Cities / Towns Visited: 1
Countries Visited: 1
Steps Taken Today: 28,657
Steps Taken Around the World: 191, 579
With both excitement and sadness I woke to what would be my last day in London, for the moment at least. And after consuming our final complimentary breakfast we checked out of the hostel, leaving our luggage in their storage room to try and fit in some sightseeing before our afternoon train.
Our destination: Kensington Palace. Now walking to the palace, despite the crisp morning air, was energising, and it made for a nice change to see Hyde park without its blanket of snow. This being said, I think it was prettier with its white coat on. We eventually reached the fountains, originally commissioned to be built for Queen Victoria by her husband. They were beautiful and extravagant, and set a precedent for the palace. When we eventually stumbled upon the palace, I must say, we were inclined to check the signs to check we were, in fact, looking at the palace. Now I am, of course, using the word palace in its broadest possible sense. I’m sure when it was first built it was the height of grandeur, but given our week of looking at and passing Buckingham palace, and the other mammoth opulent stone buildings of the west end, it was somewhat underwhelming. I appears as little more than a large brick manor, and an asymmetrical one at that. But who am I to judge, its location makes up for a lot, and if its good enough for the royals, then so be it. As the palace is still a residence, only a small portion of the rooms are available for viewing, but what they do have on show displays the opulently decorated state rooms and private chambers of old, including a bedroom which still has the original floorboards from the 1600’s. With red velvet, gilding, and intricate paintings at every turn, the interior definitely screamed palace a lot louder than the exterior.
As the estate had been a favourite residence of Princess Diana, the bottom floor has an exhibition some of the best pieces of her large clothing collection, which in its day helped put British fashion and its designers on the map. With many beautiful pieces, and a few that weren’t of my taste, or fervently screamed late 80’s / early 90’s, photos of her wearing the outfits, and information on the events and designers attached to them, it was a touching tribute to a princess who brought the royal family, in many ways, kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
After one last wander around the gardens we headed back to the city, and with a few hours still to spare before our train, we wagered we could probably fit in the Churchill War Rooms before our departure. After grabbing a quick supermarket lunch we headed through the throngs of people gathered around St James park for the London half marathon. To be honest, we hadn’t quite bargained for the effects of that, and upon nearing the entrance to the war rooms we realised our train would probably be half way gone before we even reached the front of the line. Lunch and off to the station it is then, we decided. That was it, we’d done it. After all those years of the planning and the arguing and the tears; the frantic saving, the giving up dinners out and movies, and all of the fun couply activities, we’d made it here to the other side of the world, and we’d survived the first stop of our year long trip.
It was around 4:30pm when we boarded our train. Where to, you may ask? Where else? Paris. First class tickets in hand (thanks Eurail Pass), we boarded and settled into our cushy seats. To be honest, we hadn’t looked into the finer details of our tickets when we booked, but were pleasantly surprised that as the train whizzed along at 300km an hour, we were handed a meal. I could get used to this first class gig. The trip was a speedy two and a half hours (you drive that far from Melbourne and you’re still in the same state), but in less than an hour we were in an entirely different country, with a different language, a different history, a different culture, and different tastes. It was our leap into the great unknown, and we prepared ourselves for the stress inducing but also personal development inducing, game of travellers charades and generally trying to get around in a place where we can’t read or speak the language. Our only saving grace; at least their language is also Latin based, and that will allow you to fumble through more than you think.
As we alighted the train, we entered the next part of mission get to our accommodation in suburban Paris; navigate the metro rail system. I think its important to let you all know that Gare Du Nord Station seems to use the ‘no system’ system it terms of its lay out. Our plans had involved getting a train to Montparnasse, then changing to a suburban train to Vanves Malakoff (where we would be staying). As I’m sure you’ve gathered that is not how that went down, and after having to attempt to talk to two separate rail officers to try and ascertain which lines we needed to take, as the line we wanted had works occurring until June that meant it wasn’t stopping where we were presently, we were directed to take a train to Denfert Rochereau (which may I just say, does not sound even remotely similar to how you would read it phonetically, one of the great difficulties of trying to get verbal instructions in French. I lack the ability to mentally visualise what their words would look like written down, which is kind of a massive problem when you then need to find said place on a map). After actually getting a map and having it literally pointed out to us, we found that from Denfert Rochereau we would then have to change for a train to Montparnasse, then change to the suburban part of the station (because of course its separate) to get on our third train out there. Four trains, door to door (sigh). After a good 90 minutes of trekking, luggage in tow, across stations, and then down a road we hoped like hell was the one we were supposed to be on, we walked past (and almost missed) a sign placed out by our lovely AirBNB host to direct us to her door, down a dimly lit alley. We were finally there. She showed us around, in broken English, but we got there in the end. For the first time in a week we had a space to ourselves, a cute little duplex in suburban Paris, and this fact was not lost on us as we fell exhausted into our bed, and the still and quiet of our solitude lulled us into sleeps beckoning arms.
P.S. As a side note, my final opinion of my first hostel experience: pretty good to be honest. Beds were relatively comfy, room was warm and clean with enough power points, three showers for a room of 16 was plenty, everyone was generally pretty quiet and kept to themselves (which I’m sure some people would have hated), location was close to everything, and the only weird person was some middle aged British guy that stayed for one night in the bed across from me, who was casually eating snacks in bed, then stood up and turned off all of the power points in the entire room at the switch, regardless of whether people had things charging or not. People confuse me. Decent par has been set, we’ll see how the others stack up.