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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Surprises in Paris!

Day 159 - 161

November 5 – 7, 2010

I arrived in France early in the morning; slightly disoriented because I had to switch trains twice on my 7 hour journey, with a 2 hour stopover in Munich…each leg only a little over 2 hours. I was meeting up with my friend Antonia - remember Antonia? My cute French friend who I traveled with back in Namibia?  Yes, I was in France visiting her. I also thought it would be fun to go around Paris with Judy, my new travel buddy…Judy was actually living in Strasbourg (one of the capitals of the European Union) so we had the idea of meeting up in Paris and then going back to Strasbourg together. It was only a short time in Paris though - Friday to Sunday…

I arrived early in the morning with all my luggage and rested a bit at the station before I went out to meet Antonia. She had a meeting so wouldn’t be able to meet me until later in the afternoon so I had some time.  We finally met up with each other and it was great to meet up with her and see a familiar face! It’s strange because even though we have only known each other for a little over 3 months, it was like seeing an old friend! She took me back to her apartment which was a cute little 1-bedroom with a great view…though the view unfortunately, was of a cemetery! We caught up a bit, had lunch, then she took me around to places that I had never visited before…

We went out to Moulin Rouge - my knowledge limited to just the movie - didn’t realize it was a real place!  We walked around and then she took me up Montmartre to catch a great view of the city after climbing some steps! Later, we met up with her friends for some wine…wine kills me and after 2 glasses I am done! I was so tired, having had little sleep the night before that I asked if I could go back to the apartment on my own…somehow I managed!



The following day, she told me that we had to meet up her friend who was from Spain…the meeting time was promptly at 2:00PM and they would be coming over. So, I tried to be ready by then….unfortunately, I wasn’t and just before 2:00PM, I hear the door bell ring…I’m in the living room - my new quarters - and Antonia goes to open the door. I hear her greet the person in English which I think is completely normal since that person is from Spain and she’s French. I decide to wait in my room while they walk in since space is limited…and then my mouth dropped!

I KNEW THIS FRIEND AND HE WAS NOT FROM SPAIN! It was Michael from Belgium who was also on our South African journey with us! Oh my God! I was so happy to see him but shocked! I looked behind him, for Jolanda, my tent mate, his new love interest from the trip but she was nowhere to be found.  But, she was coming! She was living in Lithuania and flew in earlier that morning but had not made her way to the apartment yet.

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So here’s the story…after I told Antonia that I was coming, she told Jolanda and Jolanda told Michael and they started making plans to come out to see me! I am rarely the recipient of surprises (I think it’s because I figure it out!) so it made me really happy that they had done all this planning for me!  I was so happy to see him and tried to catch up on what had been going on in his long distance relationship for the last 2 months…about an hour later, Jolanda came by and it was a nice reunion with the 4 of us. We ended up talking and reminiscing for the next few hours and before I knew it, it was dinner time. So Michael and Jolanda went to their hotel and we decided to meet again in about an hour and a half for dinner…We ended up having dinner at a pretty good restaurant that night.

Judy found us at our restaurant and our group was just getting bigger! Judy was actually supposed to have come in the day before but because of work, had to stay an extra day in Italy. Poor her!  She still made it down to Paris though even though she would only be there for a day and Antonia was nice enough to let her stay over too. After we all met up, we ended up going to a club but I could see that Judy was really tired - I felt that way the day before! - and since she’s not a drinker, I told her we could go back to the apartment…since I knew the way!  It was already late though so we were racing to catch the last metro out…

The station was a lot farther than what we expected but somehow we managed to get on; we decided to take a completely different line because we knew that we would have to ride a cab anyway so we wanted to be closest to Antonia’s house. When we got off the metro, we didn’t know where to go for a cab…looked like everyone was thinking the same as us and it seemed like we would never get home. I decided to stand in the round-about thinking that we would have the best chance of catching a cab here.  Just our luck, a cab pulled up to us…..we really only had to wait about 10 minutes…just as we were getting in, someone starts running towards us and shouting!  Out of breath, she asks me something in French and I look at Judy since Judy is the multi-linguist. Then she realizes that we speak English so she asks: ‘Can I share a cab with you? It’s impossible to find one at this hour’. Of course if I can get a better price, I’m all for it. Luckily, she needed to go in our direction so we all hopped in. We ended up exchanging our life stories within the short 10 minute cab ride.  She was an English girl who had met a Laotian, 10 years ago, and now living with him in France….She got to her stop and she offered the cabbie money. ‘No!' I wanted to shout at her….I didn’t want him resetting the meter! And the cab driver also seemed confused at what she was doing…I told her to just pay 70% of the ride and we would pay the rest. It took her a while to realize what was going on…In the end, we only had to pay about $12 for our taxi ride…but about a half an hour after we got home, Antonia comes home! All that trouble and we could have just stayed back a bit and shared the cab with her!

The following day - our last day in Paris - we ended up at the Palais of Versailles.  When planning our weekend the week before, I asked - practically begged - that we spend the day at Versailles.  Why was I so keen on going to Versailles you ask?  Well, 10 years ago, when I traveled around Europe, I made it all the way out to the palace after spending about 2 hours on the train…alone, I somehow managed to ride the train in the wrong direction.  When I finally realized, I had to back-track and spend an additional hour on the train, an hour that I could have otherwise avoided!  When I finally arrived, and climbed up the small hill to the palace, I was told that the palace would be closing in about 30 minutes however the gardens were still open for another hour or so; at least this trip was not made in vain I thought. Just as I walked out to take in the view, my camera batteries die!!  Now, this is back when digital cameras did not really exist along with rechargeable batteries. So, I walked back down the hill and purchased overpriced AA batteries.  Marched back up the hill only to be told that the park would soon be closing! Versailles was unfinished business and I was always pining to return and enjoy it in its entirety.

It couldn’t have worked out any better - perhaps maybe even worth the 10 year wait - but it was the first Sunday of the month which according to Judy, meant free admission to museums!  And among all the museums, Versailles was one of the most expensive.  Judy wanted to go to a modern art museum but instead agreed to Versailles and shared with me that T. Murakami, a famous Japanese artist, would also be exhibiting his work at Versailles.

Versailles an old palace residence of royalty in France, houses some of the most impressive arts and paintings of its time.  It was a strike contrast to the work that Murakami was known for - his cutesy Japanese animated looking pieces, whimsical fantasy.  Versailles invites artists from varying backgrounds to display their works among the backdrop of traditional, 18th century classical pieces.  Many people were opposed to this, and honestly, it seemed quite strange and a bit inappropriate but modern artists were excited about this form of progressive art interpretation.

The cool thing about the first Sunday free museum entry is that they even allow you to use their audio guides at no cost!  How wonderful! Obviously, to run a palace and maintain it, costs money; I would have at least charged for the audio guide to make-up for loss revenue in free admission but great, if they can do it for free, that’s wonderful! I definitely gained a better understanding of all the pieces that I saw on display.

At one point, Judy and I lost each other but eventually found ourselves in the garden. We took more photos together and finally after spending about 7 hours at the museum, we decided to go.  We ended up making our way to view the Eiffel Tower, the iconic mark of Paris - the city of love.  After a few snaps, we decided to rest at a cafĂ© to enjoy the view. Of course it wouldn’t be that expensive to have coffee, would it?  We would later find out, it would.  We ended up paying about $30 for coffee, hot chocolate and included in the tab, $12 for a small serving of hot pumpkin soup….

We thoroughly enjoying our drinks and stalling as best as we could so that we could see the sparkly ‘glitter’ that would shine the Eiffel Tower promptly at 8 o’clock.  Promptly at 8:00 though, we got a call from Antonia and she was there to pick us up in her car.  She gave us a quick tour of Paris as we made our way to the train station to see Michael off.  It was nice to have a refresher and re-view the sites that make Paris what it is, from our own private car. It was a fun challenging ride as it started to drizzle and Antonia had to manually move her wipers to clear her obstructed view.

We met up with the lovebirds and gave Michael a fabulous send-off, Hawaiian style. I’m sure many thought we were outrageous.  It was sad to say good-bye to Michael as I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to see him again.  After Michael left, we had about an hour before our train to Strasbourg was leaving.  We ended up at a bar across the street and here at the little non-descript pub, we (Antnoia, Jolanda and mysef) agreed to celebrate New Year’s Eve together in Lithuania. 2011 from the Baltics!  That was surely a thought that never crossed my mind. But we were being invited and it would be fun for Antonia and I to go and see Lithuania with our friend Jolanda.  We decided we would at least look into it.  We finished our beers and we were on our way back to the train station! 

It was a bit sad but the sadness quickly wore off as our train became delayed for over an hour and eventually the girls left because there was no sign of the train taking off any time soon. Finally we took off and we were so tired we both passed out on the train.  It was a great weekend with new friends that I had only met a few months before; it was a great feeling to be able to meet up again in another city and never imagined seeing everyone so soon!  Thanks to Antonia for devising and organizing the whole operation and Jolanda and Michael for spending their time and money to come out to Paris to see me!  It was a great surprise!