Backpacking Without a Pack

photo: samaritaine terrace

Besides rain, the reason for Samaritaine's empty
terrace is that it is closed.

Highlights From Going, Going, Gone

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 19. April 1999:- Last week, Natasha the backpacking world traveller, finally fetched up on my doorstep after coming slowly here to make Paris her 34th stop on a round-the-world trip. Without being too diligent about it, she is featured in this issue's only article.

Having her visit has reminded me of a time I tried 'backpacking.' The difference was I didn't actually have a formal backpack and I certainly didn't have a 'railpass' of any sort.

When it started to rain in the middle of summer, the guys who had talked me into taking the ditchdigging job, suddenly decided it would be a splendid idea to spend the winter in Crete. It was very cheap there, they said.

Ditchdigging in the rain is really boring as well as annoying and Crete was described as some sort of paradise, so I wasphoto: rue st andre des arts pretty eager to go along with this idea. I already had a sleeping bag and all I needed for going on the road was a piece of rope to tie it together and give it a handle.

On the Friday night that we quit, we got paid off at the ditchdigging company's offices in Schwabing in Munich. It was never any trouble to find a reason to celebrate and the company's accountant decided to help us out. About two in the morning we were washed up in some dump near Nordbad, in what I always thought of as 'left' Schwabing.

By then, the accountant was telling us about his career in the SS. He was good at wearing the uniform, but he was not too good at the job he was supposed to do - this is a story - so when he got 'fired' from helping to occupy France - his pre-war vacation country of choice - he got sent to Dachau, as an inmate.

He got out on 'good behaviour' by agreeing to go to Russia when that started up; but he didn't like it any better than France even through he'd never spent holidays there before. So he went back to Dachau. Near the end of the war, he got another 'early release' in order to defend the fatherland and he did this for a couple of weeks until there was nothing left to defend.

Since we expected to leave for Greece in the morning and were a bit over-tired anyway, two of us went off to the flop in the attic of a new apartment building with no doors. The accountant and our other guy decided instead to go to Dachau to do a little nighttime 'sightseeing.'

When we saw that our guy wasn't in the attic the next morning we went looking for him. At the accountant's place, his wife was very distraught about her husband's condition - which was not good on account of the parked car he'd hit in north Munich. She didn't know why he wasn't in the hospital.

'Our guy' was in the hospital. When the emergency services arrived at the scene of the wreck, they tagged him for being in a coma.

When we found him in a ward full of old geezers drinking beer and eating really good sausages, he told us they'd mixed him up with another incoming casualty, and had given him a concussion diagnosis. When he asked for a cigarette, all the old geezers made a big fuss about the concussion, and they didn't offer to share any of their beers either.

What he did have, he said, was a really sore back. He didn't tell the doctors about it because he didn't want to stay there forever.

Back at Wedekindplatz, we talked our pal's indefinite stay over and the English one decided to hitchhike to Athens right away as he was hot to get going.. As soon as he was gone, I met a Dutch guy who had a car and intended to go to Athens. Then he met a Swedish girl, and she wanted to go to Crete. I made a deal to pay for gas.

At the hospital I finally got a doctor to look at our guy and he saw right away he didn't have a concussion; probably because, after four days without beer, he seemed normal. This left the other guy who has been miss-diagnosed on entry - they had had their names switched - but we thought they would get him figured out eventually - unless he was getting all the beer and sausage he wasn't supposed to have.

At 10:00 on Wednesday we were all in Wedekindplatz, ready to go and the Dutch guy showed up with his 1949 VW, with the full set of band drums on the roof. We all got in it somehow - remember my guy's bad back? - and drove to the Yugoslav consulate and got visas.

When I found out about the slipping clutch, I insisted on being the driver for the Brenner Pass andphoto: louvre, wet as ducks we got over it, just barely. Most of the rest of the way was downhill, which was good because of the leaky gas line, and the few gas stations in that part of the world.

We arrived in Athens at cocktail time on Friday and found the roof of the house in Plaka, and the partyzone in the apartment facing the Acropolis and the whole thing looked really great in the moonlight. Waking up at 5:30 in the morning on the roof at the top of Plaka was pretty good too, with all of Athens starting to wake up, splashed across a big bowl below.

The English guy had been at the party, so we were all together again, although one too many for the car. After buying the visa in Munich, I had ten marks left, so I had to wait for money while the others took the ferry to Crete. By the time I got there, only two were left.

When the whole trip was over, after Istanbul, I was the only one left. But it was okay. The Oktoberfest had started, and Charlie had found a bridge under which there was room for ten backpackers - just so long as each had no more than just a sleeping bag.

Tocqueville's News This Week

'The Tocqueville Connection's' highlights from their current Friday edition did not arrive again so I took a look to see what they were not telling me and found the 'miracle' Lourdes story and a feature about the Pont des Arts, both of which have been featured here. Of course, Tocqueville has much more than Metropole about the geopolitical situation in Europe - if you are interested in this, Tocqueville will give you their Franco- American view of it.

Motorcycle 'Net News

Moto-Net is an online magazine for motorcycle fans, nanas, hangers-on, riders and all others who want to know all they can about their favorite method of locomotion. I didn't lookphoto: beauvais tille airport the whole site over because my interest in this subject is somewhat limited to Saskia's adventures - the ones she may be having now while taking a little ride around North America. So far as I could see - Moto-Net is entirely in French - which should be handy for building up your vocabulary.

The control tower at Paris' thriving Beauvais airport.

Montmartre Continues Online

When I heard about 'Paris18 Net' some weeks ago I took a look at what seemed a good idea. 'Paris18' is a doorway to 600 Web sites up on the Butte. Grouped into eight large categories so that even visitors are supposed to be able to find information about all their favorite Montmartre places. Give them a tryout if you are a Montmartre fan.

Paris' 'LiveCam' Shows Spring Weather

Metropole readers are giving this site a hit because they think I should know about the weather in Paris. I do know about the weather here. I have been out in it and wish I hadn't been. Sometimes Easter is as late as this and sometimes it snows at Easter in Paris; but Easter was earlier and it is not actually snowing. It is raining a lot instead. Ducks and geese love it. Fish don't even notice it.

Late Winter Hibernation

This year I put off buying a new calendar until it was too late to get one big enough to read easily. The result has been that the February school holidays jumped me, Easter sprang out from behind a bush, and now the after-Easter school holidays are on and my people have gone to other countries to dance in the rain. I think it's time for me to take a few days off, find a warm cinema, and go and see a couple of movies for a week.

For this reason, the current issue the number is 4.16/17. Watch for the next complete issue - number 4.18 - on Monday, 3. May, two weeks from today. If there is any serious news that may affect visitors to Paris before then, you will see it here as it happens.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

count down Eiffel TowerIssue 3.16 - 20. April 1998 - This issue featured - Café Metropole - 'In the Middle of the 'Spring' Exhibition Season' and the 'Au Bistro' column had 'Cauliflower War Victors Yet to be Named.' The issue had one feature by Tracy Turner, entitled 'The Big Easter Junk Hunt.' There were two other features, by another writer, entitled 'Hanging Out With the Freak Brothers' and 'High Floor, With 5 Million Franc View.' There were four 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned, 'Belgian Beer.' And as usual, there were all of the thousands of spelling mistakes.

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 31. December 1999:

Only 257 more freezing, overcast, damp, downpouring days to go.

Regards, Ric
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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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