This is my rant from a year ago today (September 24, 2014) about how most Europeans seem to treat their countries like an ashtray and a urinal. We encountered this behavior mostly in France, Spain and Italy.
Note: There are No Pictures with This Post
You’ll notice the lack of pictures with this post. Considering the subject matter, trust me, it wouldn’t be pretty.
We have found it very odd that most Europeans seem slim, fit and health-conscious, yet, on the other hand, a large majority of them smoke.
Treating Europe Like an Ashtray
Not only do an inordinate number of Europeans seem to smoke, and a lot of them chain smoke, but they don’t seem to care about disposing of their cigarette butts properly. Just dropping them on the ground – or the beach – or the sidewalk – or in the street – seems to be the method of choice.
Do they not see that this makes the entire place look like a massive ashtray?
It seemed almost everywhere we went, in Spain, Italy or France, we couldn’t escape the huge number of cigarette butts – everywhere!
Thankfully, cigarette smoking is no longer allowed on buses in Europe. On this visit, we took several, long bus journeys and would not have been able to stand it if they had allowed smoking on the buses.
And don’t get in the way of a smoker when the bus stops for a break, they’re likely to run you over in their rush to get their next fix. They often exit the bus with a cigarette already in their mouth and a lighter in hand, before they are even fully off the bus.
There didn’t seem to be any particular age group that was so hooked. Both young and old were held hostage to this filthy habit.
It’s not that there aren’t any smokers in North America. Of course there are, but it is really rare to see cigarette butts littering the streets, parks, beaches, etc. Europe, on the other hand, seems like one large ashtray.
When we stopped at a small beach restaurant to enjoy a couple of beers, the waiter was serving food while a lit cigarette dangled from his mouth. Amazing!
One of the exceptions we noted in Europe was Paris. It’s a beautifully clean city, but they work very hard to keep it that way.
Treating Europe Like a Urinal
The other thing that made us wonder about Europeans, in general, was their lack of outrage at public urination.
Many times during our travels we saw men (yes, it was always men – easier for them, I guess), urinating in public – either at the side of the road, next to a tree, in a public park, you name it, we saw it all. But, besides that, even when urinals are provided they are often built so that the occupants are visible to passersby – and that was even in Paris!
While we’re on the subject of public urination, let’s talk about the overabundance of pet poop. While we saw many people doing the “stoop and scoop” thing and cleaning up after their pets, they were the exception and not the rule.
While we were staying in Spain, we had to avoid way too much dog poop on our morning and evening walks. And dog poop deposited directly on the walking paths – right in the way!
I guess one person thought they were “cleaning up” by placing a paper towel over the pile of poop and then just walking away!
Animals at Restaurants
While I’m on a rant, maybe it’s time to mention the number of people that bring their pets, usually dogs, to restaurants.
Okay, maybe at an outdoor café it’s not too bad, but some of these people, with smaller dogs, would put them on their laps and even on the tables!
Are there no health codes for restaurants in Europe?
A year ago today, August 11, 2014, was our first, and only, full day in Paris.
Our First – And Only – Full Day in Paris
With the frustrations of actually getting here quickly fading in our memories, we looked forward to the only full day we would spend in Paris.
Before we get started, we’d like to tell you a little bit about the hotel – the Luxor Bastille, with the wonderful manager, that waited until nearly 2:00am for us to arrive.
Traveling through Europe, one of the things that we most noticed is that almost everything is small – houses, kitchens, hotel rooms, etc. But our hotel took “small” to a whole new level. And this was apparent starting with the elevator before we even got to our room.
So, how small was the elevator? Well, we couldn’t both use it at the same time. As a matter of fact, neither of us could fit in it alone with all our luggage. What we had to do was, one of us took the elevator to our floor and then sent the elevator back down. Then the luggage was loaded into the elevator, the button pressed, and the luggage took the ride alone. The one at our floor removed the luggage from the elevator and sent it back down. Then, the one still on the ground floor got on the elevator for the ride up to our floor.
It was the only way in such a tiny elevator. Really.
When we opened the door to our room the “small” theme continued. While the room was small and basic, it was clean, comfortable and all we really needed, not to mention one of the best deals in Paris (yes, we did our research).
The bathroom did not disappoint on the “small” theme, either. Or, should we call it compact or an efficient use of space? Whatever description is used, the bathroom, though fully equipped, was definitely tiny and the bathtub, if you could call it that, was really just a deep shower base. Trying to actually take a bath in it would be futile.
Almost as a joke, I stuffed myself into the bathtub and there was almost no room left for water and my knees were up at my chin! Truly, I don’t think it was meant for actual bathing at all, just a receptacle for the shower water. But it added to the enjoyment of our Paris adventure.
Aside from price (we got another screaming deal at €68.00/night), one of the other reasons we chose the hotel we did was because of its convenient location. It was in the Bastille district, close to the Seine, close to Notre Dame and close to the Gare de Lyon. The proximity to Gare de Lyon meant we wouldn’t have to take a cab the next day to catch our train to Lyon as it would only be a 10-minute walk.
As we were only spending one full day in Paris, we wanted to be sure to pack in as much as we could. Anxious to begin our day, we grabbed a quick coffee and headed for the Seine, only a couple minutes walk away. (Yes, of course, I had printed out some Google maps so we, hopefully, wouldn’t get lost.) We thought that maybe we’d pick up a pastry or something once we got to the Eiffel Tower.
We had hoped to get the BatoBus (a hop on, hop off boat service plying the River Seine) from somewhere along the Seine, to the Eiffel Tower. That was the plan. But plans, when traveling, are always fluid, whether you want them to be or not. And this was one of those time.
We did come across a BatoBus stop on our walk along the banks of the Seine, heading in the general direction of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the boats did not begin running until 10:00am.
That wouldn’t do, as we had an appointment for a tour of the Eiffel Tower booked for 10:45am. So, that didn’t leave us nearly enough time. And, aside from that, why would we want to just wait at a hop on station when we could be exploring? So, we carried on.
As we walked we realized that we would need to gain much more speed in order to get to the Eiffel Tower with time to spare to find our tour group. So we decided to ask for some directions and suggestions as to local transit so we didn’t have to enlist the services of a taxi cab.
We noticed during our walk that there were security forces everywhere – very well-armed security forces. A little intimidating, really, but all too understandable for a city like Paris.
We approached one group and, much to our relief, one of them spoke English. We told him we needed to get to the Eiffel Tower and didn’t have the time to walk all the way, from where we currently were.
He took out his cell phone and did a Google search for the best local transit option. He found the bus we would need and where the nearest stop way. But, he didn’t stop there. He actually walked with us to the appropriate bus stop, reminded us of the bus number we would need and then wished us adieu.
We are pretty certain that, without his help, we may not have found our way to the Eiffel Tower in a timely manner. Local transit from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower was not something that I had researched because I thought we could take the BatoBus. I guess I didn’t research that option well enough or I would have known that the service didn’t start until 10:00am.
Oh, well, all part of the adventure and we wouldn’t have met the amazingly helpful and friendly security guard!
Bus to the Eiffel Tower
We caught the #72 bus at the Hotel de Ville (city hall), for a cost of €3,00 (for both of us) and headed off to the Eiffel Tower.
Along the way, we passed The Louvre (we weren’t going to have time to visit on this trip) and Pont Neuf (and we would visit that after our tour).
First Look at the Eiffel Tower
I’ve got to admit that I did not realize just how big the Eiffel Tower actually was. Nor did I know that the Champs de Mars (a roadway) runs right underneath it.
We had arrived in plenty of time to find out where our tour met and that gave us the opportunity to wander around for a while and also to take the requisite “selfie” in front of the tower.
Our wandering around also included several encounters with souvenir vendors and food vendors as well.
I’m sure you’ve all heard that the food in Paris is very expensive, whether it’s from a street vendor or in a restaurant. And you know what, it’s true!
After checking out what was on offer from the various vendors, and the prices, we decide our hunger could wait and, after our tour, we’d hunt down a grocery store rather than pay such ridiculous prices.
Remember – we’re cheap frugal!
Decision made, we headed off to join our tour group.
Waiting for Our Tour Guide
We had booked our tour online, from Canada. When we were ready to book, we thought we had left ourselves lots of time. Apparently not.
Even though we book many weeks in advance, the tour was almost booked up. As a matter of fact, our order was put in “pending” until the could confirm there was room for us on the day we wanted, at the time we wanted. But within 24 hours of booking, they confirmed our reservation. Phew!
So here we were, tickets in hand, waiting for our tour guide.
Not Just the Eiffel Tower
Our tour included much more than just the Eiffel Tower. Our guide explained a lot of the history of the tower as well as guiding us through a radio/military bunker, very close to the tower, that was used during World War II.
We also got to see the inner workings of the tower including some of the hydraulic pistons and cables that run the elevators and inclinators.
However, for me, one of the best parts of the tour was that our guide kept changing character as we went through different eras, including costume changes that were accomplished with little to no disruption of the tour. Some of his characters included a WW II aviator and a worker during the building of the Eiffel Tower.
He would simply say he was called away for various reasons and would return as a new character. It was very well done and we would recommend the tour to anyone.
Final Stop of the Tour
Our tour included the cost of getting to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and that’s where our guide said his farewells.
There is an amazing view of Paris from the second floor and we took the time to take it all in.
We chose not to go all the way up to the third platform of the Eiffel Tower as the line up was very, very long and we were getting a bit tired of standing as the tour had been over 1-1/2 hours long.
We decided to check out the restaurants on both the second platform and the first platform. If you think restaurant prices are high in Paris, then you certainly wouldn’t want to eat here – and we didn’t. Although the restaurant on the first platform is slightly cheaper than the one on the second.
We made our way back down to the ground via one of the inclinators and there were people there to make sure that there was no wasted space and packed us in like sardines!
It may have been the end of the tour but it was really only the beginning of our day in Paris and we still had so much more to pack in.
We mentioned that BatoBus and its route early in this post, so we won’t do it again here. However, one stop is pretty close to the base of the Eiffel Tower and that’s where we decided to purchase our tickets.
While the line up for purchasing the tickets wasn’t too bad, the line waiting for the next boat was huge!
The boats arrived either every 10 or every 20 minutes depending on who you asked. We waited for a bit for the first one to arrive, and we didn’t make it on that one because of the size of the line up. The wait after that one left was at least 15 minutes before the next one came into view.
Fortunately, we made it on that one and were very glad to just sit for a bit. Since we left our hotel this morning we’d walked a fair distance before getting a bus to the Eiffel Tower, then we walked around the general area for about an hour before our tour started. The tour as over 1-1/2 hours long, then we lined up for our BatoBus tickets and then to get a seat on a Batobus. Yes, we were very glad to sit down for a while.
We were also lucky to get a seat on the Batobus. There were several people that had to stand.
So, in order to get a bit of a rest, we decided to stay on the boat for most of the circuit, which included eight stops. Leaving from the Eiffel Tower stop, the stops were:
Jardin Des Plantes
Hôtel De Ville
and then back to the Eiffel Tower
We chose to stay on the boat all the way to the Champs-Elysées.
As we walked along the Champs-Elysées we began to wish we had a lot more time in Paris. We were discovering that it was a beautiful city, with clean wide streets and amazing architecture. We certainly hope to come back again soon and spend more time.
As we slowly drifted towards the Arc de Triomphe we soaked in the sights and sounds and marveled at the mix of restaurants, fashion houses, stores, fast food joints (unfortunately) and even a Toyota car dealership – yes! – right on the Champs-Elysées.
But, before going all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, our tummies began to remind us that it had been quite a while since we’d last eaten. As mentioned previously, Paris restaurants are notoriously expensive and, on the Champs-Elysées – well – you can imagine.
Lucky for us, we noticed what we believed to be a grocery just down one of the side-streets and we decided to investigate.
Sure enough, the sign we had noticed that said MonoPrix was definitely a grocery store. We grabbed a small basket and began to look around.
It’s probably not a good idea to wander around a grocery store, with so many appealing items, when you’re hungry. But, that’s exactly what we were doing. All the while saying things like “Oh, look at this!” or “Wow, that looks good.” or “Mmmmm – pastry.”
In the end, knowing that we really didn’t want to be carrying groceries around Paris, we managed to be very conservative and only buy a wonderfully fresh and crusty baguette, a small portion of some lovely cheese and a small bottle of milk. It was all we really needed.
And, besides, we netted yet another cheap unique souvenir – a MonoPrix grocery bag!
Al fresco lunch in hand, we found the perfect place to sit on the wall of an underground garage ramp and happily people-watched as we at our lunch.
Arc de Triomphe
While eating our lunch, we could see the Arc de Triomphe from where we sat. As a matter of fact, you can see it from almost anywhere along the Champs-Elysées. And, that was our next stop.
Dodging Parisienne Drivers
Another thing we didn’t know – the Arc de Triomphe sits in the middle of a very large, very busy roundabout. How odd, we thought, and just shrugged our shoulders.
Before trying to cross the traffic, we attempted to take a selfie from the middle of the Champs-Elysées. Not quite as mad as it sounds. However, you can just barely see a piece of it behind us.
While traffic was whizzing by us, in both directions, there was a small (very small) island in the middle of the road for those that couldn’t get all the way across before the lights changed. And, that’s where we stood to take a selfie.
From the same vantage point, we took the picture posted here. However, it really doesn’t do it justice as to how busy this roundabout really is.
Mad Dash Across the Roundabout
We’re pleased to say that we are still here to tell the tale of our mad dash across the roundabout to get to the Arc de Triomphe. There were a few scary moments, and a lot of beeping and screeching of tires, that we thought we might not be. I believe there were a few choice phrases hurled our way as well, but we weren’t able to understand them – probably just as well.
Once across the roundabout, we saw a staircase to an underground walkway and realized that this was the proper way to get to and from the Arc de Triomphe. No wonder the drivers in the roundabout hadn’t been very happy with us. Dumb tourists!
We also discovered that there was a way to get to the top of the Arc. We’re sure it would have been a lovely view, but it was kind of an expensive thing to do (€9.50 each) and the budget was telling us, either do that or have dinner. Needless to say, dinner won.
Back to the BatoBus
We walked back down the Champs-Elysées to the BatoBus stop at Pont Neuf and, once again, had to wait for the second boat as there were already more people waiting than would fit on the first boat to arrive.
As a “hop on, hop off” service, this wasn’t working very well for us with all the waiting we had to do at each stop.
The plan was to stop at Notre Dame, but by this time we were both very tired from a long and busy day.
Once we got on a boat, it started to rain very heavily and the window above our seat was completely open and we couldn’t find a way to close it. We vacated our seats so that we didn’t get drenched and stood for quite a while waiting for dry seats to free up.
Headed Back to Our Hotel
Exhaustion was setting in and we decided to forego a stop at Notre Dame and just head back to our hotel and decide where we would have dinner.
We stayed on the BatoBus to the Hôtel de Ville stop – the closest stop to our hotel – and began the walk back to our hotel. It rained a little more and we took shelter under a bridge for a time and then carried on.
Stopping for Dinner
While walking back to our hotel, we checked out the menus of each café we passed and one in particular caught our eye.
The menu had Steak de Thon (tuna steak) with Riz Sauvage (wild rice) and the price seemed reasonable – for Paris, anyway. The price was €14.50. Really not bad considering on the Champs-Elysées a hamburger was €16.00!
At first we thought we’d go back to the hotel to clean up and then come back to this restaurant but, when we realized it was already 8:00pm, we decided to just turn around and have our meal at this restaurant. It was a lovely meal.
Once back at our hotel, Geoff soaked his tired feet in our tiny tub and when he was done, I tried to fit all of me in the tub. Kind of comical really, but the warm water did help ease the aches and pains from all the standing and walking we did.
In for the Night and Off to Lyon Tomorrow
Given that we were both so tired from the amazing day we had, we made the decision that we were now in for the night.
We also knew that we would be able to sleep in, slightly, the next morning as are train to Lyon the next day didn’t leave until 11:00am, from the Gare de Lyon, which was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
We did as much packing as we could and then just relaxed and had an early night.
A year ago today (August 10, 2014), we took a bus, MegaBus to be exact, from London to Paris. It was a trip we were certainly looking forward to but things did not go exactly as planned. Read on!
Deal of the Century?
Before we get started, I’d like to brag, just a little, about the screaming deal we got on our tickets for this London to Paris journey.
As you know, we always do a lot of research for any trip we take and that included the cheapest most economical way to get from London to Paris.
While doing this research we came upon MegaBus who, as you may or may not know, is a master at offering a few seats at ridiculously low prices – just a few, mind you. But, you have to know when the tickets are first offered and you have to be quick on the draw.
I had been watching their site for a while, waiting for our date to come up. And, when it did, I pounced! I snagged us two tickets to Paris for the TOTAL price of £10.50! That was £5.00/each and a 50p online booking fee. When I checked their site again, just an hour later, the same seats were now £40.00/each.
I was so blown away by the deal we got that I actually called MegaBus to confirm that the price actually included BOTH of us AND our luggage and that the total amount was correct. They assured me it was correct and congratulated us on the deal we got.
How Were We Going to Take a Bus to Paris?
Well, when booking this trip, it was not clear exactly how the bus was going to get to Paris. We knew there were two choices, the Chunnel or the Ferry. We had no idea which way we would be going and figured, either way, it would be an adventure.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, so let’s get back to the beginning of this day’s adventure.
Up Very, Very Early
In order to get to London in time to catch our bus, we determined that we had to take the 7:30am train leaving from Longfield.
We packed as much as we could the night before and set the alarm to give us enough time to have a shower and a light breakfast.
Much to our delight, one of the people we had met during our stay offered to drive us to the train station. That meant we didn’t have to worry about calling a cab. And, true to his word, he was ready and waiting for us in plenty of time to get us to the station.
I am quite certain that the instructions on our tickets said to be at the station two hours before departure. As our scheduled departure was 10:30am, that meant, of course, we were expected to be there by 8:30am. And, we were pretty much on time.
However, when we tried to check in, we were told that the check in process for the Paris bus would not begin until 9:30am. What? That was only an hour before. The clerk just shrugged her shoulders and told us to come back at 9:30.
Chaos at Victoria Coach Station
Any other experiences we’ve had with using Victoria Coach Station have been somewhat disorganized but, for some reason, today was downright chaotic and extremely overcrowded.
We were being jostled and bumped into on a regular basis and finding any place to sit appeared to be an exercise in futility.
There were no clear lines for any of the scheduled buses, no consistent use of gate numbers and any announcements were, to our ears anyway, too garbled to comprehend.
Scheduled Departure Time Came and Went
After checking in at the appropriate time, we once again settled in to wait – as much as we could, anyway. The crowds just kept growing and no one seemed to be leaving. We’re amazed that tempers weren’t flaring at this point, but most people, though disgruntled, were keeping their cool.
When our scheduled departure time came and went, we went back to the ticket clerk to get an update. We were told there was a delay but they couldn’t be specific as to how long the delay would be.
Bicycle Race Through London
After talking with fellow travelers we discovered that, of all days, today there was a London-wide bicycle race and most of the major thoroughfares were closed off with lots of detours causing lots of road congestion. Wonderful!
But we remained hopeful that we would get on our way soon and get to Paris at a reasonable time. Silly us.
Finally on Our Way – Sort Of
After a more than two-hour delay, we finally were directed to our bus. It didn’t pull up to one of the gates. We were lead to our bus, parked a few yards away from the terminal.
And, we had to be paying attention to the muffled announcements and the constantly changing gate information or we could have easily still been waiting!
When we finally pulled away from the station, within just a few feet, the bus stalled. Our driver promptly restarted the bus only to have it stall again after only another few feet.
At this point, a collective groan issued from most of the passengers and the driver, also, seemed frustrated and annoyed.
Thankfully, after the third restart, the bus remained running and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Missed Our Appointment on the Chunnel Train
Because of the delays, we had, apparently, missed our bus’s scheduled appointment for our spot on the Chunnel train. The driver had no choice but to wait until we were rescheduled for another available spot.
He had no idea when that might be so we were cautioned not to venture too far from the bus in case we got a spot and had to move quickly. When he did finally get notified of our appointment, it was almost a two-hour wait.
We were beginning to get concerned about when we would actually make it to Paris. We knew that the hotel we had booked did not have a 24-hour front desk.
Loading the Bus on the Chunnel Train
Never having experienced the trip through the Chunnel, we were uncertain as to what to expect. Would we all have to exit the bus and, perhaps, pick up another bus when we arrived in France?
We were assured by the driver that this bus would take us all the way to Paris.
We watched in fascination as we approached the train and other cars, trucks, campers vans and more loaded before we did.
The train cars are huge! And our bus didn’t even take up an entire train car. We’re still in awe of how they were loaded in the first place, just driving on from the station platform onto the train. I was certain there was no way that our bus was going to make it.
But, of course, it did. All I can say is I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving. It would have seriously freaked me out.
Check out this video of our bus getting loaded into the train car and being unloaded in France.
Welcome to France
A mere 35 minutes later we were in France and the whole unloading exercise went without a hitch and was totally efficient.
It’s obvious that they do this several times a day and they certainly have it down to a science.
No Customs or Immigration
We have marveled before at how there are no customs or immigration requirements as we traveled throughout the EU. We simply got on the train in the UK and got off in France. And, it would be like that the whole time. And we would travel through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark and even Malta, Tunisia and The Azores (Portugal).
Are We There Yet?
Now that we were finally in France (already well past the time we should have already been in Paris), we assumed that we would make a bee-line to Paris and attempt to make up some of the lost time. Sadly, making up the time, did not appear to be a priority.
Only a short distance into France, we pulled off into a gas station. Because of all the delays, our driver had used up his allotted time for that day and we would need a replacement driver, who was waiting for us at this gas station.
The hand-off was relatively quick and painless, but it was still another delay.
At our next stop, Boulogne, we dropped off one of the passengers at the designated stop. However, after that, we made another stop – still in Boulogne – to pick up another passenger and to drop off our previous driver.
And, as if we weren’t already late enough, we then made an unscheduled detour to drop off the person we had picked up in Boulogne. No idea why we needed to do that, or why it was even allowed.
Lights on the Horizon
From then on, each time we saw lights on the horizon we hoped that maybe, just maybe, we were approaching Paris.
Our hopes we dashed many times during the journey.
Welcome to Paris
At almost 1:00am, we FINALLY arrived in Paris. That was SEVEN hours late.
The original plan was to take a local bus to our hotel. We had, naturally, researched the local system and even knew which bus to take. It would take us about 30 minutes and get us very close to our hotel.
However, at this time in the morning, nothing appeared to be running. The “bus station” didn’t even appear to be a station, just a place where buses were parked.
Call to Our Hotel
We weren’t traveling with a cell phone on this trip so I asked our bus driver if we could borrow his cell phone so we could call our hotel to see if they were even still open. We knew they didn’t have a 24-hour front desk, but we had expected to arrive in Paris much, much earlier than this.
The driver was happy to let us use his phone, thank goodness.
We were ecstatic when someone actually picked up the phone and it took all of the French I know to get across where we were and to find out that the front desk clerk was just about to close up.
We promised we would get a cab right away and be there within half an hour, or so. He said he would wait if we didn’t take too long.
MegaBus Driver’s Promise
The driver promised us that MegaBus would reimburse us for the cost of the cab to get to our hotel as we had arrived so late.
Not only did MegaBus do that, they also refunded the cost of our tickets. Great customer service. We would definitely use them again as, we’re sure, these delays were a freak occurrence and out of their control.
Cab to Hotel
We had to do a little walking from the bus station to a busy corner in order to hail a cab, but we got one in short order, showed the driver the address of the hotel and arrived within the timeframe we had given the front desk clerk.
Happy to Check In
We were so happy to find that, true to his word, the clerk was indeed waiting for us. And, promptly locked up after he check us in.