May 172010

Le Montclaire in Paris is the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. For only slightly more than your average European hostel, I ended up in a (nearly) private 3-bed room with its own bathroom in a great area of town. It’s spotlessly clean with a fantastic lounge and kitchen, free wifi, and as a lifetime first, a REAL breakfast: cereal, coffee, croissant, juice, etc.

Normally when a hostel claims “breakfast included” it ends up being white toast and butter.

I awoke bright and early to clear blue skies – despite the rainy forecast, it looked like the weather may finally have turned to my benefit. So I located the starting point of the New Europe Free Paris Walking Tour that was recommended highly by some friends in Amsterdam and, rather than hopping on the metro, started the hour-long trek by foot.

Unfortunately, my GPS – which I usually rely on to keep me pointed in the right general direction as I traverse up and down every twisted little side street – refused to get a lock, and I somehow ended up going the exact wrong direction.

Paris lesson of the day: the urban layout is crazy! Unlike Shijiazhuang, which has a seemingly perfect 90-degree grid of roads, Paris’ intersections split off at every imaginable angle, making city navigation – by map or sense of direction – quite a bit more challenging than elsewhere.

I hopped on the metro and sped across town, making it just in time for the tour.

I suppose I should stop for a moment to explain myself here. Most of you probably know by now that I’m pretty strongly against organized tours – so why would I voluntarily be spending my first day in Paris on one? Well, I’ve found that the nightmarish tours – where they dump you in souvenir shops and bus you to culturally irrelevant shopping malls – are usually pretty identifiable as the ones that transport you directly from a hotel or airport.

City walking tours, on the other hand, seem to simply be an opportunity to wander around outside – with the benefit of someone to give you a bit of history on what it is you’re seeing. The New Europe Tours specifically are paid for entirely by tips, so the guides are really motivated to keep things fun and interesting. After trying out the one in Amsterdam, I was very impressed. So my thoughts were, “Why do the Lonely Planet walking tour, struggling to follow the map and staring blankly at a historical monuments when I could have someone knowledgeable accompany me every stop of the way?” 🙂

All in all the tour was great, the weather fantastic, and I ended up with not only loads of good photos but a clear list of what to come back and see in more detail. We hit (at least briefly) all the major sights – Arch de Triomphe, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Phantom of the Opera operahouse, Notre Dame, Jardin des Tuileries, Pont Neuf Bridge, Place de la Concorde, and plenty more I know I’m forgetting.

So what was the most memorable moment? When I exited Jardin des Tuileries, the trees parted, and I saw the Eiffel Tower materialize in the distance. It literally gave me goosebumps. There’s just something about it, when you see it for the first time. I mean come on: it’s the Eiffel Tower!

Here are a few interesting tidbits I jotted down as the guide was speaking:

• Next time you’re traveling in Europe and see an equestrian statue, take a look at the hooves. If all four hooves are on the ground, it means the rider died of natural causes; if the front two hooves are raised in the air, they died in battle; and if the horse is trotting, they died by assassination or murder.
• See if you can find a major road in Paris with lanes painted on it. It’s harder than you might think. Know why? “It detracts from the natural beauty.” This is one of the reasons the roundabout around the Arch de Triomphe (the biggest traffic roundabout in the world) has an accident on average once every thirty minutes! With twelve massive boulevards radiating out from it and not a single lane marker, it’s a free-for-all for motorists, who slam and ding into each other with frightening regularity. For a good laugh, hang out and listen for the nearly constant shouts of “merde!”
• Every year, somewhere around 600 Parisians are admitted to hospitals for dog poo-related injuries. Like, they’re walking along, they step in a wet juicy one, they slam into the ground and break a tailbone. Way to clean up after yourselves 😛

  11 Responses to “Paris Walking Tour”

  1. Hey, mate.

    Great entry as always. I see your ‘current location’ has you headed to Slovenia any time now. If you need any specific info or tips, let me know as I lived there for twenty odd years.


  2. Hey Simen – thanks for saying hi!

    I just yesterday started looking into my agenda for Slovenia; I was thinking of doing just one day in Ljubljana, then one day of “transit” to the coast to see the caves in Postojna and Skocjan along the way, and a day or two in and around Piran, depending on the weather – before heading down to Croatia via Koper (as I understand that’s the nearest transport hub with direct connections to Croatia).

    I guess I don’t really have any specific questions as I *think* I’ve got it reasonably figured out – of course, if there’s anything great you think I definitely shouldn’t miss (whether it’s a city or a great meal), I’m all ears! 🙂 I know it’s a pretty quick visit – but time is starting to run short before I’ve got to meet my friend in Belgrade, and there’s a lot I’d like to try and do in Croatia beforehand…plus I’m sort of waiting out a storm so I don’t’ end up on the beach in pouring weather 😛

  3. Justin,

    luckily for you and your tight schedule the weather has just improved after two weeks of non-stop rain.

    One day for Ljubljana sounds fine. Either stay in Hostel Celica, a former prison, now work of art that was once dubbed by LP to be the hippest hostel in Europe. It’s nearest to the train station and a 7 minute brisk walk to the centre of the old town. If you want to stay almost smack in the centre of things in the old town then I’ve stayed at and can recommend Alibi M14 Hostel ( This chain also has three hostels in Piran. For food, self cater in the Mercator, Spar or Tus supermarkets. You need to spring for ‘cevapcici v lepinji’ at Harambasa ( and order kajmak with it. It’s actually a Bosnian restaurant but you won’t find better cevapcici either there or Serbia or Croatia (where you’ll also find them all over the place along with pleskavice). For drinks, Knafljev prehod or the cafes by the Ljubljanica river are the place to see and be seen. For a different feel you could also walk 20 minutes down to the barges lined where the Ljubljanica river and Grubarjev prekop split and try a Union beer. The barges are on the right bank (left side as you approach. I used to live 300 metres from there.

    I’d chose either Postojna or Skocjan cave or you may feel a bit caved out afterwards. The first has Slovenia’s only ‘subway’, a little train that takes you partly through the massive caver system, while the second is Slovenia’a only Unesco listed site. I’ve been to both and they both impressive so chose at your own discretion. If you do Postojna Cave, hitch a ride 15 or 20km down the ride to the unique Predjama Castle. You’ll never see anything like it.

    If you’re really short on time and want to save money on entrance fees, I’d consider skipping the caves and taking in the town and lake of Bled in the northwest. Everyone rates this the top attraction in Slovenia and for good reason. It’s got good bus connections to Ljubljana and a day trip will let you admire it all. Rent a bicycle while you’re there, go up to the castle, be rowed up to the island and have a kremsnita (krem-shnee-ta) at the restaurant by the lake belonging to the Hotel Park ( where they serve my favourite kremsnita in the whole country. Nice view too, if you still haven’t had enough of it.

    If you’re going to be taking in any of the old towns in Istria or Dalmatia (both in Croatia), then you could skip Piran in favour of, say, Porec, which is bigger and more impressive. The jewel of coastal town on the Adriatic is of course Dubrovnik way down south. Zadar and Split could easily be skipped.

    In Belgrade, the main pedestrian drag is affectionately labeled Silicon Avenue and for good reason. It’ll give you a taste of what Mystery and Style were after if you hadn’t seen it all before in Croatia and elsewhere. The barges on the Danube make for another good drinking spot and go for a gurmanska pljeskavica (do it yourself hamburger). McDonald’s will feel inferior from then on and you may find yourself skipping them forever except to use the toilet 😉



  4. Simen,

    Wow, now THAT’s what I call a couple of tips!

    I really hope the weather stays nice…it’s been pretty much crap everywhere I’ve been lately too, and I’ll cry if it’s still raining once I start getting to the beaches :'(

    Hostel Celica sounds awesome – it’s in fact the “Our Choice” hostel in the LP Eastern Europe, which is what I’m using for this trip. I’ll try them first.

    Regarding the caves, you really think I should do just one? Personally they both sounded awesome – and different – which is why I figured I should just hit both right on the way. I also tend to particularly like caves, and it didn’t seem like it would be too tall an order to hit both in a day.

    Regarding Bled, if it’s really worth it I could always spend 2 nights in Ljubljana and do that as a daytrip on the second day. I’m not THAT short on time, it’s just that another day in Slovenia is one less day in Croatia or Serbia, as I have to be in Belgrade absolutely no later than the 4th, and I’d really prefer to get there the 2nd or 3rd. I figured Slovenia could be a cool stop along the way, but not as preferable as the latter two.

    Man, everybody I’ve talked to has said Dubrovnik is a must…it’s just so damn far out of the way! Something like 11hrs each way. I wonder if I should push to get it in. I haven’t really read up on Croatia yet, I heard Pula was nice, but I suppose if Dubrovnik were THAT awesome I could skip everything else in favor of the transit day necessary to get there and back…

    I’m not particularly insistent on Piran either, again it just seemed like a nice place on the Adriatic – but if Croatia is much nicer I could skip it and just head straight down south. I suppose I should get my ass in gear and start reading the Croatia chapter…

    Belgrade sounds like too fun for me to handle…and the fact that you specifically mentioned Mystery and Style just made me absolutely positive of your awesomeness, hehe 😀 I’ve heard Odessa is an even better “Silicon Avenue”…and have nearly a week scheduled there…. 😉

    So where are u from originally anyway?

  5. I also generally hate these types of tours…..but sometimes they can work out nicely

  6. Haha, thanks for the awesomeness compliment but trust me as an American you won’t need to play the game with the Serbian ladies unless they’ve got a major thorn up their backside (keeping this comment family friendly). Slovenian’s usually get the god-like treatment down there as well as they consider us to be filthy rich in comparison. Yeah, there are a lot of women we’d call ‘kes picka’ (kesh pich-ka). Ask your Serbian friend what it means 😉

    Odessa sounds like a good place to go, even though I haven’t made it to the Ukraine yet. Friends who have lived and worked there rave about the east of the country, specifically Dnepropetrovsk, which is apparently unrivaled in the world. I’m not talking about the cultural sights either… Be careful, however, as I know guys (happily married) who were assaulted in Kiev when walking alone. The local men don’t appreciate the added attention the country has been getting.

    I seem to remember you love to go off in cave systems the world over. Skocjan and Postojna are both a treat but going off on your own in the first will just mean you join another language tour coming up right after you and doing it yourself in the second could get you into serious trouble. Waiting to hear how you pull this one off… By all means add Bled to your list of must see places and if you can fit it in, do a spot of canyoning in the surrounding gorges. Hostels should be able to organize it all for you. With an extra day or two you could even go hydrospeeding or rafting on the spectacular Soca river further west where the mountains seem to touch the sky and the water is so clean and clear you can drink it as you adrenaline-ride your way from Bovec to somewhere near Kobarid. Prices were around 45-50 EUR EUR per activity if I can remember correctly, tandem paragliding from around 2.000 metres off Mangart would set you back 110 EUR but is again another non-miss activity if you’re into serious adventure stuff.

    You could scratch Pula off of your list. The roman amphitheatre there is a major letdown and there are a lot more picturesque Porec and Rovinj higher up the coast with much more charm and character. If your schedule permits, you could visit Plitvice National Park on your way down to Dubrovnik and then cut across Bosnia up to the top part of Croatia before crossing into Serbia. A night in Sarajevo’s atmospheric old town (notice the ‘no guns allowed’ sign in front of the main mosque) followed by a morning tour of ‘War-time Sarajevo’, a stark reminder of things gone wrong in this part of the world. It’s all history though and travelling around is almost as easy as in border less Schengen.

    Whatever you chose to do, have fun!


    P.S. I was born in Slovenia, spent six years in Dubai and a couple in Australia as a kid and have been travelling non-stop in South America, Australia and Asia for the last year and a half, since quitting my job in Slovenia. Doing China by motorbike at the moment.

  7. @Andy: Yeah – well, if you’re ever in Europe try out the New Europe Free Walking Tours – so far both were great! 🙂

    @Simen: Maybe I should just skip ahead and hurry my way to Serbia, hehe 😉 That’s always the problem…too much to do, not enough time. I’m really wishing I’d bought a later return to the US – but changing the ticket is such a ripoff, it costs almost as much as just flying home and returning to Europe a second time. Pfft :/

    Wow, so you’re another full-time traveler! Out of curiosity, how did you stumble on my blog (and have you been reading for awhile?) Correct me if I’m wrong but this is the first I’ve heard from you =)

  8. Justin,

    there’s no better way to live 🙂 Everything is in full speed mode and the number of dull moments are kept to a minimum.

    If memory serves me well, I followed a link you once left on Sushicam and dropped a comment or two over the years.

  9. Oh cool, so you’re a long-time reader! Well then, I’m honored to have you back after that crazy-long hiatus…maybe I’ll run into you sometime in Asia, you KNOW I’ll be back 😉

  10. Wow, detailed commentary!

    Sounds like a great tour. Not so sure the thing about the horses is a universal truth though…

  11. True, I’m sure not all statues follow it – but it is technically the “rule,” and apparently the vast majority were made like that 🙂

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