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Paris in the morning

May 9, 2010

[Music playing as I’m writing this post: Andrew Bird, Noble Beast. He’s phenom, thanks Melissa!!!]

So, last night’s post was a little photo-heavy, so today I thought I’d give you something a bit writing-heavy, to distract you as you sip your Sunday morning café. Me, I’m sipping mine already!

My traveling companion, whom we’ll call Vanya for the sake of anonymity, was delayed due to who knows what and will now be arriving in Paris at the far more reasonable hour of 11AM (rather than the impossibly unreasonable hour of 7AM), so I have some time to kill while the shops are opening, and my legs are gearing up for the long day ahead.

So my trip was pretty uneventful from Ethiopia to Frankfurt – I even slept a bit on my red-eye flight! There was the most adorable tiny German child (ok, not THAT tiny, he was like 7) in the seat next to me – he kept sleeping with his head on my shoulder. His dad was really embarrassed, but we all know how baby-crazy Cupcake is, so it was all good.

After arriving in Frankfurt, though, I had 5 hours to kill between flights. Here’s a recommendation: don’t have a 5 hour layover ANYWHERE after a red-eye flight from Africa. It sucks. I mean, OK, the Frankfurt airport’s not too bad – I found a Le Pain Quotidien and had a bowl of cafe au lait (which was actually a giant latte) and some fruit and yogurt, and yes, I was able to find a Terry Pratchett book with the cool British writing and cover art, OK, but still. That will only carry you so far before 5 hours starts to feel like 5 days…

So yeah. On the plane we go, landing in Charles de Gaulle! I was hoping for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower on my way in, but then I realized that would make exactly zero sense: the airport’s on the northeast side of town, and Frankfurt is northeast of Paris…so…yeah. No worries, though. I successfully navigated the plane-bus-terminal transit, only to discover that I had completely missed what carousel my baggage would be in – 9? 12? And of COURSE they’re all located in completely different rooms in the terminal.

Here’s a traveling tip: have a sense of humor. Stuff like this has happened to me COUNTLESS times (like when the Ethiopian security check to get INTO the airport made me unpack the bag I packed so full of stuff that I had to sit on it to close it just to prove to them that it was, in fact, a curling iron), and at any point I could have snapped and hated the whole traveling experience. My only defense is to understand that life is NOT going to go smoothly when you’re traveling – there are just too many moving parts for things to go as expected, and when you add in a whole second (third, or fourth) culture, life is only going to get more complicated.

SO, having wandered the airport like a lost little puppy dog, I finally located my carousel, my suitcase (which now wears a big Cupcake nametag!!!)

Mais non, monsieur - that is my bag. See the cupcake??

and found my way to the on-airport train station. Enter: problem. The machines for tickets via the RER to the city are only accepting coins. Lisa has only Euro notes. Wander the platform looking for a machine that dispenses change, discover that the only one is “non pret a changer” (which means “Not ready to change money,” which I can only imagine is because the machine needed a little “me” time in the back before he was ready to face the day, quite understandable).

So, wander a bit more, until I discover a machine which DOES, actually, accept “les cartes,” so I whip out my ol’ Visa, swiperoo, and am now 20 euros poorer for having a carnet of 10 metro tickets plus the 9 euro trip from the airport to the city centre.

OK, great. Moving on, head for the trains! Enter set of stairs Number One. Actually, that’s not true. I’d already climbed 5 sets of stairs at the Frankfurt airport whilst carrying my ridiculous luggage (both the close to 45 lb. rollie bag and he 25 lb. carry-on mini-bag). But my first set in France. Of course I get winded halfway down, and have to pull over on the landing to let the 65 year old couple with the suitcase 2x the size of mine to pass me. Ahem.

Get on the train (after fretting back and forth looking at the destinations of each train, after which I notice a little sign that says “ALL TRAINS GO TO PARIS,” in ENGLISH, no less), and travel through the banlieues of Paris until we arrive at the Gare du Nord. Here the story gets confusing: I was supposed to take the “correspondance” or switchover by walking from the Gare du Nord to La Chappelle, a stop on line 2. After lugging essentially 70 lbs of crap up and down 3 more sets of stairs, I’m now faced with a turnstile. Being as I’m living in Washington, I assume the system is the same: you must put in the ticket you used to get into the metro in order to get out of the metro. Also there will be enough time for you to push your rollie bag through ahead of you.

Hmmm…why on earth did I think I could apply DC logic to the French train system!? Of course I put in the ticket from the airport to Paris instead of a NEW ticket for the metro only, which left the machine a little confused. Nevertheless, I pressed onward, literally, to the point where my rollie bag, my extra bag, and my me were all STUCK between the turnstile and the gate (it’s a body-sized vertical gate that releases when the right fare is paid). Like, literally, physically stuck: I cannot get out, and I cannot go back the way I came. I. Was. Stuck.

So, ok,…fine. Maybe an expletive escaped my lips. But just one. And just a little one – no f-bombs were dropped. But, I did it in English. Which meant that the very kind gentleman in line behind me heard me, to which he replied with an American accent “Ah, are you stuck?” … uh … yes. That’s why I’m standing in the 1.5 square feet of space between the turnstile and the gate, straddling my suitcase with both feet just barely touching the floor and a pained expression on my face from the forces involved…

But yeah. So we finagled it so that I held the gate open for him while he came through, and after wrestling my bag up and out, success! Whew – I have bruises all OVER my legs from this adventure, let me just tell you, and my arms are barely strong enough to lift onto the keyboard to type to you. I don’t even want to picture what showering is going to feel like.

Soooo I made it to my friend’s house (who has offered me the absolutely AWESOME foldout couch in her living room!!!), she took me for a walk in her neighborhood, which is adorable, mind you, pointed out the best bakery, fromagerie, boucherie, and how to get to a few other metro stops. Then she had to run off to a few parties (it’s her birthday today!), so I was left to amuse myself which I did by the aforementioned trip downtown to find macarons. Originally I went downtown to find dinner, but it turns out the place I was looking for not only shut down, but their new location is actually just a place to buy fancy meats and wines. So I wandered a bit more, embarrassed myself with my rusty French (walking into a bistrot and saying “are you open?” when clearly there are people sitting down drinking, and the guy goes…”Uhm…pour manger?” [pantomimes putting food into his mouth; yes, man, I know what “manger” means]…I’m such a moron.), but persevered and responded to all question in French, no matter the language they were posed in! (E.g. “Where are you from?” “Je viens des Etats-Unis, mais j’essAIE de parler francais!” “ahhh, mais tu parles bien, princesse!” translation: “I’m from the US but I’m TRYING to speak French!” “Ahh, but you’re speaking quite well, princess” Princess? Right. Give me my banana, street-vendor-man.)

I’ll update more before we leave, I’m sure, but for now, I shall leave you to go brave the streets of Paris on a Sunday morning, in search of fresh pain au chocolat and my friend’s flight arrival.

In case you can’t tell already, I am absolutely, 110% in love with this place. Staying at an apartment instead of in a hotel makes things so much more accessible, and real. It’s going to be truly heartbreaking to say goodbye. But I’m not thinking about that yet. 🙂

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria permalink
    May 9, 2010 7:04 am

    famers fight! I love it.

  2. Victoria permalink
    May 9, 2010 7:15 am

    ok, I really meant “farmers fight!”. i’ve also had some stressful experiences in Charles de Gaulle. I once spent an entire EIGHT hours managing their airport system and probably not american-friendly staff because my incoming flight delayed my ability to make my outgoing flight. not fun.

    Also, in nYC this past week I noticed a place called “pret a manager”… what does that mean??? i didn’t realize it could have been french!

    bUT, I didn’t want to say that I’m soooo happy you are in Paris, Cupcake! It looks like you’re having just a fabulous time. And yes, I will move there with you in a heartbeat. ❤

    • Cupcake permalink
      May 9, 2010 4:48 pm

      Yay! “Pret a manger” means “ready to eat” – we have one in DC! It’s at the Farragut West metro station. Good fresh sandwiches and salads, not tooooo pricey.

      Farmers fight, indeed…Famers too. And yes, Charles de Gaulle is AWFUL – if that was all I knew of Paris, I’d hate it.

  3. Adam H permalink
    May 9, 2010 7:48 am

    Enjoy yourself! (as if you need me to tell you that). Paris is definitely one of my favorite cities. So much to eat, drink, and see!

    As for transit in Paris, I feel your pain. I’ve definitely 1) jumped the Metro turnstile after throwing my bag across it first, 2) been an hour late to meet my brother at Charles de Gaulle because I was ridiculously hungover, and 3) carried my wife’s 70-lb suitcase (plus one of mine) from Charles de Gaulle, all around the Metro, and to two different hotels.

    Eat some cheese for me!

    • Cupcake permalink
      May 9, 2010 4:46 pm

      Haha – that’s awesome, Adam! I’ll definitely eat some cheese for you, and I’ve already started on the Kronenburgs, so you know I’ll be drinking for you too. 🙂

      As for 1) I can understand the impulse.
      2) I was an hour late to pick my friend at the airport today! But not from a hangover…well, not ONLY from a hangover…
      3) You’re a saint and a gentleman. 😉

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