Part 1: The Paris Suburbs. 0376 All Roads Lead to Paris (France 001—new)

Asnieres sur Seine Travel Blog

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Crossing to Tarifa with my new friend

Over the last 12 months I’ve played music in 204 towns and cities•so I’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 “Playing Music all around Morocco” project rather than a “Playing Music all around the World”…

 

But maybe this next trip can change that.  I have a big chunk of time•more than 2 months to do nothing but travel and play music.  I can definitely cover a lot of miles in that period of time…

 

So where do I go to?  My first rule of thumb is “travel by land whenever possible”… So what options do I have?  I could go south into the Subsahara•but I did that just a few months ago… Algeria is closed•sort of (see my 05-027 blog about Ahfir) So that leaves Europe…

 

Europe has its pros and cons.

  On one hand, there’s no shortage of fascinating, unique little towns rich in history with plenty of parkbenches and cool backdrops for my clips…  On the other hand, there is a shortage of cheap transportation and lodging•and I’ve got to stay on a very tight budget if I want my money to last me all that time…

 

And in Europe, from previous experiences, I know that a white guy playing a guitar in the plaza will generally be ignored by everyone.  There’s more of a “mind your own business”  culture•so using my music to connect with people will be a real challenge…

 

So to Europe I will go… 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 friendlier… Or I could even hop on a plane to India or someplace else…

So I really have no idea how this trip is going to end up…

 

The super cheap budget flights to Europe almost make me break my “always travel by land” rule… Maybe next time.

  This time I’m going to travel by bus.

 

So I head to the “International Bus Strip” 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 Paris… But I might opt for Italy instead, due to it being closer to Eastern Europe and the Middle East… Or maybe Holland, so I can go bicycle all around the country and rediscover my Dutch roots…

 

But at 59 Euros, the Paris ticket wins me over…


I’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 suburbs•all snuggled right next to each other.

His first time outside of Morocco
  But these aren’t the American type suburbs of mind numbing monotonous housing developments and strip malls that all look exactly alike… These suburbs are all actual towns each with their own unique little plaza, beautiful town hall, Main Street, church•each with a character of its own and clearly marked so you know exactly where its boundaries are…

 

It’s French bureaucracy•each town, with maybe just a few hundred people has its own police, own post office, own government… it seems terribly inefficient, but it makes these suburbs really fun to explore. 

 

I explored a couple about 15 of these suburbs back in 2005… Hiking from Poissy all the way to Versaille and beyond and found every one to be unique and fascinating… From suburbs with glorious chateaus to dodgy immigrant ghettos•the possibilities for exploring Greater Paris are almost endless.

 

 

And frankly, I think Paris can claim the title as “Center of the World” more than any other city both culturally and geographically.  It’s a transportation hub not just for Europe, but for Africa as well.  New York City or London might have a little more cultural diversity•but their both situated on islands…

 

So Paris seems a natural launching pad for my next chapter of REALLY going global…

 

The Long Bus Ride

 

It’s going to be almost a 40 hour ride.

  That gives me 40 hours of quiet to figure out two things:  Where am I going to go after Paris?  And, if I stay in Western Europe, how in the world am I going to afford it?  The idea of this “Global Music Project” is that I travel from city to city playing music… Well, that’s fine if I’m paying 10 Dirhams, (1 Euro) to go to the next Moroccan town… That’s not fine if I’m paying 20 Euros to take the train to the next French city…

 

And what about lodging?  Hostels only exist along the backpacker circuits… And there’s no way I’m going to just going to follow a well established rut•I need to experience the country as a whole, not just the backpacker hangouts…

 

... Morocco and its 4 Euro hotels are far behind…

 

As we make our way up Morocco, across the Straits of Gibraltar, and up through Spain I still hadn’t figured out any answers to these questions.

  But my determination to make it through this journey grew stronger and stronger. This is a “make or break” trip… if I can’t survive 2 months of playing music around Europe, I may well have to give up the Parkbenching Dream entirely… And if I do survive two months in Europe, then I will be able to Parkbench anywhere…

 

But for now, I’ve got the shelter of a nice, warm bus.  So let’s enjoy the present.  I enjoy the view from Costa del Sol’s new freeway•that runs right through the mountains above the crowded coastline, pretty much nothing but tunnels and bridges the whole way…


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 he’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 him•and it’s fun to vicarious experience the excitement with him…

 

It’s also cool seeing working class Moroccan going as a “tourist” to France.

  He clearly has no intention of staying to work there, he just wants to see and experience the country and then go home to his family and his job… Tourism unequality between the First and Third World has always bothered me•so seeing this is like a breath of fresh air…

 

As we near the French border, I’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 find•hoping the driver doesn’t decide to shorten our supper break…

 

I buy something to eat in a shop from a Moroccan selling to South American customers… I guess there Spanish small towns have been undergoing some changes of late…

 

On my way back, I’m tempted to pull out my guitar and play a quick set and claim this village as “parkbenched”… but I decide against it… No need to rush things… I’ll do a proper tour here in Spain at another time…

 

I’m kind of having mixed feelings about Spain… I remember Spain as being a country of beautiful, white towns tightly clustered and surrounded by open fields… Sort of a fortress sort of feel… Now, it seems like the surrounding landscape is littered with ugly sprawl•very boxy and hastily built furniture stores, warehouses, and industrial strips spread across the landscape.

  I realize that progress has a price tag, and these things are a sign of progress, but it seems that they should be a way to progress without ruining the landscape...

 

Anyways, we’ll worry about Spain later…

 

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 happiness…

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 country… But the distance between each village kind of discourages that idea…

 

And finally, we reach Paris…

 

My first Paris Suburb


 

OK, we don’t actually reach Paris.

  We follow the Seine up north and stop in a suburb called Asnieres sur Seine, and there we stop.  I bid my travel companion farewell and head on my way. After a 38 hour ride, I still don’t know where I’m going to go or how I’m going to get there•but I’m pumped and ready to go out and play some music.  So let’s go discover the soul of this town…

 

I leave the small urban transport hub, down a quiet narrow street.  Asniere has a sort of  “big city” feel•probably due to it’s proximity to Paris… 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 French… A little bit dodgy, but not a ghetto by any means…

 

The city is shaped like a “T”  with a strip along the shores of the Seine and a narrow perpendicular strip pointing northwest.

  Other suburbs on all sides, all fitting together like pieces of a a giant puzzle.  I’m tempted to step over and discover these suburbs, but I realize I really need to fully explore ONE suburb before heading on to the next, or else the memories of each will get all jumbled in my mind…

So I follow the narrow strip, through the commercial area past African foodshops and hair salons… And then, a Sunday Open Air Market… Moroccans, Senegalese in their regal flowing robes•even a few South Asians do their shopping here…

 

I continue on past some high rise apartments, and then head down a street lined with little cottages•like a little countryside village… I tell you, Asniere has a little of everything! 


The weather is cool which is a good and a bad thing.  On one hand, it’s good weather for walking around.  On the other hand, it makes me want to pee a lot… And one thing that is definitely not in my budget is paying to piss…

 

And just as I was losing hope•I saw it… those beautiful golden arches… The gawdy symbol of American cultural imperialism: McDonalds.



But today, I’m very happy to see it•McDonalds is a great place to sneak into the restroom without having to buy anything…

 

I continue on my way… I figure I’ve seen the main sights of the city•but I haven’t found the “Mairie” yet… and no tour of a French town is complete without finding the Mairie… I follow a couple of signs•and there it is:  manicured tree lined lawn, and a magnificent chateau style Mairie at the end of it…

 

Welcome to France.   Just one of 300 or so Paris suburbs•but they’ve got a Town Hall that’s fit for royalty… I’m definitely going to enjoy exploring this region.

And then, on the other side, I find a whole nother shopping district•a more classy one of pedestrian streets, another open air market and much grander architecture... Asniere, you just don’t stop surprising me…


And then, I find another beautiful little park and garden with a bridge over a pond•and I can’t resist taking another clip there… And then another chateau with a plaque telling of the proud multi-century history of this “suburb”.

 

I tell you, Asniere definitely has given me an amazing welcome to this amazing country…

 

Finally, I feel that I’ve really explored the city, and continue on my way.

 

huibdos says:
You play guitay, but you certainly know how to play qwerty keyboard ^>^
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010
Africancrab says:
Inspiring nathan:)
Posted on: Jan 07, 2010
ayoubsalhi says:
"Tourism unequality between the First and Third World has always bothered me•so seeing this is like a breath of fresh air…" here rarely when you see someone from the workin class as a tourist rather u see the illegal immigration spread in this category because is the only solution to get from the country ..i love the script : )
Posted on: Dec 21, 2009
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Crossing to Tarifa with my new fri…
Crossing to Tarifa with my new fr…
His first time outside of Morocco
His first time outside of Morocco
Asnieres sur Seine
photo by: nathanphil