Sunday, 31 January 2016

Dirty City of Love – Paris

The first time I travelled Europe, I avoided Paris like a
Eiffel Tower - Paris
plague. It was drilled into our minds that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth and where everything magical can happens especially love. It did not help that cartoon from Disney during childhood day’s shows humpback of Notre Dame and the favourite Ratatouille rat with all the beautiful families and happy endings. In addition to that every damn French I met on the road says the best place in the world is Paris even if they have never set foot there themselves. Yep I avoided Paris like a plague in reverence that it was a special place that I may someday share the experience of visiting with someone.

You did not visit Paris ???? But that’s the city of Love !!!! …. Quote by various people when I returned from the first trip.
Exactly ….  It’s the city of Love …. Hence I avoided going there as a Single.

A few years has passed and the second time travelling the world. I decided there is never a right time to do anything. I have learned that time is a fleeting thing and that life is to be lived and not prepared like a story book. I will see Paris if just to see the infamous city and admire the Eiffel tower and visit The Louvre.
Paris is a Dirty City.

In terms of European standard I guess (Let’s forget about India for a minute) …. Paris is a dirty city no doubt about it. The moment I got there and the first walkabout I decided that Paris was worth visiting if only to see the Louvre and I could not wait to get out. The love part I guess it’s a hype over sold by tourist agency to get more client. What I find more comical was the directions to everywhere. They were wrong. Reminded me of Malaysia and the mess up signage’s to divert people to different places to get more business or just more foot traffic.

This was not due to lack of the ability to speak French for even the subway station had confusing signage’s. Today I decided to just check out the bus station where everyone gets an airport shuttle to Beuvies airport where budget airline Ryanair stops. I was bound for that in a couple days and with the shitty weather of rain and more rain I thought no harm checking it out. Again I got stupefied by the signage’s bringing me to no man’s land.
If you never been to France, stay away and keep that magical optimism of childhood with you. Once you have been here like me, you feel like a dimwit falling for an obvious sales gimmick that you never thought will happen to your good self. City of Love …. Bah …. You see people trying too hard here with Love …. Good play for the heartbroken sucker.

The Louvre - Paris


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

IdTGV from Nice to Paris

Trying to skip hop faster than ever since I needed to get to Paris to catch a Ryanair budget flight to Manchester I decided to break a poor man’s backpacker rule and take a bullet train to Paris from Nice. Ryanair ticket from Paris to Manchester was only Euro 48.95 all tax inclusive + luggage fees but the bullet train ticket could easily double that amount. 

The thing about Europe is that if you book in advance … ADVANCE like not backpacker friendly advance, then train tickets COULD be really cheap. The bullet train I was thinking of boarding was on a French TGV line and after hours of keying in CHEAP, BUDGET, FREE, BEST, DIRT CHEAP, and any other keywords that comes to mind on Google, I stumble upon IdTGV the alternative website that sells cheap TGV line tickets.
I dun pretend to understand the system trust me and till today I am still baffled for it was technically the same train. Book under Seat 21 or some other TGV rail website or rail Europe blab la and the price sky rockets, but book under IdTGV website and the price was reasonably ok …. Still not dirt cheap but at Euro 69.90 I figured it was a good as any price to experience a bullet train at 325km/hr.

There was a problem thou trying to book IdTGV …. They only accepts online booking and they only accepts European credit cards. *KNNCCB …. (curse in Malaysian/Singapore style)* … Don’t give up hope I told myself and looked for that email under contact list where I send in a request by email pretending I had no idea a foreign credit card cannot work …  I keyed in my credit card number (without the security code nor the expiry dates) into the email telling them I was using so and so credit card from Singapore.
Within two days I got a reply, they told me that foreign credit card was not accepted but they have keyed in their database to exempt my credit card for this purchase since I have notified they by email. Try again they said. So I did and Hooray I got the ticket book and the journey was set.

The journey from Nice to Paris on the high speed train was an experience in itself I guess. 5 hours but really it only took 3 hours. The other 2 hours was getting the train from Nice to the starting point of Aviagon before the Train could shoot at full speed non stop.
In a way the train ride was not really comfortable. Seats were first class, clean, all amenities available and perfectly in order but if you have never been on a high speed train then you probably would not experience the air pressure constantly changing as the train go up hill and downhill. That was really not good for me for although it felt smooth the air pressure differential cause me to have a headache. Looking out the window was also a bad idea for it was too fast and everything was a blur. If you have a little motion sickness like I do …. brace yourself …

Arrive in Paris on time and out the train station. Dirty city of love I would call Paris ….
Gare De Lyon Train Station - Paris

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Daytrip to Monaco …… Boy do I feel poor ……

The cheapest way to get to Monaco from Nice is to jump onto a train ….. without buying a ticket! Well it could be the cheapest or the most expensive depending if you are caught or not by the ticket attendant I suppose. After some research on the internet which suggest the cheapest method to be the bus and some feedback from fellow travellers that had made the trip and back, plus the almighty hostel reception wisdom, I decided to take the train which was 7.80 euro return.

Monaco Train Station
Train ride was short and quick and within 20 minutes I was in Monaco. My ticket went unchecked, never passed a guard post at all and even when I returned to Nice later in the day it was the same. I should have really jumped. Anyway Monaco ….. I was a poor boy in Monaco.
Rich does not even begin to describe this place. It was oozing power and by the way the tourist tend to flock together sticking to designated routes and the more influential treats hotels and high end restaurant like their back end house or kitchen it was quite a sight to observed. I could now understand why girls will dump their boyfriends or friends to doll up and walk around Monaco alone trying to enter privet boat parties only to be turn down if not pretty enough.

I took a walk around Monaco, for it was the only thing I could afford to do. Lunch luckily was packed sandwich bought when still in Nice and a full water bottle from the tap. I walked around, up the monumental castle down the rock cliff watching people going about their life with the shiny sunglasses.
Many boys and girls dream of working here as anything from waitress to dock boy just to be nearer and apart of the glamorous lifestyle. Hence I also now understand why a lot of the guys in the hostel was telling me about their woes trying to get a job in Monaco.
Monte Carlo - Monaco

The famous Casino of Monaco – The Monte Carlo ….. charged a fee for entering and depending on the fee, allows you to play only games specified on that fee. If not wrong it was about 25 to enter and 100 to get a permit to play. You still had no idea what the tables limit was and by my guess it was going to be a killer. For once I just enjoyed the outskirts of the casino reeling that I was here and took some pictures like the rest of my fellow poor tourist brotherhood.
Monaco …. It’s worth a daytrip …. but it’s the parties that the twinkle happens ….



Monday, 11 January 2016

Nice , nICe, NiCe, nICE , nIcE - France

I got from Toulon to Nice on a train deciding to spend money for once and got on the train for 27 euro, 2 hours. How do you describe NICE? I had mixed feeling the moment I stepped down the train at NICE station for suddenly it just did not feel right. There was too many Asians!

Nice is popular as a tourist destination I will give that and it’s still affordable to those who can’t afford Monaco. But because of that you will see people dressing up differently than usual. Tourist city normally looks like big nerds wearing mismatch clothing’s marking out tourist like a sore thumb but tourist in Nice all seem to blend in like a natural gloves when they arrive here.
Nice - France
The girls especially seam to do a great job in that aspect for some reason. I have never seen a hostel where every girl that comes in looks and behave as if the hostel was a 4 star hotel. Oh they know it’s a hostel alright and no complains like a rich spoil brat but it was the behaviour that surprise me. The act of rolling in that carted wheel luggage, expensive and stylish handbag with a sundress and big eye glasses on top their head made me pause a while outside the hostel and triple check if I was at the right location before going in.

If you are a true backpacker you know what I mean. Hostels are where you see the true self of people especially girls. In a word no makeup or much less. But in Nice somehow all the girls seem to be primed and properly cared for in the packed and undignified Hostel. The boys if not for the lack of trying, the wardrobe seems to be more diverse from the jeans and t-shirt when they dig up that one fancy shirt out of the backpack but the most obvious change is the way they speak, like of nobility and not some horny teenager trying their luck at every wavy skirt that catches their eye.
NICE is weird. I did not feel real the whole time I was here.

Smoking in the courtyard, I made some idle chit chat and by some chance asked a Miss Australia called Tessa what was her most unexpected event during this euro trip she was doing. Story goes was a day trip to Monaco, end up in some rich ass apartment privet party and got so drunk that night she got f*ck by 20 guys in gang bang style. Ok she did not get GangBang but really it could have happen. She did get so drunk someone else had to send her back all the way to NICE, in a Porsche car. I told her, that would never happen to a guy …. You need to be a girl to be that lucky.
So while everyone seam to party every night I kept to myself quiet and alone in the room reading and watching shows. I notice even the Asian was in the party mood and girls were flinging themselves at people. Somehow bad English turn me off and the one that are good enough normally are mature enough to keep away from the teenage party.
Nice - France

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Toulon - France

Toulon was a small town. I miss small town in a way for I have been in the big parts of city for a while now since I left Lisbon. So small with a nice port for local yatch and also old looking or antique collector’s item fisherman boats.

Toulon Train Station
The only thing I did not like about Toulon is the way the French people pronounce the name. You have to pronounce the ‘ou’ sharp and like when cursing fuck you emphasise the ‘uc’. That curl of the mouth to say the word does not help either and all in all when you hear it, slightly it feels offensive as if it’s the best place in the world and you are not worthy of it.
Toulon Docks
The hostel was a work of art as well in a way. Chicag Hostel. They organized weekly Jazz session downstairs and seam to attract the locals to hang out just outside the hostel after the sunset to enjoy Jazz & Blues. Local artiste that wants to test their skill be it on the piano or the Guitar was always welcome but what made the session special was the interlude of a cello, violin and a harmonica all with that frown on the forehead when the key pianist or guitar kick start a tune, a moment of understanding and clarity then each starts to add in his groove.

I also got suckered to join the Reception Guy at the hostel on his day off for a bike ride off to find a beautiful lake nearby. He did not told me the whole specifics and I did not bother to ask as well which was a mistake. The trip ended short when I had to stop due to exhaustion, lack of oxygen to the brain making me dizzy and vomiting my guts out. After a bit of rest I decided the adventure was not worth the sacrifice and turned around while he ventured on. Late evening that day and he never found that lake …. Apparently it was on the other side of the freaking high mountain. Google map did not mention that.
Bicycle into Inner Toulon
Toulon was worth a day trip I guess … not more but I stuck there for two nights slowing down further.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Marseille – France

Marseille was simple, a city in the southern France where there was a large number of Muslim and I was really surprise. Then again I might have wondered down that special street where they all set up their shops and trade their goods. The diversity of France was more than I thought and the different level of poverty is striking.

Perfectly Lined Buildings in Marseille
France is not beautiful. That I have decided. It is different and interesting but not the awe striking beautifulness that you see in other places. If you take a picture of Marseille and its coast and high end Boat club and the speckled clean buildings all lined up perfectly with French balconies, it truly is spectacular but to my eyes it was not beautiful. The balance between its people and its city landscape is what makes a place beautiful in my eyes nowadays. The dynamics of a living symbiotic art.  

The Main Tourist Spot of Marseille
2 nights I stayed in Marseille but not much to do other than to just walk around the old town, climb a hill up to the Notre Dame where one could get a whole view of the city. All the food and restaurant was served for the tourist which comes in bus heaps and leaves in a few hours. Some wander into Marseille by car and some never left the train station as far as I could tell. Beyond the beautiful boat club which is the main destination for tourist stops Marseille the town was a mystery to me.  
Boat Club in Marseille - France

It felt gloom, a town that does not want to share with others and is glad outsiders are confined to the designated tourist spot prepared for them.

Marseille - France

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Barcelona to Marseille by Crappy Eurolines & ALSA

Complain Rant.

What a shock I got today morning heading to the bus stop. I arrived 45 minutes before the bus departure time and proceeded to the information counter to enquire which bus and which platform should I wait. Platform 24 he said and I looked for a cosy spot to wait.

At 915 I proceeded to the platform where the bus was already waiting. I raised an eyebrow when I notice the bus was not ALSA the bus company which I bought the ticket from. The bus driver said (in the best I could understand) … go upstairs and check in.

So I went up to ALSA waited in the long queue which left me with 5 minutes and they redirected me to eurolines at the far corner of the bus station hidden which I could not see the booth and nobody was manning the booth.

Back downstairs I ran to the bus to see the bus driver again and a new euroline lady was there scolding the passenger’s that they were all late for check in which was supposed to be done half an hour ago. I begged to be let on, I pleaded that I had no idea and that the ticket said no such thing, I told them I was there but nobody was at the booth, all fell on death ears.

Bus driver pointed to the lady and shrugged.
Lady pointed to bus driver and raise hands in the air.

Well since being nice was not getting me anywhere …. Be aggressive then I thought so I complained with as much vigour I could but without cursing for I knew once you use the F word that slim chance of help will be out the window. Voice was raised, frustration showed and I headed back upstairs to complain to someone, anyone but of course the eurolines booth was empty. No people manned the booth.
The euroline lady came upstairs and from what I could interpret was having a gossip session with the ALSA lady booth and I took it she was complaining about dumb passengers that did not show up early for check in, all this feeling base on the facial expression and the purse of her mouth while she gossiped. I walked straight to her ignoring the long queue of people going to the ALSA booth and scolded her.

There is no one at the Eurolines Booths ! How am I suppose to know about check in, look at my ticket I told her shoving it to her face, where does it says check in? It says pass it to the bus driver! I made a big fuss in front of the ALSA booth raising my voice to that lady but still controlled enough not to swear. The ALSA Lady Booth made a gesture to see my ticket and I gave it to her while still battering down this eurolines lady that I now think is French. ( I was on a bus from Barcelona to Marseille and eurolines was French )

The ALSA Lady was busy doing something while I kept up my ruse and handed me a different ticket though the window. What’s this ??? Oh a replacement ticket for 3 hours later. Great, my disappointment still not wavering but was relieve that I did not at least have to spend money to buy another ticket. The eurolines lady had the nerve to say this new ticket says clearly to check in half an hour earlier. LOOK AT MY TICKET I shouted at her …. and she backed off immediately.
Noting that I was not going to get much more than a replacement ticket I left to cool my head. Half an hour later I decided to check in early, might as well get this check in over with so I can wait in peace for the next bus. I decided to camp outside the empty euroline booth if that’s what it takes to get me check in but when I approach the booth lol and behold the same euroline lady that was walking around and gossiping was manning the booth.

I grimace at her and pass her my ticket saying Check In. Do you need my Passport … … No she said and passed me back my ticket with a slip of paper, crumpled with a measly stamp of eurolines behind and a sticker for my undercarriage luggage? Seriously why the F*CK is the check in so important if all it was is to get a sticker and a stamp on a piece of paper.
*Roll Eyes* ….

It was bound for disaster when one company starts selling ticket for another company. The line of responsibility gets obscured and you never know which to blame. I will choose to blame eurolines however due to the lack of customer attitude orientation. Sell your own tickets and dun try to sell it through another bus company. Did not help either that the ticket I bought a week earlier was a promotion ticket at dirt cheap price of 18 euro. BAH