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Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Europe Trip: Bonjour, Paris!

It was supposed to be Dublin instead of Paris. Originally, as I wanted to depart from Liverpool in order to get the passport stamp of John Lennon airport, I was actually thinking about Ireland as our destination then. Perhaps we could just go there, doing nothing but enjoying a pint of Guinness in the evening and, if we were lucky, may be we could meet our favorite writer, Sinéad Moriarty. However, my wife said Paris would be a better choice. She was okay to go to Liverpool with me, so it was only fair that I accompanied her to Paris, too.

Once confirmed that we were going to Paris, we needed to apply for Schengen visa. This is the visa required for us to enter Schengen area, which is the subset of EU. Don't take my words for it, though. You better read the fine print to ensure that you can actually enter the country that you'd like to go, haha. Anyway, since we were going to Paris, the application had to be submitted at the French embassy. After filling up the UK visa application form, this felt just like a piece of cake.

Oh, talk about UK, we planned to go to Paris by Eurostar train from London. This meant we had to obtain UK visa first before proceeding with Schengen visa. Apparently we had to purchase the train tickets and hotel voucher beforehand as part of the required documents. I didn't have them during the submission, so the documents were attached to email and sent later on the same day, right after I booked them.

Eurostar departs from Saint Pancras railway station in London. Both UK and EU checkpoints are located there, so by the time we got into the waiting room, technically we already left UK and entered the Euro zone. There was no further checking when we reached Gare du Nord in Paris. It was roughly a two-hour ride and we didn't get to see anything when it traveled under the sea. I thought it would be quite a view and probably we could catch a glimpse of a whale swimming above the train, but no, all I could see was the ceiling and and the wall of the tunnel.

Paris was certainly different. It wasn't very welcoming, if you asked what my first impression was. Could be due to the language barrier, I guess. The fact that there were gun-toting soldiers patrolling around only amplified the sense of insecurity that I already had (prior to the visit, I had lunch with Christophe, a French man in Singapore, and he had cautioned me to always look around and be careful). On a hindsight, though, it wasn't that bad. Paris has its fair share of problems, but not without its charm.

From Gare du Nord, we went to Rome station by taking the rapid transit system called Paris Métro. We stayed at Hotel Cervantes, a tiny but decent hotel between Europe and Rome. A very strategic location! On the first day we were there, we walked from the hotel to Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. We explored the city purely by intuition, without any help from Google Map, and after some time, suddenly we were in the midst of Asian looking crowd. It was quite a surprise to me as I certainly didn't expect this unusual sight in Europe. I found the answer when I looked across street. So the story of the Chinese invading the branded stuff was real after all.

At the junction.

The first destination on the following day was Champs-Élysées (only God knows how to read the word, so I resorted to my own pronunciation in Bahasa Indonesia: cam-di-u-li-si). It was grand, really, a straight and long stretching avenue, with Arc de Triomphe at one end and Obelisk of Luxor at the other. We had a detour to Eiffel Tower from there. We covered quite a distance, but the weather was fine and the scenery was beautiful, so it was worth it.

I had this strange encounter nearby the tunnel where Princess Diana had a deadly car accident, though. There was this young girl who forced me to sign something on a paper. I remember reading this sort of scam before (yeah, I do read the Stay Safe section after the Bangkok incident), so I told her no and walked away. Around noon time, we alighted at Bourse station to meet my Parisian friends. In a city with a language so alien to me, it was good to see some familiar faces and speak English again. We collected our Paris Pass and began our Big Bus city tour afterwards.

Stopped for wefie as we approached Eiffel tower.

Let's talk a bit about Paris Pass. It has the Big Bus city tour that was good for a day (remember Quasimodo? The bus would bring you to Notre-Dame) and on top of that, you got a boat ride cruising River Seine (this, in our case, was a bit redundant as we already walked along the riverside earlier that day). The pass also allowed us to access many museums, but it's important to note that I was oblivious to how big a museum in Europe could be. The Louvre was so huge that after Mona Lisa and some other paintings that I ever heard of, I got sick of it and looked for the exit door instead. In the end, it was the train ticket that was the most useful among all. Free rides for two days was not a shabby deal for frequent commuters.

At the pyramid.

We also visited the Versailles. It was a small town, but I remember being impressed by its peaceful atmosphere as we walked from the train station to the Palace. Now, I'm not a royal family and the only exposures I had about castles and palaces were the Grand Palace in Bangkok and Kraton of Yogyakarta, but Château de Versailles was nothing like what I ever saw before. It was a beautiful, gigantic palace with a garden that was bigger than the Palace itself, so big that I couldn't see where it ended. As I stepped into the Palace and saw how the rooms were kept intact as they used to be, I couldn't help thinking about those who had lived there in the past, the people that I only read in history books before, including the infamous Marie Antoinette. It was breathtaking, a fine legacy from a bygone era that shows how brilliant their civilisation was. 

It was also at Versailles that I noticed how different the western omelette was. I immediately regretted ordering spaghetti when I saw it being served at the next table. It looked good and came with a generous portion! Being a big fan of fried rice, I thought the food in Europe would be challenging, but I was surprised by how well I could adjust. The French menu didn't really have anything with rice, alright, but their food was good. Their salad was good, their AAAAA sausage was good (I was thinking that sausage with a lot of 'A's couldn't go wrong) and their omelette, which I finally ordered at a cafe nearby Moulin Rouge, was delicious.

The garden inside Château de Versailles.

Moulin Rouge was the last tourist spot we visited, although we didn't enter it as we preferred to have our dinner instead. As we walked back to our hotel, I remember what Christophe told me and he was right. Paris was not much difference than Singapore in the sense that we could walk around from one spot to another. If we were only a few stations away from our destination, walking was the better option because not only we'd see how beautiful (or dirty, depending on which direction we turned to) Paris was, but it would also mean cost-saving (once again, let's not forget that everything here is charged in Euro).

The next morning, as the price was reasonable, we engaged the service of Hotel Cervantes to arrange for an airport pick up for us. We traveled to airport at dawn, when Paris was still glimmering. That was the last time I saw Paris, the city of lights. We eventually flew from Charles de Gaulle airport to Liverpool...

The Parisians!

Perjalanan Ke Eropa: Paris

Awalnya saya ingin ke Dublin, bukan Paris. Rencana saya adalah berangkat dari Liverpool ke negara lain, supaya saya bisa mendapat cap paspor di bandara John Lennon. Saat itu saya berpikir bahwa tujuan berikutnya adalah Irlandia. Mungkin kami bisa ke sana, bersantai menikmati segelas bir hitam Guinness dan jika beruntung, siapa tahu kami bisa bertemu dengan penulis favorit kami, Sinéad Moriarty. Akan tetapi istri saya merasa bahwa Paris merupakan pilihan yang lebih cocok. Karena dia bersedia untuk menemani saya ke Liverpool, jadi saya pun menuruti permintaannya untuk ke Paris. 

Setelah kami menetapkan Paris sebagai tempat tujuan, kami pun mengajukan aplikasi visa Schengen. Ini adalah visa yang diperlukan untuk mengunjungi daerah Schengen, bagian dari Uni Eropa. Untuk jelasnya, mungkin anda perlu cek sendiri visa yang anda butuhkan bila ke Eropa. Karena tujuan kami adalah Paris, aplikasinya dilakukan di Kedutaan Besar Perancis. Setelah apa yang dilalui untuk visa Inggris, visa ke Paris ini tergolong gampang.  

Oh, bicara tentang Inggris, kami pergi ke Paris menggunakan kereta Eurostar dari London. Ini artinya kami harus memperoleh visa Inggris sebelum memohon visa Schengen. Prasyarat yang dibutuhkan ternyata mencakup tiket kereta dan bukti pemesanan kamar hotel. Saya belum memilikinya saat mengajukan aplikasi, namun dokumennya bisa menyusul lewat email.

Di St. Pancras, London, saat menanti keberangkatan ke Paris.

Eurostar berangkat dari stasiun St. Pancras di London. Loket imigrasi Inggris dan Perancis berada di sana, jadi setelah kita melewati keduanya dan masuk ke ruang tunggu, kita sudah terhitung meninggalkan Inggris dan masuk ke zona Eropa. Tidak ada pemeriksaan lebih lanjut lagi ketika kita tiba di stasiun Gare du Nord di Paris. Lamanya perjalanan kira-kira dua jam, namun tidak ada yang bisa dilihat saat kereta menyeberangi Selat Inggris. Saya mengira kita bisa melihat paus berenang di atas kereta, tapi terowongan bawah laut itu bukan terbuat dari kaca.

Paris terasa beda suasananya. Entah kenapa ada kesan kurang ramah. Mungkin karena kendala bahasa, saya kira. Fakta bahwa kita sering menjumpai beberapa prajurit yang membawa senapan mesin dan patroli di jalan juga menambah kesan was-was (sebelum berangkat, saya sempat makan siang dengan Christophe, orang Perancis yang saya kenal, dan dia sudah mewanti-wanti bahwa saya harus senantiasa berhati-hati selama di Paris). Setelah saya lihat kembali sekarang, Paris memang kurang aman, tapi tidak berarti sama sekali tidak menyenangkan. 

Dari Gare du Nord, kita ke stasiun Rome dengan menaiki sistem transportasi kereta Paris Métro. Kita tinggal di Hotel Cervantes, sebuah hotel kecil yang terletak antara stasiun Europe and Rome. Lokasinya sangat strategis! Di hari pertama, kita berjalan dari hotel ke Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. Kita berjalan berdasarkan insting dan tanpa bantuan Google Map. Setelah beberapa saat lamanya, tiba-tiba saja kita berada di tengah-tengah orang Asia. Saya terkejut karena kita sedang berada di Eropa. Setelah saya lihat ke  seberang, barulah saya temukan jawabannya. Jadi cerita bahwa orang-orang Cina yang memborong barang bermerek di Paris bukanlah dongeng belaka.

Pagi hari di Champs-Élysées.

Keesokan harinya, kami menuju ke Champs-Élysées (hanya Tuhan yang tahu bagaimana membaca nama jalan ini, jadi saya menggunakan lafal Indonesia: cam-di-u-li-si). Jalan ini bukan saja megah, tapi juga benar-benar lurus, dengan Arc de Triomphe di satu sisi dan Obelisk Luxor di ujung lain. Dari Arc de Triomphe, kami memutar sedikit ke menara Eiffel Tower. Perjalanannya cukup jauh, tapi cuacanya bagus dan pemandangannya pun indah, jadi tidak masalah.

Ada satu kejadian aneh saat saya berada di dekat terowongan dimana Putri Diana mengalami kecelakaan tragis. Ada seorang gadis muda yang memaksa saya menandatangani surat. Saya ingat bahwa saya pernah membaca penipuan seperti ini sebelumnya (oh ya, saya pastikan membaca bagian Stay Safe di setelah insiden di Bangkok), jadi saya katakan tidak padanya dan pergi meninggalkannya. Menjelang siang, kita turun di stasiun Bourse untuk bertemu dua kenalan Perancis yang bekerja di Paris. Di kota dimana bahasanya terdengar aneh di telinga saya, senang rasanya bisa bertemu dengan wajah-wajah yang saya kenal dan berbahasa Inggris lagi. Setelah makan siang, kami pergi mengambil Paris Pass dan mulai keliling kota dengan Big Bus. 

Saat mengunjungi gereja Notre-Dame.

Mari berbicara sedikit tentang Paris Pass. Kartu ini mencakup tur keliling kota dengan Big Bus yang berlaku untuk satu hari (ingat Quasimodo? Bis ini akan membawa kita singgah ke Notre-Dame) dan selain itu, kita juga bisa naik kapal untuk menikmati Sungai Seine (walaupun hal ini terasa seperti déjà vu karena saya dan istri baru saja berjalan menyusui tepi sungai di pagi hari). Kartu ini juga menyertakan akses gratis ke berbagai museum, tapi perlu diingat bahwa museum di Eropa itu besar dan ekstensif koleksinya. Louvre sangat luas dan setelah melihat Mona Lisa dan beberapa lukisan lain yang pernah saya dengar, saya menyerah dan mencari pintu keluar. Pada akhirnya, yang paling berguna itu justru karcis Métro. Bagi yang sering menaiki kereta, karcis gratis selama dua hari lumayan bermanfaat.

Kami juga berkunjung ke Versailles. Ternyata ini nama sebuah kota kecil dimana istana terkenal itu berada. Suasananya terasa damai. Sebelum saya sampai ke istana, pengalaman saya sejauh ini hanyalah istana di Bangkok dan Keraton di Yogya, tapi Château de Versailles melebihi apa yang pernah saya lihat sebelumnya. Istana ini besar dan tamannya bahkan lebih luas lagi, bagaikan tak berujung. Ketika saya berada di dalam, saya bisa melihat bagaimana setiap ruangan masih tertata rapi, membuat saya berpikir tentang orang-orang yang dulunya tinggal di sana, termasuk Marie Antoinette. Sungguh menakjubkan, sebuah warisan dari era yang telah lampau, yang menunjukkan seperti apa kehidupan bangsawan itu sebenarnya.

Di kota Versailles. 

Saat berada Versailles, saya juga mengamati betapa telur omelet mereka terlihat lezat dan berbeda. Begitu saya melihat omelet yang dipesan oleh orang di meja sebelah, saya langsung menyesal karena telah memesan spaghetti. Pesanannya terlihat menggiurkan dan besar porsinya!

Sebagai penggemar nasi goreng, saya sempat mengira bahwa makanan Eropa akan susah diterima, tetapi saya terkejut sendiri saat menyadari bahwa saya ternyata bisa menyesuaikan diri. Menu Perancis mungkin tidak disertai nasi, tapi makanan mereka terasa sedap. Salad mereka enak, dosis AAAAA mereka juga enak (dari sejak awal saya berpikir bahwa menu dengan banyak huruf A harusnya terjamin kualitasnya), telur omelet mereka, yang akhirnya saya coba di kafe di dekat Moulin Rouge, pun enak!

Moulin Rouge adalah tempat turis terakhir yang kami kunjungi, namun kami berbalik arah dan menuju ke kafe untuk makan malam. Setelah itu, dalam perjalanan kembali ke hotel, saya jadi ingat apa yang Christophe ceritakan pada saya. Paris tidak berbeda jauh dengan Singapura dalam konteks pejalan kaki. Destinasi dari satu titik ke titik lain bisa ditempuh dengan berjalan kaki, bukan saja karena dekat jaraknya, tetapi juga karena kita bisa menikmati pemandangan sekitar dan juga berhemat (jangan lupa bahwa semua pengeluaran di sini dibayar dalam mata uang Euro).

Keesokan paginya, karena harganya yang terjangkau dan masuk akal, kita menggunakan transportasi hotel untuk ke bandara. Saat itu hari masih gelap dan Paris masih bermandikan cahaya lampu, persis seperti juluka yang disandangnya. Setelah itu kita akhirnya terbang dari bandara Charles de Gaulle airport ke Liverpool...

Di bandara Charles de Gaulle, sesaat sebelum berangkat ke Liverpool.

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