I’ll admit that blog posts are much easier to write once I’ve put on my adventure hat on and started the reconnaissance mission for my next trip. The last few weeks have been an endless series of trains and sights, beginning from Kingsday in Amsterdam and Leiden. I was lucky enough to have a friend on exchange to Leiden who let me couchsurf for a few days while we cycled Dutch style (where she would pedal at the front of the bike and I would try and hang on at the back with all the bags and try and help keep it all balanced, pretending that I was helping even though I’m not the one that has to propel at least 90kgs of weight) around the quaint student city of Leiden. A place with such historical and cultural value sure merits a visit, especially since it is close to the Keukenhof. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of information about Kingsday from other bloggers so I’ll limit my words on that event.
- Sleep during the day of Kingsnight even if you don’t feel tired
- Research which parties to go to during Kingsnight or you will end up like us and be sitting in Maccas furiously soaking up their wifi to look for one closeby
- Dress orange and head towards Amstel around 11 on Kingsday to catch the boats
- Research and dress for the weather
So about a week later I met the same friend in Paris, France. I caught a bus from Maastricht which set me back 17 euros one way – the ESN card gives discounts to Flixbus which helped. During the 6 hour trip I amused myself with all the French movies I downloaded the night before. Bringing a laptop or tablet on these trips is definitely worth the extra weight, since most buses have a power outlet so you can charge it. My hostel was the cheapest one I found in Hostelworld.com, but in hindsight I should have researched a little better – there was only one powerpoint and one key for the dorm, hot water wasn’t guaranteed, I’ve still got bed bug bites, and it’s the first hostel I’ve been in that charges for wifi. I’ve stayed in $4 hotels in Burma that felt more luxurious. Nevertheless, my first night in Paris I spent solo, grabbing a meal at the nearby brasserie. All the locals in the restaurant was eating solo too, so I never felt out of place, and I searched through the menu trying to find the Frenchest thing I can order. I ended up getting a raclette, which is a dish of potatoes, cold chicken and baguette slices served with a cheese melting device. I was too proud to ask where I should put the cheese when I melted it so I had the cheesiest potatoes of all of France. I would have stayed longer just to have that meal again; here’s hoping there’s one in Maastricht or Melbourne. For dessert (and it is so nice to finally find a country that appreciates dessert as much as I do) I had my first – and not last – creme caramel. It felt like Paris was 80% cafes and brasseries so foodies will not have trouble trying to get some authentic cuisine.
The next morning we planned to meet at a designated subway station, which we discovered to be right behind the Louvre. Deciding that the line was too long, and that we would spend a decent amount of time in the Louvre anyway, we tried to go to Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cite. We found a rental bike service called Velib and used that most of the day. This presented many opportunities, but also a few challenges. Renting a bike would suit a tourist if they had a consistent internet connection and didn’t like the confines of public transport, and if Paris was not too crowded.
We tried looking the Seine up on a paper map, ended up going the wrong way, came back, hit the Louvre again, and finally biked South to magnificent views of the island and the river. We made the rookie mistake of trying to get food right next to the Notre Dame. EU students are able to go to the tower for free. We got sick of the scenery after a while and went South to the nearby Latin Quarter, where we were able to experience the bohemian atmosphere of the Shakespeare and Co bookshop.
We rode to the Champs Elysees, getting lost and passing the Louvre twice to get there. Feeling a little too civilised, we hit up a bagel diner and then Starbucks, by which point I was ready to find a quiet place to have a nap. The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be our last destination for the day, where we would see the sun set under the grand silhouette. But after getting supplies (wine, cheese, hummus, strawberries and cream, bread, macaroons, and more) from Carrefour, we made a beeline for the park and ended up picnicing under its shadow for many hours, trying to avoid people selling souvenirs and beer. Not just an over-rated gimmick, the Eiffel Tower is a must for every first-time visitor to Paris.
The next morning I ordered a croissant and a coffee from a brasserie to start the day. The agenda was Versailles, and no one was more excited than my inner war historian to find out why the peasants decided to kill the aristocrats and the royal family. The train ride from Invalides, packed with tourists, was an omen for things to come. In the day I had lined up for the chateau, the toilet, the overpriced food, information and a map, etc. Even though everything was worth the wait, it was a bonus that we did not have to pay an entrance fee because we were students. The gardens were 7 euro due to a fountain light and music show so we were content to peek through the bars at the gates like the peasants we are. The long hike to the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s estate only made the grounds look more spectacular, and removed any guilt about eating McDonald’s for dinner. We noticed that Versailles itself, the town outside the castle, was a destination itself.
We finished the day back at the Eiffel, where we continued our peasant-themed day by buying student tickets to the lower floors without the comfort of a elevator. We joined some adventurous couples who don’t mind breaking a few sweats on their honeymoon and groups of kids to climb the 500-odd steps to reach the second floor. We watched the dusk darken into night while taking in the Parisian skyline on our third (and last) night in France. Before I knew it, we had finished lunch in a cafe on an intersection where you can see both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and were about to board our separate buses.
I learnt a few things on this trip. Firstly that Paris is not prohibitively expensive, especially for uni students, and especially if you are doing your exchange here in Maastricht. We spent our money almost exclusively on food, trains and board. Even the rented bikes were free if you organised your timing well enough. Secondly, spend more than 4 days in Paris. It simply isn’t enough. Maybe 5 months also wouldn’t be enough. But it was a shame that we didn’t have the time to go to Sacre Cour or Moulin Rouge, or make dank memes from the paintings inside the Louvre. That being said, it’s much better to miss out on something than to cram a packed itinerary. You don’t want to end up like Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo.
Looking forward to my next trip, and, to a lesser extent, my fast approaching exam.