Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Paris - the arrival

Our first day in France was not a entirely wonderful.  In fact, I spent a lot of the day wondering if it had been a really bad choice to come here.

I get nervous when I travel, uncomfortable. I like to rely on Kip to figure out what needs to be done to get us where we need to be.  But this time, we were in France and I actually speak French, or I did almost 20 years ago.  I felt a lot of pressure to be able to figure out everything we needed to do and I was afraid my language skills would fail me after such a long time of disuse.  So, on arrival here in Paris I was tense and insecure about my ability to succeed in getting us settled comfortably in our new place.  I was afraid I would fail miserably and the whole family would look at me and think that I had let them down.  I was scared.  On top of that insecurity, I was exhausted.  I hardly slept at home the two nights before we came.  I hardly slept on the airplane.  Exhaustion frequently brings depression. Things were pretty emotionally dark Monday.

We arrived at 8 am but couldn't check into our apartment until 2. Thanks to some good internet searching, we had found a train station fairly near our place with luggage lockers.  We got to the airport, bought our museum pass and train ticket from the tourist information location in the airport (thank you, Rick Steves), and rode to our train station, Gare du Nord.

We then had to hunt down the lockers.  We stopped several security people and got directions, in English even, but it was like they were speaking a different language. What they said made perfect sense as they said it and motioned where to go, but then you went there and found nothing that looked lockerish.  We went up stairs, down other stairs, through masses of people that seemed to know where they were going and then to other stairs.  I started to despair, thinking maybe we should skip the lockers and just go throw ourselves on the mercy of our apartment owner.  In retrospect, I think that would have been a good choice.  Instead, by some miracle, we finally stumbled upon the lockers.  We stuffed our things inside and went off to find food and wander until we could check in.

After lunch things got even more tense.  Kip wanted to see the Seine, so we figured out what metro lines to use and bought a pack of tickets.  The metro system in Paris is like a maze.  The lines run above and below each other and the stations involve climbing up and down stairs and wandering in tunnels that snake around below the streets of the city.  I get completely turned around searching for the trains.  And we learned the hard way that when they say the train stops for only 15 seconds it is really true.  The first metro ride took us to a point where we had to change to another train.  We were all enjoying ourselves when suddenly it was time to get off. Kip, Anna and William rushed for the door but Becca and I got cut off by an African woman with rolling luggage. I almost jumped her suitcase, but realized that Becca wouldn't make it.  And I would undoubtably have hurt someone in the process.  Becca and I stepped back and watched the doors close with Kip and the others on the other side.  I stayed completely calm, telling Becca what fun it was to get to go an extra stop and then come back to join the others.  And It really wasn't that bad.  We learned our lesson.  Make sure you get right by the door before reaching your stop.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only metro lesson for the day.  At a later stop, thronged with people, we couldn't get on quite fast enough.  I pushed through the door at the last second as it closed then turned to see William still outside looking shocked as the doors closed between us.  We yelled at him to stay right there.  An English woman with a group of teenage girls remarked that we had the same protocol she does.  I laughed and admitted that this was our second time getting split up in one day.  She remarked that in 20 years she'd never lost a student.  Suddenly, I didn't like her so much anymore.

After those two experiences, I got pretty nervous about riding the metro.  I was physically exhausted from traveling for over 24 hours and then I'd been separated from family members twice while riding. I was scared every time we got on or off after that, the exhaustion and fear combining to make me nauseous. I started to think that maybe we should consider walking more.

The tension of the adventure wasn't helped by the cafe employee who tried to cheat me that afternoon near the Louvre.  We stopped in, exhausted and needing restrooms.  We ordered drinks and ice cream for everyone.  Later, when we went to pay, he asked if I had smaller money than what I had handed him. I said yes and handed it over.  Then he kept it all and gave me change for the small bill.  I called him on it, but when he asked how much he owed me I got flustered and couldn't figure it out.  He got sick of waiting for me to figure it out and actually told me how much he thought he still owed me.  I think it was right, too.  But I felt a mixture of negative emotions from the experience.  I felt stupid because I confronted him but did it in a weak and wimpy manor. I felt betrayed.  I tried to speak French and was very friendly to the people at the cafe and he tried to take advantage of me.

When we finally reached the apartment that evening, my perception of it was colored by the darkness of my mood.  It wasn't a bad place, but it was not fancy.  Paris was crowded, the metro was dangerous, cafe owners were unscrupulous, and our apartment was a little worn.  William mentioned that he couldn't wait to get to our villa we're renting on the mediterranean coast of Turkey and I felt the same.  It had been a rough day and I wasn't sure how well Paris was going to treat us.  We crashed into our beds that night hoping the next day would be a better one.

1 comment:

Janean said...

Wow. I'm impressed that you did so much right after arrival. I recall my first day in Paris the first time I went there. Jeremy dragged me to the Orsay and I just sat on a bench in a jet-lagged daze for an hour followed by similar behavior on other benches. Has the metro always been so quick to close the doors? I don't recall that either but with just 2 people it's a lot easier. Everything is easier.