Monday, April 21, 2014

April in Paris, or, I Swear I Am Not Making This Up

Well, I'm beat.

It seems, for all intents and purposes, that the unit of time I'm choosing to call "yesterday" started Saturday morning. I woke up to it in a cute little riverside hotel in Oxford, immediately worried about one thing only: were we gonna make it to Heathrow airport in time for Marjie's plane?*

It turns out that yes. As fortune would have it, we walked straight onto a train going directly to Paddington station, without having to change trains in Didcot like I thought. At Paddington, the Heathrow Express was easy to find and quick to board, and the trip took five minutes longer than I'd been counting on. So we made it to the flight in plenty of time.

I then had some fun figuring out how to get a rented wheelchair back to its rightful owners. I ended up cutting to the chase and just walking it over to the front door of an employee of the company, who lives just by Heathrow. It was a little odd, but effective.

Then back to London, and down to Metrogate to put in my laundry. After fighting with the temperamental machines for a while, I grabbed a Barclay's bike and zipped across the park to see Kiersten, my New Zealander friend who has been holding onto a suitcase for me while I've been galavanting about the countryside. The suitcase belongs to Jo, one of the study abroad students, who overpacked and was facing three weeks of European travel with a massive and weighty suitcase. As I was just going straight to Paris and staying there, I offered to take it with me. Eventually I won't regret that, but . . .

So, Kiersten thanked, I hauled the suitcase back to Metrogate House, folded laundry, watched an episode of Agents of SHIELD, and ate a candy bar. Then I hauled self, backpack, purse, and suitcase over to the Victoria underground station, and thence to Victoria coach station (which, it turns out, is a bit of a jaunt). The coach station was as most coach stations are: crowded and uncomfortably seedy. Still, I spent the last of my British change on a couple of hot rolls for my dinner, filled my water bottle, and brushed my teeth before getting on the bus.

I was pleasantly impressed with this bus. I've traveled Megabus once before, in the States, and it was not a totally enjoyable experience. Got me where I needed to be, for cheap, but it wasn't a terribly comfortable ride. This bus was nice. The seats were comfy, there was lots of room, and I could put that darn luggage down and let it be someone else's problem. I curled up and went to sleep for an hour, until awoken to go through border control at Dover. Thence, after a bit of waiting, onto my fourth ferry of the trip. I found a hidden window seat, curled up, and went back to sleep again, but I'm by now so paranoid about getting left behind on boats** that I set my alarm for much earlier than I needed to and ended up getting less sleep than I thought. Then back on the bus, resetting my watch for the hour lost crossing the Channel, and back to sleep.

I arrived in Paris at 5 a.m. Easter morning. (Or 4 a.m., if you're going by London time.) Then all my baggage and I got to struggle to find the metro station (not as easy a task as I'd been conditioned to think) and navigate the system. In proper Sunday tradition, the line I needed was down for maintenance. So more detours, more train changes, more stairs.

Finally, I made it to my correct station, found where I was supposed to be staying, didn't know what apartment number to dial to be let in, discovered I'd left my phone on the bus, tried to get internet to e-mail that I needed to be let in, borrowed a phone off a guy in the street, had call picked up by my host's friend who was just getting home with the dawn, got let in by friend, met host, got shown to apartment. Whew.

Checked maps, left apartment, grabbed a pain au chocolat from the bakery on the corner (open on Easter Sunday? Yes! The proprietor was a hijabi, which might explain it . . . hooray for faith diversity) and popped back on the tube to head into the city.

Couldn't figure out connecting train. Decided to hoof it; only two stops, right?

Well, two stops is a long way in Paris, it seems. But it was a long way along the banks of the Seine on a sunny Easter Sunday, so that worked out nicely. I strolled up the river at my leisure, enjoying the astonishing quiet, all the way to Notre Dame cathedral.

I've now decided that the best way to get to know a new city is to walk the river on a Sunday morning, and attend services in the biggest, most tourist-laden church you can find.

NDdP was packed, of course, but much less packed than I'd anticipated. I had to queue up to get inside, but the wait wasn't long. Once inside, instead of shuffling round the edges of the church with the other tourists, I squished into the crowd at the back and listened to the service. When it was over and everyone cleared out, I pressed forward to find a seat for the next mass, which started almost immediately. And was presided over by the archbishop/cardinal, with his mitre and little red cap and everything, so that was cool. I'd love to tell you what his sermon was about, but I kind of fell asleep for some of it. No fault of his.

(Side note: I've seen my share of cathedrals this year, most of them wonderfully gothic, with some good solid buttresses poking out of the walls to hold the ceiling up. No worries. NDdP's buttresses fly. They're enormous . . . like the bones of a wing . . . and reach out from the building more like spider legs than people legs. Gothic ceilings are impressive, but ND's must be the most impressive of all--not because it's the most beautiful (it's very simple compared to others I've seen), but because that sucker is being held up by physics and prayer, as it should by rights have crushed the walls to powder and glass shards long ago.)

The young woman I was sitting next to turned out to be a Korean tourist. My brain was hard put to it. (Switching between French and Korean is head-explodingly difficult.)

When the service ended, I headed out into the sunshine and walked back to Les Invalides along the opposite bank of the river. Along the way, I found a bench under a tree, where I lay down on my coat and took a nap. I was . . . I kid you not . . . within earshot of a busker playing "La Vie en Rose" on an accordion. I swear I am not making this up.

At length, I got back on my feet and continued on my way, crossing some pretty bridges and stopping at an antiques market to buy a cheese sandwich. Then I spent a long time figuring out how to get back down into the m├ętro. I took my train, got off one stop early because I'd seen a grocery store there, found it closed, found my ticket wouldn't let me back on the train, walked up to the next stop (long way) but found a grocery store where I got milk and raviolli and pasta sauce.

Once back at the flat, I downed 24 ounces of water and fell asleep at 6 p.m. or thereabouts.

So that was my weekend: one long trek of hauling stuff (either self or baggage) across northern Europe. I'm not tired anymore, because I can't get back to sleep, but I still feel like a zombie. It might have something to do with the vast amount of "I'll eat later" I've been doing. I'll get myself around a bowl of porridge and see if that kicks the brain back into gear.


*For those of you wondering, I've spent the last week hanging out with Marjie, my adopted mom/aunt, and showing her around London and Bath during her spring break.

**Had a couple of near misses on the ferries to and from Ireland. And that was on a bus full of people that knew me and would notice if I were missing.

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