American in Paris, Part II.... not really

I've been really busy at work and at home (Justin's been sick a lot lately) so I haven't had a chance to write much.

But I wanted to tell you about a horrible thing I witnessed yesterday.

I was sitting at the light at William Cannon/290, and I see a big 18-wheeler truck go by in the right hand lane. There is this big, old tree that hangs over part of the intersection, and I guess when he hit one of the limbs in the tree, it knocked this poor squirrel out of the tree and into oncoming traffic.

He's trying to get away, but part of his body is paralyzed from the fall, and a car is coming! I look away, because I've never killed an animal with my car before, and I just can't watch this poor little squirrel go like this.

I wait a few seconds -- and it turns out the car that was about to hit him stopped and waited for the poor squirrel to get to safety. YAY! That's why I love Austin -- any other stupid town, the person would have just run over the little guy.

The end. It ended up being a fairly non-horrible story.


Day Three, Part 1: My Cherie Amor

(So technically, I don’t think this is French; in fact, I looked up the song on Wikipedia and it turns out Stevie Wonder wanted to call the song My Marcia after a girl he met at the School for the Blind in Lansing, Mich. I just really like this song a lot and the cab driver did a comical rendition of it)

I think this trip needs some back story before I go into the whole day.

So, in fourth grade my BFF Brandi was way cool – all the boys were in love with her, she had the greatest personality and more importantly for slumber party purposes, was the only kid in our class who had a subscription to Teen Magazine. (I couldn’t get one until I was 13 – an official teen – so having access to one at the age of ten was a big deal. And if you were a real rebel like me, you’d sneak some peaks at Seventeen Magazine while at the library.)

Flash forward 16 years (dear God, that is sobering), and Brandi is still way cool and living in Paris where she works as a marketing intern at a cosmetics/facial company while pursuing her master’s degree at the university there. I’ll admit it, I’m totally jealous. Paris is way better than Texas.

When I found out I was going to London way back in September, the first thing I did was e-mail Brandi to see if I could come and visit her in Paris. A few exchanges later (more like 24 e-mails, but we were also catching up!), I had bought my $170 round trip train ticket from London to Paris and eagerly awaiting a stamp in my passport.

But on Sunday night, an e-mail from Brandi had my dreams of sipping coffee (in my case, Diet Coke) overlooking the Eifel Tower crashing down.

That sentence is beyond overdramatic; I just freaked out because her subject line, in all caps said: “MINOR COMPLICATION – DON’T PANIC.” So of course I panicked.

Long story short, Brandi forgot about a class she had that morning, and was just going to be late picking me up at the train station, which was fine. I was to meet her at 10:30 a.m. (my train got in at 9:00 a.m.) at the McDonalds across the street from the train station (obviously, my Yankee self would have no trouble finding that), and then we could go sightseeing from there.

One line in that e-mail that perked my ears/eyes/whatever, was that the train station isn’t in the best part of town, so I am not to go wandering about. Knowing that I’m a wanderer, I’m really glad she told me that.

So Monday night, I stupidly decided to try another NyQuil to get some sleep (because I was so excited and I had to wake up at 3:45 a.m. that morning). Unfortunately, the same NyQuil affect I had on the plane (racing heart, no sleep) happened again, and I maybe got three hours of sleep before my wake-up call from the hotel rang… twice.

After a quick ten pound/$20 cab ride to St. Pancreas train station, waiting in line for awhile, I was finally on the train for departure at 5:21 a.m., traveling 186 mph to Paris.

The train ride, in the dark, wasn’t exactly the most pleasurable experience. At first, I thought I would be able to get some rest. I realized that wasn’t going to happen by the second train stop on the England side of the Channel (and the fact that every tunnel we went in, my ears were popping constantly). In a train where there were literally rows upon rows of empty seats, a family of four had to sit right behind me. And their three-year-old kid HAD to sit in the seat right behind me (I know this, because of all the kicking.)

It is my understanding that in London there are nearly 12 different dialects of English spoken. That’s just in the city. This family must have been from the same family that Audrey Hepburn’s character in My Fair Lady was from. At one point, the children decided to sing their alphabet and I thought I was going to shoot myself.

On top of that, they were going to Disneyland Paris, which means they wouldn’t shut up about “princesses” and randomly, “big hotels.”

Luckily, I had downloaded the musical White Christmas – quite possibly the best Christmas musical EVER – onto my iPod and tried drowning out the poorly spoken English with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Sigh. I’m tearing up, singing along softly to “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” (gets me every time). And then my stupid iPod dies (damn first generation video iPod and your crappy battery power). Once again, I’m stuck hearing yelling and screaming and feeling the kicks of two bratty children against my seat.

We finally get to Paris two and a half hours later (there is an hour time change if you’re doing the math) and I’m so excited. That gets quickly shot down when I see that practically everything is in French. I see the money exchange place, but it looks like they are only speaking French, and I don’t want to look like an idiot, so I decided to wander outside and see where the McDonalds is.

Well, apparently, the McDonalds is just north of the “Sex Shop” in case any of you are wondering. Oh, and all of the blue sleeping bags cuddled up outside of the train station aren’t there for looks either – they have people in them.

I go into the McDonalds, find the breakfast menu, and realize I have no way to pay for anything. So I trot back to the train station, walk around a few times before I get the courage to ask for Euros at the money exchange booth, then proudly, and confidently hand over my $200 American dollars and say, “Euros.”

And it appeared to work! Glorious! Then she asked me a question. I’m thinking, “Shit – I’m going to have to speak in stupid American, and then she’s going to say something rude in French and I won’t know it.” After a few tries, I realize she’s just confirming I gave her $200 and so I nod my head yes, and I’m on my merry way… back to McDonalds.

As I’m walking back, I look at the receipt the lady gave me – for $200 American dollars, I got 107 Euros! (I just noticed there is a Euro sign next to my “5” on my keyboard – but I’ve tried shift, control and alt with no luck.) Piss – this trip is already expensive.

Back at the McDonalds, I’m letting people get in front of me in line, because honestly, I can’t read the menu. Rather, I can read the menu, but can’t pronounce anything without giving away I can’t speak any French and I’m a dumb American. So, despite not wanting this item (but I haven’t eaten in 10+ hours), I order a bacon egg McMuffin because it’s the only thing I can pronounce. She asks me if I want one or two (I think) and I hold up one finger and say one (because apparently I’m three).

As I’m waiting for my food, a true dumb American orders egg McMuffins as well. I call him dumb because well, the lady is clearly asking him if he wants napkins, and he yells at her, “I can’t speak this, I speak English.” No wonder French think we’re stupid. I mouth “I’m Sorry” to the lady and give them man a dirty glare. And for some reason, I get two egg McMuffins.

At this point, it is only 9:20 a.m., and I still have another hour before Brandi arrives. So I proceed to eat the disgusting egg McMuffins as slowly as possible, making me realize that this tastes a lot better than in America. Odd.

At 9:45 a.m. I finally finish and out of the corner of my eye I see a squatter headed my way. Unfortunately, I not only see him, I smell him. Yuck. Luckily, he just sits next to me and doesn’t say anything so I continue looking out the window, watching people walk by – which was sort of fun.

At some point, this lady taps me on the shoulder and starts speaking to me in French. I have no clue what she’s saying, but she points to her palm. So I say, “Money?” and she nods. So I nod “no” back. And then she keeps pestering me. Seriously, have the French never heard of “No Loitering” signs before??

I give up, and finally gave her a Euro and some pounds (all of the change I had). And the stupid bitch asks for more. Seriously, more! And I say no and try to ignore her. I thought that it worked, and it did for about five minutes and she comes back to me and tries again. Then she starts yelling at me in French.

I’ll be honest, part of me is wondering where management is, because a paying customer is being harassed right now. The other part of me is wondering why the smelly squatter isn’t telling her to shut up, but I think he found it funny.

I finally got up and went back to the train station and just walked around aimlessly until about 10:25 a.m. and walked back, again, to the McDonalds. I’m not going to lie – in my head, I’m trying to figure out a way to get back to London without offending Brandi. Hehe… she doesn’t know this.

And I walk back into the McDonalds and that stupid evil beggar girl is still there! And she almost asked me for money, but I gave her a look of death and she didn’t. Shortly thereafter, Brandi arrived and we headed… back to the train station.

Turns out, the train station is multi-floored because it also serves as a subway stop. It also turns out that you can by lingerie in a train station – which is just funny. We got a day pass for the subway system (6 Euros/$12) and headed to the Eifel Tower.

Surprisingly, the subway was fairly clean, and smelled pleasant enough. I’ve heard in the past that Paris is really smelly, and the people sort of smell, but really the only person who stood out during my time there was the squatter at McDonalds.

The Eifel Tower isn’t all that impressive. I mean, it is – but it’s like going to the Statue of Liberty for the first time and being, “Huh. So that’s it.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s huge and I’m glad I got to see it. It just didn’t do anything for me.

After taking some obligatory photos (shown here), we headed to a café right across the street. I’ll admit – I’m not a fan of coffee. My whole life, people were always like, when you grow up, you’ll like coffee. Once you pull an all-nighter in college and you need something to keep you up, you’ll like it.

But I never grew up I suppose, or pulled a full all-nighter, so I never liked it. And when we got to the café, I did what anyone else would do, I ordered a Diet Coke. (mmm) FYI – Diet Coke, for whatever reason, is way better in Europe. Coke must use a different sugar substitute.

Brandi did let me try her coffee – and if coffee tasted that good in America – I’d be drinking it.

The weirdest part of the café – the parking meter-like device on the bathroom door handle. If I have to pay for the bathroom, it should look better than this pitiful mess. At least I didn’t have to pee in a hole in the ground, like some places have (Ewww.)

Okay – this is getting pretty long, and I’ve still got a few other things to discuss about this day. I’ll post Part II at some point.


Day Two: All By Myself, Don’t Want to Be

(I’ve decided to try and name all of my blog entries after our memorable taxi driver music from the previous day… this particular song just happens to perfectly match my day)

Note: Obviously my effort to blog each day that evening was a lofty goal I wasn’t going to come close to reaching – seeing as it is exactly a week later. My bad.

Given the great weather in London (Sunny and highs in the lower 10 degrees Celsius, fools!), I was really excited about venturing out into the city in the broad daylight.

Originally, I was planning to go on an early morning run, but my ankle was still bothering me, and I wanted to exert my energy site seeing. Additionally, cough cough, my butt didn’t get out of bed until after 9 a.m.

I forced Justin out of bed via loud banging in the bathroom at roughly 10:30 a.m., mainly because I didn’t want to waste our day sleeping. You can sleep in America, you lazy American! (Granted, in the paragraph before, I also would be considered a lazy American, but that’s beside the point.)

After Justin got ready, we headed out down the same path we took the night before. Once we got over the Waterloo Bridge, Justin started feeling sickly, so unfortunately, we headed back to the hotel. Literally, at one point, I thought he was going to hurl. And given the fact that the one time I’ve seen him puke I almost followed suit, this was not a good sign for me either. After some room service for lunch (where Justin had the same food for EVERY meal while we were in London – poor guy and his food allergies), I headed back out without the better half. Because, let’s face it, I won’t be spoiled by a party pooper :) Plus, Justin really did need his rest and needed to get some work done.

I had two goals in mind on this particular excursion – must see Buckingham Palace, and have to go to Harrods. As an avid shopper, it’s my duty.

Seeing that this was a self-guided tour, with really no idea where I was going, I walked through St. James Park, where a lot of tourists are – oddly enough – looking at squirrels. Seriously, I have never seen so many people so excited about feeding dumb squirrels. I later found out that people in London and other parts of Europe don’t see squirrels that often and think they’re pretty awesome. Ugh – live in Texas for a minute and you’ll see more squirrels. Although I must say, London squirrels are big and grey. So slightly different than our poo poo brown ones here.

Buckingham Palace is just past St. James Park, and it wasn’t quite as regal as I was hoping for. I expected it to be bigger, I guess. The front gates were pretty spectacular, but really, there are nicer looking buildings in London (including our hotel). I stopped in the gift shop and bought a few items (including a spoon set for Justin’s grandmother), and kept walking.

At some point, I notice that the sun is setting, which is odd, because it’s only 3 p.m. After some interesting turns, and a few moments where I thought I was lost, I made it to Harrods at dusk. By now, my ankle is killing me (I had sprained it the week before) and it is pretty dark outside. It took me roughly two hours to walk there – whoops – so much for Harrods looking like it was relatively close to our hotel. Stupid tourist map.

Harrods is interesting, as it is HUGE. I walked in a side door, and went through a huge make up section, then through the food section, purse section then back into the food section to get a few things for my mom and Gran. After that, I headed upstairs where I saw bed linens, rugs, Christmas stuff and a pet department. And that wasn’t even all of it – I still had several more floors to go! My ankle was really killing me by now, so I headed back to the hotel via taxi.

Sidebar One: London is expensive. A bar of soap for my grandmother was the equivalent to $12. A small box of chocolates are $20. Conclusion: the dollar sucks. In fact, there were even travel agencies in London advertising “Shopping Excursion Trips” to NYC.

Sidebar Two: After I got back to the hotel, I needed to get ready for Paris – I was getting up at 3:45 a.m. to catch the 5:21 a.m. train. Lesson learned: never take NyQuil ever again, as it causes my heart to race and won’t let me fall asleep. And for anyone who knows me, me NOT falling asleep easily is quite impressive.

Sidebar Three: BBC owns. During the course of the trip I was able to hear more cussing, see more boobs (in a respectable fashion) and laugh louder than I ever had on regular American television. Conclusion: Americans are self-righteous prudes and/or British are vulgar whores. Kidding! (well, not about the American part)