I went to bed at 1am last night, having completed my treatise on German culture. At 4am, my alarm went off. Sam had been up since 3:30am. The hazy brain function of three hours of sleep is, as everyone knows, the best way to do international travel. We left our hostel, the great EastSeven Berlin, and made our way to Tegel airport. It is surprising how little your brain can do with no sleep. Foreign languages evaporate, and the intensely stupid Tegel airport design of having the gate directly behind its own check-in counter, each with its own security screening staff (!) would have been obtuse even if we were fully awake.
Another frustratingly short trip of about an hour - not enough to catch up on any sleep, especially with a baby in the row behind - and we were stumbling through Charles de Gaulle. It's not as flash as I remember, with that circular terminal and its crosswalks looking dated and worn, and the interminable train ride into the city didn't exactly put Vienna to shame. Our hostel is one minute from Sacre-Coeur by foot. As I sit in its terrace after midnight, beneath the warm yellow glow of stars and street lights, I can see the cathedral illuminated to my left, resplendent on the hilltop.
We arrived at about 11am, and oddly enough were able to check-in straight away. As we threw our things down we realised that we had a whole day still to go, despite already being up for seven hours. Sam had booked our crepe place for dinner back in Berlin, but as both of us had visited Paris before we didn't feel the urge to race out to any tourist sites. Immediately disproving that last sentence, we walked the three metres to Sacre-Coeur since we were on its doorstep anyway.
Paris in summer is strange. Given all my previous travel has been over Christmas, in the northern winter, I'm used to fewer crowds and more cold. The swarms of tourists around souvenir shops, and the many pedlars of trinkets, bags and string bracelets that get in your face, quickly grew tiresome. Plus, and this is slightly off-colour but scientifically correct (my default writing style), but the warmth really makes all the urine noticeable. Paris has never been a clean city, but it hasn't ever felt this grubby either.
In a quiet moment over a fresh baguette and French fries, as apparently we were trying to hit all the quintessential foods in one day, I read about the largest open air market in Europe a few metro stops down. We got there, and again were disappointed by the shitty clothing and shoe shops stretching for miles, and the glasses, jewellery and t-shirts pushed on us by many of Paris's African immigrant population. There were two separate occasions today where rivals were confronting each other for, presumably, a perceived infringement of their turf. There seem to be more crazies out in summer, that's for sure. We bailed, and went the other way, randomly disembarking at Chatelet, discovering the Paris that people fall in love with.
Quieter, with fewer people and no spruikers, we were able to see the architecture and streets of the city. We cruised past Pont Neuf and Notre-Dame, the latter of which had a huge queue that immediately dispelled any inclination to escape the sun and head inside. Sun, of course, that we were craving in the drizzly grey of Berlin, but that's how these things work. Pretty soon I'll be feeling the itch for a nice rainstorm (and Brussels seems like it might deliver later in the week).
As I started to flag, we made a beeline for the Jardins du Luxembourg, the thought of ice cream and shade too tempting to resist. The waiters in the pavilion were under intense pressure, and when examining the sixty percent price markup to sit down, we switched to the long takeaway line instead. A lemon and chocolate cone later, we raced back to the metro to try and get on the train before our tickets lost validity. As it turned out, they were one-way regardless, but when we got back to the hostel I wasn't complaining about heading home. I hit the bed and napped for two hours.
Groggy, still with only five hours of sleep in thirty-four, my alarm got me up for dinner. Entirely coincidentally, the best rated cr?pe place in the city (according to TripAdvisor) is also just a minute's walk away. My buckwheat galette - a savoury version of a crepe for the uninitiated - with leek, bacon and egg, was fantastic. The sweet caramelised apple and vanilla bean ice cream version that followed was just as good.
As we wandered back, we discovered a laundromat that I decided to make use of. I returned with some clothes and coins to put a load through, feeling that an opportunity to wash things shouldn't be overlooked despite still having enough to get by with. The kind staff member there let me put a load in despite it being 9pm, which is the deadline for final washes. I transferred my clothes to the dryer, and then ten minutes later, when it had finished and not dried everything, I put it back on for another cycle.
I resumed my position against the wall, next to a young kid and his mother. It took me about five minutes to work out that they weren't actually speaking French, but Spanish. Or perhaps Portuguese. Roused from a daydream, I realised the kid, perhaps twelve, was addressing me: "Monsieur!" I fumbled a response, and he started to speak in rapid French to me. I managed to find the words to explain my deficiencies in the language - though I have actually been rather surprised at how much I have been able to dredge out of long-term memory - and ask if he knew English. The mother cracked up at his look. Here he is, fluent in Spanish, and with significant French too, at twelve, and the idiot he's speaking to wants him to know a third language. I laughed too.
There was a flurry of communication, sounding out words between the mother and son, like a brainstorming activity. "Chaud," the boy said to himself. Via "mas", they arrived at "plus de". Then, a moment later, he was triumphant: "more hot," he declared happily. He was trying to tell me to turn up the heat on the dryer. Not all the balls were rolling upstairs today, to mix too many metaphors. Merci, monsieur. Bravo!
Doing the laundry had delivered a second-wind, and when I returned to the hostel I deposited my things and climbed back up Sacre-Coeur. The sun had just crossed the horizon, and in that early dusk light I knew the view would be magnificent. Mobbed by men offering beers and drinks to the crowd, and who rather pleasingly fled when police grabbed a couple of guys, I settled at the top of the steps to watch the city turn on for the night. A busker played for a good two hours, taking requests and getting the crowd to sing along. I left after a rather touching version of Imagine dedicated to the victims of the Norway shooting, now one year on, but as I began this post I could still hear his guitar and singing drifting down the hill on the breeze to my little terrace. Some of my favourite moments of the trip so far are those pauses when you can just take it all in, and watching the sky darken over Paris's horizon with a genuinely good guitar accompaniment was one of the best.
That's 1am, now. Five hours sleep in nearly forty. I will put this up now and be amused by all the mistakes when I reread it in the morning. Sam is going on his long-anticipated Abercrombie & Fitch shopping spree tomorrow, so we'll be splitting up again. I think I'll do a bit of boutique shop wandering too, and perhaps end up at the Louvre. We only have two days in this city before moving on up north, but I think it would have been a missed opportunity if we'd skated past it. Is that even a satisfying end sentence? Starting to lose cognitive function. Poo.