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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. 

If you think the bathrooms in france are bad, do not travel to China or Africa or Egypt. You need to put vaseline under the nose to use the ones in china. I'll never forget the one in the Oldevie Gorge in africa. I think the hole just went right into the gorge. You do a lot of travelling and the get pretty blase about them.

I have a psychological disability which compels me to say that they're more likely carrying FAMAS ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAMAS ) than AK-47s.

For good or ill, if you're not a gun enthusiast "kinda sorta modern military-looking battle rifle" == AK-47.

If you get lost, bar tenders are usually good people to ask for directions, and most tend to be reasonably friendly and helpful, and know the way around the area.

It's a very humbling experience being the one who doesn't speak the language. An experience everyone should have at least once in life. Having lived in Russia for 9 months, I know the feeling very well. I never thought Americans had an accent until I did. Now I can pick it out INSTANTLY. Ah, that instant camaraderie!

And yes, I second that about the toilets. Russia too has some truly abominable public toilets. You can't flush the toilet paper, you have to carry that and hand sanitizer with you cause the bathrooms don't provide them. I had never encountered a squat pot before (I even took a picture of the first one.) Between that, and being a farm kid, I am nearly impossible to gross out.

Also, I thought European castles and buildings until I went to Egypt. Then you get into things built 3000-3500 years ago. Especially those that still had paint on the walls. That really blew my mind!

I read that you got a dozen new birds about a dozen times before I realized there was an unspoken "pictures of" in that phrase.
My mind was gibbering trying to figure out HOW you were going to get the chicks back home??!!

Me too. And yet it would not totally surprise me if the next post involved "and the chicks have all run under the bed" or some such thing.

First time I was in Paris I didn't like it much. We had a whole week to poke around, my parents knew the way, the sky was the limit, and I didn't get that feeling. It was like every other big city with too many people, too long streets, and an incomprehensible transportation system I'd seen until then (I was 19 at the time), although the museums did partly make up for it.

The second time I fell in love. We were on the tightest schedule imaginable, I was pretty much the only one in the group who spoke any French, and the pope visiting Paris at the same time meant we were mostly stuck on the wrong side of yet another road block. But I suddenly had this sensation of where I was, and all the things you can do/see/eat/shop/etc there, and Paris seemed like a huge gift box with a bow around it and layers of crinkly paper inside for me to unwrap and discover.

The whole world can be like that. You can feel infuriatingly blasé about a place, then come back and realise it's a place unlike any other, and the magic suddenly hits you.

Having fun, got a dozen new birds and hoping to add more (common moorhen chicks are ADORABLE)

I know, right? I believe when newly hatched their body mass consists of 50% black fuzz and 50% giant gangly red legs, with actual organs and stuff only emerging as they grow. (On a similar note, I've known multiple people to refer to the coots around here as "moorhens," so I admit to having to Google what you were talking about to make sure. I'm not sure if it's a British colloquialism for various waterfowl or just misinformation--the two certainly don't look much alike.)

Edit: Minimal further research says they're both species of Rallidae, so that makes a little more sense.

Edited at 2012-09-18 10:01 pm (UTC)

Which is confused further by the fact that they recently split the American moorhens off into "Common Gallinule" but not all lists have changed to reflect it.

I want to wish you all the best with your birding. One of my most frustrating recurrent dreams involves being someplace [usually England] and not having binoculars or a field guide.

Thank you very much for giving us a new Danny Dragonbreath just before you went to the other side of the Pond.

I love moorhen chicks too. You half expect to be able to see a key for the clockwork motor.

I love Chartres. Love, love, love.

I get the difficulty with "old" thing, too. My first trip to Italy had me regarding things with suspicion, like I was being told that they were old but they were probably Disney-fied and I just couldn't tell the difference because I was a stupid American and they couldn't possibly really be that old...could they? It kind of hurts your brain.

In Soviet France, the Chartres top *you*!

One of my cousins works for marketing at REI. I'm going to dig out his email address & point him at this, because he will be very pleased!

If you need a break, the Rodin museum gardens are cheap, interesting and clearly designed for lingering in. There was a freaking sandbox for the kiddies! I actually napped a bit in the sunshine there.

I also took a fat-tire bike tour because a) I wanted to see Paris and night and felt it was unwise alone and b) they were all from Texas and god almighty, was it good to hear an American accent! Their Versailles tour was also very nice and a fun way to see quite a lot of the grounds.

If I'd been thinking, I'd have mentioned it earlier

sudden intense affection for anyone who speaks your language.

Or even your second language. When I was living in Germany, I had a Japanese tourist come up and ask me for directions auf Deutsch. While my ability to understand German is generally pretty good, her accent was really throwing me for a loop. "I'm sorry. I'm American," I explained.

"Oh, thank goodness!" she replied enthusiastically in English, and the conversation went much better from there.

Hand gestures and plaintive looks are the universal language.