Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nathan's Visit, Part I

Last week my brother Nathan came to visit me here in France for his spring break. It was his first time to Europe and his first big traveling experience in general. It was a really good time and it was so great to hang out with him and show him France but so many things went wrong that towards the end of the week it was becoming comical. We started expecting the worst in order to be pleasantly surprised by what actually was a success. For both of us it started Friday, March 19th...

Early Friday morning Nathan left from PDX to fly to Washington D.C. and eventually Paris, where I was to meet him upon arrival at 6:25 AM Paris time. There wasn't a train that would get me to the airport early enough so I decided to spend the night in a hotel near the airport so I could be there first, waiting for him. I chose the hotel I did because it was the cheapest (40 something Euros for one night) and right next to the train that would take me straight to the airport. Immediately upon arrival I realized I could not have chosen a worse hotel. First, I didn't have the right train ticket so the little turnstiles wouldn't let me out and I had to wait for someone with the right ticket and double up in the gate with them - awkward to say the least. As I walked from the station to the hotel it was already dark and felt like one of those bad neighborhoods you see in movies but don't expect to be real, with people hanging back in the shadows and sirens going off in the distance. The hotel itself was really gross and made my clothes reek all weekend. There was also at least one pesky mosquito in the room that I could not get rid of. At one point in the night I woke myself up by slapping myself in the face really hard trying to kill it. In the morning when I left to go back to the train station and head to the airport I saw police lights flashing up ahead but before the car rounded the corner these three guys ran into an apartment building and hid. After the cop car slowly passed one of the guys popped his head out and told the others the coast was clear before they all took off running again. Keep in mind that in my bag I was carrying my computer, iPod, and camera so I felt like the perfect target. Nathan and I both made it to the airport fine but me terrified and him sleep deprived, not having gotten a wink of sleep during the previous 24 or so hours. We took the train back to Paris and went to check into our hotel so we could both get some rest.

Nathan and I came out of the metro and I wasn't entirely sure which way we were supposed to go, so I asked a street cleaning guy for the direction of Sacre Coeur, the closest monument that also happened to be in the direction of our hotel. He pointed us in what turned out to be the wrong direction, and we walked through a deluge for a couple blocks before I made us turn around. All the while Nathan was carrying the suitcase because the puddles were just too deep to drag it through. After about 10 more minutes walking this time in the right direction but still through the torrential rain, completely soaked and dripping wet, we got to the hotel. Earlier in the week I realized I had made the reservation for the wrong day, but I called and had it changed and they told me everything was taken care of. Of course this is France, and counting on other people hardly every turns out good results. So the receptionist told me there was no record of that call and that we didn't have a room as they were completely booked. That blows. Infuriated, I let Nathan stay in the lobby with our bags while I walked around to got us another hotel nearby. By now, however, the rain had stopped (naturally). Just up the street, less than a block, I got us a hotel and thought it worth it to pay the 15 more euros a night just to be done with it. Nathan and I then got settled and we both took some time to recover.

Besides the sleep deprivation on Nathan's end, I think Paris went well. I took him to pretty much all the major sights and made sure he got plenty of pictures. I really wanted Nathan to have a good first impression with this country that I have come to love but I worried about him discovering all the bad aspects first, i.e. homeless people, dirty streets, apparent rudeness, the metro, and the list goes on. It's not until you experience the good parts of France that all those others become tolerable, in my opinion. Old world is just so different from the New World feel that I think Paris is one of the worst places to start a visit to France, albeit the most convenient.

By Sunday night Nathan was ready to head to Toucy for R&R after the bustle of Paris. I walked him around and showed him how this small town really isn't that different from small towns like Banks, just a lot older. I also had him try real French food, from bakeries that are cheaper and better than those in Paris. Besides him being a little bored in my room all day while I taught classes, things went well until Tuesday.

Some of my students the week before had asked me if I wanted to go to a soccer match the next week because they were going to buy tickets and offered to pick me up one. I told them I'd love to but my brother would be in town that week, to which they replied, "So we'll get two seats then?" I was excited. The teams we were going to see were PSG (the team I saw play the weekend before with Doug, Danielle, and Liz) and Auxerre, the local team that is actually rated number 1 in France right now. But once again, you can't ever get your hopes up until you're actually there. The game was closed to fans due to a Ministry decision following the riots by PSG fans and the death of one supporter. It was a stupid decision all around because closing the doors at this match only hurt Auxerre because they made no money, it wasn't their fans fault in the least, and, more importantly I might add, Nathan and I didn't get to see the game! It was pretty disappointing because we were both really looking forward to it. But what can you do? Well, you can visit the construction of a 13th century castle.

I wanted to get Nathan out to see some more of the area especially since we didn't have the soccer match anymore, so I decided to show him Guedelon. I wrote about this before, when I went earlier in the year with Marie and loved it. It closed for the winter but just opened up again before Nathan arrived so I thought, "Why not?" The weather couldn't have been better. After a string of snow and rain it was finally turning to Spring, with mostly clear skies and in the 60's. I got to see some of the progression of the building process but also some parts of the complex I hadn't seen before. Most importantly I got to take pictures this time! I think Nathan found it impressive, as did Kathi who came with us. It was a great day, but we would find out later it was just a high point on the roller coaster that was last week...

I added the photos from the whole week but they take awhile to load sometimes so have patience. There will be a Part II to follow soon.

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