Wednesday, 3 August 2011
The Sorbonne in Paris. It’s still there, too.
The fountains made for a soothing place to sit and write postcards. Which is just what I needed, since I had just spent the better part of the day inside the Paris train station, Gare du Nord. I had arrived late the night before and checked into my hostel – the gay hostel, you remember – and went in search of some Chicken Madras. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as the addictive Madras I remember from my time in England, but I had to try. But the train stop was my first stop the next day. Naturally I asked one of the fluorescent-shirted information helpers which line I should stand in, and after asking me a battery of questions, I went where I was directed. An hour and a half later, I spent a mere 15 seconds at the front counter – brief, because I was in the wrong line, and told so. There was a special line for people with a Eurail pass; not so special for me, since it meant I had to enjoy double the line-waiting fun. By the time I left the Paris train station, I not only had to pay 75 euro for my overnight sleeper to Barcelona, but I had to wait 3 hours and miss half a day in Paris to do so.
That said, I did save 49 euros and miss another half a day in Paris the day before, by taking the eight-hour free train with four connections from Amsterdam instead of the 3-hour direct train. When I was told the direct train carried such a heavy surcharge, I balked and said I had to think about it. When I came back, the second receptionist I spoke with told me dismissively that that train was full for the next four days, and without looking up anything, told me she couldn’t help me. On reflection, I’m not sure who was right – the first receptionist or the second – but if I was bilked out of a three-hour train ride, I was also bilked into saving 50 euro. So I didn’t feel too bad for myself. But the connections I had to make were arduous. I had six minutes to make the first connection, three the second, and six the third. The first train ran late, so I actually had four minutes for the first connection, which was on a different platform on a different floor. Panting with my heavy suitcase, I made it. The second connection seemed impossible – my train arrived two minutes *after* the other train was scheduled to depart. But it was still there, waiting on the other side of the same platform, and I made it with a cool 30 seconds to spare. That third tight connection, though, was the killer. Again I had four minutes, but couldn’t find the board with scheduled departures. By the time I did, dragging the dead-body weight of my suitcase, the train was no longer listed on the board, because it was time to depart. I heard a whistle blow, signaling the departure of a nearby train, and I rushed towards it, sharply gasping out “Amien?” to the people inside. “Yes,” they said, and I squeezed through the closing doors, which caught on my suitcase, and stood panting silently for a while. That fourth connection was no trouble. I had a luxurious 40 minutes.
Anyway, back to Paris.
I could have taken the metro to the Bastille, which I wanted to see again because the last time I was there, a street vendor sold me a sausage I couldn’t refuse. I mean, forget. Instead I decided to walk, which I regretted because, first, it must have taken twice as long, and second, because it rained on the way, so I got wet. And when I got there, the Sausage Nazi told me, no sausage for you. Just a big traffic circle and all the traffic that went with it.
Then there was the Notre Dame, and the Rude American Tourist Incident you all heard about on the nightly news. So that’s why I wasn’t in the best mood.
So when I was approached by an indeterminately-aged Asian girl (what can I say? They all look the same to me) asking how to get into the Sorbonne, I was happy to help. We didn’t get in, but she did ask me to join her for dinner, and we spent the rest of the evening doing the things she wanted to do together. I was happy to tag along because, I thought, well, why not? As you’ve been going, how well are things going for you? Not too well.
She wanted to see the (closed) Louvre, the Champs-Elysee, and the Arc de Triomphe. So, here I am at the Louvre:
And here is the Arc de Triomphe:
And inbetween, one of the most magnificent blood-red suns I have ever seen in my entire life. There’s no way I could capture it in a photograph with its true magnificence intact, but it was breathtaking, and absolutely made my day in every way. Here it is: