Thursday, September 15, 2011

European Vacation Autun, France Day 1

My adventures

Day 1 Amsterdam Schipol Airport
Landed in Amsterdam Schipol after a three hour pleasant conversation with a guy my age named Kai from England. New friend made: check.

Walked around quite a bit, to the end of all the terminals in Schipol to get the ol' legs moving and work out the kinks. Hopped back on a plane, this time a small one, to Lyon, France. 

Airport in Lyon
Realized quickly that the population of Lyon was not as accustomed to speaking English as much as the Parisians are. I started off in French, but I quickly found that in order to really figure out where I needed to go, I needed to clarify in English. Not what I planned on, but I didn't want to get lost, stranded or miss a train or bus. 

A lady named Corrine from the flight to Lyon aided me a bit and gave me a phone card. I gathered my suitcase and headed to the train station. I thought my Eurail pass was good to go, but found out I needed to take a local train first, an extra 20 bucks. After 5 PM there isn't a train directly to Le Creusot, my first destination on the way to Autun. I then began a half mile walk along a platform that resembled the architecture you'd find aboard the Death Star

Gare-Lyon (Lyon train station)
Waiting outside on the quai, or platform, for the Rhône Express train, I realized a cultural difference. Americans, though fairly inconsiderate of others when it comes to smoking in common areas, aren't as bad as the French. Funnily enough, the entire platform was smokers every two feet, smoking on the bench like it was acceptable. For me, that translates to "yuck" in any country. 

The other thing I noticed more and more was the way the French dressed. Maybe it was just business people dressed for work, but every man seemed to be wearing slacks and a buttoned shirt with a collar. Same formula everywhere I went. Younger guys had the Jean and t-shirt thing going. I had the tech shirt and shorts thing going. 

Confusion in Part-Dieu
Lack of sleep on any of the flights was catching up with me. I arrived in the Part-Dieu station, half-starved, and bought a Parisien, which is a baguette sandwich with ham and butter (not a prostitute from Paris), then I went to the Accueil, or welcome center, to find out where to go next. This was a very busy station, and huge! 

The communication barrier was present here, mostly due to my not being able to hear people well around background noise. What I got out of it in French was that I had better hurry. I waited briefly in line, finished my sandwich, and paid another 2 bucks for something I'm not even sure of--regarding my pass. 

Finally, I was told to wait and stare at the monitors to find out the platform from which my train was leaving. When it was finally posted, I followed the signs for what I thought was platform C, but apparently I followed the signs for bus C. Damn small print! I realized that it wasn't the train stop and rushed back toward the station to ask a security guard, with 5 minutes to go before I would  miss the train and would have used up Day 1 of my $537.00 Eurail Pass without actually going anywhere. Having a new-found sense of direction, I then headed up the escalator to the train platform and finally saw this huge, never-ending TGV (means "very fast train"). It is quite a sight compared to the freight trains we see around the US-very sleek but intimidating--like something out of a Batman movie. After walking past a quarter mile of train and  first boarding the wrong car and realizing I was sitting in the wrong seat, I exited, checked with a train attendant and boarded the adjacent car. Finally in the right car, I went to locate my seat, 104, and found someone sitting there. I decided to just move to a different seat. An hour train ride, I pondered how I would get in touch with Christophe without my own phone. 

After several minutes of conversation, I politely asked the man next to me,  Patrique, if he wouldn't mind dialing Christophe's number for me. I think he agreed because random people who ask to use strangers' phones arent usually sporting an iPad.  First time, no answer. Second time, got his wife, Sylvie, who I had never met. It seemed she was screening his calls until I told her I was on my way over to their house and she realized who I was.  We talked briefly enough to let her know for the first time that I was coming very soon, and she indicated that Christophe was way out of town and unreachable because he was racing a cross country race somewhere. Go figure.  I disembarked the train and went inside the station.  It was a tiny station in the middle of nowhere. I sat down next to a gentleman my age, explained my predicament and politely asked him if he would call the number I presented to him on my iPad. I did, talked to a frantic Sylvie, then took the gentleman's suggestion and went to the Accueil to find out about taking a bus to Autun, since the prospect of being picked up like I planned out months ago was no longer an option. Oh well, I thought briefly. I knew I'd get there somehow and sometime. I hoped it was tonight, but didn't stress about it. 

The lady helping me suddenly realized that the bus to Autun was scheduled to leave momentarily.  She rushed out of the booth and started running down the stairs as the bus started moving. I followed quickly, bags in hand, but it was slow-going down these stairs with my stuff. The bus wasn't stopping. I reached the bottom of the stairs and started sprinting with my stuff towards the bus. I cut the corner and was now running alongside it. I got into the driver's field of view, as I was now in front of the bus, determined to get her to stop.  Finally, I cut almost in front of it and she stopped, seemingly out of pity, or just finally realizing I was trying to catch her. I'm pretty sure if I were anyone else, I would have missed the bus or just given up. I chased her a good 100m. 

In boarded the bus, thankful that I didn't have to wait for another. I regained my composure and found out that the next bus wasn't until nine--another two hours! Breathing a sigh of relief, I paid my fare of 1.5 euros and sat down to enjoy my ride. Thank goodness I'm a runner!

The countryside was beautiful and very green, with lots of farmland and cows and sheep along the way. We reached Autun, an old Roman city with some pretty old architecture and narrow streets. As we came to the final stop, I asked the bus driver if she knew where Faubourg de Breuil was.  A helpful traveler on the bus, a lady in her 50s--Jeannette, told me to come with her.  Her sister was picking her up and she offered me a ride. How utterly thoughtful and so friendly! I loaded my things into her Renault and we began driving the cobblestone streets in an effort to find the address I had. She called Sylvie on her phone and the two were able to determine a spot where we could meet, as we couldn't seem to find the house. 

Sylvie drove down the street to pick me up and I bade farewell to Jeannette and her sister, offering to buy them drinks. Instead, they invited me to stay at their house this week! Jeannette gave me her card and we parted ways. What an adventure so far!

Sylvie was very excited but still surprised I was there, as Christophe never told her the dates. I uassured her I had sent them, but it didn't matter at this point!  She showed me the house and her garden, the adjacent mini-chateau across the field, her "caves" under the house for storage and other things. She prepared me some pasts with tomato sauce, bread and poured me a glass of cold soup called Gazpacho. I topped off dinner with some Camembert and realized that it was becoming more and more difficult to talk and understand French. I was tired and the fatigue had set in. As I prepared to settle in for the night, Sylvie exclaimed that she heard a car--it was Christophe! She told me to stay out of sight. When Christophe rounded the corner, there I was, to his surprise!  We talked for a minute, but at that point I realized that French was now starting to sound like a foreign language to me. 

Chris et Sylvie prepared the futon for me, I showered and hit the sack. What a day! I awoke 7 hours later at 5 AM, or 8 PM in AZ.  I emailed a few people to let them know I was alive, sent stuff to my XC team, then worked on this, trying to remember my day yesterday. The sun didn't come up until like 6:40 here. Not used to that! 

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