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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Paris, in a sports car . . .

it is early morning on my last day of my first visit to Paris . . .

and I can't help but think how far I have come, not simply in miles, and how much further my family's next generation will go . . .

when I decided to come here, I wanted to "ride through Paris, in a sports car, with the wild wind in [my] hair" (I still may, I have almost a full day left)

I loved The Ballad of Lucy Jordan  when I was younger - it had all the angst a young girl wanted

BUT, I didn't quite understand why her life was dependent on her husband and children:

Her husband he's off to work
And the kids are off to school
And there were oh so many ways
For her to spend her days

She could clean the house for hours
Or rearrange the flowers
Or run naked through the shady street
Screaming all the way
OR, you know, she could have taken control of her own life and booked a trip to Paris and rented a sports car, or a gigolo, or whatever she thought was missing from her life

I never dreamed, as that young girl, that I would be in Paris, or living in China, or most of the paths my life journey has taken so far

but I was fortunate enough to have a mother who taught my siblings and I (and they have passed it on to their children) that life is what YOU make it

she also taught me that being human means making mistakes, and that's ok also

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One taxi, two planes, three airports, three trains, one bus, two very sore feet and an awfully tired Kiwi . . .

Sunrise in Frankfurt

At 3 pm local time, I finally arrived at my Paris hotel, 21 and a half hours after stepping out my apartment door in Beijing.

Phase 1: Beijing to Frankfurt
I thought I might have trouble finding a cab close to midnight in torrential rain but it only took minutes. I tried to relax as my driver raced along the highways at normal speed despite the amount of water on the road, passing the other sensible drivers with hazard lights on and driving sedately, and managing not too aquaplane too badly. I was of course at the airport with hours to spare, but luckily had a distracting book with me.
The flight was uneventful and the two French-Canadian women seated in my row were very pleasant but, having barely slept on Monday night and then had to stay up to catch the 0205 flight Wednesday, I was so overtired that I could not sleep. Being in a aisle seat didn't help. I watched three movies on the way.

Phase 2: Beijing to Frankfurt
Frankfurt Airport is lovely, even if you're so tired you feel like a zombie. The food there is better than many restaurants I've eaten at and at reasonable prices. I had three hours to spend before my connection so explored the concourse for an hour, walking off the stiffness from the plane and deciding where to eat, spent an hour enjoying the best sandwich I've ever eaten (no exaggeration) while watching the sun rise and another hour reading.
The flight was only 70 minutes and uneventful, but it seemed strange to see so many well-dressed people on a flight when you spend so much time traveling in Asia. I imagine most were just popping next door for business meetings, like my neighbor who only had his computer and a briefcase and spent the flight reviewing a contract.
I was also surprised that, even for non-EU passport holders, once you're in Europe now, that seems to be that. My passport was checked at Frankfurt and I was asked where I was going and for how long, but didn't provide any proof and simply exited the airport in Paris with no sign of Customs or Immigration.

Phase 3: Airport to hotel, Paris
My friend had told me this was simple - metro from Charles De Gaulle Airport to Gare de Nord, walk to Gare du l'Est and transfer to line going to Rosny-Bois-Perrier. Hotel was about 500 meters from the station, he said.
It might have been easier if I was so zombified by then. And if I had been able to find any maps of Paris online before I went that overlaid the street system and subway system. Lots of either available, but nothing that gave any sense of where the hotel was in relation to the subway stop, or even how to get from Gare de Nord to Gare du l'Est. .
After buying a transport pass for the five days I will be here (long lines for that) and picking up a good subway map, I noticed a line that adjoined Gare de Nord and went to my final stop, which seemed easier than negotiating roads between the two when I didn't even know which exit I needed.
Got to Gare de Nord and had lost my five-day pass - they're about the size of a raffle ticket and did recall seeing one on the ground while waiting for my first train but was so tired I didn't even pick it up and look at it, thinking mine was safe in my pocket. I did wonder if the owner might have a problem exiting his or her destination station but that was all.
The owner did, and got to buy a pass again, which would have paid for a taxi to the hotel, I'm fairly sure.
Then was the problem of finding where to take my connection from and which platform, and thankfully the French are much more tolerant of people who barely speak their language than they have a reputation for. But it's a line that splits just before my destination, so you have to be sure you're taking the correct train. Which should be easy if you know the alternate end destinations, or so one would think. Except the one I took missed my stop and the next, so I then needed to come back again.
Once finally at the right stop, I looked at the map of the local area and the street I needed to get to wasn't on it. Ready to cry with sheer exhaustion by now, I asked a shopkeeper who sweetly took me outside and showed me the bus to take, I told the driver where I needed to go and he told me the name of the stop I needed (all individual, as in Beijing) and let me know when we were two stops away.

My relief at getting to the hotel proved less of a relief when I realized just how budget it is but, having showered, changed and walked to a nearby Carrefour to buy things I expected would be supplied, I'm feeling more positive. The WiFi won't work in my room or on my phone, it seems, but there's a comfortable lobby where I'm tiredly ensconced.

I'm sure tomorrow will bring much more interesting adventures . . .