First week of Spring Break.
03.21.2009 - 03.30.2009 49 °F
I've never had a knack for sleeping while traveling. Not on cars, planes, trains, you name it. Don't get my wrong, I wish I had the gift. It would be great to be able to multitask and satisfy such diverse needs like covering long distances and catching up on some much needed Z's at the same time. But I've never gotten the hang of it--something about it feels unnatural. Trying to force sleep in such a foriegn environment makes me feel about as out of place as a guy wearing a shirt at a NASCAR event. This unnatural feeling of sleeping while traveling is only amplified when you happen to be crammed into an 8' x 8' room with five French people who either cannot or will not speak English, aboard a high speed train ripping through the French countryside at speeds over 100 mph. So you can imagine how well I slept last Thursday night.
The night started off uneventful enough, for me sitting for about an hour or two at the Paris station waiting for my train to arrive. I was heading from Paris to a small town called Segovia, in Spain, to visit a friend from school. I spent most of this time waiting people watching-- I couldn't get over the French. Usually, when I have previous stereotypes of a certain people or culture, they are usually immediately proved wrong by my first few interactions with the particular people. Not so for the French, they not only reaffirmed by stereotypes of them--rude, stuck up, etc.-- they exceeded any expectations I had conjured up for them. No doubt, I had only met a few French people, and some of them seemed very pleasant, nonetheless, the majority of my interactions were far from pleasant. Our waiter on the first night was genuinely rude the entire night, the ticket man at the train station snapped at me for not knowing where my gate was, and the overweight lady behind the hotel counter--a perfectly nice, luxuorious hotel, I might add-- acted as if I had just shot her new born puppy every time I asked her for directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich history and cultural aspects of France, it was really a tremendous experience to see the battlefields of Verdun, the Champagne caves of Reims, and all that Paris has to offer. That being said, I was not sad to say goodbye to the people of France. When the train had finally arrived, I was apparently so eager to say farewell that I got on the wrong train car.
I got to my room--or hostel on wheels-- and was the first one there. I immediately made my bed and put on my headphones, hoping to avoid having to deal with any of my French roommates who would soon be trickling in. It was already 11:00 p.m., and I was pretty tired. But as soon as I had closed my eyes, I realized I should probably use the bathroom just so I don't wake any of my other roommates, which would be a disruption I imagined the French blowing vastly out of proportion.
So I made my way to the toilet and hurried back to my room. But, suddenly, a lady popped out of the room next to mine, and asked me a question in French. "Je ne pas parle Francais," I responded, and stepped around her as I continued on to my room. I had no idea what her question was but I was fairly confident I didn't have the answer to it."Espanol?" She called after me. "Italiano?' She asked again before I could respond. She must have been taking cues from my darker complexion and features. "Anglais," I replied.
She then told me in very broken English that she and her other roommates could not lift her bag onto the storage racks (which are above the three-high stacked bunk beds). An older man came out of the room (I wasn't sure if this was her husband or not) looking exasperated, I sensed that they had exhausted every other option. She wondered if I could give it a try. I poked my head into the room, and sized up this bag--knowing full well the excessive packing abilities of women-- before making any sort of a commitment. It was a big bag, no doubt, but it wasn't enormous. In my mind, I chalked their failure up to being French and thus inevitably wimpy, which was probably a bad way to think about it. I was fully confident that I could get that damn bag up onto the storage rack.
So I stepped inside and grabbed the bag by handles on either side, and pulled it up to my waist. I then lifted it to shoulder level, and stepped onto the lower two bunks so that I could reach the storage rack above me. Whoa. The weight of this bag was arresting--it wasn't just heavy, but very unbalanced. It was the kind of weight that made me remember, 'Yes I have dislocated my shoulder twice, maybe I shouldn't be lifting this huge French purse above my head." But I had already passed the point of no return. I gave it one final serious heave, and pushed the damn thing onto the rack. I jumped down triumphantly, a wave of patriotism sweeping over me, as the lady thanked me numerous times.
I returned to my room, got into bed, and rolled over and faced the wall. And while that brief bit of strenuous exercise didn't help me sleep any better that night, it wasn't a bad consolation prize to be waking up Friday morning in the country of Spain.
The first picture is from the battle of Verdun. This battle raged between the Germans and French, and later Americans, during 1916, the permanent scarring is still clearly visible today-- it looks like a never-ending field of green ski moguls-- the result of incessant artillery shelling.
The second image is from a Champagne 'Cave' in Reims. These bottles must sit for years horizontally as part of the process of making Champagne. They have miles and miles of tunnels like these that hold thousands of bottles of Champagne.
The third image is the of the Gardens at Versailles.
The fourth is a picture of Paris from our hotel room, near sunset. You can see the Eiffel off in the distance.
The fifth picture is a picture of the beautiful town of Segovia, Spain.
The last picture is an image of the Spanish Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain.
All in all, it was a great 10 day trip. I'm looking forward to the Czech Republic next week.