If I had to choose one photo to summarize Paris, it wouldn’t be one of the Eiffel Tower or The Louvre or any of the other historical monuments, museums, or churches. It would be a photo of graffiti. There is graffiti everywhere you look. I wasn’t expecting this of a city everyone describes as beautiful.
My friend, Heidi, maintains that the city is known for its artists and this is just another outlet for them to show their art. Maybe.
In addition to the graffiti, there are “beware of pickpocketing” signs everywhere, which made me feel unsafe.
Heidi and I decided well before her arrival that we would take the Eurostar to Paris for a day. In theory, the trip sounded like a good idea. Paris is only a two-hour train ride from London. We planned on catching a morning train, taking in the Eiffel Tower and a few other sites, and heading back to the UK in the evening. In reality, more time was spent on trains than sightseeing. I wouldn’t recommend doing a day trip to Paris from London unless you are able to score really cheap Eurostar tickets and you depart for Paris on the 6am train.
The human timeline
|6:00am||Wake-up, shower, eat, put dogs in the garden. Hope they do not freeze.|
|6:55am||Walk to the Maidenhead train station. Deal with train delays and very crowded trains.|
|8:15am||Arrive at St Pancras International station.|
|8:25am||Check-in 30 minutes prior to departure. Hop onboard the totally outdated train.|
|8:55am||Depart for Gare du Nord International station.|
|12:15pm||Arrive at Gare du Nord station (timezone change, one hour ahead). Figure out public transportation.|
|1:00pm||Arrive at the first tourist site and do tourist stuff for the next few hours. Find somewhere to eat during tourist activities.|
|8:00pm||Begin to make way back to Gare du Nord station.|
|8:45pm||Check-in 30 minutes prior to departure. Get interrogated by UK Border Control. Board train.|
|9:15pm||Depart for St Pancras International station.|
|10:35pm||Arrive at St Pancras (timezone change, one hour behind). Deal with very crowded trains due to the football match.|
|1:00am||Arrive at Maidenhead station.|
|1:15am||Arrive home via taxi.|
The canine task list
|Destroy the cat door. Bleed all over the inside of the door and kitchen tile.|
|Go to the p-a-r-k with Jon. Hopefully, behave.|
|Dig massive holes in the garden.|
|Become joyful when mum returns home.|
|Eat a bonus meal because mum feels guilty for leaving all day.|
In our seven tourist hours in Paris, we went to the Eiffel Tower, went on a boat tour, spent lots of time on public transportation, looked for a restaurant that is toted for having the best steak and frites only to find out that it was not open until 7pm, ate at a different restaurant, went to Starbucks, and walked around the city near Notre Dame and found a cool little hidden area with restaurants, shopping, and bars.
HEIDS and I may have gotten into a small spat about the height of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is currently the tallest structure in Europe. That’s a fact and is not disputable. It will, however, lose its title upon completion of Shard London Bridge in May 2012. Another fact and not disputable, unless you dispute the UK being part of Europe.
Our dispute was regarding how tall the Eiffel Tower is compared to skyscrapers. I repeatedly said, “It’s just not that tall.” Heidi repeatedly said, “Yes it is! It is the tallest building in Europe!” To which I said, “Europe is old. Tell me how many tall buildings you see around here. Being the tallest building is easily accomplish in Europe.”
Somehow the conversation spiraled out of control and I started making obscene claims that it wasn’t taller than any of the skyscrapers in Minneapolis or Dallas. My mind control was seemingly out-of-order that day as she did not believe a word I said and I knew this battle was going to end up in the hands of Google. Which it did. At Starbucks.
Damn you, Google for your accuracy and proving me wrong. The Eiffel Tower is about 20 m /65 ft taller than the IDS building in Minneapolis (roof height, not including the antenna spire) and is about 19 m / 62 ft taller than the Bank of America Plaza (“pickle building”) which is the tallest building in Dallas. So, Heidi, you were RIGHT.
Back to the Eiffel Tower…
HEIDS and I went on the summit tour which does exactly what the name suggests and takes you to the top of the tower via two separate elevators. The first elevator ascends vertically and diagonally and the second ascends vertically only. It was foggy, windy, and drizzly on our tour which, as you can imagine, made for great photos like this one.
After a long day of being on my feet in the cold and windy city, I was looking forward to boarding the warm train and sitting on my bootie for a couple of hours. Little did I know what was waiting for me at UK Customs and Border Control. I should have had some clue of how smoothly the process would go given my totally awesome experience with UK Customs and Border Control when I entered the UK via Germany. I guess I blocked that day out of my memory.
We arrived at Gare du Nord and after much confusion, found our way to the Eurostar check-in area. After scanning our tickets, we were required to fill out the UK Border Control card. Surname – check! First name – check! Address in the UK – check! Length of time in the UK – check (I think, because I never know how to answer this question)!
Heidi got in the queue and made her way to the agent. They became fast friends. He was telling her about his pub-crawl after work and she was telling him about how her flight back to the States tomorrow got canceled due to the public sector strike. When asked why she was in the UK, she tells him that she was visiting me. Five minutes of chatting later, she proceeds through the gate and the agent calls me to the counter.
He flipped through my passport and went to my visa page. My visa is a dependent visa, which means I cannot live in the UK unless the person I am a dependent of is also living in the UK. I am a dependent of Peter and Peter is not with me and I am starting to see a trend here with border agents thinking it is weird that I am traveling without the person I and a dependent of. The Munich memories resurface. As a side note, the dogs are dependents of no one. If Peter and I leave the UK, they can stay because they have dual citizenship.
Border Control: “Do you live in the UK?”
Border Control: “Where is your partner?”
Me: “She is right there.”
I pointed at Heidi and then realized the error of my ways. In the UK, they use the term partner generically. You don’t have a girlfriend, you have a partner. You don’t have a husband, you have a partner. I interpreted the term “partner” to mean a travel partner.
On top of this, she is clearly not my “partner” as she just spent five minutes chatting to him about how she lives in the States and is visiting me. If my “partner” (aka Heidi) lives in the States, then I cannot live in the UK and therefore, cannot live there “until visa expiration” as I indicated on my UK Border Control card.
Me: “Ah, um, well, she’s not my partner. She’s my travel partner. My partner is not with me. He’s in India.”
Fuck. I probably should have left out the India part. Nervous smile.
The agent shot me the look of death and set my passport down. I suddenly felt like I was a drug mule with 16 balloons of heroin in my stomach. I was sure that I was going to be taken to an interrogation room at any minute.
Border Control: “Does your partner live in India or does he live in the UK?”
Me: “He lives in the UK. We live together. We are partners, after all!”
Not amused by my comment, he shot me another look. I debated pulling out my Provisional License to prove my address/residency but realized that would neither help or hurt matters.
I stood there, patiently. I glanced at Heidi and she shrugged her shoulders like, “What’s the hold-up?”
Border Control: “Why is he in India?”
Me: “He is there for work.”
Border Control: “Alright. Have a lovely evening.”
Phew, another border control bullet dodged!