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Not dead yet!

Typing from Tours train station, waiting on a train to Chinon. Just had the single best chocolate croissant I've ever had in my life, at a little travel kiosk. So far France has provided some great pastries, an excellent grilled cheese sandwich, mediocre pizza and one rather dreadful omelet. 

I am going to write REI a nice note about the astonishing wicking/anti-microbial properties of their shirts, one of which I wore for approximately two days, including a one hour-flight, four-hour layover, an eight hour flight, an hour train-ride, another hour bus-ride, and several more hours of a death-march around the city waiting for our hotel to be ready and still did not wrinkle or smell like armpits. 

I will buy ten of them when I get home. 

Chartres cathedral is about a thousand years old and looks it. Apparently there is a point in my head at which stuff merely becomes Really Damn Old, because I was not noticeably more wowed by the 4th century crypt in the basement. Yup. That's old, all right. (I don't think I have any real ability to comprehend a thousand years. Anything over about four hundred all occurs simultaneously in my brain. Petroglyphs, Anasazi ruins, Chartres, Romans, Visigoths, Mayans, Erik the Red, Columbus, Pyramids, Beowulf, Caesar...I think on some level I may believe Jesus was stabbed in the side with a Clovis point by Vikings.) 

Not speaking the language is a strange and lonely feeling. I always get anxious in big cities by myself, but this is worse, because of a vague feeling that if I am attacked by a rabid mime, I will still be trying to navigate through "Excuse moi, un mime...uh...uh....je ne....uh...bugger....anglais?" by the time it chews through to a vital organ. (Fear of rabid mimes is not because I'm in France, by the way. I keep an eye out for mimes at all times. They're like ninjas who think they're funny.)

Everyone has been very nice, though, except the waiter with the bad omelet. Even in Paris. I don't know what to make of Paris. I might need a better keyboard to get into that. I can see why people hate it. I can guess why some people love it. The guards at the train station carry AK-47s. They are serious about their trains. 

Things unexpected about traveling---sudden intense affection for anyone who speaks your language. Regrettable condition of pay-toilets, many of which lack seats as I understand them. Smallest elevator on earth. Outrageously good food at travel kiosks. Unexpected cardboard cut-outs of the Pope and the Michelin Man. Didgeridoo player in the park. Large number of carousels. 

Anyway, three days in Chinon, then back to Paris and a hotel, then home. Having fun, got a dozen new birds and hoping to add more (common moorhen chicks are ADORABLE) but will also be glad to get home where I can communicate without hand gestures and plaintive looks. 

...my god. I want to know exactly what shirt that is, so that I can go get it from REI too.

They're like ninjas who think they're funny.

Also my partner. Not a mime. Thinks he's funny. And a ninja. Is a ninja, that is. He can be standing in the middle of the aisle at a supermarket, and I will be looking for him, because he has wandered off, and I will walk straight past him. You'd think this would be difficult with a 6'4" bald man, but this happens so often, I refuse to separate from him in supermarkets (that is, if I actually go with him at all; it's an exercise in frustration).

Edited at 2012-09-18 02:12 pm (UTC)

Not speaking the language is a strange and lonely feeling

Oh yes. My first honeymoon involved travelling through France and Spain by train. My then wife spoke a little Spanish, but I had not a word. I felt so relieved on crossing back into France where I could inflict a few years of French lessons and an atrocious English accent on the locals.

After a while you get used to the fact that you can get by almost anywhere in English. Even in Japan, and even in Akita in Japan (a port city hundreds of miles from Tokyo not known for any tourist attractions) it didn't scare us when we went.

It's part of foreign travel that you get used to and end up liking. Use whatever smattering of words you have and avoid being the stereotypical 'loud American' and the locals will usually love you.

(Or in my case, 'loud Brit'.)

Learn how to say "I'm sorry, I don't speak [language]" in the language of every country you plan to visit. If you can say it with humor, so much the better. My Spanish version is "Mi español es no bueno por caca," which is absolutely bastardized and instantly understandable.

So far France has provided some great pastries, an excellent grilled cheese sandwich, mediocre pizza and one rather dreadful omelet.

Dude. I think you need some better restaurants. Woman does not live by croque monsieur alone.
[Unless your mother is a non-pisciverous vegetarian, in which case, the food god help you.]

...This comment sounds really random, doesn't it?

On a different note, I want the (typically medieval, in some ways) mashup picture showing Vikings stabbing Jesus in the side with a Clovis point.

Make sure you sample the local wine in Chinon - if you like full bodied reds. I found it particularly good.

Ah, all the fun of traveling. Especially the scary toilets. The worst are 3D - dirty, dangerous and disgusting.

I think everyone should have the experience of being somewhere where you don't speak the language. It can be a lot of fun, really, if you relax, point, act things out and generally are willing to embarrass yourself.

The self-cleaning toilets! I found one that was free and had no line, which, unbelievable, but since I didn't exactly know how it worked, I was freaked out when I flushed, and instead of flushing, it started yelling at me in French! I'm like, "I'm sorry! What did I do?!" but apologizing to the French toilet doesn't work so well.

Exscusez-moi, s'il vous plait? Pourriez-vous m'aider avec ce mime enragé?

I admit having to look up a translation for 'rabid', it's not a word we really covered in French Immersion....much like "Deux bières, s'il vous plait.", "Ou est la salle de bain?", and "Mon aèroglisseur est plein d'anguilles!", this is probably a phrase they need on the little tourist guidebook.

The only thing I can remember about the French for "rabies" is the posters that they used to have in ports when I was younger (me being English), which were half in English and about the dangers of rabies and why one should not be trying to smuggle animals in from France, and half in French, and the French half (though I couldn't really read it at the time) had a big heading of DEFENSE DE LA RAGE.

I think. It was a while ago.

I do at least remember that "rabies" in French is "La Rage", though I'm not sure what that makes "rabid".

ooh, I loved Chartres. Possibly my favorite stop on the trip there (this was like, 10 years ago now). There was just such a sense of peace in the main hall. I don't remember being super impressed with the crypt either ;).

best meal i had in france was a jambon et fromage et beurre sandwich at some tiny little street cafe near Notre Dame. worst was the third place the tourguides picked out for dinner, which started off with some sort of cold and slimy pate and ended with the third tarte tatin in as many days (oh, you're americans! you must want apple pie! uh, no, thanks, that's ok...)

Have fun! don't get pickpocketed on the metro!

ended with the third tarte tatin in as many days (oh, you're americans! you must want apple pie! uh, no, thanks, that's ok...)

Heh. This reminds me of the time my local contradance group hosted a Scandinavian dance group that was touring the US. I had made a pot of jambalaya for dinner because I consider that to be authentic American ethnic food, and they were quite pleased not to be getting "real American food -- fried chicken!" which had apparently been their last 4 or 5 dinners.

I'd suggest stabbing the mime with a Clovis point, but, really, a mime is a terrible thing to waste.

i am so glad you're having a good time. when you come back however, there will be body farm vultures we need to talk about *winks*

(Deleted comment)
I went to Meashowe in (on?) Orkney. Viking grafitti. That messes with the mind.


Having grown up in a big city, then moved to a village full of thatched cottages, and then gone on to study in Oxford... Impressive Architecture just doesn't Impress me. I can appreciate it, but I've been really desensitised to it.

Also, ninjas that don't have senses of humour aren't the ones you want to worry about. It's the ninjas that *do* have senses of humour. They like very practical jokes.

I'm imagining somebody who starts to leave the room, opens the door, and is killed by the bucket of poisoned caltrops which mysteriously appeared on top of the door.

Or the "peanut brittle" can which is actually filled with spring-launched poison spikes.

Edited at 2012-09-18 07:56 pm (UTC)

I spent a weekend in Paris with my mother when I was 18 (my graduation present was a tour of Ireland, England, and Scotland, but while we were in London, Mom found this affordable weekend tour thing and absolutely insisted that we pop over to France), and I'm firmly in the "Paris is ridiculously overrated and kind of sucks" camp, while my mother is completely enamored of the place and still won't shut up about it. I wouldn't mind going back if I could do nothing but tour museums (we got about an hour in the Louvre, which was just enough to grasp that we needed about a week), but mostly I hated that all the architecture looks the same and all the bloody atrocities in French history get really proud, look-at-how-great-we-are monuments.

I liked London much better, especially for the points where it kind of feels like there's a broken time machine around, because you can turn a corner and suddenly there's a sleek, modern building next to a neoclassically bombastic one next to a little thatched cottage next to an art deco treatise.

A teacher that I had in high school once told us a story about how he spent some time teaching kids in, I think, Africa, and he rapidly discovered that time as we understand it doesn't have a lot of meaning for them. He would say "100 years ago" and it might as well have been "10,000 years ago" for all that the kids could comprehend. What he ended up doing was working backwards for their history lessons: "In your fathers' time, ___ happened. In your grandfathers' time, ___ happened. In your great-grandfather's time, ___ happened..." The kids had to relate everything to their personal family histories, and then they could understand how long ago things happened. I think that story stuck with me because it was my last semester of high school before I went off to study Anthropology.

I'm glad you're still alive. The language isolation can be tough even when you (are supposed to) know quite a lot of the language. The gap between school French and métro French is huge. A French person once explained to me that the people in Paris always look miserable because they are in Paris. It's a beautiful city, but it is also intense and for the people who actually live there the experience is often métro-boulot-dodo (metro-work-sleep). I would feel more sorry for the Parisians if that boulot was not interrupted by 2 hr lunches with the finest wines in the world and 5 weeks of vacation.

Bienvenue dans mon pays !

Oh well, you can always find someone who at least speak a little English, can't you ? What I'm saying is, it would be much harder if you were, say, Hungarian, or Lituanian...

Guards don't usually carry assault rifles in train stations, but the terrorism alert level must have been raised, due to you-know-what (it's all over the news).

Every year, I travel to a country where they don't speak my language. I kinda like that feeling of being surrounded by words I don't understand, but I see how it might make you anxious.

Have you been able to check any comic stores ? In Paris, I recommend "Super-Héros" (which does not actually sell super heroes comic, or not much of them), very close to the Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg).

Re: Bienvenue dans mon pays !

Guards don't usually carry assault rifles in train stations

Indeed not. I've never seen them in a French station myself, though I'd guess they'd have been out after 9/11 too.