Oui, oui, France is beautiful in the summer. If you have been a reader since day 1 then you know that I have been to the fabulous Paris before but I had the flu during my time there (last October). Wasn't the best time walking around in the cold rain with an on and off fever, stuffy nose and fatigue but I made it and promised myself another trip to Paris when my health was better. As you know, my best friend from high-school came to visit me and she wanted to go to Paris so I jumped on the opportunity and we made it happen.
After returning from Budapest the weekend prior and settling into my new apartment for 1 1/2 days, we were off to Paris. The only problem was leaving Prague. Why? If you were unaware, Prague faced some serious and dangerous flooding earlier this month and the transportation system was either questionable or changed. We were taking an overnight bus to Paris from Prague so we had to go to the bus station via trams that were either on a different route or did not go where you needed to go. So, with our big suitcases (we were flying home to America for the summer after our trips) we waited about 20 minutes for a tram that took us to a stop where we had to transfer to another tram to make it to the bus station. We made it to the bus station in the knick of time and boarded the bus to Paris. We slept a good majority of the way and got to Paris in the morning. We were pleasantly welcomed with sunshine, warm air and beautiful surroundings. Our bus dropped us off in a random area of Paris on the side of the road and we had to lug our suitcases to the hostel for about 45-55 minutes.
After sweat, delirious laughs and sore arms, we made it to our hostel. We got there at 2 in the afternoon, which was check-in time, but were told we had to wait another hour until we could officially check in. This was just the beginning of problems in this hostel.
Let me give you all a brief summary of what we experienced during our stay here before I get into detail about everything else in Paris. So, basically, what happened was originally we were going to do Couchsurfing in Paris but the departure to Paris was inching closer and closer and we still didn't have a place to stay so I booked a hostel online (while still in Budapest) and granted, it was the cheapest but it didn't seem all that bad. The day after booking this hostel in Paris, I got an OK from a couchsurfing host for our stay so I contacted the hostel and asked them to cancel the reservation. If you have used the website Hostelbookers before then you know that they only take 10% from your credit or debit card in order to reserve a room/bed for you and then you pay the remainder in cash upon arrival. Well, I received an email back from reception at the hostel claiming that they absolutely could not cancel my reservation because they had already taken the full amount charged per night from my payment card. I was FURIOUS because nowhere on the screen did it mention that would happen. I emailed them back with a nasty message describing how absurd they were and that I demanded my money back. I did not get an email back over the next two days so we ended up staying with this hostel.
So, back to when we were physically at the hostel. I told the woman who I was and what had happened before and reminded her that their website and listing on Hostelbookers said check-in was at 2. It was now 2:20 in the afternoon. She was very rude and said, "sorry no check-in until 3. You can put your luggage downstairs in the holding room." Keep in mind she did not even look up when she said this. So, my friend went downstairs to the "luggage room" and came up with a disgusted look on her face and all she said was "there's no fucking way I'm putting my stuff down there." This hostel's luggage room was a small room that was flooded, smelly, bugs and small creatures crawling around- like a basement that you would throw a dead body in. The ceilings were leaking and the stairs were so steep they promised a broken neck. We waited in the "waiting room", a room with no chairs or tables, got ready in the wet, smelly, small bathroom in the lobby and finally at 3 PM we checked in. We got the keys and into the room...which was horrific. If you have never been to a hostel and have an image in your head of what they look like, the worst possible image that is, then this room was it. The room had two bunk-beds, no sheets, a cotton ball of a pillow, a bathroom with stalls, it smelled and was super humid and very poorly lit. Also, this hostel, apparently, is known for it's bed bugs.....................
We wanted to get out of there as quickly possible so we locked up our valuables in the lockers and got out of there. Since we had only half a day to explore Paris before setting off to Amsterdam. My friend's mission objective was to see the Eiffel Tower and whatever else we could fit in afterwards was to be determined. On our way to the Eiffel Tower, we satisfied our hunger and sweet tooths (teeth?) at Paul. While sitting outside enjoying the Parisian atmosphere we watched something rather sad happen to a little girl. A young girl and her young mother, both obviously homeless, were just standing on the sidewalk patiently waiting for just a few euros to buy themselves some food when an older man, also homeless, came up to them and kicked the little girl very hard. The man walked away and the girl began to uncontrollably cry while tourists and shopkeepers stared with their jaws dropped. I wasn't watching but my friend was and she told me what had happened just behind me. I felt so bad for the little girl that I wanted to buy her ice-cream but before I could they had moved to another part of the street. I went back to eating my raspberry tart, still thinking about how that little girl would have loved an ice-cream cone.
At the Eiffel Tower we waited in the wrong line for about 40 minutes before being told the line we wanted was on the other side. This line was much shorter and we were climbing stairs in no time. When we finally got to the viewing deck, I was out of breath and sweating my face off. My friend insisted we go to the very, tippy top because she doubts she will ever be in Paris again. I go through phases where I am afraid of heights so I was not so keen on going all the way up there. We took the elevator, I was hyperventilating and freaking out the entire ride up. When we got off the elevator, I relaxed when I saw that there was a net-like/plastic glass encasing the entire floor. Phew.
My friend ordered a 12 euro glass of champagne, because when else are you going to drink a flute of champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Probably never. We took some pictures and I dragged her back downstairs to the bottom. By the time we got down, the sun was setting and we took some more touristy pictures before venturing to find some much needed dinner. The place we went was very French, meaning only the youngest worker knew several words in English so we struggled a little bit. I did take French in high school but my teacher wasn't the best and all I can manage now is "Je ne parle pas francais." Our dinner consisted of salad and fish soup with a cup of coffee. Exhaustion set in and we went back to the hostel for a night of rest. I woke up several times itching myself and because the two other people in the room came in very late and loudly. Basically, the night was pretty sleepless.
In the morning, we ate "breakfast" provided by the hostel; a slice of bread on a tray, no plate or anything. Pretty pathetic if you ask me, if you are going to have horrible everything, at least have a slightly decent breakfast. We checked out and asked if we could keep our luggage by the reception desk and we got the same answer as we did the day before. Angry and fed up with the hostel we left immediately and promised to never return to this hostel if we come to Paris again. You're probably wondering what the name of this horrid hostel is, right? Before I tell you the name, the ONLY good thing is the location but absolutely nothing else. The name of this hostel was AIJ Paris Hostel. Never, I repeat, never EVER stay here. The staff were so rude, unhelpful and the men who worked there were disgusting, old PIGS. Staring at the young girls and making comments to them, including my friend and I.
It was 9 in the morning when we checked out and our bus (to Amsterdam) left around 3 in the afternoon. We had to drag our luggage with us for the remainder of our time there, so we decided to eat at an outdoor cafe to a) kill time and b) give ourselves some food of substance. We ate at a cute little cafe near the hostel and people watched for about an hour and a half while sipping on some coffee, diet Coke and a fruit yogurt.
With just a few hours left in sunny Paris, we headed to the Louvre for some pictures and then to some tourist shops nearby for souvenirs. On the way to the souvenir shops, I was bombarded by a group of gypsy children who were trying to get me to sign a petition and did not stop shoving the paper in my face after repeatedly saying no and shaking my head. Finally I broke free and ran a few feet ahead to get away from them; they just went on to the next tourist passing by, thankfully. We bought our souvenirs and still had about an hour or two to kill before departing. With nothing else in mind, we resorted to just getting some lunch and heading to the bus station. Lunch was from Paul, a sandwich, lemon tart and drink for 8 euros. That lemon tart was so, so, so delicious and I wanted another as soon as I finished it. I guess that was the highlight of my afternoon in Paris.
Finally our bus came and we were off to Amsterdam.
Look out for the Paris in pictures post and the Amsterdam post, plus what happened to us in between Paris and Amsterdam.
Travel on wanderlusters!
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Friday, June 28, 2013
I love going to places that I never have been before. This was the case for Budapest, Hungary!
We escaped the darkness Prague engulfed us in to sunshine and semi-warmer weather in Budapest. After getting off our bus, a 7 hour ride with Student Agency, we got a little lost until we were given directions in very broken English. Our hostel was called Astoria City Hostel located in Astoria Square, which is one of Budapest's places to go. We checked into the quaint 3rd floor hostel and put our bags in our dorm room. Before even getting to the dorm room, the hostel felt comfy and cozy; kind of like home. The dorm room was one of the nicer dorm rooms I have stayed in and there were only two other people in the room with us. Let me tell you, by the end of the trip I would recommend this hostel to anyone traveling to Budapest- it's cheap, the staff is super helpful and friendly, they are interested in what you have done thus far in Budapest, they offer information on where to go out and what you must see, the beds are semi-comfortable and you are in an apartment so you feel somewhat at home. Also, the breakfast consists of bread, jams, butter, a Nutella-like spread and cereal but you are more than welcome to buy your own breakfast items and store them in the fridge. One morning we were there, the staff made pancakes for the guests to eat. We missed it but I bet they were delicious. All in all, this was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in and if I ever go back to Budapest, I will definitely stay at Astoria City Hostel again.
With our cameras, cute outfits, sunglasses and open eyes, we left the hostel for the afternoon in search of somewhere to eat. Just across from the hostel at a restaurant called Bali Cafe we got a free beer (our hostel gave us a coupon) and lunched on seafood, salad and chicken. The prices threw us off at first but then we remembered their currency appears high in price but in reality is quite cheap! For example, my meal, if I remember correctly was about 1990 forints, meaning it was about $8.72 in U.S. dollars. A pretty standard price for a full plate of food? Well, depends on where you get it, but you get the point.
After eating, we decided to explore the 'pest' side of Budapest. Before we ventured off though we were on the quest to find Budapest's "best coffee shop". We didn't end up finding it but we did come across daily life in the back streets of Budapest. My best friend and I were quite confused as to why there was furniture and other miscellaneous objects just thrown onto the side of the streets; we later found out, from a worker at the hostel, that about every 10 or 15 years the basements of apartment buildings because they store old furniture down there that the residents no longer wanted. So, after 10-15 years, movers come to move the furniture out of the basements and put them on the streets for either someone to find beauty in the item and take it home or for it to be trashed. Before the pieces of furniture and other small objects are either taken to a new home or trashed, the homeless sleep or lounge on the pieces for the weekend. We even saw a family of gypsies make good use of the furniture and create a set-up similar to a dining/living room. The family was sitting around the table eating bread and drinking out of very old, plastic cups. I wanted to take a picture because I have never seen anything like it before but decided to respect their privacy and simply keep the memory in my head. We also saw some homeless folk try to sell the furniture or small items to tourists and people passing by; I never saw someone buy anything but I did see some haggling for a lower price until a police officer came over and broke it up.
Enough of the furniture talk and on to the food, exploring and shenanigans part of our Budapest trip! After wandering into unknown streets, we turned around in fear of getting hopelessly lost in the wrong part of town. I was on a mission for coffee and that was what I was going to get. We stumbled upon a coffee shop in an alley called Aztec Choxolat. I decided to be gutsy and order a spicy hot chocolate but I mixed too much of the wrong ingredients and had a funky tasting drink...that I ended up tossing because I just couldn't drink it. However, as a whole, the coffee shop seemed like one of those cute, cozy places where you can curl up and read a book or sit outside with friends and enjoy the silence of an alleyway cafe. The one thing I will comment on is that there was a rude worker that day, looking at me as if I was some intruder because I spoke English; I get the whole being proud of where you are from and therefore preserving the language, etc, etc, but seeing as this cafe was actually listed on TripAdvisor for tourists to go to when visiting Budapest, I would have expected someone who was at least a little bit friendly.
The sun was starting to descend so we headed towards the Chain Bridge. On our way there, we stopped in a thrift store with some cute skirts and shorts for cheap. After about 30 minutes trying on different items, my friend ended up buying a pair of floral shorts and we stopped in a coffee shop just down the street. Here, we experienced friendlier staff and amazing coffee. Unfortunately I forget the name of the place and cannot find it online anywhere! But if you are on the Pest side, walking down a little street with several thrift stores, a massive wall with a parking lot, you are in the right place! The inside of this coffee shop sort of looks like a cave and there's always multiple people there either reading or furiously typing away on their laptops.
After a refreshing coffee break, we wandered through the streets of Budapest into the evening when we went to a little Italian restaurant for a late dinner. We went back to the hostel and got some much needed rest for the upcoming day. On Saturday, we woke up early, ate some breakfast and set out for day of being tourists. Between Saturday and Sunday afternoon when we boarded the bus back to Prague, we walked across the Chain Bridge, randomly stumbled upon City Park where there was a festival, went up close and personal to the Vajdahunyad Castle (I was asked there if I was Australian...compliment!), walked a-ways to the Liberty Statue and Heroes Square, stood outside the House of Terror, took goofy pictures in front and by the St. Stephen's Basilica, stare at the beautiful roof of the Dohany Street Synagogue and Matthias Church, visited the Hungarian House of Parliament (which was under construction :[ ), attempted to just look inside the Szechenyi thermal bath (will definitely go in and relax next time) and take a look at the Hungarian National Bank.
Unfortunately, we did not get to go up to the Hungarian Castle even though we were on the Buda side of Budapest Sunday morning. I would also like to visit the Fisherman's Bastion and the Hungarian State Opera House next time I am in Budapest.
On Friday evening we set off to the shopping district to compare fashions and maybe do a little shopping; again, the prices really set me off so I didn't buy anything. We did see a rather strange event outside one of the stores though...a man was dressed up as a cow and collected money from people who wanted to throw eggs at him as he stood against a wall. The police broke it up later but it was still pretty odd yet hilarious at the same time. On Saturday, while taking Budapest by storm- literally by storm- we walked in the POURING rain in a massive circle which we figured out after we were soaking wet and the sun decided to finally come back out. We warmed ourselves up with another cup of coffee from the lovely place we went on Friday afternoon.
I also bought myself a corny Budapest t-shirt in the design of a Jack Daniel's bottle. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking but I never buy myself t-shirts when I travel because I tend to buy postcards or art of the city so I decided it was time to buy a t-shirt. Whenever I see it, I laugh a little because I remember how long it took me to decide which shirt I wanted in the store (about 30 minutes total). Later on Saturday we wandered back to the shopping district and decided to see what an underground market place had to offer...uh, don't go there. Pretty sketchy and creepy, not lit well and we were being followed by one of the store owners throughout the market. We walked to the end of the market decided we need to get out of there ASAP, so we did. No more shopping underground for us. Sunday morning, before boarding the bus, was spent mainly on the Buda side and again, in the shopping district. After a few hours of this, we decided to go back to the hostel, grab our bags and make our way to the bus station.
We got there a little early and stayed in the metro (p.s. you MUST buy a metro ticket here because ticket control is standing at the entrance to the metro- don't buy a 24 hour because you will waste money and most likely NOT use it unless you are staying in the outskirts of the city) when a homeless woman came up to me and asked me for money, I shook my head no and she muttered something and walked away. What scared me was what happened next: a booming, shaking crack of lightning and thunder...I was sitting there thinking "oh my god she just cursed me!!!" haha of course she didn't but it was slightly ironic the situation. About 20 minutes later the bus came and we boarded back to Prague for a few days. All in all, Budapest was lovely and not as cheap as I thought it was going to be (still cheap though) and will definitely look forward to my next trip there. Oh, oh, oh! You have to get some marzipan there, it is delishhhh.
Travel on wanderlusters!