Tours, France

Thursday, March 19th
I figured the day would be pretty low key, with a few errands, training and the hope of getting adjusted. So much for that idea. Training happened, and resulted in a nice gash on my septum (really, that is an injury that only I can manage) from my training partner’s gi. No adjustment, but I did snag my “Speakeasy” shoes, stopped by the bank, and got a call from the ex-boss. It was hard to avoid texting back with, “I’ll answer your question when you return the stuff you stole and pay me $1500.”

By the time I got to Ryan’s house I realized, “Oh look, I don’t have my MARTA breeze card.” Which meant, $1.75 for the bus (and yes, the signs do say you can carry weapons with the proper license) to the train station, $2.25 for reloadable breeze ticket for the train to my Accountant’s office (with that said, it’s not fair that he’s hot, and Russian) and oh look….that reloadable card, isn’t reloadable! So, another $2.25 for the train to the airport. Go MARTA, you really make me think it’s in my best interest to shell out for a taxi. No wonder you’re not making money.

Anyway, got to the airport, where it proudly displays that you cannot carry a weapon, in any manner (read packed in your luggage or otherwise) on airport grounds. Almost made me want to walk to the side while loudly proclaiming I was going to pack my gun in my suitcase, as required by the FAA, just to push some buttons and see what happened. But I was too hungry and pissed off at MARTA, but did take the time to find out that the second Breeze ticket was also non-reloadable. So, off to Wendy’s where I got to sit and watch new Army recruits standing in line and waiting for the orders from their handling officers to force them to run through the baggage claim area. It was cute. Then off to the security lines. It seems Atlanta has decided to invest in the x-ray machine that turns air travel into potential porn fodder. I noticed no one was opting for that route. I think it’s more comforting knowing that someone can get into trouble for a misplaced hand, vs what they might be doing in that secluded room with your x-rays.

Timed the trip properly, as I got to the gate shortly before boarding, only to forget my water bottle at the seat in the waiting lounge. The 1st officer had to go up to the counter anyway, so I got escorted to the lounge to retrieve it. For once, I got to sit next to a stranger who was worth talking to, and provided very enlightening conversation. She’s a missionary on her way to Ukraine, who also does graphic design and teaching. Was quite thought provoking to have the conversation we had about life, politics and religion.

It’s currently 1.10AM in Atlanta, and I haven’t gotten much sleep, I’m expecting to be sleeping on the train from Paris to Tours, if I can’t get a nap in before Julien, Amanda & Co. meet me at the train station.

At least my nose has stopped bleeding and leaking fluids.

Friday, March 20th
I’ve landed, hot military guys with rifles I’ve never played with….Well, that’s after the headache that was finding my way around and getting my subway tickets taken care of. But all is good, nose is still not bleeding, but is sore. My phone works, so if you have my danish number you can call me. The coolest thing was going through customs with my GB shirt on, and the customs guy asking, “So, are you here to fight?” Bonus points!!!!

Riding the subway was interesting, particularly some of the buildings that screamed “pretentious architect!!!” But I found out my Danish phone works, so score on that one, too. Once I was at Montparnasse, finding the train station was fun. I tried following Julien’s directions, but he kinda failed to note that the signs were in specific places….like 3 stories up. Which, was ok, as I still had time and he hadn’t called me yet. When he did, it was right before I ran into him, since he was looking too hard to find me, right as he was looking over my head and about to run into me. *giggles*

The 4 of us had fun on the train, business as usual and us getting looks from everyone in our car…oops! Not my fault we can all appreciate the unconventional humour. The fun really began once we were in Tours. The Julien family met us at the train station, to get us to our hotel. They are awesome, even though they’re not very good with the English, I was able to at least understand what they were saying, even if a conversation was out of the picture.

Now about dinner…

We went to one of Julien’s favourite restaurants, drank too much wine, had too much good food and I even tried some Patè, wasn’t too bad. Dinner was awesome, I had a flank steak with some kind of shallot sauce. Our end drank up both wine bottles, as I made a point to drink the Bordeaux.

Saturday, March 21st
Ohhhhhh gods it’s too early!!!!! Up by 8AM to head out with Julien & co. for a trip to two local castles (Chenonceau and Amboise). They were beautiful, and our guides were speedy and full of knowledge. I spent most of the time looking at the way the houses are built and the different styles, as well as the country-side, to fully listen to what the guide driving Alicia, Julien, Amanda and me. Once at the castles, I was immersed. Spending too much time growing up listening to British monarch history had me trying to wrap my head around the time frame for the history of the two we went to visit. Took a while, but by the time we headed for lunch, I think I had it managed.

Right now I’m sitting with Alicia in the hotel room, painting my nails and waiting for dinner. It’s a schmancy party tonight, so we have to get dressed up. I need to get used to the fact that coffee doesn’t come in an 8oz cup, which is ok for meals, since I don’t drink that much while eating. But it would be nice for relaxing to have a bigger cup with more liquid in it.

Oh, wow….now, love the Danes and the Norwegians, but I think the Tourisians totally blew them out of the water on partying. Least, this time around. The DJ really needed the mic shoved somewhere, and needed to quit changing songs, but much wine, good food, great friends and a few traditional songs made things all better. Alicia and I were able to meet Julien, the other member of the “boys” club for Frogleg’s wedding. We got to practice our minimal French, but managed to have little trouble at all. I think we got home, sometime around 3AM. I do have to admit, it was fun, even the disco.

I don’t recall, off-hand what the dinner consisted of, but I made a point to try a little bit of everything, except the fruit salad. That is, unfortunately, something that does not improve with a culture change.

Sunday, March 22nd
Mmmmmmm, sleeping in. Well, not so much. Today is the luncheon for the family at a reception building.

It took a bit, but I finally managed some coffee in my system. Then doubled up after finding out that I didn’t need the instant coffee. As the afternoon wore on, there was much drinking to be had, with Lynnette, Amanda’s sister, being the official wine bottle opener. I managed one, after Veronique – family friend of Julien – kept taking aim and Julien Deux and me. Alicia missed the attempts and didn’t realize I was purposefully aiming at Veronique. As always, it was much fun. Actually managed to get some conversation out of Julien Deux and practice some more of my French. The luncheon lasted around 6 hours, with Jean-Paul driving me home, with Janice and Max.

Alicia and I hung out in our room for a bit, getting some internet action in, then the alcohol sleep kicked in for her, and my lack of sleep started kicking in.

Thankfully, around then, it was time to head downstairs to be picked up for dinner. We went to the Taverne Hoffbrau, that specialized in Alsace-Lorraine cuisine. It was quite tasty. I got something that looked about like a hamburger with Bleu cheese sauce. Now, I’m not a fan of Bleu Cheese anything, but this was quite yummy and ended up being made fun of, for scraping out the dish with my fries.

2 hours and much French later, we are back in our room. And we get to sleep in tomorrow.

Monday, March 23rd
Heh, we kinda got to sleep in today. 🙂 Got a phone call, around 11.30 informing me it was past checkout time. No big deal, packed up and deposited the suitcases at the front desk, then off to find lunch/breakfast.

We opted to walk in the other direction for food, from where we had normally gone. We found a cafe, I snagged an omlette and Alicia chose a crepe. The entertainment was the World Curling Championship. It was nice to start out with the Biathalon, but the quick change to curling led to a very boring lunch. But at least the food was tasty.

Back at the hotel, we decided to get our internet fix for a bit, then read for a bit and wait for Joel(?) to come get us. Alicia found that the hotel could send her postcards, so we didn’t have to leave, at all. Thankfully, it only took a couple of hours before it was time to head to the train station.

Instead of taking the route we took from Paris to Tours, we took the train to Brussels. Poor Alicia, she had to suffer the pay toilette at the station, which apparently left a foul scent in her nose. 🙂 Joel and I managed a small conversation, thankfully he was patient with my infinitives and at least got what I was trying to say. Julien and Amanda arrived not too long after, so we were able to sit and chat with them and Julien’s parents. They are wonderful folks, and I totally understand Julien now. I am going to miss them, and hope we can all come back again in a year or two, for another visit. Julien’s mom and I have the running joke of “à bientôt!” So that was our goodbye, instead of the usual au revoir.

The train was pretty mundane, not as lively a conversation as the ride to Tours, but all of us were on sleep deprivation, with Amanda and Julien nodding off occasionally. I managed to stay awake, so I could stare in awe of the windmill farms (which is a rant for my personal blog). Have I mentioned I want to live somewhere that has one close to my house? In the backyard, preferably. Anyway, we got to see the lights for the parking lot of Eurodisney, Julien says it’s another trip, so my fingers are crossed.

We arrived at CDG and hopped the rail shuttle to our hotel, the restaurant smelled amazing, as usual. So we checked in, with a little of trouble due to Alicia’s reservation being at another location and not the airport hotel, somehow. But that was quickly resolved, up to our dormroom with the bathroom that was small enough for me to constantly be bumping into something and causing laughter from Alicia. I had fun playing with the radio, which was in reach from the toilet. Confused Alicia, but it was still fun. After Alicia got her stuff situated, we headed down to meet Julien and Amanda at the restaurant downstairs. I had some Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce, followed by a brownie with ice cream. Julien and I had fun with the parmesan dish, since it was fun to figure out how to open it. Alicia missed my explanation of the cream decanter, in that it had more hot water in it, prior to my putting my tea bag in that, for additional tea. So when I poured it into my cup, her look caused Amanda and me to collapse into a giggle fit that wouldn’t stop.

After dinner, we all retired up to Alicia’s and my room, so that I could repack and include one of Julien’s hard drives. As well as some minor details for Julien and Amanda from Alicia. Apparently, the internet connection was only for one person, so I let Alicia have it because I was about to just fall asleep. Which, I did.

Tuesday, March 24th
No sleeping in, but I’m oddly not feeling the need to keep going back to sleep. Since I skipped the shower, I hopped online to check things. Apparently, FaceBook is causing me issues, but at least I got to see what was there. Couldn’t answer any of it, but oh well.

After Alicia got ready we both headed back to the airport. I was hoping to check-in to an earlier flight, but I ended up with the new employee and was not about to attempt to ask. So after I snagged my ticket, we got Alicia hers and headed to the security lines where we ended up saying our good-byes, as she needed to head off to the security lines for her gate.

This is where I’m going to rant….As a citizen, I pay my government to provide jobs for people, to ensure my security at my airport. It never fails, I can leave Atlanta with anything I wish to leave with (in this case toothpaste) and I never fail to not make it through security at another airport with it. I don’t know if this is the result of laziness, from the employees, or what to chalk it up to. As much as I hate the wide discretion of some airports (like having my multi-tool that was within specs confiscated) I would rather that, than the consistency of failure. Security, my ass. Back to the story….

Getting through security was kind of a PITA, as my special toothpaste was confiscated because the tube was 4oz. Then stuck in a line because there was a photographer ahead of me, with all his equipment in two carry-ons, that had to be unloaded. Once through, I had to go through the personal “you’re here too early, so you must be up to something” check. Wasn’t all that bad, since the guys were pretty cool and we chatted about my favourite cities and what Atlanta was like and how I enjoyed my visit. After getting through that, I headed to my gate, where I snagged some vanilla yogurt (homemade and even more yummy) and a latte. Found me an outlet that worked, plugged in and hopped online, where I found that FaceBook was not in my future. But that was ok, as I had work to do (yay for tax write-offs!).

As of current, I am sitting and listening to podcasts, waiting for my flight. According to my phone, we begin boarding in 30min.

Flight was uneventful, outside of my original seatmate deciding to move across the aisle so she could sit with her friend, then staring at me the entire flight for taking advantage of having no seatmate. I don’t get it. Managed to sleep, a little, but not nearly enough.

The arrival was uneventful, but I was doing the “I need sleep” stare. Headed to the CBP checkpoint, all is good, make it through. Pick up my bag and head through the second checkpoint. Next thing I know I’m being hurried off to another room by a guard who won’t answer my question: “What is going on?” Thankfully, I get there to be told, it’s a secondary check and I’m done, so head on to the next checkpoint. No problem – oh wait, where are the signs? I follow people, some guy tells me to dump my bag on a conveyor belt that says, “passenger re-check-in” so I ask the guy checking the bags if mine will be rechecked, before I dump my bag off. Does he answer? No, I’m told my bag will be at carousel 2. What happened to “yes or no?” So I walk off, only to get, “Miss! Did you hear me?” I turn around and said, “yes” and turn back and keep walking. Next checkpoint, I forgot about my water bottle due to trying to focus on one too many things (would help had there been a sign, but again, no signs). So I get through security to have a guy tell me I have to dump my water out – in the bin on the other side of checkpoint. My patience wore out about right then, because I reached for the bottle, he refused to give it to me and then walked out to the bin. Did he dump it? No, I had to walk out and dump it myself, then sit in line again to get back through the metal detectors, while my bags sit unattended on the other side. Not exactly making for a happy Lara, particularly as I much prefer the polite and helpful European counterparts. Have I mentioned that JFK has better security processes? Now that is sad. So my 30min trip through customs took longer and I had to interact with more folks than I cared to speak with. I swear, Atlanta has little concept of customer service. My bags arrived pretty quickly at the next carousel and so did Ryan. So off to his house for dinner and BSG.

As always, I greatly enjoy my trips out of the country. It gives me a chance to try new foods and break out of my perspective and experience things from another direction and gain some space from whatever stress I’m dealing with at home. I also meet new people and force myself into a new comfort zone. This time around was nice, because I was forced to use a foreign language. My normal reason behind not speaking fluently, is because of – not only lack of fluent practice – fear of saying something wrong and not being “perfect”. I’ll definitely be listening to my lessons before April, as Julien Deux is much better at writing English than he is with speaking it. It also furthers my conclusion that the US foreign language education fails its students, in the fact that it comes no where near close to allowing for fluency due to its focus on reading and writing. I believe that is changing, however, but only with Spanish.

On the political front, I am also becoming even more disheartened by America, not in that I want to see her become more European in governance, but that I would like to see her get back to her foundation. I don’t believe European governance, however greener it may seem, is the answer to our woes. Our problem, is that we’ve clouded ourselves with too much, because we refuse to be content with little else but the idea that “more is better”. Our freedom is what made us great in the first place, and our inability to moderate things properly is what will be our downfall. And the current choice in method of moderation is what will eventually kill us.

Socially, well, obviously I prefer the less-repressed Europe….more specifically, the less Protestant repression of the States. That’s not to say that Europe doesn’t have her own problems, but it is nice to deal with “other” problems instead of constantly having the same issues thrown at you all the time. Makes me wonder why some people bother to go through life instead of just slitting their wrists. I’m definitely tired of focusing on negatives, which America is so well at doing. Or maybe I’m just paying attention to wrong people….

As for the US return issues, I’m making a point to have JFK as my port of entry from here on out. Their process is much simpler and easy to follow, Atlanta is….well, like Atlanta. Nothing is as simple as it should be, it’s always complicated in some manner and requires more than necessary steps. By far, they are not the pros that the process is in NYC.

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