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 ♥♥

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Travel Stories: the good and the bad (2/3)

As promised, I am back with the second set of travel stories. To read the last account, click here.

Berlin, August 2015

I was travelling from Prague to Berlin on a particularly rainy morning. Contrary to popular belief, Germans can be late (oh yeah, I was shattered!). The Deutsche Bahn was late getting into Prague and was further delayed by unplanned stoppage during the journey. I was travelling with a hiking backpack and a pilot bag that was growing heavier by the day. My fellow passengers were a quiet lot and nobody seemed to particularly care about when we reached Berlin. The man who’d occupied the seat by the window had disappeared for most of the journey and I had no one to talk to/confirm the delay announcement with.

By the time we pulled into Berlin, I was cranky. I had lost most of the afternoon and I still had to locate the hostel. Dragging those bags off the luggage shelf was no ordinary feat. I was trying to reach my bags when the missing passenger appeared next to me. Not only did he get my bags down, he carried them to the door and helped me off the train. I protested that it was unnecessary and excessively kind but he refused to hear any of it! He was even considering walking me to the escalators 🙂

Prague, August 2015

I was staying at one of the most popular hostels in town – Mosaic House. Mosaic actually owns quite a few hostels around its main building but the facilities aren’t the same. Hostel World still shows the booking as MH, but you could actually be registered at say maybe Moo. I was in a mixed 4-bed dorm with a tiny balcony and no ventilation. It wasn’t possible to pull out the storage space and stand next to it at the same time – it literally took all the space between the beds once it was pulled out! My roommates for the first night were pretty nice but they moved out the next morning. I was out with the boys all day and when I got back the second day, there was no one in the room. I’d been out boating, climbing hills, and dancing on the streets – I was dead to the world the minute I lay down in my bed.

It was in the middle of the night when I woke up to loud drunk talk. The Brits had invaded. I drifted in and out of drugged sleep over the course of the night and woke up to a state of demolition in the morning. There were dirty food plates all over the room, empty beer bottles rolled around, and there was rubbish all over. The fat, half naked boy in the bed next to mine was snoring in all that mess. I ran out, showered, dressed and headed straight to the hostel reception to ask for a different room.

Nuremberg-Dresden, August 2015

I was traveling east with MeinFernBus/FlixBus to Dresden. The bus was late and by the time I boarded, most of the seats were taken. I found an empty spot at the back next to a young boy. I did my usual – ist hier noch frei? – and sat down. As a rule, I don’t talk to strangers unless they initiate conversations. I am yet to figure out whether Europeans are chatty and informal, so I play safe. I’d roughly factored in the delay into our scheduled arrival time but was surprised when the bus pulled into a town as scheduled. I expressed my wonder out loud and my neighbor corrected me by saying we still had over an hour left on the road! This short exchange opened up a conversation about my travel plans, love for everything German and of course funny German words.

I’d picked up a sheep (ein Schaf) in Neuschwanstein and he was traveling with me. I’d clipped my iPod to his belly so it looked as if he was my DJ. My co-passenger seemed to take a liking to the little guy and asked if he tagged along on all my trips. I told him about my Füssen day trip and how I was yet to figure out a name for him. Well, we soon started talking about our favorite German words and he told me how his friends from Netherlands found it difficult to say – schätzchen which means ‘treasure’ but is used for a partner (like darling or sweetheart) Even though my favorite word remains Sehnsucht, I have grown to love and use schätzchen in conversations and hope to someday use it for my partner. Btw, I named the sheep after my co-passenger. They are both called Anton.

Frankfurt, August 2015

On the last day of my backpacking holiday, I was moving hostels within Frankfurt to be closer to the airport to avoid any unforeseen delays in getting there. I lugged my backpack and trolley bag across the underground maze at the Hbf and got into a train heading to the airport. Now, the thing with these trains is: they are designed for large bags and trolleys. There’s plenty of space to stand, but not too many seats. Oh and the seats are self-folding which means that you can create additional baggage space in the absence of passengers.

I was crammed into a seat by the window. I was completely blocked by my bags and fellow passengers. Considering that I’d been on the road for a good 20+ days, and had travelled across 3 countries, I had a fair bit of baggage weight. When it was time to get off, I couldn’t hoist my backpack onto my back! There was too little space to create a point of leverage. I was struggling and about to fall over when the policeman sitting next to me lifted my bag (with one hand, might I add!) and pushed it onto my back. Needless to say, I was exceedingly embarrassed and yet, oddly relieved.

Provins, January 2015

I usually made unplanned trips over the weekends. This meant that I’d lie in bed on a Saturday/Sunday morning and randomly pick a destination for a day trip. On one such morning, I couldn’t decide where to go until I reached the train station. I looked at the train timetable and decided on Provins. I had no idea what to expect! When I reached the town 90 minutes later, all seemed quiet. Everyone who got off was walking towards the other end of the town. I followed them in wonder. All the locals seemed to have stepped out of a Game of Thrones set. It was crazy! As I walked up the hill, it got even fancier. Bang in the center was a cauldron on fire. They were making Glühwein ♥ I’d walked into the annual Medieval Festival!! I couldn’t believe my luck. I walked out of that fair with some wonderful old-fashioned ear rings, a sword that looks like a cross between Arya Stark’s Needle and The Sword of Godric Gryffindor. Oh, and I spotted some dudes that looked a lot like Robb Stark and Jon Snow 🙂

Paris, early 2015

I don’t remember where I was returning from. It was a day trip to a nearby town – perhaps Blois. I got off at Lazare which is a giant underground maze – I shit you not. You can switch multiple metro lines, reach the outbound trains, and take RER from these underground tunnels. The only caveat – you have to walk a lot. I was a bit lost and extremely fatigued at the end of the day. I couldn’t quite figure out how to reach the Line 1 metro and decided to approach a subway employee in uniform. He offered to walk with me till the metro because he was headed there. A huge departure from the French people I’d met till then, he turned out to be chatty. When I told him I was from India, he said he’d traveled there. He told me everything he’d loved to eat in India and even recommended a few good places to visit!

Nice, January 2015

I grew up in Bombay, a coastal city. My dad builds ships. So you can understand the deep love I hold in my heart for the ocean. I love to feel the wind in my hair when I stand on the deck as we sail. I left the coast and moved south. I made a  monthly trip home to sit by the coast but that had been difficult after the second year. When I moved to Paris, I’d been away from the coast for a good 6 months. I’d never seen such blue water until I’d checked out the view from the TGV getting into Cannes. I was mesmerized. As soon as I reached Nice, I dropped my bags in the hostel and ran to the Promenade de Anglais. I hiked to the viewpoint to check out the port and immediately decided to go to Monaco the next morning. When it was time to go back to Paris on Sunday afternoon, something didn’t feel right inside me. I was okay until I reached Courbevoie. But by the time I got home to my apartment, I had tears streaming down my face. I went straight to Flavia’s. She thought I’d been dumped until I mumbled out incoherently “blue… Nice.. the sea….” She laughed and ruffled my hair – “Natürlich, you’re a coastal girl!” I was crying because I’d missed the sea ♥

Paris-Lille, December 2014

Oh, this is an incident I have mentioned a number of times on the blog but have never elaborated on. This incident is also the reason why I sleep at airports/train stations/bus stations the night before I travel.

I was scheduled to spend the Boxing Day weekend in Lille. It was to be my first overnight trip and backpacking experience. I attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve and then spent a random day walking around Paris. I got stalked by two different dudes (one who actually followed me home!), and came home visibly upset. My colleagues decided to cheer me up by taking me to the Eiffel Tower (it was crazy crowded, but we ended up shopping in the flea market) followed by Frozen in bed. At about 11pm, I decided to take a nap and promised to wake up a few hours later and pack my bag for the trip to Lille. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

I woke up at 6:36am for my train that was scheduled to leave from Paris Nord at 7:16am. Doesn’t sound good, right? It wasn’t. The La Défense Metro station was at least a 10 min walk from my apartment, after which I had about 15 stops to go with one metro line change at Châtelet. I was screwed. My immediate reaction was intense panic. I had barely enough time to pull a pair of jeans on, grab the clothes strewn over my bed, pick up my shoes and run! Well, I did run. I put my shoes on in the elevator and zipped my jacket as I ran out of the building. I had tears streaming down my face when I saw that the first set of elevators (of a total 3!) wasn’t working. Putain! I had some quick decisions to make. When I reached the metro station, I walked up to a bakery and asked what was the fastest way to get to Nord. RER. I’d never taken one. I crossed my heart, bought a ticket (I wasn’t sure if my Navigo covered it) and proceeded to the Voie. Well, I was in luck as I jumped onto the first train that arrived seconds later. After a change at Châtelet to RER-D, I reached Nord at 7:14. Almost there, but was I? I was on Voie 36 and my train to Lille was on 54. Fuck shit. Once again, I ran like my life depended on it. I surfaced at the open air outbound line only to watch the doors seal (they are timed) and the train move out of the station. I sat down, cried, and then proceeded to the Information counter for help. The young officers asked me why I was late. “I overslept,” I mumbled wiping my tears, further ruining my eye make-up from the previous day. “20 euros,” they demanded. I had a choice. It was nearly my entire ticket cost, but forfeiting it would mean loss on the stay bookings I’d already made. I agreed. But by then they’d had a change of heart. They waived off the charge, stamped my ticket and asked me to board the next train to Lille. [I later realised that they were trying to rip me off] Needless to say, I have never been late for bus/flight/train again.


When I started writing the second set, I realised that I had some more stories to tell. I will be back with the third bonus set as soon as I can 🙂 Until then, read and spread the wanderlust, my peeps 🙂

Travel stories – the good and the bad (1/3)

Hola my peeps! I have been AWOL from both sites for quite a bit. Blame it on the working life. Bombay weather has been meh! While I lay in bed dreaming about the streets of Prague and slowly battling the onslaught of flu, my mom asked me if I had any particularly disheartening experiences while travelling. I think I’d like to include the good with the bad. So, here goes.


Lille, December 2014

This is my absolute favourite town in France. On the border of France and Belgium, in Flanders, this delight of a town draws from both cultures. There’s Belgian fries to gorge on and more boulangeries than you’d ever need.
This was my first overnight trip and I had never travelled solo before. I was walking around the town with my nose in the map. Lille is one of those few scattered towns in Europe that has its own Use-IT map. I had decided to figure out everything without stopping for directions from the locals. I was doing pretty great (barring a few wrong turns) but 3 people actually stopped to ask if they could help me. Oh and one of them was a pizza delivery guy who stopped his bike, got off, and offered to help!

Frankfurt, August 2015

Despite my unwavering love for everything German, this city didn’t quite live up to my dreams. I was travelling from Berlin to Frankfurt and reached quite early in the morning when it was still dark outside. I was still sleepy and it took me a bit of time to figure out where I was. The bus depot is a little further down from the Hbf and the city sort of ends there. There was absolutely  no one on the streets and I later found out that it leads into a dangerous red light zone. I needed a general sense of direction and approached an old man. He’d come to pick up his daughter who was about my age. Both, the man and his daughter, blatantly ignored me and walked away quickly. I thought it was exceptionally rude because I was a young girl with a backpack who spoke fluent German and looked more sleep deprived than dangerous.

Paris, December 2014 

I was stupid enough to go to Porte de Clignancourt for some flea market / artsy shopping on Christmas morning of all days. The one thing you must absolutely keep in mind when going to places like La Chapelle, Clignancourt and Anvers (Sacre Coeur) : hold on to your bags! Also, watch your back. Yeah, that’s not a joke. Once you get out out of the Metro station, come to a set of crossroads that spread out like a circle. You have to walk past a Burger King / Mc Donalds and an array of shoe shops before you reach the flea market. I noticed a guy smiling at me from across the road. He was going in the opposite direction so I didn’t think too much about it until he was suddenly next to me. I had crossed on to the other side and was moving along the circular path so I couldn’t figure out how he was suddenly so close by. Anyway, he kept following me until I ducked into a shop. I had to hide in the trial room to get rid of him but that didn’t seem to work. I nearly ran back to the metro station. Well, I got followed by a different guy from the La Défense Metro station to my home in Courbevoie. I ended up watching Frozen in bed to get over the experience.

Nice, January 2015 

I was actually on the way back from Nice to Paris. A really old man with dreadlocks, dressed in Asian clothes (think Nepal or North-eastern India) gave me a toothy smile. I smiled, nodded and went back to reading my book. He crossed me on his way to the food car a little while later and stopped to ask if he could get me something to eat – in perfect Hindi! It was a total jaw-drop moment for me. I did not expect anyone to address me in Hindi in France of all places – oh and absolutely not on the Riviera. I thanked him and said no but I was too shocked to further conversation. I sort of regret it now because in retrospect I would have loved to hear his story.

Amsterdam, January 2015

This remains my most harrowing experience. It was my first trip after I got the residence stamp and it was absolutely unplanned. It was the first snow of the season, and it was still dark when MegaBus dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. I followed some Chinese boys to what they said was the ‘city centre’ only to realise (after walking 4 kms in the snow) that I needed to go in the exact opposite direction. I sought help from a group of college kids who were out for a walk at 5am. They offered me some bread and gave me directions to the closest bus station. One of them offered to walk with me but I said no (I remain divided on that decision because of what happened later). While I was waiting for the bus a guy kept driving around the block in circles. He’d slow down and gesture at me, drive on, only to come back a few minutes later. I was close to tears (out of sheer fear, nothing else) when thankfully the bus arrived and I jumped on.

Paris, November 2015

Woohoo! Another one from the city of dreams. I was headed to Sacre Coeur on a blissful Saturday morning. I had just moved to Paris and wasn’t aware of the unsafe pockets in the city. When you get off at Anvers, there’s a narrow path leading up to the base of the church. It’s flanked by shops on both sides and the road itself is littered with scamsters moving cups and asking you which one holds the ball inside. I was crossing the service road just outside Anvers when I noticed a young man going in the opposite direction. Girls, I believe, have this sense which enables them to tell if something is off. I didn’t think too much but I did notice him. I was at the base of the church, about to climb the mini hill, when I realised this man was standing right behind me. [I am telling you people in Paris have passed their Apparition tests!]
“Your face,” he said in slow in English, after I’d said my usual non parle francais, désolé. “It’s very beautiful for me. Can I buy you a drink?”
For starters, it was 9:30 in the morning and way too early for a drink. And hey! I wasn’t crazy enough to accept an invite from a stranger. He went on to ask if he could walk to the church with me. I gave him a staunch no for a reply. But I was too shocked for much else. [Nothing in India had prepared me for this!] He asked for my number and I had my own Taken moment – Later, I even checked under my bed for space to crawl into. There was none and given that my Dad isn’t Liam Neeson I vowed to steer clear of strangers!

Cologne, January 2015

My first city in Germany! [A lot of firsts in this post] Cologne isn’t a popular backpacking destination given that all it has is a large number of churches. Cologne is famous for perfume (natürlich!) and Kölsch, a local brew. It is an absolutely delightful light beer that is consumed in 200ml glasses. Früh is a ridiculously famous brewery right outside the Dom. When it opened at noon, there were already about 100 people waiting to get in! I was alone which made it difficult to find a table. I approached an old, balding, pot bellied Kellner who took one look at me and said – “Because you’re alone, I make you sit at a table full of German people!” And then he proceeded to seat me with a large family of senior citizens who seemed to be out for weekend brunch. They were a joyful and welcoming lot who didn’t mind my intrusion. They asked me a few questions and were pleased with my passable German. They even helped me with a few words that I’d forgotten! The Kellner was pleased when I asked for the pale ale and even happier when I rounded off the bill adequately. When he heard me address him in German, he was so exceedingly happy that I thought he might hug me!


With that positive experience, I’ll end this post. I’ll be back tomorrow night with the second set of stories. If you’ve had similar experiences, I’d love to hear them 🙂 Both good and bad stories are welcome.

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 :

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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.

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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.

Fontainebleau

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If you are in France, chateaus are a must. Whether you pick Versailles, The Loire Valley, Pierrefonds, or – Fontainebleau! Museums, palaces, and some other monuments like the Arc de Triomph are free on the first Sunday of the month. The fee for Versailles is slightly steep, so I would recommend saving that for the first Sunday.

The 45 minute journey from Paris to Fontainebleau is pretty straightforward. There are trains leaving from Gare de Lyon. You can buy your tickets at the yellow Ile de France machines (if you have a chip and pin credit card) or from the ticket counter. You are actually taking the RER D and it leaves from the platform upstairs and not underground. Look for trains going to Laroche-Migennes, Montargis, Montereau, or Sens. Fontainebleau Avon should be one of the stops on your journey. The TV monitors on the platforms will display a list of stops for each journey. The Savy Backpacker says that your Navigo valid from Zones 1-5 should work as well, but we didn’t try. Right outside the Fontainebleau Avon station, a bus will be waiting to take you to the castle. There is only one bus, so you really can’t get confused. It costs about a euro-fifty and you can buy the ticket on the bus.

You can buy your tickets to the chateau at their website to avoid the long queue once you reach there. An alternative is to buy the tickets at the Tourism Office. Office de Tourismus is right opposite the castle and opens at 10am. They have free WiFi !!! Okay, so here you can get your free maps for the castle grounds and the forest trails.

Be prepared for your first view of the chateau. If this is your first experience, it is going to take your breath away. I like Fontainebleau the best – and it is not only because it was my first. I think the horseshoe entrance did it for me. For your day, you can start with the castle, followed by a walk in the castle grounds, and then if you still have time – you can try one of the trails suggested by the Tourism Office.

The 11€ ticket does not include the audio guide. You can purchase it separately inside the castle for 5€. I would recommend taking the audio guide. It is one of the few guides that is GPS enabled, which means that you don’t have to constantly look at your map to key in numbers – the device starts the relevant audio track based on your location. Cool, isn’t it?

Flavia and I were overwhelmed by the sweet locals we met on the bus and were already in love with the town before we reached the palace. The bus dropped us a street away from the chateau and the Tourism Office was right there. Btw – these guys are super punctual. They open at 10 and we were there at 9:59. So, they asked us to come back a minute later!

The tour of the palace didn’t take very long and we were done by 1PM. We decided to take a stroll in the gardens behind the chateau and take some pictures. FT wanted to be back in Paris before evening so we left by 3 and skipped the forest trails suggested by the Tourism office.

Fontainebleau, November 29, 2014.

in the Palace grounds

in the Palace grounds

Up Next: Versailles

Coming Soon!

A lot of people had a lot of questions about my insane 20 weeks of travel while living in Paris. I did start a blog but there was hardly ever time to post live. After I moved back to India, I was apartment hunting and trying really hard to settle in namma Bengaluru. And before I knew it I was back in Europe for a fantastic three week holiday.

Since it is long overdue, I am going to post about my #twentyweeksineurope. For all those of you who were following me on instagram, you would remember this picture taken after 17 weeks of travel.

20 weeks in Europe!Keep reading for travel itineraries, hostel reviews, information on walking tours and much more than just my shenanigans! Spread the news and some love please 🙂