Wednesday, 10 May 2017

On y va ! or Let the Adventure Begin ! (Schwerte - Cologne - Brussels - Paris)

Time to be on my own.  Time to go somewhere NEW.  Time to face risk.  Not just the risk of missing breakfast, but the risk of missing a train, or getting lost. All that was extremely unlikely during the last 4 days. 


I've checked out of my hotel.
This small town has a commuter bike lockup.  Unlike the MUCH larger municipality of Surrey BC
I have half an hour to kill at the train station so I head to the Service Center to inquire about my Bahncard.   I got it for 19 Euros and it’s valid for 3 months, after which it will renew automatically and I have the suspicion that the price will go up.  Good thing I ask because I find out that the new price will be 60 Euros for 3 months (probably NOT worth it, given that I don’t live in Germany) and that I want to prevent renewal I have to cancel SiX WEEKS before the automatic renewal date.  Good to know.


On the train station platform I realize that I left yesterday's dirty laundry in a plastic bag hanging at the bathroom door handle in my hotel.  Ah well, they know I'm coming back ;-)
 My train is right on time. Just over one hour train ride and I won't even have to switch trains before Cologne.

Like !  I don't notice the journey much but wake up with my head hanging far forward 40 minutes after departure;-)

Lanxess Arena. Neil Young with Spare Mom on July 12 2013 ;-)

That looks familiar; Cologne Cathedral
 If that bridge railing below looks kind of funny, it is because it is hung to the last available spot with 'love locks'.   I remember putting one there myself in 2014 when visiting my Spare Mom, a month after George died.

I get to Cologne Central Station at 11;45.  One hour lay-over until my Thalys high-speed train to Paris.  I leave the station in the hope to find something not too expensive to have lunch and to my amazement see a cheap special at Maredo Steakhouse 100 meters from the Station's door. From my days of growing up in Cologne, I remember Maredo as an expensive place to eat (OK, I also was a starving student then), but a glass of white wine and a grill skewer with fries for 12,00 Euros doesn't sound bad at all.  Let's do that ;-)

I'm arriving back in Cologne Central with only 15 minutes to spare.  Try THAT at an airport, LOL.  

This is the origin terminus for Thalys; so it arrives in time but leaves with a delay.  Everywhere are little pairs of people disputing who gets to sit in THAT seat.  Now take into account that at least half the people on board this train speak French and not many speak German. Mix in English and Russian and Spanish and Dutch.  So you hear the seat numbers in ALL KINDS of languages.  It falls to me speaking in tongues (English, German, French) to point out that THIS is CAR 27 (Waggon Siebenundzwanzig, voiture vingt sept, and that maybe some of the squabbles might be resolved if people checked their car number in addition to their seat number.  

My cell phone dings, which means that we just passed into Belgium. At pretty much the same time the REALLY FAST & FREE (a few years ago one still had to pay for it) Train Wifi STOPS working.  Go Belgium Go !  BUT, must be a border-crossing thing, because the Wifi re-appears a few minutes later.


I use the stop at Liege for a quick smoke break.  My hopes of keeping the window seat next to me empty for the remainder of the journey are dashed by a wide-shouldered new passenger. Merde !


WOW. Brussels actually looks bearable in the sunshine !
Thalys network
The train enters France.  I feel a strange kind of relief, having left Germany and Belgium behind. Those two countries always represent some kind of oppressiveness. France on the other hand always appears as a slightly more free-spirited nation to me.


Gare du Nord, one of my favourite train stations in the world (harsh competition with St Malo & Hanoi in the running ;-). One moment you're in a train station, but the next moment you're in Paris !

I look best in front of French architecture, N'est-ce pas? LOL
I I manage to buy a Metro ticket (It seems easier in Hong Kong !) ... 

... and head to Place de la Bastille. I'm shocked in a way how well I can navigate Paris by now, but then this is my 5th or 6th visit.  

I'm also shocked how UNDER-DRESSED I feel.  Paris ain't the FASHION CAPITAL of the world without reason.  In particular I notice young men of Northern-African descent wearing extremely cool outfits that combine high fashion with the traditional garb of the lands of their fathers.   Makes me even more anxious about tomorrow's trip !
No, NOT quite this extreme.  But nice to look at, LOL
Place de la Bastille:  Sans Culottes and anatomically correct !

I find my hotel, Hotel Les Sans Culottes, but there is a PROBLEM.  They don't seem to have a room for me, despite the reservation.  The guy does not speak much English and doesn't know how to talk with his hands.  So I have to resolve the situation in French. The ADVENTURE has begun ! He sends me to another hotel with his hands (a gauche, cinq minute), but I insist he give me his Wifi password and the name of the hotel, so Google Maps can lead me there (I've learned from the mistakes of the past, LOL).

As soon as I see my room at the new hotel, Hotel Baudin, I am reminded of the Dalai Lama's 4th rule for living:

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. 

Yes, the room they give me for the same price (CAD 105, which is CHEAP for Central Paris) is on the 5th floor (NO ELEVATOR and in France the ground floor is NOT the 1st floor, i.e. ADD one flight of stairs to your mental picture) but it has an old lead-lined terrace with a table and two chairs.

As I find out online later, this is yet another hotel where you can book the Good Rooms ONLY by going to the hotel website.  The rooms with balcony are NOT available on !  

Sneaking along this 'terrace' high above the streets of Paris around the corner of the building, I'm staring at the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  

There is even a hot-water kettle !!!!

A bit later I start noticing the things NOT so nice about the room, but I've slept in much worse rooms in Paris, LOL.

I head out to either find a restaurant or go grocery shopping.  A lot of restaurants seem to be closed at 6 pm on a Wednesday.  Then I see a Marks & Spencer Food store.  Yes !   Mais NON! I can't buy British food in Paris, for God's sake, that would be just SUCH a faux pas !   I turn the very next corner and there is a MONOPRIX supermarket.  

Much better, LOL.  They even have a guy standing at the BREAD island recommending which bread to buy to eat with a Roquefort cheese, for example. 
 NO, I don't consult the guy, I just buy some yummy looking bread (DEFINITELY NOT Gluten free with all those whole huge grains sticking out of the loaf !!!), and I buy some sliced Emmental instead of the Roquefort (I mean, just LOOK at that bluish rot ;-)

A bottle of Rose wine (mais OUI !) and various other things round of the shopping run.   Then it's back to the hotel and UP those five (SIX really) floors to my perch.   When I had checked in, a fat English speaker had gotten a room on the 1st floor and I fully know WHY.  However, HE will remain FAT, but I will loose my winter Hip Gold, LOL.   With all those stairs I can even afford to eat that raisin bread with milk chocolate globules (OMG, that is SO GOOD ;-).


I will have to take the Metro at 8:30 tomorrow to leisurely catch my flight at Orly, so I might just take it easy tonight. And YES, I DO realize how spoiled I am if I can treat PARIS as just a stop-over to get to the place I WANT to go to, LOL.
The bottle of Rose is emptying WAY TOO QUICKLY and the food I bought is vanishing QUICKLY too.  It's all just TOO YUMMY !

Sometime later:

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