Paris, Day 8… the journey home

So, this was it. My alarm woke me up dead-on-time. 6AM. I double-checked and triple-checked the list of items I was taking home. All of the packing was taken care of, and at precisely eight minutes past 6, I knocked on C+J’s door to make sure they were awake.

They were indeed, and the last precautions were taken care of. At 6:47, I took one last image of my hotel room, and locked the door behind me for the final time.

The phoe rang, and the shuttle was ready to pick us up. We made our final descent in the lift, and was greeted with a battered old tranny van, already packed with American tourists, and complete with a cracked windscreen that looked as if it was about to give way any second. In fact, this shot sums up the state of the windscreen.

See that blurry line? That’s the crack in the windscreen.

The driver, some random Japanese guy could only speak about three words of English, and considering he spoke these badly, this was going to be a fun journey. Firstly, he wanted to know what terminal we wanted… now this was easy. Terminal 2E, for the flight at 10:40 to Newcastle.

“Nono, look in the book”, he said in an accent which resembled something ripped directly from an episode of the now defunct play-along game show “Banzai”. He handed Jonathan a tatty timetable. the closest he could find was the flight at 10:20, from Terminal 2F.

Fair enough, clearly this driver knows what he was taking about. after all, judging by the state of the van, he must have been doing this for some time.

The seemingly disgruntled Americans departed at their appropriate terminals, while we strained our necks to make sure our bags were still on board. Now, imagine this. if your seat folds down to allow the passengers getting off to exit the vehicle, the normal thing to do would be to get out of the van, and allow the seat to be pushed forward?

Yes, that’s exactly what I thought too. I attempted to get up, this crazy driver said “Nono, you stay there”, and began to push the back of the chair forward so the Americans can get off, while I was still sat in it, now bent double. What the hell? Why couldn’t I have just vacated my seat temporarily?

So, after ignoring the advice given on the OFFICIAL ITINERARY OF OUR BLOODY HOLIDAY, we arrived at Terminal 2F. Amusingly, the driver also demanded that we give him a tip. Before I could say “Yes, here’s a tip, get your windscreen fixed”, Jonathan handed him a €5 note, and he happily went on his way, whilst we were just left in shock and awe at the most catastrophic journey in the whole history of airport shuttles.

We arrived at the airport in very good time. In fact, a bit too good, as our flight wasn’t even listed on the boards. We were left kicking our heels around Terminal 2F for a good half an hour, waiting for our flght to appear on the boards. With almost a sense of inevitibility, the flight appeared, and yes, we were indeed at the wrong terminal! Terminal 2E was our terminal, therefore we had to make our way over there. I had predicted this would happen, so I wasn’t too phased. Jonathan, however, appeared to be spitting blood at this point.

We reached the approprate gate, and waited in a mile long queue. Joy. Someone came over and checked our passports, Apparently, the queue was for US passngers flying out of the EU, and we didn’t really need to wait in the queue.

Therefore, we were shown out of the queue. “Go ahead, you can use the self check-in desk”.

We approached the machines. No less than five seconds after leaving the queue, we got stopped by some jobsworth… “Excuse me, but you cannot use these…”

I butted in at this point, and in the most patronising voice possible, I expained.

“WE ARE GOING TO ENGLAND. THAT GENTLEMAN INSPECTING THE PASSPORTS HAS TOLD US THAT WE CAN USE THE SELF CHECK-IN”.

Before that statement sank in to Jobsworth’s feeble little mind, we were approached by a friendlier member of staff who inspected our itinerary, and agreed that we could self check-in.

Jesus Christ. More sodding automated computerisation.

She showed us how to use it. Thankfully, this one was a piece of piss, thanks to the fact that the machines we used actually worked, unlike the ones back in Newcastle. Within seconds, our seats were allocated, we had our boarding passes, and our hold luggage quickly disappeared once again into the unknown. Cool.

We went to the appropriate gate. Again, there was a queue about a mile long. and again, we were told to join a shorter queue. Of course, I didn’t know this, and while Chris appeared to be wandering off, he was actually going in the right direction.

And once again, we were approached by *another* jobsworth who didn’t quite know what he was doing. I don’t even remembering acknowledging him, I just suddenly took notice of some argument going on, along with some French guy shouting “Merde” very loudly, and continued following Chris.

Once again, we were submitted to the humiliation of Customs. Well, I say humiliation, I passed through cleanly. So did Chris. Jonathan, however was not so lucky. He returned, shoes in hand, with a grimace that looked like he’d accidentally chewed on a tube of superglue. Let’s hope he didn’t get the “rubber glove” treatment.

Thankfully, that was going to be it for the searches. It was time to hit the duty free. I was impressed at the sight of a Virgin Megastore. Therefore, while C+J hit the booze shop, I went there.

And within 34 seconds, I was back outside of it. Megastore? Bollocks! It was absolutely tiny, and the choice of music on offer was laughable. Bugger. I caught up with C+J again, and continued to browse the duty free shops. There is an appalingly small selection at CDG airport. Annoyingly, there wasn’t even any type of bar to while away the hours. Instead, we just walked around the poor selection of duty free shops. Naturally, I stocked up on cola bottles. They taste so much better than the ones in the UK.

So, after walking around a bit, we eventually found a cafe type place. I wasn’t hungry, but instead settled for an Orangina, which cost me a cool €3.50. My word.

I amused myself by checking some of the error messages on the broken advertisement displays. Even these weren’t remotely interesting. all they were was the time, an IP address, and some code number. The rest of the time, I was wondering whether the airport lounge was lit by Philips QL lamps. No seriously, this is how boring waiting for a plane can get.

Eventually, after what felt like an age, we made our way downstairs to the appropriate gate for our plane. Well, I say plane, I actually meant bus.

A bus would take us from the terminal building to the location of where our plane was taking off. Now, you remember the boarding pass we printed out only a few hours before? It was useless. Absolutely useless. It got scanned in, by the desk at the gate, and a NEW boarding pass flew out of the machine. Apparently, the plane that was going to take us back… er, wasn’t. Therefore, all of the seat numbers had changed. I don’t know, and obviously will not know the reason for the change in plane.

At this point, I didn’t expect any delay, so I phoned Daddykins and let him know everything appeared to be in order.

We were then kept on the bus for what felt like a fortnight. Obviously, there was always going to be a bit of waiting to do, but personally, the less of it I did, the better. I’d been awake 5 hours by this point, and hadn’t done a single thing. It felt like such a waste. Still, we’d be gaining an hour when we landed in Blighty, so it wasn’t too bad.

The bus circled through the airport, slamming the brakes on for every single little thing that happened to cross its path, meaning that the unlucky ones who were standing up got thrown forward. Luckily, I got a seat, and wasn’t going to give it up for anyone.

We left the bus, and climbed on the plane. Now, this plane was brand new. According to the brochure stuffed in the back of the seat, it was only a few months old, and it actually smelled like it. All of the seats were leather, there were entertainment units in the back of the seats (sadly not powered on for such a small journey) and the whole thing was immensely immaculate.

Unfortunately, we were kept waiting once again, and by this time were roughly 45 minutes late. I was sure Daddykins would have been waiting in Newcastle by this point.

Now, this is where Daddykins used a bit of ingenuity (probably spelled wrong) that I didn’t expect from him. He had used the trip to Newcastle airport to kill two birds with one stone. He had an errand to run, and also had to pick me up. So, he went and did the errand, and after completing said errand, he sent me a text message.

At this point, it was likely I was still sat on the tarmac in France, with my phone switched off…

Daddykins knew that the first thing I’d do after we landed was switch my phone back on.

Anyway, after what felt like an absolute age, we were making our way around the airport whilst being sat in the plane. Eventually, we got told to prepare for take-off. And off we went. The plane left the tarmac, and I was prepared for the whole spectacle of flight.

It was the first time I’d flown on a relatively clear day, and I’d bargained with Jonathan and Chris to get the window seat. It was awesome. Words can’t describe it.

Pictures, however, can. This was my 6th flight, and the first proper one where I’d actually managed to remember to take my camera out of my hand luggage before getting on the plane.

I think overall, I took 80 photos just out of the plane window. I’m overjoyed that I was able to document it.

Coming into land was my favourite part. We flew over Whitley Bay. I was able to point out to Chris.. “Look! That’s what’s left of the Spanish City!”. Very little, by the way.

We kept getting lower and lower, until we eventually touched down at Newcastle airport. Obviously, as previously mentioned, I switched my phone on, and the text message Daddykins sent was delivered. This meant that he knew we were close. I rang him as well, just to inform him of the safe landing, and the fact we were about to collect our bags. We were to meet him on the outskirts of the airport, as he was NOT going to get stung for those extortionate charges like last year…

Within minutes, we were hurling down the A1, back towards Hartlepool. Our holiday was well and truly over, and unbelievably, there was no major disaster. All luggage was intact, and not stained.

C+J got dropped off at their abode, I returned back to Mercuryvapour towers, expecting to be slobbered to death by two dogs who hadn’t seen me for a week. Instead no, they just slobbered over Daddykins, while gesturing that they wanted to go out. Bah.

So, all in all, Paris is a very nice place. Most side streets and the metro smell of piss, the beer is extorionate, the view from the top of the EIffel tower is amazing, the french can’t drive for Toffee, the most popular car is the renault Twingo, the pigeons look even stupider, and I have been informed by Marko who occasionally leaves comments on this site that Lidl’s do own-brand cherry Jaffa cakes…

This is now the end of the 15,352 word essay. If you want to find out more, you can check out all of the pictures I took here:-

Paris Day 1
Paris Day 2
Paris Day 3
Paris Day 4
Paris Day 5
Paris Day 6
Paris Day 7
Paris Day 8

I might stick sections of the video I took on Youtube in the coming days, but as far as the blogging and photos go, that’s your lot! Normal service, about how much I hate work and dull crap like that will return shortly

Paris Day 6… Visiting The Dead

With only two full days to go, it was time to hammer the metro and get as much seen in the next 48 hours as humanely possible.

The day started with Breakfast once again. Now, let me just explain about the breakfast. You’ve seen me mention it many times, but I’ve yet to explain in great detail what it consists of. And, seeing as we’re in our penultimate full day, I might as well tell you.

Just over the junction from the hotel was a lovely little eaterie called La Terrasse. You may have noticed I’d mentioned it a few days ago, when discussing Chicken Brochettes. Anyway, this was our chosen breakfast spot too. For €8.50, you get the Fench Breakfast, consisting of half a baguette, crossiant, (including jam / marmalade if required) orange juice and hot drink of your choice. It really is a perfect way to start the day, even if it is a little expensive. I’m considering taking it up as part of my daily ritual. It surpassed the breakfast we had in Berlin by some considerable margain.

Before I’d gone away, I’d been informed of a few must-see places. These mainly involved around dead people. The two places that immediately sprang to mind were Jim Morrison, and the Catacombs. But seeing as Bastille Day had been on 14th July, we thought that we might as well go and see Bastille to start the day off. After all it, was on the Metro Map, and considering we knew how to use the Metro now, there was no harm in giving it a quick try out on a lovely Sunday morning.

Tickets were purchased, thanks to the machine on the Ecole Militaire platform. Once again, we entered through the automatic gates, and awaited our train. There was rarely a wait longer than 5 minutes for every train we waited for. This was ideal.

So, after swapping trains, we reached Bastille, expecting something immense like what we’d seen the day before in Le Grande Arche. So, as we exited the Metro station, our collective thoughts were…. um, is this it?

Considering Bastille Day is so widely celebrated, we expected to find more than an admittedly large statue, and something that may, or may have not been some type of ticket office.

The ticket office isn’t featured in that picture, before you question me! In fact, after a quick Wiki, I was right about the ticket office. It was indeed a ticket office, for the Opera Bastille, and that structure you see before you in that photo is known as the July Column.

We took a walk about, considering it was a stupidly hot day. We walked past Bastille itself. Or at least I think we did. All of the historical point of interest signs were in French, and Google Maps wasn’t much help.

We ended up by the side of the river again, and I broke out the camcorder for the last time in this particualr holday, meaning that the tapes I’d bought from the Louvre were completely useless. They’re still sat in my suitcase, wrapped in their cellophane. Ah well. They’ll do for next year.

After deciding there was little to see or do here, we headed back to the hotel in order to pick up my Lonely Planet guide, and also so that I could use the “room facilities”.

I began to read the section on graveyards in my little book, knowing that Jim Morrison’s grave was somewhere in Paris, and thanks to the Metro map given in the afore mentioned guide, we pinpointed it to the exact location. Within minutes, we were back in the metro station, buying tickets to feed through the machine. I bought two, as I understood that we would need to return. C+J only bought one.

Once again, the metro trip was like one of those things where your brain switches off, waking up every few minutes to see which station you’ve stopped at. As expected, the correct station was located, and we exited the urine soaked rat-tunnels.

The Père Lachaise Cemetery was just over the road, so we negotaited the traffic, and entered through the most unstable steps I’ve ever seen.

Now, over here, graveyards are roughly the size of postage stamps. Tiny little things with 3-foot high headstones, where you can easily see from one side of the graveyard to another This wasn’t the case here. This graveyard consists pretty much entirely of huge crypts where whole families are laid to rest. I guess “burial real estate” is at a premium in this particular capital city. According to my handy little guidebook, there are roughly 1,000,000 people buried here. There are maps on the entrances and exits, but the whole place is still confusing. Everything is split into divisions and roads, of which there are about 90.

After walking about for about half an hour, with not a clue where Jim Morrison’s grave was, we consulted one of these maps. It wasn’t much help. Another half an hour later, we eventually found it! And it’s very, very small.

For someone with the status of Jim Morrison, I was expecting one of the large monuments to be his grave. Nope. In fact, this is it…

At this point, my phone rang for the first time on the entire holiday. It was Daddykins, wanting to know what time we were arriving back in Newcastle on Tuesday. It felt weird saying “Can’t talk now Dad, I’m at Jim Morrison’s grave”… In fact, walking around a graveyard with a camera felt really weird anyway.

Aother person buried in the same cemetary is Oscar Wilde. As you’d expect, however, his grave is a little more… erm… “impressive”. Covered with lipstick, with little poems left on it.

There’s a story about this paricular gravestone. Now, the angle I was stood at when I took this photo makes it hard to tell, but the large angel on the gravestone was once complete with a full set of male genitals, which were lopped off at some point and used as a paperweight in the cemetary office.

It occured to me that both of these foreign trips we’d made have had unintentional links to Oscar Wilde… In Berlin, there was the Oscar Wilde Irish Bar, and here we were, standing outside his grave. Ironically, his grave was busier than what the bar in Berlin was.

Edith Piaf’s grave was also there, again for someone so famous, hers was almost unnoticeable. in fact, I wouldn’t have seen it if an american tourist hadn’t said “Gee, look, Maw! It’s Edith Pee-aff’s grave!” (They didn’t really say that, did they? – Ed)

Um, no.

There was one grave which wasn’t mentioned on the map, but I would have liked to see… the grave of Gilbert Becaud. You may remember I mentioned him yesterday, and even purchased one of his CDs. I knew he had died, but it wasn’t until I got home I found out that he was buried in that very cemetary. I might have even walked past it without knowing. Bah!

After walking around the cemetary for what must have been two hours, we began to head off for something to eat and drink, eventually settling for a little café a few hundred yards from the cemetary. Something I did notice about Paris, despite most of the shops being closed on Sundays, the butchers were still open. This is obviously the complete opposite of here.

Anyway, this particular café was the only one where we actually needed to speak French, as the owner didn’t speak a word of english (alledgedly). For fear of ordering something completely different than what I wanted, I just stuck to a drink, while C+J went for a sandwich of some description. We ate and drank up, and now it was my time to shine. The only French I’d managed to learn in my entire time there was how to ask for the bill…

“Le addition, sil yous plait”.

The whole bill came to €15, or something like that.

So, we headed back to the metro station, only to find that the stop we got off at was unmanned, and therefore, you needed a ticket to get back in. That was fine for me, obviously, as I’d bought two, but for C+J, who only bought one (and used it up), it was a bit of a problem. therefore, we had to get on via another nearby station. Thankfully, this didn’t alter things too much, and we quickly found the way back to the hotel.

By this time, we’d left it a bit late to visit the catacombs, as by the time we’d have got there, it would probably have been closed. Instead, we decided to stay closer to home and take a quick look around Hotel Invalides. You may remember this as the impressive structure we walked past on the first day, and also took photos of on the 2nd day.

It looked even more stunning in the sunshine. We entered the main complex, and after only a few photos of cannons, we were informed by the security guard that they were closing tonight, and to make our way to the nearest “sortie”. Fair enough, at least we knew where the place was.

It was 7PM at this point (it felt much earlier if I’m honest), so we continued to have a bit of a walk. We even retraced our steps of the first day, and our agonisingly long journey through the back streets in entirely the wrong direction. Obviously, this time it was a little more relaxed, as we weren’t carrying half-ton bags with us.

There was a camera crew in the area outside the “national assembly”. Don’t know what they were about to record / broadcast, but I’d hazard a guess at a news report of some kind…

We walked towards the Invalides metro station, where we got off on the first day, just to have a bit of a look round, and see if we can pinpoint exactly where we went wrong on the first day, and where we should have gone. We also took a walk towards some buildings that looked interesting. At this point, I don’t think the other two were that keen on going any further, but meh! I wanted photies, and photies I got.

Suddenly, as we got up close to them, they began to look very familar. It became apparent that we were at exactly the same spot where the 90-minute boat trip dropped us off at a few days before. Aaargh. It became apparent just how much of a waste of time that particular boat trip was!

Anyway, with my photo bug satisfied for the night, we began to head off for something to eat. We were going to try another one of the cafés near the hotel, only to find that we should have checked the prices and the menu… this means we had a little bit of a walk to see if we could find anywhere to eat, before eventually settling for La Terrasse again. I had the chicken brochette again, as it was really nice, C+J had a burger each.

By the time we’d finished, it was getting late, and we left La Terrasse at 10:15PM. We gave up completely on trying to find somewhere reasonable to have a cheap beer, so therefore headed back to the hotel and had a relatively early night. With only one day to go, I didn’t want to spend the whole day packing, so I forced everything in my suitcase apart from the bare essentials.

I then spent the next hour in the bath. It was glorious. But what was even better was the shower. I normally don’t like showers. I prefer long hot soaks, but this particular one had some type of healing quality on a body which must have walked the length of a marathon in the previous six days.

With the majority of my stuff packed away, I was ready for my final full day in Paris, expecially looking forward to seeing the catacombs…

Paris, Day 5.

This was probably one of my favourite days. It was the day that we started using the Metro, and it was also the day that we returned to the Pompidou centre..

Once again, the day started the same way… Breakfast (maybe), shoppy, and then make our way to the destination of our choosing. However, this time we weren’t going to be surrounded by the calmness of a smooth river tour up the Seine. Ohhhh, no. This time, we were to use… THE METRO!

Before we entered the station, I got some money out, and took the following photo…

You know, I think “Ramasse” might have a different meaning over there…

The nearest metro station to our hotel of choosing was Ecole Militaire, which is literally just over the road from the hotel. It also translates into “Military School”, in case anyone is wondering…

So, after Jonathan negotiated the tube map and found out our destination, we had to actually get into the platform. C+J both had a ticket which they’d bought on Tuesday, which was supposed to be for all week. I had, cleverly, thrown mine out. D’oh.

this meant that I had to attend to the ticket machines, which use a complicated and fiddly “roller” system. You roll a roller to move up and down and choose your option via a faded green button. Seems easy enough. And it was! Before I knew it, I was €1.60 lighter, and in possession of a tiny little ticket with a magnetic strip on the back. Hurrah!

I inserted it in the machine. Within seconds, it came whizzing out of the other side, and a little green light pleaded for me to enter through the gate. Awesome! I’d cracked it! The gate closed behind me, and C+J attempted to insert their tickets… “Whoosh, BEEEEEEEP, red-light”. Oh, *my*. So, there I was, one side of the barriers, while C+J were the other. Frustratingly, I couldn’t even tell them what I’d put in the machine to get my ticket, mainly because I wasn’t able to remember without seeing the machine, and there was the big fence in the way. Bugger.

C+J contacted the woman behind the desk, and purchased a ticket each. Theirs were €8. something… wait, there was something up here, what’s the difference between theirs and mine? Why was mine roughly €6 cheaper?

Turns out, they’d bought a day ticket, whereas I’d bought a single journey ticket. Seems a bit of a waste, unless you’re going to make more than three journeys.

Oh, something I must mention about the metro is that it’s pretty much an open sewer. I don’t think there was one concourse or stairwell that didn’t smell of piss. Of course, this isn’t a problem with just Paris, in fact every underground train network I’ve ever been on smells of piss.

We arrive from out of the fluorescently lit rat tunnels at our destination, or at least close to it. Chris’s pigeon-like instincts picked up the scent of the Pompidou centre, and we walked in the exact direction, and within minutes we were outside its wacky 70s exo-skeleton design again.

Now surrounded by all of the classic architecture that surrounds the centre of Paris, this building is a nice little breather…

It was at this time I spied a record store. Right on the corner of the place. Now one of the reasons I was there was to pick up a song. You may remember I did this last year, with one of the reasons I went to Berlin being that I wanted to purchase a song called “Manner” by Herbert Groenemeyer.

This time, it was a song called “Marchand De Ballons” by a guy called Gilbert Becaud. I have this on record, and to be perfectly honest, I absolutely hate it. Yet, I can’t stop playing it. I own it on a very scratchy EP dating back to the 1950s, so I thought it would be nice to update my version to one released on CD. After a short flick through the CDs, there it is! I’d found it!

The Cd contained 24 songs by Monsieur Becaud, track 20 being the afore mentioned song. And it was only €5. Cor! How could I resist? Well, clearly, I didn’t.

I went in and handed over my monopoly money, and within seconds, I was in possession of it. Hurrah. Just for the record, and because I like posting photos, here’s a photo of the shop I bought the CD from…

So, after C+J demolished a “Jambon Et Fromage” toastie-type thing, we went in, but not before I almost got caught out by the street traders, who seemed desperate to draw a characature of me. I bypassed their very kind offer to do it for free, and caught up with C+J who had polished off their toasties by this point.

We stopped outside at this point for a few minutes while we had a bottle of water each. I was happy at this, as it made my bag that little tiny bit lighter.

We entered at this point, and the first thing on display is this…

Don’t ask me what it is, for I do not know, but the whole thing spins round at a cracking pace. We couldn’t work out if the chain was welded in that position or whether it was in that position thanks to the centrifugal force… I’ve probably spelled that wrong.

The entry fee wasn’t cheap here either. It was €12. Eeek. Still, the size of the place means that you could probably make a whole day of it. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed in most of the exhibitions, so you’ll just have to imagine “modern art”.

There were a few stand-out bits for me. The first was this room showing a video. The video was of a camera, driving around somewhere like India (the exact location escapes me) with people in view of the camera, holding up pieces of cardboard, with the names of western “celebrities”, painted on them, but written in arabic. The room itself, instead of being laid out in a sterile form, had about 100 random small chairs, all different, scattered about the place, which you could sit on and watch the video. Once you had finished watching, you leave the room, and there are all of the cardboard signs stuck to the wall. I *liked* that one.

There was also one, which was simply an old black and white TV camera, pointing at a Buddha’s head, held up in the ground by soil, and you could view it on the monitor below the camera. It was sort-of interactive, as your feet were also in shot at this point. Oh, and the camera was knackered too, though I suspect that’s one of the “points”.

A small distance away was another odd video, of a naked woman whipping the hell out of herself. It was either one of two things… a radical statement against feminism and the futility of human existence, or a chance for me to watch titties bouncing up and down and a little bit of S+M in a public place without feeling like a perv… I think it becomes clear that I just didn’t “get” that particular exhibition.

It was worth the €12 alone, however.

We moved onto the next exhibition which was more of the modern art paintings and… stuff. Now, how can this stuff be art? Painting a canvas completely black? Splattering blue paint all over the place, then leaving it to run down the wall? My “favourite” was one that resembled my favourite white shirt after I’d placed it in a full wash cycle with a blue pen in the top pocket.

I’m sure they all have deep meaning, but after watching Whipsy McWhipson for 7 minutes, I found it hard to concetrate on much else.

My favourite part, however, was from an exhibition by Czech artist Miroslav Tichý. It wasn’t so much art, but photography using home-made cameras. I found it, and the man himself, really fascinating.

On the ground floor, there was an exhibition featuring architectural designs. This was also interesting, if a little small. Some of the detail going into those things was immense, though I suppose they’d have to be, considering they were architectural models.

After we’d seen pretty much everything worth seeing (and not, in the case of the modern art paintings!) we headed off back to the hotel, just in time for me to get collared by the face painters again. This time, I just totally blanked them without even a slightest glance. They didn’t seem happy at my total ignorance. Awwww.

By this time, despite it being cloudy earlier on, the sun was blazing in the sky…

We headed back to the metro station, in completely the wrong direction, so we took the route back, and this time looked for the CD shop I’d visited earlier in the day. At least that way, we knew we were on the right track.

We arrived, and seeing as my original journey was only one way, I had to buy another ticket. If you ever use the metro, it doesn’t appear you can buy return tickets. Instead you just have to buy two tickets for your journey, one there and one back. I’m not sure if that’s common with metro systems all over the world, but it seemed to be here. The only downside of this is that you end up with tiny little tickets filling your pockets if you forget to throw them away.

We went for a very quick stop at the hotel, as we had one other place to visit this evening… Le Grande Arche. It is a structure that can be seen from all over the place, and we’d seen it earlier on in the week from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I bought two Metro tickets, while C+J kept hold of their day passes. Now, as this was going to be the last metro journey of the day, it means that my way of buying single tickets (4×1.60 = €6.40) actually worked out cheaper than buying a day pass. Awesome.

Anyway, we boarded the metro, and once again travelled between stations until we reached the destination of choice, We left the train and were unimpressed by the state of the station. Cracked tiles everywhere. It seems like every flat, non moving surface had been tagged. This left us expecting very little when we emerged from the station. However, our worries were totally unjustified. This thing was absolutely huge.

Just like everything else, you could get to the top of it, via the lifts, but you had to pay for the privelege. I think we’d paid enough to get up high, so we gave that a miss, instead we just stayed around the base of it, taking yet more photos.

You may notice that this year, I’ve made a bit more of an effort to get into the photos. Sometimes I just really shouldn’t have bothered.

As you can see, my sunburn wasn’t getting any better! Ah well!

It was, once again, getting late by this point, so we made our way back. Of course, we were gouing to have to eat, so the decision was to go back to the Chinese which we had such a good meal at a few nights ago.

Me and Chris settled for the chicken curry again (oh, how predictable) and Jonathan went for lemon chicken. Now, I believe this was one of the best chicken curries I’ve ever had in my life (with the exception of the beyond-sublime Blossom Garden chicken curry), yet unfortunately, Jonathan was less than pleased with the meal he was served. Such a shame.

I think we went for another desperately expensive drink after this. Or we may have just went back to the hotel. I can’t remember, and I don’t have any photographic documentation to say otherwise. I do, however, know that at 1:30AM that morning, I was sticking the camera out of the window to take some fantastic night shots…

We planned for Day 6 to be spent walking around a graveyard…

Paris, Day 2

No sooner had Day 1 ended, than Day 2 began. Now this, of course means, unfortunately that I didn’t get much sleep. This was mainly because of the afore mentioned factors in Day 1 about everything being too hot. This was something I’d obviously have to get used to.

I awoke at 7. C+J were obviously still going to be asleep, so I took a bit of a walk without them. They wouldn’t be up for hours. I think we made tentative arrangements to get up early, but not THAT early.

I donned my clothes and headed off, camcorder in hand, to the Eiffel Tower. This is the first time I’ve mentioned the camcorder in this trip. Yes, I did indeed take it with me, but thanks to my hard drive being a bit of a nuisance at the minute, I’ll not be able to work my way through the tape until I attempt to format my storage hard drive. That’s something I’ll leave for now, however.

Anyway. the time is 7:30 AM by the time I have a shit, shave and shower. I head off outside the hotel, and in the general direction of the tower. It seemed eerily quiet. I really didn’t expect it to be like this. In fact, I think I only saw a handful of people on my entire journey.

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Unbelievably, one of those people was one of those stupid sodding crap-keyring sellers. Aaaaaargh. Is there no time of the day safe from them? Clearly not.

Thankfully, he was the only one I saw, but still!

I continued my journey, and headed along the bridge across the Seine. It looked like a nice walk.

Interestingly (or rather erm… not really very interestingly), their road sweepers use a lot more water than ours. Instead of a shitty little drizzle in front of the brushes, this thing splurts out a great big gush of water across the entire pavement.

The walk continued, and I continued taking photos and filming, as you can imagine I would. This was easier said than done, as there seemed to be hoardes of joggers out in the early morning.

I continued the walk as it was still early, and went along to the impressive structure known as Hotel Invalides. Little did I know that this was the way we’d came originally, and I’d totally missed it on the way there. Mainly because all I cared about was getting to the hotel.

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I didn’t know much about the bouilding at this point, so I took a few photos, and headed back to the hotel.

I awoke Chris and Jonathan, and we headed out onto the Parisienne streets. I can’t for the life of me remember if we had breakfast on this particular morning. I think it was more likely that we picked up something from The Shoppy.

The shoppy (actually spelled Shopi) is a chain of supermarkets throughout France (by the looks of it), and the prices are perfectly acceptable. Now, we actually discovered this wonderful little supermarché on Day 1, but I didn’t mention it. In all, I think I spent something like €22 in there just on the first day.

Anyway, off we went to the shoppy, and bought what we needed, and headed off in the general direction of Le Tour Eiffel.

The first question of the day was how we were going to see the sights of the city. We initially thought that most of the attractions were a distance from each other, so, after consulting a map, it was agreed that we would get a pass for one of the river cruisers. Seemed expensive, but we got a 5-day pass, which cost €16. It looked as if this was the best way to see the sights.

Indeed, it was great to see the famous landmarks from the comfort of a riverboat. It was nice to be able to break the camera out and take photos of them too.

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First stop for us was Notre Dame cathedral. I must admit, it’s a stunning piece of architecture. Unfortunately, this was the first time we realised that Paris was really quite a bit too touristy. I remember I had to stop myself from collapsing with laughter every time I heard the inane statements and frustratingly annoying drawl of the American tourists walking behind us.

Though, the worst part must have been the camera flashes. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the building and the years of immensely hard work that would have been put into it, when every time you look at something, it’s doused in a split second of bright white light. You may find it a bit hypocritical of me to say that I would like to see them banned from a place such as this, especially as I took a boat load of photos while I was in there, but it’s true. You may also notice that on my photos, I didn’t use the flash once. Wasn’t bothered how blurry they came out. I simply respected the rights of other people around me to enjoy the building as it should be.

Therefore, I can see why Durham Cathedral banned cameras, and I stand with their agreement on this policy. I also retract any previous statements where I may have stated otherwise.

After the trip around there, it was then time to get some water, and a trip through the side streets in order to find a shop that actually looked like they’d stock something to drink. Eventually, I found somewhere. It looked like a proper dive, however, and this was confirmed by the fact that the water was manufactured in Greece, and was “sparkling”, though I couldn’t tell that by looking at the label. Bah. I hate sparkling water. On a hot summer day, it’s about as refreshing as a sand and razorblade sorbet.

Next stop was The Louvre, or at least the outside of it, as time was getting on, and there was no chance of being able to see most of of it, therefore we just stayed outside. As far as I was concerned there was plenty for me to photograph anyway.

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After we’d picked up some food and stocked up on more water (this time at €2.50 a bottle… ffs), we headed off down Le Jardin des Tuileries, towards the Arc De Triomphe. Now, at first it didn’t look like a particularly long walk. We could see it in the distance.

However, this was entirely deceptive. Turns out the short walk was actually two miles. Never mind, we made it. It is MUCH bigger than what I expected. Last year, in Berlin, you may remember we went to see the Brandenburg gate, and were shocked at how small it was, well this was HUGE.

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Of course, around the Arc De Triomphe is a comedy roundabout. Honestly, you could sit and watch this thing for hours, with all of the near misses. 12 different roads merge into one roundabout, which is roughly 4 or 5 lanes wide. There are no road markings. It is literally every man for himself. Oubviously, when this structure and the surrounding buildings were constructed, there wouldn’t have been any cars on the road.

Now this gives me an opportunity to explain a little about the traffic system in France, or at least Paris… there is *no* traffic system. Firstly, let me start off with traffic signals. Now, I’m sure you all remember your Green Cross code… look left, look right, wait for the green man. Well, you can forget it. Just forget everything you know. Over there, there’s no need to wait for the green man, because wether the lights are on red or not, they still go through them. If you happen to be obeying the green man, and actually crossing at that time, wish yourself luck, run like fuck and pray that you don’t end up splattered across the front of a Renault Twingo. I swear, I lost count of how many times one of the three of us almost ended up in a body bag because we thought that the red traffic light meant “stop”.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver, I’m just saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver. OK, there’s bound to be one or two exceptions to the rule, but we found it hard to find a car without some type of dent or scratch in it.

Anyway, back to the Arc De Triomphe. There was a dimly lit subway which takes you from one side of the road, and onto the main building itself. We weren’t aware that you could get to the top of it until we got there. Awesome. The cost was €9. Again, we left this for another day.

After that, we began to head back to the hotel. It wasn’t too late by this time (about 4:30) so we walked it.

At exactly 5PM, we stumbled across the tunnel where Princess Di met her fate. Oddly, on the top of the tunnel is a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty. The top of the tunnel itself is covered in graffiti.

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After a walk that felt like a week, we ended up back at the hotel, but not before we watched some brass band from England do their best to re-create the Austin Powers theme. Seconds later, off we went to the shoppy.

I picked up only the bare essentials in this particular trip. Water, cherry coke and more bacon Bugles. Oh, and some apples. And possibly some fruit juice too. The “pièce de résistance”, however, came in the shape of beer. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it came in a blue can and was 7.9%. the price? Something like €1.40 a can. I bought 4 of them.

Off we went, back to the hotel, again, and began to flick through the various pieces of complete garbage that was on the telly. Let me tell you that the French version of Countdown (i.e. the original one) isn’t really that good.

So, after a quick change of clothes, an’t a bit-o’Brut-slappy-chop-chops, we decided to check some of the local eateries. There was a vast selection where we were located, though it seemed most of them didn’t offer a wide selection of stuff. Well, not for me anyway, the annoyingly fussy eater I am. Again, the meals were expensive, but a bit more reasonable than the drinks. After knocking down a chicken brochette, while C+J had a cod steak, we left La Terrasse behind, and began to try and find a cheap place to have a drink. We kept on walking. And walking. eventually, through pure chance, we ended up back on the Champs-Élysées. Bugger. This was not going to be a cheap night at all. Down a side street, we found a place that was reasonable, and actually looked like a bar instead of a cafe.

We entered, and was shown to a table. Wait, I thought this was a pub? No. It’s just another expensive cafe that’s made to look like a bar. Growl.

And expensive it was. €7.50 each for a “pint” of 1664. (Note that in France, 1664 and Kroenenburg are two separate lagers), and thanks to the language barrier, it turned out that Chris actually ordered 5 instead of 3, therefore the cheap drink suddenly changed into a not so cheap €37.50… awesome. The beer wasn’t even that nice either.

So, we left, and set off on the journey back to the hotel. It was getting late by this point. We left the “pub” at about 11, and didn’t get back in the hotel until 11:45, though I did get a chance to see something cool – the Eiffel tower, doused in blue light, covered in sparkling lights.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my back teeth were floating. Absolutely desperate for a pee. It’s moments like this that you don’t wish you had a room on the third floor. As I pleaded for the lift to go faster, it only seemed to go slower. Luckily it reached its destination in time, and I remembered how to open the door without having to resort to brute force.

It was approaching midnight, so me and Chris headed off back to the Eiffel tower to see if we can catch the light display. Indeed we did, and I even got it on tape, as I gave Chris the camcorder while I tried to get jaunty angles of it.

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After that, we went back to the hotel and watched the tape of what I’d filmed. I then knocked back those cans I mentioned earlier and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a high, in more than one respect.

Paris, Day 1

Hello, and welcome to Day 1 of my Paris holiday write-up. Let me tell you that this should be well documented, as I have taken over 1,000 photos. No, seriously.

Right, where to start? Well, the beginning would be nice, I suppose. therefore, I shall whisk you back to approximately 7AM on Tuesday, 15th July 2008. I awoke from my steaming pit at that time, as we were going to pick up Jonathan and Chris at 7:30. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

I had a quick bath, only for Daddykins to inform me that he actually wanted to set off at 7:20 and get to Chris’s by 7:30. Oh, the joy of it all. Therefore, the quick bath got even quicker. In fact, I barely had enough time to stick my balls under the tap.

I then jumped out the bath and began meticulously checking my hand written list of things I was taking, just to make sure everything I needed was there. It looked as if it was. Awesome!

We set off, and arrived at Chris and Jonathan’s house by ooooh, 7:34. So, only 4 minutes late. Not too bad.

I knock on the door, only to find that Jonathan wasn’t ready, due to the fact he’d been driving up here until 2AM in the morning, as he currently lives daaaahn saaaaf.

Off we jolly well popped, up the A19 to Newcastle Airport. It wasn’t long until the camera was broken out, though for now, I’ll not resort to showing you scary photos, or photos of streetlights, there’s plenty of time for that in the next hundred or so updates I’ll write about this trip.

After last years’ fiasco over parking, where Daddykins got charged £6 for waiting about 15 minutes in Newcastle Airport, he dropped us off on the outskirts, near the roundabout, meaning that there was a slight walk to the entrance. Perfectly acceptable, I thought, especially as we’d be doing plenty of walking over the coming days.

So, we enter the complex and arrive at the check-in desk. The lovely young lady behind the counter instructs us to the use the self check-in machines. As much as I love computers, I absolutely hate anything that has the word “self” at the beginning. They just never work. This was no exception. After following the instructions on the screen, it prints out ONE boarding card. There are three of us. The bloody self-service machine brings up an error, and then instructs us to contact the lovely young lady sat behind the Air France desk, who then checks the other two of us in. Why couldn’t she have done that in the sodding first place? Sigh.

As our bags disappeared along the conveyor belt into the unknown, I nipped off to buy a little travel guide – one of the Lonely Planet ones. £6 it cost, but did turn out to be very handy. I’d say that it was probably better than the one I bought for Berlin last year.

Chris got his money exchanged, and we headed to the departure lounge. Of course, this involves the added indignity of having to remove your belt, and in some cases, shoes too. It’s something that is necessary, yet strangely humiliating (though not as humiliating as getting frisked like I had to be last year).

Thankfully, this year we didn’t change planes, so didn’t have to do this twice in each direction.

Once again, the passports were checked, and we headed off to find the bar we went to last year… Disaster! The departure lounge had completely changed, and the bar was boarded up and closed! The large seating areas were now taken up by another bar (it was actually the same bar I was referring to, but it had moved out of its old location, and into where the seating area was).

The large amounts of open space has also been “built on”, and to access the gates, you had to go through a duty-free store. This annoyed me, slightly.

I went into WH Smiths, in order to buy something to read on the plane, Chris bought something to drink from the same shop, and Jonathan looked around somewhere else. As could be predicted, we got separated, and had to cross through this bloody duty free shop.

A heavily done up assistant approached me, looking like she’d just tripped up in the make-up aisle.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”, she asked, Geordily.

I looked at Chris and said “Yes, his brother…”

There was a few moments silence, and she walked off looking slightly bemused. Eventually, we met up with Jonathan (the shop assistant was no help at all on that one), and proceeded to another bar which had been constructed, coincidentally in a Parisienne style fashion. Now, considering this was a duty free area, the beer was 33% more expensive than it was last year, and it tasted 33% warmer too.

At some point during this whole waiting procedure, we looked out across the runway to see an awesome looking flighter jet getting some service done to it.

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We then hovered about, watching the destination boards, waiting for our plane to come up and show a gate number. This seemed to take forever, but eventually, up it came, and we headed off in that general direction. I believe it was the same departure gate we were at for Berlin last year, but can’t really remember. It seemed to look very familiar.

The plane was tiny. It looked even smaller than the little fokker I flew in last year. I didn’t really mind, but I was a bit concerned that we’d have to land half way through so someone could get out and wind the elastic band back up.

We headed out onto the tarmac, but not before getting our passports checked AGAIN. The flight was perfectly fine. I got chatting to a nice young lady sat next to me who explained she was off to Disneyland with her neice who was in front.

We landed, and the weather was lovely. Let me just try to explain how big Charles De Gaulle airport is… HUGE. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own national anthem.

According to a quick play with Google Earth, Heathrow Airport is 3.3 miles from corner to corner, this is 5.5 miles.

This would explain the queue for the passport checks that we were in that must have been at least a quarter of a mile long. In fact by the time we’d reached halfway down the queue, I’d eaten an entire bag of Haribo chews. The person who I’d talked to on the plane got right to the front of the queue instanmtly because their family had a kid. By the looks of the line, it seemed quite possible that I could court, copulate and become a father by the time I got to passport control. In the sheer boredom, I began to wonder if there was anyone even slightly famous in the queue.

We collected our bags, and attempted to find some type of exit. Apparently the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was in that queue somewhere, as someone was waiting to pick them up outside the airport, waving a big white card.

Now, finding our way to the centre of Paris was going to be fun. Something that we (or rather I, as I decided which hotel to book) didn’t take into account is the distance of the airport from the hotel. A taxi may have been possible, but expensive. We decided to risk the train system. We must have spent about an hour trying to work out the tube map and roughly where we wanted to be. It would have been a good idea to actually plan that type of stuff before I’d left England, or at least consulted Google Earth for the nearest tube map. It would be something I’d kick myself later on in the day about.

We consulted the tiny (yet useful as the week went on) tube map, and got a train to one of the main stations in Paris – the name of which escapes me (Gare Du Nord, or Gare De Lyon, I think), and then get on to the metro to a station named Invalides. Unfortunately, this metro station was 0.6 miles away from the hotel, and Chris’s homing-pigeon instincts let us down for the first time EVER, and we headed off in completely the wrong direction, meaning that the journey we’d taken walking with heavy bags actually went on for 1.2 miles. Luckily, on the way there was a shop that sold water at a reasonable price, otherwise I don’t think I’d have made it. Although it was warm at the airport, the city heat just made it unbearable, especially when we didn’t know where we were going, with no end in sight. Eventually, after what felt like a month, we just happened to stumble upon the hotel. We checked in, and after taking a moment to regain composure, and to soak up the sweat, we headed up to the rooms.

The first of (thankfully not many) embarrasing moments came when I collected my key and couldn’t actually open the door – Jonathan showed me how to do it. Turns out the handle on the front of the door is just for show. you open the door by turning the key clockwise, and then pushing. Clever, but confusing when you’re dehydrated, hungry and fed up of lugging a case and a bag around a capital city. Actually, it’s not clever at all. I guess I just suck at opening other people’s doors. Maybe I’m the ani-burglar, or something

Anyway, I went into my room, Chris and Jonathan (hereafter referred to as C+J as it’s too hard to type otherwise) went in theirs. It was about 6PM at this point, and we arranged to meet an hour later to go out and see the Eiffel Tower, as it was less than a mile away from the hotel. I decided to have a proper bath seeing as my earlier one had been so rudely interrupted, and a lie down.

Two hours later I awoke. I went to C+J’s room, and knocked on the door. No answer. Were they both dead? Had they gone and left me all on my own?

At great expense, I called Jonathan on his mobile. Chris answered. I asked where they were, and they replied they were already at the Eiffel Tower. He’d knocked on my door, and there was absolutely no answer. How odd.

Anyway, they made their way back along to meet me, and all three of us had a wander up to the Eiffel Tower.

This was 15th July, the day after the Bastille Day celebrations, which meant that there were still areas cordoned off. New trees which had been planted still had bits of hardboard around them, and metal barriers littered the avenue leading up to the tower. This arrangement, however, allowed some people to make use of the obscure arrangement and make a temporary football pitch in the sand.

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It’s only until you get underneath it that you notice all of the effort that had gone into creating it. it’s really quite intimidating.

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Something also intimidating is the sheer amount of foreigners selling stupid, badly made little miniature eiffel tower keyrings and shit like that. There are hundreds of them littered around the city, all selling exactly the same tat.

Something impressive was the size of the queues. to get up the tower. Absolutely enourmous. 45 minute waiting times at least. I could think of better things to do for our first night, so we gave it a miss. Instead, we crossed the River Seine for the first time, and began to take photos of the sun going down, with the Eiffel Tower mostly in the foreground.

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After the sun set, we headed off to the bars near the hotel, as there were quite a few. It was getting on, and we didn’t fancy anything to eat, so we just got beers. Extortionate is the word that would fit in nicely here. Something like €5.50 for a 250ml glass. That’s less than half a pint. Holy cow.

One small beer later, we returned to the hotel to sum up the day, but not before we nipped into a local shop to pick up some essentials, and those essentials would be… BACON FLAVOUR BUGLES! My word, I had no idea they still made Bugles! I know they don’t over here. I think the last packet of those I had was back in March 2002 when I went down to London. I much prefer the BBQ flavour, but they don’t seem to exist anymore, even in France. Ah well.

I went to put the stuff in my room, and as I exited, Chris was in the middle of saying something…

“And then after that, we can… wait, did you come out of room 302?”

I nodded affirmatively, and audibly confirmed this with an “Aaaaaye?”

“BOLLOCKS. I thought you were in room 301. I was knocking on the wrong door earlier…”

I ate my Bugles, and went to bed. It was far too warm to sleep with the window closed, and far too noisy to sleep with the window open. Turns out that the hotel is situated alongside a military school, with nice solid walls so any traffic noise, or in fact the noise of people breathing echoes upwards. What doesn’t help either is the fact that the end of the road was actually on cobbles.

What made things even worse is that the room door was thin, and let any type of noise in. I swear, someone farted 4 doors away and I could smell it.

Eventually, I fell asleep on top of the covers, and prepared for Day 2…