Paris: Day 1/2
After fifteen hours’ worth of oddly paired movies, sporadic naps and bland airline gruel, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport carrying a traveler’s heaviest loads: that of the back, and that of the heart. Lugging around twenty kilograms’ worth of stuff was taxing for, well, the obvious reasons. The less obvious was the internal cocktail of shock and wonder that served as the handy antidote to jet-lag: what I lacked for in physical energy was compensated by the knowledge that the next three weeks will bring me the most autonomy and adventure I have had in my life.
For me and Joseph, my travel partner, this is the first time that we’re traveling without any form of parental support. Every day we’ll wake up with the equal capacity to choose whether to stay in or go out (although for the sake of humanity, I pray it will be the latter). Every day we’ll navigate the streets on our own, trying to understand data plans, transportation, whilst attempting to stick within the budget we’ve set for ourselves. Granted nothing terribly adverse strikes us in our traveler’s path (o!), every euro we spend will have been earned by our own efforts back in Hong Kong.
Some may call this a rite of passage, a step into the daunting world known as ‘Adulthood’. I would call this a ‘General Lesson in Being a Competent Human Being’, particularly for a girl who has been spoilt by the safety of Hong Kong and is infamous for her appalling lack of street smarts. As we travel through Paris, Annecy, Lyon, and the Southern French countryside, I can only hope to grow in ways previously unanticipated (as well as eat a lot of good food and meet a lot of good people in the interim). Hopefully this blog series will reflect my stages of growth, however cheesy that sounds, although I’m sure it’ll also reflect the many random and serendipitous moments that end up making a day what it is.
Which leads me back to Charles de Gaulle. After finally figuring out how the ticketing system works, we ambled over to the platform where we scrutinized the map for a very long time. Thankfully, a kind woman overheard our confused conversation and told us how to get to our desired station. As we all waited for the train, she ended up evolving from the Kind Offerer of Information to the Kind Offerer of Life Stories: she told us about her son and his backpacking trips, her work in Paris, where she has lived in her life, her experiences from the Paris Attacks, among many other interesting things that complemented the breezy train ride through the 10PM city streets. Outside, the sun was only just beginning to set, its redness tearing the horizon apart in a most brilliant symphony of colour. When we finally got off at Gare du Nord and said goodbye to our first French acquaintance, the skies were already beginning to darken and the difficult part of the evening had arrived.
Although I was incredibly nervous (and hungry, and thirsty), we somehow found our way to our Airbnb, located in a snug street near the Canal St. Martin. I was slightly impressed by the apartment’s resemblance to what I saw in Richard Linklater’s Parisian instalment Before Sunset: an open square, rickety, circular steps, red-painted wooden doors, old name cards, and, once in the apartment, a window that opened to a quickly darkening night and the sound of kittens perusing the balconies for some food, or some love, or a bit of both.
By then it was already eleven at night, but Joseph and I decided to wander the street to gather our bearings and get some food. The evening was slightly chilly and the streets quite empty, but it was refreshing to be outside. At one point I attempted to practice my hard-earned French at a Moroccan restaurant (Avez-vous du couscous végétarien ?) but had to accept a simple and all too familiar sounding: Sorry, the kitchen is closed. Oh well. Our French acquaintance had warned us that practicing French within the city would be quite difficult, so I decided to wait for later destinations. In the end we found a little corner snack store more suited to our budget, where we bought banana and nutella crepes, pastries and a big bottle of water to eat as we walked around.
The night was getting dark, so after a quick round of the neighborhood we decided to go back home. Pockets of life still dotted the streets: several men were playing ping-pong on the pedestrian pavement, some young revellers were drinking at cafes, and older aged friends sat outside bistros sharing a bite to eat. We vowed to explore more of this the following day, after some good sleep and a much-needed return of sanity.
Now to await what the first full day in France will bring.