John's musings

Train from london to Calais/Paris 15:06 27/5/07(I wrote these thoughts while on the train to Paris and waited til back at Matt's apartment to enter them so I wouldn't pay for the entry at the hotel. Hope it doesn't bore you to death.)

The English Countryside looks remarkably similar to that of Wisconsin or Iowa. The gentle, seductively rolling hillsides are quartered in farmland whose crops are just bursting green from the black earth. Deciduous and pine line the rail as we begin to pick up speed and every few minutes I am startled by the speed an proximity of trains passing in the other direction just inches from my window.

The houses are distinctly rural England however. Stone or brick bordered by either low stone walls or higher dense and neatly trimmed hedges. All tidy & squared. Yes, remarkably Wisconsin and Iowa-like with cows and horses dotting the landscape.

We are now traveling much faster than the cars on the highway just to my right. My guess is maybe 90-100mph. It's a gray, rainy day. Typical of London but it's quiet. The train is much more quiet than a plane. Very comfortable. It's only been a few days but I'm constantly reminded of how sheltered I am from the larger world having lived where I've lived. All around me, different skin tones, tongues, even clothing attest to not being "in Kansas" anymore. This is not bad. Not at all. Just an observation.

Just passed a small village with its neat brick houses. If it weren't for the aged brick, uniquely English construction the layout would remind you of our tract developments. Neatly arranged and all much the same style. And yet, in this town is what can be best described as a tent village. It appeared to be one large tented structure with many supports (40-50). The totally odd part was a McDonalds logo under one section facing the train. Not a billboard but probably the front entrance to the most unusual McDonald's I've seen.

I hope to see the English Channel though I suspect we will be underground before then... A tone and announcement we are about to enter the tunnel. Total darkness outside the train with only the slightest illusion of movement.

We're now about 15 minutes from France. A brief stop in Calais before going onto Paris.

We are now in France! Outside a large round-a-bout connects two narrow country roads. Power poles seem to extend in all directions. But again, this could be Wisconsin! Matt pointed out to me that you rarely see a pickup truck over here and the realisation of it is now like a picture coming into focus. No SUV's though station wagons abound... SAABs, Volvos, Porsche's.

Announcement: "Paris in about an hour." The French countryside is lush green with new crops. Every so often a "whoosh" - another train racing past. On a south-facing hillside, so many wood posts, assuming for grapevines(?), remind me of gravestones. A small village with pre-requisite church steeples rising above red-tiled roofs. !Whoosh! And another 50 car train passes in about 3 seconds. A (!Whoosh!) crucifix rises 6 feet (2 meters) above a carpet of green hiding the smallish cemetery. The fields of wheat(?) or hay(?) are marred only by the deep tire treads evenly spaced about every 15 meters.

PA Announcements now begin in French and are repeated in English...juxtaposed from the Western side of the channel. A snack from the train snack bar of Pringles and Kit Kats is all too American. We outpace gray, low-hanging clouds to Paris. !Whoosh!

Our first night in Paris: First: Get out of the train station. We have no idea! But a kindly French couple write directions for us so after some starts and stops we get on the right Metro (think subway) and head to the Trocadero district.

We've found that one invaluable tool is a compass. With all the twisting, intersecting streets, following a map with the compass is so helpful. So after a half hour metro ride we emerge from a train station DIRECTLY West across the river from the Eiffel Tower (or Tour Eiffel as it's referred to here). Although it's 9:30pm (21:30 here) it's still light out. We head down a street hoping our hotel is in this direction. We stop at a BP gas station and indeed are headed correctly. We buy a map there which also turns out to be incredible helpful. It's in a little book form and has lots of detail. All these things you discover, sometimes by accident.

We find our hotel and as we walk in a car alarm goes off directly across the street. This alarm goes on for one for 30 seconds...and repeats, and repeats...for over an hour. It is immediately below our 5th floor window and if it continues our 1st night in Paris will be a bit sleepless. And oh...we get to the room and it has no lights! We find a phone and call down to find that there is a device on the wall into which you insert the room key card and that turns the lights on! Who knew and might they tell you upon checkin in? Se le ve! I think we also discussed the "ascension" of elevator. It was BARELY large enough for the two of us and even so we had to face each other. Still fun!

The rest we've pretty much covered. Bread and cheese and wine and coffee! Coffee...that's another thing. You'd think the French would know how to deliver a full cup of coffee. No mon amie! But, hey, in as Parisians do I guess. When I did eventually find a Starbucks close to the hotel, I ordered the biggest coffee I could find and I don't even like Starbucks!

So now we're back in London. The weather throughout the trip has been predominantly rainy and cool but today it is nice so we're about to venture out.

Again...if you've read all of this you deserve a medal!