Paris. Who wouldn't get excited at the prospects of PARIS? Who wouldn't want to be in Paris? This may be a first and probably (hopefully) wouldn't last but for now, count me in. I wouldn't want to be in Paris. Again. Not now. Not for a while. Maybe movies have romanticised it too much (I blame you Woody Allen), but Paris in the rain? Not my favourite. Not at all. Paris in the rain is wet, cold, slushy and uncomfortable. Did I mention 'wet'? Gael Pender, you lied and it was elucidated in the worst possible way.
Here’s the narrative for the fiasco that was France.
We paid €77 for one night (with that amount, I could've stayed a month in Montenegro). You could say “oh well, it is Paris after all” but no. That doesn’t cut it. St. Christopher’s just behaved terribly. The reception girl told us that if we paid it online, it would be much cheaper so we told her that considering we just landed in Paris and we don’t have a working connection, could we use their wifi? She said no. An extremely blunt no.
We had checked up airbnb’s prior to this but for reasons I still don’t know, payments weren’t going through. I had booked all the Italian Airbnb apartments with my card (from India) and I’m certain that at least one of my cards were working internationally but it turned out to be a bust. So were hers. So ultimately, St. Christopher’s it was and as soon as we checked in, we began looking for another place to stay. Oh. Here’s the kicker. The reception girl AFTER payment tells my sister that the wifi connection is the name of the hostel and there’s no password. Really? There’s really nothing much I can or could’ve done so the only way I dealt with my anger was to leave a trip advisor review. I’ll admit: every time I get a helpful vote on my review, I wear a smug smile.
The truth is, I think we just really needed to sleep. We had a nonstop Italian jaunt and after spending an hour on a water taxi from Lido to mainland Venice, paying €100 for a taxi from Venice to Treviso Airport (because while we would've only spent €10 each for the shuttle bus, waiting for an hour meant missing the flight to Paris) followed by an hour and a half from Paris Beauvais to a main Paris train/RER station, any kind of accommodation sounded heavenly. Of course, this also meant sharing a room with a character called L. E. V, a Russian/Ukrainian 'rapper'. There were two Canadian boys who took the bus from London and a lone Korean boy who spoke limited English. We later met Alberto from Mexico who we had a fine time talking to. In fact, compared to us, he seemed so innocent. He couldn't have been more than 25 and he got high for the first time in his life on this trip in Amsterdam. He had bought some weed from L. E. V and he had had intended to 'get high' so he could go to sleep and wake up in time to catch his flight to Thailand the next morning.
That evening we went by to the Louvre and the jardin des plantes and also walked along the Seine in the evening catching the first glimpse of the Eiffel. We also slipped into a tiny Asian restaurant and had our fill of food. We hadn’t realized through all this chaos how hungry we were.
The next morning, I was woken up by a loud blaring sound and what do you know, it was L. E. V. He was watching a YouTube video and rapping along. In his underpants. The Korean chap had just entered the room when L. E. V cornered him and told him that that guy in the video was him and then went on to ask the Korean whether he spoke English at all. The Korean chap was very intimidated and quickly left the room again. I’m certain L. E. V was on something! I refused to get out of bed till he left and I didn’t have to wait long.
So there. That was St. Christopher's Inn for you.
Meanwhile, somewhere between chatting to Alberto and listening to Russian rap, our housing fortune changed. We were scouring airbnb when we chanced upon Halina and decided to mail her telling her about our misfortunes and that we would pay her in cash. She pre-approved us and within the next 12 hours, we were ready to move in. She and her husband were the two sweetest people we had met (after Nicola's mother) and she got brownie points for leaving us Madeleine's in the room. Which I took upon myself to finish all. The apartment was high up in the sixth or seventh floor in Vincennes and it was so worth what we were paying (lesser than St. Christopher’s).
It seemed Paris was finally setting it. But we weren't prepared for the storm after the calm.
We went to Giverny and even though it was raining, we had a grand time. I took and a train and while walking towards the Eiffel, I was sending Debbie pictures and voice notes about Paris and how I wasn’t having the best time but hopefully it should be fine now. I said I’ll send her a message once I’m at the Eiffel and went that, feeling chirpy and happy, I was there. Right below Lady Love herself. Of course, it was raining and during the climb (yes, I climbed), I was drenched in both rain and sweat. I guess my raincoat didn’t help! In any case, once I was there at the top, it stopped raining and for the first time, I saw Paris in all its glory. The descend from the Eiffel Tower. I took pictures, I took videos, I took the mandatory Eiffel selfie and then got a call from my sister and it was decided that the Louvre was the meeting point. Quite surprisingly, I ran out of Internet data on my phone much to my dismay so I began to look for places where I could get top up. Here's something I learned in Europe: it is NOT easy to find recharge and top up stores as it is in India or even Australia. Perhaps in Australia I found it easier as I was doing it all online but in Europe, with the Indian cards being stubborn, it was a nightmare.
But the real disaster happened minutes later after I bought a punnet of strawberries. I walked the streets wearing black, eating strawberries, walking along the Seine and feeling very Parisian indeed. I took out my phone to take a picture of my Parisian moment when my phone blacked out. And when I mean blacked out, it blacked and blanked out. Clearly I had had much too many disasters by now to even panic so I continued walking along the Seine in the direction of the Louvre. I knew I would meet my sister there. Eventually. Also, not panicking helps.
This story however is linked to three unlikely Bangladeshi men.
To begin with, it didn't help that I bought a sim card word €15 from two Bangladeshi men. They seemed nice. Genuinely nice. My sister and I found their shop on our hunt for St. Christopher's Inn and I had initially wasted €10 buying a top up card for my lycamobile sim card sold to me by another Bangladeshi in Rome who assured me that it will work all over Europe as long as I have my phone set on EU roaming. He even changed my APN and that gave me a sign of assurance, Clearly, and evidently, he lied! I even tried changing the APN but it didn’t work.
The next day, because we were besides ourselves and mostly lost trying to navigate our way with an actual map when my app called Map (which works offline too) would give up on us, we decided that I might as well buy a new sim card for the sake of our sanity. So we backtracked and found ourselves in the company of the Bangladeshi man again. This time, he had his business partner with him, a younger chap who I thought might have a better knowledge about what sim card would work and what wouldn't. That's when he suggested me the €15 sim card but not before mentioning that recharging that for €20 would get me through a month in Europe. It was an attractive offer. Perhaps to good to be true, but I suppose we wanted to believe him.
In the meantime, my sister whose iPad crashed terribly while she was Berlin, decided to ask him if they fix iPads or if he might know where she could get it fixed (The Forence Apple Store was charging €400). Young Bangladeshi said “yes, we fix iPads too”. It would take a day and cost €100. I now feel that I should've dissuaded my sister instead of telling her that it's up to her because when she eventually got the iPad back a day after I left for Slovenia, it was in a state much worse that it was already in. She was nearly in tears on seeing it, she said.
My sister and I headed to their store again to see if anything could be done about my phone and that is when I enquire about the curious case of my data. What happened to lasting a month in Europe with €20? I asked. Their excuse was that using data in France was very expensive and I used too much. Sure. Thanks. Because using google map and whatsapp would finish a €20 top up over night.
The truth is both my sister and I were much too tired of these disasters (I should add that even her phone had gone dead for a night and came back to life the next day). Our only concern was to get me a new phone. And for €180 I bought a Samsung phone (just so you know, my face cringed as I handled the new phone because I am an apple person through and through). I also bought another top up card for €10 which later turned out to quite a waste of money because it was all exhausted by the time I reached Slovenia. Their assurance that I would be able to receive incoming calls was also a farce.
Young Bangladeshi said he came to France because "they don't lie". This was his main reason, he said. So on the pretext of him honouring his code of truth, we trusted him.
Maybe we were unfortunate. Maybe we were the exception. Maybe it just wasn't supposed to work out for us. But in all the ways that I had weighted the options, it's clear:
- Do not get yours a SFR SIM card. It's expensive and it's not worth it.
- Forget getting a sim card. Just stick to free wifi.
Seeing the current state of the world, I feel that I need to state that in saying Bangladeshi men, I am not racial profiling nor am I singling them out (and why should I? I’m from India which is a stone-throw away from Bangladesh). It just so happened that they were all immigrants (from Bangladesh). It also just occurred to me that we most definitely did get fleeced (am I right?). I think we instantly judged them on the basis of being ‘neighbouring’ countries and language (we were talking to them in Hindi) and took it for granted and thought that they WERE nice.
I would like to go back to Paris and erase my disaster but here’s the thing: even at a first glance, I didn’t fall in love with it nor was I enamoured by the prospects of it. This was my sister’s second visit and I think she still felt the same way and loved it. I just felt a little underwhelmed. This could possibly be for a multitude of reason. The first one being the damn rain. The second being that the only places I wanted to see in France (after Giverny) were Arles and Normandy and the third, I wasn’t even planning on stopping in Paris. Actually, the third reason doesn’t make sense. An unsolicited stop can and still be worthwhile. I don’t know when I’ll be in Paris next but I hope I can paint a better picture of it then next. And I mean that not just as a narrative but to also translate it in photographs because as you can see, there is no inspiration whatsoever in my Paris photographs. It's boring, one dimension and lazy and just all round terrible. Merde, I say.
What I do remember and take away is the kindness of Halina and her husband as well as a couple and a friend who spotted us lost on the streets (right out of Louis Blanc with our bags) and offered to drop us off. Their consideration smashed every story I had heard about the French snobbery.