So before we knew it July 19th came and it was the penultimate day before we could finally put our months of planning and anxious double checking of train reservations into action. We were spending the night at Liam’s house getting all excited and cross checking everyone else’s clobber, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything vital in our packing. Well, it would have been a bit late for me in any case as I had flown up from Cornwall the week before with all my gear pre-packed. I call it good preparation. There was the great denim jacket debate as Liam literally weighed up the consequences of taking a denim jacket in the peak of European summer, to fulfil the need to seamlessly blend in with the German punk scene. Lucky for him we managed to talk him out of it. Anyone who knows me knows I love a quiz, so I forced twenty questions upon the team containing what I hoped were interesting facts about each of the places we were to visit. Who knew Rome had over 900 churches (bit excessive?) and that Croatia has the fastest public WiFi in Europe (remember that fact for Pointless). We sat up with a few bevs in the evening before setting about 400 alarms ready for the next morning to catch our train from St Pancreas to our first city, Paris.
We were up before the sun on July 20th driving into London still bleary eyed and still having not really come to terms with what we were about to embark on. It felt as if it wouldn’t be real until we stepped out of the Gare du Nord onto the streets of a foreign land with no 4G, no sense of direction and immediate regret at not paying more attention in French lessons. Fuelled by Starbucks we boarded the Eurostar. As if a sign foreshadowing the wealth of in-joke banter we would accumulate over our trip, we immediately encountered our first meme in the shape of a chubby child sitting with his face smushed up against the back of the train seat opposite us. For four highly caffeinated sleep deprived and already excited teenagers, it was still funnier than it should have been.
On arrival we stepped out to an overcast, car fume cacophony of building works, car horns and huge groups of students coagulating together stopping anyone from being able to move anywhere or see any map or street sign. Long story short we turned left when we should have turned right out of the station and made a right faff of walking about 200yards to our hostel Smart Place…turns out our navigation wouldn’t get any better that day. The lobby was suffocatingly hot despite enough fans to mistake it for a British Airways testing facility (I sat for about 15minutes trying to conjure up a more humorous metaphor but I apologise), luckily we were only there to check in and drop our bags off.
The receptionist gave us a labelled map with hand drawn routes and instructions with the quickest route to our first sight the Arc du Triomphe. However, our coffee levels must have tanked by this point since we proceeded to walk about half hour in completely the opposite direction, past some uncomfortably aggressive french dog owners and some sketchy rundown side streets. Not the picturesque shopping streets of the Parisian elite we see on TripAdvisor. Again long story short it took us around six hours to correct ourselves to reach the Champs-Élysées. An unexpected detour through which we got to know the quieter quaint backstreets, and also sample the billions of different graffiti tags which mask every spare square inch of concrete. Also of note there are lots of trees that line the streets which is a nice touch in such a densely packed city.
Anyway, we reached the Arc and had the first team snap of the tour taken (note our relatively happy, clean and stressless expressions to compare to later group photos, you’ll see what I mean when we come to it). The Champs-Élysées was tourist heavy of course but we were content to play the tourists to fit in. On our way to our next stop, the Eiffel Tower across the river, our route took us past various embassy buildings with their sidewalks decorated with wheels straight off the showroom of that years Geneva motor show. A couple of locals pointed out the vehicles we were gawking at were undercover government vehicles disguised as regular expensive motors. Much spy very bond. So we dicked around a bit as you would.
It was overcast as we entered the grounds of the Eiffel tower bit and it was bigger than it looked in the pictures. A lot less rusty than I expected as well considering it’s proper old. Of course me and Ian being the massive nerds we are decided to relax and kick back under the classic French landmark with a game of Owzat (cricket with dice). I was victorious with Keith Richards and Gary Rogers both making half centuries, and Sarah Taylor smashing six 6s in an over. As this was occurring Liam managed to get scammed into paying a Parisian con-man €5. I’ll shed more light on that in the next days post in this series.
It was turning towards late afternoon, so after a quick photoshoot of the tower in full form, we headed for the Paris RER home.
We decided (were priced into) being self-sufficient with dinner that evening settling with a standard tomato and garlic sauce pasta. Tommo was knackered from all the trekking bless him, to be fair we had walked 9.5 miles that day…and took a kip while the rest of us got chatting to a friendly Canadian in the kitchen/social area. We had planned just a one night stay in Paris, so we downed a few glasses of dangerously cheap white wine (of which we would become very well acquainted with throughout the following weeks), donned a button up each and headed out to the bar twinned with the hostel for a complimentary shot on the house, served by a friendly Australian. As you’d expect from four teenagers with a cashcard full of euros, a few pints and multiple shots flowed featuring flavours of caramel/lemon/mint/nutella and cola. We stumbled back merry men to our hostel that night! Fortunately we had a dorm of two-double bunks to ourselves and slept well that night.
Thus concludes the first day of our trip, not a half bad one at that! It was pretty daunting to begin with taking those first steps out of the station as four British teens from a couple of small rural villages in Hertfordshire. But once you start living the dream trip you’ve been planning and getting amped for months in advance you forget about any worries and have a mad one. I’m proper looking forward to sharing the following days and weeks of our trip on this blog. Hopefully it can inspire some of you to travel Europe by rail too it really is an experience to kick off the bucket list!
One final note, Liam collated his record of a song of the day and the best daily food, people, quotes, purchases and sights into a souvenir book after we returned (I know aren’t we cute) so I’ll end each post with those insightful excerpts of ‘wisdom’. I will leave it open as to who said each quote…