I've never been so cold...

I made it to France. In one piece. A frozen piece. Didn't sleep a wink on the plane, and I even took a "natural" sleeping pill -whatever that means-  but it didn't do anything. My mind was racing through recent events. Everything is better now. I feel good.

When I boarded the plane with my carry-on, it wouldn't fit in any of the over-head compartments. Really? They were much smaller than I recall them being on any other international flight - so I had to check that bag. I will say this, though, if you want to avoid that second-checked-bag-fee, that's the way to go. Act like it's totally going to fit in the overhead, and then when it doesn't, act ticked off that you have to check it, they don't charge you!

Before she took it from me, the flight attendant asked if there was anything I couldn't live without in the bag, I hastily said no because I was flustered I had to check it at all - what international airline has overhead compartments that won't hold an over-stuffed, legally-sized, carry-on bag? The kind that doesn't have individual TV screens in each seat - that's who.

When the pilot announced it was -6 degrees Celsius over the intercom I immediately regretted forgetting that my jacket, scarf, hat, mittens, etc. were in that bag. The Paris airport is under a roof, yes, but there is a lot of open air space....

Both bags made it and I was out of baggage claim and at the train station waiting for Nora, one of my student coordinators, within less than an hour of de-boarding. This means I waited about two hours tracking her flight. Every warm article of clothing was on my body and still, I shivered. The Charles de Gaulle train station is not heated. And the doors constantly open with people entering and exiting the platforms. I couldn't have bundled up anymore. Still...miserably freezing. Even in the heated "waiting room", people wandered in the over-crowded room with glass windows and doors just to double check that there wasn't any more space, so all the heat wandered out - it was pointless. 

Nora wandered up without me having to search for her, which was great. I had contemplated panicking about not mentioning what I would be wearing, what my luggage would look like, that I'd have my tiger-print glasses on instead of contacts, why didn't I pin-point an exact spot to meet?! But she got off the escalator and walked right to me, waving like a crazy tourist (me, not Nora).

The train we planned to take from the airport decided not to run, which was not great. It would have put us in Montrichard at 12:30pm, just in time for lunch at Le Commerce in Pontlevoy. So while I shivered and waited for Nora, I researched alternative options.

Option A: Hang out in the freezing airport for another four hours, and then 2 hours in the St. Pierre des Corps station (a.k.a. butt-hole of France) and arrive in Pontlevoy around 5pm.

Option B: Take the RER B line in to Paris, jump on the metro line 4 to Montparnasse station, hop an 11:20 TGV train to St. Pierre des Corps and then switch trains (with our bags) within 10 minutes to get to Montrichard. Arrive in Montrichard before 14:00 (France tells time like this, get used to it if you're going to keep reading subsequent blogs).

We chose Option B, whatever happened we wanted to be moving, and get there as soon as possible. Nora slept on the plane and was up for seeing as much of Paris as possible her first day.

For anyone who has never been to Paris: be prepared for stairs in the underground. And pack light.

We made it through the first twelve 2-flight stair cases before we found an escalator (they are rare) and while on it, it STOPPED! So we picked up our 50 lbs bags and started hiking it up the tall stairs (you know the stairs are taller on an escalator) - I felt like I was in an ironman contest. I lost. 

Three Parisian boys wandered up behind us and picked up Nora's suitcase to hike up the escalator with us. How darling and helpful! Did anyone come to my rescue? No. Assholes. So, me and my two bags - one on either side of me - blocked up the whole walkway - it didn't matter that Nora had helpers, we were still going to be slow.

I got to the top and heard Nora say, "Hey!" and my stomach clenched. I turned around and everything seemed nonchalant. Nora was fidgeting with her bag, looking through it, face white. I asked if they messed with her, they had already vanished, she said she found one of their hands in her purse but everything was still accounted for. FAIL for that dude.

Shaken up, but determined to make our train, we kept walking toward the Metro line 4. I felt awful and wondered if she was okay, what an awful experience to have on your first day in France!

Right before we exited that part of the underground to find our line 4, a tall - somewhat handsome - man wandered up inconspicuously beside us flashing a badge. I'm always suspicious of a handsome man, as you may or may not know, but you should know that, and he flashed his wallet at me saying "Madame, police, est-ce que je pourrais vous parler?" I checked out the badge, it looked fake (what do I know?) but he insisted on talking to us. He asked if one of those three hooligans put his hand in one of our bags? Woah! How do you know that? He wasn't in uniform, what was I supposed to think?

Three undercover cops saw the whole shake down. One of the three cops already had the three crooks against a wall (I wondered how they vanished so quickly), yelling questions at them. "Who stopped the escalator?!" and "Who put their hand in her purse?!" Apparently that escalator is a "usual spot" for these guys to stop the escalator and rob unsuspecting tourists.

So, Nora and I dictated what happened for a police report, and we missed our train. It didn't matter that we were insistent with the police officers about needing to get to Montparnasse. You could tell they were so excited to finally make a bust. We missed the train big time. Lugging bags through the underground, escalator or not, takes forever.

So we waited 2 hours in a Montparnasse cafe for a while, until they started to set up for their lunch crowd and scorned us for not ordering off their over-priced menu. At that point we moved next door to the French equivalent of McDonald's (Le Quick). Fries and a Heineken never went down so well. Yes, fast food joints serve alcohol in France. Isn't it fabulous?

Yes, I had mayo with my french fries. And they were actually, really, French, isn't that fun? Ha. Give me a break, Elliot, I'm so jet-lagged.

We got on our train and discovered it was delayed. Did I already mention we only had 10 minutes to make our connection in the butt-hole of France's station? I guess the conductor who checked our ticket, saw my exhaustion, heard my ever-so-trying-to-sound-fluent French and felt sorry for us. Apparently he called ahead and they held our train for us. We didn't know this fact until we arrived to the platform in St. Pierre des Corps, breathless, and I yelled as we ran up and they were blowing their whistle  (because I wasn't 100% sure we were getting on the right connection) "est-ce que vous arretez a Montrichard?"

"Oui, madame, nous vous attendez" - MERCI, MONSIEUR CONDUCTEUR, MERCI! They were waiting for us.

Home-free. Marianne picked us up at the Montrichard station and it felt like coming home. To this home. Because I have so many!

Good day. Safe arrival. Julien offered us plenty of wine at Le Commerce last night -"to purify your body after travel", he said - and he asked the usual questions, "What weekends will the students most likely not travel? So I can host a concert. What professors are coming this year? Are there any cool ones? What ages are the students, what are they like? Will they party at my bar every night? Are you married yet? All the French boys have been asking again. Oh you're not? Hmmmmm. I have some friends you should meet, just for fun, you know. You have a stick up your ass and need to loosen up."

I really do think that he thinks I don't have enough fun. I like to call it "being responsible" and "having self-respect", yadda yadda. I love him anyway. And if you know Julien (the bar owner) this makes a lot of sense to you. If you don't know him, just don't worry about it. It isn't anything to get excited about. I performed my usual move, enjoyed the complimentary wine (who wouldn't?), and bowed-out early - it's safer that way, and I slept like a baby.

Wait - did I mention there is no heat or hot water in the Abbey? Maybe I forgot that tidbit. So we're currently staying at my friend Michele's, across the street. Nora will move in to her room at the Abbey tomorrow, Brian arrived today (another student coordinator) and moved in to his room tonight - because the hot water is working in their rooms, just not the "staff wing". Fantastic.

Also - have I mentioned how cold it is? Or that Brian had to wait in the butt-hole of France for FOUR hours today because of the weather? He, too, had a run in with the police - but that's another story.

I've only been here two days, one sleep, and already so much has happened.

And I've realized - after talking to Nora and Brian about it - it's different for the people we leave behind. We leave, and enter a whole new world, where everything is different. For our friends and family, a piece of their world leaves, and it constantly feels like something is "missing". Those are VERY different experiences that come with very different emotions. Some people can handle it, some can't - or they don't quite know how to handle it just yet. Some people are better with words than others, others are afraid to use them. For me, I'm always the one leaving, and I will always speak what's on my mind. I think that's something I've learned having to "leave" all the time. It's important to me. You're welcome. It takes guts sometimes, but I think it's easier in the long run. I don't know...

I do know this: I am extremely jet-lagged and exhausted. And I only hope whatever I wrote up there makes sense and you can follow it. Hopefully it made some of you chuckle at parts. It's freezing outside and HOW is one supposed to run in these conditions? I'm dying for a workout...I might just have to bundle up tomorrow and hope for no ice on my path....


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