To eat McDonald’s in France

March 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

My bus arrived in Narbonne (a town in the south-west of France) at 3.30pm. I didn’t have a map and the counter at the bus station was closed.

I was the only person getting off there. Actually, calling it a bus station is exaggerating. It was a small parking lot with a little ticket office.

Narbonne happened to be on my backpacking plans because a train from Barcelona to Carcassone (which is nearby) would have to stop there, so I decided to give it a go.

As I don’t speak any French and I felt a bit adventurous, I decided to walk to where there seem to be some life. I got to a river. There was a sign point to where was the McDonald’s and it was a quaint little river, with a romantic bridge and some trees. The tourist office was right there. Score.

The lady gave me a map. I asked what was there to see in the town. She frowned. She circled a couple of things (literally two) on the map and pointed me towards my hostel. The city got cuter the further I walked towards the main square. It was almost medieval and quiet and lovely.

My hostel was next to the massive cathedral who was never finished (that’s all I can tell you about it, because I didn’t go inside). It looked all very promising. I walked around the square where the hostel was supposed to be for about 20min. Which means I covered the whole ground of the square 4 times.

There was this big square building, that looked like a gymnasium or an YMCA of sorts. I decided to try my luck there. Turns out the hostel was inside there. No one was younger than 50 and I had my doubts whether any of them would speak English in such a remote town.

I tried a shy: “do you speak English?” to the lady that opened the door. She smiled and blinked, as if startled and said “Yes. English…” and she looked surprised at her own knowledge. “I haven’t spoken English in years!”, she added, laughing.

When I told her I was Brazilian, things got even more exciting for her (while I thought WTF did I get myself into).
“Brazilian?”, she said “Ah, very interesting. And far! So far…and you are here!” and laughed. I didn’t want to destroy her happiness by saying I technically lived in London. She then called the other lady and said in French something that I suspect it was “She is Brazilian!”, because the other lady looked at me in awe and smiled broadly.

I left to go for a walk around it. The city seemed to have been taken over by teenagers. They were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I walked until a bit after the aforementioned McDonald’s and realised with despair that the city basically ended there. I walked a bit more. I took a couple of pictures and by 7pm I was done with it and hungry.

The problem is that the only places with food being served were a small open patisserie and…McDonald’s. It was fucking cold, so I opted for the second. By the time I left to go back it was 7.30pm and everything was closed and there was no teenagers arounds. It felt like Hot Fuzz, the movie. The creepy cathedral and the elders staring.

I ran back to the hostel to be terrified by the place at night. Creepy hallways and next to said cathedral. I fully expected to see 2 bloodied children on my closet.

I couldn’t deal with that for another day, so I decided to go for a day trip to close by Carcassonne. Which is a medieval town and a little more lively than Narbonne but only because there’s a massive castle on top of it. It’s the windiest place on the planet (citation needed).

It must be great on the Summer, but it’s awfully depressing in February. Basically, no one really expects tourists to come at this time of the year and so everything closes.

I went back to Narbonne only to grab my bag and get the hell out of there, before some cult decided to kill me. The night train to Paris was at 11.30pm, but it was 30min late. I’m glad for that because I got to see an amazing parade of bizarre people at the station. Homeless. Musicians. Hobos. Rich women with fur coats. And everyone seemed to have a dog. I don’t know why, but they did. I sincerely hoped not all these people were on my train. The police showed up at some point, with their own dog. Turns out Narbonne gets quite exciting at night.

My train arrived and gladly only one couple with a dog embarked on it. My bed was on top and it was weird and no one checked my ticket (frustrating). I wish I didn’t have any morals once in a while…

I did wake up in Paris at 7am, so that was exciting.
I’m leaving Paris for another blog post, since this was big enough and Paris deserves a post for itself.

Tapas here, tapas there.

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last time we spoke I was heading to Spain. It seems like a very long time ago, but it has been not even 2 weeks. London feels like a year ago and I already crave a full English breakfast and a cup of tea with milk.

Crossing to Spain on a bus was odd and the passport checking barely a checking at all. I arrived in Seville on time and already held my bag close to my body looking at everyone with fear, since I had heard that it was a very dangerous city. I didn’t think it was. In fact, Seville has been one of the high points of the trip so far.

I went on a walking tour suggested by the hostel. The meeting point was the cathedral and I’m glad to say my mouth fell when I saw it. It’s the third biggest in the world (or was it in Europe?), only after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. It has been creatively named ‘Cathedral of Seville’.

It was a sunny day and our guide was a Moroccan guy really lovely. He took us everywhere (the tour lasted 3h30): Murillo’s gardens, the main square with the cathedral, the so easy to get lost Jewish neighbourhood, the university and the gorgeous Plaza de España. He told us great stories and I was so pleased with it, that I booked a tapas tour at night.

The tapas tour was ok, it was mainly worth it for the people, but it did feel slightly too touristic for my taste. The following day I went inside the cathedral and all the way up to the La Giralda tower. It’s amazingly gorgeous inside and it made me want to study architecture. However, the tower was so crowded with people trying to take pictures of the views that I couldn’t have the patience to linger. Instead, I relaxed in the shade of the orange trees by the courtyard (don’t eat the oranges! Their nutrition constitutes of dog’s urine).

I spent the evening in the lovely and massive Plaza de España. It’s kind of depressing to know it was built only 100 years ago, but oh well. I was sitting there wondering why the hell would someone pay to rent a motorboat to use it in a canal that is not even 100m long, when I saw this Japanese couple with a baby.

The baby was a cute little boy of no more than 2 years. Soon, a Spanish looking lady approached with a baby girl of about the same age. They started talking, like moms do in parks (I find this rather amusing). The baby girl started running all clumsy up to the baby boy’s little pram. The Japanese lady asked how old was the baby girl.

She was – I could be wrong on this one – 11 months. The Japanese woman made impressed noises and looked at the girl running and her baby in the pram. The Spanish lady asked about the boy – who was a bit older. Then, the Japanese woman made the funniest face of disapproval and pointed at her baby with her head.

‘Ahn, he’s very slow. Hasn’t even started walking.’ and shook her head. It amuses me as she said that in a way blaming the baby. I truly hope he turns out to be a musical genius by the age of 4.

I ran into a Colombian girl that was on the tour. She lingered there, trying to talk to me while I read my book. I had to close it eventually and chat, but the conversation was full of silent awkward moments that I would have to think of something to say because she would just stand there. Why do you even bother with approaching me at all?

Eventually, I left to the bus station. I planned on taking a night bus to Madrid. As I arrived there to buy my ticket, the woman said there were none left.

‘What?’
‘No more tickets. Full.’
‘What about the next one?’
‘Full. No more buses tonight.’
‘When is the next one with seats?’
‘Tomorrow at 8am’
SAY WHAT?
I swear I almost started crying in front of her. I had no place to stay. The hostel was closed already and panic took over.

Then, I remembered that Bill Bryson in the hilarious ‘Neither Here nor There’ when faced with a lack of seats on a bus, asks if he can stay and wait for a no show. Encouraged by this, I asked her that.

I sat there for 2h, looking intently at the lady in the counter. My heart jumping whenever the phone rang or someone approached. Others came asking for tickets and faced with the negative answer would cry, leave angry and there was even a guy who started shouting at his friends and threw his bag on the floor. What a diva.

There was a man with a crying baby who spent hours talking and gesturing. I thought this was it, of course she would give any empty seat to the father. Which is fair, but annoying.

15min before the bus departed, I went to talk to her. She told me there was a man with a baby who might cancel because the child was sick (so that’s what it was about!). I suddenly – and I’m not proud of it – wished the baby would stay indisposed for at least another 15min.

Out of nowhere, the man suddenly jumped at the counter and cancelled his ticket. I bought it and she said the bus was leaving in 2min. I ran as if there was a bee chasing me (I don’t like bees) and after seated, I congratulated myself on living up to the Brazilian expression ‘you have more good fortune than good sense’. Of course, when I arrived to the hostel, I found out I had booked it for the day before and had to pay an extra stay. Maybe not lucky after all.

I arrived in Madrid at the useless time of 5.30am. Left to the hostel at 8.30 and went to see the city. Must say, not impressed.

I couldn’t help but comparing it to Barcelona. Different from the Catalan capital, Madrid doesn’t seem to have much personality. I walked to the Sofia (the modern art museum) and spent a lovely morning there browsing. I have become addicted to audiotours as well.

In the afternoon, I walked to the area that would be what I can see as the City in London. Filled with bankers wankers and hurried people wearing suits. However, there was a much more admirable architecture than in what I had seen.

The following days were basically spent in the Thyssen and the Prado museums. I must say I like the Thyssen better. It’s more organised and easier to follow chronologically. I saw literally every painting and there were some stunning ones. I’m in love with Spanish historical painting from the 19th century. Their landscape and impressionist collections are both excellent too.

The Prado was a hurry in the end. I had only seen the second floor when they announced it was closing in 1h. I had to run to see the ‘masterpieces’ on the first floor and didn’t make it to all.

I intended to go to a flamenco show but they wanted to charge me €32. HAHA.
I also spent about 2h in the line to the Monastery of the Shoeless Sisters (I believe this is a literal translation). You would think that was the fucking Louvre given the line. It’s pretty cool inside with the painted walls and the different little chapels.

I had a lovely Italian couple as roommates. They spent the whole first night arguing (or rather she wouldn’t shut up and shout at him) and the second night engaged on a burping competition. Lovely.

I flew to Barcelona then. There was a guy on my flight that looked like the singer from The Wonders (from ‘That Thing You Do’), except he spoke Spanish. HOT.

Barcelona is gorgeous. It’s the only place I’ve been that I put it on the backpacking route. I went for a walk at La Rambla and ended up totally in an unknown place. I had dinner at a restaurant who charged me €4 for a juice and on the other hand gave me free coffees – mainly because the waiter wanted me – he asked me for a drink. Awkward.

Following day I walked by the main street with the awesome houses. I just love La Pedrera. It’s beauty combined with usefulness. I went for a quick look at the La Sagrada Familia.

It had been a year since I went there and the construction works look basically like they were before. It’s so astonishing. Gaudi totally threw out of the window all conceptions of how a church should be. He put a penis in Jesus! In the main entrance! Big Jesus! Genius right there.

Met with a friend at Parc Guell and nearly died going up to that shit. It’s gorgeous, though. Very Dr Seuss. The weather could be better…

We went for a walk at the La Barceloneta. Two things happened there: 1. I saw a guy that looked just like Robert Pattinson, wearing a tight black shirt and doing backflips. 2. A seagull left a present on my arm. Since then I’ve been paranoid with birds flying over me.

We had paella for dinner, with 2 lovely Italians from his hostel, then went to see a very cheap (€8) flamenco show. It was weird at first, but it’s very intense and passionate. It was beautiful. I expected the dancer to have an orgasm by the end of it.

And that was Spain. My early bus to Narbonne in South of France would leave first thing in the morning. The fear of the language not spoken getting closer.

In the next chapter: Oh-la-la France! Narbonne and Hot Fuzz, Carcassone and the wind, Paris and the hostel nightmare, Paris and the gorgeousness of it all, Paris and the new friends.

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