Speaking of French, and just to continue from the previous entry that was supposed to contain all the things that I wanted to write about regarding my trip to Paris: I tried to put my very elementary French skills to use, but wow. Just wow. It wasn't that I couldn't understand what people said (though of course there were times when I simply didn't understand); it was just that 1) they spoke really fast and when I finally understood, they'd already reacted to the blank look on my face and switched to English; 2) even when I understood almost immediately - such as a nice guy at the supermarket who let me go ahead of him because I was only buying a bottle of water - and even though I knew how to say 'merci beaucoup', the words the popped to mind instantly were 'thank you', and so I ended up saying 'thank you'; and 3) I was honestly too shy and embarrassed to say things that I knew.
I spoke a grand total of two complete sentences: Je ne parle pas français to a guy who wanted to do a survey, and Je viens de Singapour mais j'habite en Angleterre to this man at the bus stop (more about this later). When I went to cafes where the proprietors did not speak much English, I managed to convey what I wanted by saying 'cafe?' and 'gâteau?', and could mostly understand what flavour of cakes were on offer. I also understood that the security guard at the Musee d'Orsay asked me if I had anything in my pockets when he was trying to ascertain why the metal detectors went off when I passed through it.
My grand goal is to be fluent in French. Even if it takes me ten years or twenty years or whatever, I will do it. But it's definitely incredibly difficult especially when I don't live in a French-speaking place. It simply doesn't come instinctively even if you know the words. I mean, even something as simple as saying 'oui' when a kind elderly woman told me to zip up my handbag at Forum Les Halles came out as 'yeah'. But I really enjoy learning this language; it's something that I've been wanting to do for the longest time. And so I will keep on trucking.
People with Cameras in Museums
Okay. I understand that Monet's Water Lilies are incredible, etc. But tell me, what is the point of taking a picture of the painting? Worse still, what is the point of taking a picture of yourself standing by the painting? Isn't it obvious that you're gonna look butt-ugly next to a majestic work of art?
I thought two things when I was looking at the Water Lilies: how beautiful they are; and how annoyed I was at all these people with cameras. Excepting people with a genuine need to take photos of the paintings (art students, for example), and speaking only of tourists with a checklist of places to see in a facile and superficial manner - WHY?
I used to do that, of course. I took a bunch of photos of paintings when I went to the van Gogh museum, for instance. Then I found myself skipping past these photos when I looked at my vacation photos, and then I stopped. Taking pictures of paintings is simply missing the point, which is not to prove that you've seen the bloody Mona Lisa; it is to admire the painting in question. Sure, the two activities are not mutually exclusive; but sometimes it seems as if these tourists with their phones and fancy cameras with annoyingly loud shutters and their fucking stupid as hell selfie sticks want only to post on Facebook or Instagram that they have seen the Water Lilies and omg look at me, I have a photo with it! I'm so cultured and well-travelled!
Just fuck off please. Fuck off. This vanity is disgusting. If it were up to me, I would ban all cameras and phones from museums, or impose a fee for those that want to bring in their cameras. This vapid aspect of technology really drives me crazy.
Coffee in Paris
There is no other way to say it but bluntly: coffee in Paris is fucking awful. I had a brief chat with a Australian girl who lived in Paris for seven months about this and she agreed! I literally had one good cup of coffee in the four days that I spent there, at a charming little cafe called Le Poutch. It was a little bit too sour, but at least it was sour.
Everything else that I had was awful. The most offensive one was the ridiculously expensive flat white at Cafeotheque (?). Maybe it was my fault for ordering coffee with milk when I should have got some kind of special blend; but if you're a specialty coffee place, then you cannot charge 5.50 euro for a shitty cup of flat white. You simply cannot. If you're charging 5.50 euro for a cup of flat white, please fucking ensure that it measures up to Melbourne-styled flat whites. I don't even remember what it tasted like; it was just not at all aromatic and bland and too hot!
Even this cafe 9 minutes from my hotel that was opened by Australians was not good. I was already nervous when the barista was a French girl. She was very nice and very friendly, but I hate to say that the flat white was not up to scratch at all. It should be tasty, aromatic, and the really good ones have just a hint of sourness. (I think the best flat white that I've had outside of Melbourne is from Flat White in Soho, London.) But I consider the sourness to be a cherry on top. At the very least, the milk and espresso have to blend together so well that it is aromatic. I don't know how else to describe it; it should have a full flavour, not a flat (despite its name) bitterness that is quite devoid of the taste of the milk and tastes rather like bitter water.
And cafe creme? Oh my god. I can' even. I just can't. Next time I'm in Paris and I find myself in a French bistro, I will order black coffee.
Vegetarian Food in Paris
Have I already complained about how I spent an hour walking around the Delacroix museum area looking for vegetarian food? I think I have. But it has to be emphasised: vegetarian food is so hard to find in Paris. I can't imagine what it would've been like if I were vegan.
Donating Money to Eurostar
On Friday at 5pm, I took the Metro to Gare du Nord, all ready to take the 7pm-ish Eurostar back to London.
When I scanned my ticket at the gentry, I was told that there was an error and to speak to a member of staff.
I presented my ticket to the lady at the manual check in counter. She typed in the details, was met with an error; rinse lather and repeat a few more times.
Then she said, 'Look at the date. This ticket is for tomorrow.'
I could not believe that I struck again. I famously flew business class to Melbourne in 2012 because I fucked up my dates, and I found myself room-less for my last night there because I messed up the dates of my hotel booking. And there I was, four years later, four years older but none the wiser, forking up 195 euros at the ticket counter to get a ticket for the same day.
It was super upsetting. It pushed my bank account into overdraft. It was really lucky that the transaction still went through; otherwise, I would've had to use my Singapore credit card.
Of course, it might have been cheaper to find a place to stay for the night, but 1) it probably wouldn't have been that much cheaper as I don't stay in hostels and I would've had to eat and have coffee and stuff; and 2) I was just ready to leave. I was mentally checked out already. I just wanted to get back to Cambridge because I was tired. And I really didn't feel like taking the Metro back to the city again. Yeah, so maybe I was a bit spoiled...okay, a lot. Clearly, though, I need to be supervised when booking things.
Man at the Bus Stop
At some point, when one reaches a certain age, naivete ceases to be a good look, right?
I was at the bus stop in Temple somewhere, trying to figure out how to get to the Pompidou centre bus stop so that I could go to Pierre Herme and buy some delicious macarons. I was standing in front of the map and looking down at my phone, trying to figure out if I was at the right place.
Suddenly, this man came up to me and started speaking to me. He was short, looked like he was in his late 40s, balding, wholly unremarkable. He quickly switched to English when it was clear that I was not a French speaker. He asked me where I was going and said that I was at the right place. Next to him stood an Asian-looking woman, who chimed in halfway and said (in French) to go here and there, etc.
For some reason, I assumed in my mind that he and the woman were together and that the woman was his wife. And so I was a lot friendlier than I would've otherwise been - which was not friendly at all. He started talking to me about Singapore and Taiwan and all sorts of things. It didn't strike me as odd that he was barely talking to his 'wife' - and by 'barely' I mean not at all.
The bus arrived. The woman sat in front. The man sat at the back with me.
And then I realised what was going on.
It became crystal clear, though, when he asked me if I was staying over the weekend and I told him that I was going back to Cambridge on the day. The disappointment was palpable, draining his face of its radiance. Oh, he said. Why not stay the weekend?
And then he tried to hold my hand.
I quickly took my hand away...and then he tried to put his arm around my shoulder.
In my mind, I was thinking, Shit, I hope he doesn't get off at the same stop as me and starts following me around. He asked if I was seeing any friends, and I lied through my teeth, saying that I was gonna meet some friends that I met at the LSE. I did not want to give away the fact that I was in Paris by myself.
Mercifully, he got off at the next stop. So he basically got on the bus to talk to me and try to 'hang out' with me. And the woman was most certainly not his wife.
This is definitely the downside of travelling alone as a woman: CREEPY MEN. If he hadn't tried to hold my hand or put his arm around me, it wouldn't have been creepy at all. He even seemed kind of nice until he did those two things. It just makes me wonder why anyone would think it's okay to hold the hand of a stranger or initiate any physical contact at all after 15 minutes of talking to her? The only conclusion that I can reach is that people like that are simply creeps.
On the plus side, it didn't happen at night, and it happened in a very public place, and that he didn't follow me to where I was going, and that he didn't sexually harass me. I wonder when was the last time he got laid? It's so sad, isn't it?
But isn't it also equally sad that I didn't realise that he was chatting me up until 15 minutes later? Sometimes, I don't know what goes on in my head at all.
That's all I want to say. Apart from those complaints, Paris is great.
I am going to watch the last episode of Gilmore Girls now!