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.

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.

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 🙂