Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 9, 2009 -- Bienvenue! and Surprise!

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” - Aldous Huxley

We spent the morning at the British Library, Charing Cross train station (where we found ourselves at Platform 9 3/4 (Harry Potter fans will know the allusion), and then returned to St. Pancras station (across the street) with our luggage. Interestingly, we were passed by armed guards with machine guns near the Eurostar. They looked like they meant business. Surprise!

Having departed London at 2:04 p.m. London town, an hour later we found ourselves out of the Chunnel and shouting, "Bonjour!" to each other. I looked around at my first glimpse of the French countryside and decided it looked a lot like Pennsylvania! Surprise!

We pulled into the Gare du Nord and were met by two FSU representatives who helped us get some Euros and navigate the Metro to our hotel. While in line for Euros, we were hit up by two people begging for money. At first our guide was polite, "Non, merci," but as the one got persistent, she began speaking quite angrily at him. I, of course, could make out little what she said but eventually he moved on. Surprise!

We found we had to navigate 2 sets of stairs (that was different from 2 steps that we were told). Surprise! As I lugged mine up the first set of stairs, I smelled an odd aroma, looked up and saw a man lighting a marijuana cigarette at the top of the stairs right in front of me! Surprise! Since he was in my way, I politely said, "Excusez-moi," and the woman who was with him took that as a plea for help, so she descended 3-4 steps and helped me pull my bag to the landing. Surprise!

After being "lost" for a few minutes after leaving the Metro, we finally made our way to the hotel and were assigned rooms. We excitedly opened the door to our new home, and found we barely had room to place our two suitcases down. Surprise! No ice machine! Surprise! Sodas 2.50 euros. Surprise!

We took a quick trip to a local supermarket and rested about an hour. Then we all headed out to the Eiffel Tower on the Metro. However, the Metro only stops for about 10 seconds per stop, and gives a warning buzzer when the doors are closing! One of our group, Michelle, didn't quite make it on! You should have seen her face! Surprise! Dr. E's husband yelled, "Go to the next stop! We'll meet you there," which we did. That's the standard procedure now. Surprise!

At the Eiffel Tower, we ran a gauntlet of street vendors, all with the same Eiffel Tower key chains and miniature Towers that light up in day glow colors. Surprise!

Under the tower, people line up for tickets and then line up to get on the lift up. It looked just like Disney World. Surprise! While waiting for the tickets, we were passed again by sub-machine gun toting militia. Surprise!

When you get to the second level, you can buy tickets to go to the top. Dr. E went to purchase them while we wandered around and took pictures. When she got back, she sadly informed us that the last tickets to the top had been sold, and we were out of luck. Surprise!

As we began to head back, we suddenly saw police chasing a man! In fact, he ran right by me and bumped into me. I'm not sure what they were chasing him for (someone said he hit a car with his bag). I actually tried to trip him, but he didn't come close enough. The gendarme pulled out his billy club, and the guy gave up. Another gendarme grabbed him ... and two of our group members rushed up to take photos! Talk about taking something overboard! Surprise!

We again ran the gauntlet of street vendors back to the Metro (no surprise), and braved the Metro again. As the doors opened, we all started shouting, "No child left behind," and practically pushed each other onto the Metro. We made it without incident back to the hotel.


1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed with your pictures and surprised by the speed under the chunnel. I remember 40 years ago crossing the channel on a boat that took many hours of seasickness.

    However, being UNDER the English Channel is a bone-chilling thought!