And so I boarded the train in Rome to head to France. I heard a story about two guys who had taken their seats on a train in Rome, left their bags there and popped out of the carriage for a second only to return and find their bags gone. So, you know, I was careful with the bags. It was an overnight train ride I was taking to Nice (I THINK), where I would change to get to Bordeaux.
The seats in the six-seat cabins sort of pushed together into the middle providing three beds, and with two or three people only in the cabin, we had a bed each, albeit a not particularly comfortable or roomy one. I woke to the Mediterranean coastline of France. It was pretty attractive even if I didn’t really see any sand on the beaches.
Monaco though looked pretty special. I don’t claim it as a country visited I should add as I was on the train the whole time, but as the sun rose the train heated up and it was over 30 degrees by the time I got to Nice and changed. At Bordeaux I was met by family friends who kindly took me in for a whole week.
Summer in the south of France is pretty much where it’s at, I must admit. The vineyard was green, and although the first couple of days it was cold and cloudy, the third day saw the sun come up and the mercury go up. I was joined by my friend Greg yet again, and we spent a day working in a shed putting tops on bottles, which seemed more than fair compensation for the week’s stay. I also got to drive a small French car, for the first time on the right hand side of the road. It was pretty hairy, a manual car which had a slightly faulty clutch and so I stalled a number of time which was somewhat embarrassing.
Then there was the cough. I had started to cough a bit in Rome, and it was getting worse. I spent a day or two in bed, and saw a doctor who said it was hay fever. It wasn’t. In fact, it turned out it was whooping cough, and I had it mildly thanks to being vaccinated as a child. My Uncle got it from me in Germany, and he was sadly sick for quite a while.
I moved on to the city of love. I had planned to go to Barcelona, and Greg had agreed, and suddenly and without my diary I can’t remember why, I decided at the station to change and go to Paris. The TGV was pretty awesome, and I was there in 2 hours or so. The HI hostel was pretty decent, and I was lucky to get a bed I’m sure. The place had a couple of school groups staying, but that was ok.
Paris, the city of love. I went to Notre Dame. It’s pretty awesome but in summer 1999 the queue to get in was incredibly long and the place was packed. I was surprised at tourists videoing the service in there, but these days I reckon that’s pretty standard, right? From my childhood visit to Paris I remembered the bright colours of the Centre Du Pompidou. I had a moment of joy to find it was somewhat as I remembered it when I was there this time. Something about the place is good for the soul.
The Louvre, on the other hand, was shut due to a strike and remains on my life ‘to do’ list. I walked past it one day with the plan to return the next. I had no idea that meant I’d missed my chance! Oh, the Eiffel Tower, yes, the Arc de Triumph, yes. They are great, if typical, tourist sites, but you can’t really miss them. Paris as a backpacker perhaps isn’t as romantic as it is for couples, but it’s an awesome city. At the Eiffel Tower you look out across the city. I could see the business district so far away, kept away from the more historic parts of town. I still wonder if anyone really ever goes there. To see Paris laid out in front of you really can knock your socks off!
Oh, the Sacre Coeur Cathedral was far less crowded than Notre Dame, and well worth heading out to (it’s in the Montmarte part of Paris). Then there’s the shopping. Okay, not for me, I was on a budget. What did I eat? Well, I made some friends at the hostel who were living off supermarket food – salami, cheese, bread and cheap but good wine. I don’t know if it’s still possible, but I kept Paris to $50 or just over a day back in 1999 and still got to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower and everything bar the Louvre that I wanted to.
And THEN – well, I went to Belgium!