Tag Archives: Paris

Delinquency and the Fun Bus (thinner AND kinder)

Bro and I had a great final day in Paris. Nothing went according to plan. I had a list of final sights to see, but the lines for those sights were fleshy miles long, and I was not about to spend my last day in Paris crammed together with internationals who had varying interpretations for hygiene and personal space.

Instead, we spent the day checking out whatever caught our eye, eating anything that looked appealing, and drinking everything that was put in front of us.

Round One

When it was time to go home, we headed into the station to buy tickets, but the machine wasn’t working and it was Sunday, meaning no one was manning the ticket counter to help, so we did what all of the natives were doing and mashed ourselves between the gate and the wall and headed down to the train platform (lovely trail of bruises down my side, reminding me of my lapses in judgment; and those would be both choosing to break a loosely held law and my ability to mash through narrow spaces).

Bro and I weren’t quite as confident in our nonfeasance as the locals seemed to be. Many Parisians will hold the gate open behind them, or give you a helping hand in dislodging yourself from the small space you have illegally crept through. We, however, were terrified that local authorities would have turned over a new leaf in the past 5 minutes, and would actually be on the lookout for offenders. If you’ve been to Paris in the past few years, you know that this was irrational, and we could have very well been vending human organs on the platform, and no one would have batted an eye. Had Bro and I understood a lick of French, we would have learned that there was a train strike, so there would be just one more train to take us home, which wouldn’t be around for another hour, and the police and train staffers were not on the platform to find two American criminals, but were there to keep everyone calm and to coordinate the situation. We assumed the prior, so we avoided their approach faithfully.

We boarded the train around 1 a.m. and were still shooting nervous glances around and speaking in hushed voices to each other about our plan for when we reached our final destination… since we didn’t have a ticket to get out of the station. Our foreign nervous chatter caught the ear of a fellow passenger, who spoke some English and must have heard us mention our station because he chimed in, “This train is terminated at the next stop. It goes no further tonight.” Another result of the strike, we would later learn.

Bro and I knew the area well enough to understand that that was going to leave us very, very far from home. Our faces simultaneously fell and we whimpered to the stranger, “But…but we need to go further. We don’t know how to get home.” “No problems!” said the guy, “There will be a bus to take us further!” Which. We. Had. No. Ticket. For.

“Well. That’s nice.” I offered.

When the train stopped, apparently everyone was under the impression that there would be just one bus to take the contents of a 10 car train, because everyone shoved past us and bolted for the escalator and then the gates of the station. Bro and I were the only people balking, since we had no way out and no way home. Pale faced at the realization that we may have to aimlessly stroll the streets of the Paris burbs in the wee hours of the morning, we allowed ourselves to be carried along by the urgent, surging crowd. As we were hustled along to the exit gates, we saw a barrier of train employees in their bright red, menacing jackets standing between us and the ticketed turnstiles that we had no way of turning sans ticket.

Overcome with paranoia and assuming that they were all there with their radios and stern faces to catch Bro and I, I yelled, “Hide!” to Bro and we ducked and shoved into the crowd, hearts racing, as we were born out of the station by a human convoy of frantic Parisians. My earlier objection to violations of personal space and poor hygiene forgotten and embraced.

Once outside the station, we heaved a sigh of relief and then focused on our new challenge of getting home. There were 6 buses, which filled in a matter of seconds.

“Bro, I think we should just get on. What’ve we got to lose at this point?” He continued to blubber on about why we couldn’t but I was a full-fledged derelict now, and I wanted to go home, so I fixed my gaze on the mid-bus doors of a bus that still had room on it and no one seemed to be taking tickets. Pulse-pounding and no longer caring whether Bro was with me or not, I began to walk to the bus. My determined pace was interrupted by French blabberty-yabberty and I turned around and about messed myself when I saw that I was being approached by a stern, red-jacketed train man, hand outstretched -the universal sign for “Stop right there.”

“I…sorry…I’m so sorry…” I said, tears welling in my eyes. (What? I had been drinking wine since 4 p.m.)

“Where are you going?”

“To Saint Denis, but I’ll walk. I promise.”

“That bus!” He pointed to the one I had been headed for, “Run!”

I did. And Bro did, too. We packed onboard, bouncing up and down, eager for the doors to shut before the train people realized they had been had. The doors eased shut and we both relaxed for the first time in two hours, and I blame the fear, adrenaline, fatigue, and wine for what happened next.

I began to laugh. Hysterically. Like, lock this lady up, laugh. Like, tears and probably some snot running down my face, laugh. Like, I can’t believe we didn’t get a ticket or get thrown in a dungeon, laugh. You get the picture. Bro joined in. We lost it and we couldn’t get it back. Every single person was staring at us. Braying like donkeys, we conceded, when asked, that yes, we were Americans.

I am sorry to all of my fellow Americans for confirming for the French that we are a bunch of classless asses. But, you know what? Those people had just waited over an hour for a train and then made a mad dash at 1:30 a.m. for buses that they weren’t sure they would fit on, so I have to believe they appreciated the comic relief. Many of them smiled and some even began to laugh. This lasted the duration of our ride to Saint Denis. They say it’s contagious, and I think it is the one thing worth catching in Paris (well…that and a bus home).

Author’s Note: We later learned of the train strike, and due to the delay, no one was required to use their tickets. The ride was free, and the buses were complimentary to make amends for the train being unable to continue its run. Meaning our scheming, 2 hours of internal conflict, and our authority-evasion were for nothing.

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Il fait bon vivre ici and stuff.

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I am on day 7 in La Ville-Lumière, and there are quite a few things I could get used to and a few that I would either change or chuck. It has been great to stroll through the city. I’ve clocked decent mileage and even climbed the Eiffel Tower. This would normally be hurtling me to the “becoming thinner” task, if my diet didn’t’ consist primarily of wine, bread, and stinky cheese. However, let’s all realize that I would have to walk around in drawstring pants to accommodate those meals, if not for hoofing it. Score.

There are the obvious sights to take in here and then there are the true gems like finding the café where best to watch passers-by, or a favorite bridge to have lunch on and watch the boats putter down the Seine.  I found my bridge on my second day in Paris. There isn’t anything spectacular about the construction of it. As far as this girl could tell, it is made of wood and some metal. The sturdy kind. It is called the Pont des Arts, and the chain link sides are covered with thousands of padlocks.

A portion of the Pont des Arts.

My initial thought was that it was a popular spot for locking up your bike, but then I looked more closely at the locks and saw that people had engraved or written initials, notes, and dates on them; locking their hearts there. On that bridge. In Paris. I’m a sucker for sweet things. I don’t know what else to tell you.

One of my favorite locks on the bridge.

A few things that boggle me about Paris:

1)       If an American (me) eats baguettes, cheese, croissants, and chocolate, they become lethargic, their skin breaks out, and they begin to waddle and not fit their clothes, but the French eat like that and their skin is smooth and requires no foundation or cover up AND they are svelte-like.

2)      Tourism is an area Parisians feel particularly gifted in, but if that game “pick-up-sticks” was made of spaghetti noodles that would be the likeness of their metro system. AND all the signs are in French. What gives?

3)      Visitors love the beauty and pulse of this city, and always long to return, but will typically comment on how badly they’ve been treated here. This seems masochistic. I prefer to be praised and appreciated wherever I am.

4)      Along the same vein of that attitude of Parisians toward the rest of the world, I will say I wonder at their shifty moods. On the one hand, they stomp around with an air of “Don’t even look at me”, “I don’t give a stale croissant what you think”, and “You are not worthy of gulping my air” –erey, and on the other they relish comfort and pretty things and are known for their passionate amoureux.

5)      Lots of thought and resources are put into the quantity and variety of flowers planted in the city and suburbs. It’s really lovely. Meanwhile, people and animals go potty on the sidewalk alongside the gardens.

6)      There is an evident promotion of relaxation and stress-free living here, but driving around, say, the Arch de Triumph, can get you killed owing to manic, unclear traffic patterns and kamikaze motor bikes.

7)      Parisians throw on random garments I wouldn’t put a finger on in a thrift store and manage to look annoyingly chic. I very seriously stood in awe of a woman with alarmingly radical bed head, no makeup save for some magenta lip stick, a boyfriend blazer, running pants (picture fugly and ill-fitting Adidas) and some very high and strappy leather heels. Her ensemble made no sense and yet she was stunning and I wanted to slap her.

The characteristics that make Paris, Paris have been excellent fodder for the book I am working on, so I am looking forward to hunkering down and getting some writing done.  Being in this romantic city is calling to mind the various relationships, infatuations, stalkers, and trysts of my lifetime, and how they’ve crafted my expectations and fundamental beliefs, so I will coast this inspirational current and hopefully make a huge dent in my manuscript…as I munch endless carbs. Happy and nostalgic.

Photos © 2010 Abigail Santmyer.

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Eyjafjallajoekull: Name of a Volcano, or drunk text?

I left London this morning very proud of my unwitting foresight to take the train south to the coast in Dover, and would ferry across the channel to Calais and catch a train down to Paris, instead of flying, before I’d ever learned of a volcano erupting. Well. I must have forgotten for a moment that pretty much everything I do has something ridiculous attached to it. Meaning that of course a volcano no one has ever heard of (nor can say or spell) would erupt about 1200 miles away and somehow impact the 180,000 or so people flying out of Heathrow sending them flocking to any alternate transportation. (Read: MY quaint ferry ride).

So, while I had no time to work on the book today, I did burn 506,845 calories, since there was no hope of bus or taxi at any one of the 3 stations I landed, so me, my trusty four-wheel Samsonite and some impractical shoes (Don’t judge. I had planned on cabbing everywhere) hoofed it over many miles of cobblestone streets, 6 stories of stairs and 8 flights of ferry ramps.  I was also pretty darn kind today considering the circumstances (and having a LOT to do with the language barrier once I reached France. It doesn’t count as being mean when no one can understand your sarcasm).

The thing is…and this is going on my experience today alone; neither the UK or France seem to excel in crisis management, or even know what it means. No additional buses were running, taxis were anywhere but where people were and every queue was staffed with 2 folks. You know you’re not in America when no one is capitalizing on a natural disaster. Hoards of Italian, German, Danish and French businessmen were desperate to get back to their offices and were trying to throw money at anyone, but no one cared. Seriously hundreds to a thousand dollars were offered for a lift.

Some Danish men on the way to the ferry office:

Are you British?

Me: Are you serious? Check my teeth and waistline. What do you reckon?

Sorry?

Nope. I’m from the States.

Ahhh…your plane down, too?

No. I’ve been planning this journey for weeks, actually.

(Jibber joiken to each other and then) You have a car in France? We will pay if you drive. Lots of monies.

Dang. Nope. No car.

Those conversations were happening all over the ticket terminal. Many things needed to happen to get onto the boat, which I really am not ready to relive (such as the ticketing agent charging me an additional 30 pounds because I did not have a bicycle. I thought she was being funny, or had dyslexia and mixed up her words), but once I was on board, I had a great view of the cliffs and in came a British rugby team (validating, once again, that there is a God and he loves me), who spent the hour and half crossing gulping pints by the dozen at 1 in the afternoon.

At the station in Calais,  there was this really nice, mile-long line for a bus to the train station, which was not coming for another 30 minutes, which would have me missing my pre-booked train to Paris, making this the first time pre-planning would bite my tush; but there was a smaller crowd trying to get taxis. It was survival of the fittest, depending on who could intercept taxis in the parking lot, and who could whip out their phrase book the quickest. I knew how to say “I want”, “please”,  and “thank you”, so guess who was stranded? The German and Italian businessmen in well-cut suits and just enough hair product had once given me their seat on the shuttle, held doors for me, and let me cut in line for a drink on the ferry, and now one would distracting me with stilted conversation and while another would scoop up the next cab that came into the lot (which was only every 10 minutes). I mustered some moxy and stalked a cab that pulled in, grabbing its antennae as it came by. A tall, stringy looking man beat me to the driver’s side and I heard him say in perfect American-English, “Can you take us to the train station?” YES! Finally, someone I could intimidate and manipulate with my vernacular!

We’re splitting this cab. I say. I was trying not to look maniacal in my desperation, to keep panic from my voice, and instead sound like this was an obvious must.

Well…umm…there are 3 of us. He says.

Great. You can have shotgun. (I hop into the back seat while he stares at me. His wife glared at me the entire ride to the station. It may or may not have had to do with the fact that her case wouldn’t fit in the trunk [mine was consuming half of it], so she was holding it on her lap.)

Alright- I really cannot continue, because this is too much like experiencing the trip all over again, but I will conclude with sharing that we all ended up heading to Paris together and I complimented the missus on her smart haircut and all was forgiven. I also employed my sweet, bilingual sister in-law to help steer them in the right direction from Paris to Marseilles.  See? Kind.

Dover.

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