Day 11 – Friday 1st July, 2005
So, after what still felt like another early wake up call, although it was probably only 7am (instead of the usual 6) we headed downstairs to the semi-free-for-all that was breakfast. At this point there was at least one other Contiki group staying in the hotel, with another set to arrive during the day. So breakfast wasn’t particularly organized, it was more a case of “Oh, I think that looks like a breakfast buffet, lets go eat there, see if anyone kicks us out and if anyone else shows up” … thankfully our guesses were correct and we were in the right breakfast room (the hotel was an Ibis chain one, quite large, about 7 or 8 floors I think, with a hundred or so rooms on each), as proven not only when other people from our tour (and the people who were clearly on the other Contiki tour) showed up, but Reuben showed up. Poor boy was eating alone. I don’t think any of the girls ever approached him for anything on the tour, even after Amanda told us he was single… not really sure why no one did anything, although I guess I can’t say for sure!
Anyway, breakfast wasn’t too bad that day, I still don’t think there was actually any hot food, but there was nice selection of croissants and other pastries, as well as the seemingly traditional European cheese and ham breakfast.
After that those of us who were going to the free demo (or just going to get dropped off) went to the car park and piled on the bus. I can’t remember what the free demo was, I have a feeling it could have been for a perfumery, but I don’t think most people went to it; we just used it as a drop off point because it was only a few blocks walk to the Louvre museum. There were probably about a dozen of us walking that way straight off the bus, but we split into groups naturally as we got separated by traffic lights and such things, but in the long run we all made it to the museum at pretty much the same time. Before we tried to head in, we ended up spread out among the courtyard, taking photos. As seemed to be the usual case, there were street dealers there who came up to us trying to sell us postcard packs and other souvenirs, Eiffel Towers, the usual sort of suspects. Someone started it by buying a pack of postcards that were 20 for only €1 or €2, and then the seller guy gave her a free Eiffel Tower key ring, so that kind of ended up encouraging the rest of us to buy some stuff, particularly me as I had to get Jaina a mini Eiffel Tower of some description, so that was a pretty damn cheap way of doing so!
We had pre-purchased museum day cards that Amanda had handed out the day before, so once we got there we knew we didn’t need to join the big queues, but we weren’t 100% sure where the entrance we were supposed to use was. I vaguely remembered Amanda pointing out a small entrance last night on the tour, so I convinced everyone we should take that door, and so we did. We got into the building ok, the problem then came trying to find the actual entrance to the museum in the maze of shops that were there. Eventually we did it, and then for us there was no line, we just grabbed some of the free maps and headed to the place where you go in and show tickets on the way, so we just waved our day cards and pretty much went right through.
Thankfully for us, the Mona Lisa is very well signed, and in English too, so we didn’t get lost trying to find it. Especially since they have something like 17km of hallways in there. So the group of us headed there first, especially Alison, Kirsten and I, as we weren’t really interested in seeing the rest of the art, we just wanted to see the painting to say we’d seen it.
It was naturally a popular exhibit, and took a little while to push to the front of where the painting actually was. It’s quite tiny, probably a foot high or so, and kind of very non- distinctive, for me anyway. Looks exactly like the ones that would come up if you did a search for it on the net. So I can now saw I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, and am not overly impressed, it’s just a painting. I don’t know, talk to someone who cares about art maybe. So after we’d seen that, Kirsten took some video of it because her photos were reflecting on the glass that covers it, we decided to leave. Not too much of challenge to get out to the main ticket area, but once again it was challenging when it came to finding our way out through the shops. But we made it, and went out the same place we came in. After that we had a quick stop on one of the park benches to have a look at the map and figure out which metro station we needed to get on and off at to make it to the Arc De Triomphe. After making our choice of metro line, walking to the station, getting confused as to which part was the entrance, we found our way to the ticket booth, at which point I managed to say, in French, “one metrocard please” … and even better than that, I told Alison and Kirsten what to say too, so we each bought our tickets, on our ‘own’ and in French.
So we did eventually make it to the Metro station that was closest to the Arc de Triomphe, and then just stood around for a few minutes while we figured out how we got under the traffic and up in the middle of the roundabout. After we managed to get under the road, we did temporarily end up in the line to buy tickets, but as we were all holding our museum cards, the guards saw that and redirected us to just go directly in. So we started walking up stairs. And this went on for at least 10 minutes. I tell ya, do not under any circumstances climb those stairs if you’re lazy, because if you are, it us just pure torture. None of us were talking as we were climbing; we were all just concentrating on not stopping and just getting to the top without wasting our breath. Eventually we made it to the indoor area at the top, which was mostly an exhibit, so we used that as an excuse to stop and catch our breath before going up the last few staircases to the open top.
It was only at that point we realized how high we’d climbed. There were awesome views of all the streets that end on the roundabout, and although we still used some of the time to catch our breath, we just wandered around at the top for quite some time, taking in the sights and also trying to see if we would see any crashed on the road below us!!! I tried to take a photo of the traffic but just holding my camera over the edge and pressing the shutter, but that didn’t work too well in the end, so I just deleted the photo. I think Kirsten ended up taking some video with her camera of the cars going around. After we’d seen the views all the way around the top, we decided to start making our way down, but we were held up by the guards when they decided to change the directions that people were coming up the stairs for some reason… so in the end we went back down the same staircase we came up. I have not the slightest idea why they decided to change that, but thankfully they didn’t take too long to change directions. I think while we were up on the roof there was some discussion among us about us all being hostages, but no, it turned out to be just changing the direction or the stairs that everyone used.
Then came the fun of walking down the stairs. The only thing that wasn’t painful about it was the fact that it wasn’t as hard on the muscles as it was going up. However it was painful on the head more than anything – it is so dizzying to walk in endless circles, to the point that you’re not sure where exactly you are putting your foot, but you keep going because if you break the rhythm, you’re likely to misstep and fall. After we’d made it down (without falling) we decided to take a break and let our heads stop spinning, so we sat underneath the Arc De Triomphe for a little while to recover, took the odd photo from underneath and just relaxed for the next few minutes.
We got up after a while and headed down to the underground passage under the road and over to the Champs Eleysees, where we stopped out of the way at the top of the road to take some photos of the Arc De Triomphe, although it was hard to get a clear photo because of all the people. By this time we were starting to get hungry, so we wanted to go find some lunch, but by this point we were all running out of money still, so we ended up going to Macca’s, first time I’d eaten that for a long time, and no matter which country we were in, it hadn’t changed or improved at all. But that’s what you get for being broke overseas!!!
After we’d finished lunch we headed back out on to the Champs Eleysess towards the perfume shop that Kirsten had been going on about for the past few days. We ended up spending a little while in there, as Kirsten was after a few specific perfumes, and Alison was after one as well. The staff we spoke to in the store were really helpful; they were practically personal shoppers for the things Kirsten was looking for. In the end I think she ended up spending about €100 or so on perfumes for herself and other people – which was really pretty good value as she was buying big brands, and not exactly the small bottles either. So compared to prices elsewhere, it was very cheap and I think she was really excited to have gotten so many perfumes for such a cheap price, even more so when we got to the checkout and she got a heap of free sample and even a couple of mirrors.
So after that batch of retail therapy, we kept heading down the Champs Elysees I think our next stop was in Gap (or one of those retail chains), where we spent another while shopping. We were going to buy some stuff, but we were getting pretty tired with walking by this point and when we couldn’t find a shirt to try on with the trousers we’d found, we threw in the towel and left the shop.
Just after coming out of the shop we ran into some of the other people from our tour – the group of girls from Sydney, I think it was. We talked to them for about 5 mins, showing off the perfume purchases and see where they’d been that day, then after keeping on walking for a few minutes down the street, we realized that we’d finished the shopping part of the street – the rest was mostly parklands. So we went right back the way we’d come and after sitting for a little while to figure out the maps, we caught a Metro over to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
We did get a little turned around when we’d gotten off of the Metro, but that was mostly because we followed an old sign that had been turned in the wrong direction. It wasn’t more than a small block’s detour until we found a sign that pointed the correct way, but we were still pretty tired after all this. But we did find the cathedral, and we were mostly glad that there were heaps of stone walls to sit on rather than to be glad that we’d made it there!! The Notre Dame was actually one of the many landmarks that was included on our day museum card, but as nice as it would have been to go inside, we were still feeling a bit churched out from Italy (and especially the Vatican), so we decided that we’d seen it, taken photos of it, and so we decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a few hours before the big last night of the tour.
Once again, there was a 10 min delay as we decided which Metro station/line was the best one to catch to get back to our hotel easiest and with least changes. After that debate, we decided to go back to the station we’d gotten off at for the Notre Dame, as it was the simplest route back to the stop for our hotel. I don’t really remember us talking that much on the way back, apart from counting stops (to make sure we didn’t overshoot). But we livened up a bit after we got off the Metro near our hotel. We decided that despite tiredness, and to tide us over until dinner out, we had to go visit a French bakery/pasty shop, so we wandered around the street until we found one. I do also seem to remember Kirsten considering getting her hair cut there, but I talked her out of it on the basis that she wouldn’t be able to tell the hairdresser what she really wanted; scarily enough, I spoke the most French out of all of us who were wandering around that day! So after we’d all bought ourselves something to eat, I decided that I wanted to buy some cheap French wine, so I left Kirsten & Alison waiting for me outside a shop and went to the small supermarket (not much bigger than your average 7-11) and managed to decipher enough French to almost understand what wines I was buying. Not enough though, to understand what the cashier said until the numbers came up on the till!! It only cost me a couple of Euros for two bottles of wine anyway, so it’s not like it was expensive.
When we were trying to get into the hotel we realized we’d never used the pedestrian/main entrance before – to the point that we didn’t know where it was! So we ended up walking in through the underground bus/group tour car park. We knew that when we were all off sightseeing was the time that Reuben was usually cleaning his beloved bus, so I do remember a discussion about if we’d be lucky enough to find him with his shirt off as we walked in. But no luck… our shirtless Reuben time had apparently come to an end that day in Austria! So with no reason to hang around the car park (not that I’m sure we could have found one, but we had cameras with us, so you never know what we might have been able to get on film!) we headed straight back up to our rooms. Kirsten & Alison shut themselves in their room and I think fell right asleep, I just bummed around eating my food from the bakery, sort of cleaning up my emptied suitcase and watching TV. Unfortunately the only thing that was in English was BBC news, so that’s what I had to leave on if I wanted to understand more than one word.
Generally, I can’t sleep in the middle of the day, so after I’d finished eating that thing I got from the bakery, I was just hanging around, wasting a few hours. I think I took the opportunity of having an empty hotel room to take a long shower and not have to get dresse d right away in the tiny bathroom. Basically I just wasted away most of the time by fiddling with things. When there was about an hour and a half or two hours before the bus left for the Moulin Rouge, I went next door to see if Kirsten & Alison were awake. I knocked and was outside their door for about 10 mins, but no one came to the door (even though it actually looked like it was unlocked). So I went back into my room, then tried again a little later. I think they had woken up the first time I’d knocked on the door, they were just too sleepy to wake up and actually get up and answer it.
So then we started getting ready for the big night ahead. I borrowed a dress that Kirsten had worn in Florence, as I didn’t bring anything quite fancy enough for a trip to the Moulin Rouge. We spent a while going between each others rooms, borrowing make up and the like, then we went down to the bus area to get our lift to the place itself. I think there was only about a dozen of us that went in the end, but anyone else was welcome to catch the bus to the area to go find themselves some dinner.
As with a large amount of the places we went as a group on this tour, the tickets and details like that had all been pre-arranged, so we just had to wait and Amanda took care of our entry. Didn’t take long at all, so within no time we were being lead to our seats. It’s quite a lot smaller than I expected it to be, and they do cram the seats in a bit. You wouldn’t want to be too overweight and walking through the tables. Anyway, Amanda and Reuben had a cheap little table that was half behind a pole to themselves, whilst the rest of us were lead onto the main floor area, right in front of the stage. We had two tables, I think there was six of us on the table I was at. We might have selected our food earlier, on the bus, but I’m not too sure. I do know that included in the price of the show and dinner was a glass of champagne and half a bottle of wine, so that helped us all get into a nice and relaxed mood for the show.
I honestly don’t remember much of the food, but if it was bad I’m sure something would have stuck in my mind. We were concentrating more on the show. A lot of people said to me before I left that it’s just a show of dancing topless girls. I think the two guys who came got a little distracted by that for a while, but to be honest, it doesn’t take long to forget about the nudity, the show was just amazing. Everything worked so seamlessly, the singing, dancing, costumes, lighting, it was all so intertwined perfectly that it really was a pleasure to just watch. I don’t even remember if there was a storyline or what it was. I know it was in both English and French, but apart from that…
There was at least one break in the show, I remember using the time to go out into the foyer to go to the toilet, and of course, there was the tipping thing again. I didn’t really know what to do there, as it didn’t look like there was a lot of people tipping the attendants, but I hardly wanted to get myself thrown out of something that I’d paid over €100 to go see, so I found some leftover coins from Switzerland and tipped using them.
The breaks in the show also had entertainment in them, I think one of the best things I saw was a guy who was doing hand puppets on the stage. He did the most amazing things with his hands, and showed us before and after each little ‘act’ that it was just his hands. Another one was a unicyclist who had an assistant on stage, and they kept throwing things up to him, cups, saucers, that sort of thing, and he’d catch them all, put them on his foot (so he was peddling to stay high up in the air with just one foot) and them using his spare foot, he’d throw them up in the air, and catch them on his head!
All in all, it ended too soon. But yes, I did get to see the famous can can dance. I think it was one of the more average things they did, but still, you can’t go there and not see it, I think most people would have been pretty disappointed if they hadn’t seen it.
Afterwards, we all met up outside with the people who hadn’t gone, and they were all crowding around us, asking how it had been, if they’d really missed anything… none of us were really able to describe it properly; those who hadn’t gone still weren’t convinced that they’d missed anything but an expensive night out. All in all considered, I was really glad I forked out the money and went, €130 or whatever it cost, is still good value for drinks, dinner, and a world-famous show. And it was wonderful to go on the last night of the tour, it was a great experience to cap the whole thing off with.
I don’t remember much of the bus ride back to the hotel, but we did have a little bit of fun on our way up to the rooms – we tried to fit everyone who was in the bus into the lift at once… didn’t quite work, but we did fit a damn lot of us!
I think it was at this point that everyone congregated again in the hotel bar, so for a few hours most people hung out, having some drinks and playing pool. I do remember an issue with the pool table, I think two people split the overpriced cost of using it, and then random people kept taking over and playing games on it, without pitching in for the price of using it. Then the bar started closing, and that was what encouraged most people to go up to bed. I have a weird memory which I think happened next, of some of us going up to our rooms, and my roommate wanted a smoke, so she just smoked in the hallway outside the room. Kirsten and I were talking to her at the time, and I think we were all trying to figure out if the smoke was going to set off an alarm that would empty the whole hotel. I remember watching the smoke go slowly down the hallway towards a detector, and so we didn’t go into our rooms, we thought if there was a delay at least we were by the lifts/stairwells to evacuate!
Anyway, I wasn’t quite ready for the night to end by that point, so I convinced Kirsten, Travis and Jackie to keep drinking with me. Now, at the start of the tour we’d all been told that ‘room parties’ weren’t a good idea, as they usually end up with Contiki not allowed back into the hotel ever again. We kind of got past caring, so we went into Jackie & Travis’ room. I decided to crack open one of the bottles of wine I’d bought earlier in the day, however we ran across a snag in that we didn’t have a bottle opener. I have a vague memory of going down to the hotel lobby and trying to talk to a cleaner to ask him where I could get a corkscrew bottle opener. Yeah. I found out my French really isn’t that good. Eventually remembered that I had bought a Swiss Army Knife that had a bottle opener on it as a present, so I figured this emergency warranted using someone’s present, so I went ahead and used it to open the wine. We somehow had come up with plastic cups (that is something I really can’t remember – how on earth we managed that) and so poured the wine, found out it tasted really bad, and sat around Jackie & Travis’ room for a few more hours, drinking and chatting cheerfully.
I don’t know what time we all gave up and went to bed that night, but I’m pretty sure it was the early hours of the next day. I do remember some very drunken and sleepy conversation with Kirsten in the hallway as we walked back to our rooms, but I can’t remember what we were talking about.