23 September 2011--I have a seven-hour layover at Charles-DeGaulle, which is enough time to catch a train
into Paris for a quick look around. (I've heard it's a pretty interesting place.) I was hoping to be in town
just before sunrise, but the flight is a half-hour late, and it takes an hour to get from plane to train. It doesn't
help that there aren't any signs directing me to the rail station--I'm just following exit signs--and there seems to
be a lot of walking a long way in one direction, turning a corner, and walking a long way in the opposite direction.
CDG remains my most disliked airport. I find the train eventually, and all the nonsense is forgotten forty-five
minutes later when I emerge in Place Saint-Michel, stroll down to the Seine, and catch sight of early morning sunlight
on Notre-Dame's astonishing flying buttresses.
I feel unfettered and alive.
I have two and a half hours to walk around and through Notre-Dame and wander a bit through the Saint-Germain- des-Prés neighborhood. I'm surprised at the scale of things--everything is smaller than I'd pictured, the Seine narrower, Île-de-la-Cité smaller, even Notre-Dame itself less imposing. My preconceptions matter not a whit...I'm in Paris, and it's awesome. I've thought about staying a few days here on previous trips, and haven't ever pulled the trigger. I'm doing the American tour today, running around for a couple of hours, but the point is to get a taste and make a future stay seem possible. Mission accomplished.
I buy a fistful of postcards and go in search of stamps. The local post office is hopeless--I stand around for ten minutes waiting for service, while the clerks are tied up with customers with packages and complicated transactions. There's a machine to buy stamps, but I don't really know what I need for postcards to the US. I'm wasting precious time, and figure I can just as easily send my Paris postcards from the UK. Then it occurs to me to ask at a tabac, and I have my stamps in thirty seconds. Have an espresso and croissant at a sidewalk café while scribbling out a few notes. Then it's back on the train to the airport.
So that was Paris. Been there, done that.
Nod off on the flight--this would have been an ambitious first day even if I hadn't been sick. Land in Birmingham, endure a very long line to get through customs, and catch a train for Northampton. It's an hour's ride, again much of it spent asleep, or nearly so. It was smart to make the rental car booking for tomorrow. Find my guesthouse without much trouble. It's a grossly substandard hole, even compared to what I'm used to, the price I pay for being cheap. I'm used to northern prices--even in Edinburgh, you can get a reasonably decent room for what I paid here. No matter, it's a place to crash, and so I do for an hour or so.
I saunter into town for dinner and pints. Find the Cordwainer, the local Wetherspoon's, and settle in. I've complained a bit about Wetherspoon's in the past--well, not about Wetherspoon's per se, but about my own tendency to spend too many evenings in what is the rough UK equivalent of Applebee's or the like. But like Applebee's, they are generally reliable, and you know what you're going to get. My fellow Americans seem sometimes to be more than a little hung up on that (how did they ever venture into Applebee's in the first place?), and I try not to be that way...but there are times when you just don't want to deal. The first jet-lagged evening away, on the heels of a sinus infection, could easily be one of those times. Besides, I know there will be wi-fi. As well, the Cordwainer is quite a handsome property, and it's possible to sit with your back to the bar and forget that you're in a Wetherspoon's pub at all.
I've managed to find a seat near a power outlet, but I've neglected to bring the plug adapter. I get in an hour online, anyway. I've been nodding off all day, on various trains and planes, and continue to do so, pint in hand, at the Cordwainer and then at a local called the Fish. Hopefully I will feel better tomorrow.