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Monday, August 11, 2014

Weekend in Paris

Current location
At home in my studio in Vieux Nice
istening to
Thinking about the discussion with my maître de stage that we’ll be having tomorrow so I can present my work so far, and decide on what needs to be done next.
I really should get some sleep.
Last meal
Subway sandwich with Muddin at Les Templiers
Optimistic, hopeful

This last weekend, I went to Paris. Here’s some photographic evidence:

I do not usually travel very much. In fact, in the four years I’ve been in France, I’ve mostly stayed in Nice and haven’t been to many places. Apart from Paris which I’ve visited twice before (not counting the first time I arrived at CDG airport in May 2010) I’ve been to Toulon, Toulouse, Monaco, Ventimiglia, San Remo and Amsterdam. Oh, and I was in the Frankfurt airport once for a whole hour. 
My friends however, have been travelling all over Europe, and so this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to catch up on the travelling that I haven’t been doing. For starters, I went to Paris to spend time with Tan Jun Yen and Elvin Lian Jia Ming

Orly at night
I flew to Paris with AirFrance, which has won awards for punctuality. Clearly, this weekend they weren’t really at their best, because both my outbound and return flights were delayed.

The flight was supposed to be at 9.10 pm and was scheduled to arrive at 10.35 pm, leaving me plenty of time to catch a bus or a train to the Cité Universitaire where Tan lives. Unfortunately, however, the flight was delayed by nearly an hour, and so by the time I got to Paris, the Orlyval train line connecting The Orly airport to the RER line B was closed. I hadn’t researched the other means of transport from Orly to Paris city, and it seemed that the only option I had was to take a taxi. But I’m guessing that would have been expensive, and seeing as to how I did not set aside any budget for emergency taxi rides, that option wasn’t very appealing. Plus, there was a really long queue for the taxies. Besides, I was quite tired because it was late and I’d been at my internship all day, so I really did not want to bother with figuring out the transport at that time.

And that’s how I ended up spending Friday night at the Orly Airport. Here’s a panoramic photo I took there around 2 am, when I finally started getting bored and second-guessing my decision.

Now I know the risks associated with late-night flights.

I guess if I’m gonna become a seasoned traveller, I’ll have to get into the habit of learning about the airport transport options, to avoid this.

In hindsight, I could have probably taken a bus.

Probably not the best decision. I didn’t get to hang out with Elvin on the night of his birthday :(

Making my way to Tan’s place at the Cité Universitaire
I did manage to get a short hour-and-a-half long nap, and I was up by around 4 am. That’s when I downloaded the SNCF Transilien app, and started figuring out how to get to Tan’s place at the Cité Universitaire.
According to the app, I could take the “Paris par train” bus to the Pont de Rungis RER station, which is on line C, and then head to Massy Palaiseau and switch over to the RER B and then get to the Cité Universitaire station. So I walked over to the bus stop, and was quite happy to read that the Paris par train bus service started at 4.41 am and that there was a bus every 15 minutes.
30 very frustrating minutes later, I was cold and sleepy and tired, and not in a bus. It didn’t come. At that point I was getting really frustrated, and kept going back and forth between the bus stop area on the ground floor and the train station area on the 1st floor. The trains weren’t about to start until 6 am though. Anyway, at around 5.45, I was back at the bus stop, and this time there was an older man waiting there. I asked him if that’s the correct bus stop to get to Pont de Rungis  and the RER C, and he said yes.

That’s when I said “Mais j’attends depuis 4h41, et il n’est pas passé!”  [“But I waited from 4.41 am and it never came!”]. To which he replied, quite simply, “Là c’est le premier bus” [“this is the first bus”].
The application lied to me. The information panel at the bus stop lied to me. I was annoyed to no end at that point, mostly frustrated that I was already in Paris for 6 hours and hadn’t stepped out of the airport.
Goes to show that locals know stuff.

Why can’t the frikkin information on the application be up-to-date?!
Anyway, the bus finally came, I got on, and by a little later than 6 am I was at the Pont de Rungis RER station.

With the picture-in-picture mode that my phone camera has, I can record whatever’s happening, along with my reaction to it. As you can see, I really wasn’t very pleased.

Once I was on the RER, and I made the switch to line B, I was already feeling much better, and I was really eager to get to Tan’s place and get some rest. I was so eager in fact, that I started trying to call Tan from 8 stations away.
The Paris metro and the RER are really quite well done, I feel, and the trip on the RER to the Cité Universitaire didn’t take very long. I think the train even skipped 4 or 5 stations, so that made it extra fast. 
OMG we should totally have an elaborate metro system like Paris in KL.

The Cité universitaire
Luckily, even though Tan didn’t answer any of my frantically repeated calls, he happened to wake up and check his phone just as I was arriving at his stop, and so he called me just in time to guide me to the building he was staying in, which is just a 2-minutes’ walk from the station.
As soon as the Cité Universitaire came into view, I was impressed. It looks so grand, and classy. Like something out of Harry Potter. Just look at it:

Guided by Tan’s simple directions, and the clear markings on and inside the buildings, I easily got to the third floor of Tan’s building, where Tan was waiting for me. We went to his 10m² room and there was Elvin. He had arrived the day before, and with Tan and some other Malaysians living in Paris, celebrated his birthday.
After a short nap, we headed out around 9 am. First, Tan brought us around his cité universitaire and the compound. It was really quite vast, with lots of greenery and impressive looking buildings. As we walk out of the building where Tan lives, the Maison internationale, we see a really big field, with really soft and inviting grass. There were people there too, getting some exercise.

Here’s one of the gardens in the compound of the cité:

I think it’s really convenient to have such a great park so close to where you live, that you could visit whenever you want to. I really like parks, and luckily I live so close by to the Proménade de Paillon park here in Nice. Before heading off to Paris, I’d already decided that I would want to spend most of my time just visiting parks, walking around Paris and taking the meros and RERs to get from one park to the next, then just chilling there. I’m so glad that the first thing we did on Saturday morning was walk through these parks right in Tan’s student residence.
I learned that Eddy was in Paris for his stage, and that Wong Hock Yee also happened to be in Paris that day because he was catching a flight back to Malaysia. We decided that we’d meet them for brunch in the Quartier latin, so we headed to the tramway station. 

Heading to the tramway station.
American brunch
I don’t remember which stop we got down at, but if I’m not mistaken, the first place that Tan brought us to was the Arènes de Lutèce. There weren’t any tourists there, and it seemed like it was visited mostly by locals. I think those are the kinds of places I’d like to visit when I start travelling more. I mean, sure, it’s great to visit the tourist attractions too, but it would be nice to just know the stuff that locals experience every day; like, I’d visit the supermarkets and things like that.
I think that if want to meet more people when I travel, and discover more things from the locals, I should consider couchsurfing.com and coivoiturage too.

I think that from there, we next took the RER C to Saint Michel, which is where the Notre Dame is. That area is the quartier latin, where Tan was bringing us to have brunch. It’s also happens to be where the Université de Sorbonne and the Polytech Paris UPMC is. That’s where Tan studies, and I got to see that along the way as we headed to an American diner called Breakfast in America. I asked Tan to bring us to atypical destinations, and so this was just perfect. Also, I’ve never eaten in an American diner before, so that’s a plus too.
When we got in, the waitress who sat us down spoke to us in English with an American accent. I asked her if they accept tickets restaurant, and she said “yes, we accept tickets restaurants, we don’t give you the change of course; we also accept cash and credit cards, but ironically, not American Express”. She then presented us with menus and left us to let us choose. Reading the menu, I noticed some items that I’d only actually ever heard of on TV, but never actually eaten myself, like burritos and guacamole.

The decorations, furniture and overall atmosphere inside the diner seemed like something straight out of the movies. It was like any of the diners I’d seen on TV, and actually, eating there, and also hearing about Tan and Elvin’s experiences in New York makes me really want to visit there some day.
So now I finally know what guacamole tastes like. I didn’t actually like it on its own, but it went well with the sandwich. Might be an acquired taste or something. I’ll try it again next time.
Botany and natural history
We didn’t meet up with Eddy and Wong for brunch, but we made plans to meet up with them later in the evening. Meanwhile, we headed to the Jardin des plantes. We went there by metro, and we stopped at Jussieu. The Jardin des plantes (which, by the way, translates into the very creative “garden of plants”) is the main botanical garden in France, and it’s really big (according to Wikipedia, it covers 280,000 m²). There’s a botanical school there, and parts of the National Museum of Natural History are in the gardens too.
While we were at Breakfast in America, I was telling Tan how amused I was that we were in an American diner in Paris, and how glad I was that my weekend in Paris did not consist of clichéd touristy activities like visiting the Arc de Triomphe and such things, almost as if that was some sort of achievement. Anyway, as we were reaching the Jardien des plantes, Tan told me that we would see kangaroos. When I heard that, I thought “Ah, after Breakfast in America, what could be more fitting than seeing some Australian marsupials?”, and figuring that Tan was just joking, I just went along with it.
When we finally got to the gardens however, we really did, in fact, see kangaroos. Well, wallabies actually. But same thing; I mean, seeing frikkin wallabies in France? Achievement unlocked. Y’all been to France too? Y’all seen the Eiffel tower? Yeah? Big deal. I saw frikkin kangaroos, you don’t see that on postcards. 

Upon zooming in, one notices that those are genuine marsupials:
There’s also a zoo in the Jardin des plantes. An animal zoo – which not only makes the name of the garden uninspired, but also inaccurate in its description. But I digress. In any case, we did not go to the zoo, mainly because it’s just inappropriate, given the name of the garden, but maybe also because it’s 50 euros a pop. We did, however, see some deer:
So, deciding to skip the animals, we walked on to discover the various plants in the botanical garden. There were a lot of different grasses and flowers. There were also plenty more inside big greenhouses (the French word for which is serre, as I learned this weekend). They were pretty big I guess, because I’m pretty sure I saw a banana plant in one of them. Yeah, I’m not so sure now, but I think maybe that was a greenhouse full of tropical plants. I can’t be sure, because we didn’t go into any of them.
There were plenty of grasses, bushes, flowers and other things to see outside the greenhouses too, so we didn’t really miss out on anything: 
In fact, there were even some plants that we were able to identify. I was actually feeling quite proud of us for somehow having attained and retained this botanical knowledge despite being city dwellers. I was impressed that we were able to correctly name a few of the flowers. We were on a roll, until Elvin misidentified sunflowers are chrysanthemums. That reminded me that we’re all really just engineers-to-be and in truth, don’t know jack about flowers. 
Here they are trying to smell sunflowers.
It was while we were in the Jardin des plantes that we met up with Tan’s friend, a Malaysian kid named Jun who moved to France with his parents when he was 7 and who’s been living here ever since. He’s 21 years old, although he does seem younger. We got along well from the beginning, and we talked a lot about Malaysia. Jun taught himself Malay and he would ask us how to say a few things in Malay so he could learn more.
Anyway, with Jun, we went to Muséum national d'histoire naturelle
There, we saw a lot of bones and a few taxidermy things; animal bones, human bones, dinosaur bones, mammoth skeletons, bird bones, preserved internal organs and also fetuses. There were a LOT of skeletons and bones on exhibit, and it was quite tiring walking around the whole place. We didn’t even visit the top floor. Here are a few panoramic shots to give an idea of scale:

All the walking around that huge floor space got our feet pretty tired, and after a while, all we really wanted to do was find a good place to just sit down.
Island in the Seine
So after the American brunch, wallabies, sunflowers, and dinosaur bones, for true relaxation, Tan decided to bring us to an island. It’s what is known as a river island, or in French, île fluviale. Here’s a map and some info, so you can picture it, courtesy of Google and Wikipedia:
Oooh, I just noticed that the tree in that photo that comes up when I Google “Ile Saint-Louis” looks just like the tree that we sat under when we were there:
We spent quite some time there, just chilling and chatting. Elvin and I got to know Jun a little bit more. Jun really impressed me with his knowledge about Malaysia, considering that he’s been living in France most of his life. He even knew a bit about Malaysian politics and had his own opinions about it. It was really nice talking to him and listening to his enthusiasm for Malaysia. 

Once we were rested up, we went to a sandwich shop so Jun could get a bite to eat, because he hadn’t had lunch yet. After that, we headed towards the Jardin de Tuileries because I really wanted to revisit that garden. I was there last summer with Zeff, and I remember enjoying that place a lot.

This probably isn’t the exact route we took, but it’s about right. We walked along the Seine which during the summer served as the Paris plage, a sort of make-believe beach along the river bank, complete with sand imported from somewhere:
Make-believe beach

That’s some serious sand sculpting going on
I’m only realizing this now as I look at the maps, but it turns out we weren’t that far away from the headquarters of Aura Equipement, which is where I’m currently doing my internship. Also, I’ve highlighted the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop on the map, because I really like that bookshop. We didn’t go there this time, but I went there with Zeff last year; he’s the one who suggested we go there actually, and it was a really nice place; it reminded me that I hadn’t been reading books in a while, and rekindled my love for reading stories. (I did read a few since then; though I could actually read more)
At one point, we crossed the Pont des Arts, which Is one of the bridges crossing the Seine. We saw the love locks along the bridge, and the lock peddlers selling padlocks to the couples there. And of course, we saw some street performers performing their street performances.
We needed to get some snacks and eats for the picnic so we went to Franprix, which is a supermarket chain that we don’t have in Nice. We got some tarama, which is like some kind of fish-roe paste, a baguette, some garlic-cheese spread, thon à la Catalane in a tin, some mini-toasts, and some drinks before finally arriving at the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Tuileries Garden
At the Tuileries Garden, we first met up with Arif Daniel who’s studying fashion in Paris. At that point my phone had run out of batteries, so I didn’t get any pictures there. I wish I did though, I bet I could have gotten a really nice 360° photo sphere. Here’s a photo I pulled off the internet:

I should consider getting a spare battery for my phone, or a power bank.

It’s really just a very vast garden with lots of ponds, fountains, trees, and statues. Also, there are a lot of chairs and lounge chairs, making it a very nice place to just sit around, relax and chat with friends.
Soon after, Eddy and Wong came to the garden and met up with us, and after catching up with them for a bit, we headed to the Champ de Mars.
Picnic at the Champ de Mars
The Champ de Mars is a large field right in front of the Eiffel Tower, and that’s where we decided to have a picnic. Here’s a photo that I took there using Eddy’s camera:
Tan organized it all, contacting his friends in Paris through a Whatsapp group. He’d invited a few Brazilian friends, some French friends, Malaysians, and also a Slovenian. We got there towards 8 pm, and we picnicked until past 11 pm. 
We weren’t the only group picnicking there; there were lots of other people chilling in front of the Eiffel Tower, and not just tourists either. It seems that local people go there to chill sometimes too. And by local, I mean the people living in Paris, not necessarily the French Parisians. I’m not actually sure if that’s a popular hangout place for them.
After 11 pm, we had to start heading back to Tan’s cité, because the metro and RER only ran until around midnight. Elvin, Tan and I were all very tired, but the good kind of tired; the kind of tired you have after a long day spent walking around and having fun. Tan knew exactly which trains to take and which stations to stop at (I think we took 3 different trains to get from the Eiffel Tower to Tan’s place), and even though I guess that would be expected, I still found it pretty impressive. I actually find it pretty impressive that people can remember directions at all, really.
The Parisian mamak-like experience
The next morning, we didn’t wake up until after 10 or 11 am. I’d already had plenty of fun on Saturday, and I’d been to the Jardin des Tuileries that I really wanted to go to, so I wasn’t in any rush at all on Sunday. When I had looked at the weather forecast for Sunday the day before, it showed that it might rain, so I was just happy that the weather was looking good that morning.
We took our time getting ready to head out for lunch, and I packed all my things so that I could head to the airport straight from wherever we would hang later. We decided that we’d have Indian food, so we headed to the La Chapelle station in the 10th arrondissement, which is one of the two quartier indien in Paris. It’s where all the Indian people are, with their Indian shops and restaurants.
Stepping out of the La Chapelle station, I could literally smell the curry in the air. Immediately we see Indians and Sri Lankans everywhere, and all the shops have signs in Tamil alongside French. 
Indians. Everywhere. 
Notice the Restaurant name written in Tamil.
Only once we were inside and seated did I notice that I’d actually been to this very same restaurant before – two years ago when I was visiting Paris, Encik Faris Jazlan, the PPL (Penasihat Pendidikan dan Latihan JPA) that time brought some of us Malaysians here late night after dinner with the Menteri Belia dan Sukan to have some teh tarik (or rather, just milk tea, tarik sendiri).
Here’s the menu:
And here’s some of the stuff the have:
And this is what we ordered:
I had mango lassi yay! It was a really really satisfying meal, and when I asked them to make it spicy, they really did. No kidding around – like, sweat profusely while you scratch your itchy itchy head because it’s really hot kinda spicy. And for a really reasonable price too! See my plate of beef kotthu parotta? Yeah, just 6.50 euros. Did not expect prices like that in Paris.
Oh, and Elvin got some tea, which Tan happily tarik for him:
The science park
After a very enjoyable and hearty meal, we went to the Parc de Villette. Tan said there would be a giant metal ball there, and sure enough we saw it. I took a photo, and look what Google did to it with its Auto-Awesome feature:
Don’t the clouds look really dramatic?
At the time, I just took the giant metal ball at face value, and didn’t ask what it really was, or what purpose it served. I figured it was just a piece of decoration, reflecting the sky and solely there to look pretty. It turns out, as I just found out from Google, that this structure is actually called La Géode, and it’s actually a mirror-finished geodesic dome that holds an Omnimax theatre. Basically, it’s an IMAX cinema in a dome.
I’ve never seen an IMAX movie before, not even in Malaysia, so I might want to come back and actually go inside this giant metal ball one day.

Apart from the Géode, the Parc de la Villette had, well, a park. Here’s a 360° photosphere:

We spent a few hours just lying on this field and hanging out near the canal there.

There were other people there too – some were exercising, some were reading, some were just stting down and watching the scenery. I saw a couple of people practicing capoeira too.
The Parc de la Villette also holds the Cité des sciences de l’industrie, which is sort of a science museum . That’s where Eddy was that day, showing some friends around. We didn’t meet up with him, because we weren’t planning on paying the entrance fee to visit a museum that day. We did go in, however, just to check it out, without exploring all the exhibits.
There was plenty to see there just from walking around the building, without going in to any of the rooms with the exhibits. The interior was very modern, looking more like a shopping complex than a museum really:

Reminds me of PetroSains. I think I’ve been there before. Maybe. Or it might have been some other science museum in Malaysia.
At around 3.40 or so it started raining, so we were stuck indoors there for a bit. We passed the time by walking around the souvenir shop until the rain stopped. There were lots of nifty sciency things, but I resisted to urge to impulsively purchase things I do not need.

Seeing the gadgets and the excitement of the kids who were getting their parents to buy things there, however, did remind me that there are plenty of hobbies I could try and new interests I could develop.

I’m gonna look for new hobbies and discover new things to geek out about.

Back to Nice
The rain ain didn’t last long; As my flight to Nice was supposed to be at 7.30 pm, we started leaving for Orly airport as soon as the rain stopped around 4.15.
We meant to take the metro to Chatelet but it wans’t in service. So we stopped one station later (I think it was Pont Marie), then walked to the Chatelet RER. We were kinda rushing, so we couldn’t take any scenic routes. It’s okay though, because I’m sure I’ll come to Paris again, and I’ll be able to visit more things next time.
I said goodby to Tan and Elvin at the Chatelet RER, then I toook the RER B to Antony, then took the Orlyval to Orly airport.
I think Air France must have been having a really bad weekend, because the flight back to Nice was also delayed (about 20 minutes), but I finally got back to Nice feeling tired, but very happy and satisfied. I love travelling now. Can’t wait to go to Rome and London, and then travel some more elsewhere!

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