Travel Diary: France

By: S. Davis

 

For three weeks of September I was in Europe behaving like a caveman pumped with gallons of absinthe. It was fantastic. The last time I had a chance to travel – over international water – was 4-5 years ago and that was a crazy jaunt through the majestic island of Puerto Rico.

Since I have a few of these journal entries – I bring a small notepad to write during quiet moments – why not publish them? I have some that go back as far as eight years ago that I have to track down and once I read them, they’ll be here.

This overseas voyage took me through France, Germany, Austria and England. I’m not publishing these in order because I don’t always value linear storytelling and they weren’t written in that fashion to begin with.

September; France:

A few days into the trip; I’m eating dinner at Le Café Palais Royal, directly facing the Louvre. This has been a looooong day, though it started at a snail’s pace. However it’s one of the hidden nuggets of travel that you uncover while in the middle of it: The day always finds a way to fill itself out, no matter the beginning.

Paris is a beautiful city. The Eiffel Tower is worthy of its reputation yet I find myself exponentially drawn to the Louvre over anything else I’ve seen thus far. I love museums; I could spend an entire day browsing. In fact I spent my first day in Paris within the massive structure for over six hours. I could’ve stayed longer if I didn’t want to eat my arm for dinner.

I admit it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas when you include that I didn’t sleep much the night before and my body refuses to relax on a plane. Additionally, I spent over 12 hours in combined flight time getting to France so my internal clock was flummoxed, not to mention the two-hour tarmac dance at JFK. Aren’t there regulations against that sort of thing?

First, we were delayed an hour and then it took another 60 minutes until we got to the runway, hoping for an opening to takeoff. Akin to painfully cruising through the parking lot of a packed supermarket while fighting the urge to urinate on yourself while at the same time holding the urge to scream waiting for a car to open up an available spot. Just like that…but worse.

Side Note: The elongated game of “Will We or Not?” most definitely cost me a chance at a fun flight with a stunner named Chellie. So I arrived at my aisle seat to find this striking woman sending a text and resting her head on the window. I checked to make sure my seat was correct: 39 H. Yes, it’s on my boarding pass. She’s seated in 39 J. It could be much worse. She’s got the window; I have the aisle and the near future includes a seven hour flight to get to know her. Why wasn’t her seat 39 I? It comes after H in the alphabet though. Sean!

I’ll get back to the Louvre in a second…

Once I sat, I smiled to myself as I absorbed the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, lilies, peach, coconut and baby powder seeping from her skin. Mistakenly I kicked her foot – not a mistake – to get her attention. I apologized and she politely waved it off with a smile. She returned to her phone and as hard as I tried I couldn’t get a sight at who was demanding so much of her attention. Boyfriend? Husband? Girlfriend? Has to be, right? Now there wasn’t any bauble on her fingers but what does that mean? C’mon what are the odds here?

After placing my backpack in the overhead compartment I sat down and she placed her phone into her purse and fussed with reading a novel adorned with a fluorescent cover in…French. This is it; my opening to diplomatic relations with France. Our countries need a better working relationship and I’m the guy for that.

Now over the last few years I’ve felt that my future wife won’t be American. I feel strongly about it. It’s not that I don’t find American women attractive – they’re women, attraction takes care of itself. Emotionally and mentally, there’s a connection I find with international women that I just can’t explain. There are sensibilities…about life that I share, overwhelmingly, with women of an international upbringing. It’s lacking with the women in my country and I’ll simply leave it there. The woman who gets me to utter, “til death due us part” will, more than likely, have an international passport. French women were on my list but in the bottom half of my top ten. Where is my list?

Back to Chellie: She skimmed over a few pages, checked her phone one more time before sliding it into her cappuccino colored, leather purse. She rested her head on her chair and gazed out to the sunny, New York, afternoon with a great view…of the airport terminals. Ugh! I was reading an article on my phone and she took a deep, long, breath followed immediately with a long sigh. I looked over. “Let it land, give her a few seconds before you go all Sean.”

I let a moment pass and inquired about the reason for the sigh. “A little tired,” she spoke softly, barely above the volume of a whisper. She rubbed her eyes and then checked the time on her wristwatch. “I’m Sean, hello.” I extended my hand and she sat forward, “I’m Chellie, nice to meet you.” Then the conversation picked up for about two minutes until the captain announced a delay – which prompted her friend to walk over to our section. Miraculously there was one open seat in the cabin to which she wanted Chellie to fill. What are the odds? Yeah…so that was curtains for that.

So I now had two seats to myself. Yayyy! Ugggggggh! The flight was banal, unspectacular. Totally memorable as I hate flying but I love seeing the world.

Tangent over…

The famous glass pyramids of the Louvre courtyard is ripe for those looking for selfies and such but the actual collection of art itself surpasses the grandeur of the unforgettable glass structures. Impressive is an understatement – and I’ve visited some of the most renowned museums in the world. Hell, I’m from New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my gem along with a trove of other popular collections of art. The Louvre is damn special. Truly.

Honestly I was dragging my body through the halls and I felt the weight of each individual limb. With the exception of a brief nap, really brief as in I dozed off for 14 minutes before my body remembered that I was on a flying bus and responded accordingly, and flying across several time zones – departing from LAX is abhorrent – I was sleep deprived for over 30 hours. It wasn’t the ideal way to begin my tour of Europe but I’ve done it before. Taking a look back the two-hour delay was a blessing as I was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 7am instead of the 10:30am(ish) time the plane landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport (from which I hopped on the train to my hostel).

There was a stretch of time where I sat for an hour in the museum, people watching mostly, until my legs ceased throbbing. I had a moment where it was obvious that my body had enough. I’ve prided myself on being great when it comes to directions: Where I am in a foreign city, how to get home, what wings I’ve seen in a particularly massive museum, etc. I knew my tank was on empty when I was walking in circles, walking through corridors I’d previously visited, seeing the same staff members in the same places as earlier and trying to find an exit when a kind employee gave me clear instructions on how to accomplish that. Clearly my brain was powering down all systems.

I yearned for the two glasses of red that I had on the flight but I knew that it would be a bad idea to stop for more considering my energy level at the Louvre. It rained for the entirety of that afternoon and the downpour only intensified as the sun fell. I gathered myself and looked at my city map. “Where exactly is the Eiffel Tower in relation to where I am?” The night was here and I was collecting my jacket, having found my way to the main hub before exiting. Boy was it a great idea to buy a jacket before leaving the weather-averse confines of SoCal. I don’t own a coat at all. I donated all of my winter garments before leaving NYC. Being from the east coast and innately familiar with the weather patterns in the beginning of the fall, I knew I would need something heavier than a simple sweater but less clunky than a legitimate winter coat.

My calves burned but I wanted to get the Eiffel Tower done. I have this drive to knock out several major attractions within the first two days in an international city so the rest of my time there I can mill around aimlessly. I was determined to get it done. It was a chilly, rainy evening but those are the types of nights I ache for now that I no longer live in New York City. I’m doing this!

After passing over the Seine River – by the way of Pont Du Carrousel – and seeing the tower illuminating the sky I ignored how the water began to add weight to my jacket. Maybe I should’ve gone with a waterproof option? No question. I made my way down Quai Voltaire/Quai Anatole France with my pace speeding up as the rain become more unrelenting. Underneath my jacket was a simple v-neck t-shirt and I was warm but my forearms were cold. I felt goosebumps. I knew exactly what was happening. I stopped at the Musee d’Orsay to get out of the weather. Rain had penetrated my jacket to the point were there was one layer keeping me from feeling like I was standing in the shower, drenched. D’Orsay was closed but I stood there to track my position on my map and remove my hat which was saturated with enough water to where my head couldn’t possibly remain dry for more than five minutes of consistent exposure.

I wasn’t that far. I murmured to myself as I fished my scarf from my backpack and wrapped it around my neck. I took a brief detour down Rue de I’Universite, Rue de Bac, Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue de Varenne for no particular reason. I can look a little disjointed at times but it’s fun because I allow myself to get lost in order to remember neighborhoods, restaurants, etc. Streets, monuments, shops get burned into my brain that way (more on that in a later entry) and yet this was not the time to explore. I picked up some euros from an ATM and scurried back to the shelter of the Musee d’Orsay. My will finally, mercifully, listened to the message my body, and more importantly, my brain were sending: You have to punt on the Eiffel Tower tonight. Reluctantly, I listened. As I crossed the Seine for the second time and was on the cusp of crossing Quai Francois Mitterrand along Place du Carrousel I noticed the Eiffel. I snapped a grainy, wet, photo and smiled. Maybe my camera had enough too; the battery indicator was blinking; drained. Poetic.

I made it back to the hostel, soaking wet and exchanged pleasantries with fellow backpackers I would have time to converse with throughout my stay. I flirted with the women and went to my room to change. There are new encounters to be had in a new city. Hell yeah! I fought my body for as long as I could. Whatever, brain, I’m going out to meet some women.

After sitting to peel off my wet garments and feel the warmth of the room – I really should’ve remained on my feet – my brain vetoed any further actions along with my carnal desires for the evening. I completely powered off. I was on auto pilot so I was able to hang my clothes and keep my area neat before falling swiftly into a deep slumber. It was a long day. Europe will have me for a month; a night of rest was needed. A night of rest it shall be.

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