Freezing my giblets off

I don’t think I have ever been colder in my life than I was for most of today. We were told it was going to be minus 11, but it apparently only got to minus 5. I can’t even possibly imagine what minus 11 feels like. We were talking to a girl from Canada where it gets to minus 44 in the winter. Really. Well. I must say I don’t believe her. I don’t know how you can support human life at that temperature after what we felt today. I have now bought ANOTHER hat (my second new hat) and more gloves. Sean has bought another jumper. The good news was, it was a sunny day. We had beautiful blue skies and partway through the day I went to take a swig from my drinkbottle and discovered it had frozen inside. So picture standing inside the coldest freezer ever, all day, and that’s pretty much the sensation we experienced. Thankfully, our hostel is warm and comfy. We started the day very leisurely, using the laundry service and eating heaps of breakfast and sorting out photos etc. Then we rugged up and headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet another Sandeman’s tour. A bunch of people from our hostel came as well which was fun. Our guide, Chris, didn’t at first seem quite as enthused as our guides for Paris and Amsterdam, but we all warmed to him during the tour, which turned out to be incredibly interesting and enjoyable. Berlin, in comparison to Paris and Amsterdam, is not the prettiest city, but it is so rich with history, recent and relevant history. So the tour was great, but the cold was a serious distraction. I was unable to stand still, because it just crept into your bones if you didn’t keep moving, so there was a lot of jigging around on one foot while the guide was explaining about certain locations.

After the Brandenburg Gate, we saw the Reichstag and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This was amazing. For those who don’t know, its a park filled with cement blocks, all different shapes and sizes. The ground beneath them is hilly and gets deeper and shallower in certain areas. The architect has been famously tight-lipped about his reasons for it’s design because he wants people to form their own ideas about what it might represent. Some people think the hills and stones look like the Jewish cemetery in Prague so they think of gravestones. Some people think the blocks look like train cars, like the ones to the concentration camps. Some people can see a bar graph in the silhouette of the stones, depicting the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I like to think the blocks are all different because it represents that the Jews were all individuals with independent character, not an identical group to be wiped out. There are 2711 blocks, but no one knows what that number represents either. We then headed further down the street to a carpark that sits directly over the site of Hitler’s bunker. It was enormous, and he hid in it for most of the last month of his life. He married Eva Braun there (her wedding dress was black) and the two of them took cyanide capsules two days later. And good riddance. The bunker was blown up in the 80’s and all that remains is a heap of scrap metal buried deep beneath our feet.

We saw one of the only Nazi buildings spared by the Allied bombings, complete with Soviet shells and bullet holes. We also visited the site of an enormous march (and subsequent massacre) of East Berlin citizens against the Communist regime. We saw the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, right next to a still-standing stretch of Berlin Wall. Then we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, site of many innovative escapes into West Berlin, including a guy who hid his girlfriend in the trunk of a very low sports car, then drove the car under the barrier and ducked. Another guy bought a cow, killed it, emptied it, and wore its skin around him on a truck of cows headed to a West Berlin market. We stopped for a coffee break, but I was frozen, so I got a cup of broccoli soup with some lovely bread and it was just about the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten. We then saw a French cathedral, built for the Hugenots who came to Berlin from France where they faced terrible persecution. They did wonderful things for Berlin, so Berlin built them a church. Right near this is a German cathedral and a concert hall. We then saw the first Catholic church built in Germany, St Hedwig’s (ARGH, HARRYPOTTER!) and the bank from Run Lola, Run!! That was way cool. Very close to that is a famous university whose name escapes me, but Lenin, Marx and Engels studied there, and Albert Einstein was a professor there. Luckily, he escaped to Germany before the breakout of the Holocaust. This university library was the site for the enormous Nazi book-burning. They burnt over 20,000 books, deemed ‘inappropriate’ because their authors were Jewish, Communist, homosexual etc. There is a beautiful memorial there which is a sealed room underground with a clear roof. It is full of empty shelves, enough to hold the 20,000 burned books. It was beautiful to stand in the square and see this memorial.

We then saw the memorial for all the victims of war and tyranny. The sculpture was placed there in the 90’s, and depicts a weeping woman holding a child. She lost her son in WW1 and her grandson in WW2. It’s incredibly moving. However, the memorial was built much earlier and used to be a memorial for the victims of WW1. When Hitler came to power he made it a memorial to the victims of Bolshevism. When the Soviets invaded after Hitler fell, they made it a memorial to the victims of fascism. And it stayed this way until the 90’s when it became the memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. We then saw a beautiful domed cathedral and walked into the Museum Island where the tour finished. We were so, unbelievably cold, so we found kebabs, bought more warm clothes and headed back to the hostel, where I have been ever since! We wanted to do a pub crawl tonight, but I am so cold, I don’t think I can bring myself to go out again. We shall see!

xxxxx

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Ja!

In Berlin!! YAY!! Our day started with SNOW. SNOWY SNOWSNOW EVERYWHERE!!!!! We walked out onto the top deck of the boat and all along the pier and the harbour was a blanket of snow. It was amazing. And freezing. But amazing. We ate our awesome breakfast and departed, crunching along the SNOW(!) to Amsterdam Centraal, where we jumped on a train to Hilversum. The trip only took about 25 minutes, and then we jumped on a train to Berlin, and that trip took about 5-6 hours. It is strangely tiring, sitting on a train all day. I think its because you are carrying everything with you. We had to move seats a couple of times. But we sat opposite some really adorable kids who just babbled to us in German for ages and were really cheeky and cute. I managed to sleep a little as well. Then we got into Berlin Hauptbahnhof and had to take an S-Bahn train to Alexanderplatz and then a U-Bahn train to Senefelder Platz. This process sounds tiresome, but it didn’t turn out to be too bad. The we reached the EastSeven Berlin Hostel and it is BRILLIANT. Firstly, the bathrooms are amazing. Thank goodness. That shower was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Secondly, we arrived at 6.20 and every Monday and Wednesday night they cook a free dinner for all the guests. You can pitch in and help at 7, or just show up for the free meal at 8. We went down to the kitchens and got chatting as we cut up vegetables. There are so many different people here. It’s insane. We’ve been sitting in the lounge drinking since we arrived and people are only heading out now (midnight). I’m not going because I am absolutely knackered, but gosh, I’ve had the best night. We spoke to stacks of other Australians as well as Brits, Norwegians, Albanians and some really lovely people from Canada and Turkey. Dinner was also excellent. It was totally vegetarian. Awesome orange salad with walnuts and balsamic sauce, vegetable soup, and this rice, chickpea and vegetable dish. AMAZING. Everyone can use the kitchens and the storage facilities, so everyone just sits around after dinner drinking the Happy Hour beers for 1 euro and talking about the different places they are from. It’s fascinating, and I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of the week here. I’m so tired though! So I’m off to bed now. We’ll enjoy our snow, while ya’ll enjoy your heatwave.

xxxxx

Last night in Amsterdam

Firstly, RRRRAAAAAAGGGGEEEE!!!! I just spent about 45 minutes tagging all the pics in the Paris album and bloody facebook didn’t save any of it. BAH.

Secondly, we are back on the boat, after a lovely dinner in Nieuwmarkt for our last night in Amsterdam. Cara and Alfie went to a floating Chinese restaurant, and Sean and I went to a little pub where we had tomato and paprika soup with bread and cheese and it was just about the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted. After being out in the freezing wind, it was the perfect, perfect meal. Then I went and bought another beanie. I need one with flaps for my ears because the wind is just about snapping my ears off. So I now have a red Amsterdam beanie with bobbles. YEAH! Then we found an Irish pub, an actual Temple Bar in Amsterdam. We walked in and promptly paid 6 euro EACH for a drink. A terrible tasting Kilkenny and a weak, slightly sour Strongbow for 12 euro. Highway robbery. But, the bartender was uber friendly and we had an awesome chat to him about Australia. He’s British, but is moving to Brisbane. We talked about sport and cars and beer, so I contributed not much at all to the conversation, but it was a pleasant night. We’re totally besties with the owner of our hostel as well. He’s given us free snacks and left us on the boat while he’s gone for a walk. Everyone is very trusting around here. The Dutch are very peaceful. I’m sad to be leaving Amsterdam so soon; I feel like I could stay here for a few weeks (though with a better bathroom). Time to pack up, so I don’t need to rush tomorrow.
xxxx

Good times, lazy days

We had unanimously decided to make today a ‘me time’ day. As a result, it was far lazier than our days so far, yet I still managed to end up doing a lot of walking. I woke up at 8am to Skype my parents (and it was wonderful to speak to them), and I was the only guest up until about 9am when everyone began to surface for the complimentary breakfast. As a result, I had the wi-fi to myself for ages, and managed to upload my Paris pics to Facebook! As I type this, I have nearly uploaded the last of them. I want to have a separate FB album for each city, and even then, there are plenty of photos I will later pinch from Sean, Alfie and Cara.

Once we were all up, we walked quickly to Amsterdam Centraal to enquire about trains to Berlin tomorrow (apparently we just waltz onto the train with our Eurail pass. Cool beans.) and then we went our separate ways. Cara headed off to the Van Gogh museum and the diamond museum, Alfie headed off to look at shops and Sean and I headed back to the boat to do some more photo uploading and Skyping. Then Sean and I went for a walk. In -1 degrees weather. Yay Europe! My face felt brittle, like the skin on top of milk that has been sitting out for too long. Brittle and freezing. But yesterday at the pub with the friendly bartender, he had written down the name of a brewery, complete with directions, that he thought Sean might be interested in. So we headed off to find out and it turned out to be not too far from us. Maybe a 20 minute walk? We got there at 2 and discovered it didn’t open til 3. But that was okay. We had tasty sandwiches for lunch at a fancy bistro and stayed warm the whole time. When the brewery opened at 3, we realised the English-language tour wasn’t until 4, but I wanted to see the Dutch Resistance Museum which closed at 5, so Sean walked me partway and then he headed back to his tour and I went to the Resistance Museum. It was wonderful. Well worth the 8 euro I paid for it. It’s an entire museum dedicated specifically to the efforts of Dutch people who chose to resist the Nazis during the occupation in WW2. Currently, they have an exhibition of photos taken by a gentleman who died in 2008. He had to hide his camera from the Nazis and fake a permit to take photos, but this way there is documented evidence of the persecution of Jews. There were hundreds and hundreds of stories in the museum, about people who smuggled children out of the ghettos and into hiding, people who built and distributed illegal radios, people who hid Jews, people who got friendly with the prison guards, got them drunk and managed to get prisoners out, and one woman who was sent to prison for opposing the Nazis and was assigned the darning of the Nazis socks. She sewed them shut. I didn’t have quite enough time to see the whole thing properly, but I saw plenty of interesting stuff and had a beautiful walk home in the winter sunshine. It was also nice to have the afternoon to myself for a bit.

I’ve been sitting here typing and photo-uploading since then. I used the terrible showers again, and it’s nice to feel clean. We will be heading out to get dinner shortly, maybe have a few drinks, but we have to get up and leave for Berlin tomorrow so it won’t be too late.

Signing off!

Cheese and canals

We have figured out that the bathrooms are not great, but the complimentary breakfast is AWESOME. So after eating enough to fill a horse, we headed in the freezing cold to Amsterdam Centraal to meet another free walking tour. The same tour company, the Amsterdam equivalent of the two tours we had done in Paris. We had high expectations by now, but this guy was also amazing. His name was Ged and he was from Manchester. These tours also had heaps more people on them, so we had to get used to being in a huge group. We formally began at the National Monument, in Dam Square. Then we walked past a ‘tasting-house’ – one of our tour guide’s favourite spots in the city. It was built back when it was illegal to sell alcohol in Amsterdam, so the owner got around the law by simply allowing people to ‘taste’ (buy it anyway). We walked through the Red Light District, which is significantly weirder during the day. Here we are trooping round in the brisk morning air, breathing mist into the crisp winter day, and there is a woman in sexy lingerie posing in a doorway. It’s really, really bizarre. But fascinating. There is no equivalent in Australia. Between the Red Light District and a church, there is an anonymous artwork set into the cobblestones, a sculpted gold hand on a sculpted gold breast. Apparently it just appeared one day and the council dug it up. But the prostitutes had decided they liked it and kicked up a fuss until it got put back. Our guide explained that the Dutch government is extremely pragmatic about such things, and would rather its citizens be happy. He said any law is breakable in Amsterdam provided it is discreet, it hurts no one, and its brings money into the city. That’s how there is so much weed – its not legal, its tolerated. The discreet bit is calling them ‘coffee shops’, instead of Weed Central of Ganja Palace. The hurting no one bit is that marijuana is a soft drug, that doesn’t induce violence and is impossible to overdose on. Because the government is so relaxed about marijuana, they have been able to stamp down on hard drugs, and as a result, Amsterdam has an extremely small amount of junkies and hard drugs. And it is wonderful, of course, for the economy. Our guide also told us, however, that the government has banned the opening of any more coffee shops and there is talk of movements to make weed only available to Dutch residents. So if anyone wants to front up to Amsterdam and experience it like it is, do it soon! We saw a hidden Catholic church, built when it was illegal to be Catholic in the city. We saw the headquarters of the East India Trading Company – oh man, Pirates of the Caribbean movie reference! – which is now past of the University. We saw a women’s prison, that has a carving of a woman being whipped over the doorway and the inscription, ‘I don’t hit you because you’re evil, I hit you to make you good’. Hmmmmm.

Houses in Amsterdam have taxes on the size of your house. The wider is is – that is, the more space along the sidewalk it takes up – the more expensive. As a result, houses in Amsterdam are very tall and slim and we got pics of the smallest house in the city. There are some big, old, expensive houses and some of them have carvings on the rooves detailing how the owner made their living (these were built centuries back and included arms dealers with cannons carved on their roof, and slave traders, with people carved on their roof). We saw the Royal Palace and the squats – part of the Jewish Quarter, which was cleaned out during World War 2 and then inhabited by poor people and hippies in the mid-century. These hippies later saved the city from a complete renovation in the 70’s which would have seen all the houses and canals knocked down and filled up and a big freeway put through the middle. Thankfully, those tree-huggers and crazies chained themselves to the buildings and again, the government pragmatically conceded. These squats that they lived in are painted beautiful vibrant colours and covered in manic graffiti. It was very cool. We walked through a ‘secret garden’ – an incredibly peaceful little estate, walled in because I think it used to be a convent? Even now, only single women over 30 are allowed to live in the houses surrounding the gardens. It’s a weird law, but that’s how the city works. Then we stopped for free cheese. It tasted like very strong parmesan, and was apparently aged Gouda. Delish! We finished the tour at the Homomonument, a memorial dedicated to all in the Netherlands who have been discriminated against and persecuted for their sexuality. It is a collection of pink triangle sculptures. Pink triangles are, as you may know, an international symbol of gay pride, invented by the Nazis who used it to segregate the homosexual prisoners from the other categories (communists, Jews, etc) in the concentration camps. It’s a wonderful example of resilience and reclamation. Here, our guide told us about Amsterdam in World War 2. We were sitting in front of the church, whose bells kept Anne Frank going in her many months in hiding. The house she hid in is right round the corner and Anne could hear the bells and wrote about how they kept her sane. We didn’t do the Anne Frank House museum today, but maybe tomorrow. Alfie and I did it during our last trip and it was incredibly moving. I would definitely see it again. Apparently when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and pulled all the Jews out of the Jewish quarter, the non-Jewish residents of Amsterdam were horrified and went on strike for two days. The city literally shut down in protest of the treatment of its Jewish residents. Of course, the Nazi war machine was relentless and evil so the strike soon ended, with people being forced to return to work under pain of death, but for 48 hours, this little city had stood up to the Nazis and that counted for a lot. 
When the tour finished and everyone had dispersed, Alfie, Cara, Sean and I asked our tour guide where a good pub was. He walked us all the way to this little one whose name escapes me, but was wonderful. You could sit on a bench with the radiator under you and the bar right in front of you. When we walked in, there was no other customers. For a good 45 minutes we drank beer, cider and hot chocolate with the bartender who came from country Holland and spoke flawless English. I love the people we have met so far. Everyone has been so chilled and relaxed and spoken to us so easily and been so welcoming to their cities. 
After we had finished at the pub, we went souvenir shopping and found some chips. Then we got another (MUM/DAD DON’T READ) spacecake and headed back to the boat to change into warmer clothes, because we were frozen. Then we walked to a wagamama restaurant and had enormous bowls of ramen for dinner. We stopped to buy chocolate on the way back, and since then have been sitting up in the dining area typing! We haven’t planned much for tomorrow, which is a first. We are going to relax, first and foremost. Hurrah!

Amsterdam!

Mum, Dad, Chris, Annette, Melinda and any other parental figures, don’t read this, you’ve been warned.

This morning we got up completely smoothly and efficiently. We cleaned up the rest of the stuff in the apartment, and didn’t have to rush. It was awesome. We got to Gare du Nord and hopped on the train to Lille Flanders and went for an hour, then got on another train to Anvers Central (which is actually Antwerp, in Belgium. Anvers is the French word for it). We sat next to a very chatty French Somali man. On the next leg, from Anvers (Antwerp) to Amsterdam, I sat next to a Dutch man who spoke flawless English as well as Dutch (obviously), French, German, Spanish and was learning Bulgarian. He was really lovely and affirmed the two things I have come to be sure of when dealing with Europeans:
1. They love Australians. Love them. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.
2. They have a brilliant knack for languages. My Dutch friend on the train was telling me that Dutch schoolchildren have compulsory English to learn, and as a result, many Europeans grow up well-practiced in English. We are extremely spoilt, to be English speakers.

We got to Amsterdam Centraal and dragged our stuff out into the city with us. Our hostel (on a freaking BOAT) turned out to not be a very long walk at all from the station, but it took us ages to find, so we were quite relieved when Cara saw the distant sign and called out across the canals ‘VITA NOVA!’ It’s really cute in here. The reception dude was really nice, gave us a map of the place and a heap of vouchers for specific discounts on tourist attractions and activities exclusive to Vita Nova. Sean and I are in our own cabin as are Cara and Alfie. They are tiny, with a set of bunks, a sink and a cupboard. There is barely room for us and our luggage, but it is somehow very charming. We are only here for three nights, so I doubt any of it will be a problem. After dumping our stuff and googling some tours etc, we headed out. It was only 7.30 when we left and, like so many places in Europe, everything in Amsterdam is open very late. I wanted to walk through the Red Light District because we hadn’t last time we were here. Everything in Amsterdam is also very close together; it’s easy to see all the important things on foot. We walked into the Red Light District and saw the prostitutes in the red windows. It was hilarious. Most of them were on their phones or picking their fingernails and just looked bored out of their minds. Which you probably would be if you had to stand in a window with dumb tourists staring at you all day. We walked out of the Red Light District and found some pizzas which were delicious, but huge. We couldn’t finish them. And then (MUM AND DAD DO NOT READ) we went to a coffeeshop and got spacecakes. It did absolutely nothing for me. I doubt there was actual weed in it. But the experience has now been had! Huzzah! On the way back home we went to one of the Sex Museums (which is not one of those live sex shows. You couldn’t pay me to sit through one of them) but is an actual museum about the cultural history of sex, and then we headed back to the boat and were quite tired so we went to bed!! Big day. We only have 2 full days in Amsterdam so we’re going to pack a lot into them!!

XXX

Joyeux Australie Jour! (Or however you say it)

While we were thinking enviously of the BBQ’s back home that we would be missing out on, it was also our final full day in Paris today! I am not ready to leave this city. I love it. No, more than that, I am in love with it. I could easily live here. Not forever; I love Melbourne/Australia too much, but being here for just the week has made me really want to learn French and I would adore coming back here for a year or so just to absorb the culture. So we tried to pack a lot in today and succeeded pretty damn well.
Firstly, Alfie, Cara and I headed back to Pere Lachaise cemetery. I have wanted a photo smooching Oscar Wilde’s grave for ages and I was going to spit if I left Paris without one, particularly having stayed in an apartment so close to it. We took photos of Balzac’s grave, Oscar Wilde’s grave (obligatory kisses included), Edith Piaf’s grave, the Holocaust memorials, the graves of Gertrude Stein and Jim Morrison, and I tried to find the grave of Jean-Dominique Bauby (the guy with locked-in syndrome who wrote ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’) but I couldn’t see it. It is really one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever seen, and we had early morning sunshine dripping across the sky and the effect was amazing. Then we met up with Sean and headed to Notre Dame! I had been to the cathedral 4 years ago during my previous visit and was excited to see it again, but this time our Paris Pass gave us access to the towers for free. Yayyyy! So we gave our lactic acid a good workout and chugged up the steps to look out over the city and chill with the gargoyles. We got some awesome pics and the views were amazing. The cathedral is going to be 850 years old next year and there are some exciting restoration works going on. We went and took photos with the huge bell and even heard it ringing. There was this kid FREAKING OUT because he was so afraid of the bell. The poor thing was practically hyperventilating just standing near it because he was so scared it would make a noise. Afterwards, we walked to Saint Chappelle, but the line was huge and we were limited for time so we had to give it a miss unfortunately. Cara and Alfie went to check out the archaelogical crypt underneath Notre Dame and Sean and I went to walk up along the Seine. The bridge from Sex and the City is just up from Notre Dame. I mentioned earlier in my blog that it is known as the ‘Love Bridge’ and is covered in padlocks with lovers names on them. We were in Paris, the beautiful city of lights, love and art, so yes. Yes, I bought a padlock, found a marker, and wrote ‘Emily et Sean’ on it. If you think that’s cheesy, go jump in the Seine. It’s romantic, dammit. Sean, being the obliging, lovely man he is, came with me and we locked it onto the bridge and threw the keys into the river for good luck. It was awesome. Then we found amazing baguettes and got onto the train to Montmartre with Cara and Alfie.
Montmartre, the uber bohemian part of Paris with the little winding roads and cheese shops and patisseries and artists and writers and lovers, is gorgeous. I had only experienced a fraction of it last time, but was determined to see more of it this trip. For anyone who has seen ‘Amelie’, the entire film is set in Montmartre. The free tour of Paris we did on the first day here runs a tour of Montmartre for 10 euros and it was worth every cent. We arrived at the meeting point to discover we had the same guide as we had on our free tour, Naomi, which was fantastic because she was so much fun, extremely knowledgeable and very easy to chat to. We began in the red-light district at the Moulin Rouge, the location of the invention of the can-can dance and the striptease. I went to the Moulin Rouge the last time I was here and it was an experience. It was almost a bit too cheesy for me…I think I expected it to be more like the movie. But I’m glad I went. I just don’t feel the need to fork out over 100 euro for another trip. After the Moulin Rouge, we headed up toward the Sacre Coeur Basilica, stopping at lots of fascinating places along the way. First was THE CAFE FROM AMELIE. Holy moley that was exciting!! Apparently the director, Jeunet, wanted the manager to shut down the cafe for four months over summer to shoot his movie. The manager told him to get lost. Jeunet came back every day for 18 months until the manager caved. Amelie was a smash-hit and now the cafe does amazing business. Then we saw some graffiti from Miss.Tic, one of the pioneers of street-art, spurred by vengeance on a former lover. Next we stopped at the house where Vincent Van Gogh used to live. You can’t go in or anything, but its pretty cool to stand in front of it. There is a little plaque above the doorway and it is on a busy, picturesque corner of Montmartre.
Then we headed up to ‘Moulin de la Galette’ which is the only windmill left in Paris. When the Romans decided to starve Paris out, the most effective way was to burn down all the windmills, rather than burn the crops, because the crops were useless without the windmills. The owner of Moulin de la Galette was so incensed, he ran out with a pitchfork and threatened the Romans. They chopped him into pieces and put him on each wing of the windmill. Very ghoulish and horrible. But then they got paid to leave the city and left before burning the Moulin de la Galette. The people of Paris honoured this martyr who ran out to threaten the Romans by having a huge party every Sunday night at the Moulin de la Galette. Go Paris! After that, we walked up to a square named after a writer called Marcel Ayme. He also lived in Montmartre and wrote a famous story about a man who could walk through walls. There is a sculpture of this character, quite literally walking through a wall. We saw a statue of Saint-Denis, ‘the Headless Saint’ and then we saw a statue of a very beautiful woman called Dalida. She was a performer and her three husbands killed themselves and then she did the same thing. So much tragedy in Montmartre! It is good luck to touch the breasts of the Dalida statue. So I did. They were cold and statue-y. We went to Le Maison Rose, which is a restaurant frequented by Van Gogh. He used to go there twice a day! It wasn’t because the food was great, it was because the top floor was a brothel. It is not anymore, of course. Then we went to the ‘Lapin Agile’, a restaurant frequented by Picasso. He basically charmed his way into the hearts of the staff and would give them paintings in exchange for food. This, of course, paid off a hundredfold for the staff when Picasso became extremely famous. The Lapin Agile is just opposite the only vineyard in Paris. It is a tiny little patch of land and apparently yields revolting tasting wine because of the pollution in Paris seeping into the grapes. However, a bottle from this vineyard is excruciatingly expensive, purely for the collecting purpose. We heard about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a disabled artist (he had very short, deformed legs) whose paintings and advertisements of the Moulin Rouge are very famous. He was addicted to women and absinthe and died of syphilis and alcohol poisoning in his late 30’s. However, he died having fun, unlike so many other famous residents of Montmartre! He is played by John Leguizamo in the Moulin Rouge film.
By this time we had reached the Sacre Coeur Basilica. It is beautiful inside, and the highlight were the mosaic paintings. The most breathtaking scenes, all created by little tiles! The view across Paris is unrivalled (Paris is, after all, a very flat city. Montmartre is the only mountain) and I the sun came out again as we arrived there. I sat down and watched the sun over the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by cobblestones, my feet tired, in the centre of beautiful Montmartre with three people I love very much and I was so, SO glad I did not have to get up and do anything. No work, nothing I had to rush for. It was magic. We made our way back down the mountain, stopping at a square filled with artists selling their art. There is a cafe there called ‘La Mere Catherine’ and when the Russians were in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, they used to go there, whack their knife and fork on the table and say ‘Quickly, quickly’ in Russian because they wanted to be served faster. The Russian word for quickly sounds a lot like ‘Bistro’. So the owner of this cafe, to draw in Russian customers, put a sign out the front saying ‘BISTRO’, as in, ‘you will be served quickly here’. All the surrounding restaurants saw the business boom, copied this, and henceforth, the word ‘bistro’ is now used to mean restaurant. Crazy, huh? We finished the tour at the apartment of Picasso and Modigliani. They lived here together as they both became extremely famous and were very entertaining to learn about. Then we went to an Irish pub for a complimentary wine with the tour guide, and an Argentinian girl from our tour. We all sat around and chatted for about an hour about everything and anything and it was incredibly chilled and relaxing. Then we went souvenir shopping, and got crepes from the best creperie in Montmartre. They were pretty amazing. Then we said goodbye to our Argentinian friend (I don’t even know her name, and we hung around with her the whole time and had a great time. I love backpacking) and Alfie and Cara went home. Sean and I went to another Oz Bar in Montmartre and had a drink and chatted to some lovely Australians to commemorate the day, then trained to the Arc du Triomphe, then trained back to the apartment and cleaned up! We leave tomorrow early, and I’m exhausted, so I have to stop blogging now. But I had a fantastic final day in Paris.
Au revoir!