Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Paris and Beyond

Waking up in Paris, a city often touted as the most beautiful in the world is a wonderful feeling. I woke up late, around 10, and after preparing for the day, and re-packing my bag, I went downstairs and checked out.

The hostel has a secure store place for luggage, and I left mine there.

Wanting to see the Eiffel Tower, I hopped on the metro, and after one change of lines I got off at Invalides. As it turns out, that is quite a walk from the tower. It was a bit cold, and raining a little, but it was nice to just absorb the sounds and sights of France.

After catching a small glimpse of the top of the tower from the metro station, it was invisible until just a few minutes before reaching it. It popped out from behind the buildings in its immense glory.

It is huge. Framed agains the grey sky it looked like a beautiful black and white painting. The tower spreads its massive bases over a huge plaza underneath, crawling with the tourists absent so far in my trip.

To take in the whole tower properly one must walk away from the river towards the military academy. I sat on a bench and just stared for what must have been half an hour.

To build such a structure is a feat of engineering, even today, and it was built so long ago, and in addition with a grace that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

I did not go up into the tower, however I did walk back under it again, braving the mobs of souvineer sellers.

Walking towards the military academy again, I took the customary self picture in front of it, and stopped to take a picture for a couple with the magestic structure as the backdrop.

Deciding that instead of walking around Paris then, I would wait until the spring and hope for better weather, I headed back to the hostel.

The night before when I had originaly found the hostel, I had used the correct exit, and found myself pointing in the right direction. This time I most certainly did not.

I walked and walked and walked for around half an hour until I finally found the correct road. As it turns out the metro station I was using had 5 exits, all widely spaced.

Back at the hostel, I retrieved my bags, and read for some time.

At around 3 I left for Gare de St Lazare. Upon arrival I found the ticket booth, and after purchasing my ticket I went inside to find the platform. To my surprise the ticket had no platform writen on it, and it appeared to work the same as a metro ticket, you validated it when you want to use it.

I wandered around with my big pack for a while, looking at all the departure screens for Rouen. I finnaly found it, and walked over to the platform. I validated my ticket, then walked along the train a ways to find a seat. What seemed like a kilometer later, I entered the lower level of the double deck train, and sat down.

Soon after, right on time, the doors slid shut, and the train rolled out of the station. Just like the Eurostar, this train was so smooth, and once out of the station area and its multitude of junctions, there was once again the feeling of gliding over the rails.

It sped up to its remarkable cruising speed, and soon emerged into the countryside. Sliding through France at what seems to be hundreds of kilometers per hour is quite an experience for someone who has never experienced it before, and my face was glued to the window the whole way until it got dark.

There were only 3 or 4 stops before arrival in Rouen, the terminus of the train's service.

The riders of the train and I all piled off and up into the terminal building. I was to be picked up by my sisters host mother from last year, but I did not know when or where, or even what she looked like.

I parked myself in the main hall of the building with my pack, and sat down to wait. Just ten minutes later I was hailed from across the hall. We introduced each other, and it turned out that I was just where I was supposed to be, right at the right time.

As I dont speak french, and she doesnt speak french, the ride was quiet for the most part, although we were able to communicate a bit with our very limited command of the others language.

It was my first experience in a car in Europe, and man was it ever crazy. They do not seem to have any regard for lanes, or signs, or pedestrians, or anything outside the car. It was somewhat hair raising, but it was really cool to see a little bit of the city my sister loves so much.

I caught a glimpse of her school, and of several churches and the cathedral. The architecture of Rouen is just amazing, the city being many centuries old.

Arriving at her house on the other side of the river, I met her husband, and was shown around the house. Arriving later in the evening was their son Guillame, who speaks fluent english.

I settled in, and spoke/gestured with my hosts. They have a very nice house, small, but with everything tucked away in neat ways.

Guillame arrived an hour or so later with his girlfriend, also fluent in english, and we all sat down for appetizers. I had my first french wine, a very strongly flavoured one as it turns out.

Soon after we settled in for dinner, potatoes, ham, and cheese mixed together in a dish called Tarteflete, or something like that. In any case it was very tasty, and we had desert of ice cream.

The three of us young folk headed out to Rouen at this time, already after eight in the evening.

We stopped first at a friends house, and spent a little bit there before heading into the city.

Finding parking was a bit crazy, the winding streets filled to the brim with cars already. We eventually found a spot, and walked towards Rue de Gros Horlage, the most famous street in the city. It has a big clock on an arch about half way down, and ends at the cathedral.

The buildings are amazing in Rouen. I looked at the date on one and it read 1630. A 380 year old building with a clothes shop in the bottom and apartments above. None of the buildings had straight sides, all of them bulged out in odd directions. They seemed to be just squished in between the others, all depending on the one beside for support.

We stopped at a bar, by this time our group numbering 14 with many other friends having joined us.

Even with the language difference, it was a lot of fun, and we managed to communicate with our limited vocabularies and with our gestures. Lots of fun to be meeting my sisters friends from last year as well.

Eventually we headed off, back to the house we had visited earlier to watch a very odd tv show in which the mother of a grown man chooses between several women trying to be his wife. Strange.

In bed I fell asleep right away, my second night in france having been tons of fun, with lots of new people, and new sight sounds and smells.

I was sleeping in the bed my sister had last year, and it was nice to see it in real life after seeing it so many times on skype.

Paris was nice, but Rouen with so many people to connect with was so far, a lot of fun.

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