Sunday, January 13, 2013

Paris (PAH-ree), Part Un

I suck at the actual travel part of traveling, which makes life as a traveler unnecessarily difficult. I tend to fail to properly plan ahead and end up stressing while dealing with my lack of preparedness during the travel. It's hard to enjoy the destination parts of travel, if the travel part is so screwed. Hence, my first impression of Paris was "Meh."

But, months after the fact, I can mock myself, and hopefully entertain my dozen or so regular readers in the process.

After close to four months living and working at the farm, I was beginning to think about moving on, but not actually doing anything about moving on, when a friend from college contacted me with a proposition. She was visiting New York for a couple of weeks, and wanted to know if I could take care of her four dogs and one cat at her place in France while she was gone.

I like dogs, so I said sure.

I left the farm on October 9th. The farmer's brother gave me a ride to the nearest train station and was kind enough to help me figure out the damn ticket machine, which takes credit cards and coins. No paper bills. Not one to carry around €9 of pocket change, I had to rely on the brother to use his credit card and pay him in cash. Mistake #1.

I took the train into Amsterdam Centraal, and walked to the ticket office for the bus line. I had decided to take an overnight bus trip because they were less than half the cost of a train ticket. Also, more than twice the travel time, but time is money, or money is time, or something.

But, alas, the ticket office was closed. Mistake #2. A sign in the window directed me to another ticket office back towards Centraal Station, so I walked back and found the office. Once there, I was informed that the office only sold sightseeing tickets and not travel tickets. For those, I would have to take the subway to the edge of town to the main ticket office. That's also where the buses depart. I should have taken the train there in the first place instead of Centraal Station. Mistake #3.

So, I walked as fast as I could (I don't run) back to Centraal to catch the subway. Of course, I didn't have enough change for the ticket machine, but I was able to beg a dime from a couple at the next machine. Mistake #4.

I found the subway okay and headed to the proper station, Amsterdam Amstel. Just like the beer. I'll be able to remember that in the future. I found the bus station and went to buy my ticket. It cost €10 more the price advertised online. The counter guy explained that overnight buses cost more. Mistake #5. I also noticed an advertising sign stating that if I bought my ticket at least 15 days in advance, I could have gotten it for only €9. Ouch. Mistake #6.

I wanted to use the restroom, but they charged €0.50, so I decided I'd just wait the hour and a half until the bus was supposed to leave. I figured that I could maybe use the one on the bus for free. But, of course, once the bus arrived, loaded up, and departed, I discovered that it didn't have a toilet. I'm not sure if that's a Europe thing, or just this company, but I was stuck wishing that I just paid the fifty cents at the station. Or pissing behind a dumpster. Mistake #7.

After a couple of hours, the bus pulled into a service station off the highway, and I was able to run in and use their restroom. They charged me €0.50. Charging for using a toilet is a very European thing. Every restroom in a train or bus station or gas station that I've tried to use charged €0.50. I guess it's a way of keeping out the riffraff. I'm not sure what keeps the riffraff from just using a gutter or the back of a dumpster.

The bus ride, while tedious, was uneventful. Eventually we arrived on the outskirts of Paris at about 5:30 AM, and I took the subway to Gare Saint-Lazare (Gare is French for station). My friend lives about an hour west of Paris, and our plan was for me to take the 12:20 train. That would give me some time to walk around some, have a croissant, and watch Paris wake up.

But, first, I wanted to get my train ticket. Though, when I got to Saint-Lazare, I discovered that I didn't have enough money for my ticket. I was about €2 short. I never bothered to ask my friend how much the ticket was. Mistake #8. And, it dawned on me that I never bothered to ask my friend for her phone number in case of an unexpected development, like not being able to afford a fucking train ticket. Mistake #9.

I decided to do what one always ought to do in seemingly hopeless situations. Go have a cigarette.

So I left the station and saw the streets of Paris for the first time. It was raining. I stood facing a plaza of cracked and crumbling asphalt. Beyond stood buildings caked with soot and grime. Litter filled the streets. Paris, a dull, dreary, filthy city. Meh.

So, I huddled against the wall under an eave and considered my options. I could just board the train without a ticket. Folks try such scams all the time without getting caught. But, I fear prison, especially in foreign countries. I don't want to be asked to leave. I thought that I could find a pawn shop and sell something I might have of value. But I hadn't much to sell, except maybe a used but still in good condition beard trimmer. I could start hitchhiking to the station where my friend was to pick me up, but I feared my luck wouldn't go well. I did have two American singles stuck in the back of my wallet for some reason, so I decided to wait until a bank opened and try to exchange them, and hope that I would get just enough.

The bank across the street opened in three hours, so I had time to kill. I thought about food. I found a bench in the station and read while occasionally thinking about croissants. I was at the bank when they opened, and they happily told me that they don't change money. They told me that there was a cash exchange place in the station. I found the place, and as I handed him my two singles, I wondered if I looked like the hapless, desperate sap that I felt I was. If so, the guy didn't mention it. As he was getting me a pile of coins, I noticed a lone twenty cent piece left by a previous costumer sitting in the metal tray. I took it along with my change. He didn't notice or care or maybe both.

I tallied it all up and found myself nineteen cents shy. If only I had pissed behind the fucking dumpster.

So, for the first time in my life, I went panhandling. The third guy I asked gave me twenty cents. It took only five minutes.

Leaving the ticket office, a panhandler asked me for spare change. I gave him my last cent. He didn't seem appreciative.