My dreams have a French soundtrack nowadays. Going on a full week in “Pari” its come to my attention that this is a very unique place. Did you know it costs half a euro to “relieve yourself” in public areas? Living quarters are so “economical” that the end of the bed doubles as a luggage rack. Half the time the city smells like a delectable entree but youre not really sure about the other half since it’s second-hand smoke entering your nostrils. Forget about anything resembling timely service either. But you know what … All of this would be easier to digest if I knew more than four and a half words in French.
I was “that guy” all week. A room, actually, an office full of native French speakers and then … Me. “Hey! Everyone. English! Kyle is here.” — this was a popular phrase this week. Thank you, Sophie, for keeping everyone’s English tongue as sharp as ever. The natural tendency was to revert back to French especially at times when accurate communication was critical. It was like being the proverbial fly on the wall except the fly doesn’t understand any of it. Oh well. When the curtain finally went down the event we put on was a roaring success and I couldnt help but feel an amazing sense of accomplishment knowing that a majority of the work was done across the Atlantic, seven time zones away, with people that were at one time strangers in a foreign land.
The worst decision I’ve made this week is wearing flip flops to the Eiffel Tower. Shortly after my arrival, the god of rain imposed his will on tourism. Wet feet and soaked jeans for the lot of us … But we would not be deterred. The rain ceased and the ticket windows flew open once more. Three euro for the first floor. Psh. Katrina couldn’t keep me off the summit right now and neither will the eleven euro charge. At the moment I’m slowly making my way through the line on the second level for the lift that will take us to the top. Im noticing that people are curious about what my tap-dancing fingers are doing on my tablet right now … little do they know im talking about them. Up we go.
The ET is not for the squeamish. Unlike the
Sears Willis Tower we are familiar with, you are greeted with fresh air and a breeze when you reach the top. It’s crazy to think that I’d be another football field and a half higher in the sky if I was above Chicago instead of Paris right now. I look down at all the Parisians below me and where they live and it’s night and day from an American city. I suppose that’s what over a millenium difference in age will yield. Time to take someone away from their experience for a minute to take a picture for me. I need a new Facebook picture anyway.
The second worst decision I’ve made this week is not investing in an umbrella. Unfortunately this is the Paris I know. Two years ago it was the same story. “How bout we give this tourist thing a go?” — cats and dogs. Back home I never use an umbrella. I have to say I enjoy rain and I never worry about my hair like others do. It must have rained six different times today so six times I’d be carrying my iPad under my shirt, clutching my chest, and looking like I may go under cardiac arrest at any moment. All was not lost, however. I was successful in purchasing a giant French flag for my brother Bret who will go ape when he opens it and I managed to get myself a wall piece for my new loft. (I have to think about these kind of things now). I pray that this will be the extent of the shopping I do whilst in Europe but who knows what I may find in Barca. Wine and bruschetta at Cafe Benjamin to round out the day.
That whole EasyJet thing I just went through was something I could have done without. Thanks for getting me from Point A to Point B but thanks for nothing in between. Without the anticipation of what I will find at Point B, the last hour would have been totally unbearable. Standing, waiting, delaying, shoving, standing, queuing, packing, standing, boarding, sitting, then … liftoff, sweet sweet liftoff. The flight attendant just gave us directions in three different languages. I expect it was the same ole same ole but without the oxygen mask and seatbelt demonstrations. Whatever will we do if there is a situation!?!? The other one just came by and probably told me to close my iPad. ‘Probably’ because he was gone before I could say “quoi?, como?, come again?…”. Meanwhile, Mr. Trilingual is continuing to adjust the baggage in the overhead compartments while the aircraft is making quick progress toward the runway. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the little old French lady to my right (I’m on the aisle) has no interest in our buffer zone, the armrest. The hombre I sat next to crossing the big pond was more than happy to engage in eight hours of awkward forearm, skin-on-skin contact for the duration of the flight. What are the rules on the shared armrest anyway? I don’t think it requires much more than: no passenger should have a monopoly on both his or her armrests. Choose one and stake your claim. Its a battle thats very commonplace and requires one of those unwritten rules such as the one I’ve just proposed. I wasn’t going down without a fight; and hombre should have known that. But I digress … a lot.
A dear friend of mine gave me the ultimate guide to Barcelona in an email several days ago. Will her recommendations keep her on ‘dear friend’ status or will it be the opposite? I’m feeling confident it’ll be the former.
It’s pretty obvious I’m in Barcelona, the Catalun region of Spain. “Platttha Cataluna” the lady at the information desk said as I dodged her saliva. The bus stop nearest to the hostel is Plaza Cataluna and I should be there in just twenty short minutos. Soy muy entusiasmado! I’ve always wanted to go to Spain and here I am! The birthplace of Rafael Nadal and a language I’ve been trained in. Ironically, I’ll probably be conversing in English and engaging Americans this evening as I’m set right in the thick of Las Ramblas, the part of Barcelona one must visit while here. I’m arriving a little later than was anticipated so the plan is to check in and immediately depart to proceed south toward the sea and a hotbed of nightlife. I just remembered its Sunday. Hopefully that doesn’t matter to these people; from what I hear Sunday is just like any other day.
Tan lines dont exist in Europe. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “exist” because they do but not for the roughly 10% of the beach that went sans bathing suit today. What’s comical is that I heard that about the beach here but I still did a double take the first time I saw all that areoli. My run this afternoon was probably the most enjoyable run of my life. My audio shuffle coincided with the surroundings in the most perfect way possible. All the beautiful people, the boats in the harbor, the majestic Mediterranean … a perfect backdrop for a jog. Although, was it just coincidence that I was the only jogger I saw all day? In any case, a much needed siesta on the beach separated my going there and coming back. Barca is a great beach and an even better city. I’ve been here less than 24 hours and I’m pretty sure this is my favorite city in the world … aside from Chicago of course.
Virginie just called and is en route to the hostel. I know we’re going to Les Quince Nits for dinner but the rest of the night is up for grabs. Hopefully it’s of the spontaneous and unforgettable variety.
The last 35 minutes has seen me wake up, pack, check out, grab breakfast and get on a bus due east towards the airport. Virginie and I didn’t waste one minute of our eight hours together yesterday/today. We crossed off just about every type of alcohol there is and in a very economical fashion I might add. A liter of the house wine at Les Quinze Nits was less than six euro. Les Quinze Nits is one of those restaurants where you wish you had the time and means to order one of everything off the menu. We ate like monarchy and paid under forty euro to do so. Have I mentioned I love Barcelona? Stop me when this gets repetitive.
To London I go. To London I go to meet Phillip, the first roommate I had in college. I ended up being his only roommate at Penn State after he departed back to the UK at Christmastime that year. That semester was the fall of 2002 so I guess you could call tonight our ten year reunion. I’m wavering on my expectations of London this evening but pretty set on my expectations for Newcastle later in the week. If I’m not screaming at the top of my lungs and throwing furniture in a sparsely lit pub at some point I will be very upset.
Well whaddya know? Cloudy skies and rainfall in the UK. No wonder they drink so much. Somehow the landscape out my train window is still managing to look as gorgeous as can be. The rolling hills and green prairies for miles are exactly how I pictured them. A little Rubber Soul in the ears while we make our way to London is appropriate I think.
Bloody hell there’s cheeky bastards everywhere yas looks. Night #2 in the UK comes to a close as I spend my last ounces of energy, of which I have very little, to submit an overdue post. Phillip and I haven’t missed a beat. It’s like 2002 all over again except hes able to grow facial hair and I’m pushing two bills. He and Emma could not be more hospitable than they are and I’m very much enjoying the northern part of the UK despite the fact that drizzle and oxygen are just as common here. The West End was a foreign land for both of us last night and I think we made the most of our time there … I know my bank would agree. What they would not agree with was my two separate casino withdrawals — rule #1: you never make more than one withdrawal.
Edinburgh is our final destination today and this time Phillip and I find ourselves on a train with a much more reasonable duration than the last. Catching the 9:30 (half nine) train out of London on Wednesday morning was nothing short of a test of will and ones capacity to resist nausea. That three hour trek to Newcastle was three hours I don’t care to reminisce about so … moving on.
Today we arrive shortly after noon and the plan is to head to Edinburgh castle and walk the royal mile before eventually meeting up with Andy and Janice Cockburn (pronounced COBURN before everyone gets excited; they are Phillip’s in-laws) for some dinner and lodgings. In the morning we hit the Scottish links at a local club where Andy has membership. It will be a fitting final chapter to a week that has seen new people, streets, and even beds, every day.
Peace out, Scotland, it was real. You’re very … green. That’s the only color my senses saw, smelled, and heard making my way through the 18 holes at Torphin Hills golf club this afternoon. I’ve never hiked and played golf simultaneously but that’s what this was. Sounds bad but isn’t necessarily. Stunning landscapes abounded and each tee shot was one Scotland postcard after another. Some of my drives were photo-worthy as well but that’s neither here nor there. The best part was playing a round of golf with two good friends who I will probably never see on a course ever again. Friends who didn’t hesitate for a second to make me feel like the guest of honor at every turn and inconvenience themselves for the sake of my own personal convenience.
It’s reasons like this that I chose to visit places a world away with literally no anticipation of who or what may cross my path; to make a full and complete departure from the life I know back in the United States if only for a week in hopes that it provide me “perspective”. These last two weeks have done just that.
Now the end is in sight and it comes in the form of the East Coast traincar I’m currently aboard barreling towards Heathrow. And when tomorrow comes I won’t be wishing for crepes, tapas, or haggis for lunch; I’ll be perfectly content with the ordinary deli sandwich, kosher dill, and glass of milk I always have. And when tomorrow comes I won’t be wishing that its Phillip, Emma, Andy, Virginie, or my French Schneider colleagues I’m speaking to; I’ll be more than content, bordering on ecstatic, that it’s my family and friends … BUT what I will miss is the “unknown”, that sense of adventure, and the unfamiliarity of it all. Leaving ones comfort zone forces one to extend said comfort zone in effect growing as an individual. There’s always so much growing left to do no matter who you are.