05 August 2008

Emerging from Asia in the West

Following a short interlude in Warsaw, it was on to Berlin with the ultimate goal to arrive in Paris--just in time for the Bastille Day celebration. Vive la Françe!

Warsaw gave me the chance to rest up a tad in comfort as I have a friend to stay with, and as I was there just last year, there was no great urge to race around and set any new walking records. A few hours wandering around the "Old Town" the day many musicians and groups were practicing in various cathedrals. Strolled from concert to concert enjoying all the beautiful sights and sounds.

Trains are again back central in my life. Fast and efficient European ones, but not as much conviviality as Asian trains. I may forever begrudge missing out on Astana to Kiev at the mercy of the Russian blackmailer I sparred with in Almaty, or at least until I do it from the other direction. But for the moment, I'm still traveling east to west.

Berlin was another city I visited last year, so I raced quickly through staying only two days before pushing on to Paris. I did the full on walking tour last year and got my second "Checkpoint Charlie" stamp. My first one was in 1966 and was a rather different experience. It's SandStation season, and they are always fun to see, but I didn't need to do any full on HTT (Heavy Tourist Thing).

From Berlin it was direct to Paris, with a quick train change in Frankfurt midway. Aaaahhh, Paris. It was my first European city over forty years ago, and it will always have a special place in my heart. I arrived at Gare de l'Est, full of temporary tents demarcating construction areas, and not a public phone in sight. At information they directed me, "toute à droite, et après à droite et encore à droite." I did all the "rights right" (à droite, à droite, à droite) and still no phone. Malish, je suis à Paris. Time to put my charms to work and collect more anti-rude French stories.

I am a deep repository of personal experiences with polite, helpful, friendly Parisians and I'm always looking to increase my repertory. People on cell phones all around, I approached one young man who smilled sweetly and said, "Mais oui, bien sùre" and began punching numbers for me. No rudeness there. Merci monsieur. Merci beaucoup. But my friend wasn't answering and I had to leave a message that I would call again later.

I picked up my bags and crossed over the street to a corner cafe. I'll have a kir and relax while I wait. And the cafe had creme de framboise. Perhaps I'll have two. When I asked about "le petite monnaie" for the telephone public, the propriator slipped off to the cash register and returned with his personal cell phone for me to use. Not much rudeness there, but still no response from my friend.

By now, it was getting late and time for me to seek out alternative lodging. Armed with a list of cheap hotels in the area that I obtained from information at t-he station, I headed for the Metro, purchased a carnet (of tickets) and standing with my Metro map in hand checking my destination, up comes a woman to see if I needed assistance. Oui, laquelle direction pour aller à place de la Republique? Her response, Place d'Italie and do you need a Metro ticket, as she holds out one for me. Thank you so much, but I have one. Not much rudeness there. Au revoir.

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