Sunday, May 21, 2006

Viva la France!

Updated with better layout.

I finally got my fix of France. I visited Paris from May 10 through May 14. I stayed at a youth hostel in the Montmartrelively Montmartre district. A few blocks from my hostel is the seedy red light district of Pigalle, with the legendary cabaret: Moulin Rouge, and about a thousand sex shops. With some guys I met at the hostel, I ventured out to Pigalle every night of my stay, and took in the sights, smells and sounds, among them a million hookers, and the Museum of the Erotic -- which turned out to simply be a very, very big sex shop, with inhouse hookers. If nothing else, I had some fine pastry in one of the boulangeries, which are inexplicably numerous in Pigalle. Sex and pastry go well together, apparently...

Arun at Arc de TriompheArun (seen here at the Arc de Triomphe), who goes to school close to Stuttgart, kindly flew out to Paris for the duration of my visit, so I had good company. Arun and I went to Versailles, which turned out to be a pretty unremarkable visit.

I was initially a bit intimidated as I had heard of how Parisians are famously derisive of people who don't speak French. Dom had told me of his French experience: he was in Paris for a total of 10 minutes and he managed to get punched in the face by a Frenchman, apparently for cutting a line at the airport. After the first two nights, I was beginning to feel right at home in Paris, riding the Metro like a pro, ordering at restaurants, and using my French vocabulary of about 5 words (fromage, merde, parlay, vous, anglais) with great flourish; it was all cool. Then, I stepped on this guy's toes in a crowded Metro train, and bam--he punched me in the back. So much for the friendliness. Luckily he got off soon enough, and it didn't turn any uglier.

Shashanka and others at the Eiffel towerShashanka (seen here at the Eiffel tower with others from the hostel), who was also in Paris for a conference, connected with us in the evenings. We visited the usual tourist destinations: the Eiffel tower (spectacular), the Arc de Triomphe (imagine Delhi's India Gate, only bigger), the Notre Dame (yet another church), the Louvre (more art than you want, notwithstanding the Mona Lisa), among them. We also tried the local cuisine (French Onion Soup, roast duck, poulet roti etc.), although it was virtually impossible to get any service from the highly incompetent waiters at the cafes in Paris. The lazy bastards know they have crazy job security, and they work as little as possible.

Eiffel towerThe Eiffel Tower, in black and white. Quite easily the single most spectacular thing I have seen. Courtesy my Canon Powershot S2 IS.

Finally, my hostel. The most favorable thing I can say about it is that it had character. I booked a 3-bed dorm online, but I was assigned to a 6-bed dorm, which was about the size of a matchbox. The shower was basically a hole up in the wall from which water trickled, if it felt like it. The upper bunk beds were so creaky and loosely made that just breathing while lying down on them made them swing like Frankie Manning. Room service lost my towel on the first day. Lesson learned: never take a towel the same color as the hotel towels. In summary, if you are going to stay in Paris, the pompously named le Village is not the best option for you. On the upside, the other 5 occupants of my room were these winsome British girls who didn't think anything of changing in front of me. Not that I complained.

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