I woke up at 6 without much trouble. All of my stuff was packed, except my loofa which I forgot, so it took little effort to exit my front door into the still dark Parmesan morning. I got the train station very early (it’s a 7 minute walk from my house) and waited at the appropriate track for my 7:05 train. The Parma train station is under construction so there are few signs indicating which train is arriving and since there are few tracks in service it necessitates that many trains arrive on few tracks in quick succession. There is an announcer who explains which train is in arrival, but of course I was listening to my iPod and did not hear him. A train rolled up at 7 and I flat out assumed it was mine and got onto it. After the first stop when I noticed that the sign on the stops outside told everyone that my train was heading for somewhere other than Milano Centrale I began to fret. I saw some Milan stops on the list of stops so I asked the girl across from me if this was the train to Milan. She at first said no so I went to grab my bag and get off, but then she asked where in Milan and I said Centrale. She said this train was fine, so I relaxed figuring I was misreading the signs. By 8:40 (my train was scheduled to arrive in Milan at 9:05) I was fairly certain that I had hopped the wrong train. Luckily my flight was not until 1:35. I had left myself plenty of wiggle room to proverbially “screw-up.”
At the last stop of my train I asked the person behind me how to get to Milano Centrale. We were luckily still in the vicinity of Milan. As it turned out we were at the last stop of one of the lines of the Milanese Metro. I could take it to the station, but the man said it would not be easy. I found myself in a very hectic, extremely unclear subway station. I had no clue what to do and waited in line for one of the ticket machines (at the very least I assumed I could figure it out with one of those machines). Luckily there was a worker helping people buy tickets and he explained the route which I would have to take to station, which turned out to be fairly easy. There were no signs anywhere, though, so I had to recheck with the nice worker a couple of times before I felt sicker enough (I had already taken one wrong train) to take the metro. At the station I bought a ticket for the shuttle bus to Linate airport and found a bus that was about to leave. I got to the airport at about 11 with plenty of time to spare. All in all, after all of the adventure and mishaps I made it. Thank God that my wrong train did not take me far away from Milan!
Of course my flight was delayed (easyJet, whoof), but I ended up in Paris roughly on time. I turned on my phone and, unlike in Madrid, it worked! Phew! I followed the extraordinarily clear instructions of my rental agency about how to take the train from Orly to the apartment and easily found myself standing outside of a marvelous white apartment building right next to the metro station and an expansive park. I didn’t have the keys so I called the landlord who I should have called upon landing. He told me his wife would be there in 20 minutes: she was there in 3. She gave me a quick tour of the apartment that took literally 30 seconds because of the size of the place and then left me on my own. I was in Paris!! It was still surreal and I couldn’t settle because I had told Courtney, who’s phone had died before take off, that I would meet her at the airport. Her flight status was on time, meaning I had a couple of hours to walk around and explore this legendary city of love. I had forgotten both shaving cream and a bath towel so those were my first considerations.
I almost left the apartment without the door codes, which would have been a bit disastrous, but realized in time to memorize them and enter them into my phone. Our neighborhood was gorgeous. It’s the 7th arrendiseomnt (of 20 in Paris) and it is apparently one of the wealthiest!). I ventured left towards pharmacies in the hope that they would have either affordable shaving cream or bath towels. No luck. I then wandered towards grocery stores, all the while taking in the magnificence of the buildings which surrounded me. All were white with little terraces at many windows with decorative architectural flourishes carved into the facades. It didn’t much matter at that point whether or not I found shaving cream, a towel or anything! I was in Paris, a city that had only entered my brain in the form of dreams since childhood. I was actually experiencing the magical place. What could be better? I bought Courtney and I a bottle of wine, some bread and some gummy bears from various local establishments. Finally at 6:45 I figured it was time to go get Courtney. Again I figured I had left enough time, but this time I was horribly wrong.
Courtney flew into Charles De Gaulle, the main airport of Paris, whereas I flew to Orly. Orly is technically closer so I should have realized that my 45 minute trip from the airport would be less than what it should take to get to her. Unfortunately for me there happens to be another Charles De Gaulle stop on the subway system; one on the line next to the apartment, and the one to which I travelled without a second thought.
Wrong! The Charles De Gaulle to which I first ventured was actually Place de Charles De Gaulle, under the Arch d’Triumph. Wow, was I off. I ran to the return train figuring I would still make it to the airport before Courtney’s flight landed at 7:50. Again, I was terribly mistaken. I had to take a special RER train, line B, to the airport, for which I had no ticket, but I had no time to buy one so I began to hop turnstiles. Still, I made it to the B train with about half hour to spare. How much longer could it possibly take?
A lot. I didn’t make it the airport until 8:30. I tried to call Courtney but her phone was not working. I began to panic a bit once 8:15 hit and her phone was still off. I figured she was charging it so I continued to read the New York Times to fight off the terrifying thoughts entering my brain. The train started to slow to a literal crawl through the last 5 stations prior to the airport.
Finally the train pulled into terminal 2 of Charles De Gaulle and I sprinted up the stairs where I was met with a turnstile system of exit which required a ticket. I had none, but literally pushed myself behind some random guy and sprinted through. I glanced at the arrival board to find her plane and to see if perhaps she was late. My heart sank. Her plane had actually gotten in a half hour early. Now, instead of being a half hour late for her 7:50 arrival I was more than an hour late for her 7:13 arrival. I panicked and did the only things I could. I had told Court to either meet me at the gate or at the entrance to the train station, if I happened to not be at the gate. She was not around the entrance to the station so I set off like a cheetah towards her gate. If you had told me to run a marathon at that moment, and managed to continue that sense of desperation for the 26.2 miles, I’m sure that I could have finished it in under 3 hours.
I asked an information person for help. He paged Courtney, but you could barely understand the name. He then told me that in order to find Internet I would have to run down two more sections (turns out there was Internet near his desk but whatever). I told him to keep Courtney there if she showed and I jetted to find Internet. After a solid minute or so sprint I found the internet point and was midway through paying for some time when my Italian phone rang. The number was unknown, but I picked it up. It was Courtney, sounding cheerful and normal. She was in the airport the whole time, actually very near where I had paged her. Relieved, more than relieved actually. Thankful, I walked back to her. She was joking with the information man when I arrived about my emotional state but I didn’t care. I grabbed her and held her. That was the worst scare of my life. I could not imagine losing her.
We went home, me once again sneaking through to avoid paying the 10 euro trip to the airport. My body still reeled from the shock of finding her after almost not finding her, or at least after allowing my mind to imagine that I would not find her, but holding Courtney’s hand and talking to her brought me back. She had bought me a bag of gummy bears, which we opened on the train. By the time we made it back to the apartment my emotions were once again under control, though the feeling of being in Paris had yet to sink in.
I told Court to call her mom via Skype because it was also a stressful waiting period for her. While she was doing that I opened a bottle of wine that I had left chilling in the fridge and waited for Court to get off the “phone” with her mom who had rightfully predicted that I would have a bottle of wine waiting for us.
We toasted and finally, FINALLY, it felt as if we had arrived in Paris. I relaxed. I breathed. She breathed. Then we smiled. We were in Paris!!! I mean wow, Paris! Our neighborhood was gorgeous. It felt like a city but at the same time like a little suburb. It was cozy. It was cute. It was dear. We enjoyed a glass of wine, but it was late. We decided to wander the neighborhood hoping that a place would actually be open for dinner.
Our first impression of nightlife in Paris was quiet and subdued. The neighborhood was nearly empty and the cool, brisk air was left mostly uninterrupted without many cars disturbing it. I led her towards the area where I had seen markets and bistros earlier in the day praying that at least one of them would remain open. We walked hand in hand towards any sort of light and just happened to stumble upon a fairly packed bistro at ten at night which was literally a block from the apartment and the first which we saw on our trek. After considering continuing our walk because the place was a tad bit pricy (30 euro fixed menu) we gave in to the enticing aroma and packed crowd and entered.
They gave us an outdoor table, which was lovely because it was one of those early fall nights which is neither chilly, nor warm. It was the perfect temperature. We ordered a bottle of white (included in the meal) and considered the French menu. Neither of us known French but our combined romance language backgrounds at least allowed us to understand about half of the menu. The waiter was very kind and helped translate most of it for us. I ordered salmon tartare with artichoke butter for an appetizer while Courtney got avocado, shrimp and passion fruit foam. Then arrived our first Parisian bread and a glass of Rosé each from the house. What treatment! We toasted to being fortunate enough to have this experience and for being able to spend a week together before trying the bread.
Now, while this will be my first description of Parisian bread, I will keel it a bit brief, but suffice it to say that Parisian baguettes are on an entirely different level of delicious from almost any other bread in the world. The crust is beyond crunchy, but in a manageable way which gives way to the airy, soft interior. As for taste, it tastes like the smell of freshly baking bread. There is no other description for it. If you’ve never smelled high quality bread baking go to a quality bakery while they are baking and absorb the aroma. Transfer that to taste and add about ten degrees of flavor and you might have a comprehension of Parisian baguette. It’s slightly salted, yeasty, but fully amazing.
They actually brought me foie gras as an appetizer instead of the salmon, but before I realized I was already eating (I hadn’t eaten since 12). The foie gras came with some lettuce, sherry vinaigrette and apple compote. It was delicious. Courtney’s avocado were good as well, and he shrimp came out with its head on. I demonstrated for Courtney the pleasure of sucking the shrimp head (which holds massive flavor) before giving it to her to try. For main courses Courtney got sliced duck with a port sauce and sweet noodles. I would have never considered the use of fresh sweet noodles with duck, but it matched perfectly. I, on the other hand, wanted the strangest thing on the menu, and had immediately ordered the veal kidney when the waiter translated the menu for us.
It came with potatoes and a foie gras sauce. This was my first kidney and honestly only one of my few times, though certainly not my last, ever ordering organ meat as an entree and it did not disappoint! The kidney was tender, yet a bi chewy and while this kidney had a wonderfully rich beefy hint of flavor and the sauce was wonderful, I could easily tell it was organ meat, which is not a bad thing! I loved the interesting contrast of gaminess and meatiness. Honestly, it was fantastic and as I have said before America needs to get over its organic meat phobia. So for our first night in Paris we had a spectacular meal in a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful neighborhood on a beautiful night. Romantic, huh?