Monday, 5 October 2009

Sunday under the Eiffel Tower

My brother’s mate (Thanks Pete!) was kind enough to put us up on the Sunday night and for the Monday night we managed to find a 4-bed room in a not-quite-one-star hotel. Our thinking was that we’d be able to sneak an extra body in without anyone realizing. Having sorted our accommodation and changed our tickets to leave Paris on the Tuesday, we now had some time to see the sights of La Belle Paris

In the meantime we still had all our luggage with us. As we were still close to the youth hostel we’d stayed in two nights before, we decided to try and see if we could leave it there. We were in luck as a shift changed meant there was someone different on reception. One little white lie later and we were rid of the bags and heading for the Eiffel Tower.

After losing and then re-finding one another at possibly THE biggest tourist attraction in Paris we sat on the grassy area in front of the tower with our daily picnic of ham, bread cheese and wine. Here we passed another chilled out, inexpensive afternoon watching the infinitely fascinating characters that were attracted to the area.

There was the obese American lying on his side, his swollen belly making and all-too-visible escape from his shirt whilst he took photos of his slender porn star/prossy wife/girlfriend, the wannabe rapper gesticulating frenetically whilst walking amongst everyone and rapping what appeared to be the alphabet in French, a couple who really ought to have got a room, and the man selling 3 mini Eiffel Towers for 1 euro who made a speedy escape with an unsuspecting tourist’s handbag whilst the police stood on and watched.

By 8pm we made our way back to the hostel to pick up our bags and 2 hours, 1 bomb scare, 2 jumped metro barriers, and 8 checks of the map later, we arrived at the metro stop close to my brother’s mate’s house. Finally we had somewhere to sleep! Pete’s flat was an uber trendy, open-planned flat more suited to housing a couple than 5 homeless strays. Pete was extremely welcoming and we each soon had floor, sofa and sofa-bed (the three girls shared a double!) for the night.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Four nights in Paris

So, Paris! As we’d only done 4 days work we had just over 200 euros in our back pockets. Most of us were already out of pocket having paid the hefty registration fee to the agency we used and transport to the farm. Now we had to head to one of the most expensive cities in the world. We got the train to Paris (50euro) then, after much phoning around to find a youth hostel with a spare dorm, we had to fork out a hefty 29 euro per person.

None of us had the money to spend 29euro a night on accommodation so we resolved to find somewhere cheaper the following night. If only it hadn’t been a Saturday! We looked into hostels, we checked out hotels and even did a ring found friends and family but, having drained the batteries of our laptops and with little battery left on our phones we were still homeless. Sleeping rough was now our only option.

We left our kit at the youth hostel and headed out to see the sites and scope some places out to kip. After losing each other at the Louvre and walking up Les Champs Elysees we grabbed a bite at a Swiss restaurant then stockpiled bread, cheese and wine (we found bottles at €1.30 a pop) to get us through the night.

Looking at the map we noticed the Bols de Bolonges ­­­­- a large grassy area about the size of Hampstead Heath. This we decided would be our place to kip so we walked there to check it out. At first sight, we thought we’d hit gold. It was wooded with grassy areas and families cycling around. ‘\perfect!’ we thought. But then as we cut through a wooded area, all wasn’t quite what it seemed. \In a very small area we came across an unusually high number of condoms and wrappers. Some were neatly knotted at the end; others, not so.

It was time to consult the ‘Book of lies’ (aka the Lonely Planet) which we’d indefinitely borrowed from the youth hostel. All became clear. Whilst the Bols were a great family day out by day, by night they were, I quote, ‘an adults playground where male, female and transvestite prostitutes tout for work’. Hmmm…maybe not such a great place to camp after all.

After spending the afternoon at the park we resolved to head back to our youth hostel to pick up our bags. The plan was to be as discreet as possible so that we could spend as much time as we could in the warmth of the reception. It worked! We walked in, told the guy at reception we were just picking up our bags, then managed to subtly sit at a table round the corner from reception drinking wine and eating bread, ham and cheese until 1am. Unfortunately it was lock-up time and the guy found us. We explained that we were being picked up in half an hour giving us a little time to prepare for a night out on the streets.

Finding a place to sleep on the streets is surprisingly difficult. The good spots we found (quiet, out of view) were all already taken. When we came to a bridge over the river (just down from Notre Dame) we thought we were in luck and headed down to see if we could kip beneath it. Unfortunately it was already taken, and given it had the aroma of a rather potent urinal, we decided it be best to give our new found neighbor a little space and move a little further along the path.

Here we set up camp. Initially we sat around drinking the final few bottles of wine, watching rats scurry about and entertaining fascinated passersby but then it was time to crash. Attaching our bags to ourselves and putting valuables at the bottom of our sleeping bags, we lined up in our sleeping bags and snuggled up for warmth. Surprisingly, we slept, waking up at 8am. What’s more, despite being in full view of a main road, we were left to sleep in peace without being moved on.

Having spent the evening festering by the river in Paris, we decided that freshening up was in order…and where more appropriate than the local McDonalds. Taking up the entire corner of a newly renovated McDonald’s cafĂ© we ate, showered with baby wipes and began our daily search for accommodation.