The idea of seeing five snack-sized countries in a little over a week seemed great in the abstract, but when I was driving the rental car around and around the airport trying to figure out how to get going, I began to have my doubts. I don’t usually drive when I am traveling abroad. For one thing, it is expensive. Almost no place gives you free parking. Gas is a lot higher in Europe than in America. And the tolls are ridiculous. Still, I think my biggest concern is that I don’t really know how to drive. The signs are not familiar. Can you turn right on red? What the heck did that sign say and I wonder if it was important? When I have driven overseas before, I have almost always ended up driving down a sidewalk unaware until people get up to move their table and chairs out of my way. Nevertheless, a car is the only way to reasonably see these little countries, so I paid the full insurance and rented a Citrion. I’m not sure what that is...except it looks a lot like the French word for lemon.
This ended up being sort of a bad time to travel. My Dad is still in the hospital. That is troubling in lots of ways, but especially because he and mom are supposed to meet me here with my cousin Kelly and my friend LIsa in a few weeks. At least one of his team of doctors—and we’re talking American football sized, not basketball sized team—says he should be healthy enough to deal with French snobbery in a couple of weeks.
My home air conditioner decided to bust out its coils and puke up the contents into my kitchen ceiling. So, there has been a grand parade at my house. Plumbers, air conditioning repair men, insurance adjusters, biological contaminant inspectors, demolition and drying people, contractors, electricians, and so on. Fortunately, one of my former students lives at my house. So, I just left it with him. His mom asked him, “Um, wasn’t Paul out of the country when he moved to this house a few years ago and didn’t you basically move him in?” Well, yes. What are you saying?
If that’s not enough, I am fighting some virilent form of tendonitis in my ankles and heels. After trying everything from stretching to aspirin to an angry massage therapist, my doctor decided to try approaching me as a voodoo doll. He has been literally sticking the pins into my left heal. Even crazier than that, it has been helping. But walking is a little painful...especially as I get tired.
And, of course, my publisher, Marko is thinking he will get a book from me in a few weeks, which argues for chaining me to my desk, not chasing me around Europe. And yet here I am.
The trip has been pretty good so far, my concentric circles at CDG aside. Lisa picked me up at 3 a.m. on Tuesday. It was Tuesday for her. I hadn't gone to sleep yet, so it just felt like Monday to me. I put on some compression socks--for the tendonitis and to avoid ankles swelling. And we drove the hour plus to LAX.
I slept hard most of the way to Charlotte despite the lady wrestler sitting next to me, trying to wrench the armrest away from me. I grabbed some very disappointing Carolina pulled pork at the airport and tried to stay awake until we departed for Paris. The flight was supposed to be full, but the couple who were scheduled to sit in the middle two seats in the middle of my row must have gotten stranded in Albuquerque. I should feel bad for them, but I was having too much fun spreading out over two seats. I meant to sleep and, failing that, read. Somehow I ended up watching “Coco.” It’s a really creepy Disney movie about how your family will come to haunt you once a year if you put up their picture in your house. Not sure what happened, but I ended up crying by the end. No doubt a combination of Disney sentimentality and exhaustion. I turned on a Liam Neeson movie after that, convinced that Liam is too manly to leave us guys in tears. Of course, I fell asleep before he had finished beating up the first bad guy.
We arrived a little early to CDG. Everything was easy....except finding an ATM.. Who knew? I got in my brand new lemon, circled the airport for about 20 minutes, and headed out to Luxembourg. Google maps on my phone was working better than expected. Well, I think. I did end up driving some odd little farm to market roads after I left the airport. Sort of wondered if some guy from google was sitting back saying, “Hey, George, watch what I’m going to do to this guy...” Kept wanting to stop and take pictures but there was hardly room for 2 cars to pass let alone a shoulder to pull over.
My experience with France has been primarily Paris. Who knew this country is as rural as Oklahoma? I drove past field after field of golden...something. Alfalfa? I think whatever it was they were making hay. The plains were dotted with little French villages. Each one clustered all of these little homes around a church pointing them to heaven. The villages reminded me of a group of baby chicks gathered around a hen.
I wondered what it would be like crossing the border into Luxembourg. As it turned out it was a rather small sign that said, Bienvenue a Luxembourg. I followed signs to the train station and parked my car at the parking garage. A rental car may be the easiest way to get to Luxembourg, but I decided my slightly wounded feet were the best way to explore.
Luxembourg City was once a walled city, well defended. A bridge divides the older section from the newer. But you can climb down to the bottom of the wall and explore. The Monte Python cast might have had a harder time yelling up to the battlements of this French-speaking Duke. probably would have had no better success. I ate some local pizza and a glacé before exploring the Notre Dam Cathedral and the shops of old town. Probably crazier than most aspects of the trip, they have built this amazing and cool skate park right at the foot of one of the bridges going across from the walled part of the city to the new town. Kids were gathered there by the dozens showing their skills (or, in some cases, lack there of).
I went to meet Leonardo at the home near the train station where I was staying. Love AirBnB. Unfortunately, Leonardo was delayed. No doubt some kind of problem with a talking rat with mad ninja skills. In any case, I walked over to the nearby hotel and ate an over-priced dinner. If they paid the cook by how long he cooked the food, he would be making pennies. (The veal was rare and he didn’t cook the salmon at all.) Leonardo’s roommate was home when I got back. Can’t remember his name. Donatello, perhaps? I tried to be pleasant, but I was dying to go to bed. So, by 8:30 I was sound asleep.
Highlight of the day: I managed to order pizza and ice cream with no English. Some pointing. But no English. I am a French genius. Not really. But I can say, “I want to eat chicken pizza and ice cream.”