Thursday, April 4, 2013

First Day in Paris, 4/4/2013

I woke up around 3 this morning to get ready to catch my 5:40 am  Eurostar train to Paris.  I bought my ticket yesterday, got a Eurail discount.  Eurostar requires you check in 30 minutes before the train departs and the Eurostar representative recommended giving myself about 15 minutes to retrieve my ticket at St. Pancras station in London for the train to Paris.   To be sure I had enough time, I caught the 4:18 am overnight bus from Edgware Station, down the street from my hostel, the Green Man.

The bus arrived at St. Pancras International about ten minutes before 5 am, I walked to the station, got my Eurostar ticket and waited for boarding time.  I took a few pictures before boarding the train.
From From London to Paris April 4, 2013

I had a second class seat for the train ride to Paris, was nice enough, comparable to Amtrak in the US, except there were no plugs for charging computers, cell phones, etc. like you find on Amtrak.  The train was full, a mother and her baby were in the seat next to me, I had the window seat.  The ride under the English Channel was quick and before I knew it, we were riding through the French countryside.  I looked out the window occasionally  but played Fire Emblem Awakening on my Nintendo 3DS for most of the trip to Paris.  I read about Paris in my guidebooks on my Kindle too.

We arrived in Paris around 9:30 am, I got my backpack and made my way to the Taxi stand. I considered take the Paris Metro to the hotel, but decided against it, I had too much luggage, it was rush hour, easier to take a taxi.  I dropped my luggage off at the hotel and the concierge gave me an English handout entitled, "Strolling Through Our Neighborhood." I decided to check out the neighborhood today and save the big sites for tomorrow and Saturday.

The listing that caught my eye on the "Strolling Through Our Neighborhood" handout was The Famous Sante Prison, I decided to go out and find it.  I initially got lost on my way to La Sante prison, I was going to abort my plan and visit the Church of St. Medard on Avenue des Gobelins, the street I ended up on, but I could not find the Church and returned to the hotel.  The concierge pointed me in the direction of La Sante Prison and I walked up Boulevard Arago in search of it.  I had found Boulevard Arago and set out to find the Prison before returning to the hotel for directions, I had walked for several minutes without any sign of a prison and went back to the hotel for directions, the concierge told me it was about ten minutes up Boulevard Arago.

I eventually found a building that looked like what I imagined a historical prison would look like, I began to look around for tourist signs, for La Sante Prison.  I walked around the prison and saw two prison guards and signs saying no cell phones, I began to wonder if Sante Prison was still operational.  Looking at the hotel's "Strolling Through Our Neighborhood" handout, I assumed Sante Prison was a historical landmark, I did not realize it was an operational prison.  I walked around the entire prison, took a picture of a memorial dedicated to anti-fascists executed there and continued walking up Boulevard Arago.  I was not sure if the building I found was La Sante Prison and I decided to keep exploring.

When I reached the top of Boulevard Arago I saw a long crowd circling a park, I thought this may be Sante Prison or some other tourist sight I might be interested in seeing. I went to the front of the line and saw a sign for the Paris Catacombs, another destination on the "Strolling Through Our Neighborhood  hand out I had planned to go. I decided to wait in line for the Catacombs tour, I figured I was already there, I might as well see it today, I could save other sites for the next few days I am in Paris.
From From London to Paris April 4, 2013

Two hours later I bought my ticket to enter the Paris Catacombs, I hoped it would be worth the wait.  I had my first run in with rude Paris when buying my ticket to the Catacombs, the cashier made a scene about my 5 Euros bill being torn, she even got tape out to repair it, after lecturing me in French on the condition of my 5 Euros bill. I just looked at the woman, I do not speak French, I could have responded in English but decided not to, I got my ticket and began my journey into the Catacombs.

Initially I thought I had wasted my time and money on the Catacombs.  I took the long walk down to the depths of Paris and the exhibits talked about the condition of the Catacombs, the mineral content, etc. nothing I was very interested in learning about.  I skimmed the different descriptions of the Catacombs and started walking through the tunnels, they were dark, dank, and I was walking through them alone.  There was no tour guide to direct us, I am traveling alone, did not have a group to explore the Paris Catacombs with, was eery being down there in the tunnels of the Catacombs alone. I ran across a couple of people here and there, when I did I sometimes asked them to take a picture for me.

I realized my money was well spent on the Paris Catacombs when I reached the entrance to the tombs.      I asked the Catacombs worker to take a picture of me, he was nice, spoke English, a completely different experience from the woman who yelled at me about my torn 5 Euros bill at the Catacombs entrance.  The Catacombs worker took a few pictures for me, then told me I could take pictures inside the tombs but not to use the flash, it is not good for the bones.
From From London to Paris April 4, 2013

I walked through the Paris Catacombs, mostly exploring them alone, sometimes running into people.  There were skulls and bones stacked along the walls of the Catacombs, according to the website for the Catacombs Museum, the remains of six million Parisians are buried in the Catacombs.  The tunnels in the Catacombs were sometimes wet, water dripping from overhead, it was an interesting sight.  I finally reached the end of the Catacombs and climbed the long, steep stairs back outside.  A man outside asked me if that counted as a workout, I told him I am counting it as one and we laughed.

I left the Catacombs exhausted and ready to return to my hotel for check in.  I stopped in a clothing store and asked for directions back to Boulevard Arago, I had initially set out in the wrong direction, glad I checked with the woman in the clothing store.  I asked the woman if she spoke English, she said a little and gave me directions in French.  I understood where to go based on her gestures and I confirmed in English what she had said, she started speaking French again and pointed me in the right direction. I said Thank you, Merci, and she said no problem.

I passed the Famous Sante Prison again on my way back to the hotel, this time I took more pictures from across the street, I was pretty confident I had found the prison. I later confirmed I had found the Sante Prison after I checked into hotel and Googled it.

From From London to Paris April 4, 2013

I continued down Boulevard Arago towards my hotel, I stopped in a couple of cafes/bakeries looking for a baguette sandwich. After a few stops, I finally found one that looked good and bought it.  I checked into my hotel around 2:30 pm, although it felt like it was after 7 pm because I had been out all day. I got on my computer, then took a long nap until around 9:30 pm.  I stayed in the rest of the evening, tomorrow I will head for some of the big sights in Paris, maybe the Louvre during the day and the Eiffel tower at night. I have a lot of Paris to see over the next few days.  I only wish I spoke French, even conversational French would make exploring the city easier and I am sure more fun, I'd be able to speak with the locals.

First Day in Paris Photo Album

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