Grant McWilliams

We arrive at paris with next to no money and no working credit cards. I try to buy metro tickets and it denies my card (I though I’d try) so I pull out the remaining money I had and purchase tickets. We ride the metro to the Opera stop. When I reserved the hotel I printed the map that the hotel had on it’s site. The opera stop was the only one on there which made me think the hotel was near the Opera which would be a new area for us and exciting. We follow the map and walk past the Opera, past Galleries Lafayette, and walk for about another 30 minutes. We eventually find the hotel at the base of Montmartre. This is the area where the Amelie movie so a lot of Americans want to stay there. Moulin Rouge is also in this area. The reality is it’s full of sex shops, tatoo parlours and dance clubs. The main street is Pigalle which the American soldiers from WWII nicknamed “Pig Alley” because of it. This is basically the red light district. The hotel room was actually two rooms connected and it cost us $140 per night. Had I known it was in Pigalle I wouldn’t have reserved it…. Lesson learned. They didnt ask for money so we were thankful to even have it. It had Internet in the “lobby” which was an 8 by 8 room that included the reception desk and the stairs which tells you how much room was left for the Internet. The price was 8 euros per hour which was hiway robbery but less than a metro ticket to a better one.

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We boarded our TGV to Tours. This was a really smooth track . I took a video with my digital camera with a bottle of water in the picture to show how little the water shimmered. This is how trains are supposed to be. We got to Tours and walked out of the train station and knew immediately this wasn’t one of those pretty French hill towns or Paris either. This is a modern city with wide boulevards like Paris but they’re dirty unlike Paris. We walked to our hotel and checked in. There is a difference between French hotels and American ones. With French hotels you walk in the door and they had you the key. You pay when you’re ready to leave. This save our butts a few times in the coming week. Our hotel cost $130 a night again and really wasn’t that nice. The beds were old spring beds and you could feel the springs on your back. We did get free breakfast though which wasn’t bad. It was usual European breakfast with cheese, meat, bread, butter and cereal. They did have croissants with nutella though because after all this was still France. Overall the hotel wasn’t bad but it just doesn’t hold the value that hotels in the U.S. do. Imagine what $130 gets you in the U.S. With a little searching…
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Today we flew to London. Contrary to past trips we didn’t fly to NY then to London Heathrow but rather flew to Dallas and then on to London Gatwick. This was our first time to Gatwick but it wasn’t a problem. I bought tickets on the Internet for the Gatwick Express to the Victoria station in central London From there we took the underground to Liverpool station and the Stanstead Express to Stanstead airport where we caught a Ryanair flight to La Rochelle France. It’s a bit of a pain transferring between airports in London but saved me $1200. That $1200 paid for 5 days of vacation in France so I think the trouble was worth it. We left Seattle at 7:00am on Tuesday and got to La Rochelle at 6:00pm on Wednesday. That made for a very long travel day but like I said it paid for 5 days of vacation in France. Anyway I chose to not book accommodations in La Rochelle because the Let’s Go guide for France is excellent so we just landed at the airport, took a taxi and started going through the list of hotels in the guide. Only problem with this approach is that France was having its yearly music festival and the entire city was booked. It would help if I spoke French but even though it’s my best second language it’s only slightly better than my Swahili. If it wasn’t for the friendliness of the French people we may not have found a place.  Add a comment

This is the last day of our trip which is always sad for me. I’ve never wanted to go home after any trip I’ve ever taken. The world is there, why not explore it? Anyway when I originally planned this trip I had three things that I absolutely wanted to see - Monte Alban, Teotihaucan and the National Museum of Anthropology. Today we went to the National Museum of Anthropology and the Chapultepec Castle. Both are in Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park) which is a beautiful park that includes many things.

National Museum of Anthropology

First I’ll talk about the Museum. I can see someone who is interested in pre-european history of the Americas getting on an airplane and flying to Mexico City just for this museum. If you walk through all rooms you will have walked 5km (3.1 miles). To do it justice you would probably have to spend 3 or 4 days here. The museum is divided up into sectionsMuseumimg_3508.jpg depending on subjects. The first section goes through cave man times and we skipped it pretty fast. The other sections focus on the La Venta (Olmeca), Maya, Toltec, Mexica, and northern people. Mixed in here is the little known western people who made many small figurines and showed great artistic talent. Outside each of the exhibits are mockups of ballcourts, temples etc. that you can wander through. Inside there are thousands of archeological artifacts. It amazes me how much stuff has been left behind by these people. I believe that Mexico is the archeologically richest country in the world bar none. It is said that they estimate that only 50% of the sites are known and only 20% have been uncovered.

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Today we had planned on going to the Archeology museum in Chapultepec park. In passing the Zocolo a man that had helped us one other time asked us if we wanted a tour. We told him where we were going and he told us they were closed today but Xochimilco was open and for 600 pesos he would take us to Xochimilco, Coyoacan, Fridas house, the University of Mexico, the largest stadium in the world and the palace. We said ok and off we went in his car.

Xochimilco

Xochimilco in case you don´t know is the Venice of Mexico. Five hundred years ago the Aztecs lived on an island in the middle of a monster lake. They built fake islands to extend the area of the land that they could inhabit. They did this by building squares of floating reeds that they staked to the lake bed.They then put dirt on them and planted plants. As soon as the roots grew through the dirt and into the lake bed the Aztecs would take the stakes out. This trick allowed them to double the size of their island. That island is now where the zocolo, palace and all the other historic distict is. The Spanish drained the lake when they got here so it´s gone now except for the area in the south called Xochimilco. So you can still travel about 100 km of canals in brightly colored flat bottom boats. People sell products, food and play music on these boats today. We went there today and it was very relaxing and a nice change from fast paced Mexico City. We paid 300 pesos for 1.5 hrs. The boats you will see when I get pictures up but for now just imagine a large flat bottomed boat with the front and back kicked up a bit. The boat handler stands at the back like a gondolier but instead of having a paddle he has a pole that he pushes on the bottom of the lake bed with. Not quite as elegent as Venice but still effective. The boats are long and wide enough to have a table in the middle of them lined with 9 chairs on each side and a roof overhead.

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Today was a day of shopping for chocolate, mole, grasshoppers and special black pottery made here. We found all in abundance and were yet again suprised at the price.

I found a black pottery shop and picked the most beautiful piece and asked the price. I had in my mind that I´d pay up to one hundred dollars for it because I really wanted it. The man told me 140 pesos which equals about $13. I about fell over. I could by this stuff by the truckloads and sell it in the US and buy a house outright with in six months. Why isn´t anyone doing this?

After buying two jars of mole rojo I went back and bought two more. I wish I knew where to buy mole almond which we like so much. I also bought a jar or two of mole negro (black) which I like but not as much as the red.

I need to know more Spanish. When we left Mexico City we just went to the right gate and waited until our bus showed up. Oaxaca isn´t a huge city so the bus station only has two gates used by a lot of busses. They of course announce over the PA in Spanish which busses are loading when. This is great if you know Spanish but since I don´t it makes it real hard to make my bus. I´m getting to the point of being a seasoned traveler and knowing a few tricks. So what I did was go through the crowd and look at each persons ticket until I found someone riding the same bus as me and I brought our bags over and stood by that person. When they moved we moved. This works pretty good. We made our bus and got to Mexico City easily. We took a taxi from the terminal to our hotel but not after the taxi drivers tried to convince us that our hotel was booked. They of course wanted to take us to a hotel where they get kickbacks. Good thing I´ve already heard of these tricks.

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Today I noticed that our hotel has a tour to Monte Alban so we took it. We waited for what we thought would be a tour bus but ended up being a suburban (remember those?) with about 6 people already in it but since 5 were Mexican we had room for about 8 more. We drove up to Monte Alban which I now know we probably could have gotten to by ourselves.



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This is our first day in Oaxaca. Our hotel is about 11 blocks from the Zocolo which is a bit of a walk but gets us more familiar with the city. It also gives us an opportunity to walk past many brightly colored buildings and markets. The hotel itself has the rooms around the outside of an open courtyard full of jungle trees and a library. It is two story and has an open terrace on the top which is beautiful. This would be a great place to go and just relax. We met a man that does just that. He is from Maine and comes to Oaxaca every year for 5 weeks just to get away from it all. He said he used to rush around like an American trying to see everything but now he just goes to Oaxaca, eats breakfast and wanders around. That´s a vacation.

 

Anyway we spent the day wandering around Oaxaca getting lost. We found the market and the prices are just as good here as in Mexico City. I keep wanting to take pictures of these people because they are very beautiful. Actually the women are and maybe the men are but being a man I can´t tell. They have long slender noses and nicely proportioned faces. I bought a post card to keep that has some dancing Oaxacan women on it. Anyway I may have gotten some pictures that are good, we´ll see.

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Rode bus to Oaxaca. I wanted to go to Oaxaca because I knew about Monte Alban which is one of the oldest settlements in the Americas and I also heard the food was wonderful. Oaxaca is the home of the 7 moles which I like a lot. I´m writing this after being here for several days and I have to say this is probably my favorite city so far. The people are real friendly but still consider us an oddity as much as the Mexico City folks. It´s interesting to see the visual differences between the various Mexican people. I think they are more indian than spanish as their appearences change depending on which region you are in. Since I´ve been here I´ve been checking out the Mexi-nugget chicks and I have to say the women in Mexico City (aztec and mexica decendents) really aren´t that attractive. They have short squat noses and are phisically tiny. I think Jade and Piper are as tall as at least 10% of Mexico City residents.

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All of the days are blurring so I think this is day 4, maybe 5. I´m behind on writing the blog entries because I don´t always have internet access. I started writing them on my laptop but I rarely get to connect it to the internet.

Today we went to Teotihaucan which is where the big pyrimids are. We made it to the north bus station as early as we could. When we left the hotel it was still dark. I was originally a bit uneasy about this but the only people we saw outside were businessmen going to work and shoe shiners sitting at their stands. The metro was empty so it was easy to travel. We had to make 3 transfers before we got to the station. The bus stations are quite large and layed out like airports. After asking someone where the teotihaucan bus is we found the little booth that sells it. We bought our tickets and waited in the lobby. I kept looking at the busses and none of them said Teotihaucan but a tall Mexican guy (The ONE tall mexican) came up to me and said I think your bus is here so we followed him. He was traveling with a white girl. On the bus I thanked him and started to talk to the two of them. She (the tomato as he called her since she was badly sunburned) was from Germany but spoke perfect South African english.

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