Let's Talk About My Vacation, Part 1: Paris

Okay, you guys. Get ready to be staring at the business end of "Let's Talk About My Vacation, Part Seven Hundred Million" at some point, because I have a lot of things to tell you about this trip. It is going to take a long time, I'm afraid, and possibly even longer than that, considering that I typed out some highly descriptive notes on my phone at the end of every day so that I could remember what we did. And hey, get this: in a super creepy turn of events, those notes were not deleted in The Idiotic iPhone Deletion of 2012, even though all my videos were. I can't figure out what this means: that I should stick to using words to describe things, instead of cinematography? That the ghost of Steve Jobs stepped in and was all "guys, guys, come on, we can't let her lose everything"? That I don't really get how my phone actually works? One of those. Either way, I have much to say about our trip to South Africa (Plus A Little Bit of Amsterdam and An Even Littler Bit of Paris.) So let's begin!

Because I am perhaps unhealthily obsessed with finding the cheapest flight to my destination—you know how some people do sudoku puzzles when they're bored? I like to open up Kayak.com and find the best-priced route from A to B; that's my kind of game—I searched for ages and ages to find a good deal to South Africa. I was flexible with everything: the date we left, the city we flew into, the airline we traveled with, the country we stopped over in. And wouldn't you know it, lo and behold, I finally found a flight at a price that could work. The upside? It came with a layover in Paris. The downside? It came with a layover in Paris. Because that layover was twelve hours.

Now you may remember that I have spent twelve hours in Paris before. That was a little different though; when my sister and I did that, we took the first Eurostar in and the last Eurostar out, and thus had a full night's sleep—laying flat, in a bed, oh the luxury!—on either end. With this layover, Sean and I would be arriving in Paris at 11am after a ten-and-a-half hour flight from San Francisco, then leaving again that night at 11pm on a ten-and-a-half hour flight to Cape Town. It seemed a little.....ambitious. We knew we'd enjoy ourselves, of course—who doesn't enjoy themselves in Paris?—but we wondered if we'd be so tired at that point that we'd actually even be speaking to one another. Paris is a lot more romantic when you're speaking to one another.

But you can't go to Paris and sit in an airport for twelve hours—well, you can, but I think the odds of not speaking to one another by the end of the day would be even higher—and so we rallied. Upon our arrival at Charles de Gaulle, we had two very clear priorities: one was hot caffeine and one was hot water. We made our way to the very first establishment we could find that appeared to be selling coffee—it was a kiosk in the airport's train station—and procured two very tiny Parisian coffees. (It's not that we wanted tiny coffees, you understand, it's just that all the coffees in Paris are tiny, the way all the women in Paris are impossibly chic.) A quick Metro ride later and we were wandering around the Gare du Nord in search of the showers.

Wait, hold up just a second, Holly. You were in the Gare du Nord? Which is a train station? Looking for a shower?

This is the part of my blog post where I totally admit that I took a shower in a train station. Hear me out, though; it wasn't, like, a public shower in the train station. I mean, I had to pay to take a shower in the train station. Does that count for anything? Does it at least make it a little less weird, maybe? Yes? No?

Yeah, no. Here is the thing: I do not recommend taking a shower in a train station. Knowing that we'd both feel a lot better if we could freshen up a little after an overnight flight, I'd done the research in advance and had found, in some obscure little corner of the Internet, a place called McClean in the Gare Du Nord that boasted spotless, well-run shower facilities. I don't know if we just didn't find McClean, and instead found some kind of second-rate imposter shower company, but it was....well, it was an experience.

For the princely sum of six Euros each, Sean and I were handed a scratchy towel and a tiny bar of soap from an unsmiling desk clerk. "Man," she  barked with a grimace, clutching Sean by his shoulder. "You go that way. Lady, you go that way. Don't lock the door."

You know the Soup Nazi? This lady was the Train Station Shower Nazi. I bet you didn't even know that existed.

Of course, I totally locked the door. But guess what happened when you locked the door? THE LIGHTS WENT OUT. I weighed the weirdness of showering in a train station with an unlocked door against the weirdness of showering in a train station in the dark, and decided, all things considered, that I would prefer the former. The water was controlled by a button that you had to push, which would activate the shower head for twelve seconds; after twelve seconds, you had to push the button again for more water. My gut told me it would be for the best if I showered with my eyes squinched shut and did not let my gaze linger on any surfaces. I washed my hair with bar soap. Then I dried it awkwardly under a hand dryer in the restroom while various French women—all of them impossibly chic, naturellement—navigated around me to dry their hands.

Wow, Paris is so glamorous, right? Yeah, shower in a train station next time you're there, and then get back to me.

After that traumatic experience—we did at least feel a lot more human; the water, while it was delivered in twelve-second increments, was both strong and hot—we procured the makings of a picnic and went to sit beneath the Eiffel Tower.  I think we both needed to replace the events of the previous hour with something entirely more pleasant.

The rest of the day, honestly, went to shit after that picnic, because it was just a little while afterwards that we got the first call about Charlie, and the next several hours—for me, anyway—were a blur of hysterical tears set against the backdrop of various Parisian monuments. We did, during a brief reprieve, meet one of my oldest friends Caroline for dinner—you may remember that we "fainted" at a Bon Jovi concert together in 1995—but even that devolved, after a while, into Caroline sitting upstairs eating cheese by herself while Sean and I paced the wine cellar downstairs, talking to my parents on her Blackberry. (Handy hint: if you're going to hear bad news on the telephone, a wine cellar is at least a surreal enough setting to distract you, momentarily, from the awfulness of it. Also: lots of barrels to sit down on.) 

So anyway, that's where we'll leave our brief sojourn to Paris, if you don't mind: with us standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, pleasantly stuffed with Camembert and green olives, strolling languidly along the Seine, oblivious to any impending disaster. There are a few more pictures here (as usual, all the good ones are by Sean) and next time, we'll move on from Paris and talk about Cape Town. Specifically, about how good it felt to shower in a shower that wasn't in a train station.

Dec 13, 2011

This is so funny - I don't think it would have ever occured to me to check whether the train station has a shower but it is genious really. I see Gare du Nord in a completely different light now:)

Dec 13, 2011

what did you do with your luggage? we had a similar experience in barcelona where we ended up sitting in the airport for 12 hrs because there were no lockers. and you are right: we weren't speaking after those 12 hrs (had 2 kids with us too)!

Dec 13, 2011

So, when I'm in Paris in March I should skip the train station shower? Hm. Okay.

That picnic looks delightful, though.

Dec 13, 2011

I'm similarly obsessed with finding the cheapest airfare. When we went to South Africa I contacted a few travel agents, who told me if I had any hope of getting a flight cheaper than $2000 per person, I should consider changing my trip dates by a few months (we went over Christmas 2009).

Instead I spent hours trying various date combinations and finally snagged a flight for $1000 per person that came home at 11pm on New Year's Eve. On the way there, we had a 12 hour layover in Madrid. But then Iberia cancelled that flight a few weeks before our trip and gave us the option to go a day earlier, so we actually had 36 hours in the city.

It really helped break up the long trip and thankfully negated the need for a train station shower....with my luck that unlocked door would have meant a terrible peep show for entire station!

Nothing But Bonfires
Dec 13, 2011

Ann: Luckily, our bags were checked all the way through to Cape Town, so we only had our hand luggage, which we made sure to keep small and light!

Dec 13, 2011

Your Parisian train station shower experience has reminded me that we did the same thing, except in the Bangkok train station. Which was so disgusting that I had blocked it out of my trip memory until now. Train station showering is certainly a "special" experience. And it sets a good reference point for the rest of the trip's inconveniences: hey, at least we're not showering in a train station right now!

Dec 13, 2011

This summer my husband and I hiked the Inca Trail and one of the (many, many) highlights was the camp shower after the third day. While I did long for hot water, the water I got was boiling so I spent my 10 minutes (which I paid double for) hopping in and out picking a peep show for the entire room over touching the walls.

Kate in Ohio
Dec 13, 2011

I have been wondering in you would have rather had your parents not tell you about Charlie. If given the choice when you are really too far away to do anything about it, and the end result was inevitable, would you have rather not known? This situation is bound to happen to me and I would like to know what to do.

Dec 13, 2011

Now I'm so glad that we didn't decide to go with the showers at Gare du Nord last year - thanks for the heads up for next time!
I just love Paris & your photos are lovely.

Dec 13, 2011

Please forgive my extremely narrow focus: Are those thumbhole sleeves on the striped shirt in your photos? Where did you get it? Covet!

Dec 13, 2011

Oh my God, love the photos!!!! The photos by Sean are spectacular, he has the best eye. I'm very envious. Great hair by the way, if I tried drying my hair with a hand dryer I would probably look like I had stuck my finger in a light socket or something. I'm very sorry to hear about your lost video and photos, but very excited to see what y'all did get.

Dec 13, 2011

I'm sitting amongst a pile of laundry right now, living vicariously through. I tried procrastinating longer to read your Paris travel guide, and saw there was only a Paris guide from reader suggestions.

Add that to your prompt list for the next time you run into writers block. ;)

Dec 13, 2011

I wish there was an "edit" button.

Nothing But Bonfires
Dec 13, 2011

Kate in Ohio: Really good question. But no, I definitely would have wanted to know, horrible though it was. In part, a decision had to be made (though at the end, it was less a decision and more an inevitable outcome) and Sean and I were the only ones, really, who could have made that decision. While it was definitely a bummer to have this hanging over us while we were away, I think it would have been way worse to come back and learn that our cat had been dead for two weeks and no-one had even told us -- we would have felt sort of duped, I think, and like we REALLY didn't get to say goodbye. So even though I really, really, really hope this never happens to you, if it does, I would err on the side of knowing rather than not knowing.

Linda: Ha! No, it's just a shirt with very long sleeves that I'm pulling down over my hands because it was so cold and I didn't have any gloves! It's from H&M.

Camels & Chocolate
Dec 13, 2011

There's a reason you and I are friends, and that's because I, too, favor Kayak flight search games over Sudoku any ol' day.

Dec 14, 2011

I actually showered at the main subway station in Munich once. It wasn't near as bad as some of y'all experiences. Definitely efficient and clean.

Dec 14, 2011

Holly... wow. This is a prime example of how life can throw you the best and worst things simultaneously, with no instruction book on how to handle it.

By the way, I was the victim of the mini Parisian coffee (cost me six bloody American dollars, was half milk, and tasted like arse) in the 40 minutes I spent there on my way to Scotland. Happily, I avoided the train station shower!

The one upside to the insanity of life? It makes a great blog post! Thanks for sharing, looking forward to South Africa!

Dec 14, 2011

Your traumatic shower experience reminds me of my own. My boyfriend and I were on a 2 week road-trip from the Bay Area up through Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island, and mainland British Columbia. We were staying at campsites along the way. Campsites I was SURE I had thoroughly checked out to be sure we would have shower facilities at least every other day. After 3 nights at campsites with indoor plumbing in the form of sinks and toilets only I was very ready for a shower at the next stop. WELL. We came to find out that this next stop was a "primitive" campground, with no indoor plumbing whatsoever. I cried. The campground host told us that campers frequently used the showers at the local indoor pool. So we headed there the next morning.

We paid the small fee to use the showers and went our separate ways. I entered the ladies locker room and discovered that the showers were not divided or private, rather it was one big room with 8 shower heads on the walls. And there were swimming lessons going on in the pool so the locker room was not empty. I was the only naked showerer since everyone else was wearing bathing suits. You better believe it was the fastest shower of my whole life.

Pretzel Thief
Dec 14, 2011

You guys look great!

(And THAT'S how your hair looks like after a crazy shower and drying under a hand dryer? DUUUUUDE.)

I'm glad you had the 12hrs in Paris, though saddened the stay took a turn for the awful when you were notified about Charlie.


Also, why is it that Paris has such scheisse coffee? I'll be going to Paris for the first time this August (...I KNOW!) and my brother, who now lives in London and has been to Paris a fair few times, says their coffee tastes like ass, which really surprises me because of the whole cafe culture and whatnot.

Interestingly, he said the last time he was there (in September) he ended up finding a place with the most amazing coffee...and the place was being run by an expat Aussie Melbournian!

I'm from Melbourne and HOO BOY do we make amazing italiano coffee...flat whites, espressos, lattes...you name it, pretty much 90% of cafes know how to make 'em, and make 'em damn well.

(How do some peeps in the US drink that stale percolated coffee in shabby diners? ::shudder::)

Dec 15, 2011

@PretzelThief - Just had to weigh in on your US diner comment. Don't know if you've ever been to a diner in the US, but I waitressed in New York diners for nearly 20 years. Diner coffee is a) not percolated and b) not stale (unless the diner is located in Bum's Itch, Indiana where no one ever goes out to eat). ANNNNNND... every diner I worked in was rather spiffy. The diner business is very competitive, and most owners keep them clean and sharp looking - because there's always another diner just down the road.

The coffee in diners here in the US is made with professional grade in-line-water coffee machines. It's not percolated. It's always fresh, because coffee is the number one item ordered at a diner. As most diners are open nearly 24 hours a day, that coffee is being brewed fresh constantly.

If you're looking for a good, straight-forward cup of coffee that doesn't require you to read a menu to get the name right, and doesn't cost $5 a cup, a New York diner is the place to go.

Dec 15, 2011

If you have iOS5 on your phone it is backing up to iCloud whenever the phone is plugged in and in WiFi. From your phone settings you can choose what it backs up when it does this- you probably have notes selected but not photos or video.

Nothing But Bonfires
Dec 15, 2011

Appreciate it, Marcy, but I didn't have iCloud switched on (it's not a default setting and I'd only had the phone two weeks.) Besides, they handed me a whole new phone and kept the old phone, so even if it had been switched on, I don't even have that phone anymore. Thanks, though -- I wish it had worked!

Dec 24, 2011

Enjoy, but next time you're in France, head down to the Cote d'Azur, Paris is beautiful but Nice and the coast up to Monaco and Italy are a must see!!
Enjoy your next trip!
Attika International

Jan 22, 2012

I hate to ask, but I've admired the gray bag you traveled with. (I know, I know. It's sad, really, that I even noticed it amidst all the stunning shots of South Africa.)

How did that style work? I am always and forever searching for perfect travel handbag...Something not black, not too cavernous, and not too Kardashian.

Jun 06, 2012

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