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Europe 2004

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Journal for 24-August-2004 : Paris

Caught the train into Paris today, but I rather wished that I hadn't. It might just have been that I was up at 2:30 am with the runs but I was not in any mood to tour anywhere today. To say I'm feeling just a touch jaded by the hassles of traveling is an understatement.

Emerged from the Paris Metro at the base of the impressively large Arc De Triomphe on the Champs Elysees, and we were recognisably in Paris.

After a quick look at the monument we wandered around looking for the tourist office that was supposed to be nearby. We knew they carried bike maps, camping guides and we were hoping for accommodation guides as well. An hour later we'd found it. It no longer bore a sign because it had moved to one of their official “partner” locations. An hour later we found that too, which was in fact the American Express money changing office and booking agency. No language barrier here, but Linda tried to ask for tourist guides and only got an offer to book something at our desired destination. Not entirely unexpected I suppose, but it seems all the tourist information services have been privatised, and are now run by people who have an interest in not disclosing information.

Feeling even more frustrated, tired and not in the mood for touring we caught the metro (an impressively complex labyrinth of local subways and Ls) to the Eiffel Tower. It's hard to describe how underwhelming it was to see from the ground. It's probably just that I've seen it thousands of times before on TV, and it didn't really look any better in real life.

The base of the tower was bedlam. There were queues stretching forever weaving through the photographers and touts selling plastic models of this wonder of mechano. The only people given any space among this chaos were the machine gun equipped army guards strolling around presumably looking for terrorists. We gave up on negotiating the queues (we'd had enough of that at Air Canada) and found a relatively quiet stop in the crowed park nearby to take our photo and contemplate our next move. We were both feeling pretty down and disillusioned. I for one was so underwhelmed by the city *everyone* told us we'd love I didn't even feel guilty about not enjoying it. It was here I discovered Linda was having the same thoughts I was about Paris and the future of our trip. Given we had no idea how to get the bikes back in a ridable shape, didn't have a clue how to get any help, were not enjoying what was reportedly the most enjoyable part, maybe we should just cut our losses and just head straight back to Australia.

With my guilt of having desires of abandonment eased somewhat, Linda and I walked along the river Seine towards the Louvre. We dodged the tourists, locals walking dogs and occasional tree past a thousand ornately decorated bridges from different eras spanning the past 300 years. Ornate carvings and other decorations were everywhere. The river (more of a canal, but not quite a drain) was overflowing with barges, tour boats and floating restaurants. Some of them were moving, but most were parked (and double parked) waiting for the throngs of mostly English tourists to end their double decker bus tours of the city.

There are very few truly new buildings in the centre of Paris, and these looked terribly out of place. Instead the entire centre of Paris is filled with 5 story (the practical height limit of pre-elevator buildings) mostly residential (very exclusive – too exclusive for anyone to actually live in) buildings that would not be out of place in a Shakespearian drama. All have elaborate wrought iron or carved stone decorations.

On our way back I spotted a sign pointing off to the “Bureau De Poste”, where I was able to find an appropriate yellow pages for the CBD and a pay phone. Eventually my “Je suis cyclotouriste D'Australie” got me an aglophonic description to the one bike shop in Paris that sold only real pedal powered bikes and stocked accessories. We negotiated the metro and the narrow cobbled (but full of parked little put-put cars) back and forth till we found our store. Closed. It's not uncommon for shops to open late, close during the middle of the day and then close early if nothing much is happening. This shop was no exception. However in addition, these guys had decided to close for the entire month of August!

There were some interesting differenced between Paris and the French parts of Quebec. As you might expect, Canada *looks* newer and much more American in the style of buildings and (mostly) style of cars on the streets. But there is *more* English language here that I'd have thought. In fact, many signs in the tourist areas are dual language in the same way the Federal government signs are in Quebec, with French at the top and the English translation at the bottom. For all the English I saw, there was no German or Japanese here. In fact a lot of the tourist businesses were only signed in English. My favourite though was the signs used for KFC in the francophone world. In Quebec the manatory French language signage forces this to PFK (Poulet Frias d'Kentuckie I think). But in France they can live with “Kentucky Fried Chicken”.

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