We arrive at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, which is one of 3 airports, but the only one I’ve ever seen. We easily make our way out of there, but we wound up taking a cab because of a problem just getting to the subway system. We go to our hotel straight away so we can drop off our bags and make our way around. It’s 9:00AM Paris time, and we can’t check in until 9:00PM. After the drop off, we wind up being all of a few paces from a Metro stop. I have a theory that you can get anywhere in Paris in no more than 2 subway trains. This is no exception and we decide to see the Eiffel Tower first. It’s symbolic of Paris in every way, and being from Ohio Brandy brings up the KING’s ISLAND 1/3rd scale Eiffel Tower. Once you see the real one, you find the Cincinnati replica kind of silly and for me, in bad taste. This proved true yet again. Once we got street level near the military school, it was freezing and raining. We stopped into a cafe to wait it out a little. One of the joys of Paris is just chilling in a cafe to talk & people watch. We did this well since Brandy was still very sick and on the flight over my sniffling became a full on runny nose. We hobbled our way over to the park just east of the Eiffel Tower and slowly approached the iron giant. After marveling and also deciding NOT to stay in the freezing cold wind with drizzle, we moved on up the hill to the west of the tower and again stared at the city from the hill. I had told Brandy many times about this place and the view from here. Brandy has never been to Europe before, aside from England. She also studied French since high school and she used everything she had remembered. Lots of “uhs” and “argh”, but basically she did a far better job than I ever could. We made our way to the nearest metro stop and headed back to the hotel since it was nearing 2:00PM and all we could both think about was sleep.
The flight over was pretty sleepless, which was odd because our flight was only half full. The snowstorms of the week before cancelled all flights leading up to ours to and from anywhere on the eastern seaboard. We got very lucky and we managed to get on each flight and pass many disgruntled travelers. Once on the final leg, the 7.5 hour flight from Philly, I was intending to sleep as much as I could. I stayed up late the night before and was hoping this would adjust my body clock. Instead, I could barely sleep and when I did it was horrendously discomforting. I was starting to contract Brandy’s virus and maybe biologically something changes in you that prevents sleep in less comfortable situations, but I was having very little sleep. One cool new thing – video on demand for the little LCD screens in each seat back.
Now that we made it to the hotel dragging horribly, we both took showers and then passed out by 2:15PM. I was thinking we’d take a nap, then go to dinner. When my Brandy-Weasel is hungry, feed it. Her stomach has no tolerance for slackers or humor. Feed the Brandy or beware. Sometimes her tummy says things the Brandy’s brain does not mean when it hasn’t been fed. I learned this years ago. Of course, what no one could predict was that our mutual lack of sleep and now recent tiring from a simple jaunt would wipe us both out. The next thing I know it’s 12:Noon the next day and the maid is trying to see if we want things changed. We slept for nearly 22 hours.
This day, we trod out and make our way to the Louvre. This is my favorite museum on the planet. It’s got a lot to see and it’s set in an old French palace, but with a very modern, controversial glass pyramid out front that still causes a ruckus with locals. We go in and I remember where everything is, except the Mona Lisa has been moved to a new wing in 2003. It’s more visible, easier access, and interestingly appears bigger than it used to. It used to be behind several inches of bullet proof glass in a side wall. It appeared to be no bigger than an 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. It looks bigger now, but it’s still behind bullet proof glass.
I was now under the full sway of the virus and Brandy was better, but not 100% either. We made our way around a few places that I love so dearly. We hear an announcement and find out that we only have 1.5 hours before closing. I pick up the pace and we move quickly to the Greek statues where I have planned for 2 whole weeks to make my proposal of marriage to Brandy. She has no idea what is in store and loves the two enclosed courtyards with their natural light and the larger than life marble statues.
I get down on one knee. She asks me to stop, but I say no. I ask the basic question and she has this look on her face like I’m confessing to a crime. Before it gets ugly, I start in on the whole pitch as I knew it. Brandy is complex and unique. I know everyone thinks everyone else is unique and that is true, but no one on the planet has a CLUE just how odd and unique Brandy is. Some people think outside of the box, well Brandy’s not even in the freakin’ WAREHOUSE. I have to let her know what I mean by marriage, I have to let her know I have an equal disdain for formalities. I don’t want a church wedding. I don’t want anything remotely traditional, and I don’t want the core of our relationship to change. We have no expectations and we aren’t setting a date. I gave her the ring and she said yes.
Then they kicked us out of the Louvre when they closed. Next up was the Arc De Triumph down the street. A simple subway stop and we walk smack dab into a Veteran’s day parade at the Arc. Brandy takes some more pictures and we move on down one of the district’s streets. Another early night because it starts to rain again and we needed some alone time now.
We are taking a night train this night, so it’s a light day of sightseeing before getting on board. We go to Notre Dame and for the first time, I set foot inside it. A marvel of ancient medieval architecture, seeing the site makes me also think that perhaps Christianity has too much arrogance and spectacle. Brandy wants to see another church called Sacre Cour, or Sacred Heart. We find our way up a very large hill and windy streets from the back. We find a bunch of old men playing a game with metal balls, then walk through a park to another enormous structure. When we round the corner to the front, we are taken aback by the view of paris from this distance and hill. You could see everything from there in a panoramic view all around. The church interior does not disappoint either with all it’s history and design. Rarely am I moved by these things, but it was impressive.
I have taken many Eurorail night trains to get to my destinations. It’s a great way to travel and I love it. It also saves one night’s hotel expenses. We initially find a seat and nestle in. I even fall asleep quickly next to an African woman and a Frenchman that smoked like a chimney. Of course there is a downside to a Eurorail Pass. Of course we’d experience it. The flaw is that you are taking a back seat to people with reservations and a non-pass regular ticket for that train. In the case of this particular train, it means you take NO SEAT because there are none. We got bumped 1-2 stops later when people with reserved seating came in. We wind up sitting on the floor in the luggage section. Things are tense for a few moments, but we relax into it. It’s not a big deal. Two hours later, a seat opens up in the cafe cart and I listen to my trusty MP3’s for a bit. A guy from Germany reads my hat and asks me if I make movies on the Internet. He recognized the name SONNYBOO, thus making it official; I spend too much time online. I then go back to find the lovely Brandy surrounded by no less than 5 young men also displaced and hitting on her like she was a super model.
One of the guys has a laptop out & playing tunes from Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Marvin Gaye. I feel like I found Kindred spirits. We start to talk, as most people are supposed to on long train trips. We discuss politics first, as this is a necessity when you tell anyone in the outside world you are an American. Yes, we hate George W. Bush, No, we do NOT like what is happening in Iraq and don’t believe our government has a clue. I believe the same thing as most Europeans which is that we had no business going into Iraq and that this war has devolved into a mess that warrants a pullout. Finding a group of older college kids en route to Berlin for a mock-Parliament event made for a long, fun night of discussion. Two of the guys were Iranians displaced and living in Belgium for several years. They were not outcast by their peers and had a sharp intellect. I was impressed in every way with them, not the least of which was their open mindedness of life and the world, but also by their maturity.
We talked about pop culture, music & movies. We all agreed the new Casino Royale was a great way to reboot the James Bond franchise. Justin Timberlake is viewed as a Michael Jackson wannabe even in Europe, and the Beatles will be timeless and relevant forever. As the night went on, we eventually moved on from baggage area to the cafe cart where seats had opened up when they stopped serving. The train trip was from 9:37PM and arriving at 8:46AM, so sitting on the hard floor for 6+ hours started to really really hurt. Once we all had proper chairs to sit in, some people joined and or left. This is what rocks about traveling by train and also by a bit of vagabond traveling. I love meeting people this way and learned this way of life when I first traveled to Europe 10 years ago.
I told the story of my first trip to Europe and was met with laughter, thankfully intentional. I asked a lot about everyone’s history and perspectives on life in Europe. Each country here has so much history and pride, and it’s all different from one another. Their proximity breeds better friendships and respect. American seems so self contained and isolated because of the oceans and just the way the chips fell in terms of economy and politics. By the early AM hours, it was just Brandy, me and the two Iranian brothers. By some fluke, they asked me if I liked to read, and then if I liked J.R.R. Tolkien. I didn’t say anything, but pulled my paperback of THE BOOK OF LOST TALES from my coat pocket. I had found this treasure of unfinished writings at Half Priced Books before we left. I spent several years awaiting this book to be on paperback and then at the used bookstore. The older brother said that was one of the only books he had not read yet. I was only 12 pages in. We shared a mutual love for The Silmarillion, all of our favorite book. We discussed several of the stories and characters in detail.
Eventually the cafe cart re-opened for breakfast & we got booted from our only seats. By this time, we found enough actual seats that we all squeezed into a car and passed out for the final 2 hours of the journey. Once we got into the Berlin station, we parted ways, as many of these travels and chance meetings do. I shook hands with them all individually, and then I handed my Tolkien book to the Iranian. He said it was too much, but I insisted. I can always get it again sometime. It meant too much to me to not give them something. I can’t explain it, but random selfless acts sometimes come back in the karmic greatness and you just do it when you feel compelled. I made him promise to share it with his little brother.
A long 4 hours waiting for the train to Warsaw Poland from Berlin. It seemed longer because it was cold and we needed a lot more sleep. Once on the train to Poland, it was really easy for me to pass out. I slept for hours. I needed it. English becomes less and less prevalent the further east you go. I have never had any real trouble getting around without any other languages, but it’s different going to a former eastern block, communist country. Lucky for us, Brandy got a tour guide package and they are picking us up at the train station.
We got off the train and for 5 very long minutes we wait. A stranger asks us if we need accommodations, Brandy says yes, then I remind her that we already have them, and she says “Oh yeah…” and he wanders off. Then a young, chipper happy blonde guy carrying a sign that says “Brandy Seymour” walks up to us and escorts us to a Mercedes that carts us to the hotel. We order room service and munch on chocolate ice cream and french fries along with gourmet food stylings and dressings from the East. Again, I sleep like a log before starting a tour of Warsaw the next day.
I had a realization that part of who I am today was greatly shaped by my travels over the last decade. My world views were expanded; my ideals about people from places other than American have been opened. I was asked several times by several people here this trip what I thought of the differences between American and Europe. Sadly I barely notice the “differences”, as I am looking at things with a broader view in life now. I don’t think most Americans would agree with me. Most people I know in the U.S. would think they are having the most unique wedding because they chose the blue flower arrangements rather than the pink carnations on the tables at the reception, or that they have such a unique and interesting point of view because they had the DJ play “We Are Family” after the traditional “Chicken Dance”. I think I hate some Americans more than Europeans do. Anyway, my point to them, and now you, is this – People are people no matter where you live. There are idiots and morons in Europe, African, Australia, Asia, as well as the plethora we have in the United States (and our government).
One thing that gives me hope is that when two Americans like ourselves are embraced by Persians, Asians, and Europeans without hesitation and with such a mutual respect between us all – I have faith in humanity, albeit for a brief time. More on this wonderful adventure when I get more time & sleep. Still not caught up and a bit woozy.
Peace & love with good happiness stuff,
Peter John Ross