Collioure-“Let’s Walk To Spain”

(this one is a Sean and Naomi mashup, it might be hard to follow who is writing at any given time.)
When discussing which towns have been our favorites so far this one always makes top three. We randomly chose it because we were considering going down to Barcelona and it seemed close and nice. What Rick Steve’s said about it was not why I loved it though. Sure it has a beautiful old city, castles and fortresses, blah blah blah… but it also has miles of hiking and Mt. Biking (or VTT in French I’m guessing means Velo Tough Terrain) trails in the hills surrounding the villages. The trails take you through cascading vineyards built high into the hills and up to ancient stone lookout towers with magnificent views over the Mediterranean. We stumbled on these by accident and once we looked into them further our plans were sealed. We spent the majority of our time here hiking. (side note: Pretty sure if you got there right before grape harvest time that it could possibly be one of the most amazing places to take a hike or bike).

We had noticed the towers high on the hills when we first arrived and thought they’d make good day hikes, so we asked at our campsite and got a (terrible) map with directions. The map ended up taking us to a small stone chapel at the end of a dusty road. To say the least we were disappointed with the outcome of the hike to this point. Several cars past us shuttling Mt. Bikers up the road, several bikers past us sweating their way up the road. Right before the chapel we did notice a small rock cairn on the side of the road, the “trail” heading off of it was more of a scramble up a steep rocky embankment than a actual trail. It looked hardly used but since we had come this far with nothing much to show for it we decided to check it out. We started our ascent, both of us wearing Nike Free Runs which Naomi seemed fine with but I knew that much more of this and my feet were going to hate it. We scrambled up the trial and about 100 meters later it came to a T. We were just like “ehh, i think that way looks like up” and turned left. Before we knew it we were ascending high into the hills, through forests, open meadows, ridge-lines (where the 20-40 mph wind gusts we were in earlier felt more like 60-70 mph). We knew we where onto something when we spotted other human beings, most of them sporting fancy walking poles and all weather gear. I (sean) was wearing jeans, a cotton hoody, Nike Free Runs, and a backpack that luckily contained both Naomi and I’s Jackets). We followed the signs upward occasionally being passed by a trail runner (seemed to be the hot thing there, made me feel lazy and jealous) until we hit the Tower. We walked out of the trees and BOOM, there it was. There was a problem though, the tower was being guarded by a pack of grazing “Bulls”.

At first taken aback by this site of large “wild” animals with horns on top of the hill I quickly gained my composure and was like “What up Bull, I’m gonna walk this way. Your just gonna chill and eat that grass.” and they listened to my every command. We climbed the tower, put on jackets and quickly took some pictures before we were blown off the side of the hill. The views were magnificent and we descended quicker than we thought we would.

Back in the port town before our camp, both of our feet were hurting pretty badly so we stopped for a medicinal bottle of local rouge before heading back to home base. 19-20 miles after we started we were done and went back to enjoy some celebratory at will (all you can eat) moules-frites at our campsite restaurant. Hoping that this would not make us suffer later.

The next day we decided to seek out another trail so we asked at the reception desk and they gave us a better map. This time we headed straight up through vineyards passing “mouverdre” and “sancerre” signs as we climbed higher and higher. We walked through the tiny hamlet of Le Rimbau and I swear a dog walked out of every other house to bark at us. It was a little unsettling but we kept going. We weren’t totally sure where we were but figured as long as we could see the coast and the towers we would be fine. Our first plan involved a loop that would take us partially up one of the exterior loops that would then connect with the other side of the trail we had done the day before. It turns out we read the map wrong and did the entire exterior loop before connecting with the trail from the previous day ending at the Tower before descending back into town.

The highlights of the day were seeing both towers up close, the amazingly large amount of vineyards we passed, and this crazy tunnel that Naomi and I walked through high in the hills. The tunnel was probably 200 feet long, dark and came out of no where. We weren’t quite sure why it was there, it seemed too small for livestock but that was our best bet. We had to crouch super low at some points walking through it and of course we had no flashlights so we were guided by Sean’s handy flashlight phone app once again. I (Naomi) have got to get me one of those!
We had talked about the possibility of walking over 26 miles that day but after rejoining the trail we’d been on the previous day it wasn’t looking good. We stopped and drank some tall beers in Port Argeles and then picked up a bottle of wine for the remainder of our hike to Collioure, which was past our campsite on the coastal trail.

Sipping wine from the bottle like classy folks the whole two miles or so we talked about the day’s sights and how unexpectedly amazing this place was. In Collioure, we stopped at a cafe that advertised WIFI and had two more half pints. While sitting outside the gentleman next to me leaned over and slurred some words like”whurrbout you from?” Warily, I told him the states, not sure if I wanted to open a conversation. Before I knew it we were acquainted with Dave, from outside of Manchester who was in Collioure for his 35th birthday. He was visiting with his two brothers and father, a lively crew who had spent the night before in Barcelona and watched their marathon that morning very hungover. They asked about our travels and then labeled our endeavors respectfully “proper traveling” and invited us eagerly to visit them in England. Two of the brothers fought over whose house we would be staying at when we came to visit. Within half and hour they’d invited us to Dave’s birthday dinner, “no” was not an option.

We ended up at some great little restaurant that their father picked out and after having hiked twenty some miles it was a “proper” treat. I had some duck with peaches, sean had white fish. Our hosts forced me to order for them in French which was funny because they were all yelling their orders simultaneously and it was the exact same thing: steak. There were also rounds of aperitifs and digestifs, four all together not including the wine we had with dinner. Sean and I pieced this together the next day because some how in the process I got drunk, lost my coat and acquired a day long hangover.

After the day I spent wishing for death from inside our tent we made plans to go to Spain. One of Dave’s brothers had literally threatened to kill us if we didn’t go to Barcelona, “because it’s so brilliant, you’d be stupid not to go”. Despite the threat of our murders we decided that it was too expensive. Just in case though we chose a coastal hike that would take us across the Spanish boarder so we could (sort of) say we tried.

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Our original plan was to take a train down to Portbou in Spain and then hike back up to our campsite. However, when we arrived at the Collioure train station there was a handwritten sign in the window that said they were closed for the day. Fairly furious, muttering curses about “the French way” of working we went to the internet cafe where we had met Dave and Co. a few nights before but their internet was down. So I had breakfast. Good for me, more angering for Sean. We saw the trail markers for what we thought was the coastal trail (on a post in town) and decided to walk to the next town, because the map I had said that it was only 1.4km. We had accidentally taken the wrong trail which was on offshoot (not marked different in any way we could tell then the main coastal trail) and ended up walking like five miles and 1000ft + elevation out of our way. Annoying. We met some really nice cyclists in the hills who asked where we were from and where we were walking to. I told them out plans to walk back from Spain, but that the train station had been closed. (It’s times like this that I’m really happy to have studied some French). They directed us to the next town and after we’d been walking for a little while, one of them rode down the hill to make sure we’d taken the right turnoff and wished us “bon chance!” We finally came to the train station in the next town and found that we’d missed the train by ten minutes and the next wouldn’t be arriving for over two hours. Not wanting to waste daylight we decided to just start heading down the coastal trail. We got a schedule for the last trains heading back towards our campsite for the night and purchased our tickets in advance. Then we started hiking for real.

It was beautiful. Think crumbly white cliffs with succulent plants tumbling into crystal clear blue-green water with air that smelled like pine, juniper and occasionally flowers. We kept saying things like “as soon as we get there we’re jumping in the water”. But neither of us wanted to risk not making our deadline- the Spanish boarder. I started daydreaming about the water in Spain and telling myself it would be worth waiting to jump into. Overall the trail was well maintained and marked. With incredible views the whole way. There were a lot of people out hiking some of them with trekking poles and hiking boots, others in flip flops. We passed an elderly couple who told me they were searching for wild asparagus, “had I seen any?”, holding out a few scrawny stalks. We were making excellent time until around mile 19or 20 when we caught up to a man and woman hiking together. Generally, when you catch up to someone on the trail, it means you’re faster and they let you pass automatically. These two didn’t want to let that happen. I kept thinking maybe they were looking for a good place to let us pass, until at some point I realized they didn’t get it. I (Naomi) felt a little rage fire inside of me that these two thought they were as fast as us! Clunking tiredly and clumsily along in their giant hiking boots with scrunched socks, they were trying to out-hike us. I replayed the times I’d graciously let faster people pass me on the trail maybe even congratulating them as they did. Just as I was thinking of how to alert them in French to their gross trail abuse I saw that we were approaching the beach and the end of that trail segment. As soon as my Free-Runs hit the sand I jetted past them, this time without the pleasant “bonjour” or “pardon” just straight speed. The entire next two sections of trail were devoted solely to putting space between them and us and we did. At some point looking back, I spotted her pink shirt far across an inlet on a cliff. I might be a little competitive after all.

We were on a time limit because we had our return tickets on the last train of the day so we were racing against the clock. But we were also well ahead of schedule. Finally seeing our last stretch of trail we started up a hill towards Spain. It was possibly the most brutal hill of the entire hike and we were about twenty-four miles in already. This trail climbed about eight hundred feet in about a quarter of a mile. As we neared the top we could hear the sounds of town below us carried up by the wind, a drum circle we had passed and the distinct melody of the SNCF station “bah bah bah” that plays with every announcement. It was surreal because we were struggling high over this little town, fully exposed, but could hear everything clearly.
Then all the signs were in Spanish, the neatly stenciled French trail markers turned to expressive brush splatters and at the top of the hill we looked down on Portbou.

We headed back towards the train station on the French frontier, taking the road this time not wanting to kill our knees or fall off the cliff with the super steep downgrade. We stopped for some more water and celebratory tall boys and rested on the pebble beach for a little while before crossing the gauntlet of the rape-y graffiti-covered subterranean tunnel to the Gare and hopping on our train back to Collioure.

I didn’t get to go swimming. But I went on my longest hike to date and crossed and international boarder. I guess that will suffice.

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Biarritz- “Rick Steve’s, You Were Wrong”

Sean and I kept saying this as we walked around this eclectic beach town. Sure it doesn’t have a wealth of history museums, no Roman Amphitheater or remarkable cathedral, but I had read a random blog post about it before we left home and it had stuck in my mind. Back in Coco Chanel’s day it was a popular resort getaway for rich yachters to vacation, but it started to lose it’s popularity over time until in the 70’s some surfers noticed it’s great “vagues”. So now it’s a beautiful mix of belle epoch hotels and surfers.
Everything about our trip south could have gone that direction. Unpleasantly. After a nightmare of a time dropping off the car in Caen, we went to buy our tickets only to find out that our Eurail passes excluded us once again from all the good trains. So we were stuck with five transfers between Caen and Biarritz and wouldn’t arrive until 11:30 pm. Some of these connections were only ten minutes apart making our transfers real nail-biters.

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We had a map of the campsite, but didn’t know how late their reception would stay open, or what it was like there. Somehow though, everything went smoothly. When we arrived in Biarritz (the last stretch by crowded bus) it was warm and there were palm trees swaying everywhere. The air smelled good and there were snails on the ground. I don’t know why, but that seemed like a good sign to me. We found Camping Biarritz without issue and the security guard was kind and we got set up. It rained a lot that night. But our awesome little tent handled it perfectly. We woke up and made coffee with my new hot water heater, which by my 3rd cappuccino was already paying itself off.
“Camping” has a very different style in France than what we’re used to. There was a swanky Infiniti pool in our campsite and the bathrooms were a maze of shower and toilet stalls and sinks for washing your camping dishes. The bathroom “complex” was decoratively lit with blue spotlights coming out of the floor. There are lots of cabins for rent or spots for RV’s. We were the only people who had walked in with a tent in our bag.

On our second day, we were relaxing in the sun after a soup feast made with our hot water heater when Sean stood up and was hailed by our voisons (neighbors) Remi and Christoph. They invited us over for Scotch they’d bought tax free in Spain and we were happy to sit in chairs and join them. Remi spoke some English and Christoph wanted to, mostly because he likes Japanese girls (hard to explain but there was some logic there). They fell instantly in love with Sean calling him “cowboy”. We were invited into their giant tent which housed two smaller tents, a mini fridge, table and chairs and when they left Remi’s surfboard. They explained that they’re plumbers “like Mario!” Christoph would say. Despite any language barrier Christoph and Sean understood each other perfectly through a combination of wild gestures, nodding and occasionally asking excitedly for a word in french of english. Remi had purchased a surfboard determined to take advantage of the waves while in Biarritz and he invited Sean to surf with him the next day.

We ended up spending a good amount of time with Remi and Christoph, between beach trips, surfing, pool time and cooking. (Remi made some killer poulet basquaise.)
When we finally packed up we were sunburnt and well rested. Biarritz was like our vacation from traveling.

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Normandy-Road Tolled

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Driving is stressful. Especially in a foreign country. We decided that it would be better to have a car to see the D-Day beaches and that we would like to see them. So we made an online reservation for Caen through autoeurope. For some reason, it didn’t go through though and we spent an extra two hours and ten euros on coffees so we could use WIFI in different cafes to re-reserve a car. We had to put it on my credit card though, which meant that I had to be the driver and that Sean was in charge of navigating. This was not ideal, because he doesn’t read French and I don’t take criticism well when driving. But to add him as a driver would double the rental price, so we had no choice. The car was a tiny Fiat, cute and zippy, but unfortunately plastered with europecar stickers. We had made a reservation in Honfleur at the Premiere Classe, so we zoomed off happy to have wheels.
The Premiere Classe was a strange robot hotel, and there was nothing first class about it. I think they install the same bathrooms on trains. If you have an account with them, you can use your card and check yourself in from a machine outside. So reception would close down all night and for several hours midday, leaving the hotel to run itself. The town of Honfleur was beautiful, but not a good home base from which to explore the D-Day beaches, we would learn the next day, when we drove straight back through Caen. Also road tolls add up fast.

We took off early the next morning to check out the beaches and started in Arromanches. From there we headed to the Longues Sur Mer (german gun battery) to see some giant old guns. We toured the American cemetery and went down to Omaha beach and then down to Pointe Du Hoc. It was getting late then so we called it a day and started our drive back up to Honfleur.

The next day we explored Honfleur more and spent a little time drawing in the harbor, long enough to realize that drawing tall, skinny houses is hard and takes patience. So we moved on. Back in the Premiere Classe, we struggled with painfully slow WIFI trying to plan the next leg of our trip. We wanted to go somewhere sunny, wanted to camp, but couldn’t get any information. Sick of eating cold food, Sean had the brilliant idea of buying a hot water heater so that every day wouldn’t be started in search of coffee for me and so that we could make instant soup. So we took off for Le Havre where they had a sporting goods store and some other large markets, hoping to find something we could use. Not wanting to pay ten euros in tolls we drove the long way (probably paying the same amount in gas in the end).

I had been warned ahead of time that gas stations without attendants only accepted credit cards with the chip and pin system, which I didn’t have, so I was also on the lookout for a gas station before it got late and they closed for the night. With several wrong turns and some cursing, silent treatment and accusations we ended up driving at twilight with the gas light on. I saw signs for a Carrefour and thought for sure we were saved, drove there and found the attendant gone for the night. A woman inside the Carrefour gave me terrible directions to an Auchan promising they would be open. So we drove off looking for them until I was in tears near full panic-attack and we ended up back at the Carrefour. The same woman looked at me like I was stupid and gave me the directions again, which I listened to very carefully, following with gestures, then left hoping this time I’d gotten it right. Not at all. Sean thought we should just wait at the station and ask someone to use their card for us and give them cash which I didn’t want to be responsible for because I was not in good shape to try to ask someone for help in french with scary red eyes. But we were out of options so I tried. An older gentleman pulled up behind us at the pump and I pretended to try my card again, before walking over and asking if he knew what the machine was telling me (even though I knew). He looked a little annoyed at first, then genuinely concerned when my card wouldn’t read. Then I asked if he knew of any other stations, hating to try to get this guy to use his card. “Auchan” My heart sank a little. But then he gave me directions that made some sense, he told me when they closed and he told me to go quickly. He said to follow the signs and that was my best option, then wished me luck. I hopped back in the car, and very shortly after going in the direction he had told me I began to see signs for Auchan. When we finally arrived it was like a giant mall and it was also where the sporting goods store we had originally been looking for was. When we pulled up for gas, I was so anxious to make sure we got some I headed straight for the cashier who looked at me like I was a little crazy until she realized I just didn’t understand the system. Pump first, then pay. Auchan did more than solve our gas crisis, it’s also a superstore were we found a perfect hot water heater and instant soups. We left feeling like winners.
That night we plugged in our new water heater and killed power for the hotel. Oops.

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St. Malo-Pirates, Whiskey and Waffles

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Arriving in Saint Malo we were greeted with cold winds and freezing temperatures. It was pretty ruff navigating our way to the “city” center. By the time we got there Naomi was about to shit herself of cold and i was just tired of the wind. A friendly bridge worker let us hang out in his “office” while the bridge was up. This at least kept us from freezing to death. We finally walked into the city walls and found a Carrefour or something. (Naomi) I talked to him long enough for him to tell me what we already knew, that it was really cold for this time of year and that our hotel was not in the direction we were headed. Still he was nice to talk to and I enjoyed stealing his office warmth.

We immediately bought whiskey and a few other things. Once we figured out where we needed to go (i think we found wifi or something) we just started on that way. The whiskey helped take the edge off the cold and we slowly got drunk walking north toward our hotel. An hour later we were at our hotel, drenched tired and ready for the end we found that they were nicely located at the end of the boardwalk

The next morning we woke up and headed out to explore the city and beaches. It was warmer and the ocean was vibrant green and blue. There was a nice path that led from our hotel to the Intra Muros along the coast. Inside the old town we had waffles for breakfast and then walked up around the city walls to explore. (Naomi) correction: best waffles ever!) Finally we walked out on the beach and over the rocks where we found the outdoor swimming pool they’ve built for summer. Where at low tide there is an actual pool for you to dip into and at high tide only the very top of the steps are visible. Not thinking of the tides we walked out to the one then another of the islands, the second of which we walked out to on a long paved pathway. On the backside of the island we stopped on to take pictures and sit for a moment. When we walked back around we saw a path being engulfed by waves and I asked “is that our path?” There was one other guy on the island with us who was sitting watching the tide come with his camera and he said “it’s going to be a long wait” at which point Sean and I decided to make a run for it. I stopped to save my boots, pulling them off quickly then tiptoeing across as icy Atlantic water splashed up to my knees. We had only sat down for a few minutes, the tide was that quick. The guy who had waited out there must have been stuck out there for hours though and it was not warm.

I could see how this place could be amazing in the summer, If it weren’t so absurdly cold that to drive me to drinking like a pirate I would have enjoyed the emerald aisle a little more. It is one of those places that is unreasonably beautiful and your pictures will never do it justice and they do have good waffles.

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Mont Saint Michel-Saved By McDonald’s

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We escaped Paris as early as possible, by way of Gare Saint Lazarre. Not knowing what to expect but feeling confident that our feet could get us just about anywhere and that most places have WIFI (pronounced weefee) we had made a hotel reservation somewhere “near” Mont Saint Michel.

Our train sped out of Paris giving us a better sense of the city’s true mass. Within a half hour we were in the country side speeding from small town stop to small town stop and experiencing each town’s fragrant mix of train station, fertilizer, feces (close to the same thing but definitely not the same), and whatever strange liquid was leaking all over the train floor. We finally arrived at our destination, the station was a single room building with one attendant.
“hello, when is the next bus heading toward Mont Saint Michel?” we asked “No, more buses, sorry.” “Oh, that’s too bad we are trying to get here*(show address to attendant)” “Sorry no, I don’t know.” “Do you have a map?” we asked “No” “Do you know where we could find wifi? Is there a wifi cafe near here?” “No, umm i don’t know, maybe you try down the street?” And with that we left the station. We had no clue where we were going, no phone, no internet, and no map. We took a left and headed toward what seemed to be the “City Center”. We really needed WIFI as the only means of communication we had with our B&B / Hostel was an email stating that we should call to get a ride (this email had the information that we needed- address, name, phone number, email etc) We start wandering down the sidewalk of what seems to be a “sleepy” beach town. It turns out the town wasn’t “sleeping” it was dead. The TI was closed, as were all the shops, it was literally a ghost town, with the only signs of life looking at us like monsters walking through with backpacks and bitch’n facial hair. After over and hour of feeling like we walked onto the set of Dusk Till Dawn we finally found a bar tabac open and I asked if they had or knew of a place with WIFI or even had a map so I could figure out where we were.

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They recommended the McDonald’s that was 3km down the road, as the only place to find WIFI. So we headed out on the side of a highway following signs for the Golden Arches. I (Naomi) have never been a fan of McDonald’s, however, they served beer as a beverage option instead of soda and their WIFI was super fast, I’ll give them that. I (Sean) have always had a special place in my heart for McDonald’s and now that they serve beer and WIFI I am going to invest in them. We ordered a “Petite Baguette” sandwich, some chicken wrap thing, french fries, and a Heineken, sat down and sent a distress email to Paul and Jane the owners of the B&B we had reserved for the night. Within minutes Jane had replied that Paul was headed to the station to pick us up. Hastily and a little embarrassed, I replied that we’d made our way to McDonald’s (for the WIFI, of course) and would walk back to the station immediately. As we left the McDonald’s the smell of fertilizer//feces was almost overwhelming. I am not sure what happened but it smelled like we walked into a shit storm, it didn’t smell that way when we walked in but holy crap is was intense. About 5 blocks from the McDonald’s a blue (mini) Mercedes pulled over to the side of the highway and a middle-aged British man hopped out to greet us, we put our bags in the back and headed into the countryside. After about fifteen minutes in the car and a lot of random turns I was really happy to have a ride. Paul told us about the local agriculture, about how the area used to be shallow ocean, until it was dammed and turned into usable farmland. We drove by brick homes that were much more british looking than we’d seen so far in France. Paul and Jane’s B&B was a two-hundred year-old home that they’d restored when they decided they wanted to quit working for other people and move to France.

(Sean) While Paul was very nice, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that we were walking into a horror movie. The overly nice inn-keep, heading out into a desolate village, the house was over 200 years old, Paul was very well versed in military and local history, we just kept driving farther and farther into the country side. I put those fears aside, thinking if i tried to strangle or kill him first- that i would look like the crazy and end up on the news. Plus he was like 6 foot 4 and an overall friendly guy.

When we came in Jane immediately offered us tea and started asking us where we were headed next so she could help us plan for the next part of our trip. She pulled out maps and they both chatted about their favorite places in France as we sipped tea, a little confused as to which side of the Channel we were on.
Trying to find a grocery store and be cheap was out of the question so we went to the local pub, The Oyster Shucker. It was run by a family from Manchester and was empty except for a French regular who came in late to watch the football match and the bar cat who sat next to sean all night. There was a roaring fire, which was good because it was sleeting by the time we left.
The owner and his son were hilarious and chatted us up for hours telling us all the reasons France was a backwards country and occasionally why England and the US were backwards too. They treated us to some wine at the end of the night and we felt like family.
We stayed and drank pints and chatted with them for several hours, happy to have conversations in English, then at some point we decided to make our way back to the B&B, in the sleet with no street lights. They walked us out wishing us luck and safe travels and offering us flashlights to borrow because it really was pitch black outside, but we decided to take our chances with Sean’s flashlight phone app, luckily doing just “fine”.
The next day we woke up early and while we had breakfast Jane gave us bus and train schedules for our next destination after Mont Saint Michel, Saint Malo. Paul drove us to Mont Saint Michel, giving us more local information along the way and finally dropping us off with concise directions and warm wishes. The only thing they didn’t do was pack our sack lunches.

Mont Saint Michel itself was great, despite the miserable weather, which did help to drive some crowds away. We toured the abbey, then the surrounding town and finally went out to the mud flats just in time to see that the tide was starting to come in. Our bus left late, so to kill time we drank vin chaud, had a crepe with salted caramel and some pizza. I finally bought some gloves too.

The building is much more impressive from a far then up close, the silhouette of Mont Saint Michel is breath-taking but getting up close in the nitty gritty is a little more dungeons and dragons errr something.

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Paris-Breaking In Naomi’s Boots

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With some snacks from the Monoprix, leftovers from Esipuno’s bakery and our packs we boarded our train for Paris. We did not have much water. The trip was a little over five hours and knowing that when we arrived in Paris it would be eleven-thirty and that we would need to walk from Gare de Lyon to our hotel in Montmartre. Normal people might opt for public transportation or a taxi, but not us. We walked. It took around two and a half hours. The last half hour was spent within five to ten blocks of our hotel just trying to figure out where it was and what street we were on. I kept getting confused between Blvd, Rue, Ave…that would all have the same name and be in the same area (ex. Blvd. des Perdus, Rue des Perdus, Ave. des Perdus…) Rookie mistake I’m sure. The next day I was on top of it, but that night, exhausted, it made no sense. That was over six miles of walking. I was so happy when I finally started to recognize the street names and we finally saw the two shining stars of our hotel. A slightly gruff Parisian man opened the door with a screwdriver for us and I did my best to apologize in French as we came in for showing up so late. Because of daylight savings time it was then three-thirty in the morning, but they had advertised twenty-four hour reception so I didn’t feel too bad. In the safety of our room we hugged, guzzled some water and cracked open the bottle of wine we’d been saving. After the train, the long walk and feeling hopelessly lost, this felt like the best room ever. Little did Sean know that he’d get sick and this would turn into the crappy hotel room from hell.
The next day we ate breakfast, then I made a list of all the museums that would be open for the next two days. We had shown up on Easter weekend and after that most museums normally close on Mondays and Tuesdays. So again, we had not planned this very well. It worked out just fine though, with so many museums I made a long list of those that were open on which days and we headed out to see the Carnavalet museum. But the jerks had not updated their website and were closed! So we walked through Place Des Vosges, then by the Notre Dame (it was Easter Day and the lines were incroyable.) When we spotted the Eiffel Tower we decided to walk over there too. So after stopping for a crepe on Rue Cler we walked to the tower. That’s when Sean started feeling awful.

Poor Sean was turning all colors of miserable on the seven mile walk back from the Eiffel Tower to our hotel. Stopping occasionally to sigh deeply and look around for a magical rescue route, there was nothing to save him. When we finally made it back to the hotel he drank some water and curled into the fetal position for what I assumed would be the night. I went out to forage for some french food and discovered the “delicacy” of french hot dogs: baguette with hot dogs and a bunch of cheese and I think béchamel melted together…yum. I thought about offering some to sean but at this time I thought he might barf on me.
(Sean)
Backtracking a bit- Before we got onto the train for Paris we forgot to fill the water. We had been walking around in Nice all day in the rain and cold (probably not drinking enough water, finding bathrooms can be hard when you are walking around so drinking lots of water leads to lots of problems, same on trains, same on buses). By the time the train left we had already consumed the small amount of water we had and at some point I was so thirsty i resorted to eating an orange for its liquid. After I complained a few times about how thirsty I was Naomi went to the Cafe car and bought a 16oz 3 Euro bottle of water. We quickly drank that thinking it would get us through the trip. I Survived to Paris and when we got off the train it was late and fairly cold, we then walked over 6 miles to our hotel drank some water and some wine to celebrate our arrival.
The next morning I woke up and my shoulders were REALLY sore, they were achey and I felt just kind of beat up. Our Advil had depleted but I found another stronger pain reliever which I took and within half an hour was feeling pretty good. Again- finding bathrooms in Paris was awful so along our 18-20 miles we covered in that first day the amount of water we took in was nothing. Seriously, after a few times of having to quickly search for a bathroom in a city like that you kind of get trained to not want to drink lots of water. So needless to say that stronger pain reliever caught up with me and I started feeling terrible, after awhile it got pretty bad and we started back to the hotel which from where we were was like 7 miles.

By the time we almost at the hotel i was at a crawling pace, deep breathing to fight off the urge to throw up, and just hoping that I make it. The combination of pain reliever and dehydration had ruined me. We made it back to our room but little did i know that i would be out of the game for 2.5 days. Barely being able to stomach food or water I slowly tried to rehydrate eat food and sleep. Cold sweats, nausea, achey neck and shoulders so bad i couldn’t sleep. So i lay there watching terrible American TV dubbed into French so i cant even understand what is going on, Pimp My Ride, some French show called Angels or something (about wanna be singers and models), the only thing i got to watch in english was Airplane and then parts of Airplane 2 in Space.

(Naomi)
The next day while Sean lay miserable in the hotel (not) Luxia I had excessive energy, so I walked to the Musée d’Orangerie, then back to the hotel. I tried to rally Sean to go to the Centre Pompidou thinking he would feel better if he got out and walked. But three miles in and he was ready to die again. So we walked back to the hotel. Then I walked to the Champs Elysées and back, for a grand total of something like 23 miles. I’m not sure because my phone died due to heavy GPS taxing the battery. What’s worst is that Sean still felt awful when I returned, tired and hoping for a leg massage. Bummer.

The next day was Tuesday and both the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou were closed the two biggies we were looking forward to seeing. So we went to the Musée d’Orsay and spent hours admiring all the paintings and the museum itself. Since this was still a Sean recovery day I was not allowed to drag him anywhere else, but I did sneak him into the Notre Dame. I wish, in hindsight, that I’d taken him to the Saint Chapelle instead though because I think it’s prettier. But he wouldn’t accept two stops on the way back to our hotel. So instead, we walked up to the Sacre Coeur at sunset which was a nice consolation.
Wednesday we didn’t have to worry about silly museum closures, but it was our last day and we had a lot left to see. So we headed first to the Louvre for a few hours of old art. We followed the Rick Steve’s audio guide on our phones so we didn’t get lost in that maze of a palace. It was still long and exhausting and Sean still had to drag me out of there because I was convinced I’d missed at least a full wing of the museum. But he looked like he was about to start strangling small people with their cameras if he had to keep dodging them, so we left.

Our last stop was my favorite, the Centre Pompidou, the contemporary art museum. It was a refreshing change after seeing so much of the same type of religious art throughout Italy and even in the Louvre. Lots of Picasso, Matisse, Miro and the famous urinal that shocked the art world rounded off our day that had begun with Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Once we were thoroughly exhausted with museums and fine art we bought a bottle of the finest two euro Cotes du Rhone and began our long march towards The Eiffel Tower for a night climb. I passed some three euro gloves for sale on the street and briefly considered them, but thought I might find better. I didn’t and spent the next three days with freezing hands, thinking of what a great deal they had been.
We finished our wine in the park in front of the Eiffel Tower like classy tourists and then headed up. It was very windy and cold so we shivered in line all the way up (they wouldn’t let us take the stairs, otherwise we would have been fine) except for when we were crammed in the elevators literally like sardines. The views at night were worth the lines and the cold, but only briefly, then we came charging back down.
Once we descended we could breath a nice sigh of relief and check a heavy site-seeing day off our itinerary. We took our time walking back to Montmartre, stopping for another bottle of cheap wine to aid us in our trek. We walked back by the Siene, taking our time and enjoying the lack of people on the streets late at night. It was after one when got to our shabby hotel, we paid our bill and packed. I think I have finally broken in my boots.

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A Nice Excursion

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My French may suck, but it’s definitely better than my Italian. It was such a relief to step off the train in Nice and be able to communicate things like “We’d like to go to Paris on the next train please” or “If that’s not possible, can we go to any other northern town?” or “So you’re saying we’re stuck here?” The very frustrating thing was that we had used our eurail passes and basically wasted a day of travel, worth a lot of euros to get not very far. We could not get to Paris until the next night at five and our train would not arrive there until eleven-thirty. Worried those tickets would sell out too, we reserved our seats for the next day’s train. I was doing an inner happy dance though because I could finally say more than “Hello” “thank you” and “I want _____ coffee” which they’d correct me on 80% of the time anyway.
So we stepped out of the train station as it was getting dark, needing to find a hotel for the night, a bathroom for now and eventually some food. I pulled out the guide book and started to try to orient myself and read through Rick Steve’s recommendations and get to the meat of what I needed: what is close to where we are right now and where is that? We were very lucky. We found a great little hotel, La Belle Meuniere, two blocks from the train station that had just had a cancelation for one of their cheaper rooms that included breakfast (for me, a big bonus because I get my coffee.) The lady at the front desk was nice and spoke French with me until she could she that I had missed something, then switched to English, then back to French, which was nice because I could practice.
Too late for any supermarkets, we found a restaurant she recommended, La Saeten, a big splurge for us, but our night had been a bust so far for saving money. On the way there we were offered hashish, cocaine and ganja in hushed tones. There were Chinese restaurants everywhere with elaborate fish tanks in the windows and interiors that looked like draped opium dens. At La Saeten we had a Salade Niciose and a pizza from their brick oven and a half litre of wine. I made sure we had cheese for dessert too, just because it was a plateau du fromage, not fromaggi anymore. It was worth it.

The next day, it was raining of course. We checked out the market on Course Saleya that was full of flowers, orange trees, fresh produce, seafood, cheeses and other goodies like honey, jams and baked goods. Then we went to Esipuno’s bakery, once named best bakery in France and bought some treats for lunch. Still in the rain, we walked up to the Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) from where you can see the whole city, the coastline and enjoy a killer park. We also looked at the Hotel Negresco from the outside and the Russian Cathedral. After all that we started to get ready for our trip to Paris where we could do some real walking. “Smart travelers take the bus” is what Rick Steve’s wrote and we kept laughing about all day as we walked along stone and marble streets. Out of stubbornness I keep laughing at that passage, but I think my feet are over it.

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