From Z to A, Pt 2

Paris, October 18, 2012

Yesterday, it was another early start to make sure we were at the Gare du Nord in time for our Thalys train to Amsterdam. No problems, made it easy, though the early start (up at 5.45 a.m., which is way, way too early for me) meant I nodded off for a fair bit of the journey. But it was a journey without incident, unlike our trip back from Zurich, which I’d forgotten to include in the last blog. That trip was definitely not without incident.

More precisely, Lew nearly lost his wallet to a pickpocket but realised in time what was happening and shouted ‘You thief, you’re stealing my wallet’ or words to that effect. Just goes to show how quickly and easily it can happen.

We were getting on the train at Zurich to come home, and there were people bunched in the carriage foyer trying to get themselves and their luggage through the door and into the carriage proper and their seats. Except not all those at the top of the stairs were trying to get through. There were at least two, maybe three, young women, sans luggage, hanging around the doorway, blocking the way and making it difficult for legit passengers to get through with their luggage. I was making my way through when Lew started shouting at one of the young women. Everyone froze.

In the ensuing confusion, the young woman in question left the train and walked (not ran, so she knew what she was doing) into the crowd and away. I don’t know where the other woman went, but presumably she, too, melted into the crowd. Luckily, because Lew caught on quickly to what was taking place and reacted so vocally, no wallet lost and no harm done. It does tend to make you suspicious of the people around you, though. Must be something of an upsurge in train pickpockets because there were announcements on the Thalys train the next day to be aware they were operating not only at stations but possibly on the train itself. That was the first time we’d heard such public announcements.

But, back to Amsterdam. What did we think of Amsterdam? Well, we liked it well enough but… for some reason, although it is picturesque, it took a while to work its charm on us. Maybe it was the cold and overcast day – the coldest morning so far and I’m so glad I had my woolly jersey with me; it didn’t stay in the bag for long, I can tell you. There was a period when I wished I’d brought my merino base layer top as well. So maybe it was the weather, or maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe we were just a bit too tired and all travelled out.

Whatever. We bought tickets for one of those hop-on, hop-off bus barges – expensive, I thought, at 22 euros each; you don’t really hop-on and hop-off the way you do with a tram, for instance.  But it is a good way to see the city from the water and of course the navigator-cook loved it. I did too, though that was partly because it was under cover and warm!

I had no idea the canal system was so extensive, no idea at all. It’s fascinating to look in to a city from the water. However, we both had the sense of a city in slow decay. The canals were lined with boats never used and rotting away. We saw only one private boat being used on the canals; the rest were all tourist boats.

There were also narrow canal houses on pontoons on many of the canals, some in better condition than others. I bet the occupants get sick of people on tourist barges looking in. Some have great gardens though. The canals themselves didn’t bear looking at too closely: very murky green-brown.

We got off the bus barge at the museum stop, but didn’t feel up to visiting another museum (in this instance, the van Gogh museum). Probably a mistake, but we had seen some of his work already at the Musée D’Orsay. What we did do was buy one of the best takeaway lunches I’ve had. We guessed it would be good because there was a line of people along the pavement waiting to go in. It was a tiny shop serving hot soup and choose-your-own-filling sandwiches. Except yesterday, it was soup all the way, nobody taking sandwiches as far as I could see.

They offered about six or seven choices of soup. We both chose pumpkin and fresh mint with roasted cashew nuts sprinkled on top. It was yum, totally delicious. Came with a bread roll. We chose corn bread with toasted pumpkin seeds. Again, totally delicious. One of the best soups I’ve had. The shop was called the Soup Shop, I think, or the Soup Place. Try it, especially on a cold day, if you ever get the chance. It’s on the corner of a street that has lots of antique and art shops, though maybe that’s not enough detail for you to find it! It was the start of the charm offensive by Amsterdam!

We continued to warm to Amsterdam after we completed our canal tour and started wandering around the streets. It was picture book pretty, with tall, sometimes narrow, sometimes crooked houses, narrow cobbled streets, and bikes everywhere (I thought Strasbourg was bike city, but had to rethink that after seeing the number of bikes, stationary and in use, in Amsterdam).

Best of all for me were the plants in tubs or growing in the smallest thimbles of dirt: street gardening like I’ve never before seen. I think it was the variety of plants used, with so many large shrubs and climbers, all on narrow streets used as though they were private gardens. I loved it, and couldn’t stop taking pics.

I was also fascinated by the variation in design in the square glass windows above the doors to the apartments. Lew was fascinated by the rope pulleys on the outside of the buildings used to bring furniture and who knows what else up to the upper storeys.

I would’ve liked to see the flower market but we decided, given our history of getting lost, it wouldn’t be wise to venture that far from the railway station in the time we had left. Something for the next visit perhaps.

And that, as they say, was that. We had a forgettable afternoon tea at a forgettable café, and then it was time for the home trip. It was a slower than scheduled trip, thanks to problems with the line between Rotterdam and Antwerp, but it was a comfortable one.

Today, a slower day, sorting ourselves out for leaving, doing a bit of shopping and general wandering around the streets of Paris. It’s always the way – just when it’s time to leave, we discover all these cafes and shops that look so interesting! In one lovely little shop (plans to go back there) we were surprised to be asked if we were from New Zealand. Turns out the young man behind the counter had just returned from several months backpacking around New Zealand, and loved it. We were impressed he recognised our accent and didn’t, like so many others, confuse it with that of West Islanders.

Late in the afternoon we shopped and shopped and shopped until Lew was perilously close to dropped (I know it’s not grammatical but it does rhyme). We are both ready to come home. Lew says he is looking forward to a real house again and a city that does not have 12 million inhabitants. I’m looking forward to a decent cup of tea. And a house where I’m not hearing ‘ouch, that hurt’ every five minutes.  Lew says it’s okay to long for home. He also says work beckons. I say, that’s music to my ears.

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