16 July, 2014

Day 13: Paris

Time to depart for the final leg of the trip. Paris.

We got up early, since we needed to make a drive to Avignon, drop off the car, and get on the train. A TGV train, which I was excited about, since I've never been on one before. I didn't know what TGV was, so I looked it up, and it stands for "Train a grande vitesse," meaning "fast train." Funny that. Being the last morning, we decided to venture around the corner past our usual bakery to a different bakery, where we got bread. It was amazing bread, and we wished we'd discovered this bakery sooner in the visit. There was a street market, and we walked around a bit to explore and find more potential food items. We found yogurt from an organic farm stand, and cantaloupe.

We brought all of this back to the apartment, and had breakfast there. Then we finished packing, made sure we hadn't left any messes, or left anything behind. And we said goodbye to our apartment in the village of St. Remy-de-Provence. It's a place I will always remember but, with the world as large as it is, I may never return. I've probably said that before in this blog, but it continues to strike me as strange and sad that we do not have forever to experience all things. Of course, I waste so much time sitting around in my regular life, it perhaps would not be that valuable to have infinite time. Digression into existentialism, which I'll resist.

The drive to Avignon commenced with plenty of time to spare, since I am a planner, and didn't want to have any missed connections at all during this trip. I cannot recall how long the drive was. Maybe 30-45 minutes? According to Google Maps, it says 25-30 minutes, so I guess that's all it was. When we arrived at the station, the car drop-off for Europcar was incredibly easy and friendly. They barely even looked at us, and there was no paperwork. It was an outdoor lot, very close to the main entrance of the train station (good design). The cars that were being returned were much nicer than the car we had. Lots of Audis and even fancier ones. It appears that renting a car from Avignon probably means there are far more options than renting in a tiny town like Menton, where they only had the one car that we'd reserved. But we were happy with our car, so it was another of those irrelevant details like discovering the better bakery on the last day.

We walked over to the main station, arriving at least 30-45 minutes ahead of schedule. It was a big futuristic building. The station has 2 levels. The lower level, at ground level, is where all of the shops are, and the trains arrive on the second level, outside the terminal, on elevated tracks. It feels much more like an airport than a regular rail station. It's very well organized, with digital signs inside the building for you to align yourself with the spot where your reserved car will stop.

While waiting, we stopped in a small cafe in the station, and had some pastry and coffee to pass the time. It was a typical kind of place you'd find in an airport, though maybe a little less busy.

When we were waiting for the train to arrive, I was anticipating it with some enthusiasm. When we went outside to board, the temperature was well over 90 degrees. Not pleasant at all. We boarded the train, and the ride began with very little delay. It was very comfortable, air-conditioned, and very fast. Very, very fast. I turned on my "SportsTracker" app on my phone to see if the GPS could give me a good estimate of our speed. I am not sure I am remembering correctly, but I believe the train had a top speed of about 185 miles per hour. According to the Googles, the top speed of these trains is 201 mph, so that seems like a reasonable recollection on my part. It's weird how it does not feel like we're moving that quickly, because the landscape was so expansive, and most of the objects of interest were in the far distance on the countryside. It's all relative, I guess? We're much more sensitive to acceleration than velocity, perhaps? I mean, when we're in an airplane, we're moving at between 150-600 miles per hour depending on the phase of the flight, and it never really feels like it's fast.

I spent most of the ride trying to write this journal, but I was not writing the entry you're reading now. I was probably writing entries from a week or more earlier, since I hadn't done a great job of keeping up. One thing I did succeed in doing very well was taking notes on each day in a timely fashion. This entry is being written 18 months after the fact, but I remember it nearly as vividly as the day we were there, because of my simple list of activities. Having a list, even if brief, is enough to shake loose all of the memories from what would otherwise be lost in a hopeless sea of what? What are memories that aren't presently being recalled? Are they electrical? Proteinaceous? Chemical? Who knows... but they're in there, because I'm able to retrieve them from such simple phrases as "Metro to St. Germain" or "Luxembourg Garden." When I see those phrases, I immediately remember things like us getting incredibly confused in the metro station, connecting between lines. And I remember us getting into a bit of an argument at Luxembourg Garden because we were both hot and hungry and tired, and I think Allie needed to find a restroom and I was anxious to explore. Doesn't take much to stimulate recall of stories, sights, emotions, sensations. So let me get back to telling you about those things.

I don't actually remember the arrival of the TGV at the Paris TGV station. I only recall that there were a couple of changes of train that we needed to make to get to the neighborhood of the apartment we'd rented. I believe we probably took the M4, since if memory serves correct, all the RER trains were under repair (well not all of them, probably, but certainly every one we'd wanted to take). To get to the right train we had to snake our way through bizarre underground tunnels that were in no way logical, nor linear. We made it, but I seem to recall I was in a hurry, and had some completely unnecessary urgency to this trek, which I can only imagine made me unpleasant to be with. It was hot, and we had heavy bags, and I was making Allie rush through crowds. It was completely unclear what direction we needed to walk to get to the next train line, and seemed like we were just walking underground forever. At one point, we even (if I recall correctly) went up a walkway that said we should not enter, because there did not seem to be any other way to get where we needed to be. I probably should have been a lot more relaxed about this. When we arrived at the St. Germain station, we were able to easily find our way to the apartment, and called our liaison, named "Eric," along the way. He was running a bit late. I don't know if he was the business partner, or significant other of the owner of the apartment. I also don't know if the person who rented me the apartment was the owner or if they were just a property manager. This kind of thing isn't really clear.

Eric was really friendly, and he complimented me, with what seemed to be sincerity, for my attempts at speaking French, although it was mostly via text message that we had that interaction, and my French texting is a combination of Google translate, and smoothing the edges into what I know probably sounds more right than the raw translation, or some combination thereof.

Eric gave us full tour of the apartment, which was decent, and in a building that really looked and felt like you'd expect to find in the heart of Paris, with a narrow winding red staircase to the 4th floor, and every apartment having an interesting looking door. Ours was modern on the inside, and had decent amenities, but no air conditioning, which turned out to matter, because it was very hot that week.

We settled into the apartment briefly. It's now been 11 months (so, clearly, 4 more months since I started writing this entry... sigh), so I honestly can't remember how long we settled in, but I think we probably relaxed for a bit before agreeing that we can't lie still in an apartment in the middle of one of the greatest cities on Earth. So we made our way out. We walked around the neighborhood a bit, and checked out a church that we passed, a few blocks away. What was it called? Saint-Germain-des-PrĂ©s. That's what it was. Googling it reminded me of what it was, and also reminds me of how sweltering hot it was with all the concrete around us. We went inside, not because we're huge church buffs, though it is always amazing to see the old architecture. The main motivation, if I recall correctly, was to get out of the sun briefly.

From there, we wandered over to Luxembourg Gardens. It was hot. We had need of both food and restroom, and the heat and fatigue caused us to bicker. Again, if I recall correctly (and I do), what happened was that Allie needed food and needed a restroom. And I was pushing for us to walk around. But that's not nice of me, and it's not fun either. If you have to eat, you have to eat. And if you need the restroom, you need the restroom. I don't know what my deal was, looking back. I think I get stressed in ways that are not conscious to me, and it comes out by being controlling or pushy. If I learn one thing from this trip to inform our next trip (which is now only 2 months away), the lesson would be to chill out...

A good friend of mine was coincidentally also in Paris. She was traveling with her boyfriend and his son. It was their last night in Paris, and our first. It seemed absolutely essential that we meet, so we had planned in advance to connect. The plan was to have dinner at Gladines. It was a moderately long walk there, but we thought it would be worth exploring and heading in that direction. It was longer than we thought it would be. And hotter than we thought. The kind of heat where you find yourself really trying hard to walk on the shady side of the street. I think we stopped in a thrift shop and were rifling through scarves, trying to find one special enough to replace the one that had been lost in the lobby in Florence. I saw a few that I thought were nice, and ridiculously cheap, but Allie was insistent that this purchase was not necessary, and that we could come back later. I think she said "I like it... but I don't love it..." which would have been funnier if we had already seen the Garfunkel & Oates episode where they make fun of that saying.

On our sweltering walk across the city, we were both fairly starving, and knew we couldn't wait until dinner time, so we stopped at a place that looked quite touristy, but wasn't bad at all, at a major intersection. The place was called Messer Lux. Googling it provides no useful information, which must mean that I got the name wrong. But I am pretty sure it was located near Luxembourg Gardens. We had pommes frites and red wine. It was not much food but it was enough to get us by and out of the sun. I practiced my bad French, which was greeted with patience, and I believe he even switched to English. Again, this is different from my memories of 2006, but I don't know if what has changed is me or the city.

We got to the restaurant and had to wait for a table, and wait for Jennie. Time was passing, and no Jennie. Eventually we were called for our table, and we also learned that Jennie and Andrew were at a different Gladines, located miles away. There are (at least) two of them. Actually, Google says there are five them. And I honestly cannot tell you which one we were at. Maybe on Boulevard St. Germain, but then that doesn't make sense because I thought it was far from where we were staying but that is close. It does look like the one in that photo.

Long story long, we didn't have dinner with Jennie because they were too far away. We ate steak and drank Bordeaux, and Allie ordered a bacon salad that had (if you can believe it) too much bacon for any human to eat. But the food was good. And the atmosphere was bustling, and extremely hot.

Jennie rode a bike over to where we were (I am not sure how she had a bike -- am I remembering wrong?) and said hello to us. Then she departed. I am clearly leaving out important details over her visit. Maybe we departed with her. I don't remember. I can ask Allie. But at this point, what do you really care? I could completely make this up and tell you we had dinner with Danny DeVito and you would have no choice but to believe me.

Somehow, after the above parts that did or did not happen, we ended up meeting up with Jennie (again, or in continuation), Andrew, and his 12-year old son, in Marais, at the outdoor restaurant where they were dining. And because I seem to recall that Jennie was also dining, I am inclined to think that she did not stay at our restaurant, or else she would not be dining when we met up with them. They'd been waiting for a table for a long time, I think, and they'd just received their meals. There was a lot of food. They offered us some. We were full, but the food looked really good, so I think we picked at some of the shareable items anyway, if for no other reason than it being socially more acceptable to eat with someone than to watch while they eat.

I was very moved by the fact that Andrew had brought his son on the trip. This is not something that I had the opportunity to do when I was a child. It was not the family life that I had. My parents, during my childhood, never took me farther than Florida, and not many times. They were not big world travelers. I feel like having the experience of Paris at the age of 12 sets someone up for very broad expectations of what the world can be. I eventually expanded my horizons, but it was not until I was in my late 20s and late 30s that I saw "The World."

Marais, to my recollection, is a neighborhood just north of Notre Dame (northeast, to be precise). We walked around the neighborhood with them for a bit. Then we walked "home" again, passing Notre Dame on the way. It was peaceful at night. There were many people in front, taking photos. Not a mob scene like the daytime.

Paris at night, Je t'aime.

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