Traveling The World In A Day Part I

My voyage to Europe in one word ... different. I left North Carolina to have a layover in Miami, then I went from there to the UK, took a train from London to France and another train from Paris to Nantes. It was an amazing journey but extremely tiring and at times very confusing. I really tried to pack it all in with absolutely no clue on what I was doing. International travel is hard on the body and senses. The time is changing. The language is new. You may not eat right. Your feet swell. You smell awful. You can't find anything. Seriously read and practice all you want to prepare for it - you can't. I seriously don't know how celebrities and business types do it. My dream of traveling was a nightmare.

I arrived in London on my birthday. I didn't plan to travel as soon as I did and especially on my birthday. Since my travel companion was attending school; I really wanted to wait out her schedule. However, she did explain that Wednesday, Friday and weekends she had no classes. So I arranged to leave towards a weekend but more so in the middle of her finishing the course. I contacted my old landlady who had a pretty decent international travel agency. I gave her a timeline and she returned with a flight on the 5th that would take me over the pond landing on my birthday. It was so coincidental that I accepted. I did this assuming that arriving that night I could actually celebrate my birthday in a different country. I then planned accommodations only a few weeks before my trip causing conflict with my traveling dates. A snafu with my first hotel had me thinking I could check in at 2am on the following day. So I expected to arrive, drink past midnight and waltz into a hotel at 2am for amazing jet lag sleep. I was so very wrong.

I stayed up the night before my trip eating brie and drinking wine. I packed last minute things and removed most everything I really need now. I don't know if I can blame myself or my drunk alter ego. I left North Carolina extremely tired for an early flight to a layover. I thought I could sleep on the flight and re-energize while in Miami. I didn't think that I needed to get sleepy later to sleep on my ten hour flight to London. I also planned to meet a friend in Miami so I was forced to stay lively. Security was easy and my mom only stood by long enough to bare. The plane was so small; it also had horrible turbulence which included some shrilling death drops. Children were upset, Latin women screamed and one woman got hit in the face with the contents of her cocktail. So I arrived with jitters and met my friend. He drove up with a shocking request to keep him awake. He has mistakingly took an Ambien so I was forced to entertain him when I really wanted to just sleep. We wound up walking the entire Dolphin Mall and my last American supper involved Latin churrascarria. We returned back to the airport both full and sleepy. I may have had to monitor him but thank goodness he came. He was the only one able to test out messaging my unlocked phone and take my carrier phone after my last calls to my mom and friends. I felt right about leaving at that point.

Having traveled early my baggage was to be held but something told me to check. In checking, I realized that my boarding passes were no good without a check-in with the transferring airline. They had to scan my passport again. Security was easy the second time around and I got to the gate just in time. However, my plane was a double decker that took almost an hour to board everyone. I didn't understand the magnitude of the plane until I got off of it over ten hours later. An airbus is like a cruise ship in the sky. It is noisy and swoons. The flight was graceful at takeoff and landing but pretty much cut the air loudly as it cruised. It was impossible to sleep with all of that noise. Especially with all these intermissions and services. British Airways was so formal with tea service and dinner and all these details. My landlady was definitely trying to impress me but she did so without asking. She didn't know it was my birthday and I paid her for the most generic flight I could get. I watched a movie that hadn't even made it out of theaters yet, had a first class worthy dinner and even breakfast. I can say if she makes arrangements for my return trip I will request a specific seat and vegetarian diet restrictions. I watched an Indian guy have the loveliest curry dinner while we all had beef or pasta. I pretty much envied him at every meal and snack. I will say traveling over water for that long has its disadvantages. I barely slept and any sleep I got was just me dozing off and being awaken by my neighbors for drinks or an announcement. The two hour movie dragged on as the time changed; I felt as though the movie was six hours long. In essence, the six hour distance was indeed a ten hour total warp. If I didn't have the distractions and formalities, I would have had a panic attack or several.

When I arrived in London there was no preparation for what to do next. It was too early in France to reach my friend. I couldn't get any service on my phone anyways. I was extremely disoriented about where to go or how to leave. I connected to wi-fi only to be thwarted at Customs which pretty much disabled communication in a radius. I just sort of followed everyone else. I stopped at a restroom which was so strange. When we prepared for landing every British native queued for the loo. The vainest of men lined up complete with toiletry bag and stayed until landing. I was forced to go back to my seat I waited so long. So I ran off the plane to the nearest airport restroom. I get there and the rooms are entirely different. I soon learned as I traveled this was the norm in Europe train stations and airports. Always little tiny toilets, tiny toilet paper sheets and big privacy doors that are horrible to navigate with luggage. I waited for the handicap one which was large enough for me to spin around inside of with a backpack, roller and duffle bag. I called myself bringing disposable toilet seat covers but they don't even fit these toilets.

I worked my way to Customs which was a longer process than security checks. Security required me to use four containers for my laptop, carry ons, toiletries and shoes. Customs needed me to fill out a form, walk multiple lines, be called to a worker and then discuss my life. My person asked "why did you quit your job to come here?" because I left my employment status empty on the form I had to discuss everything. I told him it was my birthday and he smiled but quickly went back into interrogation mode. I finally made my way to my bag and then out to an exiting lobby. At that point my free wi-fi time had expired and I had to pay for service. I paid because I couldn't even get a hold of anyone to find out what to do. This forced me to linger for replies and pretty much walk from one end to the other to find signal strength. I could have bought a sim card but I couldn't be sure it would work so I didn't. I wound up using my debit card for everything because I had no cash and every exchange counter wanted to charge me half of what I had in cash. In my first hour in London I spent more than $60 USD. I paid for wi-fi, I paid for a train ticket, boarded the wrong train and got charged for another ticket while on board. Later I found out the same thing happened to my friend. Both of us lucked out though being charged student rates for the train and missing rush hour traffic on the incorrect train. It was an express commuter train so it was comfortable and had wi-fi. When I arrived at the correct train I used the ticket I bought and only had to travel so many stops. People at the station were helpful and the Underground was nowhere close to the MTA Subway in NYC. I navigated London and made it to the Paris train early. I retrieved my tickets and got through security easily. At that train station I converted my last $25 USD to a measly $14 and change British Pound Sterling. That allowed me to buy water, a Coke and have $6 BPS left for August.

My train ride to Paris was easy to board but not what I expected. I had to manage my own luggage, sit with others and there was no wi-fi in the station or on board. So for hours I had no means of communication and my knees touched other people who faced me. One passenger at our table didn't show so I could put my legs up. I slept almost the entire trip and never walked around. I was cold at first and then woke up sweaty. When I woke I saw people with food, laptops and books. I was miserable because my luggage was at the other end of the car and I had no way to entertain myself. I fumbled through a provided French magazine and drank water for the last leg of the trip. When we arrived in Paris people put on coats and I had nothing. The girl sitting across from me was dressed in a cami and spoke English. We both left the train as is and rightfully so because it was basically Paris' first day of Summer. So now all I had was British money and my US debit card and needed to make it to the other side of Paris. I got in the cab line as told by my friend and actually boarded a taxi that didn't take cards. Oddly enough he didn't help me with my luggage because of a "back problem" but the moment I expressed that only I had a card he took my luggage out of the back so quick! The director of the line put me in another cab that could take cards and the new driver was a lot more helpful. He spoke English well, played lively music and showed me all the sights. We passed the Triomphe De Arch and The Lourve. I made sure to follow the street signs so he didn't take me anywhere but the next station. He got me there quickly and for less than 20 Euros as promised. I then struggled to explain tipping to him which is not a thing in France. He dropped me off right at the entrance of the train station and shooed me away. 

Gare Montparnasse was the most excruciating experience. It was an open air station without air conditioning. There was no seating and no wi-fi. I tried to get my tickets like in London but the kiosk wouldn't accept my American debit card. The service desk couldn't find my reservation with my name or passport. The lady asked me to pull up the confirmation but I had no phone service. She was kind enough to sign me into the wi-fi in her part of the station and check my e-mail. I finally had tickets but now a two hour wait in a place that wasn't comfortable. I walked the station for hours. I stumbled down stairs to get to a restroom and there was a charge to use it. I couldn't speak French to ask for a consideration and I didn't know where to get cash anyways. So I went upstairs to an information desk to ask for the ATM. I got cash and then I had no change for the toilets. I begged a currency exchange agent to change a 20 Euro and she admitted that she only did it because we looked alike. I then had to trek all the way back to this restroom which operated like an amusement park. I paid for a token, I then put the token in a passage way, I had to leave my luggage on one side and then pee hoping I came back to my laptop and camera. The only great thing is that I was paying an attendant to clean the restroom after use so I knew it was clean. She did watch my things for me and I was thankful to just be alone for a bit. I could wash my face and neck while fixing my hair not worrying about a suitcase for once. I then haggled for weird French food which added to my load and while looking for anywhere to sit I stumbled upon an actual waiting room. The place was carefully stuck behind a sit down restaurant, past two train bays and under a stairway. It was purposely hidden from everyone. Inside it had hardly any ac but it had decent seating, wi-fi that worked for some and tv. There I was able to change shirts, wipe the sweat off my brim and eat in peace. However, the military timing and train announcements had me on edge. I actually attempted to board one train an hour early and the French men of Paris tried to convince me to stay on the train. Later I realized they don't care which hour or class you sit in. If a seat is available and you paid for a ticket you simply sit. So I had to lug everything back to that waiting room and endure another lonely and balmy hour. When I got to the correct train I was exhausted and sat in the wrong class car. When the train conductor realized it it was simply too late to get me off the train and down the platform. He asked that I sit wherever I liked and I had already fallen in love with the seat I'd mistakingly sat in for the second time on the second train.

My train to Nantes had multiple stops. I was surrounded by rich French businessmen who mostly worked on laptops or took calls in the passageway between cars. I quietly ate my little sandwich and drank my drinkable yogurt. I then slept for the two hour ride waking up every now and then to witness nothing but French countryside. As seats emptied people took seats they didn't pay for just like I did. My train attendant didn't say anything to me and actually guided other lost individuals like me to other 1st class seats. I used the restroom several times during the ride. The one closest to me was clogged and the second was through the bar car. So I had to pass by card players and cougars every single time I needed to go. I was so sweaty and dirty from running around for the last two hours I actually changed clothes in the restroom. Remember this is the second time I've changed clothes. I seriously don't know how I managed in that tiny space but I was so desperate to feel better. Once back in my seat paranoia kicked in. My luggage was in bewteen cars yet again and I couldn't see it. There was always someone hovering over it using their phone or talking with someone. I was so nervous people were watching me and trying to plant something in my bags. I didn't realize I was in a quiet car and that was the only space someone could use to talk or place a phone call. When I finally arrived in Nantes, the train was nearly empty and all the drug traffickers had gotten off long ago. I was probably the last off the train and definitely the slowest. I literally ached from carrying that luggage and being everywhere in less than a few hours....

No comments: