This September, my travel buddy, Laura, and I crammed as many clothes as feasibly possible into our backpacks and set off on a 17 day inter rail adventure across Europe. I'm all too aware that I'll probably sound like that cliche student coming back from Thailand with some handwoven scarves, a selection of bead bracelets and a whole new outlook on life. But travel really changes you, man. It's the little things I've learnt along the way, the eye opening experiences I've had, and the wonderful people I've met that I'd like to share in this series of blog posts. First stop: Paris.
DAY 1: On our first full day in the City of Love we took a free walking tour- I recommend doing one in every city if you can because they're invaluable for gaining your bearings and feeling more connected with the history and culture surrounding you. For example, I can now appear worldly and knowledgeable when I respond to any friend thinking of visiting the Louvre- 'did you know it would take two years and five months to view every piece of art in the museum for sixty seconds?'
On the tour Laura and I met Kiri, a sun-kissed Australian babe with an infectious lust for life, and the three of us spent the rest of the day exploring the streets in more depth. We started with the queen of all Parisian streets: Champs-Elysees, then on to the Eiffel Tower (where we had an extensive photo sesh because you can't let an iconic landmark like that go to waste), along the River Seine, and finally over the Pont Des Art (Love Lock Bridge). Just a heads up- you'll lose count of the amount of love-struck brides and grooms fresh from the altar that you'll pass. Like, it's an actual epidemic.
DAY 2: The rain had only just settled, creating an eerily peaceful atmosphere as we walked amongst the graves of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where some of the great and good are laid to rest. The most famous being Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.
When approaching the grave of the witty playwright, a grey haired Frenchman seemed to appear from nowhere, introduced himself as Gerard, and began to share with us his knowledge of the life and death of Wilde. At this point we thought he was merely a friendly local.
Gerard then proceeded to take us to one side and ask us in a subdued tone if the pair of us were 'looking for ze love'. At this point we thought he was a sex pest.
After seeing our somewhat alarmed reaction, he quickly reassured us that he was a guide at the cemetery and took us to the grave of Victor Noir, whose tomb has become a fertility symbol because he was, as Gerard aptly explained 'strong, but not in ze arm, down zere'. Women all over the world (including Dita Von Teese) visit to rub their lady bits on the life-size bronze statue in the hope of getting pregnant. Gerard kindly demonstrated to us the different positions in which you could grind on it. Ladies who just want to find the love of your life, but don't fancy getting preggerz, you can simply rub the crotch area with your hands.
Gerard also took us to the grave of Allan Kardec, a spirit medium. According to legend, if you touch the tomb and make a wish, it'll almost certainly come true. When I made my wish, I felt this odd dizzy sensation followed by a feeling of calm. Of course, I can't tell you what I wished for, but it did come true, for a little while at least. I should now be returning with flowers, like the thousands of other grateful wish makers every year.
So combine the above occurrences with the fact that Gerard politely pointed out that there was a spirit walking behind me. Add into the mix that our guide explained every now and then he wakes with a date flashing in his mind that he eventually believed to be the day he will die, (for those of you who wish to meet Gerard, you have until 3rd August 2036). And not forgetting, the cemetery's resident vampire that was casually dropped into conversation at the end of the tour, 'but zat's for anozzer time'. The Pere Lachaise visit was the most otherworldly experience I've had.
Gerard, waving his arm back towards the cemetery: 'Zis iz where I would like my ashes scattered, zen when ze wind blows zem across ze cemetery I shall be, how you say, a guide eternal'. Spine tingling stuff said in the poetic way only achievable in a language that's not your mother tongue. At this point we thought he was one of the most kind and fascinating people we'd ever met, possibly from a different realm.
On to less melancholy matters, later in the day we explored Montmartre, the bohemian district of Paris filled with cute cafes, the odd vintage shop and the Sacre Coeur. Walk to the outskirts of Montmartre and things get a bit seedier- a long street lined with sex shops. It appears the French national pride extends to their sex toys. I kid you not, I saw Eiffel Tower dildos on display.
|You might recognise the Sacre Coeur and its surroundings if you've watch Amelie.|
DAY 3: We rummaged through the labyrinth of antiques and knick knacks in Les Puces de Saint Ouen flea market. In true Parisian fashion, everything was absurdly overpriced. An old brass key will set you back 30 euros. Deciding that we simply couldn't leave Paris without the sitting in a cafe, we sipped chocolat chauds at Hotel Amour. The atmosphere oozed Frenchness with the vintage naughty photos hung on the wall. The piece de resistance had to be the Micky Mouse ornament complete with a massive erection.
The beauty and sophistication of Paris really made its mark on me and the French magic worked its charm long after I left. I know I'll be sure one day to return for a croissant with Gerard.