I have noticed a couple of things since my return: I do not admire the world while actually living in it as much as I do during travel and the color and variety of my words have greatly diminished. Upon both of these issues I now work in hopes that I can keep the inquisitive excitement and wondrous view of the world afforded me during me trip.
We now arrive at the largest let down of the trip – the TGV train ride from gryon to paris. We had become quite accustomed to travelling by rail and came to expect certain things from it – a nice view out the window, a choice of fairly comfortable seats that best suited our situation, and conversation volume kept at a tolerable level (our railpass was for first class travel, I must note.) The TGV reaches an operational high speed of 186 miles per hour although it has been tested at higher speeds. The ride was to take about 5 hours – much shorter than the 9 it took to get to switzerland from munich!
Why was the ride a letdown? you ask. Was it that the speed didn’t meet your expectations? No, although it didn’t “feel” like almost 190 miles per hour. Were the seats not comfortable? No, actually they weren’t. The lack of space evoked a feeling of being on an airplane, however. Were there loud, obnoxious people talking the whole trip? Worse – kids all around us! Kids kicking seats, kids puking because of motion sickness, kids cavorting around like they are prone to do (I don’t handle children well, if you can’t tell). Were the windows small, offering no view? The windows were quite large, however, when we made our reservations (TGV is a reservation required train) we were (unbeknownst to us) assigned seats looking smack dab into the middle of a window pillar. The worse part had to be the large family in front of us that pulled out an entire meal and began eating it – filling the loud, cramped, poor view, high-speed chamber with varying odors of ham, mustard (we went through the city of dijon, coincidentally), and random malodorous vegetables. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t an unpleasent journey, just not the marvel of modern technology wonder we were expecting!
Paris is beautiful – the prague of the west if you will. The thing that caught my attention most about the city was the genorous amounts of space that are reserved for pedestrians and simple leisure activities – large gardens, HUGE walkways along waterfront property (prime retail space, but not a shop in sight), and just a general leaning towards beauty and leisure rather than shopping – as so many other cities have done.
Paris is a pain in the ass. Every other city we visited did a fairly decent job of attempting english (as I noted before most are excited to have a common language to enable communication with their neighboring countries). Not the french. They are very proud of their heritage and many either do not know english or claim to not know it out of contempt for an american who could only mutter the phrases “I cannot speak french” and “do you speak english?” Even people who did not speak much english in other countries would help us out with some vocabulary when our phrase book/dictionary failed us (as it did so many times – I wish somebody would make a decent one.) I know we missed out on a wonderful meal or two because we tried to be seated at a couple of places but couldn’t muster up a strong enough conversation to figure out if there were seats available or not and ended up eating at restaurants with menus translated into english. We had low quality coffee compared to every other city we visited as well. To top it off, our hostel had a curfew. Nowhere else did we feel more unwelcomed than paris. Still, it is a beautiful city and I recommend a visit to anyone.
We took the train to the airport and when we tried to exit found our tickets weren’t valid. We walked over to the ticket counter and explained our situation (once again, very little english spoken so it was quite a difficult task. Every other city staffed these positions: ticket takers at the airport, check in people, etc. with multi-lingual people.) He said it was 50 francs each for our ticket! Incredible! We hadn’t spent that much on a ticket since we started our trip – the strange thing is public transit IN town was among the cheapest we had seen. We didn’t have 50 francs on us and I was completely out of money at this point. We had some swiss francs in our pocket leftover from the switzerland trip that he was happy to take and give us a ticket (because after we got through and some quick math, we figured out he made about $5 US profit over the advertised price, but we were glad to get through.)
It’s funny – we went through 8 countries on this trip and the only time we get hassled is when we get on a plane. Metal detectors and a multitude of questions and detailed passport checks were all rituals we had to go through to get on the plane. It is a good thing that terrorists only travel on airplanes and haven’t found out about trains yet because it could be disastrous! Somebody else could pack your bag, you could be asked to carry something, or your bags could be out of your possession and you can still board a train! This kind of rampant disregard for stopping terrorists (and child pornographers I’m sure) should not be allowed and we should shut down the train system as it exists today – think about the children!
We had a very understanding flight attendant who answered our requests for multiple bottles of baileys and beers with said drinks and a comment about not letting the others know because they are not supposed to give passengers that much liquor – but we looked like nice enough guys. The baileys really helped the plane ride go faster and we made it to chicage in what seemed like a very short amount of time.
We disembarked and went to baggage claim, because we had to go through customs – uncle sam wants to make sure he collects taxes on things you’ve bought in other countries – and we had to have our checked baggage with us to do so. This is more a ceremony than anything else as there were pretty much no questions asked of anyone but rather just a steady line of people walking past the officers only to give their bags back to an american representative on the other side. This, I will note, is the last time I would see my bag for 2 days.
We made it to the next checkpoint where we had to empty our pockets of change and place our daypacks on the x-ray belt, the whole ritual that everyone knows. I was helping erik put some stuff in his daypack (so he didn’t have to take it off his back) and he was holding stuff for me as I re-arranged everything for this false-sense-of-security procedure that millions of people go through daily when we both realized that on the other side of that checkpoint, we would part ways and head to different terminals. Twas a sad moment, but also a bit of a relief. I had grown quite accustomed to hanging out with erik every day and knew it would be strange to wake up and not instantly say “what time is it?” as he was the only one with a working watch. It was a very fun time and it was sad to part ways, but I know the memories we both have will live with us forever. The other side of security brings us to the moment that we embrace with full-on maleness: a hearty handshake and “well, it’s been fun! see you later.” and we are on our separate ways.
Thus the adventure concludes, right? Not at all. I go to the gate for my flight that leaves in 45 minutes and check to make sure everything is in order: it is. I take a seat and wait for the flight to board. About 20 minutes before we are supposed to take off, there is still no word on boarding…then the announcement comes. “For those passengers waiting on flight 4209 to board, we regret to inform you that it has been cancelled. There is one other flight to indianapolis, but it is completely full. We can put you up in a hotel tonight or you can take a bus that will depart from in front of baggage claim 10 at 715 (1915 for the euro-viewer). Please come back to the counter and let us know which option you’d like to take.”
*sigh* I’m 180 miles from home and I get stuck in chicago. If I only had a little money, I have friends I would love to visit – but my back account is overdrawn and I was really excited about sleeping in my own bed tonight so I take the bus option. I stand in line and the woman in front of me turns around and says “i guess it’s a bus to indy!” We start talking and I find out she is from puerto rico and works for eli-lilly so she comes into indianapolis every month or so for meetings. We begin our adventure together – we get moved to a different gate for checkin but are diverted to baggage claim before we make it to the front. We wait at baggage claim until 730 for our bags – hers shows up at the last minute and mine never appears (what are the chances it would have made my flight since they can’t even get it to me at baggage claim?!)
She tries to locate our bus, but cannot find any bus that is going to indianapolis (one close call, but it was going to indianapolis avenue in chicago). Finally, after other passengers have made much noise at the bag claim desk, an american representative comes out and tells us that the buses (when did it become plural?) are still here and we should go out and get on them. If our bags haven’t shown up it’s because they made it on the flight to indy and we’ll be able to pick them up there (yeah, right I think.) We are given directions to the “buses”: go out of the building, left a bit, and the buses will be on your right. Okay – we walk and walk and walk, but no buses are to be seen anywhere! We decide to turn around and head back. We finally run into the group of people standing on the curbside in front of – no, I’m not kidding – minivans. They had hired 3 minivans to drive us to indianapolis. Unfortunately, the seating did not allow maria (I found out her name as well as numerous things about her during this fiasco) and I to sit together so our conversation was abruptly halted as she took a seat in the back and I got to sit shotgun.
The drive was long, but we barely dropped below 90mph the entire time so not as long as it usually takes. I made it to the airport around midnight and called dad on maria’s mobile phone (since my battery was dead at this point) to come get me. My bag was nowhere to be seen and I got a baggage claim ticket/lost baggage form with delivery info for pittsboro. The bag should be there by noon tomorrow, I was told. Not to be – I called late the next day and they said “we don’t know where your bag is sir. We’ll let you know when we find it.” Oh well, I’ve seen that stuff constantly for the last 30 days, kind of nice to not have to look at it anymore!
The bag finally showed up. My jetlag is almost gone. My mom returned from her trip to arizona. My brother is still MIA since he now has a job and has worked every day since I’ve gotten back. All in all, things are going well. I’ve got some tech editing as well as some writing lined up and getting back into the swing of working quite well. I’ve never been on a vacation that made me want to do *something* when I got back – I usually just want to stay on vacation forever, but this one motivated me to make some money so I can go back and begin another long-winded adventure that I can share with everyone once again.
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