Welcome back! I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear from my most recent trip to France and Germany, and I certainly have a lot to share with you. First off, I want to say that it was the most brilliant trip I’ve ever taken, so much as I need to break it into separate blog posts.
When I last left you, I had gone to see a musical in London. Last Thursday I spent packing and preparing for my journey south. Some of you may know my analytical personality, and naturally I made a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to map out the important times like train/plane times and check-ins.
Friday’s lecture and field trip: Despite being overshadowed by eagerness of the upcoming trip, the Friday lecture and field trip still found its way onto my Canon Powershot camera. The lecture demonstrated and compared Britain’s class-conscious, liberal and secular society with America’s individualistic, conservative and religious lifestyle. Taught obviously by a Brit, the lecturer blatantly described each situation. 70 percent of Americans say they are middle class when 40 percent actually are. This is because one-third aspires to be part of a group in which they do not belong. In the UK, 35 percent define themselves as middle class, a more accurate guess that shows that Brits are class-conscious and do not live ‘the dream.’ Another point the lecturer made was the struggle for America to combat simple issues like abortion and gay marriage. Unfortunately for the USA, its conservative mindset and use of religious context hinder the progress of such issues… So, on to The British Museum we went. The museum looks a lot like The National Gallery and its artwork is quite similar. The museum is full of artifacts from different regions of the world and different periods. My favorite exhibit were the Latin American carved stones.
Paris trip begins: After a rushed experience at the museum, I scrambled home to gather my belongings and head to the station to buy train tickets to Luton Airport, a small port west of London. Whist arriving at the station to buy tickets, my travel buddy Chelsie and I became worried we would miss our flight. We boarded the train and made it to Luton in decent time, but we waited in the check-in line just minutes before it closed. Fortunately for us, several were behind us, which made us feel not as behind. The plane included us, as it took off on time, headed to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
This was my first time in a country where the native language was not English. How would I fare? Chelsie had been to Paris before, but did not speak French. Gradually the frequency of English fell to French. It was our second time flying EasyJet. EJ sounds like the Dollar Tree of planes, and in some ways, it is: cheap but decent. The plane landed fine, and we waited for a bus to take us to the city centre. By the time we reached midtown, it was quite late. The bus dropped us off just a look away from the Arc de Triomphe. I snapped a few night shots of it, then headed down the streets with Chelsie to find a decent hotel or hostel.
Another journey began within a journey. Chelsie is one to go right up and ask, which is helpful when I’m tired of asking for things. Place after place, we were disappointed with the outrageous pricing. After checking several, the cheapest place was €75. The place looked like cockroaches were slowly sucking away its time on earth. Tired and hungry, we stopped at a restaurant called Hippopotamus. It sounds like a kids playroom, but it served decent food for the time being. I ordered a margarita to get me through a few more hours. By the time we finished, it was nearing 2 a.m. Chelsie wanted to go to a hotel of €120. Being rational as I am, I thought, why pay that amount for just about 6 or 7 hours of sleep on a bed we don’t know? I got her to keep walking.
We made our way through the Champs Elysees and crossed by several palaces in the dark. Eventually we made it to the Seine River and crossed it to where we could still somewhat see the Eiffel Tower in the city lights.
We agreed to be homeless.
First we wanted to potentially sleep under the Arc de Triomphe, but it was blocked off. Then, we thought a night under the Eiffel Tower would be quite unique. The park near the Tower had whispering voices through the bushes and drunk teens going about weekend business. Mind you, this whole way we lugged our bags in this foreign city. Eventually we needed to sit down. Chelsie used a skirt to wipe off a wet bench overlooking the Seine River, where we would station for the night. We knew we would not get much sleep, but it was the best thing to do because we had to get up early to prepare for the journey to Germany, or so we thought. Chelsie laid down with her head on my chest as I sat up and chatted while she dozed off. A police car approached to check to see if we were homeless people on public property, but because I was upright and chatting, he thought we were just a couple chatting under the moonlight. To pass time, I took her book, ironically called ‘An Idiot Abroad’, and read it aloud to pass the time. We alternated dozing off phases, and watched an actual homeless woman haul her hoarded cardboard boxes to her bench near us. Time actually went by, and Chelsie suggested we wake at 5:30 to ‘get ready’. I looked at her with my blackened eyes in an are-you-kidding-me gaze. Get ready? It’s not like we had a water supply or changing room to exactly prepare for the day. Anyways, we wandered around, the first ones awake to see the city. First we went back to the Eiffel Tower to get better snapshots and then looked for a breakfast place. It seemed as if the owners were pressured by us to get their businesses running. The Eiffel Tower is quite tall as expected with a beautiful garden surrounding it. Chelsie took advantage of morning tea and toast, while I took advantage of a bathroom sink.
Moving back toward the Seine, we saw the Esplanade des Invalides on the Pont Alexandre III. We wanted to take a boat tour of the city, but it was only 8 a.m. at this time. Across the bridge was the Grand Palais, where I fell subject to the psychology of homelessness. I was too exhausted to wait up, so I found the back of a statue and curled up and slept as Chelsie towered over me in disgust. A decent rain moved me. We skipped the boat tour and went straight to the Louvre Museum.
The French army was up practicing throughout the city and singing its French chants. Disinterested, we moved on to a park before the Louvre. The line was quite long for an early morning at an art museum, but we made it in and started the tour. We go separate ways at museums because we have different interests. I had studied Italian Renaissance art at KU, so I wanted to see several paintings and statues from that period. The museum is massive, and it took about three hours for me to get a decent look. I got to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory statue, paintings by Leonardo and Raphael, statues by Michelangelo and Egyptian art. I wouldn’t have time to sit here and write all about it, but I can expand on it some if you ask me nicely.
We were eager to shower and leave Paris. We made it to the Paris l’est train station to get ready to go to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, where cousin Helga lives. After waiting an hour in queue, the horrible French customer service told us that there were only two seats on the next train to Germany: both first class for a total of €375. Um, no thank you. We had to get the later train, which came at 7 p.m. At that time, it was only 1 p.m. Again, we were hungry, so we thought, why not get a bottle of wine and cheese in Paris? Chelsie can explain how I became narcoleptic at the restaurant. I was seriously falling asleep mid-sentence. We got out of the main public eye back at the station. We became quite rowdy off of no sleep, but became homeless-ish again. I found a small nook in a baggage claim office where I could plug in my phone. We sat our alarms to get ready for the train later in the day. I slept some, and so did she. The alarm went off, and I phoned Helga to let her know of our arrival time.
The train to Saarbrücken, Germany was decent and fast. I don’t remember much of it. We had about an hour layover in the city, so we took extra advantage of large bathrooms at the station. I changed clothes even though I was unclean as ever. A neat market area had some country fries at a good price, so we spent our first euros in Germany there. Time was going quickly now, and we took a short train to Kaiserslautern. Luck again was not on our side, as the rail between Kaiserslautern and Neustadt was being repaired. We took a sketchy bus from there to Neustadt, arriving an hour later than planned. In the back of my mind was, “I hope we are not keeping Helga up too late…” Boy, was that not true. We finally arrived and looked for her. No sight of her. I phoned her and she said to take a taxi, which was about four blocks to her house.
We greeted the 82-year-old woman and then began our fondness for Deutschland…
(Stay tuned for a sleep-included German post.)