Tuesday, December 2, 2014

EU Tour: Paris, France

--Paris, France--

I don't often have much to say about taxi rides but as we met our taxi driver (heathrow-taxi.cab) at 4am and he asked what airline we would be traveling with, something really important happened... He told us that our airline does not travel to/from the airport I'd hired him to take us to (I booked the taxi). Confused and tired, I argued with him for about a minute until one of us checked our airline tickets and discovered that indeed he was correct!!! Extremely thankful that the taxi driver hasn't just silently dropped us off at the wrong airport, he was able to get us to the correct airport (an extra hour away) in time for us to get on our flight! Five stars to you Heathrow-taxi.cab!!! You guys are exceptional! 

Random Encounter takes a power nap!
At the airport I was told that my bag was too big to be carried onto the plane and that our airline would charge me 50 pounds (~$80) to check my bag! So, instead of paying them I spent the 50 pounds at a luggage shop we'd passed to purchase a purple bag that was guaranteed to be allowed on any airline! Somehow (thanks to Konami and Kit) I was able to consolidate all of my belongings into the bag (which had working wheels and was half the size of my now broken bag) and some of their bags. I said my final goodbyes to my trusty old bag, and proceeded toward the terminal. In the terminal, the flight attendant aggressively informed us that she would not allow us on board with two bags, and that a purse did not count as a personal "item" but was indeed a bag. Instantly everyone (except Moose, who had his lone bag and a set of cymbals in a ruined cardboard box) had to consolidate their stuff into one bag, going so far as to be forced to fit our second bags INSIDE of their first one!!! So much for EASY Jet... This was pretty unreasonable, and they were really jerks about it, giving Rook flack for having a purse she literally could have concealed under her coat (and in retrospect should have tried to). They tried to stop me but I proudly told them that I had 1 bag and an accordion and walked past them. Konami, who literally could not fit his camera bag inside his other bag more or less strapped the two bags together, showed that they both fit into the space of 1 bag, and walked past them, fully expecting security to try to stop him.

I was too embarrassed to ask...
We all literally slept the entire flight and only remember the plane landing. On the ground in Paris we took a taxi to our hotel, discovered quickly that they are fairly picky about how many people they allow in each room (a fact i'd pre-cleared with them but whatever), and went looking for food nearby. You can tell that we were getting cranky because we hadn't eaten because my optimism is thinner than usual. We had no trouble at all finding our venue, but finding a place to eat that was less than 20 euro per person (~$30) was tough. Rook eventually found a sandwich shop that fed all of us for about four euro each. Full of delicious sandwich meats we happily returned to the hotel to hibernate... I should clarify, we had to rent an extra room nearby at a four star hotel because it was the only available room in a four block vicinity and it didn't seem fair that one of us sleep outside. The others were hell bent on sleeping, so Moose and I checked into our hotel room while the others slept in the "fancy" four star. It was as if fate itself intervened because the moment we were going to check in the elevator broke, and we had to take the stairs all the way up to our room, effectively located on the eighth floor (in Europe the first floor is called ground level). It's particularly comical because Moose has enough metal in his body to be considered disabled (though he doesn't consider himself such) and doesn't do stairs well, and I myself was still in a fair amount of pain with each step I took from the injury at the Manchester train station.

We were very protective of our food
Careless goes on an adventure!
(That's the venue in the background)
After a moment of rest at the top of the stairs I realized that Moose was gone to the world, so I did what anyone in my shoes would have done. Despite heavy sleep deprivation and a utter lack of ability to speak French beyond "My French is horrible, thank you," I left the hotel and went exploring! First I checked out the mall that surrounded the venue we would be playing at (literally located in the middle of the mall). I got hot chocolate, chocolate croissants, then I took a taxi to the Victory Arch, which was MASSIVE and incredibly detailed. It is truly a marvel to look upon! From there I continued the taxi past the Eiffel tower and to the Paris catacombs! My driver, who was originally from Haiti, spoke pretty good Spanish so we conversed in Spanish for the entire ride, chatting about our respective friends and families, places of interest in Paris, and how he'd come to live in Paris. He was a remarkably friendly fellow and showed me where I could find a taxi again that would accept credit cards in proximity to the entrance of the catacombs.

This sign reminded me of Deadpool
Victory Arch
Cars in the picture for scale)
Entrance to the catacombs!
The line to the catacombs was pretty sparse ("only" 30 minutes), similarly to the lines in England, leading me to believe that it was a sort of off-season. In line I overheard an American accent behind me and wound up chatting with a father and son from Michigan State who was traveling Europe on vacation. They told me a bit of the history of the catacombs from their perspective and before I knew it we were inside. About 120 stairs down later I was in another world. Small aside, there's something disorientating about walking down a spiral staircase for more than three full spirals... For those like me who don't know about the location in question, the catacombs are a massive network MILES in length that run under Paris. Originally a limestone quarry, the space has been used to house dead bodies, outlaws, and the French resistance during World War 2. Now the catacombs (the parts I saw) are a 2 kilometer tour with a self-guided history. Midst the learning that goes on, and the experience of walking through the dark and foreboding tunnels visitors pass the bones of SIX MILLION dead bodies, which have been stacked and arranged in a self-described "French romanticism inspired" way. At first I didn't even register that the bones and skulls I was looking at were actually once human... We as a people have been pretty desensitized to the human skull or bones since childhood, and I almost took a picture of myself smiling next to a dozen or so skulls in the shape of a heart before being hit with the sudden realization that these were dead people... Actual dead... people! The kind that had once lived, breathed, and had full lives. Many of those in the catacombs had died from the plague and with these thoughts I was hit with a wave of solemn respect for the place. I took a few less-tacky pictures (actually some other tourists who only spoke French helped me take pictures of myself and I returned the favor), explored the entire exhibit, and limped up the 88 steps to the world above.

Actual human remains
A romantic gesture?
Wall to wall bones for nearly a mile
Lost in Paris, not necessarily a bad thing
I got lost briefly because I was now 2 kilometers away from the place where I knew to find a taxi, so I asked a local French woman in her 50's how to find a taxi that accepted credit cards, using pantomime to communicate. She seemed to understand, spoke to me in very rapid-fire French for about three minutes, and became hell bent on helping me find a taxi. This lady was awesome! She was talking to me the whole time in French, angry about something but smiling at me every so often like I was the only person in the world who took her seriously. I was nodding and smiling, and she wound up stopping other people on the road to ask them for directions because she herself was not exactly sure where she was going. We eventually found a parked Taxi, learned that it would accept credit cards, and she bid me farewell. I can't remember but there might have been a hug involved because I maybe reminded her of her long lost son. I told the taxi driver of my amazing adventures and the friendly people i'd met and his deadpan response was "friendly people? You're talking about Paris, right?"

The lamp in the 4 star hotel
A truly amazing and massive structure
Back at the hotel the band was starting to stir, finally prepared to go on adventures. This time Kit was a bit under the weather from exhaustion, so the four of us departed, found another taxi, and sped to the Eiffel tower, which was sparkling and glowing when we first saw it! Apparently it does that every hour or so and we did the free version of the Eiffel tower (it costs money to go up, even the stairs), where we simply walked beneath it. I was secretly happy to not go up because I'm hoping to return there on a romantic date one day, because as my second taxi driver said (as a native of Paris) "Paris is a city for lovers, not friend-zones." I did not expect to be impressed by the Eiffel tower but it was significantly more massive than I expected and I found myself just looking up at it in awe for minutes at a time. We all did.

Random Encounter in Paris
Intrigued by lights in the distance we walked about half a mile toward a closed palace or museum and got dinner nearby at a very local restaurant. We had (French) onion soup, escargot (which we all unexpectedly enjoyed), crapes (Nutella and jam), and an amazing chocolate cake with giant bottles of water. This was my first time having French onion soup (simply called onion soup in France, similarly to French horns, and French fries) and it will certainly not be my last. I only wanted a taste of Konami's but wound up ordering a whole bowl for myself after. This was also Moose's first time having Nutella, which he also loved. That evening will be remembered as one of the best meals in all my life. After a few minutes we realized that the waiter had put any English speaking people who entered his establishment in a special section, on a patio away from the other patrons, but we didn't mind because everyone in our section, ourselves included, seemed to be louder and more boisterous than the other patrons. It also had a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Binding of Isaac:Rebirth
We hit up souvenir shops and caught a taxi back to the hotel, which was significantly more roomy and comfortable than the one in London (the hotel). I was tempted to stay out and visit Notre Dam but it was getting late and obligations brought me back to the room. I still had to edit a music collaboration that was due in under 48 hours, and I had emails to reply to. The others played the Binding of Issac: Rebirth while I got distracted and beat Rogue Legacy for the first time. I also took a bath, which was amazing. The evening concluded with us reading aloud all the negative online reviews we'd received on tour thus far in silly voices. Simply put, Paris was amazing.

View from the 7th floor of the hotel
The next morning we took the elevator (which was now fixed), walked to the venue, and got chocolate croissants for breakfast. We'd learned the previous night that all of our future airlines would only allow us 1 carry on (bag OR personal item), so we wanted to consolidate our gear to avoid the 50 Euro charge per bag, per person. I was the one to find the solution this time. Moose, Konami, and I wound up going to Le Post (the national post office of France), after getting horribly lost on the way there, and shipping three gigantic boxes of dirty clothes home, including my converse sneakers (meaning i'd be wearing my boots non-stop for the rest of tour). We pitied the poor souls who had to open the toxic boxes should they need to be inspected. Le Post was incredibly well organized, lines were nonexistent, and the people there went well above and beyond the call of duty to do their jobs. I was personally impressed by the respect they showed us and their dedication to their work. The boxes were also better quality than the ones in the US.

This is one of the things Kit hit his head on
Back at the venue I was finally able to see what the Palais des Congrès looked like on the inside and nearly got dizzy looking at the sea of red seats! The gear rental company had delivered everything we needed without incident and our band's green room (which was accessible by elevator) was extremely spacious and grand. We truly felt like rock stars in there, save for the fact that Kit hit his head on the small ceiling edge that half that engulfed only half the room, and the metal cage that protected the fire safety faucet. For real though, some of those hits genuinely made me cringe because I could feel them through the floor... I took a nap under a table in our room, using my jacket to keep warm and various unused pants as pillows, and woke up to another sandwich from the inexpensive shop down the road for lunch. Having a project due the following day, I recorded the final tracks for our collaboration, and sent everything off to Brandon Strader for mixing.

A sea of red seats
We sound checked without incident, so with my free time I went into the lobby to see what the people of France, who enjoyed Video Game Music, were like. I tried to communicate with a few folks who spoke no English and eventually got into a conversation with a girl dressed like Samwise from Lord of the Rings and her friend who was either an assassin from Assassin's Creed with a Witcher necklace, or a Witcher. They both spoke conversational English and we had a lot of fun chatting before the show, which was cool because I got to meet them as myself (the person and traveling/gaming enthusiast) and not as a performer. I saw a bunch of games from the night's set list being played on actual consoles they'd set up in the lobby, watched someone trudge through Dragon's Lair, and a few friendly rounds of Street Fighter.

View from the audience, before the show
The show started sooner than I'd have liked as I was enjoying the opportunity to meet fellow gamers from other countries (including Chile!) in what equated to a pre-show party. The show itself was fantastic though, and I particularly enjoyed my first time seeing Assassin's Creed: Black Flag performed, and the final performance of Journey with Austin. Just before we got on stage Moose suggested that the audience might actually boo us, as we didn't know any French and were effectively coming to their country as stereotypical ignorant Americans. However, when we got on stage Tommy pointed out that I play the accordion (normally a stigma at American shows) and the crowd really cheered... I think it's the loudest applause we've ever received and the most enthusiastic welcome from people who we'd never met. We played our best, had a lot of fun doing so, and in a blink the show was over. 

A galaxy of phones
I got to meet more people at the meet and greet after the show, and the band all had 3D model-photos taken of our heads with experimental technology, which was pretty cool. I've personally never been so popular. At the end of the evening, just before we left, Sam (LotR) materialized out of nowhere, kissed my cheek, and ran off. Rook mocked me, claiming that I made this up as no one seemed to witness the event. We packed up, trudged to the lobby of the building, and took a taxi to the airport at around 1am.

Not sleeping, just singing along to death metal
We were in a state between sleep and cold discomfort the entire evening at the airport, with the silence occasionally broken by the utterly disturbing sound the PA made before every announcement. It sounds kind of like a chorus being tormented deep within the pits of hell. I'd spoken with Tommy earlier in the day about Monkey Island, and which version to get off GoG.com, but the internet speed in the airport (which allowed only 1 hour of internet before you had to pay) would not allow me to download the game in time, so instead I downloaded the 1994 edition of Tie Fighter, which was only 20 megabytes!

[Picture intentionally left out as I was too terrified to take a picture]

I only used the bathroom in the airport once. It was terrifying. A gigantic greasy hand print on the elevator seemed to set the tone and make my journey alone part of a horror film/game. Weird noises from the stalls, a lack of hot water in the sinks, and creepy French writing smudged on the mirror seemed to further the theme and I tried to look as if nothing had happened when I got back to the others, who were trying to sleep in the terminal chairs. I played Tie Fighter for a few hours to try and forget about the bathroom horror experience, and until re-reading this I think it had effectively burred the memory. I got most of the training certifications/badges and combat training medals before the sun rose over Paris. Tomorrow I would graduate from the combat simulators and test my skills against actual rebels... In the game, of course...

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