It was not insomnia that was keeping me awake. It was just that my bunk bed was shaking rather violently at intervals. It wasn’t some boogeyman or a werewolf under my bed. Rather, it wamaybe Virgin making out with a chick. In France, in the middle of FUCKIN Paris.
I wasn’t jealous. No, I wasn’t. How can you be jealous when your best friend hooks up with a cute chick in the most romantic city in the world? Nope, not even a shred of jealousy. I guess I said no too many times in the last few sentences, didn’t I?
The spring of 2009 saw six of my friends and me arriving in the City of Lights after a brief spell in Amsterdam. Arriving at Gare Du Nord, we were immediately accosted by what I presumed to be gypsies, begging for money. In true backpacker fashion, we pretended not to be able to understand English and shook our head in pretend puzzlement. They soon moved away in search of some poor sucker to accost.
Our first impression of Paris was not good. Having been from Amsterdam where everything seemed laidback and languid (possibly the narcotic effects of marijuana on half the population), the frenetic pace of Paris was overwhelming. Peugeots and Citroens whizzed past us, dodgy characters glared at us from street corners. People hurried from one place to another and hell, even the smell of Paris was, well, different. Where was that fashionable, elegant Paris which Travel and Living Channel so often shoved in our face?
Our answer came only later, after a botched attempt at buying Metro tickets and getting lost for half an hour searching for our hostel. As everyone checked in and unpacked in the hostel room, I went down and had a smoke by the river which ran next to our hostel. It was there and then when everything seemed to slow down and I had a peaceful moment to myself.
I realised the reason why it had seemed to be so frenetic and fast paced. It was because I was the one who was doing the major planning. In doing so, the pressure was on me to make sure everything went according to plan. I was stressed! It didn’t help at all that some members of the group were not throwing in their weight and only knew how to bitch over the itinerary I had set. I promised myself there and then that I would never take a big group out on such an epic trip ever again.
The Eiffel and Louvre
Until this very day, my mom is still stunned that I had travelled all the way to Paris, walked underneath it’s wrought iron arches and didn’t bother to go up to it’s viewing deck. Doubling her shock was also that I had been to the Louvre’s courtyard, stood in the backdrop of IM Pei’s glass pyramids and didn’t actually go in to see the priceless works of art.
“Naah. Too touristy.” I had dismissed.
“But it’s the Eiffel Tower! Everyone wants to go up the Eiffel Tower. And the Mona Lisa was in the Louvre. How can you not go see it?” my mom protested.
Unlike my mom, I had never been a museum vulture in the first place. I had on occasion enjoyed certain museums and displays such as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Ancient Egypt exhibition in Singapore.
That is not to say that I was not drawn into the history of Paris. I was, especially with regards to the World War 2 period. But just remember this, the French don’t really like any mention of wars since they pretty much sucked at most of them. Most of the time, the French preferred to surrender, which pretty much explained why the Americans called the French ‘surrender monkeys’.
The word surrender itself is taken from French. The only time i could recall from my history lesson when the French were good at war was when they were being led by a short pompous man with a big hat. Ok, maybe that’s not a nice thing to say about Napoleon Bonaparte. I shouldn’t digress.
The reason we hadn’t gone up Eiffel Tower was simple. We simply didn’t have the patience to queue up behind what seemed to be a long line of old ladies and noisy Chinese tourists and their guides waving group flags. It was also late in the day and we had walked literally kilometers to reach the damn place. (Ok, blame it on a navigation error by yours truly) We were tired and more importantly, hungry.
My favourite place however was most certainly the Centre Du Pompidou, a massive hulk of a high tech architecture building designed by the famed Renzo Piano. The French, when it was first unveiled, hated it. My French ex colleague who studied urban planning rolled her eyes when I even mentioned the building. “It’s ugly!” she insisted. I couldn’t deny it. But maybe, it’s ugly in a nice sort of way.
Confit De Canard. I still remember vividly how the flesh peeled off the preserved duck leg easily, dab some French mustard on it and putting that little slice of meat into my mouth. The salty smoky flavor of the duck melted with the tanginess of the mustard. It was culinary fireworks on my tastebuds. Soak in the duck juices with some fresh baguette and it all blended into one of the most excellent meals I had in Europe. Ending the meal with a carafe of red wine and a cigarette later, I was one satisfied customer.
The same could not be said of the Virgin who had ignorantly ordered carpaccio. I presume he had ordered the beef carpaccio due it’s rather fancy name. What was served caused much laughter among us. Thin slices of raw meat with a sprig of garnish. The Virgin was never an adventurous eater and with every bite, he turned even greener. He soldiered on through half the dish before surrendering.
French cuisine is celebrated throughout the world as one of the greatest culinary fares. In fact, the French are the number one contributor to food and kitchen lingo. Internationally recognised words associated with cooking such as sous-chef, mise en place, ala carte and ala mode are all French in origin. While French restaurants cannot be regarded as cheap, they are vastly more affordable than French restaurants back home who have no qualms whatsoever to charge $50 for a plate of duck confit (It was 15 euros in a quaint little restaurant in Paris).
Food we had in Paris was great although we often ended up at a little kebab store near our hostel due to the Mentalist’s preference for halal food. I guess in his mind, by eating halal food now, we could negate the non-halal drinks we would usually have after supper.
I met up with a French ex colleague and her boyfriend in Paris who offered to bring us clubbing. We wandered the streets for a while before ending up at a club near Montmatre. Loud music, hot club and glass after glass of apple cider.It was my first time with apple cider and it tasted just like apple juice. I was draining glass after glass without inhibition.
That night, we took the taxi back to the hostel giggling and laughing all the way. I had an excellent sleep only to wake up in the morning to have the worst hangover of my life. It seemed that there was a construction worker drilling through my brain cortex with a jackhammer. The light streaming through the window seemed to poke holes in my eyeballs, causing me to burrow even deeper into the darkness of my blanket. It was well after 12 when I staggered downstairs to join the rest for a day out.
That however, would not be the last hangover I would have for the rest of our Eurotrip. There was still the tale of the Sangria in Spain but that is another story for another time. 🙂