of castles and toilets

A few weekends ago I was in France. Getting to Paris from Brussels is ridiculously easy, you take a train and in 1h 15min you’re there. That is, if your train does leave when you assume it does. When I got to the train station in Brussels, I saw that my train was delayed by 23 minutes. Alright, should be enough time to get a snack and go to the toilet! Wrong. The train arrived a few minutes after the scheduled time and left shortly after that. I’m so glad I was paranoid enough not to leave the platform, so I noticed when the train pulled in. Why on earth would they say the train is 23 minutes late when the actual delay is about two minutes?

When I arrived to Paris, things got only worse. It’s around 8pm in a major train station in the capital of a big country, so one could assume the ticket office is still open, right? Wrong. I think I finally got help from a security guard who pointed me in the right direction. After some difficulties with getting the public transport ticket from a machine and some difficulties with breathing when walking to the right stop (nothing tells you better that you have arrived in Paris than strong smell of pee), I managed to get to the other train station where I was supposed to catch a train to Fontainebleau to attend the 25th anniversary of European Youth Parliament. In the next hour or so I thought I would never get there.

Ticket offices were of course closed (welcome to Paris!), there was strong smell of wee in half the places in the train station (welcome to Paris!), the ticket machine I tried did not recognise the place I wanted to travel to and I was all alone in a big train station in a foreign country. Just when I was about to burst in tears and accept that I’ll spend the rest of my life (or at least that evening) in that smelly train station, I noticed a guy who was clearly from EYP and also about to go to Fontainebleau. Together we figured out which ticket machines to use and how to get the necessary coins to buy our tickets, because of course the machine accepted no paper money and no bank cards (welcome to Paris!).

The rest of the weekend went in a similar fashion and by Sunday I was completely fed up with the French way of (not) organising things. Also, have you ever been to a public toilet in France? Even in a big fancy theatre it’s apparently normal to:
a) lack a toilet seat
b) lack toilet paper
c) have splashes all over the toilet
d) have blood smears on the floor / wall (yes, it was ladies’ toilet!)
e) have all of the above

I was nearly crying with joy when I had coffee in a nice restaurant-cafe on Sunday and discovered they had a normal toilet. They had toilet paper! They had a toilet seat! There were no splashes of any kind anywhere and no smeared blood! It was an actual toilet! My travel-mates would have laughed at me if they wouldn’t have been too busy with rejoicing over the glorious toilet as well.

All of that aside, I actually had a nice weekend. It was great to see my old friends from EYP and have random chats on topics ranging from cakes to political issues. The concert in the evening where EYPers sang was absolutely beautiful. I think the highlight for me was meeting the creator of EYP. Bettina Carr-Allinson held a lovely speech about the difficulties she had to overcome when creating the organisation and it really touched me. I went up to her later to give her my personal thanks for creating a youth organisation that literally changed my life. It got a bit emotional, because EYP means a lot to both of us, but from different perspectives of course. For me it’s an organisation that helped me overcome my shyness, learn about the EU and political issues and find friends in every European country.

In addition to all official parts of the event we had plenty of free time to spend as we please. I chose to spend my Saturday morning in Ch√Ęteau de Fontainebleau. Since I could find nearly no information on the castle in English, I just took a small booklet that had at least some English writings and walked around, looking at the excessively decorated rooms and hallways. This is the castle from the outside:

Every monarch who has lived in this castle has made some minor or major changes to the building. The best known part of the castle is probably the fancy staircase, ordered by Louis XII and designed by Jean Androuet du Cerceau. When I told my host family where I’m going, EstMum said she has probably been there, but the only thing she could remember was the horseshoe-shaped staircase.

Most rooms were very dimly lit, so it was difficult to get good photos inside. I can show a small selection of better photos I got, though I wish there would be more good ones.


And of course Napoleon’s throne room:

The throne looked very small and uncomfortable to me, but the room was fancy and made me think of some old children’s books with throne rooms quite similar to this. And of course I have an obligatory tourist shot with a a fellow EYPer:

That’s it for now, I used the kids’ naptime for some fast blogging and they will soon wake up. I have even survived my first night alone with the kids now! It was okay, though I kept waking up because I thought I had heard one of the kids crying. They finally did wake up at around seven in the morning. Yes, my workday started at seven on Sunday morning. But it’s okay because I think I’ll have tomorrow off, unless EstMum has a lecture she has forgotten to mark in the calendar. I might even be able to finally check out Atomium! I haven’t been in that part of Brussels yet, so I’m hoping for nice weather and a free day to explore that area as well.