highlights: Sacré Cœur; singing sisters; hostel in the red light district; laundry; walkabout
It was about 5:45am when I left Charli’s house in Bounds Green to head into the city to get the coach. I had already mapped out the way the night before, so I was fairly prepared to commute via public transport.
I had also tried out a new way to carry my backpack, since the shoulder straps broke. With my daypack on the front of me, I slung my backpack with the big strap across my chest. I walked about 500metres to the bus stop, which would take me to the tube station, Wood Green. As I was not familiar with the bus route, I had to continuously look outside the bus to see if we were nearing the train station. Anyway, I managed to press the “Stop” button at the right time and disembarked the bus.
From here it was not difficult to commute to Victoria tube station where the Coach station was also located. I grossly underestimated the distance of the coach station from the train station and I did not sling my backpack on properly, instead I carried it at my side for nearly a kilometre. This resulted in being hot and sweaty- not really an ideal state to be in particularly on a seven hour coach ride.
Checking in was fine, I simply showed my ticket and passport and headed straight over to Gate 12. The bus had not arrived yet, but at least I was ready to go.
It was barely 30 minutes before a staff member opened the gate and called the passenger to come through. Our coach driver was a man of many languages, first greeting everyone in English, then French, then Spanish, then Italian, depending on the needs of each passenger.
The coach was to make a stop at Charles-de-Gaulle airport, so he did ask whether we were going directly to Gallieni, Paris, or to the airport. My bag was stowed appropriately.
I chose my seat on the coach. It was one near the rear-door, and luckily I had the two seats to myself. A lot of people were lucky to have two seats to themselves. I immediately fell asleep.
I woke up about 10 minutes before we arrived at the crossing. At the border, officers took everyone’s passports and spent about 15 minutes checking and stamping them. I finally received my entry stamp.
On Contiki, our coach took the over sea crossing, which was a ferry at Dover Port. This time, our coach had driven to Folkestone which is an undersea crossing via the Eurotunnel train. Our coach literally drove onto a train, which is made for the purpose of moving vehicles across to Calais, France. Imagine a large train that could fit prime movers, trucks and coaches. It was just an empty shell of a train, purpose built to carry vehicles. There were toilets on the train, but they were only located at the first and last carriages. Commuters are forbidden to walk between vehicles, this is due to the risk of being crushed between them. Instead, there are narrow walkways on the right-hand side of the train.
I did not notice the train moving, but as I peered out the tiny slit of a window, I could see the ground moving. The ground quickly turned to darkness, which would indicate that we were inside the tunnel – under the water!
I fell asleep here and did not awake until our pitstop in France- not far from the Port of Calais. I got myself a packet of chips and a bounty bar. Not a nutritious choice, but a delicious one!
It was another 3-4 hours before we reached Charles-de-Gaulle airport, where only a few passengers disembarked. Then it was about 30-45 minutes before we reached our final destination: Gallieni, Paris.
Les “Douanes”, customs officers, boarded the bus and asked everyone to come out one by one. Passports and bags were checked. I was in the middle of the bus, so I had to wait some time before getting off the coach.
When it came my turn, they asked if Français was ok, I said yes. The officer asked me to get my bag, I said “L’autre côté”, which means, otherside.
I showed him my passport and told him that I had a “visa vacances-travail” but I stuffed up saying it so he started speaking to me in English. My first language fail, ha! He simply asked me these questions:
- Are you carrying alcohol?
- Are you carrying drugs?
- Are you carrying weapons?
- Are you carrying cigarettes?
I answered No to all of these, of course. I did not have to open my bag and he sent me on my merry way. Others had to open their bags to be inspected, lel.
From Gallieni metro station, it would be a 45 minute journey to the hostel in Montmartre and would cost me a mere €1.70. Sox was still attached to my daypack and I got a few cute smiles from other commuters. I was sitting on a seat near the door, an elderly lady boarded so naturally I stood and offered her my place. She thanked me so kindly in French and called me monsieur. Nawww.
When I got to Anvers metro station, it was only a 3 minute walk to my hostel. I checked in and made my bed.
It was only early evening and though I was exhausted from the travel, I decided to go for a wander. The Sacré Cœur was not 200 metres from the hostel, though it was atop the mountain (hence Montmartre). I climbed the mountain with determination and reached the top without a puff of exhaustion, all 267 steps.
I lit a candle inside the basilica. The last time I lit a candle for someone else. This time the candle was for me.
I spent some time reflecting and praying for everyone back home. There was a quiet little chapel at the back of the basilica where I could pray in silence.
I also wanted to stay for the complies sung by the sisters.