Damn! I couldn’t avoid that question even when I was in Paris!
A bunch of Parisian teenagers who seemed of Middle Eastern descent teased me with that question as I passed by their corner. One of them even broke away from the group to walk alongside me and continued yapping rapidly in French. He stopped when he realized I totally ignored him, but then he suddenly wolf-whistled at me and yelled in English “Chinese girl!!” I could hear his friends laughing and slapping his back. Groaning silently, I hastened my walk and was soon out of their view.
I’ve always been easily identified as a Chinese, everywhere I go. It’s a fact which I’m not exactly very fond of. I’ve met countless of people who simply started talking non stop to me in Mandarin without bothering to check if I understand them at all. Honestly, these people are just plain ignorant. Though my skin is yellow and my eyes are small and single-eyelided, I could have well been a Japanese, a Korean, a Vietnamese, or even a Filipino! *roll eyes*
From the onset, Paris did not leave me with a good impression at all, with the exception of my hostel room. Despite the room being only half the size of my room at home, it was very cosy and its window overlooked the classic Parisian neighborhood of Montmarte. I could see rows of cafe lining up the streets and their smaller alleys. In my imagination, an artist was sitting alfresco and sipping a cup of coffee with a sketch pad propped on an easel in front of him. A street musician was playing his accordion just a few steps away. But that’s not the actual Paris.
The actual Paris I encountered was grey, dirty, it felt foreign, unfamiliar, and unsafe. The moment I alighted from my Eurostar at Gare du Nord, I had to fight the urge to take the train back to London. There were youngsters similar the ones teasing me for being a Chinese lurking at almost every corner. I missed my stop during the metro ride from Gare du Nord to the hostel because I didn’t know I had to press the button on the door if I wanted the train door to open. I kept waiting for the door to open by itself until the train eventually rolled over to the next stop. Back in Singapore and London, the train doors automatically open at each stop.
Obviously, I visited the Lourve, the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur, the Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées, and all other Parisian places of interest, but the visits felt obligatory. They screamed ‘tourist’ to me. I walked the Seine on twilight, failing miserably to discover the love and romance in what people call the city of love. I doubted that it was due to the lack of my other half as all I could see was grey, murky river water and trash scattered along the riverside. It was kinda hard to kiss and smooch and be lovey-dovey with such a backdrop. Before the sun even set, all I wanted to do was go back to my hostel room and stare at the cafes across my window. So after a couple of days, I finally gave in and decided to spend some time lounging in one of those cafes I’d been staring at for days in lieu of tramping across Paris from one museum to another.
That day, I made two great discoveries as I sipped my first cup of European coffee and my first glass of wine there. Firstly, coffees in Europe do not give me heart palpitations at all, unlike any other coffees that I’ve drank elsewhere. Illogical as it may seem, this is a fact which I have proven many times during my Eurotrip and also in my subsequent visits to Europe. Secondly, I could buy wines in France for a fraction of what you would have to pay for a glass of coke or a cup of coffee and tea, and yet they tasted good. There was no turning back once I’d discovered this. Wine immediately became my staple drink throughout my Eurotrip.
Thankfully, I only planned to spend 4 days in Paris. And soon enough, it was bye bye Paris……
…..and hello Loire Valley 🙂
Anyone who googles ‘Loire Valley’ will easily find out the two reasons people visit this region; wine and chateau. My reason was the latter, as I was saving Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Tuscany for the former 😉
To get the best chateau-hopping experience, I first based myself for a couple of days in Blois, a small town by the banks of the Loire river barely 2 hours’ train ride away from Paris. I then moved to Tours, a bigger town 45 minutes’ train ride away south of Blois, for two more days of chateau indulgence. Château de Blois, Azay le Rideau, Château d’Amboise, Château de Chambord, Château d’Usse, Château Villandry, these were only a handful of all the beautiful chateaus you could visit in this region. You could have a chateau for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one whole week and still have not seen all of them. Personally, Amboise and Azay Le Rideau were my two favorites. Scoot over, Versailles and Windsor, you two were too touristy to my liking.
As for Tours, it turned out to be one of my favorite town in France. Despite being rather big, it was not crowded at all and most importantly, few tourists went there. I walked virtually everywhere and felt completely safe and comfortable among the locals. When I wasn’t busy hopping from one chateau to another, I had a rather fond memory of lazing around on the grass under the mild spring sun, people-watching while munching my sandwich lunch. I discovered that this was the kind of activity I could easily spend days doing without getting bored at all. It was unbelievably amazing how interesting people-watching could be.
At the end of my 4 days in Loire Valley, I packed my bag and left for Bordeaux, drunk and tipsy from all the chateau visits. I was quite sure I even burped chateaus throughout my train ride 😛
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Europe was to witness firsthand all the tall, beautiful, and magnificent castles I could only dream of previously from storybooks and history lessons. Loire Valley had just helped me strike off one objective of my trip 🙂