Part 1: The Paris Suburbs. 0376 All Roads Lead to Paris (France 001â€”new)
Asnieres sur Seine Travel Blog› entry 1 of 201 › view all entries
Over the last 12 months Iâ€™ve played music in 204 towns and citiesâ€˘so Iâ€™m definitely keeping up the momentum! The only problem is that all but 17 of those towns were just in one country, Morocco. So this is starting to feel more like a â€śPlaying Music all around Moroccoâ€ť project rather than a â€śPlaying Music all around the Worldâ€ťâ€¦
But maybe this next trip can change that. I have a big chunk of timeâ€˘more than 2 months to do nothing but travel and play music. I can definitely cover a lot of miles in that period of timeâ€¦
So where do I go to? My first rule of thumb is â€śtravel by land whenever possibleâ€ťâ€¦ So what options do I have? I could go south into the Subsaharaâ€˘but I did that just a few months agoâ€¦ Algeria is closedâ€˘sort of (see my 05-027 blog about Ahfir) So that leaves Europeâ€¦
Europe has its pros and cons.
And in Europe, from previous experiences, I know that a white guy playing a guitar in the plaza will generally be ignored by everyone. Thereâ€™s more of a â€śmind your own businessâ€ť cultureâ€˘so using my music to connect with people will be a real challengeâ€¦
So to Europe I will goâ€¦ But how will I manage travelling around there for all that time? I guess I could make my way down to Turkey and on through the Middle East where prices are cheaper and people are friendlierâ€¦ Or I could even hop on a plane to India or someplace elseâ€¦
So I really have no idea how this trip is going to end upâ€¦
The super cheap budget flights to Europe almost make me break my â€śalways travel by landâ€ť ruleâ€¦ Maybe next time.
So I head to the â€śInternational Bus Stripâ€ť a long row of little bus stations way out in Ain Chok at the edge of Casablanca to see where the cheapest bus goes to. I suspect it will be Parisâ€¦ But I might opt for Italy instead, due to it being closer to Eastern Europe and the Middle Eastâ€¦ Or maybe Holland, so I can go bicycle all around the country and rediscover my Dutch rootsâ€¦
But at 59 Euros, the Paris ticket wins me overâ€¦
Iâ€™ve been to Paris a couple of times already. And I know Paris itself is a real goldmine for parkbenching. See, Paris is surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of suburbsâ€˘all snuggled right next to each other.
Itâ€™s French bureaucracyâ€˘each town, with maybe just a few hundred people has its own police, own post office, own governmentâ€¦ it seems terribly inefficient, but it makes these suburbs really fun to explore.
I explored a couple about 15 of these suburbs back in 2005â€¦ Hiking from Poissy all the way to Versaille and beyond and found every one to be unique and fascinatingâ€¦ From suburbs with glorious chateaus to dodgy immigrant ghettosâ€˘the possibilities for exploring Greater Paris are almost endless.
And frankly, I think Paris can claim the title as â€śCenter of the Worldâ€ť more than any other city both culturally and geographically. Itâ€™s a transportation hub not just for Europe, but for Africa as well. New York City or London might have a little more cultural diversityâ€˘but their both situated on islandsâ€¦
So Paris seems a natural launching pad for my next chapter of REALLY going globalâ€¦
The Long Bus Ride
Itâ€™s going to be almost a 40 hour ride.
And what about lodging? Hostels only exist along the backpacker circuitsâ€¦ And thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m going to just going to follow a well established rutâ€˘I need to experience the country as a whole, not just the backpacker hangoutsâ€¦
... Morocco and its 4 Euro hotels are far behindâ€¦
As we make our way up Morocco, across the Straits of Gibraltar, and up through Spain I still hadnâ€™t figured out any answers to these questions.
But for now, Iâ€™ve got the shelter of a nice, warm bus. So letâ€™s enjoy the present. I enjoy the view from Costa del Solâ€™s new freewayâ€˘that runs right through the mountains above the crowded coastline, pretty much nothing but tunnels and bridges the whole wayâ€¦
And I have company. The guy next to me is a forty year old Moroccan railway worker who had dreamed his whole life of travelling abroad. Now heâ€™s finally been granted a tourist visa to France, and he is like a kid at Disneyland. Everything from the mammoth ferry to the super modern freeway is a thrill to himâ€˘and itâ€™s fun to vicarious experience the excitement with himâ€¦
Itâ€™s also cool seeing working class Moroccan going as a â€śtouristâ€ť to France.
As we near the French border, Iâ€™m starting to get hungry and I refuse to pay 7 Euros for a hamburger at the rest stop. So at one stop, I scurry off to a nearby village to see what I can findâ€˘hoping the driver doesnâ€™t decide to shorten our supper breakâ€¦
I buy something to eat in a shop from a Moroccan selling to South American customersâ€¦ I guess there Spanish small towns have been undergoing some changes of lateâ€¦
On my way back, Iâ€™m tempted to pull out my guitar and play a quick set and claim this village as â€śparkbenchedâ€ťâ€¦ but I decide against itâ€¦ No need to rush thingsâ€¦ Iâ€™ll do a proper tour here in Spain at another timeâ€¦
Iâ€™m kind of having mixed feelings about Spainâ€¦ I remember Spain as being a country of beautiful, white towns tightly clustered and surrounded by open fieldsâ€¦ Sort of a fortress sort of feelâ€¦ Now, it seems like the surrounding landscape is littered with ugly sprawlâ€˘very boxy and hastily built furniture stores, warehouses, and industrial strips spread across the landscape.
Anyways, weâ€™ll worry about Spain laterâ€¦
We wake up the next morning crossing the lush greenery of France. My fellow traveller, who had never seen green like this in his life, looked like he was going to pee himself with happinessâ€¦
After Tours, we take a side road through the countryside to drop off a couple of passengers. This gives me a chance to calculate the distance between towns. One idea I have is to just hike from quaint little village to village across the countryâ€¦ But the distance between each village kind of discourages that ideaâ€¦
And finally, we reach Parisâ€¦
My first Paris Suburb
OK, we donâ€™t actually reach Paris.
I leave the small urban transport hub, down a quiet narrow street. Asniere has a sort of â€śbig cityâ€ť feelâ€˘probably due to itâ€™s proximity to Parisâ€¦ and seems to have a little bit of everything. Modern office buildings next to baroque style houses next to run down, ugly buildings. A mix of African immigrants and white Frenchâ€¦ A little bit dodgy, but not a ghetto by any meansâ€¦
The city is shaped like a â€śTâ€ť with a strip along the shores of the Seine and a narrow perpendicular strip pointing northwest.
So I follow the narrow strip, through the commercial area past African foodshops and hair salonsâ€¦ And then, a Sunday Open Air Marketâ€¦ Moroccans, Senegalese in their regal flowing robesâ€˘even a few South Asians do their shopping hereâ€¦
I continue on past some high rise apartments, and then head down a street lined with little cottagesâ€˘like a little countryside villageâ€¦ I tell you, Asniere has a little of everything!
The weather is cool which is a good and a bad thing. On one hand, itâ€™s good weather for walking around. On the other hand, it makes me want to pee a lotâ€¦ And one thing that is definitely not in my budget is paying to pissâ€¦
And just as I was losing hopeâ€˘I saw itâ€¦ those beautiful golden archesâ€¦ The gawdy symbol of American cultural imperialism: McDonalds.
But today, Iâ€™m very happy to see itâ€˘McDonalds is a great place to sneak into the restroom without having to buy anythingâ€¦
I continue on my wayâ€¦ I figure Iâ€™ve seen the main sights of the cityâ€˘but I havenâ€™t found the â€śMairieâ€ť yetâ€¦ and no tour of a French town is complete without finding the Mairieâ€¦ I follow a couple of signsâ€˘and there it is: manicured tree lined lawn, and a magnificent chateau style Mairie at the end of itâ€¦
Welcome to France. Just one of 300 or so Paris suburbsâ€˘but theyâ€™ve got a Town Hall thatâ€™s fit for royaltyâ€¦ Iâ€™m definitely going to enjoy exploring this region.
And then, on the other side, I find a whole nother shopping districtâ€˘a more classy one of pedestrian streets, another open air market and much grander architecture... Asniere, you just donâ€™t stop surprising meâ€¦
And then, I find another beautiful little park and garden with a bridge over a pondâ€˘and I canâ€™t resist taking another clip thereâ€¦ And then another chateau with a plaque telling of the proud multi-century history of this â€śsuburbâ€ť.
I tell you, Asniere definitely has given me an amazing welcome to this amazing countryâ€¦
Finally, I feel that Iâ€™ve really explored the city, and continue on my way.