Escape into Europe – Part 2

So we had arrived in Lille and had spent the night in a hotel that did the job perfectly. We were all set for going into the French capital, not finding it to difficult to wake up at 7am for our 8.15 train from the huge station in the middle of Lille. For one, I was mega excited as I had never visited Paris before and it had been on my bucket list for a while. This time we found the walk to the train station a bit easier and arrived in plenty of time to find the platform we would be departing from.

When we got on the train I was reminded that my huge bag on my back made it difficult to navigate the tight corridors of the carriages, accidentally hitting people with the numerous straps hanging of my luggage as we tried to find a seat. We had booked tickets the night before but hadn’t been given seat numbers, leading us to sit in seats that had been pre booked by a poor French women with perfect English. She was very nice about it and I carried on whacking people with what I would soon label as my ‘big stupid bag’. Eventually we found our seats and I was able to reflect on the embarrassment of sitting in the wrong seat combined with our inability to communicate with native people in their own language. This would become a recurring theme throughout the countries we visited.

Amazingly it only took the TGV train just over an hour to reach Paris’ Nord (North) station, passing through the Northern French countryside at insane speeds. When we got of the train breakfast was on our minds first and we got some croissants at a café in the station. They definitely taste better in France. After we had been fed and watered we went to try and figure out the Paris subway system, which turned out to be a really effective way of getting across the large city. We decided that we wanted to see the Notre Dame Cathedral first, hopping on a underground train which left us only a five minute walk away from this historic building.

After admiring the impressive architecture and slightly spooky gargoyles of  Notre Dame, we wondered towards the Eiffel Tower, following the River Sienne. The sun was glaring and we realised that our Scottish eyes weren’t used to being exposed to that bright thing in the sky. Sunglasses were sought and then bought on our way to Paris’ main attraction. I went for some blue, red and white ones, (which I am proud to say aren’t broken yet) while my mate went for some black ones. They were both pretty cheap, though I reckon sunglasses can make any village idiot look cool. My friend disagreed and slagged me off endlessly for my choice of sunnies throughout the rest of the trip. You can’t please everyone.

As we got closer to the Eiffel Tower I realised that I needed the toilet. A new challenge had come about, finding a toilet in Paris. We kept wondering down the banks of the river, taking in the impressive sights of the French capital while becoming more and more desperate to find a rest room in some form. We went pass bridge after bridge until we eventually arrived at the bottom of the tower. Unfortunately we weren’t willingly to pay to go up the tower, but I was taken aback by how cool it was to be near such a famous landmark. We took some photos before setting off across the river to continue are mission which was now becoming a desperate state of affairs.

Up some stairs we went until eventually in a small square we had made it. Panic over. We realised that we were actually right next to the Trocadero, an area of beautiful architecture which provides visitors with a spectacular view of the tower. We sat there for a while, admiring the Paris skyline, while drinking some cokes. I never did get my hands on an ‘organia’! From there we travelled to the Champs Elyees and the Arc de Triomphe. I had seen the most famous piece of road in cycling being televised at the end of le Tour de France on many occasions, but it was something else to actually stand there and imagine the likes of Mark Cavendish whizzing past. The Arc de Triomphe was also massively impressive, it sheer size and width being a surprise.

By the time we had looked at these three attractions it was nearing the time that we had decided to book tickets for our next train. The aim was to save money by travelling to Mannheim on the German-French border, before boarding an overnight train to Berlin. These tickets would have to be reserved at Paris Est (East) station, a quick journey away by subway. After a quick discussion with the very French man at the ticket office we were informed that a collapsed bridge near Mannheim was causing issues for trains in that region. He carried on looking for options for us to travel to Mannheim, before suddenly he was buying us ticket for Strasbourg and handing as a schedule to get a train to the German town of Offenburg, before making our way north to Mannheim. Looking back it would have been sensible to have told him that our final destination was Berlin.

After this slightly complicated discussion we wondered around the streets surrounding the train station, getting a last sense of really fascinating city. It had been a short visit which had been enjoyed thoroughly and I hope I’m lucky enough to return Paris one day. I we wondered around with no agenda I was slightly pensive about the journey we were about to make. We now had to make an extra stop in Germany and I knew very little about Strasbourg. I had never heard of Offenburg and didn’t realise that it would become a major bug bear for us. As the afternoon rolled on we boarded another TGV, this time heading east, with no issues. The sun was lower in the sky and we were feeling more relaxed about the journey ahead. Berlin here we come….


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