Sunday, September 18, 2011

France, continued... A Sweet Reunion

The day after I arrived in France, I woke up EARLY to catch the high speed train to Paris so I could pick up Brad from the airport and ride back to Vitry le Francois with him in his rental car. I headed out at 6 AM and walked the mile to the train station, ducking into the boulangerie to buy a still-warm pain au chocolate for my breakfast. I arrived at the train station 30 minutes before my train, asked to buy a ticket in halting French...and then my credit card didn't work.
I quickly called the bank, and it was a compatibility issue--European credit cards use a micro chip and a pin instead of a magnetic strip that is swiped, and although most merchants are equipped to handle both types of cards, the train station wasn't. No ATM in sight, they can't just type in the number, and my train is now leaving in 10 minutes. I'm so disappointed and frantic, because I have no way of reaching Brad (I have his cell phone, and he doesn't have my French cell number to call me from another phone), he's expecting me at the airport, and there is no way I can drive to Paris and arrive in time-I was going to take a 198 mph train, which would get me there in a little over an hour, versus the 3 hours it would take to drive. Just then, the ONE English speaking employee they had, who had been translating for me, says "You come with me, my friend is the conductor on that train, we ask her if you can ride for free." He walks me out to the platform, asks his friend, and she says, "Sure" and tucks me into a second class cabin (which she conveniently skipped when it came time to collect tickets). So my day was saved by a guardian angel, dressed as a gallant Frenchman.
Later that morning, I arrived in Paris, then had to walk a half-mile to the metro station, where I would take a subway to the airport. After about 10 minutes of carefully watching the Parisians and trying to figure out the metro system, I hopped on board a subway...and then dashed off just in the nick of time when I realized I was on the wrong train! I grabbed the correct ride a minute later and was on my way. The metro system was awesome and so easy to use after that first blunder-once I figured out the system, I loved it and used it often on my Parisian forays.
I arrived at the airport just in time to see Brad walk out of baggage claim and customs. It was a sweet reunion, but brief since he was accompanied by 4 other Army guys. We headed off to collect his rental car, then coordinated with the rest of the guys to head over to the shopping center I had blundered my way to the day prior, so the guys could pick up SIM cards for their cell phones. After a hilarious conversation in the cell phone store with a college-aged French girl who spoke fantastic English about the TV show Glee (which is where said girl learned most of her English, including plenty of slang that cracked me up), we decided to quickly grab food at the mall, since the guys had limited time before they had to report in at the French military camp that was hours away. So, my second meal in Paris was, once again, in the mall. Seriously.
But wait, it isn't as bad as it sounds, because in the middle of the mall was an area of tables, with cloth linens on the table and vases with flowers. They had a prix fixe menu that included a glass of wine, duck confit and potatoes with a salad, and an apple tart for dessert, followed by espresso for 13€. We gave it a shot, not expecting much since it was mall food...and seriously, the best duck I've ever had. In. The. Mall. I freakin' love France.
After gorging ourselves and resolving to learn how to make duck confit at home, we hit the road. And the jet lag hit me. Hard. I'm sure the wine and duck and dessert didn't help matters much, but no matter how much I fought it, I kept falling asleep sitting up, sometimes even mid-sentence. Brad kept telling me to take a nap, I kept saying no, I didn't want to waste our time together slee...zzzzzzzzz.
When I fell asleep while protesting, I decided to go ahead and lay back and snooze. We arrived in Vitry a little later, where I was able to...er, properly welcome my husband, ahem. Then he headed off to work, I napped off the remainder of the jet lag, and we met back in town for dinner and a stroll around the square. It was such a wonderful time, walking through this quaint French town hand-in-hand, finally able to talk about all the things we'd missed out on over the past 4 months. It was a little slice of heaven in the midst of a dark year, and I was (and am) so grateful for every moment we had together.

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