Sunday, December 24, 2006

Paris and resettling

Last spring when the planning of our fall semester was still happening, the option of a day in Paris on the way home was presented to us.  At the time it seemed like an awesome idea, so I eagerly signed up for it.  I was pleased to find out that I was one of about ten Calvin students signed up for a Parisian Christmas-time experience.  Over the course of the semester, three students changed their mind, and as the time neared, those of us who were still going did not all end up booking the same hostel.  So my time was shared only with Mary and Chandra, but it was absolutely fantastic. 

We were up at 3:45 on Saturday morning in order to leave the dorm at 4:30 so we would be to the airport by 5:15 to sign in for our 7:10 flight.  It was an early morning made all the more emotional by the fact that we were really and truly leaving our home of the past four months.  We made it safely to the airport, although the ride was a bit crowded with 4-months worth of lugguge for 20 people.  By the time we got onto our plane we had been up for long enough to want a nap already, and I slept right through the emergency directions.  Our flight was fairly uneventful.  There was an interesting moment when we were served breakfast and weren’t sure what the drink was.  I’m pretty sure it was either peach flavored milk or the thinnest yogurt I’ve ever had.  It tasted good, though, so no complaints.  There were, surprisingly, no tears at the airport when our group split up.  The group that was heading home was in a hurry to get to their terminal.  The Charles de Gaulle airport is probably the worst set-up airport I know.  No, not probably.  It most assuredly is.  You are required to take shuttle buses between the six terminals, and to and from your plane.  It is also under construction, which is no help at all. 
So we figured out which luggage claim we needed to go to, found our luggage, and then Chandra, Mary and I split off from Cory, Nate, Eric, and Elisabeth, who were staying in a different hostel.  We asked the information desk attendant how best to get to our hostel, and he said the airport shuttle would be the best option for us, and it would be there in two to ten minutes.  Fifteen minutes later we were approached by a small, harried man, who asked in broken English if we were waiting for a ride.  We said that yes, we were, and he said “I give you ride.”  Keep in mind that we had all our luggage with us, so six large suitcases, three backpacks, and three “handbags” (if you call it that, they let you take in on the plane with you.  I think my “handbag” was the same size as my carry-on backpack.).  Due to our large amount of luggage, we were using to carts to push it around.  The flustered Frenchman asked me if I’d like him to push the cart I was driving, and didn’t bother to listen to my answer, grabbing the handle and dancing away with it.  He was moving faster with that cart than I could move without it, so we ended up running after him, only to find him slipping on the wet pavement outside the door.  If you’ve ever gotten stuck at the grocery store with that cart whose wheels just don’t turn correctly, you know what this poor man was wrestling with.  Spewing assurances the whole time, he man-handled the cart up to his van, and loaded our bags faster than I would have thought possible.  As he drove us to our hostel, he pointed out landmarks, although I’m not sure what many of them were.  Either I had never heard of them before or his accent was to thick for sleep-deprived minds to understand. 
We finally got to our hostel a little bit after noon, and were told we couldn’t check in until 4, but we were welcome to leave our suitcases in their luggage room.  So we did that, and then headed out to see a little bit of the city before the fatigue set in.  Mary practiced her French, buying us one-day tourist passes for the subway system.  Three stops from our hostel we got off to walk three blocks to the Eiffel Tower.  We were suitably impressed.  It was sinking in that we were honestly in Paris.
We were a bit surprised to find an agriculture festival going on in front of the Eiffel Tower.  There were wine and cheese sampling booths, a boys band playing rousing renditions of “When the Saints go Marching in,” and fake cows that gave real milk when you gathered up your courage and approached them for a quick milking session.  Being from Iowa, Chandra and I felt obligated to give it a try.  I’d never milked a cow before.  It was kind of fun, and probably not like the real thing at all.

From there we walked around until we found a little cafe where we could eat some French fare.  Mary and I ordered croque monsiuers, and Chandra had a croque madame.  Those are traditional French sandwiches, similar to grilled ham and cheese.  The cheese is on the outside of the sandwich, though, and a croque madame has an egg cooked on top of the cheese.  They were quite tasty, and we were pleased that the waiter accepted our French without batting an eyelash.  Most affirming.

Then it was time for some more sightseeing.  Notre Dame is, of course, a must-see, so that was our next stop.  We rode the coolest subway train I’ve ever been on…a double-decker.  I didn’t even know those existed.  And then Notre Dame was all is was cracked up to be.  It doesn’t look very big from the outside, but it’s immense inside.  The French Gothic architecture really does give one a sense that God must be great and magnificent. 
Next stop: l’Arch de Triomphe.  It’s so cool to come up from the subway and right there the Arch de Triomphe.  It’s just RIGHT THERE!  There are cars driving around like it’s the most everyday thing, and I suppose to many Parisians it is, but just being there, at the site I had learned so much about in high school French class, was really cool.  We walked down the Champs Elysees from there, too.  We didn’t get too far, because we were getting pretty tired by that time, not to mention cold and wet from the misty rain that had been falling all day.  We did got as far as the white-sprayed Christmas trees, and then took the subway back to our hostel.  I was really glad we got to those trees, because on Monday morning, there was a picture of them in my hometown newspaper.  Cool.
We bought a bagette for 80 cents, and some cheese for 1 euro and then sat in our room eating them for supper.  This was only 6 pm, and we were all tired enough that we could easily have gone to bed then and there, but we knew that wasn’t going to help us readjust to North American time the next day.  Besides that, we had a roommate whom we had yet to meet.  So we ate, chatted, missed our friends, and then headed back out into the city to see the Eiffel Tower at night.  I think that was my favorite part of our time there.  We were somewhat energized by our bread and cheese, and Paris at night a week before Christmas is a sight to behold.  We ended up getting off the subway at a different stop than before, thinking it would be closer, but then we had to walk almost a mile to get to the Eiffel Tower, but it was a nice walk.  The weather had cleared up (how nice…clear skies now that it was dark out), there were Christmas lights all over the place, and we were in high spirits.  The Eiffel Tower was gorgeous, too.  We talked a salesman into giving us some keychains for cheap and walked away with trinkets to give our sisters.  On our way back to the subway we stopped and bought crepes.  We felt very cliche, but they tasted great, and who doesn’t buy crepes when they’re in Paris!?
We slept so well that night, and for a long time (about ten hours).  We were feeling refreshed and ready to take on a nine hour flight the next morning, which was just what we did.  It was uneventful, and we were pleased to greet our families upon our return to North American soil.  I managed to stay awake almost all the way home, which meant I was beyond tired by the time I fell into bed at midnight.  Of course, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, but I forced myself to go back to bed until almost 8.  It has taken some time, but I think I’m at least almost all the way adjusted to the time zone now.  It has been so good to be home with my family.  My mom cooks wonderful food for me, I don’t have to share the bathroom with anyone while I’m showering and the shower is a consistent temperature and pressure, my friends are as fabulous as ever, and I’m able to drive my beloved little ‘93 Ford Tempo on streets I know.  I must admit to being slightly under-stimulated here after all the constant excitement of the past four months, but it’s been a nice break and in a week I’ll be back at school.  I’m looking forward to seeing my friends there and readjusting to an academic lifestyle.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 12/24 at 06:33 PM
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