Thursday, October 30, 2014

Final Thoughts on a Memorable Trip

The Paris train station where I cooled my heels.
There is no good way to summarize a 23-day, eventful, stressed to the hilt, eye-opening, charge full-ahead, sometimes humiliating, always humbling trip of more than 9,000 miles. But I think the following, written in a Paris train station between episodes and near the end of it all tells a lot.

We'd slid into Paris on the final leg of the trip, finding ourselves once again wedged between trains, covered with baggage and chatting up the locals. It was a strange mixture of the familiar, the wildly absurd, the new, the scary and the teaching moment. I had a lot of the latter during this adventure.

Here are the thoughts of that moment:

The Last Day in Europe

The eager young geologist.
This was to be the easy day, the one where we flew up from Madrid to Paris, caught a shuttle over to the hotel and relaxed until we left for the states tomorrow. 

 Didn’t turn out quite that way. 

Here’s the sequence to this point (and I’m sitting in a train station in Paris drinking a diet Coke named Emmanuelle—don’t ask—as I type this):

We leave the curious Tryp Hotel (with children’s beds for adults) on time and shuttle out to the Madrid Airport, getting dropped at the wrong terminal, making a semi-late situation a bit more urgent and leading to the O.J. Simpson Airport Sprint. 

There are problems checking in, but the delay is more annoying than serious. Ryanair is, if nothing else, consistently annoying. The flight to “Paris” is without incident, except when I discover that “Paris” is actually Beuavais, a Paris suburb in much the way Richmond is a Roanoke suburb. 
Beauvais is where Ryanair flies, my travel partner explains, which means cheaper fares. It also means a hell of a lot more inconvenience and hidden fees all over the place. A flight out of Madrid yesterday would been in Roanoke already and I would be in my bed. I’m thinking out loud, “300 Euros vs. Paris; 300 Euros vs. Paris” and the 300 Euros is coming out ahead every time.

We catch a bus to the Beauvais train station, a picturesque little town, and the train takes us to Paris. We're sitting between cars again because the train we scheduled was later and a considerate French clerk squeezed us on this earlier trip.

Sonya between train cars.
In the process, we meet a nice young geologist from Mont Blanc (Swiss-French) and he helps perk up a sagging day with some lively conversation. The geologist sits down with us and asks, "Do you speak English?" with the intent of getting some help writing a letter to a company official who might hire him ... if he speaks the language well enough. We make suggestions and the conversation wanders all over the place. He's a good kid, looking to find his place in a world he doesn't yet understand, but one he wants to help improve.

We drag in to Paris about 3 p.m.—I thought we’d be in our hotel room three hours earlier—and Sonya begins talking about “what’s next,” meaning there is no solid plan. She decided she wants to take a bus across town to the Musee d’Orsay gift shop to pick up a big, heavy book she passed up the other day, an art book. I am not happy about this. 

She finds a place to store her luggage for a couple of hours (9.5 Euro) and gets ready, at nearly 4 p.m., to go search out the book, while I wait in the train station, telling her I feel like writing, when I really feel like punching out a marble column at the museum. She does one last check to see if the d'Orsay (The Big M'O, they call it) is open on Monday. It is not. “Paris likes me,” I think and I smile. Finally, someone does. 

She is disappointed, but even more, I think, she is hungry, so she goes looking for Chinese while I sit here writing this, waiting for some break to come my way so I can get to the room, rest and work off some resentment. It is not a healthy moment.

Men and women of various nationalities come hesitantly to the table, tell me a wide range of tales of woe while holding out their hands and I listen patiently. “Sonya has all my money,” I say. They don’t understand and they quietly walk away, looking for another face that appears weary from travel and maybe a smidge sympathetic to misery. 
My new British writer buddy at the station.

This is a large, old train station with a lot of exposed metal, green iron posts and columns. Its floor is concrete, but it is surprisingly peaceful in this late afternoon. The travelers are shuffling, rather than sprinting as they were earlier.  In this little Asian bistro (cookies, cakes, weird-tasting Diet Cokes), all the tables are taken and I’m sharing mine with a young Brit who is quietly eating a tuna sandwich. Europeans don’t seem to understand that raw tuna on bread is not a tuna sandwich, but who am I to correct? The Brit says he is a writer and he looks it: tweedy, trimmed mustache, curious eyes, easy smile. 

Two weeks ago, Leah Weiss asked me if I were homesick yet and I’ve used that as a gauge for this trip’s success/failure. I am homesick now. 

I want something familiar and calm. I want to go to the theater and to paddle my kayak and to hike some of my trails. I want to pay my bills and watch a couple of episodes of “Foyle’s War.” I don’t want to chase any more trolleys or trams or cabs or trains or anything else with wheels in the next year or so. I don't want to have to face a train conductor telling me my ticket is no good.

I don’t want to figure out what the hell five kilograms is in pounds and I don’t want to have to convert any more Euros to dollars so I’ll have an idea how much I’m being overcharged. I don’t ever want to pay $34 for another Caesar salad. Hell’s bells, I don’t want to pay $34 for Caesar.

Soaking all this up will take some time. I will go back through the photos and really examine them and see some stuff I didn’t see the first time. It’s all been so frantic that consciously absorbing has simply been lost in the shuffle. Over the next while, I will come to understand some of why things developed as they did, what lessons I need to take and keep, how much of a good look I’ve had at myself in many ways and what I need to change. There are some obvious flaws I hadn’t seen before and they’ll be changed immediately. Nothing says, “You need to fix that,” better than seeing the big, festering pimple in the mirror.

 For now, the clock is ticking on my traveling companion, and the train to the shuttle to the hotel to the bath, to the soft chair.

No comments:

Post a Comment