Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 2013 Paris, day 1, arriving

It's very different traveling alone than with someone else. I keep finding myself wanting to make observations to a companion, but then there's no one to share them with. The plane ride was particularly odd - I had 2 seats to myself so could spread out to sleep - I kept trying to find a comfortable position. I think I probably slept 3-4 hours. I am about to go back to sleep now that I'm at the hostel. It was strange not having anyone to share the journey with. Wen I got off the plane, I took my time -no reason to hurry. Laura isn't coming in until tonight late. I spoke with the woman at the information counter and was delighted to find that my French still works! I could understand her well and could make myself understood -after I don't know how many years of not speaking it -maybe 20? My last french class was in 1981 - that much I know! Feels great.

It ended up being quite an arduous journey from the airport to the hostel which is in Monmartre. First I had to get to the train by going to a different terminal in the airport, then stand in line to get a ticket - I opted for a 2 day ticket so I won't be cheap about using the metro. Then I took the train, the RER, to the Gare Nord. My luggage was so big that I took up two seats which wasn't a problem at first, but it was rush hour, so soon I was taking up a seat someone needed.

At the train station I got off and found the next line, metro 2. That involved a fair number of stairs, 3 sets, I believe. At one point I was supposed to put my ticket through the machine to get out of a barrier. There were hordes of people behind and in front of me - rush hour press. Most of them had cards they scanned. I needed to put my ticket through the machine. It wouldn't go. I tried another machine. It wouldn't go. People were impatient around me. I tried putting the ticket into another slot. The man behind me tried to stop me but it was too late. The ticket slid away. 33 euros -over $50. I stood there stymied as people backed up behind me. A very kind woman came over to me and asked if I needed help. I tried to explain what had happened. She went over and pressed a call button and asked for help. She told me that someone would be there shortly to help me. I stood to the side and waited watching as other people's tickets got stuck as well. Some of them jumped the barriers. Others went through a gate that opened up.
A few minutes later a tall man in uniform with a nice demeanor came up and asked what happened. He went over to the machine I pointed out and opened it up so I could get my ticket out. I was relieved. I did not want to have to purchase it again.

More stairs later I got to the next platform - but it was going the wrong way - back down stairs and up stairs to the right platform, all the while hauling my 35-40 lb suitcase full of things I knew at that moment I would never ever need and couldn't possibly be worth hauling that far. Memories of hauling two huge suitcases all over Freiburg when I was 20 encroached upon my equilibrium and I wondered why I hadn't learned my lesson then.

I got on that metro which was incredibly full and felt bad for taking up enough room for two people but only having one ticket. Thankfully I only needed to travel two stops before getting to the next transfer spot.

Five sets of stairs later I got to that platform. Another two stops on the number twelve line and I arrived at my stop. I saw two Spanish speaking guys get on with me and off with me. I wondered if we were going to the same place. One of them had a suitcase the size of mine which had a broken wheel. He had to pull it instead of roll it. It made a horrible noise because it sounded so damaged -like when a car is dragging its muffler and you just know there are going to be sparks and an explosion.

I got to the first the of stairs. A very kind woman asked if I wanted help. I'd seen a sign for an elevator so I told her I'd take that but thanks. She told me it didn't work, I'd have to take the stairs. She offered to help me carry my bag. I very gratefully agreed. She went faster than I would have. I'll be in great shape at the end of three days here if I do this everyday.

Each time we got to a flight of stairs, she helped me. The last flight was particularly brutal -about fifty of them, spiraling up as hundreds of commuters swarmed up and down them around us. The two Spanish guys were following us unable to go any faster than I could because I was blocking the way. Almost at the top ( though I didn't know that), I had to stop to catch my breath. It was exhausting hauling so much weight up so many stairs! When we emerged from the station-finally! -the very kind woman showed me where to go to get to my street -up MORE stairs! She helped me with those also then disappeared forever- the kindest Samaritan I could imagine. People say the Parisians are rude and unkind but every one I have met has been incredibly kind.
The Spanish-speaking guys and I walked together to find the hostel, going in the wrong direction until I stopped at a pharmacy to ask someone who thankfully knew just where we needed to go. Though it was uphill there were no more stairs until we got inside the hotel!

The concierge was again, very kind. She said I could check in already because my room was already ready, and I could go get some breakfast since it was before 9:30. So kind.
I had a lovely croissant and roll with butter along with some milk. I sat with a woman and spoke with her though she seemed lost in her own thoughts. She's from Sao Paolo, Brazil, a journalist. I ended up telling her all about Rebiya Kadeer and the Uyghurs. She hadn't heard of them. It was good to have a conversation with someone. I'm glad to be an ambassador letting person know about the plight of the Uyghurs. The more people know, the more likely they are to try to do something about the genocide taking place. I hope.

So now I'm in my room after a nice hot shower,thinking I'll sleep a bit, needing more communication with others. There's a lot of noise - construction on the - yes, you guessed it - steps! Outside plus a TV is on in a room nearby. Still, I'm going to try to sleep a couple of hours then I'll go out sightseeing. Maybe to the louvre.
Good night!


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