The night was a short one. About 2hrs long to be exact. After getting back to the hotel just before midnight I made a quick blog post about not making a real blog post thanks to exhaustion. I was however, still so mentally energized I found sleep nearly impossible for another 3.5hrs.
Yesterday was exhilarating on many levels but the language barrier was not one of them. I managed to shuffle my way through but found myself more comfortable on the metro or on foot with a map, both of which are infinitely more patient than the Parisian staring you down. Perhaps being on foot was fitting given the nature of the next 38 days.
With nearly 2hrs of sleep, I woke up easily at 5:30a in order to shower, dress, pack, check-out and grab my cab to the train station. The same train station (Montparnasse) where I would sit in near solitude for an hour until my train arrived.
Although most trains arrived and displayed their platform number with some 20 minutes notice, mine arrived 9 minutes before departure. Even those for whom this kind of travel was obviously common-place were clearly prepared to dart to the train once we knew where it would be.
Once platform 9 flashed on the screen I and about 15 others bolted down the frozen escalator to find our chariot. My research told me I had an assigned seat but how specifically assigned was a mystery.
My ticket clearly printed with "Classe 2" matched the glaring signs baring the same on the side of many of the cars. So large were the markings you could almost hear them shout "now do you fully understand the meaning of second-class citizen?"
I hopped on board and quickly took stock of where my seat was located in the car. But it also became clear immediately that this was the case in every car, so which Seat 34 was mine?!
With the clock surely having burned at least half of the original 9 minutes until departure I fought my way out of the car. I climbed over students obviously going back to school with luggage that could be mistaken for small street-legal vehicles, granted I have no small pack of my own strapped to my back. Oh, and don't forget the hiking poles knitted to the side which were now unapologetically whacking a few unsuspecting travelers. (Ill make penance later.)
I finally made it back outside and desperately scanned the platform for someone of authority. Seeing no one who looked like they worked for Thomas the Tank Engine I found the next best thing: a well-dressed, middle-aged man with a nice briefcase. (Odds would be good he spoke English, right?)
I approached him calmly flashing my best "please have pity on me and please God speak English" smile. "Excuse moi" I blurted; the words practically flopping out of my mouth. I pointed to my seat assignment and then to the car he was about to board, "Oui?" I said with a questioning intonation.
"No, no" he said pointing to the back of the train which seemed to stretch for miles. With a kind but firm voice: "Before. Before," he stressed while motioning as if it would take me until next month to get there. "Merci!" I tossed at him and took off running, now finding myself in similar company.
A very tall (and skinny!) young man running just a step ahead of me looked back and said something in French that I didn't understand. But I knew the look on his face: the nervous, stressed giggle that universally said? "this sucks. We better make it because they WILL leave us".
The numbers on the cars now nearly matching the ones printed on my ticket I slowed my paced while he plowed ahead.
Finally! The numbers all matched the now sweaty card in my hand. I boarded a car clearly occupied with students and backpackers. Ah, yes-- this seems to be about right. The second class but the ones probably most sincerely living life at the moment.
No sooner was my bag stowed above me and my body plopped into the seat below me that the train began to pull out of the station. I looked at my phone and noticed that it was almost exactly 24hrs ago that I landed in Paris.
And what a day it was. I'll fill you in soon. At the moment the top priority is breakfast and a sorely needed nap.