Tuesday, 28 February 2012

First few days!

Ah! What an adventure!
I've been in Paris just over two days now, and so far... adventures abound! From the top...

Security in Calgary was silly, having to unpack everything and take off my shoes -- it took a long long long time to get both back where they belonged! The nine hour flight itself was nothing special, but before I had a few minor heart attacks. First is when they called me to the desk with concerned expressions -- turns out they were just worried I hadn't checked any luggage (which I hadn't), so it was all good. Second was when I went to put my backpack in the carry-on stow-away and the compartment for my row was full. I literally opened and closed it like three times and made exasperated noises and kind of nudged the other bags in confusion. This lady was trying to tell me not to (not sure what language) and her and her friends (all like 40-50 years old) were laughing at me! Not cool! Finally the man in my row (Greek? 60-ish) signalled for me to give him my bag and he put it away for me in another compartment. Signal small waterworks. I thanked him twenty thousand times and then shoved my little bag under the seat in front of me and buckled up right away -- still wearing scarf, jacket, sweater, 2 shirts with jeans and boots. So warm. But I was so nervous about having to find somewhere to store them that I kept them on. The entire flight. I was a sweaty mess.
Lucky for me, I'd snagged the only row on the plane with an empty centre seat, so me and the friendly old man had plenty of space. Then a younger gentlemen decided he would rather sit between a friendly old man and a cute chick than sit beside a baby, so he switched seats there. I was too nervous to say no. We chatted for a good half hour about where we were going (Him: Microchip designer for a phone company going to this major electronics expo for cell phone companies in Barcelona = big deal) and then when food came we basically didn't talk for the whole flight. He was really negative about Europeans, educating the naive little me with his cynicism and wisdom. He fell asleep easily whereas I just kind of tossed and turned uncomfortably (finally haven taken my boots off mmm) the whole flight.

When I had to get up to go the bathroom in the night, I had to get my boots back on my now swollen feet. This was quite the task, and the German man beside me found it hilarious to the point of waking up his female companion and pointing at me to share the sight. I tried to smile and signal, "Oh jeez, what do you do, hey?" and that made them laugh HARDER! Why am I so funny? I actually ended up really liking these guys later.
So... right before the seat belt sign was going to go back on, I busied myself with putting my boots on again (I took them on and off a good four times in this flight -- If I left them on, my feet fell asleep, and I needed to put them back on to go to the bathroom). German guy's eyes shone with excitement as I prepped the laces for 'slipping' the boots back on. They went on super easy this time, and I swear he looked disappointed.
As we were descending I got very excited at the views of London. Noticing my excitement, the German guy pointed at a river and exclaimed, "Look! The Bow River!", and then him and his companion burst into laughter, me along with them.
Landing, the friendly old man beside me grabbed my bag for me before I could even think to grab it myself.

Getting off the plane I bumped into two high school boys I'd briefly met in the waiting terminal back in Calgary. We both had a similar waiting time for our connecting flight in London so we stuck together. One of them had just completed his school exchange in Calgary, and the other (Calgarian) was now tagging along to a boarding school in Copenhagen. They bickered the entire two or so hours about high-school-boy-things. They punctuated bickering with bragging about doing 'bad' things behind their teachers' backs. I did learn that at this boarding school seniors have special rights! Like, they have their own sidewalks, and if you're not in grade 12 and you walk on them, they have the right to beat you up. No joke! Also, only seniors are allowed to wear white pants, and everyone else can't wait to wear white pants. You get made fun of for having non-white pants. Which, to me, is so funny. I couldn't help thinking, "Who washes these white pants!?"

I had a mild panic when the gate for my flight didn't get announced till 20 minutes before the plane was set to leave. It all worked out though, and I bid adieu to my new friends, leaving my facebook link with them. At the to-Paris gate I met a girl from Calgary as well who happened to be on the same flight. Turned out we were also in the same row, but on opposite ends taking up both window seats. After the 45 minute flight from London to Paris, we both got off, excited and terrified, we hung out for a little bit while she got her bags, and then parted ways.

I got lost in the airport on my way to the train station, but only momentarily. I got to the train station, purchased my tickets, went to go through the turnstiles and then -- GASP -- the tickets were rejected. All three that I had bought! I went into a serious panic, tried a good ten times holding the tickets in different ways, etc. Finally I went to information, where there was a sign that said something along the same lines as what the machine had said when it rejected me with an arrow pointing to the ticket office with a lineup.

The ticket office was surrounded by glass. It took me a while to figure out which pane of glass was the sliding door. Picture a scared blond girl with a giant backpack walking up to a window and waiting with a desperate look in her eyes and you will see what everyone else in that train station saw. Finally got up to the ticket window and the guy tells me that the tickets I bought don't work till I'm actually IN Paris, and I am currently OUTSIDE of Paris so I need to take a DIFFERENT train into Paris and then I can use my tickets there. I then purchase a 9E ticket (NINE EUROS BAH!) for the RER which goes to the city. Luckily, Bertrand (the guy I stayed with that night, my sort-of stepsister's sort-of cousin) had given me very specific instructions for the trains so I was good to go from here... SO I THOUGHT!

A crappy picture of the CORRECT metro ticket. See how disheveled it looks? That's from my sweaty, nervous hands folding and re-folding it.

Long story short, I got lost three times and I was trying really hard to act like I knew exactly where I was going so I would not get mugged. It was getting dark! I was afraid! The RER lines have multiple little offshoots so when I thought I was taking line A, turns out I was taking line A4 and I wanted to be on A2. Once I realised this fact, I had already gotten past the point where they are stop at the same stations. So I got off the train, switched directions, went one stop, got off the train, tracked down the right line, got on and breathed a sigh of relief. All that switching took like half an hour. I would just like to point out, if I had done the same screw-up in Calgary, it would have been 3 hours, not 30 mins. Praise the metro!
I finally got to the right station. Bertrand had advised me to borrow someone's cell phone to call him but I was so afraid of everyone at this point that I opted to turn my cellphone from home back on, take the crazy roaming charges, and called him long distance. He was going to be there right away so I followed the crowd out of the train station, took one wrong turn despite this, righted my self, went to exit and there were more turnstiles. I put my ticket through and -- big red X, denied. Confused, I repeated my obviously-not-going-to-work previous attempts of putting the ticket through every which way. I still don't quite know what was going on, I think maybe the ticket timed out? I was on the metro for a good two hours. A girl in front of me had jumped the turnstile so I figured it couldn't be that hard. I looked around to see if the coast was clear, I heard some people coming but couldn't see them so I figured I had time. I did not account for the extra 40 pounds I was carrying. I jumped up and pitched back, catching myself just in time to see the people behind me stop and watch while I clambered over, jumped down, and kept up that nonchalant "I know exactly where I'm going!" walk as I limped (my feet were very swollen at this point) up to the metro exit.
Bertrand picked me up and we got back to his house where I showered (Thank. God. All those layers were sweated through at this point.) and proceeded to play a UFC game on his PlayStation with his friends coaching me in frenglish. Fun times. I couldn't eat anything at Bertrand's cause of my allergies but I slept super well that night, and my feet were not as mangled the next morning.
Bertrand had to get up super early to get his friend to a train station, and so he organised another one of his friends to pick me up and drop me at the train station around noon. The metro was not nearly as menacing in the light of day. I didn't get to have my apartment until 7 pm, and I ended up getting to me arrondissment around 2 pm. I was too afraid to bring all my luggage into a cafe, and I don't trust my french to charm anyone into thinking of me as anything but a tourist at this point. Also, I looked essentially homeless. Despite showering, I was unable to locate my hairbrush without unpacking. I also didn't want to unpack more clothes so I wore a small selection of the clothes from the previous day.
My feet were not as swollen, but they were blistering now and walking on blistered feet for 5 hours having not eaten since the plane ride (gluten free plane food = not bad!) and being under-watered = slow and awful.
I ended up buying some rice cakes and a water from a corner store by my soon-to-be place and I sat down for a good ten minutes at every single bench I encountered. At around 4:30 I located a Monoprix and decided to put up with stares and walked around in there for a while to explore. I bought some cheese (om nom nom) and apples (The most expensive apples in Paris, I'm sure) and planned to make a dinner out of them later.

See? But I was desperate. For four apples in a little carton, 2.50E. Apparently they're organic. I have a flyer to another store with a kg of the same apples for 0.99E... putain.

At around 5:30 I sat on the bench immediately outside my future apartment building and decided that at 6:00 I would check my door code to make sure it worked. 6:00 rolled around, I checked, it worked. 6:15 it started to get chilly with the sun starting to go down so I decided I could wait in the entryway. It was so awkward, but my landlord ended up coming early at 6:30 so I got my apartment early with her!
She showed me the place, and got me set up with everything within 20 minutes and I was ready to go. Unpacking was SO much more fun than packing, but I didn't want to do it 50 times because all I wanted to do was eat my cheese and get in my bed. I had some dinner, met my other landlord briefly (Other = Husband and wife landlords. They gave me a fancy chocolate! I love them!) and went to bed.
I want to write more tonight but no one wants to read a novel on a blog, so I'll update on what today was like another day. Adventures!

This is my view from my window. That white orb in the sky is not the moon, but -- from what I can tell -- a hot air balloon of some kind which is still there now. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

4 Days

BLAAAH! So soon! OK. So what else have I done in prep. It really is absurd how prepared I am considering I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. Every time I complete a task, I somehow end up finding an additional one to replace it so I never really end up making my list shorter! My motivation for chore-like activities is pretty much non-existent. Unless it involves packing, I'm pretty sure I've packed my bags about 20 times. Once I'm there I can't go back and change my mind, so I have to do all the mind-changing now... yes? In the last week and a bit I've been spending as much time as possible with people I like.

I went to a bunch of local theatre shows. A musical by Forte theatre, Jeremy De Bergerac, which one of my old classmates starred in. Super 8, put on by Lunchbox, that two very dear friends wrote together. And Trojan Women at the U of C, directed and acted in by a mass of talented friends. All of them were so good! I've been missing out by working full-time, I wish I'd seen more theatre. Well, guess I know what I'll be doing in Paris!

My to-do list that I've (mostly) completed is as follows (everyone likes lists, right?)
1. Bank stuff (i.e International transfers, making sure all my pins are 4 digits, and not 5 [disaster averted!], making sure my debit account was chequing, not savings, lowering my limit of the credit card I'm leaving at home, let everyone bank-related know that I'm leaving for 6 months, get some cash money.)
2. Secure place to stay (Huzzah!)
3. Get International Youth Travel Card, HI Hostel Membership, French Medic Alert.
4. Purchase Eurail Passes -> 8-trips-in-2-months Benelux/France Pass, Global Unlimited Pass for 3 months (Ow, my bank account hurts.)
5. Pack at least 50 times
6. Break in Doc Martens (Ow, my whole being hurts.)
7. Make 1000 copies of all my might-be-important documents and hide in all sort of fun places in my luggage.
8. Make digital copies of said documents and email to self, store on portable hard-drive (leaving at home), store in flash drive (taking with) and store in encrypted computer file! (I feel like a spy!)
9. Figure out what to do about my phone plan...

OK... This one was just tackled and I need like... a bubble bath now. I cried on the phone to Rogers.  No no. I sobbed on the phone. Positive: I might have gotten a good deal out of it (I don't even know anymore). Negative: I probably now have "Crazy Chick" written on my file, and a recording of my hiccoughing and word-vomiting (To which she gave me the reference number should I want to revisit that experience), eternally stored in their records. Just wait, I'm gonna become some famous actress and then this will come back to haunt me.
I basically talked to the two nicest people first so I was in this lovely mood just chattin' it up. Then I got transferred someone who was probably an OK person, but did not sugar-coat. Management. So I was like, "But but but I'm so NICE!?" and she was like, "NO". Eventually 'negotiated' (i.e. She offered options, I cried back until there was something I liked ... O God, I'm an infant!) the plan down to something less awful, but still not my ideal situation! I'm still spending money on something I'm not using. Which makes me angry. That's like... 15 macaroons a month I could be eating... BUT NO! Rogers chick had other plans. It's personal.
So after we figured it all out, and it really wasn't as much of a disaster as I anticipated. I'm paying something like $22.50 a month so that I don't have to cancel my contract. WHICH IS DUMB, but less than $60.00, so it's an improvement from the disaster that was my previous plan.
The funniest thing about all this, is I had a serious game plan. Like I had all these documents from their website pulled up to quote and be like, "Hey hey, in this clause blah blah blah", but I couldn't stop CRYING long enough to use them! So... good thing my career choice involves tapping into emotions and not negotiating documents.

What's left to do? Well... pack again. At least 3 more times, just for shits and giggles. Figure out Power of Attorney stuff, bank and otherwise. Figure out personal liability insurance. Figure out the process of getting an Orange Card (monthly metro pass). Figure out how to get from the airport to where I'm staying the first night. Actually, figure out the address of where I am staying the first night. Pack again. Cry some more -- In my defence, I am emotionally vulnerable right now! I'm afraid! Ehem. Also, go for drinks, dinners, etc. Watch Midnight in Paris and the Sex and the City series finale episodes. Boom.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

12 Days

Holy Crap! Less than two weeks until I go!

I now officially have an apartment in Paris. I sent my deposit and agency fees today through cyberspace. I sincerely hope this agency is legit and I didn't just throw away a wad of cash. I have a good feeling though, it just seems right. After all the struggle to find a place, and useless anxiety this place just kind of happened. So what's it like? Well, from the brief description and three photos I was sent it looks pretty basic. It's 9m2, the "ceiling' is really just one wall slanted to meet the other a la attic/window alcove. It's contents are as follows: Bed (single), mini fridge, microwave, toaster oven, hot plate, shower, and fancy parquet wood floor. See anything missing? Yea. A toilet. But have no fear! It's just down the hall shared by the rest of the floor! It's like a ... bed and breakfast, yea? Whatever, I am so stoked I don't even care. Plus, a friend pointed out, in an emergency I could always just go in the shower. Paris is going to be SO glamorous!

I've officially chosen my wardrobe for Paris -- BIG decision! -- and it's all packed so that when I start wearing the same clothes for six months they seem exciting and new for at least the first bit. It's evolved a little bit, I did some shopping. Here goes:

What I Think I'm Probably Bringing:

  • 3 Racerbacks
  • 3 T-Shirts
  • 3 Long Sleeve Shirts
  • Black Jersey Dress
  • Black Cardigan
  • Huge Circle Scarf
  • Full Length Denim Wunder Unders
  • Denim 'Boyfriend' Capris
  • Navy Cotton Chino-esque Dress Pants
  • Grey Linen High-waisted Harem-y Capris (SO. RAD.)
  • Skirt
  • Black Opaque Tights
  • Black Cable Knit Thigh High Socks
  • Plaid Blouse
  • 'Cashmere' Crew Neck Pullover
  • 'Leather' Bomber Jacket

I'm pretty sure that's it... There might be more. I kept adding and subtracting and re-adding items over the last couple weeks and since I refuse to unpack it I am not 100% sure what all is in there... SURPRISE! I know I have enough though. I have a good 10 or 12 pairs of socks and a handful or two of underwear thrown into this little compression sac my mom got me. Fun fact: Socks compress a surprising amount once you take them out of the nice organised rolls. 

I also bought a selection of Eurail passes. I was very unsure about Eurail stuff cause everyone was telling me the cheap tickets I could get last minute as a youth and stuff for planes and trains. But considering how much I already am leaving up to chance for this trip, I figured I'd secure that, no matter what, I can always hop on a train and be warm. So for the first bit I got a 8-trips-in-2-months kind of pass for Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and France. Fingers crossed I don't accidentally use all that at once cause I don't understand the system. The other Eurail pass I got is pretty straight forward -- 3 months unlimited anywhere in the Schengen zone. SO STOKED. It's so freakin' expensive though, it took a lot of persuasion to actually spend such a huge chunk of my savings. Together they were just over 1800, which is just bonkers to me. To be fair, the cheapest train tickets I could guarantee via online investigation were around 100 bucks, so if I take 18 trains I'll have done pretty well for myself. ... I'm there for 6 months... I'm pretty sure I'll take at LEAST 18 trains. This week I'm having a little bit of separation anxiety from my hard-earned cash. So much is gone all at once! I have to keep reminding myself that I saved it up for this very purpose. Now the numbers of my account balance are going down instead of up and it's depressing! 

I also ended up deciding on a backpack and a laptop bag as my luggage. Both I can take on board as carry on. The backpack is something like 32 L and the laptop bag is pretty standard. Fun side note, the laptop bag is this HIDEOUS reptilian embossed pleather, and I'm starting to really dig it. 

I still have some consolidation of knickknacks and unnecessaries to do, but I'm feeling pretty good about all this! Besides being in complete denial that I'm leaving soon. Saying goodbye to everyone is not even starting to sink in, either. Bah. Oh look! Panic setting in!