Thursday, June 03, 2010

parisian memories part 1

a la recherche du temps perdu ... collecting up some memories of various cities I have visited more than once, starting off with


1. Just walking through

During the first 20 years of my life, I spent probably more than 10% of my time in northern France, but never got to see much of Paris. By age 20, I had seen all the “big six” gothic cathedrals of the north, except Notre Dame de Paris. Lille, where my aunt used to live, was the biggest city we went to, and even there my parents managed to get lost every time.

I think I once went to Paris as a child accompanying my cousin who had some business to attend there, but can’t remember seeing any of the city’s attractions (my only memory is of a side road with a door where my cousin rang to deliver something, maybe there was a postal strike).

At 17 I went hitchhiking / camping with a gang of 7 along the Atlantic coast, from Saint-Jean-de-Monts (near Nantes) down to Soulac-sur-Mer (near Bordeaux). Love the Atlantic coast, it’s the only place in France where you get a proper ocean with proper waves, the southern part of the coast is a popular destination for surfers. I travelled back alone to stop by at my aunt’s place at Lille. I spent a day hitchhiking back up from Soulac to Nantes, then took the night train from Nantes to Paris (Montparnasse, I guess). With my trademark unwarranted optimism, I assumed I would be able to sleep on the train, but ended up having just enough space to crouch down outside the toilet door, so I arrived in Paris in less than perfect condition at some ridiculous time like 5 am. As I was travelling on an extremely small budget and there wasn’t any particular hurry, I decided to walk across Paris to the Gare du Nord to catch a train to Lille from there.

After all these years I still remember some glimpses I had while walking across the city with 18kg of luggage including a tent on my back (I know this number for certain because I weighed it when I arrived!). It was great fun watching the city wake up and rub the sleep from its collective eyes, market traders setting up their stalls, bin men doing their rounds very early such as not to hold up the traffic too much. So on that occasion I saw more of Paris than in my lifetime before and in quite a few years after, and I enjoyed it greatly. What I also remember of that trip is that on the train to Lille (that being before the times of TGV, it would have taken three hours or so) the conductor had to shake me to wake me up when he wanted to see my ticket. Oh, and just for the heck of it, I walked the 4 km from Lille station to my aunt’s place as well (and, unlike some people I know, I didn’t lose my way).

... a suivre ...

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