All things free – Paris!

Since I have been away for a while, I decided to come back with a freebie post! I didn’t make enough money in Paris to fund my backpacking trip and live a super glamorous life. But that doesn’t mean you have to forego certain joys like going to an organ concert or getting a fancy haircut!

  • Fashion Shows: Oh yes, you can actually attend free fashion shows in Paris. A 30 minute show is conducted every Friday afternoon at the Galerie Lafayette. It requires prior registration and the entry is free for up to 14 persons. You can find out the details here and reserve your place here.
  • Music Concerts: You have more than one option when it comes to music. And they are all pretty cool.
    • The American Church: The Atelier concerts are hosted every Sunday evening and you can register with the Music Director to receive updates on upcoming events.
    • The Notre Dame organ concert: Recitals take place on Saturdays at 8pm and on Sunday afternoons before the Vespers service (except on Sundays during Lent). No prior registration is required. You can attend a concert on Sunday afternoon and follow it with a book/poetry reading at Shakespeare & Co. across the street.
    • La Défense Metro Station: I lived in Courbevoie and took the metro Line 1 to work from La Défense. On Friday mornings around 7:45-8, students from a local conservatoire play at the metro station. Oh, and they are good! I am not sure how regular they are because I didn’t stop to chat with them, but may be you could do that and find out!
  • For the love of books: I mentioned that you could go to a literature event right across the street from Notre Dame. Well, Shakespeare & Co. is where you’re headed. Check out their upcoming events here. I am pretty sure they have something every weekend.
  • Haircuts: Sounds too good to be true, eh? JCB charges women upwards of 40 euros even for a trim and for someone one a shoe-string budget, that’s pretty steep! I actually resorted to trimming my own bangs and accidentally cut more that what I was supposed to ! So, here’s your solution. Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy gives you free haircuts and you can find out about it here.

If you like this freebie post, don’t forget to share it with your peeps coz hey – spread the freebie love ♥♥

Nürnberg Attractions

This is my second post on Nürnberg. For information related to train stations, bus stations, and hostel reviews, check here.

Doku Zentrum (Documentation Center and former Nazi Party rally grounds)

All information related to DZ can be found on the website for Nürnberg museums here. Tickets for adults cost €5,00 and include the audio guide. If you choose to pay an extra €2,50 for the Tagesticket (day ticket), you can visit all local municipal museums free of charge for the duration of that day. However, this concession is not available for holders of the Nuremberg Pass.
You can take the tram#9 from Nürnberg Hbf or tram#6 from Kohlenhof to reach DZ. The Haltestelle is right outside the building.

Courtroom #600

All information related to visiting hours, and admission fee can be found here. This surviving Nazi officials were prosecuted for their war crimes in this courtroom. Their contact details :

Memorium Nuremberg Trials
Bärenschanzstraße 72
90429 Nuremberg, Germany
Tel : +49 (0)911 321 – 79 372
Fax : +49 (0)911 321 – 79 373
Email: memorium@stadt.nuernberg.de

Albrecht Dürer’s House

You’ll probably discover this inconspicuous house as you walk around the town. It is right on A. Dürer Straße if you check your map. Guided tours are available in English at 2 pm on Saturdays. For more information, check here.


Next up: DIY walking tour in Nuremberg

Nürnberg

Nürnberg or Nuremberg, in the German state of Bavaria is best known for the post WW2 trials. This city had also been the location of Nazi party rallies and laws stripping Jews of their citizenship were passed here. There was symbolic value in making it the place of Nazi demise. If you have visited Dachau or any other CC, this is where you get your closure. This stop, I believe, is a must for every student for the simple reason that Nuremberg is home to the Doku Zentrum (Documentation Center) – the former Nazi Party rally ground. Apart from the famous courtroom #600, the town offers a fort (which makes for a pleasant morning hike and breakfast spot), the house of Abrecht Dürer, and a toy museum.

Getting There:

  • Nürnberg Hbf – The central station is located just off Bahnhofstraße (A&O Nürnberg Hbf) and easily connects to Königstraße, Allerbergerstraße (Novotel), and Frauentormauer (Five Reasons Hostel). Grab a map before you exit or look up the directions to your hostel using the station WiFi.
  • Nürnberg ZOB – If you are arriving by MegaBus, MeinFernBus or Flixbus, this is where you’ll get off. Look for a bright yellow neon sign POST on an ancient building. The ZOB, Bahnhofstraße is just around the corner from the post office.

That said, I definitely recommend Megabus. Have a look at my post about planning a holiday here. MeinFernbus (merged with FlixBus) is way more expensive. My ticket from Munich to Nürnberg cost me just £1,20 and the WiFi in the bus actually worked!

Hostel Review:

I stayed at The Five Reasons Hostel on Frauentormauer. This place holds a 9.2 rating on HostelWorld and I thoroughly endorse it! The location is perfect, the staff is super friendly, the kitchen is squeaky clean and well equipped, there’s a garden in the back, the rooms are spacious with large windows, and don’t even get me started on the bathrooms ♥ It’s the complete luxury experience for a minuscule fraction of the cost. They actually have paintings and rugs in the bathrooms. Can you beat that? Also, the reception is equipped with iPads for your ease of access GoogleMaps, tours, etc. They also have a Polaroid Wall in the foyer that you can contribute to by sending them pictures of your stay.

Transport:

You can pick from the regular options – UBahn, SBahn, buses, and trams. For the most part, the town is accessible on foot. It’s really not that big. The only time you’d need to take the tram is to reach the Doku Zentrum. But more about that in my next post!

Attractions:

  1. Nuremberg Fort : At the far end of the town – way past the local market, museums, and churches – this is a short hike. You can drive up to the base. There is parking available. There isn’t much to see on the fort. It’s basically a ruin. But it’s a great place for a picnic, or a photoshoot. The top of the fort offers a beautiful panoramic view of the town.

2. Germanisches Nationalmuseum : Founded in 1852, it is home to a large collection of items relating to German culture and art.

3. House of Albert Dürer : This was the workshop of Albert Dürer, who was a Renaissance artist.

4. Neues Museum : This is the museum of modern and contemporary art.

5. Nürnberg Toy Museum : Founded in 1971, it is considered one of the most well known toy museums in the world. It is also called the Lydia Bayer Museum.

6. Doku Zentrum : What was earlier the rally ground of Nazi Party, is now a fantastic museum that chronicles the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. It is also, I believe, the only standing structure of that period associated with the Nazi rule.

Next Up: Nürnberg Attractions


Follow me on Instagram for the travel pictures with mini stories! Each post on WordPress is accompanied by many more pictures @trouvaillediaries ♥

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Another fantastic day trip from München are the two castles of Neuschwanstein (noy-shwan-stein) and Hohenschwangau (ho-hun-schwan-gaau). First things first, reserve your tickets here. If you don’t do that two days before your visit (and before 3 pm), forget about seeing the inside of the castle. For some reason, the website didn’t let me reserve my place – tourist season, I think – and I had to stand in a long line only to find out that the only available tour was after my evening train back to Munich. So, reserve your tour in advance!

Getting There

Purchase a Bayern ticket from the U-Bahn or S-Bahn closest to you. This ticket will cover the U-Bahn ride to the Hbf. The ticket costs €23,00 for 1 passenger with the addition of €5,00 for every extra passenger in a group of up to 4. You can do the math here. Instead of buying two separate tickets as a couple, add the €5,00 and bring down your individual cost from €23,00 to just €14,00! As you can see, the cost reduction is much higher as you add more people.

A kind DB employee printed out a train schedule for me. München – Bochelau – Füssen. Now, your train for Bochelau will leave from one of the platforms on the other side of the Hbf. All the trains to Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, etc. leave from the main hall. Walk to the end, go left and you’ll find another hall on the other side. The trains here are smaller. It’s more like an intercity coach. When you get off at Bochelau – a tiny station – take a look at the printed schedules in the glass displays. Take a picture with your smartphone. It will be divided into Füssen – Bochelau and Bochelau – München, vice versa. Go through the timings and figure out what time you need to leave from Füssen to make it back in time to your hostel in Munich.

Run to Bus #78 as soon as you get off. All passengers from the train will be running with you! The bus will drop you off at the base of the hill. There’s a public loo if you’d like to freshen up. Keep those € coins handy. There’s a separate line for collecting tickets. You’ll be immediately glad for not being in the other line. There’s a kiosk next door if you fancy a Käsepretzel and a chilled beer. Walk uphill to catch the bus that takes you to Marienbrücke. Believe me, it is worth the €2,60 return ticket. The view from Marienbrücke is stunning. I’d definitely like to go back in the winter to see the snow covered castle. After the 30 minute tour, walk back to Marienbrücke for the bus back to the ticket center. If you do not wish to take the bus on the way back, buy a single ticket and walk down the path indicated.


I couldn’t help myself! I had to bring this little guy home ♥ There’s a kiosk on the way down with all kinds of gifting material. It was love at first sight. Named after the boy who sat next to me on the bus from Nürnberg to Dresden, Anton went on to become loved by co-passengers, hostel roommates, immigration officials, and airport security personnel.

Dachau

My association with German (als Fremdsprache) began at the age of 15. I knew I wanted to travel to Germany to experience the language and the people, but also the history. Most kids in India study about the Second World War in the 9th and 10th grade (ages 13-15), but only from the perspective of India, i.e. the aspects of WW2 are viewed in association with India’s struggle for independence that ultimately reached fruition in 1947. On the contrary, school children – as young as 11 – in Europe, are taken to concentration camps as a part of their history curriculum. Concentration camps, though far from being tourist attractions, remain a grisly reminder of anti-semitism.

Prepare Yourself:

A slight departure from my regular travel posts, I would like to bring home the point that this visit is not for the fainthearted. Before you decide to visit a concentration camp, read up on the history surrounding the anti-Jew ideology that led to such atrocities. Watch Schindler’s List, go through the numerous Wikipedia pages on the topic, and understand the events following Kristellnacht. There are countless accounts available and there is more descriptive literature than you wish there ever was. If you are traumatised by the visuals in Schindler’s List or the idea of Dr. Josef Mengele‘s experiments, you might want to consider sitting this one out.

How to get there:

If you’re driving, Dachau is 30 kms away from Munich and takes about 30 minutes via A99. The local trains leave every 10 minutes from the Munich Hbf and you can board the S2 going to either Peterhausen or Altomünster. I recommend buying the München XXL Tageskarte that costs €8,30. This ticket is from the Ring 1-8 and allows you to travel all over Munich for the duration of a day and also covers the bus connection to the CC. It can be bought on the kiosks / machines available at the train station. If you are travelling in a group, partner tickets are also available for groups of up to 5 people.  When you reach Dachau, there is a Bushaltestelle (bus stop) right outside the station. Board Bus#726 in the direction of Saubachsiedlung. The entire ride to the camp lasts about 15 minutes.

Facilities:

There is no bus stop as such at the CC. This means that if you end up there on a hot sunny afternoon like I did, you will have to stand in the sun while you wait for your bus. The Information Desk is a short walk inside the site. Audio guides are available in multiple languages at the Visitors’ Center. The guide is accompanied by a map of the site and costs €3,50. There are reduced fares available for groups and students. Remember that you have to deposit your ID (passport or driving license) which will be returned to you at the end of the tour. There is also a bookstore right next to the information center.

Notes:

  1. The entrance to the site is a long pebbled walk. This doesn’t get much better further down the road. The entire site has a sand / stone / gravel base. Wear sturdy shoes.
  2. There is absolutely no shade in the entire area. At the very entrance there is an old construction consisting of a few rooms that have been turned into a museum. It is unusually cold inside, and the pictures are pretty disturbing. When you step outside, there is vast land with no shade until you reach the crematoriums. Unless you want to sit in a gas chamber to catch your breath and cool down, carry a hat and a bottle of water.
  3. Try and stick to the left side of the site and walk straight till you reach a makeshift bridge over a canal. On the other side are the crematoriums. There are a few benches outside. If you move to the right on the perimeter of the site, instead of crossing the bridge, you will reach the memorial churches. You might want to sit down for a bit.

No amount of literature will prepare you for the actual experience of visiting Dachau CC. The atrocities are beyond imagination. To think that human beings could inflict so much pain on other people – the concept escapes me. That said, Dachau was an unpleasant but informative experience for me. I definitely recommend the visit.

München

When I landed in Munich, I was thoroughly exhausted and almost about to pass out in the airport lobby. I had flown three times in one single day : Bangalore – Mumbai, Mumbai – Paris, and finally Paris – Munich. Phew! I had nearly missed that last connection so my relief on having reached Deutschland was unmatched.

Munich Airport

Flughafen München is the international airport of Munich. I didn’t have to go through immigration because my point of entry into the Schengen Zone was Paris (CDG/Roissy Airport). My passport already stamped and tucked inside my bag, I was ready to embrace Germany – my ultimate love. The terminal I got off at resembled a lowly bus station. The carousels indicators didn’t display flight information and a lot of bags were just lying in a heap on the floor. Thankfully, the WiFi was good. I signed in, while I waited for my bags to arrive, and sent out my “I reached and I am OK” texts to my family. When you get out of the baggage claim area, look out for S-Bahn signs in green. They will take you underground to the train terminus. The Fahrkarten (tickets) can be purchased from the self-help kiosks. Don’t worry if you don’t speak German. They let you choose from 4 or 5 languages and English is one of them 🙂

To reach Meininger Munich, where I was staying, I had to get off at Hackerbrücke Straße. This is also the Busbahnhof and just a stop before the Hauptbahnhof. Don’t worry if you don’t have a map of the train line. All trains have a printed map just above the doors. I recommend keeping a screenshot of Google Maps on your phone / tab before you arrive in the city. Once you have reached your hostel, you can pick up a local map. The U-Bahn in Munich is pretty straightforward. You can also find the map in Google Images.

Hostel Review

I stayed at Meininger Munich which is absolutely fantastic during winter, but definitely not during the summer for the simple reason that it turns into a furnace.
Pros: Linen included, WiFi access, 24 hour reception, Walking Tours and Travel Desk, laundry room, Breakfast (charged separately)
Cons: The windows don’t open. If you are visiting during a heat wave, you will literally melt without air conditioning.

The Meininger chain is pretty famous all over Germany and Austria. I had the most amazing stay at the Meininger near Frankfurt Airport. The City Center hostel has a tiny kitchen and an outdoor terrace. It is centrally located. The bus terminus (for MegaBus, FlixBus, and MeinFernBus) is a short walk away and just next to the U-Bahn line. The München Hauptbahnhof and the city center are further down the road from the hostel. The Augustiner Brauhaus famous for its draft beer is right opposite the hostel. There is also a small bar and restaurant as an extension to the hostel.

I am covering Munich this weekend. Also included are day trips to Dachau and Füssen (Schloss Neuschwanstein). Keep watching this space for more.

Up Next: Munich in a day.

Annecy

Back to Gare de Lyon – where it all started when I made the first day trip to Fontainebleau in November 2014. I didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours because that run to Nord (Lille) still gives me nightmares. I took the RER to Gare de Lyon and was well in time for the train. I had a connection at Lyon Part Dieux and it was a one hour wait. So, I had two hours to sleep. I was quite dead to the world when my neighbour elbowed me – the SNCF staff was here to check tickets! Damn, it is amazing how my body has programmed itself to switch off when I travel. I don’t even need a travel pillow these days.

I reached Lyon Part Dieux at 9 and scoured a Relay store for food. Miracle of miracles – they had a section of books in a foreign language! And guess what I found – Bones Never Lie, by Kathy Reichs! I have no idea why she is famous in France because this isn’t the first time I have seen her books being sold here. The last time I saw a copy was in Latin Quarter and it was an old, battered French edition. I was over the moon to find a copy in English and so I bought it!

I had brought along Gone Girl to finish but I switched to Bones for obvious reasons. I reached Annecy as scheduled at noon. One smart thing that I have started doing is picking up maps at the SNCF stations. This way, your trip isn’t ruined if you can’t locate the Office de Tourismus. I always believed that they place incorrect signs on the roads so that you will never find their offices. I got proof this time! Anyway, so I picked up a map and decided to go to the lake and have a snack.

Once you get out of the SNCF station, Rue de la Gare is on your right. That is the new part of the town. The Office de Tourismus, the lake, and the old town are on your left. I followed the map and found the tourist office. It was closed for lunch. So, I went to the lake to eat my Milka cookies – my travel food on every trip. It began to drizzle so I walked back around the lake to the centre of the town. It is funny that all ice cream shops have the word “glacier” in their name. I picked up Nutella flavoured ice cream before my walk in the old town. The shopping opportunities here, I must say, are excellent! I picked up these really cute gloves with beavers on them, a scarf, a bag, and an umbrella (out of pure necessity). The rain worsened and I was forced to find my way to the hostel.

There is only one hostel in Annecy and I recommend that you do NOT go there. Sure, it is a 20 minute walk from the station and not very far from the old town. But it is the most dingy place I have ever laid my eyes upon! I have a thing against tiny spaces but that’s not my only strike against the hostel. It was small, damp, and smelly. Also, it just happened to be next to a fuckin’ cemetery. With all due respect to the dead, the non-living creep me out. I had no energy to walk in the rain to find another place to stay. So I went straight up to my room and slept. It was only 5PM but I slept so I didn’t have to think about the burly Algerian dudes in my room (seriously, why do hostels take in people over 35?) I refused to wake up until 8am the next day. I showered, picked up my bags and ran out as fast as I could.

The original plan was to go to Geneva for the day. But I found out that there was nothing scenic about the route, and also the few hours wouldn’t be worth the cost of the trip. So I decided to explore the Sunday market which btw was fabulous. If you are a local, that’s the place to buy your bread and meat. If you are a tourist, shop to your heart’s content! I bought some more scarves, a wooden box and a tray for my tea, a wicker basket, and a donkey.

It started raining again when I reached the canals and the ice cream shop from the day before. There was an Italian church just opposite to the shop so I went in. I prayed for a while before going to the lake for lunch. The panini and the coffee I had in the market was long digested. Since the rain refused to stop, I headed to the SNCF station for some respite. I couldn’t move my tickets to another train – too expensive. So I sat there watching Downtown Abbey until my train home. All in all, it wasn’t the best weekend.

Mont St. Michel

Okay, so this was by far my most anticipated trip. I had my heart set on Mont St. Michel ever since I saw it in The Savy Backpacker’s list. I mean, c’mon! What’s not to like about an abbey built on rocks off the coast in Normandy?!

The thing with MSM is that you need a bit of planning. It is a long and slightly tiring journey if you make this a daytrip, but it is very much doable. The whole trip takes about 3.5 hours. Tickets can be booked at the SNCF centres or online on their website. From Paris to Dol de Bretagne or Rennes is a train journey and from either Dol de Bretagne or Rennes, you have to board a bus that takes you to MSM. The whole journey can be booked together and the connection time is around ten minutes. It isn’t tight because the bus is waiting just for your train. Dol de Bretagne is a tiny terminus, so your train probably is headed to St. Malo.

My train in the morning dropped me off at Dol de Bretagne. It was misty and slightly cold. It didn’t help that I had barely recovered from the nasty bout of flu I had been suffering from. The bus dropped me off (quite literally) in the middle of nowhere – turns out that the bus only plies between the train terminus and the Brittany information office. The information office is quite amazing and you should totally take some time to go through the stuff they have on display – it is quite interesting! There are free shuttles every ten minutes from the information bureau that take you to the base of MSM and there is another Tourist Office there. The climb to the top is not very long despite what the pictures make you believe. It is a ten minute walk and there are a LOT of shops, bakeries, and quick-eat outlets on the way.

I stopped for a panini and some hot chocolate to soothe my sinuses before starting the climb. On the way there was a tiny chapel of St. Eglise. I stopped to sit and pray for a while. It was quite small and peaceful (read that as no influx of selfie-crazed Asians).

The tickets for the abbey are sold at the entrance and you get a discount if you are under 25 / or if you’re booking a family package. The audio guide is available separately and I recommend buying it unless you have read up on the abbey already.

The view from the top wasn’t great because of the fog but the architecture is awe-worthy. Here are some pictures :

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Versailles

Versailles is huge and you absolutely need a full day to take it all in. If you decide to go on a free Sunday, I strongly recommend getting there before the invasion of the masses (read tourist buses). I found a really easy way to get there. Turns out that the T2 tram behind my apartment building (Direction Porte de Versailles) drops you off at Musee de Sevres, and from there you just have to reach the bridge overhead to catch Bus 171 that goes to the chateau. Easy-peasy, right? This saves a lot of money, train changes, and waiting time.

I got there just before 9 to see the masses arrive. The €13 ticket includes the audio guide but unlike Fontainebleau, this one isn’t GPS enabled. So, you will have to search for the number cards and key them in. The tour begins with a glimpse of the Royal Chapel and then progresses to the Grand Apartments. The opera is open only to private tours but you can catch the organ concert in the Royal Chapel in the afternoon during select periods. Check out the Chateau’s website for more details. If you decide to attend the organ concert, approach the Information desk  outside the entrance to the Royal Chapel and ask them for “Concert” sticker. Only a limited number of seats are available. I stopped at the gift shop before continuing to the Petit Apartments. The exit from the Petit Apartments leaves you behind the palace and in the grounds facing the fountain and the approach to the Grand and Petit Trianon. If you are not interested in walking, you can take the golf cart trains.

I bumped into a group of boys in the square inside the palace. They asked me to take a picture for them, and conversation ensued. Bombay people always connect. We decided to cover the grounds together. It was drizzling but not enough to dampen our enjoyment. The grounds are huge and require a fairly decent bit of time. I don’t believe all of Versailles can be seen in one day alone. We explored a few trails that Chaitanya Krishna (the photographer) and the other dude (their un-official tour guide) insisted on.

I insisted on going back to the Chapel for the concert. Btw, there is a limit to the number of people who can fit inside. So, make sure you pick up stickers at the information counter before you proceed to the Petit Apartments. Also, once you are in the grounds, the only way to go in is to re-enter the chateau. This also means you need to re-do the security check.

It was almost 5:30 when we were done. And since it was winter, it was already getting dark. The boys were put up in Evry (Paris ka Virar, as Rishi put it) but La Defénse would take longer so I decided to call it a day. Retrace your steps back to the city; it’s quite straightforward.

IMG_20141207_090559.jpg

Up Next: Mont St. Michel

Paris : English bookstores

I love to read and I end up collecting books in every city / town I live in. So when I moved to Paris, my biggest challenge was finding bookstores that sold books in a foreign language – English!

Shakespeare & Company
No list can start without this dream of a store. The original store established by Sylvia Beach hosted Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald among many others. With makeshift sleeping quarters on the top, this store has housed as many as 40,000 struggling writers. This is every reader and aspiring writer’s home away from home.
The store is located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, near Notre Dame, over the Seine. The closest metro / RER stations are St. Michel (Line 4), St. Michel Notre-Dame (RER B and RER C).
Given the tiny space inside crammed with books old and new, you might have to wait outside for a bit. They allow only a few people at a time to enter. Photography inside the store is prohibited. On my first visit, someone on their staff was at the piano upstairs. It was so beautiful that I had to sit down and cry for a bit. You’ll find everything from Austen to HONY here. They also organise poetry readings and book clubs on Sunday evenings. You can attend one after the weekly organ concert at Notre Dame (held on Sunday afternoons around 4).

WHSmith
This is usually my airport stop (Bombay-Hyderabad-Bangalore). But a good old dependable store like this one comes handy in a non-English speaking country. Located right outside Concorde (Metro Lines 1,8, and 12), this store to the left of Jardin des Tuileries, if you are facing towards The Louvre. It’s quite hard to miss. If you’re looking for Lonely Planet travel guides in English, this is where you’ll find them. If you’re sneaking in here in your lunch break, fear not for they have you sorted. On the ground floor, there is a mini café next to the magazine section.

Gilbert Joseph
This is a chain of stores but there’s a huge one just behind the Notre Dame. They sell French and English books along with art supplies, stationery, and postcards. The closest metro / RER stations are St. Michel (Line 4), St. Michel Notre-Dame (RER B and RER C).

There are certainly more bookstores that sell English books but the above three are your best bet if you’re looking for well known titles. There are a lot of booksellers outside the Notre Dame, but I doubt you’ll find anything in English here. Don’t let my experience stop you from checking out these second hand book stalls though.