Monday, April 10, 2017

Anniversary Vacation Notes 2017: Day 10: 2/25: Saturday: Claye-Soilly, France

And on the day after the night before, the sun shone bright. 

It was a long night of bobbing about in the water while the wind drove us in every direction, but by morning we rode on the calmest of seas, under the bluest of skies, greeted by the morning sun rising in the east. Our cruise ended as it began, on a delightfully sunny day in Marseilles.
Travelling light really paid-off when it came time to disembark. While most passengers had to wait for their luggage to be sorted out, we simply carried our few things, walked off the ship, and immediately set about finding our way back to the city and to the Gare St. Charles.

Getting off the ship early would prove to be a bonus. We hopped in the first taxi (the attendant at the stand swore they took credit cards), and we were on our way back to the train station, where we had reserved seats back to Paris. Naturally, when we got to the station the driver balked, and demanded cash. Merde! We paid from our dwindling Euro funds and entered the building.

It’s difficult to plan too tightly when you’re on a cruise. The ships aren’t always on time and sometimes the good people at customs get a little contrary, so we planned post-cruise travel with a lot of cushion. After a little shadow-boxing, maneuvering, and a kindly wave to the front of the line, though, we were able to move up our passage to Paris by several hours.

For the record, the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for "Damn Fast Train") zips along at about 200 mph. The trip from Marseilles to Paris, with a few stops thrown in, takes about three hours -- over the same distance that required overnight passage on the normal train going the other direction. 

We arrived in Gare de Lyon, on the east side of the city, right on schedule. We had come equipped with some semblance of a plan. Though our plane wouldn't depart Charles De Gaulle airport until Sunday morning, we were still in a bit of a rush to get back to Paris. Nope, it wasn't for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or the Mona Lisa. None of that. Our actual destination was the little town of Claye-Soilly.

What does Claye-Soilly have that Paris lacks? It ain't the Carrefour. No, Claye-Soilly provided a chance to get together again with members of my family, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty years.

But we weren’t just dropping in from eight thousand miles away. We had the phone number of one of my cousins, who was expecting our call. All we had to do was dial, say hello, and then let her know what time we expected to arrive at the nearby station of Blanc-Mesnil. 

But it was in the Gare de Lyon that we discovered that making a phone call, via wifi, would be more of a problem than anticipated. It seemed simple enough: Just find wifi access in a major transportation hub. The Gare de Lyon did offer free public wifi, but for some reason it balked at making our phone connection. As if the phone problem wasn’t bad enough, the scamming taxi-driver who had taken most of our change in Marseilles had precipitated an even bigger crisis. The only toilets in the Gare de Lyon were pay toilets. Scrounging and dancing we were eventually able to pull together adequate coinage for a brief visit.

We walked around the station, seeking the best wifi. Eventually we found an area that at least allowed us to dial through. I called my cousin’s number. This time the phone actually rang. 

 “Hello,” she said. 

 “Hello,” I said. Actually, I probably said “Bonjour,” but with my accent who could tell? 

 “Hello?” she said again.

 Zut! She could not hear me! 

 I hung up and re-dialed. Voila! This time she could hear me but I suspect only barely. I could hear her only in little chop-chop phrases. Hoping we’d communicated adequately, we left the main station for the metro. There would be a little train-hopping but it wasn't terribly complicated. Before long, we exited the underground and were on our way to our rendezvous (See how I worked in my entire French vocabulary, there?)

To be truthful the train to le Blanc-Mesnil does not always travel through the best parts of town, and I was concerned that if my message had not been understood, we could be walking around a long time looking for wifi or telephone access. 

Luckily, those concerns turned out to be unfounded. We were met at the top of the platform by mes cousins I**** and B****.  

I have to admit, this meeting had me a little worried, mostly because I believe I suffer from a condition known as prosopagnosia, sometimes simply referred to as stupid. But again, my concerns were unfounded. I knew I**** and B**** immediately. It was though only twenty minutes had passed, not twenty years.

 After taking care of a little bit of business, I**** and B**** drove us to their home. We met their son for the first time, and he turned out to one of those spectacular teenagers who gives you hope for the future of humanity. Eventually other family members arrived and we sat at the dinner table enjoying the several courses of a memorable French meal, a little bit of wine, and a little bit of champagne. We talked a bit about the past and of the present. We even speculated some about the future. We talked about those not with us, and the possibility of owning a tiny little property out in the countryside—in a castle, of course. Too soon, and as always without not enough warning, the night came to an end.

 My wife and I were prepared for anything for the evening: a couple of lawn chairs, a corner to crawl up in, these would all have been fine.

 However, our French family had found us a room at the inn. (Ha, ha, Inn. It was a great hotel, brand new and near the airport.) After everyone had departed for the evening, I*** and B*** drove us to the hotel, where we bid each other fond adieus, and the evening was complete.

 It’s funny. There were so many fantastic things we saw and did on this trip. It was the first time we had seen Genova, Palermo, Malta, and Barcelona. We’d never seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I still feel bad about missing our lunch date with the Pope, but we never actually told him we were coming anyway. But in spite of all the undeniably great stuff that happened, our fondest memory of this trip is the evening we spent in Claye-Soilly. 

After a short rest in a wide bed, followed by a hot shower in the morning, our anniversary vacation would be over.

Sunday morning, we took the hotel shuttle to Charles De Gaulle airport. I guess anytime you can say that a flight was unmemorable that means you had a good flight. We arrived in Philadelphia with a four-hour layover. I had hoped that the long layover would allow us to shoot over to New Jersey for a quick hello, but after customs, and the time it would take to check out and then back in, plus the time to get a rental car and then drive, even in light traffic—all of a sudden four hours was not as much time as it once seemed.

 After a seriously disappointing airport-quality Geno’s cheese-steak, we made our connecting flight to Seattle. Another smooth, albeit packed-in-like-sardines, flight, and we arrived in Seattle a little after 10:00 pm.  Our daughter picked us up at SeaTac airport and we rode home, tired, grateful, and full of grandiose ideas about our next adventure!