France: Arrival

Getting here was most cer­tain­ly the most gru­el­ing trip I’ve ever tak­en. From door to door, it took me 21 hours to trav­el almost 6000km, car­ry­ing with me near­ly 90 pounds of lug­gage (which isn’t that much of a stretch from my body weight).

I was main­ly focused on mak­ing it safe­ly and with all my stuff, so tak­ing pho­tos was­n’t a pri­or­i­ty. Traveling alone is cer­tain­ly a lot more dif­fi­cult than with a com­pan­ion, because you can’t leave suit­cas­es with some­one and do some­thing quick like walk down a street to find a sign, or go to the bath­room.

talking to a pigeon

Giving a pigeon a stern talk­ing-to. Birds are brave here.

At Gare Montparnasse.

Ottawa to Montreal

I was run­ning on fumes before my trip even start­ed. Making sure all my work was done and clean­ing the house so I could return to the com­fort of my home meant I had bare­ly eat­en or slept.

But Heather G drove me to the air­port, a ges­ture I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed because get­ting dropped off and picked up for trips is one of those things that always makes me feel like I have fam­i­ly. The flight was only 45 min­utes, so it was­n’t an oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch up on a lot of sleep, but every­thing went smooth­ly.

Montreal to Paris

With an hour-long lay­over and not hav­ing eat­en in more than 12 hours at this point, I start­ed feel­ing faint in the air­port at Montreal. I decid­ed to shell out $3.50 for a bag of mixed dry fruits and nuts, which, as I learned from hik­ing in Boy Scouts, is one of the best (and light­est) ways of get­ting ener­gy. Also pur­chased was a roll of Wine Gummies, which I fig­ured I could chew on if I ever need­ed to stay awake, as I’ve yet to fall asleep while some­thing was in my mouth.

It only start­ed click­ing in that I was mak­ing a big trip when I stepped on the plane and saw how wide the cab­in was (char­ac­ter­is­tic of inter­con­ti­nen­tal flights). Everyone board­ed on time, but with an engine fail­ure that remained unre­solved after two hours of tests, they had to move every­one and all the lug­gage to anoth­er plane that arrived lat­er.

Luckily, the plane was a giant Boeing 777 air­craft, one of the most up-to-date planes, as they not only have indi­vid­ual screens that play TV shows, movies, and XM satel­lite radio, but a host of oth­er fea­tures as well:

  • the cab­in light­ing can be dimmed — to wake every­one up for break­fast, they came on very grad­u­al­ly like a sun­rise (much bet­ter than the jar­ring shock of old cab­in lights)
  • trays aren’t mount­ed to the seat in front, so you don’t mess up your meal or writ­ing if some­one sud­den­ly decides to recline
  • toi­let seats are on pis­tons, which means no more hav­ing the seat slam down (a very obnox­ious sur­prise, espe­cial­ly when the sound is con­fined to such a small area)
  • for first-class pas­sen­gers, the seats come with ottomans, which means you can not only put your legs up, but recline com­plete­ly into a small bed (and I’m sure they make the econ­o­my pas­sen­gers walk through first-class on pur­pose to tempt them into pay­ing for such lux­u­ries next time)

It was after mid­night by the time we took off, and I fell asleep for a good five hours of the sev­en hour trip; the only advan­tage of being exhaust­ed. But even though I’d touched down in France, there was still a big part of my trip left.

Customs was a joke com­pared to Canada even (let alone the States); a quick glimpse at my pass­port and I was let through. Most of the work in cus­toms is prob­a­bly done by a sign that says that if you’re car­ry­ing more than €10,000, you need to declare it.

Paris to Chartres

Charles du Gaulle Airport to Gare Montparnasse

The air­port isn’t exact­ly in the heart of Paris, so to get any­where you gen­er­al­ly trav­el to cen­tral Paris first. For me, that meant get­ting to Montparnasse sta­tion, as it’s a huge hub that con­nects to the train sys­tem. I could have tak­en the RER region­al sub­way air­port, but opt­ed for the shut­tle bus cause I could­n’t pic­ture myself get­ting through a turn­stile with a giant suit­case and two car­ry-on bags, let alone trav­el­ing on a crowd­ed sub­way train with so much stuff. Even though it was three times as expen­sive, I’m sure it was worth it. This was also when I used my first bit of French (Excusez-moi, par­lez-vous anglais?), as I could­n’t fig­ure out where the tick­ets were to be purchased—turns out you buy them from the dri­ver on the bus, and they have a lit­tle machine for cred­it cards (thank­ful­ly, Visa is a uni­ver­sal word).

I was doing my best to stay awake as there was so much to absorb on this 45 minute dri­ve through the city streets, but I did pass out for a minute or two every now and then.

Gare Montparnasse to Chartres

From Montparnasse sta­tion, I caught a train to Chartres — a town about an hour south-west of Paris — where Frédéric and Misun have set up their home. The prob­lem was that I did­n’t know when to get off the train as there were no maps, and com­bined with fatigue, I exit­ed too ear­ly at a tiny satel­lite town called Maintenon with only 8000 peo­ple.

With the end so close in sight, but trains only com­ing every hour (which seemed like more than an eter­ni­ty away at that point), I made a call to Frédéric again, and had to leave a mes­sage as he had already gone to the sta­tion to pick me up.

Frederic lat­er sent me the mes­sage, and said “Jeff, I like your lit­tle message…good mem­o­ry for lat­er!”. Hearing it now, I’m sur­prised at how com­posed I was (I thought I could hear my voice waver­ing when I was talk­ing), cause to be hon­est I was almost break­ing down at this point. I blast­ed some new tracks on my head­phones, and that quick­ly got me moti­vat­ed again; it’s impos­si­ble to stay frus­trat­ed if you have the right music on.

Arrival at Laboratoire Artistique Bilingue

I’m sure I’d be laugh­ing at this expe­ri­ence if it was­n’t for the fact that I’ll have to do the same thing in reverse in a cou­ple weeks. Frédéric told me if it was any­one else, he would have fetched them at the air­port, but know­ing me and my habit of being com­pe­tent and respon­si­ble, he knew I could nav­i­gate a for­eign city by myself. It’s prob­a­bly more faith than I deserve. I would have refused if he offered any­way; this was a test for myself I knew I had to take, and a way for me to step up and become a stronger per­son.

I’m a lit­tle jet­lagged and extreme­ly sore, but I final­ly made it.

Europe 2010 travel diaries


  1. What a tri­al! But you did it. Bravo.

    • Know how I can tell my brain is adapt­ing to being here? I heard “Bravo” pro­nounced in French when I read that.

  2. OH MY GAWD! that is SO much worse than my trip. I for­got you had to get pres de Chartres. Paris would be eas­i­er, and I had the lux­u­ry of my friends get­ting me in a car.
    This engine prob­lem bit with jets late­ly just is inex­cus­able. Hope trip back goes more smooth­ly!

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