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

3 comments

  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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