My last day in Paris consisted mainly of frustrated scrambling but that's not till later.
Since my overnight train to Madrid didn't leave until late in the afternoon, I elected to laze around the city until then.
Paris is a delightful place to be lazy. Every three feet offers another bijouterie that offers tender and fresh delicacies that are not to be missed. If you can afford nothing else, you have to eat in France.
When I finally slacked my way to the train station, bare in mind Paris has five, I settled in for another in a long string of sits in train stations.
Now, as a result of my all day snacking, I needed to use the restroom but also hadn't a franc to my name. This is unfortunate as the bathroom costs 5.
Pay toilets. Pay Toilets! They call this civilization? Now the principle isn't foreign to me, I've seen it before, but for it to be so universal- and inconvenient. I wound up trading a phone card for the privilege and I will admit it was quite the bathroom. Still…
It wasn't until I was about to board that I discovered a general truth about riding the rails in Europe, you need a reservation. For just about every train, in just about every country, you need a reservation even with the Eurorail pass.
Now comes the fun. Upon realizing that I had scant few hours to make other arrangements or I'd be in Paris until that time tomorrow, and without any accommodations, I decided to shuffle my plans and visit Normandy before Spain.
Even as I dragged myself through the kiln-like temperatures of Paris' crowded and unventilated subway system, I schemed where I would go and stay once I reached my destination.
As I said before, Paris has 5 train stations and when one is in a hurry, the names have a tendency to blend together. So instead of arriving in time to make my reservation, a detour left missing that train as well. Finally, dripping sweat and nauseated by the smells and sights of the Paris underground, I managed to find another overnight train to Madrid which did not require a reservation.
This is not necessarily a good thing.
I spent the next seven hours crouched between cars with eight other people, five of whom were drunken Mexicans intent on finishing their hash before Spain. It was a long, long night.
And it wasn't over come dawn. For the connecting train to Madrid was reservation only. The next is mostly a blur of passing scenery and ticket booths as myself and a dozen other backpackers were bounced through a second connecting city.
When I finally reached Madrid my sole concern was taking as long a shower as is humanly possible.
When I finally woke, I took a brief walking tour of the city and wound up at the Museum del Prado. Crammed full of Goya, and for some reason a ton of midget art, it was a very nice but not overly impressive collection. I enjoyed sunning myself in the Parque del Buen Retiro more.
Since Madrid was leaving me cold, I decided I'd jaunt down to Morocco and set foot on African soil. Another overnight train and a ferry ride later I was being harangued by a broad assortment of Arabs.
I entered via Tangier and was immediately beset by ‘guides' intent on showing me around the town. I ignored most until a persistent fellow with a government license offered a brief walking tour. What followed was a brisk trot around the city with a couple of scenic overlooks and a stop in a rug dealer to see the genuinely beautiful products.
It goes without saying that everything there is about money. Even the government guides expect tips, every one is selling something and usually for far too much money. The basic advice of never accept a third offer, select your own price and begin negotiating far below it and always, always feel free to walk away at any time. Doing so generally gets you bigger savings.
In spite of all this, it's impossible to feel like you've come out ahead. This is my second time dealing with Arab traders and I'm not interested in a third. For my money, the non-negotiable, US mall shopping experience is far less nauseating.
But let's talk about the food for a sec, because Damn. I guess it should be expected that a country known for its spices would have lively cuisine. But the flavors swirled within the cuos-cuos and lamb defy description. The meal starts with olives and a sauce that picks out taste buds like a smart bomb, a fairly conventional salad is then followed by the main dish. I wound up eating in a local joint rather than the over done opulence of the tourist traps. All the better for me, as the price was more reasonable and the food better.
Again, leaving I was besieged by helpful characters who just wanted to see my ticket and passport. Do I need to say forget about it? Not a culture for the meek.
From Tangier I made a beeline to Pomplona for the San Fermin festival, better known as the running of the bulls.
More on that later,