Chasing Trains Day 7: C'est Fini

I know, I know, it's been over a year. That's world-class procrastination for you. But last week my friend Chelo asked me if I ever finished this series and since it's her birthday today I thought I'd go ahead and do just that.

Gaîté Station, Paris Metro

I picked Paris as my last stop for two reasons - one, even if I've been here before I haven't had a chance to shop and that's just sad; and two, I wanted to be close enough to Frankfurt such that if something goes wrong with my train I can easily find alternatives so I can catch my return flight home.

As per usual I took an overnight train from Florence to Paris. I expected a bit of peace and quiet, as it was a weekday, but as luck would have it I am to have none of that. I have barely warmed my seat while waiting for the train when a horde of French high school kids burst into the station, followed by a couple of very haggard-looking adults who I could only assume are their teachers. Gah. You can imagine the chaos that ensued when the train finally arrived.

I was, thank goodness, assigned to a different car. There was a bit of a ruckus at first because there was an elderly couple sleeping inside our cabin, but it was immediately sorted out by my bunkmates - one is a theater actress and the other is a teacher - who both spoke Italian. Who knows what I would've done if I were by my lonesome.

The moment I landed in Paris I immediately checked into my hotel (a very sad-looking one, to be honest, but good enough for one night), freshened up as best as I can, and headed off to Avenue des Champs-Élysées. And hey, guess what welcomed me?

Christmas Market, Champs-Élysées

Oh joy, another Christmas market. My plans of having French pastries for breakfast quickly flew out the window when I passed by the stall selling French fries pommes frites. I don't know what Europe does to its potatoes but they are just so, so awesome. It makes me sad just thinking about it now.

Pommes frites

The entire afternoon was naturally devoted to (window) shopping. In hindsight it was a miracle the stores actually let me in, with my filthy winter coat that has lived through many an overnight train. I'm pretty sure I looked like a peasant. A haggard peasant with crazy eyes. Note to self: never travel with a white jacket ever again.

I traversed the entire avenue, and then moved on to the Galeries Lafayette, which is a sort of upscale department store. Paris being one of the cheapest places to buy designer bags, I did have a number of items on my pabili list, and spying some of them on sale, I immediately had to contact my friends. There is no lack of stupid things I did on this trip, but one of my shining moments was forgetting to renew the data roaming plan on my German sim card. I was out of prepaid credits in no time, and with no way to reload I was effectively out of data. And Paris, as fancy-schmancy as it is, is not generous with the WiFi.

Galeries Lafayette
Gorgeous, but no WiFi
I asked the concierge if there was any internet connection available anywhere in the mall, and she suggested I try McDonald's. Yes, you heard that right. The Golden Arches, situated on one of the top floors of one of the fanciest malls I've ever visited. So I went in, and ordered chicken nuggets. Yes, I ate chicken nuggets. From McDonald's. In Paris. All because I was intent on contacting my wonderful friend (and now flatmate) Anj, who apparently deactivated her iMessage unknowingly and was therefore unreachable, yet at that very moment she was feeling bad because I have not messaged her for the entire duration of my trip when in fact I have sent dozens of (very frantic) messages. Hrmnnmnph.

So as I was waiting for the reply that will never come, I wandered about and found myself in Yves Saint Laurent. I was surprised to find the Stefano Pilati muse bags still on display, because rumor has it that they were being phased out (rumor turned out to be true). I have wanted a YSL muse for the longest time, and I almost thought I'd miss out on them, so I took a deep breath and asked the sales assistant if they happened to have a medium one blue.

She emerged two minutes later with three bags in tow - one navy, a darker midnight blue, and the last one in bordeaux, which was the color at the moment - and the news that all of them were on sale. Well then.

YSL Muse

Because it was getting dark and there was obviously no forthcoming reply from Anj I headed back to Champs-Elysees, where the Christmas Market festivities continue. There was, among other things, a sleigh mounted high up with an actual live Santa that went to and fro from time to time accompanied by fake snow and English Christmas songs. I can almost hear the sound of Parisians rolling their eyes.


For dinner I had French onion soup, which I ate standing up together with other patrons in front of the stall. I also managed to get myself a couple of jars of foie gras, and as "cadeaux" the huge kuya also gave me a bottle of wine. I tried to refuse, because no way am I going to fit that into my luggage, but he was very persuasive (and did I mention huge?). Besides, it's never a good idea to say no to a gift.

And so ends my 7-day journey - with an overflowing suitcase (the wine did make it home), a shiny new bag, and a near-empty bank account.

Even as I look back now, I still find it hard to believe I managed to do all of this - from planning my trips to actually traveling from one unfamiliar city to the next, all by my directionally-challenged self.   I read maps (sometimes even successfully ;p), talked to strangers at train stations (I surprised even myself at this newfound courage), and fell in love with city after city. I was scammed (gave a ten euro "donation" to some campaign or other), I got yelled at while asking for directions, and was approached by really creepy men on more than one occasion (response: sorry I'm on my way to see my friend, and I'm already late). But I also got coins for use on the train lockers from a very nice lady in Frankfurt who refused to accept my cash in exchange, received instructions on how to use the ticketing machine in Brussels from a random stranger, and met a lot of genuinely nice people as I hopped from train to train.

It was exciting, and stressful, and even scary at times, but you know what? I'll do it all over again. ^^

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