Okay, you guys. Get ready to be staring at the business end of "Let's Talk About My Vacation, Part Seven Hundred Million" at some point, because I have a lot of things to tell you about this trip. It is going to take a long time, I'm afraid, and possibly even longer than that, considering that I typed out some highly descriptive notes on my phone at the end of every day so that I could remember what we did. And hey, get this: in a super creepy turn of events, those notes were not deleted in The Idiotic iPhone Deletion of 2012, even though all my videos were. I can't figure out what this means: that I should stick to using words to describe things, instead of cinematography? That the ghost of Steve Jobs stepped in and was all "guys, guys, come on, we can't let her lose everything"? That I don't really get how my phone actually works? One of those. Either way, I have much to say about our trip to South Africa (Plus A Little Bit of Amsterdam and An Even Littler Bit of Paris.) So let's begin!
Because I am perhaps unhealthily obsessed with finding the cheapest flight to my destination—you know how some people do sudoku puzzles when they're bored? I like to open up Kayak.com and find the best-priced route from A to B; that's my kind of game—I searched for ages and ages to find a good deal to South Africa. I was flexible with everything: the date we left, the city we flew into, the airline we traveled with, the country we stopped over in. And wouldn't you know it, lo and behold, I finally found a flight at a price that could work. The upside? It came with a layover in Paris. The downside? It came with a layover in Paris. Because that layover was twelve hours.
Now you may remember that I have spent twelve hours in Paris before. That was a little different though; when my sister and I did that, we took the first Eurostar in and the last Eurostar out, and thus had a full night's sleep—laying flat, in a bed, oh the luxury!—on either end. With this layover, Sean and I would be arriving in Paris at 11am after a ten-and-a-half hour flight from San Francisco, then leaving again that night at 11pm on a ten-and-a-half hour flight to Cape Town. It seemed a little.....ambitious. We knew we'd enjoy ourselves, of course—who doesn't enjoy themselves in Paris?—but we wondered if we'd be so tired at that point that we'd actually even be speaking to one another. Paris is a lot more romantic when you're speaking to one another.
But you can't go to Paris and sit in an airport for twelve hours—well, you can, but I think the odds of not speaking to one another by the end of the day would be even higher—and so we rallied. Upon our arrival at Charles de Gaulle, we had two very clear priorities: one was hot caffeine and one was hot water. We made our way to the very first establishment we could find that appeared to be selling coffee—it was a kiosk in the airport's train station—and procured two very tiny Parisian coffees. (It's not that we wanted tiny coffees, you understand, it's just that all the coffees in Paris are tiny, the way all the women in Paris are impossibly chic.) A quick Metro ride later and we were wandering around the Gare du Nord in search of the showers.
Wait, hold up just a second, Holly. You were in the Gare du Nord? Which is a train station? Looking for a shower?
This is the part of my blog post where I totally admit that I took a shower in a train station. Hear me out, though; it wasn't, like, a public shower in the train station. I mean, I had to pay to take a shower in the train station. Does that count for anything? Does it at least make it a little less weird, maybe? Yes? No?
Yeah, no. Here is the thing: I do not recommend taking a shower in a train station. Knowing that we'd both feel a lot better if we could freshen up a little after an overnight flight, I'd done the research in advance and had found, in some obscure little corner of the Internet, a place called McClean in the Gare Du Nord that boasted spotless, well-run shower facilities. I don't know if we just didn't find McClean, and instead found some kind of second-rate imposter shower company, but it was....well, it was an experience.
For the princely sum of six Euros each, Sean and I were handed a scratchy towel and a tiny bar of soap from an unsmiling desk clerk. "Man," she barked with a grimace, clutching Sean by his shoulder. "You go that way. Lady, you go that way. Don't lock the door."
You know the Soup Nazi? This lady was the Train Station Shower Nazi. I bet you didn't even know that existed.
Of course, I totally locked the door. But guess what happened when you locked the door? THE LIGHTS WENT OUT. I weighed the weirdness of showering in a train station with an unlocked door against the weirdness of showering in a train station in the dark, and decided, all things considered, that I would prefer the former. The water was controlled by a button that you had to push, which would activate the shower head for twelve seconds; after twelve seconds, you had to push the button again for more water. My gut told me it would be for the best if I showered with my eyes squinched shut and did not let my gaze linger on any surfaces. I washed my hair with bar soap. Then I dried it awkwardly under a hand dryer in the restroom while various French women—all of them impossibly chic, naturellement—navigated around me to dry their hands.
Wow, Paris is so glamorous, right? Yeah, shower in a train station next time you're there, and then get back to me.
After that traumatic experience—we did at least feel a lot more human; the water, while it was delivered in twelve-second increments, was both strong and hot—we procured the makings of a picnic and went to sit beneath the Eiffel Tower. I think we both needed to replace the events of the previous hour with something entirely more pleasant.
The rest of the day, honestly, went to shit after that picnic, because it was just a little while afterwards that we got the first call about Charlie, and the next several hours—for me, anyway—were a blur of hysterical tears set against the backdrop of various Parisian monuments. We did, during a brief reprieve, meet one of my oldest friends Caroline for dinner—you may remember that we "fainted" at a Bon Jovi concert together in 1995—but even that devolved, after a while, into Caroline sitting upstairs eating cheese by herself while Sean and I paced the wine cellar downstairs, talking to my parents on her Blackberry. (Handy hint: if you're going to hear bad news on the telephone, a wine cellar is at least a surreal enough setting to distract you, momentarily, from the awfulness of it. Also: lots of barrels to sit down on.)
So anyway, that's where we'll leave our brief sojourn to Paris, if you don't mind: with us standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, pleasantly stuffed with Camembert and green olives, strolling languidly along the Seine, oblivious to any impending disaster. There are a few more pictures here (as usual, all the good ones are by Sean) and next time, we'll move on from Paris and talk about Cape Town. Specifically, about how good it felt to shower in a shower that wasn't in a train station.