In Paris, a city that I had known little about in comparison to my lovely companion, Katie, we experienced quite the unveiling of unanticipated things. Our train arrived late in the evening, our arrival instigating our initial introduction (love the assonance there) to Paris's transportation system, or as I may choose to refer to it; the 8th circle of hell. Given more time in Paris, this title would most likely not have sustained, but from my limited assessment I found it to be the most challenging and confusing transit that I had ever encountered. It included the RER (intercity and suburban connectors of some sort), the metro, the bus system, and at least two other winding systems of seemingly endless lines. The transit map became a whirling blur of colors, and if I had any idea what "tripping out" was like, I would compare it to looking at that particular map of train, subway and bus lines. As it turned out, we couldn't even attempt to conquer that kind of transit the evening that we arrived. The lines were mostly closed, and after consulting three information booths with staggered attempts for directions in first-time French, we stepped outside the train station to find our way by alternative routes.
We wound up taking a soliciting taxi, unmarked, but after reading my abundant guidebook stash I knew to ask whether or not this driver was legitimate (through pointing and questioning facial expressions). He told us that he was for real and even showed me his certification. So we hopped in and faced a hefty charge to find our backstreet hotel (we never would have found it on our own though). Inside awaited a cantankerous old man, irritated by our lacking French, who gave us the hotel rundown and pointed us in the direction of our room. We climbed winding, creaky stairs up a few floors in the dark to find a door that led to our room door in a tiny pitch black hall. After wrestling with the lock for a while without any light, we opened the door to the most ridiculous site yet! The tiny room was painted floor to ceiling in the brightest version of sea foam green imaginable! The tiny bathroom resembled that of an airplane, although some innovative person had managed to squeeze in a shower area to occupy half of it. It was fresh and fun to have our own room despite the questionable dead bug on the sheets and noises coming from adjacent rooms…
Paris! The next day was filled with nonstop exploration like our hardcore London day, although it took us until two in the afternoon to get anywhere using that ridiculous metro challenge. However, when we emerged, we traveled just a few blocks to lay eyes on what has been depicted in mountains of movies, poems, paintings, maps, and photos: The Eiffel Tower. This was when we first realized that we were actually in Paris. So we ventured onward, and took a boat tour down the Seine River breathing in the sights and history. The rest of the day, we provided ourselves with a fabulous walking tour of Parisian interests including but not limited to: Notre Dame (1098! Holy cow that's old), the gorgeous and gigantic Louvre, the beautiful architecture of island city center, the continued smell of France, aka urine, more grand old buildings, massive populations of people and vehicles, more homeless people than any other European city encountered, and of course crepes and baguettes.
At some point in the day, Katie led me towards a most famous site: the Arch de Triumph. It was huge and awesome, but a large crowd of people about a block off was what really drew my attention. What was going on? Katie and I made our way across to peep over shoulders and see what was causing all the commotion. We saw bicyclists. Following this vision came some mental processing, and putting two and two together we concluded, "Oooops, Tour de France?" Yes, we accidently stumbled upon the closing ceremony on the very last day of Tour de France! What a crazy thing to randomly happen! We watched the bicyclists of various nations come around the bend and be cheered on for their accomplishments, as we took in the many stands and shops selling Tour de France merchandise that we apparently hadn't noticed up until that point. Well, what can you do? Sometimes, you just arbitrarily stumble upon world renowned athletic competitions in their final ceremonies on your random backpacking adventure. Or we do, I guess…
Our second day in Paris marked the first instance of a trend I now find to be prominent in my pleasurable European experiences: We visited a graveyard. We ventured to the famous Le Pere Lachaise, the cemetery where Jim Morrison is supposedly buried (which I have my speculations about), along with several important historical artists, politicians, and other figures whose deaths date back much further than the ex-Doors front man. When a tiny moth began to follow Katie about, we concluded that Jim Morrison's spirit was making itself known, and this continued to be a theme throughout the trip, although he chose other bug forms to represent him.
At the end of that day, it was time to venture on to a new destination: Prague. We'd get there eventually but not before experiencing the most random and ridiculous train excursion, more exciting and adrenaline pumping than Paris's transit enragement, that I'd ever encountered.