The last week was Aug 4- Aug 10: Amsterdam and Paris

Paris and Barcelona

Wednesday, August 11, 1999

On Wednesday, we saw the great works of God and Man in Paris.

We woke up around 10, and had an hour to get somewhere to see the eclipse. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, and it had been cloudy for the last two days, so we were pretty sure it was going to be disappointing. We had heard that there was going to be an opera singer welcoming the sun back at the Arc d'Triumph, so we went there. A few people had gathered, and we met Rosen, a woman with 2 pairs of eclipse glasses. The eclipse took a really long time, but it was very cool. We shared Rosen's spare glasses and I took lots of pictures of the crowd. Incredibly, the clouds seemed to part just as the sun was being obscured by the moon. The crowd broke into applause! It was great. Everyone had cheesy smiles on their faces. It was dim enough for the street lights to come on, and my camera started demanding more light. After a few minutes, the sun began to re-appear, and the clouds obscured the view once again. We heard later the view was 99.1% solar eclipse from Paris.

We walked down the Champs Elysée, towards the Louvre. We stopped and got Falafel and dolmas at a little grill. It was a pretty long walk, and my legs were a bit tired before we even got to the Louvre. I bought a $3 Fanta. We read that unemployed people get into the Louvre for free, so we gave that a shot, but we lacked sufficient unemployed paperwork for them to believe it. We went in right at 3pm, so we got a reduced fare. It closed at 9pm, and we figured we would be exhausted before then. We looked at the big Italian and French statues first, and after an hour or so developed a plan of attack. We saw the first floor, ate at the café, and saw the second floor and saw the few things we wanted on the third. It worked out well. The café wasn't too crowded, so we loitered there for a while. I took 90 photos today.

We got home around 9, and we were planning on going out to a club, but we ended up staying home. One of us got word from home that we would have to come home. An emergency had arisen, and the trip was over. It is a private family matter, so I am not going into it here, but I want to convey how we were feeling that night. We were bummed. Two of us were staying, and one was going home, with only a third of the trip over. We sat in the room trying to work out how we could all stay, and we didn't come up with much. It was too late to do anything that night, so we all three had a sleepless night. What a day we had on August 11, not a bad way to end the trip, if you had to.

Thursday, August 12, 1999

On Thursday we didn't enjoy ourselves. We all had the upcoming departure on our minds, and we were killing the day until America woke up. We went to a nearby sight, the Sacre Coeur, which is a church on the highest hill in Paris, with a great view. We ate homemade sandwiches on the grass with everyone else. There were a million "I draw/paint your portrait" places in a nearby plaza. Some were sitting with an easel, and some were roaming with a clipboard.

We stumbled across the nearby Dali Museum, which struck me as more of a Dali store than a museum, but was pretty neat. Eric liked it especially.

There were a large number of street performers in and around the square. A common performance is to dress up as a pharaoh/ Indian/ mummy/ bride/ groom/ sheik/ knight/ angel/ Yoda/ with a cup in front of you and stand still until someone puts a coin in your cup. If you don't have one of those costumes, you can just color your face and clothes silver, gold, white or red and do the same thing. Additionally, there were a number of people carrying buckets of soda and water around with little 5f signs, selling cool drinks. We wanted to cash in on this action, but we weren't sure how. We started formulating a plan.

In the afternoon, it was high-tension as the calls to America started. The French phone system was very frustrating, given our limited French skills. At one point that night, on a call I was making, the operator told me that if he was going to another country, that he would learn the language. I somehow resisted telling him that if it weren't for Americans, that he would now be speaking German.

By 11 that night, the crisis was over. We were all staying, continuing the trip together. We were extremely relieved. We celebrated in a simple ceremony in our hotel room. We were a little tipsy when we formulated a plan for the next day: We would try to sell digital photos at the Eiffel tower.

Friday, August 13, 1999

Today was Friday the thirteenth, and I figured the worst thing that could happen is that I might get my camera and Antonia's laptop confiscated by the French police. I didn't really expect that to happen, but I wanted to be careful. Eric and Tara were excited about the possibilities, and we headed out to one of the biggest tourist attractions on Earth. I made a couple of cardboard signs that said A digital photograph - Emailed anywhere in the world and searched out for the perfect spot to hock our wares. Tara held one sign, and I stood near the other. Eric watched out for cops.

No one showed much interest. We realized the signs were only in English, but I couldn't even decide which language was the next most important; French, Spanish or Italian. We met a few nice people who gave us some encouragement, and one park ranger who told us to leave. She didn't speak English, but she loved to blow her whistle.

We were not ready to give up, so we moved over by the Seine. This time we set up the laptop, connected the wires to the camera base, and I held the base along with the camera. It was a more impressive display, and it showed some promise. Eric posed as a customer and I photographed him repeatedly. Tara began to address the crowd more aggressively. She wrote 20F on her sign. I checked the camera thoroughly and cleaned it with exaggerated motions. A couple of French women asked me how the digital camera printed out, and I tried to explain it, but they didn't have computers, so they weren't buying.

After about 20 minutes we sold one. We sold it to a man with his family. They lined up and I took a couple of photos. I turned the camera around and showed him the picture. He wrote down his email address, paid his 20 Francs (US$3.60), and that was it! He trusted us to email him, but I felt kinda funny about it, so I wrote down my name and email address if he had any questions.

Almost immediately we had more customers. Having one customer makes your operation look legitimate and at one point, we had people waiting for us to take their money. One couple from Norway wanted to know if we knew a good place in town to stay. A guy who worked on the tour boat wanted a picture to send to his girlfriend. One guy from England said it would make a great souvenir, and that he thought the price was very reasonable. One couple asked what the maximum number of email addresses we could send photos to was (I said five). After about 40 minutes, a guy who worked at the ice-cream stand at the other end of the square started asking questions about how legitimate our operation was. He said it would be tragic if the police came and seized all of my expensive equipment, and that we would be safer if we moved toward the dock a little more. I told Tara that I was getting nervous about our operation, and was satisfied to stop now. She thought we could sell photos all day if we wanted, but that if I wanted to stop she would understand. We had succeeded, and I thought there was no need to press our luck. We had sold 7 photos, and made 140 francs (US$23). We ate sandwiches and I transferred the photos to the laptop and then to diskette. We tried to go to the catacombs, but they were closed. We found an Internet place and e-mailed our happy customers their photos. Due to the French keyboard, it took me a while to send the 7 photos out, but eventually it was done, and I had actually earned the money. I paid for our Internet that afternoon with our earnings. We had had an amazing turnaround, from a terrible Thursday to a victorious Friday.

Gasoline in Paris was US$4.46/gallon, Vodka was US$35

We went home and changed clothes to go out that night. The couple from Norway had booked a room at our hotel and was having coffee on the terrace! We talked with them about our high-tech travel journal and the sights of Paris.

On the way to a club we saw an incredible river of rollerbladers. Thousands and thousands of rollerbladers, for perhaps 5 miles, 7 or 8 abreast, rolling past one another. We ran up to the street to see what was happening, but there was no hurry as rollerblade army swarmed by for the next 20 minutes. It was awesome. Tara and Eric and I just looked at each other in disbelief, and walked down this same road towards the club.

We ran into a group of Italian girls looking for the same place, so we followed them there.

When we got there at 11, it was just about to open. Already I could tell it wasn't going to be my kind of club, so I backtracked to giant discotecque sign I had passed. Eric and Tara stayed there. I was shocked to find that the cover at the discotecque was 100 francs (US$16). I didn't go in, and decided to just walk around instead. I met Eric outside their club after a bit and told him I was going home.

Friday the 13th caught up to me when I took a wrong turn on the way home and ended up 3 miles from home, at 1:30am. Luckily, the Parisian streets were busy, so I felt safe. I made it home around 4 and collapsed.

Saturday, August 14, 1999

I woke up at one in the afternoon, and Tara and Eric arose soon after. We had few plans today, one of which was going to the catacombs. My sisters had strongly recommended these underground tunnels with human bones stacked neatly all around, and I was looking forward to them. Eric and I stood in line while Tara went in search of food. She came back just as we got inside.

After a long, damp climb down a spiral staircase, we reached the bottom. Then we walked for about 2 blocks underground through stone tunnels. Although we had stood in line for 45 minutes to get in, there was no one around us. The entrance ahead was marked by a stone above the door engraved with Kingdom of the Dead, or something like that, in French.

My flash wouldn't work.

The place was chock full of human bones. Mostly legs, arms and skulls, stacked neatly in piles on both sides of the path. They were stacked almost to the ceiling, sometimes 12 feet back to the wall, along a winding series of paths. We walked through it, becoming numb to the gruesome magnitude of it. I wish I could explain why the bones were all stacked and in order, but I don't really understand it myself. My sister had explained that a persecuted group of Parisians had hid underground for many years, and had stacked up these bones to make more room for themselves to move around. That is about all I know, because all the plaques in the tunnels themselves were in French.

I took a few pictures where the interior lighting allowed.

The bones were right there, you could walk along and drag your hand along them if you wanted (if you were my brother Mike).

It was about as much pathway as is in the second floor mall of Sacramento's Downtown Plaza, but as if all the stores were selling bones. There were tons and tons of bones. It was like we were on tour at the bone factory.

At the end we climbed up an endless staircase into a small room where they searched our bags (for bones) and we left. There is a 1000-franc fine for attempting to steal bones, and they catch from zero to five people a day with bones in their bags. They didn't catch us.

It was still early, so we bought some bread and horrible cheese at a market and ate in the park. A man in the park was carrying a dead pigeon around, but after seeing the catacombs, that didn't even phase us.

It was trying to rain.

We went and saw Notre Dame, which is a giant old church with the greatest gargoyles on earth.

We walked most of the way home, stopped to get hair dye for Tara and Eric and avoided a downpour.

Sunday, August 15, 1999

We checked out of the hotel and made our way to the train station with our bags, bound for Madrid, Spain. All the trains were booked up solid. We were going to have to stay in Paris for another night and even then we would only be able to get as far as San Sabastian, Spain. We bought our tickets and I ran to a phone to try to get a room for the night.

The upcoming night's rest was looking to be expensive, so I went back to the ticket window to consult the team. The backpackers in back of us had attacked the ticket woman with every option to try to get out of Paris, and they had had luck! Tara was determined to get the same deal. She did. We traded in our tickets, left that night and saved 5 bucks! We were going to Barcelona instead!

We spent some time at the green-chair packed Luxembourg Park and made a big circle through south Paris. I found a cold liter of special red Orangina at a gas station. It was made with blood oranges. We walked for nearly 4 hours and made our way back to the station. We had couchettes (lie down chairs) on this train, but I slept poorly because of all the stops we were making.

Monday, August 16, 1999

In the morning we were at the Spanish border and had to change trains. We sat drowsily on the next train into Barcelona. In Barcelona we had a rough time finding a room. Two hours of walking around town with our backpacks, wrestling with a phonecard. We eventually found a funky hotel with $32 rooms. We found a great bagel place and I ate one turkey bagel after another. We explored a little of the town in a sleepy fog that is typical of our first day somewhere.

That night a loud parade rambled past our balcony on the street below. It was Sant Roc, a parade that featured paper maché dragons, marching drummers and loud sparking fireworks. It was a great welcome into town. I saw later that a photo of Sant Roc made the cover of the 1999 Europe Rough Guide book, but I don't know what they were celebrating.

Tuesday, August 17, 1999

We ate bagels again and hit the sights. The disappointing Picasso museum was full of his early (realistic) paintings and thousands of vagina sketches. From here we took the subway to Gaudi's massive Temple de Sagrada Familia. On the way, we stopped to take a silly photo in the station. We gathered ourselves after the photo and Tara realized her bag was gone! We ran after the few people exiting and spotted Tara's bag in the arms of a Spanish thief. Tara shouldered the guy into the wall and grabbed her bag. He held on. She shoved him against the wall again, and pulled the bag out of his arms, cursing at him. Next she had to rip her Pentax camera case out of his other hand. He was not cooperative, he was playing it cool. She checked the contents and we walked after the guy. I started yelling "policia!" (which turned out to be the right way to say police in Spanish), but we were unsure of how we should proceed. After a minute, we let him continue. I realized later that I should have taken his photo, and as luck would have it, he was in the background of the silly photo (photo 19). Look for the fuck-face in the white hat.

We were tense for the rest of the day, and swore to be more careful in the future, but we felt lucky at the same time for having caught him in the act.

We arrived at the Temple de Sagrada Familia and I was dazzled by its awesome size and complexity. We went inside, and saw the museum first. I was inspired by Gaudi's style and diverse undertakings. He was a real master, and with the temple still under construction, his designs are still being followed.

We walked up the narrow spiral staircase inside one of the spires. We had to fight our way upstream against the people coming down. I got photos above Barcelona from every angle.

That night Tara and Eric went out, but I stayed home because my stomach was aching. When they got home that night, they relayed the story of trading Eric's earring for a pitcher of sangria.

Aug 18-Aug 24: Madrid and Lisbon | Index of Weeks
Back to main Cockeyed Eric Tara Last updated March 10, 2000.

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