Day 1 Arriving in France!

Day 1- Arriving!

I arrived in Antibes yesterday.  What a long grueling trip to get into my new apartment.  I had tried to pack lightly.  I weighed my suitcase at home after I finished packing- 58 lbs.  Eight pounds over and way too heavy to carry.  Unpacked piles of clothes.  Went through the must have and maybe piles for the 20th time.  Took out all of the maybe items.  53 pounds.  Did a major streamline of all my toiletries.  Took out the shampoo and conditioner I knew I would need and have to spend triple on in France.  Couldn’t get below 51 pounds and finally decided to take another carry-on bag.  Got the suitcase to 48 lbs.  Seemed like a success- was not thinking about hauling around a 48 lb suitcase in and out of buses and trains and up and down the streets of Antibes.

We landed in Paris and I knew I had to make a connection.  We arrived an hour early due to strong tailwinds so I knew I had plenty of time.  But, I decided to find my gate first, make sure everything was in order and then use the bathroom, look around in the shops and get something to eat.  I first found out whether I needed to do anything with my suitcase or if it would automatically continue to Antibes.  I needed to do nothing.  Good.  I walked by some Parisian postcards that caught my eye and stopped by cookiesa patisserie and bought a 2 euro ($2.80) tiny cookie.  I got to my gate and saw it said “Rome”.  Not good.  Hopefully I wasn’t in the wrong terminal because I had had to re-enter security for some reason.   That hadn’t made sense.  I didn’t remember leaving security after getting off the plane, but had to spend 50 minutes in line getting through again.  Maybe everyone had left the secure area after they checked the passports in customs.  Yes, I remember now seeing all the people holding signs with last names.  Now I know that that means unless you’re on your way to baggage claim and leaving, you’re going to have to re-enter security to get where you’re going.

I found a customer service area and they told me that my flight had been changed from Gate 30 to Gate 24.  Not a problem.  Same terminal.  Thank goodness.  My new flats were hurting my feet.  I had even packed a change of flats, and the new ones hurt too.   By now it was a pain to walk even a few steps.  I walked over and saw the people waiting, double checked the boarding time and departure time.  Everything in order.   I had a little over an hour and looked forward to getting something to eat, sitting down, taking off my shoes and firing up my internet.  I needed to see how to get from the train station in Antibes to the rental office where I would pick up my key.  I knew how to get from the Nice airport to the train station.  I had the number of the bus I would need to find.  But once I got off the train in Antibes, I knew nothing.  I felt panicked when I thought of myself standing alone on the platform after the train pulled away and not being able to get Wi-Fi to get on-line to find my directions.  Luckily, now I had time to use the airport Wi-Fi and find the addresses of the rental agency and the apartment and copy onto paper all of my walking directions.  Why was I feeling so nervous?  I guess just being so by myself in a country where I don’t speak the language.  And wondering why I was doing this in the first place.

I saw a delightful snack shop with freshly-baked sweets and quiches and freshly-brewed coffee.  Perfect!   I was so tired from not sleeping on the plane and I looked at my watch- it was the middle of the night at home.  No wonder I felt so sleepy.  I wanted to eat something other than bakery items, knowing I would have some walking ahead of me and needed something nutritious.  I placed a slice of ham and cheese quiche into a flimsy, triangular cardboard container with no covering and ordered a cup of coffee.   Looking forward to relaxing and having this.  I balanced the quiche, covered with a napkin into the top of my carry-on, and holding the coffee with the other hand that was carrying my zipped carry-on, looked for a place to sit in the coffee shop.  I thought better and decided to go to the gate to find a seat, with my coffee swishing every now and then over the top of the little cup.  As paris airportI made my way towards my gate, I saw that everyone was in line and boarding!  What?  I had an hour before boarding!  I went through the gate and realized we were standing in line to get onto a commuter bus to take us to the plane.  Now the coffee would really splash.  I tried to drink it, but I hadn’t gotten the sugar in yet and now I had no extra hands to do it.  It was bitter and hot.  The quiche was starting to stick to the napkin that I had put over it as it was only supposed to be a temporary cover.  This was not my idea of a leisurely breakfast and getting me organized while I had the luxury of having Wi-Fi in the airport.  I took another sip of coffee, put all my bags down, and found the sugar.  I was last in line and everyone moved ahead.  I took two nice gulps of coffee and two pinches of quiche- who knew where my fork was, and then threw the rest of the coffee in the trash before getting on the tram bus.  Everything was so discombobulated and again I wondered why I decided to make this trip.  I still didn’t know why we were being hustled along so much ahead of our departure time.  When I finally got myself and my belongings organized on the tram, I asked a person why we were leaving early.  The language barrier was a problem but they wouldn’t have understood my question even if I had asked in perfect French.  Apparently we were leaving at the correct hour.  Somehow that five hour difference that I was aware of during all my dealings with the French while in the states had turned into a six hour difference.  How could that be?  I can’t figure that one out unless over and over again while making my trip arrangements and communicating with people in France, I was wrong on the time difference.  Which means that I probably unknowingly called some people too early or too late.  I don’t get it.

We left rainy Paris as I remembered that I had forgotten to bring along an umbrella.  Had thought about making sure to bring it, but it never materialized past the thought.  I imagined myself walking for hours with my heavy suitcase and two awkward carry-on bags in the rain, and showing up drenched in the rental office.  Not the look my sister had imagined when she helped me find just the right outfit with flats and the new belt and scarf she had bought me to wear.  She said she wanted me to make a good first impression when I met my first people in Antibes.  Right then I was just glad to be on the plane.  That would’ve been a real mess trying to communicate arranging a new flight and asking about the planned location of my suitcase.

Surprise!  When we landed in Nice, just an hour and half away, the skies were bright blue, the sun was shining and it was a wonderful 82 degrees!  Now I was beginning to remember why I booked this trip!

Locating my luggage was easy.  I found a nice place to sit and pull out my computer and spend the 30 minutes finding and copying the walking directions I would need when I got to Antibes.  And I needed to check my email.  I had been totally out of touch with Bud and my family.  No one had a way to get in touch with me for the last 12 hours since my plane had left Philadelphia.  My Verizon phone doesn’t work here.  No emergency emails in my inbox.  That was a relief.  The baggage area cleared quickly and it felt strange and odd in a lonely way sitting by myself in the huge, empty baggage claim area.  But it was a nice setting to find what I needed and to get all the details straight.

Next, buying my bus ticket and finding bus 99 and platform C was easy.  I used my first required French!  Bus 98 pulled in one platform away and everyone from my platform got up to board that bus!  What???  In fast French I said to a lady leaving “Does bus 98 take you to the train station?”  And I assume in perfect French because she answered in French (but easy to understand obviously) “No, to downtown Nice.”.  Perfect!  I was on the right platform, waiting for the right bus….  But I still don’t understand why all the bus 98 people going to downtown Nice had been waiting on the bus 99 platform.

Train station- easy!  What a relief!  Everything was going as planned.   nice train stationImagine that!  I was beginning to feel a little smug.  And a little French, but more fake it than real.  Close enough.  I got my boarding pass- only 4 Euros, same price as the bus had been.  The bus had gone five miles through the city in 20 minutes.  The train would go 15 miles in 20 minutes.  Much better deal.  The bus trip had actually felt exhilarating!  I was seeing all the things I had seen in pictures over the last few months.  And it looked exactly like the pictures!   Clear, bright, that beautiful sun-drenching sunlight that is so different here than other parts of the world.  Matisse recognized it and so did Picasso.  And Renoir.  At least one of those artists had actually painted the same landscape at different times of day and named it something like “a study of the sunlight”.  It was intriguing.  And now, here I was, bathed in the same beautiful light!  And talking about sunbathing, I was surprised as our bus traveled on the highway alongside the beach that all of Nice appears to be a topless beach!  So odd for me as an American.  Just steps from a busy, city road are numerous topless women.  And everyone acting like nothing is out of the ordinary!  Interesting.

All easy except that ridiculously stuffed, heavy suitcase.  What was I thinking!  As the day wore on, the suitcase got heavier and heavier.  It was almost impossible to lift it in and out of the bus while holding my two carry-ons and protecting the one with all my cash, new mini-computer and digital camera.  The auxiliary, last minute carry-on held my shoes, my hairdryer, a jeans jacket and a thin beach towel I thought I might need.  While maneuvering my suitcase on the train, trying to get it down a small ramp from the doors to the seats an old man decided to tell me exactly how to position it to fit in the width of the ramp.  How irritating.  The width of the suitcase allowed the wheels to barely fit on the ramp which would allow me to wheel it rather than turn it sideways and carry it like he thought I needed to do.  Didn’t he see my hands were full and I didn’t need his telling me to do it his way?  Just like a man- they always think their way is better.  I twisted it around and eventually got the wheels situated right where they needed to be so I could pull it as planned.  One wheel caught the side of the ramp for a second, but a hard tug and it moved to where it would roll.  That simple tug and extra force on that wheel would later cause bigger problems. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to get irritated and disregard the old man’s suggestions.

I was moving forward.  This part of the trip, getting from the Nice airport to inside my apartment was what I worried would be the most stressful.  So many things could go wrong and leave me feeling stranded.  And having to figure out, on my own, what to do.  Not to mention while feeling even further bogged down by all the heavy luggage I decided to bring.

I arrived at the Antibes train station and there were taxis!  Unexpected, but welcome.  I dragged all my stuff over to one and asked in French the cost to go to the address that I had written on a little piece of paper.  He told me in broken English that it would be 10 Euros (calculated by me as $14).  Seemed reasonable to delete the stress over the part of my trip that was the most anxiety-provoking.  But then he said, it was only a short walk, 5 minutes at the most.  He jumped out of his car and pointed to the street I should get on.  Go past the circle and fourth street on the right and there it was!  So simple!  But I did remember thinking that four simple streets could feel like a lot of walking while dragging the suitcase with the carry-on on top of it and the other heavy carry-on over my shoulder.  But, of course I should save the $14.  Why not!  I thanked him with several beaucoups at the end of my merci’s and set off in the direction he told me.  And walked and walked and walked.  And walked.  Finally I took a right before the circle, thinking that I must’ve passed it and hadn’t realized it.  Maybe circles look differently in France.  A block to the right and I now recognize no streets when comparing to my messy, quickly-drawn map in the Nice airport.  And the suitcase is becoming harder to roll.  More like having to drag it.  And then I see what’s causing the sound- the wheel that had been a little stuck on the ramp in the train is now sitting sideways and is ready to break off completely!   And there are no longer any taxis in sight on these small streets.  Oh no.  I try to fix the wheel and position it so it rolls easier, but it’s not good.  And now I walk a block back over to the left.  And then turn right.  Where I had been before but a block further along.  And walk and finally I come upon a circle.  And it’s the right circle, comparing the street signs to my map.  The street signs by the way are those little hand-painted signs posted on the top edge of buildings that the French use.  So cute and so hard to see.  Very hard to locate.  Not all buildings on each corner have a sign and some corners have no signs.  This causes the American dragging the heavy suitcase to become very disgruntled.

Walk, walk, walk.  Sweating, my hands and arms are tired and sore.  And my feet hurt.  And finally, finally after 40 minutes of walking and lugging that stupid, lead-filled suitcase all over the thousand year old streets of Antibes I find the rental agency office.  What a relief!  It feels so nice and cool, a mild 80 degrees inside.  But better than the 90+ in the sun, whose beautiful light turned into a stifling heat with head-aching glare. Wonder if the famous artists were ever bothered by the glare of the sun?   I don’t think the woman (me) who walked into their office was the image that my sister had in mind of how I should appear.  Or maybe I did.  I noticed all day that I must’ve looked somewhat Parisian.  People would ask me questions in French, choosing to talk to me before others around me, I think because I looked like I lived in and was familiar with the area.  Or maybe it was that worried, self-absorbed look that made me look like a French woman.  Who knows?  That and wearing a scarf around my neck in 90 degree heat perhaps.

Marc, my contact guy from the rental agency was very nice, but quickly handed me over to a nice young lady who spoke almost no English.  Not a problem.  We communicated what we needed.  Marc insisted the apartment was VERY close by and even drew two little stars on the local Antibes map to show me how close.  I saw many streets between the two stars, but really had no choice but to begin walking again.  The nice female office worker carried two bags of linens and towels and I dragged myself and my suitcase.  At one point we came to an uphill, cobblestone climb.  She strutted along, and finally I had to do the embarrassing oh-my-god- I’m-getting-old number.  I had to ask her to stop while I rested!!!  How old am I!!!! I never had to do that before.  It was the heat, the exhaustion, the uneasiness from this decision to come to France.  So we stopped for a few seconds.  I pretended that I caught my breath and was surely rested and we continued.  By the time we reached the apartment, my head was pounding and I literally felt sick.  But here I was.  Finally, from Philadelphia, all the way with plane changing, busses, trains into the unknown, and here I was!  At my destination!  Yes!

the corner of my apartment- bottom level

But no… this little, teensy, tiny room surely couldn’t be all there was to the studio apartment pictures I had seen that made me put down my money.  Did the place shrink?  How could a person live in this one room?  And no tv or internet?  The tv was so important to me, that when I couldn’t turn it on shortly after the female from the agency left, I walked back to their office and told them I needed help.,  Marc came and showed me that I had not turned on the power to the power strip.  I had checked every plug and connection to the DVD and tv, making sure everything was plugged in and connected so I wouldn’t appear a fool.  I missed the power strip button.  Yes it had been plugged in, but simply not turned on.  So I did appear the fool.  But that didn’t bother me nearly as much as no tv.  It comes on, but only to run DVD’s.  Todd and Kent forgot to mention that.  The tv is my company.  I wanted the background noise, the connection of live tv news… anything to provide talking and feeling in touch during this time when I’m so by myself.   I’m really disappointed that there’s no tv.  The internet, I knew, but not the tv.  FUCK.  Excuse my French.  Now, I’m thinking maybe I did make a mistake in wanting to come here to think things over and clear my head.  I could’ve chosen Florida or somewhere.  I’m sure there are plenty of nice places in Florida.  Actually, I wanted to get far away.  I knew that that would be part of the catalyst to make me think clearly and would be detached enough so I could really get in touch with myself.  When you’re all by yourself, you learn to depend on and trust yourself.  First few steps in getting your head screwed back on straight.

  • ellie says:

    What an ordeal! I didn’t have a TV in my first apt, my home away from home so many years ago. Maybe it was meant to be… to help you meditate more?
    Sounds as if you are better settled in now.

    How are you trying to meet people? Just think of the many possibilities! How exciting!

  • kelley says:

    I enjoyed day 1,,,
    i think no tv would be exhilarating…

    the language barrier would be the scariest for me

  • Carole says:

    I loved reading every single word…Really good job!!!!!