Just Getting Here
Lynden, Washington, USA to Paris, France
I left my home at 5:45am and hiked a bit to the WTA transit station where an airporter shuttle bus picked me up for the four hour ride to the Seattle airport. My flight to Amsterdam, Nederland was about 10 hours but went by surprisingly fast. After going through customs & immigration, I caught my connecting flight to Paris.
I still believe in packing everything in one carry on size bag, but it has its drawbacks. After lugging that thing for miles and miles in three big airports, I sure wish it had wheels.
It took me a while to figure out the Paris public transport system, a couple of hours actually. The system includes the inter city train system, the RER which is above and below ground and serves the greater Paris area and mixes with the Metro which is all underground and serves inner city Paris, and there’s the bus system as well. Then throw in an unfamiliar language and realize that you can’t read anything either and have fun.
I could have taken a taxi or a shuttle I suppose but I was bound and determined to live amongst the locals, and keep my mouth shut lest they find me out. You just plow forward as if you know what you’re doing, make mistakes and react or not, as if you meant to do that.
After I discovered I was on the wrong train, in fact not even in the right system, I de-trained just in time. Good thing too as that train was bound for somewhere in Italy I think. That would not have been good. But I meant to do that you see, I wanted to see how helpful Parisians would be… yeah that’s it. I then found what I thought was the right RER train and got on, with confidence and determination; I am a local after all.
As we headed towards Paris, I was struck at how foreign it all seemed, yet so familiar as well. The train cars were small, uncomfortable, decorated with graffiti, and jammed full of people of all colors, ages and classes, and who by the way, all looked like they knew what they were doing. Just like metros throughout Canada the U.S. I suppose.
I arrived at the Gare du Nord RER station where I was supposed to transfer to the Metro system. Oh Lord. Looking as if I knew what I was doing, I found my way through a myriad of tunnels and onto the train that I thought was going where I wanted to go. The trains were all different though and I thought that can’t be all bad, just pay attention. Well, good thing I did. At the stop just before mine I just happened to be looking at a person who was getting off and standing in front of the door. When the train stopped she did something to make the door open but I didn’t quite catch what she did. Uh oh. I looked around and the other doors were not open. The only doors that were open were the ones in front of people that did something magic. OK, this is just a disaster in the making.
I slowed down and purposefully was not the first one at the door, but I paid close attention. Apparently, you have to lift and turn a lever to get the door to open. Got it. Next time, I’ll be the first at the door, proud to show everyone that I can lift and turn a lever, on a door, on a silly train, when probably no one really cares. It sounded lots cooler in my head, at the time, when I had been up for 30+ hours.
I exited the train and then had to find my way out. Easier said than done, but after overcoming a couple of obstacles, I popped up in the middle of Place de la Republique. Holy cow, Paris was all around me, it was quite unmistakable. Wow, I was awake now. It was a gorgeous day with the sights and smells of Paris. It was just like I was at EPCOT. I was giddy. I felt like doing a twirl and throwing my beret into the air like Mary Tyler Moore did at the beginning of her show, but discretion got the better of me. I thought it best not to call attention to myself and well, I didn’t have a beret. I had been warned about con artists and gypsies and I certainly did not want their attention.
I was thinking about one of the cons described in Rick Steves‘ books where a troubled looking gypsy, typically a woman, who could also be holding a baby, gets your attention and then her cohorts gather round and distract you and pick your pockets. It usually starts with the line “do you speak English?” This is the absolute truth. I turned around and there she was; I didn’t even see her coming. With a troubled look on her face and … wait for it…. “do you speak English?” I burst out in laughter just because of the timing. I then said “no” with the best French accent I could muster and walked on.
The only problem was I didn’t know which direction to walk. It was one of those plazas with roads going off in all sorts of directions. I finally got my bearings after retracing my steps no less than three times and set off for a six block walk to the Paris – Jules Ferry Hostel which I found, but it was closed for a couple hours for cleaning. So, I waited, I checked in. I tried to relax, finally.
My roomy was an 18 year old German girl named Hannah, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, traveling Europe for a couple of weeks, … ah to be young again. She spoke fluent French and of course Deutsch, and a little English. I speak enough English to get by and with a tiny bit of French I’ve been teaching myself, and a schmattering of German I learned from Frau Bald in University (I prefer not to talk about that), we got by. She studies history and social something or other in U, but she’s not sure if she wants to continue. She, like others I’ve encountered, is not too crazy about America right now. She did point out though that she doesn’t have anything against Americans, it’s just our government they don’t like. I guess I should take her at her word because I told her I was from Canada.
I’m curious to hear what people think of Americans, in our face and behind our back, so, half the time, I’m from Canada, the other half I’m from the USA. It’s great being a duly. Half this, half the other, just like the rest of my life.
So, that was my first European adventure, just getting here. And what an adventure it was, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although it seems that in this day and age, we ought to be able to get anywhere on this planet in less than 30 hours. Dang it, where’s my jet pack and flying car?