As I said yesterday, the time in France was exactly what I needed.
- Endless bicycling up and down the Canal du Midi. Eight kilometers one direction took me to the Mediterranean Sea at Portirange Plage. Ten kilometers the other way took me to les neuf ecluses – a series of nine (seven in use) locks that take boats about an hour and a half to get through. The craziest part was the canal bridge just before the locks. This was a bridge (aqueduct) for the canal going over the river. Very strange to see boats traveling across a bridge over a river.
- Spending time with Bill and Clementien on their boat, Linquenda.
- Giving myself permission to do nothing but read a book all day. I read five while I was there (and the last one was 700 pages, so that should count for at least two!).
- Walking on the bridge in Avignon. No, I did not sing or dance. I am sorry.
- A nun washed and bandaged my foot. Needs explaining? I travelled to Avignon for the day. First stop was the magnificent and opulent Palais des Papes and the Church of Our Lady of the Dome beside it. As I was walking up the cobblestone steps, one of the many pieces of broken glass jumped inside of my sandal, unknown to me, and embedded itself in my heel when I stepped down, whereupon it became very known. I went into the little shop attached to the church and asked the nun if she had any bandaids because I had cut my foot on a piece of broken glass outside. Except I couldn’t think what the equivalent word for bandaid was in French so I just showed her my foot. It was not a big cut, but it bled a fair bit, so she freaked out and made me sit down on her chair while she ran out to get supplies. Five minutes later, she returned with half of a first aid kit work of supplies and knelt down in front of me to wash and bandage my foot. Picture a young nun, she didn’t look any older than me, wearing full nun-garb: Sister Act or the Sound of Music style. It was so… Biblical… I wish I had been able to converse more with her but she had no English and my French isn’t as good as I wanted to think it might be.
- In the Palais des Papes, there were some stunning frescoes on the walls still, including some by a guy I remember learning about in my Gothic Art and Architecture class at UVic.
- Wine and scrabble and cheese and baguette and wine and coffee and books and ducks and boats and relaxing.
- Small French fishing village, Sete was very quaint and quite lovely.
- Did I mention the croissants and pain au chocolate?
- Aside from the first two days of high wind (Lethbridge style) and cold, it was gorgeous. There was beautiful sunshine. It was warm, bordering on hot nearly every day.
- I love playing “Spot the Tourist” as I walk around town. Dead give aways? Backpacks, even small ones. Sneakers. Tevas or any other kind of velcro sandals. Ball caps. Tilly hats. Large cameras around the neck. Small cameras anywhere. T-shirts that proclaim stupid slogans. Lululemon pants (Really? Seriously girls, they should not be worn outside of the house/gym and should never be worn in a foreign country. I was just as comfortable traveling in my nicest jeans as you were in your yoga pants. Don’t wear them.). Matching tshirts/jackets/hats/anything that identifies you as a tour group. Socks up to your knees.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. Short, but entirely worth it.
The last week was exactly what I needed. Except I didn’t really know I needed it until I was there and in it. I only went online twice while I was there (other than a couple 5 min free wifi connections through the phone), and the second only for 30 minutes to upload an assignment. I did no homework. I did not have constant access to the Internet through my phone and the phone never rang once (because I turned it completely off). It was fantastic.
To prevent posts of excessive length, we will begin with the story of the travelling. It is the longest, it is the craziest, it was the most interesting and also probably the least favourite part of the trip…
My flight into Paris was on time. We arrived at terminal 3, which does not have the walk-on pathways that connect the plane to the terminal so one can just walk on and walk off easily. Instead, they do it regional aeroport style with the wheely stairs and then bus passengers over to the terminal building. I was on the third or fourth bus load and arrived at customs to at least 100 people already in line for the “All Other Travellers” section. Filed under things I do not understand is the fact that there were only two desks open for a flight of 400 people. One for EU residents, one for everyone else. Instantly, I became Dutch and was through customs in about five minutes. It both delights and concerns me that all they do with EU passports is open them, look at the name/picture, close it, hand it back, and say “Welcome.” They do not scan them, they do not put the number into the computer, they do not stamp them (I have been to Europe three times since I got my EU passport and it has not been stamped yet, so it is not just France), they just look at them and wave you by. That was the great part about the travelling…
Travel within France was a gong show. The full train fiasco getting from Paris to Beziers was just the beginning. Although it amused me greatly that the Rail France was completely adamant that the trains were all full, about 2 hours into the trip down, the train completely emptied. Apparently everyone gets off at Lyon. Add to that the train being late arriving in Paris and then experiencing a delay on the way down = interesting train trip number one.
For my return trip, which I had prudently booked before leaving Paris, things were no less entertaining. The plan was 1445 bus from Villeneuve to Beziers, 1609 regional TER train to Montpellier, 1831 fast TGV train to Paris. First glitch, 1445 bus was late. Late enough to cause me anxiety and send Bill running back to the boat for the taxi phone number. Second glitch, arriving at Beziers train station and failing to see my train number up on the display board. Because it was not there. Because there was a 24-hr strike (“greve”) on everything. Because when that happens, most of the TER trains do not run. A very nice man in a red train vest informed me of which TER I could take to hopefully get to Montpellier in time to catch my TGV and reassured me that my particular TGV was still scheduled to run. Unfortunately, all of the other trains were running late, so I spent 45 minutes praying that my new train would still run and be on time. It was.
I got to Montpellier only 15 minutes later than original plan, meaning that I still had just over an hour to wait there. I had thought to walk around Montpellier on my layover there, but anxiety level prevented that. Instead, I went to the McDonalds across the street from the station (remember: free wifi not dietary preference) and remembered that the pop at French McDonalds is the most expensive pop you will ever buy. I downloaded all my emails (50+), tweeted a bit, said a few hellos on Facebook and then proceeded back into the station to stare down the train display board, daring it to show my train late. It didn’t, my train arrived in the station and arrived on time. I got on. I breathed. I started to relax. Finally.
Arrival in Paris was shortly after 2300. Original plan had been to sleep somewhere in the airport overnight, dispite all warnings (though it was not as dirty as this site makes it seem, and I was never propositioned as I walked through the airport), but I decided that after the day I needed sleep. So I stayed in the least expensive airport hotel and showered and slept until my 0730 wake up to get breakfast, check in, and head through security.
Check in went according to plan; I was through quite quickly. My flight was not until 1100, but my travel agent had warned me that with Air Transat I needed to be there about three hours in advance because they do not offer online check in (read: long queues). I think others had a difficult time getting to the aeroport on time because of remnant trouble from the previous day’s greve. Boarding was to be at 0930 so I headed through security just before 0900 and again, a breeze. About half an hour later, I started to hear all sorts of shouting near the security gates. Investigation revealed that no one was coming through security and police with plastic riot shields were going out… I have no idea what was going on. All I can think is that it was something to do with the greve. Boarding did not begin until about 1030, I didn’t get on the plane until about 1100, our scheduled departure time, so we left about 45 minutes late. Apparently the air traffic controllers had been on strike the day before as well, meaning that there was still some confusion going on from that.
Flight = uneventful. Vancouver customs = simple. I became Canadian again and was first one through at my desk. Something Vancouver did right: having all ten customs desks opened and manned. No checked bags and nothing do declare meant I was out of the aeroport within fifteen minutes of deplaning. Then it was a ferry ride and home…
The rest of France to follow…
I’m in France!
After an epic 30+ hrs on the road/air/boat/train – I have arrived. I got in on time yesterday and skipped about 45 min of customs line by using the good old Dutch passport (I love it how they just wave you through with those!). Then it was off to validate the rail pass and book the train. Except it was full. Completely booked. I couldn’t even pay to upgrade to 1st class kind of full. Finally managed to get a 1st class seat on a train 5 hours later, but even that was close. The first time we tried, someone else bought it as I deliberated and it looked like I might have to wait until tonight to take the train. But I got it booked and then proceeded to check my bag and take the commuter train into Paris for a few hours.
Without a map (and my phone was nearly dead so I couldn’t even look up the map on wifi) and therefore relying on 4 year old memories, I managed to find my way down to Ile de la Cite and saw Notre Dame minus the scaffolding it was half encased in 4 years ago. I went inside this time and made it there just in time for the noon service. Then I wandered the Latin Quarter, had a view of the Tour Eiffel (didn’t quite feel I had the energy to walk over, having been up for nearly 24 hrs at that point), and found some real food to eat (as opposed to the airplane variety) that included large quantities of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and coffee. Then it was free wifi and phone charge at McDonalds before back out to CDG and the TGV down to Beziers.
We were 1hr late getting in and therefore didn’t get to Linquenda until about 10pm, but I’m here. Seeing Clementien’s face at the top of the stairs as I got off of the train was a wonderful sight!
This morning I woke up to soft sunlight reaching through the green leafy branches of the trees that arch over the Canal du Midi. The birds were chirping and it was all so peaceful. At about 7:20 the church bells began to go for morning mass and I was happy because I am in France on a boat, relaxing.
Happy weekend everyone!
Notre Dame, Paris!
I got an unexpected sidetrip into the city for a few hours. Not a bad way to spend a bit of extra time in France.
(uploaded from the phone… free McDonalds wifi… probably the first time in 5years I have voluntarily gone to McDonalds)
I’m sitting in the International Departures area of YVR. Would you believe that there are no televisions showing the World Cup here? What is up with that?! On the plus side, YVR has free wireless Internet so I am “doing homework”. Which means I am sitting here, looking at the giant aquarium of fishes and sea anemones, with my computer open, alternating between educational tasks and pure time wasters. All going well, I should be done next weeks discussion work before I land in Paris in 12 hours time. Before then, I’ll have touched down in Calgary (apparently Air Transat flies “direct” to Paris from Vancouver… via Calgary. I guess WestJet is not the only airline that offers direct flights that stop in Calgary. On the plus side, I’ll probably unlock a new travel badge on the recently joined foursquare (if you’re on foursquare, add me, I have no friends!). So, till France, A bientot.