Day 65 – In Which we say Au Revoir to the City of Lights and Hello to the City of Bikes

It’s now been almost 10 weeks since I left Australia, and Maggie and I are nearing the final stages of our 2015 European Adventure. It is common at this stage of any trip to have a variety of emotions flowing through your system. On one hand you start to really crave the security and familiarity of your own bed and bathroom, and to see your family again. On the other is the inevitable feeling of regret that accompanies the approaching termination of something that you have been working on for the past two years. We will both be filled with such a huge collection of wonderful memories that I am sure that it will take quite some time for us to settle back down to our “everyday lives” again.

On our final morning in Paris we woke early (in fact neither of us slept much at all). I had to admit that, although we will be sad to leave Paris, we will not be sorry to see the last of our Middle Earth hobbit hole of an apartment. It certainly was in a brilliant location, within a couple of minutes walk from the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. It was in a Left Bank precinct that is filled with art galleries and hugely expensive antique furniture shops. The front entrance looked inviting enough but it was once you walked past the first couple of doors that the real character of the place became apparent.

Over the previous four days we had learnt that there was one section of the corridor where you had to stop breathing if you wanted to avoid filling your nostrils with a strong smell of wet wood and decay. Then you had to negotiate the narrow wobbly staircase to get to the front door. Then insert the key, turn it around half a dozen times and hope that the door unlocks. Welcome to Hobbit Heaven.

Well the first room wasn’t so bad. It was of a reasonable size by Paris standards and it didn’t look really awful. Well actually it didn’t look like much at all because almost all of the lights did not work. We managed to get by with the flickering output from a single bulb of about 40 W. The bed was clean (or we think it was, since it was hard to see it properly). The only trouble was that it was made up of two beds that were pushed together. This meant that we kept rolling to the centre and falling into the yawning abyss. The doona was so hot that, if you slept under it, you soon felt like you were in the middle of a Bangkok summer heat wave. On the other hand, if you threw it off, you soon froze. The only option was to to keep alternating between on and off.

From the bedroom a narrow hall led to the “kitchen and bathroom”. Here the ceiling height dropped to about knee level, forcing us to double over if we wished to navigate it safely without risking concussion and serious bleeding. In these two tiny spaces the lights were also almost all inoperative, adding to the Middle Earth feeling. The bathroom was so small that you had to step out into the hall to turn around and face the other way. The shower was hot but the shower door was about 10 cm too narrow, meaning that every time you had a shower you created a tsunami that flooded out the door and into the kitchen. It probably also dripped through the floor into the art gallery below us. Yes it was an interesting place. We laughed about it a lot and, over the years I have certainly stayed in worse places. It just was not exactly what we had been expecting. Sometimes life is like that.

We quickly got dressed and then wandered out on our final Parisian Promenade. It had been raining most of the night and the streets now glistened like shiny mirrors in the early morning light. They say that Paris always looks best in the rain, and I can understand why. There were a few early morning joggers and cyclists out on the roads, but it was still too early for any traffic on the river. We wandered around and looked down the Seine to the profile of Notre Dame in the distance. Looking the other way we could just make out the top of the Eiffel Tower. At our feet the rain had temporarily obliterated the urine stains on the footpath. in fact the place looked really beautiful. It is always hard to leave this place we had both fallen in love with.

We returned to the apartment, made a strange breakfast out of a mixture of left over oddments and then packed (crammed) our bags the second last time. Soon we were struggling down the creaking staircase and closing the door for the final time. We only had a short walk to the St Germaine Des Pres Metro station where we were going to catch a train to the Gare de Nord. The last time we had taken our luggage on the Metro we had experienced a major malfunction when the auto closing doors ate my luggage. Fortunately this time we escaped unscathed and, two hours later, we were sitting in a first class carriage on the high speed Thalys train to Amsterdam. When I made the booking there was not a huge difference between the ticket prices and we thought it might be nice for once to actually feel a little spoilt. After our experience in Middle Earth, we were glad of this decision.

The GPS told me that we were silently flying along at over 300 kph as the countryside flew past outside the window. Why can’t we build trains like this in Australia ? It really was a comfortable ride and we even got some food and coffee during the ride. After stops at Brussels, Antwerp and Rotterdam, by 4.00 we had reached our final destination of Amsterdam. Neither of us had been here before, and we were keen to see why people talk about this city so fondly.

The first impression we had when we left the Central Station was bikes, bikes, bike and bikes. Bicycles are everywhere. Everywhere you look there is a continuous stream of pedaling travelers, seemingly flying along at breakneck speed. Whenever you try to cross a road there are cyclists coming at you from every direction. To add to the danger there are a few vehicles as well, but many of these are silent electric vehicles, so you cannot hear them coming for you. It really was a strange experience at first and I wondered if this is a glimpse into what all cities will be like in the not too distant future.

Our hotel is a delightful family owned hotel right on the canals and our room looks directly out onto two intersecting canals. It was also clean, we could see around inside, the bathroom was immaculate and the Internet worked brilliantly. It was a fantastic final destination for us. The next bed we sleep in will be in our own home in Pakenham.