Friday, May 23, 2014

Paris – bored of shopping but still not bored of the city

The most spontaneous thing I've ever done was booking a next-day-flight out to Paris. I guess it would've been much more fun if it was for leisure but no, the trip was a necessity. Extremely grateful for KC, my rock, for being so supportive and encouraging the whole time. So here's how the story goes...

I planned on travelling around Europe after the end of my Spring Semester in London. However, my Visa expired a week after it ended, and I was told in January by the border agency in Singapore that I would have to leave the UK and re-enter as a tourist.

I'm the biggest worrywart you'll ever meet – I not only stress myself out, I have managed to stress other people out as well. I had been stressing out over my Visa for a good four months. My roommates, and not to mention KC, had to endure my worrying "What if I get detained?" "What if I get deported?" "What if I needed to fly back to Singapore first OMG so much money my mother will KILL me."

During my time in London, I tried calling the border agency – no answer. I also emailed them twice – no reply. I decided to trust the instructions given to me in Singapore. I flew to Dublin before my Visa expired with the intention of flying back into the UK as a tourist after my Visa expired. 

To my surprise, there were no immigration checks upon arrival back into the UK (Glasgow). That means I only had a departure stamp on my passport. I panicked and when I got back to KC's place, I called every number I could find that might have been able to help with my situation. What made matters worse was that it was a Sunday, and Monday was a bank holiday, so all offices were closed. I called the airport, the customs office and even Singapore embassy's emergency hotline. No one could give me a definite answer or provide me with helpful instructions. Everyone pretty much asked me the same thing, "Why must you remain in the UK when you've already stayed here for the past 4 months?" Hmmmmmm, I don't know, let's see...maybe it's because I was working and studying over the past 4 months and had no time to travel anywhere far!?

I googled, and learnt that Dublin is in a Common Travel Area (CTA), which is why there are no immigration checkpoints upon arrival into the UK. Oh, the irony of how the Republic of Ireland isn't considered as "outside of the UK" despite their independence...
I was so angry because 1) I still did not have an answer as to what I should do next (will leaving the UK REALLY allow me to re-enter as a tourist?) 2) HOW IS THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND NOT CONSIDERED "OUTSIDE OF THE UK"?! 3) I was about to blow ££££ on a next-day-flight out to try my luck.

I was so lost and overwhelmed because of the "advice" I received over the phone that KC had to sit me down and assure me that everything was going to be alright (even though he admitted after the trip that he was so stressed and worried the whole time too but he had to be strong for me <3<3). We eventually booked two tickets to Paris for the next morning. I initially planned to go alone as KC had exams in a month, but he was so worried that I wouldn't have been able to handle it alone. Which was right because I was already such a nervous wreck when he was around. I cannot thank him enough.

Since we were there, I tried to be less worried/stressed/nervous/anxious and make the most of my time instead. 

First stop: lunch. We stayed near Gare Du Nord station so that it'll be relatively easy for us to get to the airport the next day. We hadn't planned anything, so I used the TripAdvisor Paris City Guide app to check for top French restaurants to dine in. This amazing app recommended by Greg (whose roommate recommended to him, so that you Greg's roommate!) lets you search for attractions/dining places offline. Perfect for when I'm overseas and have no data connection. The City Guide is available for major cities so you should download it if you're travelling :)

Coincidentally, the #3 restaurant on TripAdvisor was a 20min walk from our hostel, and was said to be very affordable too!

The restaurant was tiny, and could only accommodate 10 people. A lady, who turned out to be the owner of the restaurant (her husband is the chef), welcomed us and flipped through what seemed to be her reservation book. She spoke very little English, so we were trying very hard to communicate to her that we did not make a reservation. She eventually understood us, and sat us down at a table. We were so lost and didn't know what to expect because she only conversed in French. After she took our orders, she then poured us a glass of wine each and handed us a plate of cold cuts each. I'm not a fan of cured meat (or meat in general, in fact), so KC practically ate everything for me.

Our mains were served after we were done with our appetisers. I ordered a beef bourguignon with rice (typical Asian) and KC got pork. The beef was really tender and melty. Not a fan of pork so I can't speak for it, but KC did enjoy it. Overall, the food was really authentic and homely. You'll never be able to get something like this at your typical, pretty Parisian cafes (they all serve really bad food). 

The ladyboss was so hospitable and welcoming. She provided us with a table full of condiments (mustard, wholegrain mustard, oils...) for our salad and even offered to take our picture.

Many pictures, in fact. Haha she even gave us props and made us wear them hahaha. 

We were stuffed by the time we finished our mains, and had no more room for dessert, so we kindly rejected her offer and asked for the bill. To our surprise, she served us this plate of sweets and said, "Welcome to Paris!". Such a sweetheart <3

While we were trying our hardest to finish our dessert, she went around to all the tables, asking everyone to spot her husband in an army photo taken over 40 years ago, when he was 20. I guessed it right the first time and she gave us a souvenir scarf, beanie and keychains as prizes. What an amazing host!

She also poured each of us a homemade shot. I was dreading this. I cannot, for the life of me, enjoy alcohol. Especially not in the day, but I downed it anyway and immediately took a huge gulp of water cause I'm hopeless like that haha. KC said it was sweet and pretty bearable. 

The owner, Mdm Zouzou. Will definitely pay her a visit again when we go back to Paris!

Walked all the way to Galleries Lafayette just because I wanted to eat my duchesse potatoes from the food court, but there was none, so we got Amorino instead. There are no limits to the number of flavours, but I always pick the same three: hazelnut, pistachio and chocolate. Hazelnut is my go-to flavour for ice-cream! 

Pitstop outside the Louvre to rest our legs before continuing our journey to Champs-Elysees. 

Needless to say, I was so nervous that I was close to tears at the immigration, even though I had nothing to hide. I was just so afraid that they wouldn't let me stay in the UK – and I had already booked all my flights (and even brought my tickets along for proof). I could not let all the money go to waste like that, my mom would kill me (as you can see my mom is still the person I'm most afraid of). The immigration officer was really nice, and asked questions in a non-interrogative way. So I got my visitor stamp on my passport and here I am, safe and sound, waiting for poor KC to finish his exams.

Didn't get to see much of Paris this time round, but we'll be back :) So proud of myself for not buying anything (except for foie gras) during this trip heh. 



  2. Wow.

    1) You obviously don't know me. Let me tell you something about myself: I'm paranoid and meticulous, and I'm not one to go somewhere/do something without doing my homework/research. So calling me stupid would be calling everyone I consulted stupid as well (my professor, student advisor, friendS, GOOGLE, and the lady at the Aer Lingus counter who told me "I should be fine!" when I was flying out to Dublin and told her about my Visa issue). Unfortunately for me, there wasn't and still isn't enough information online regarding Common Travel Areas (CTA) when I was doing my research online about Visas and re-entering as a tourist.

    2) The Republic of Ireland gained independence from the UK in the early 1900s, while Northern Ireland still remains part of the UK. Dublin is in the REPUBLIC of Ireland (and I thought my history was bad).

    3) Here, let me google the 2 passports for you. In case you can't tell the difference because they are supposed to be the same, I'll label them for you.

    Republic of Ireland:

    Look who has the last laugh. Now bugger off and pick someone your own (brain) size.

  3. Hi Collette!

    Sorry to have to ask you this through your blog, but can I please ask you about how you solved your entire visa situation? I'm also a Singaporean studying in the UK on a student visa which expires in a month, but I need/want to stick around for at least 2 more months.

    I'm planning to fly out to Sweden and fly back to get a visitor stamp so that I can extend my stay. Do I have to fly out before my visa expires and fly back after it has expired? And do you know if this method still works? :\ Sorry I have to trouble you about this but it's Christmas+NY hols and everyone's closed for business!

    Also, I was wondering, how did you manage to get past immigration at UK when you left for Paris? Hasn't your visa already expired by then and you technically have already overstayed in the UK? :\

    Sorry for taking up your time!! But I hope you can help me please :)

    1. Hi there! I'm so sorry for the late reply but I hope you see this. With regards to how I managed to get past immigration when I left for Paris - yes, I did overstay because I went to Dublin thinking that it was outside of the UK, but I think they closed one eye as I only overstayed for a couple of days and I was getting out of the UK after all. When I returned to the UK, I got a very pleasant immigration officer who was more interested in talking to my bf bout uni than me re-entering the UK after my visa had expired. We told him I was waiting for his exams to end before we travelled around Europe together. So yes, I highly recommend that you fly out before your visa expires then fly back as a visitor after your visa expires. It's not against the law or anything but try to prepare documents like your air ticket to show that you'll eventually be leaving UK for home. I hope this helps :)

    2. Thanks! That was really helpful :)