Monday, January 3, 2011

Paris: Day 1 (Dec 27-28th)

while i would love to start right off describing vibrant parisian landscapes, stylish women with enviable, incredible legs, and waxing poetic about their baguette, this recounting of my first international travel since nursing school would not be complete without mentioning snowpocalypse 2010.

my flight was supposed to take off december 26th and i would fly for 6 hours, do a little time zone magic and wake up at charles de gaulle airport at 0630. however, snowpocalypse started the morning of the 26th and just did NOT. LET. UP. until the 27th. i went to brunch that morning with a friend and rushed home to start parking only to find that my flight had been cancelled, a first, unbelievably, given the extensive international flying when i was in college (thanks dad's company for all the free tickets home to singapore/mileage points!). panicked, i gave into my gut instinct: call my mom. 15 minutes later, i was on hold with american airlines for a whopping one hour and 30 minutes. they rescheduled me for the same flight one day later and that's how i found myself getting ready for my long anticipated trip one day later.

from home, i could monitor all of the hubbub and chatter on twitter about jfk being closed, note that my flight was officially delayed to 1800, and decided to go to the airport anyway. thankfully, the ACE was running smoothly and so it was with high hopes that i got to the airtrain terminal in queens, only to find that... it was closed. "just go outside and hail a cab," offered the extremely unhelpful airtrain attendant. this was fucking jamaica, queens. there ARE no cabs in this no man's land. there are, however, gypsy cabs.

i have had a few bad gypsy cab experiences, and i have to say, this one was pretty horrific. he was already taking another passenger to some unidentified location lacking signage, and then stopped to pick up four random passengers going to the airport. desperate and cold, i wormed my way onto the minivan, which is how i ended up sitting with a german, a brit, and a nice lady from vermont. we exchanged stories about what we got for christmas (german: sausages, vermont: books, brit: can't remember, me: a really expensive cast iron frying pan), i briefly considered hitting on the brit and then decided against it, and we eventually made it to the airport. i paid an absurd $25 to get to the airport, but at that point, it was worth it.

or so i thought. as it turns out, my flight was delayed like 17 times. the airport apparently DID reopen at 6 pm, but our gate had a broken jet bridge. of all things! after all the snow and the deicing and airport closures, a minor jet bridge malfunction delayed us for another 4 hours. we sat and sat and sat and sat and kept sitting. the wizened airline counter man looked weary and exasperated with all of the "when are we leaving?" questions. it was sort of like asking "are we there yet?" except the trip hadn't even started. after several delays, at 2130 we were finally allowed to board, only to sit and wait some more on the tarmac until 2230 when SWEET RELIEF we finally took off. at that point i was okay with the plane exploding, as long as something happened.

i sat next to a lovely french grandma, who i eyed with great interest as she was eating her meal. there are books aplenty written about how to stay slim like a french woman, and while this particular specimen wasn't really a great example (old women are given a little leeway, right?), i did want to see if she really savored every single bite and took her time tasting everything. i'm happy to report that i was not disappointed. everything she did about her meal was methodical and deliberate, from the initial spreading of her napkin across her lap (uhm, i always forget that we even HAVE napkins. shamefully, i usually wipe my mouth on my hand. there, i've said it and now it's out in the open: i'm practically a bachelor.) the airline gave out free booze since the delay was so godawful and we both ordered a bottle of red wine. the flight attendant asked me if i was old enough to drink wine. i gave him the stare of death and with as much decorum as i could muster, graciously accepted the bottle from him and tried not to guzzle or spill any. when my little french grandma tasted hers, i asked her with a little trepidation how it was. she made a face, shrugged her shoulders and said, "eh... it's from spain." (ohh burn!)

the rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. i arrived at a much later than estimated time of 1100, and who was there to greet me but salina c. wu, bearing gifts of croissants just like i asked! we took care of some future travel errands for her, managed to figure out how to navigate the ticket machines (which, for future reference, do NOT give change for 20 Euro bills and very unhelpfully do not have change machines either), got on a train and made it to the apartment.

yes, i said apartment. when salina proposed this idea to me, i was completely in. it was like having a home away from home. why didn't I think of that?! so we rented a quaint, charming apartment that was located in the 5th district of paris, extremely convenient, and surrounded by all sorts of shops, markets, boulangeries, fromageries, charcuteries, you name it. it was basically fucking awesome. the apartment itself was pretty well furnished, complete with state of the art microwave/ovens (not that again! i had one of those in japan and it took me the better part of three months to figure out what the hell all of those buttons meant) and this completely novel contraption that was a washer and dryer all at once. i had to sit down and sort of think about that, it was so mind-blowing.

anyways, after a snack of baguette (this will be elaborated on in a later post) and sandwiches (yes, two bread entrees and with absolutely no regrets), we took a much needed nap. the bed, when it's not used, folds up into the wall and suddenly there's a couch in its place. it's not the same as a sofa bed, because the mattress was a full on mattress, not those shitty lame excuses for a mattress that fold up inside the sofa. it merely pops back into the wall, whole. no folding necessary. throughout the entire trip i saw advertisements for similar space-saving furniture installments, including one that lowers to midair suspended on what appeared to be ribbon, completely with a footstool so you can climb into a bed that is hanging from the ceiling. very safe looking. (a completely irrelevant and possibly inappropriate thought: how do people get their nasty on in those beds? does it feel like doing it in a swing? just a thought). anyways, nap time was amazing. it was just what i needed to prove that i do not have jet lag ever, because from that point on, i was good to go.

salina and i were eager to do some damage to our bank accounts, so we went to some random place to do some shopping. oh, there was damage! it was bad, but so gratifying to shop, especially since i'd been (sort of) holding back in anticipation of this trip. after buying a lot of things we probably didn't need, salina wanted to try this israeli restaurant that she took a long time to find. i gazed longingly at mom'n'pop type restaurants whose set menus boasted things like mussels broiled in butter and wine (uhm yes please) and creme brulee but trudged after salina anyway. i was a little put off about coming to a foreign country to eat ethnic food that i can clearly buy across the street from the hospital (shawarma? kebab? come ON) but it was pleasantly delicious and dirt cheap.

i almost forgot! en route to the shawarma'r'us (that's obviously not what it's called, but i can hardly be expected to remember french names of national tourist attractions, much less restaurant names) we stopped at a market to pick up groceries for breakfast. already in the fridge we had this 125 gram block of french buerre (butter, the english name of which is a sorry description for that blissful saturated fat that we ate nearly every gram of, so i will continue to be pretentious and call it buerre), and we needed milk, mueseli, some kind of jam, and on my insistence, we also needed creme de marron.

i'm not going to lie--i completely forgot about my love for all things chestnut since basically college, but a recent post about how hard it is to find this elusive paste made me want it all the more. and my childish "i got it and you don't" instant gratification was entirely worth it. it tastes good with EVERYTHING: baguette with butter, plain yogurt, you get the idea.

loaded with shopping bags full of clothes and food and bellies full of ethic food that is easily accessible in new york, but equally delicious and probably less suspect in terms of vehicles of food-borne diseases, we went home, showered and crashed.

end day 1.

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