After we got off the ferry in Calais and I had assured myself that there was no way that I could communicate with anyone in French, we went to find our hotel. Now if I had been by myself, I would have written down directions meter by meter if I was going to walk, but more than likely I would just take a taxi to make sure that I didn’t get lost. Adam, however, has some sort of GPS chip in his head, so he just looks at a map and sort of walks towards where the place should be until we end up right in front of it. Even with a map in front of me it would take me longer to find a place than it would for him to find it without one. I don’t understand this gift, but I do appreciate it.
We tried to make train reservations from the little train station in Calais, but it was too small, so we ended up spending most of the night worrying that we wouldn’t be able to get to the apartment that we had rented in Germany in time. We almost didn’t.
What is fun about using Eurail passes is the way that they make it nearly impossible to make a reservation. There is no coherent system. There is no central online booking or telephone number. Eurial is, to put it bluntly, a clusterfuck. And that is why we found ourselves standing in a ticket line for an hour in the Gare du Nord in Paris trying to get on the overnight train to Munich that night during the last weekend of Oktoberfest. The lady at the ticket window shook her head incredulously at our request. How about Frankfurt? No. Strasbourg? No. Anywhere? Not today. We ended up getting tickets to Frankfurt the next morning and suddenly we found ourselves stuck in Paris—a place that we had never intended to go. I know, I know…there are worse places to be stuck than Paris, but at the moment I wanted to be anywhere but there. A hotel was surely going to cost us two day’s budget. And the Parisians…
Alright. I will admit that I have, at times, perpetuated the stereotype of the “rude Parisian.” And certainly I have had encounters in Paris that would support this stereotype. But after this trip I am reformed. Right away there was the woman at the tourist information desk who found us a (relatively) inexpensive room right around the corner from the Louvre. She took care of everything: calling the hotel to make sure it was available, looking up the directions and marking them on the map, and writing down the metro stop that we were to take. All the time pleasant, all the time speaking perfect English. Next as we struggled to figure out how to get on the train we needed and I struggled to ask in broken French how to get there, the security guard instructed us, again in perfect English, exactly which train it was and how to get there. The man at the hotel was equally kind, giving us the suite (not as exciting as it sounds, but still nice), and making sure several times that we liked the room and we didn’t need anything. Most helpful was the man in the cafe whom I asked in exasperation about the phone card that I bought (there were no English instructions when I dialed the number and I couldn’t make it work). He actually left the cafe to walk down to a pay phone with me and translate the instructions. Maybe it’s my look of pleading desperation rather than the attitude of demanding entitlement that some Americans have. I don’t know. What I can say is that there are rude people all over, but when you expect rudeness, you’ll find it even when it’s not really there. Maybe you think that waiter was giving you a funny look or the store clerk was laughing at you. Probably not. At the same time we tend to brush off rude behavior when we don’t expect it. So I will officially say that I was wrong. The Parisians get a bad rap when they really don’t deserve it.
That night we walked along the Seine taking in the views of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. During the day Paris is a lovely city, but at night is when it looks its best. Everything is shimmering and illuminated and seems even grander than in the daylight.
As we walked the streets I noticed ahead of us three young women who were all dressed ip to hit the town: skirts and boots and scarves, faces made up, hair perfectly coiffed. I caught a glimpse of myself in a darkened store window: no make up, hair approximately the consistency of straw sticking out at all angles underneath a Harry Potter beanie (Ravenclaws rule), big jacket over two other layers of clothing making my upper half seem disproportionately large, convertible pants, hiking boots. I had to laugh.
After taking the train from Paris to Frankfurt and then another to Munich, we had an hour to kill at the Munich train station before getting on our second-to-last train. As previously mentioned, this was the last weekend of Oktoberfest and it was evident even in the train station. I’m assuming the train station isn’t normally swarming with a hundred police officers. Drunk people were everywhere carrying big crates of beer, falling down, singing, crying, or just generally making asses of themselves. Almost all of the male revelers wore lederhosen and the women were dressed like milkmaids and tavern wenches. Giant steins were clutched to people’s chests, ridiculous hats were propped on people’s heads…it was a sight to behold. I noted that some people save all year just so that they can go to Germany for Oktoberfest. Here we were right around the corner from it and we were saying, “No thanks.” We did buy some bratwurst at the station, though.
The Munich-Salzburg express train that we took was packed beyond comprehension almost all the way to our connection. Every seat was taken and people were crammed into the aisles taking up way too much personal space. There was a little girl practically sitting on my lap and a lady who looked as if she had tried very hard to dress like a bat had Adam penned in with her outstretched arms. The very drunk man in the seat in front of us nearly flung himself face first on the floor trying to do some fancy acrobatics on the way back from the bathroom. It was clear that we had made the right decision staying away from Oktoberfest. It really isn’t our kind of shindig.
Right before our arrival to our final destination, I took stock of my German words and phrases and concluded that I could have a conversation even more restrictive than my French one:
Me: Good morning.
German person: Hello.
Me: Is it one?
Me: Is it two?
Me: Is it three?
Me: That is good.
Me: I love you.
G.P.: Thank you.
Me: You’re welcome. I don’t speak German.
G.P.: I speak English.
Me: (In English) Thank God.
G.P.: (Also in English) No kidding. Your German is shit!
4 thoughts on “From Foie Gras to Bratwurst”
I’ve been a faithful reader of your blog, and I love it. I especially like this post since it pretty much reflects my experiences in both Paris and Germany. The Parisians are rarely rude (and when they are, it’s typically deserved), the train from Munich to Salzburg is packed, esp. around festival season, and nearly all Germans speak perfect English. I remember getting to Munich thinking I’d have a chance to try out my German. I was looking for one of the hostels, so I asked a German women walking her dog. She immediately lit up, ignored my ugly attempt at German, started talking to me in perfect English, and proceeded to walk me to the hostel, which was approximately a mile out of her way. Never while in Germany have I ever been able to practice my German.
I’ve also enjoyed reading about all of the relative miseries of your journey. I know that sounds mean, but I mean it in the best possible way. Anyone who has done any real traveling, the extended, homeless variety, knows the type of physical and spiritual endurance involved. The misery of bad weather, the frustration of schedules not your own (the train and plane variety), the dread of not having a place to stay and not being familiar with an area, the utter strangeness of everything. It can be exhausting. You become another person.
Keep posting; we love hearing about your trips and tribulations.
I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Writing it is keeping me occupied on those long train rides. My next post (when I get around to finishing it) will deal further with communicating with the Germans. I don’t mind that you take pleasure in reading about our misery – those are actually the most fun sections to write. We’re off to Denmark (Daneland as my students would call it) and Croatia in the next couple of weeks. We miss you guys!
I haven’t checked in with you in a while. I’ve also had similar experiences in both France and Germany, so your post brings back memories (although you are mistaken, it’s Gryffindors that rule).
While you’re traveling the world, Rachelle, Sabrina, and I will be practicing being trees-with the three of us together constituting a forrest. Just think what you’re missing.