thing! It may not be the tallest structure now, or was designed to be temporary, but it was for many decades from the time it was built.
So, which subway station is the best? It depends on what you want to see: the nearest station, [name 1, line1], might not be scenic at all. The other station on the same line, [name 2] does. In fact, it is there where all the scenic shots were taken from. Which one did I take? Well… Neither. It’s [name3, line2] instead.
There is some explanation behind this. While looking at the map, I saw a large patch of greenery at the south-eastern corner from the Eiffel Tower and kind of unsure or forgotten what the stations I mentioned earlier were. When I got to this station, the tower was not visible at street level.
With the help of maps and my compass, I eventually saw the tower, but not the large patch of greenery I saw on the map. Turns out that the street I was walking on ran parallel to it.
(Entered a supermarket along the way. It was there where I saw the French styled plug extender and socket. There was no adaptor though. Did not think about buying it until later.)
There are several entrances to the place: group, stairs, individual, and staff. All entrances besides the stairs uses some kind of a double decked diagonal elevator.
I had spent a lot of time in there, and it seems that many people from all over the world speaking many different languages there. There is a separate elevator that being you to the summit, and there is a queue for it.
People entering the tower at ground level would exit here. On the opposite side for the way down.
Those modern skyscrapers in the distance is the La Défense district I went to yesterday
This place is the summit. That little nub you see near the top of the tower.
I decided to climb down the stairs on the way down. It is quite a climb, and midway through, I came across a level that the elevator did not stop at. Sadly, half of the floor is under renovation at the time I went there.
Those scaffolding in the background there
Reaching the ground level, I made my way to the place where the nice picture of the tower is taken from, as well as waiting for the sun to set around 10pm. (Bought some chips for €3.50 along the way…)
The wait was worth it. I got to see the postcard view of the tower with my very own eyes. Trying to take a good shot is challenging with the zoom, white balance and exposure to deal with. (These are things you can’t do with a camera phone.) Waiting for the top of the hour after sunset would have the tower having a lot of flashes from it for about 5 minutes. Missed it? Well, it repeats every hour until 1am.
This was probably an unforgettable night I’ve ever had. There’s the magical feeling in the air.
(I was unable to find a usable toilet since before heading up the tower until reaching back to my place, which is many hours later. No wonder Paris smells of urine everywhere: where are the working toilets?)

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.