Bordeaux, Montlucon, and Paris: The Twilight Zone
Jun 14, 2011
|So, it's been a while since I've updated. The reason for this is simply that... France hates us. We have now been trying to leave the country for four days and, as I write this, I am sitting in a McDonalds in Paris, where it is currently raining harder than I've ever seen it rain before. But, let me start with the beginning, all the way back in Bordeaux...
I have received several "helpful" tips about how to travel. Namely, that planning a little bit goes a long way, and that many of the places we have wound up have incredible sights to see. So I would like to clarify that we have, in fact, seen a lot of the beautiful sights in our aimless wanderings. Bordeaux still remains the New Jersey of France, though; it is just a New Jersey that also has gorgeous architecture.
Since it was what we thought was our last night in France (ha!), Jack, Chris, and I decided to go to a very fancy restaurant and splurge a bit. This was the kind of restaurant that has waiters in suits. The kind of place that, when I shivered, immediately sent over a waiter to envelop me in a warm shawl. We got a very nice bottle of wine, Jack and Chris got Beef Tartare (prepared tableside!), and I got fancy white asparagus and rice pilaf. Being a vegetarian and traveling is more difficult than I thought it would be; since I’m tired of consisting solely on bread and sugar, I’ve decided to bend the rules a bit. The fancy white asparagus had some sort of meat-based sauce, and the rice pilaf was made with a fish base. The French fries we all shared were fried in duck fat. Everything was unbelievably delicious. Anyways, we concluded our night and went to bed happy, full, and content with the knowledge that we would soon be in Germany.
Flash forward to 6 pm the next day. We are unable to take a train straight to Germany with our Eurorail train pass, so we’ve been forced to design a circuitous route that goes from Bordeaux to Lyon to Paris to Munich. This path involves four train changes in five hours, and we are still another four hours from Lyon. We pull into a tiny town called Montlucon. The station is deserted. We ask an official looking man standing on the platform when the next train to Lyon is, and he shakes his head sadly and informs us we will not be leaving Montlucon tonight. We could be stuck in far worse places, though; if Bordeaux is the New Jersey of France, Montlucon is the Estes Park of France. It is small and friendly, with expensive shops and trees lining the streets. Finally, we find Le Hotel Celtic, which is within our meager budget. The smell of mold permeates the carpet, the wallpaper is blue and peeling, and the sole piece of artwork is a Cinderella poster. But, the shower is hot, and the beds are clean(ish), so we are content. We all promptly fall asleep.
The next morning is my birthday. I’ve always been abnormally excited about my birthdays, and I’ve been declaring that I refuse to travel on the anniversary of my birth for the past two weeks, so we decide to stay in Montlucon for another night. This turns out to be an excellent choice. There is some sort of music festival going on in the courtyard of this magnificent cathedral/palace/large stone building and all of the bands play classic American songs with a strong French accent. I think my favorite is “Born to be Wild” or, as the French say it, “Born to be Wi” (pronounced “Why”). Vendors selling classic rock CDs for 30 euros and guitars for 100 euros set up in the grass.
Jack and Chris have bought me a very nice bottle of Champaign—real Champaign, not sparkling white wine—and we settle in to listen to the music. The bartender is a funny little guy of around 35 who appears to be simultaneously stoned and drunk. He finds out it’s my birthday AND that we’re American and becomes very excited, buying us all several rounds. In broken English, he tells us to come back that night, as he knows of a secret bar that they will all be going to when the concert is over at 10.
We return around 10, and make our way to the bar with our new French friend. At this bar, I meet several French boys who know of a secret club. It’s Sunday, and absolutely nothing is open, so I am dubious. I decide to follow, though, and it pays off. A door appears out of nowhere, and we are quickly ushered into a club called “Pirate.” As one of maybe seven girls in the entire club, I am in my element. Free drinks abound. When Chris and I finally leave the club, it’s light out. Jack will later inform us that we got back to the hotel at 6:30 am, which is impressive even for us.
It is now the 13th, and we are finally going to be able to leave France. We head to the train station after 4 hours of sleep, feeling like death, and are told that we can only get to Paris. Fortunately, our train should arrive in Paris at 8:10 pm, and there is an overnight train to Munich at 8:20 pm. We attempt to book tickets but, for some unknown reason, the clerk’s computer will not let him (cue the Twilight music… do do do do, do do do do). We decide to just buy tickets in Paris.
The train is muggy, smells of body odor, and is overbooked. People crowd between the train cars like cattle. We try to remind ourselves that soon, so soon, we will be on a sleeper train to Germany. Half way there, our train pulls into a station. On the platform below us, a young 20-something begins to kick and punch a 40-something man. Police are called. Our train is delayed for 30 minutes. We have missed our train to Germany.
We get into Paris and it’s pouring rain. Jack heads to the ticket seller to see what our options are, and Chris and I settle into a bench to wait. There is a woman near us, and as soon as we sit down, she stands up and begins to pace and circle. She gets closer to us with each consecutive pass, at one point coming within an arm’s length. The best part of this is that each time she passes us, she pauses to sneer. Hate emanates from every pore; her lip is physically curled up with disgust. After about 5 minutes of this, I make eye contact and say “Bonjour.” Bad idea. She now stands still, arms crossed, lip twitching, eyes narrowed. We have no idea what we have done, but she makes me very uncomfortable. Images of her attacking one of us and somehow further delaying our trip run through my head, prompting our ragged little group to move to another corner of the train station. Around 10 pm, we wander into a hostel and collapse in sleep.
It is now 12:10 pm on the 14th, and our train to Munich supposedly leaves at 8:10 pm tonight. However, that still leaves 8 hours for acts of terrorism, natural disasters, or physical injury to befall us. Fortunately, the rain has just stopped, so I think we’ll try to find the Eiffel town and Notre Dame with our spare time. Wish us luck!