Arrival en France

rachel-king-air-franceFor the last year, I've been planning on moving to France. It never actually seemed like this time would actually arrive. After a fashion-wine-college-football-packed week in New York City, on September 17, I departed from JFK airport on Air France to Paris CDG. Armed with two large suitcases, a carry-on suitcase and my laptop bag, I wasn't exactly traveling light. After a relatively quick Super Shuttle to the airport, I suffered through another round of French bureaucracy at the Air France counter. (Honestly, I think this is the country's version of hazing.) After having to stand in one line to get my boarding pass from the check-in machines, I got in line to have my bags checked. While waiting in line, I met another New Yorker, Helene, who was very excited for her European adventure (except to Italy, not France). She, too, noticed that I had a lot of baggage, and I told her I was going to France for seven months to teach English, since I couldn't find a job in the U.S. right now. She commented how strange it must be to have to leave America to find a job, and I agree, but I hope it will be a great adventure anyway.

When I got up to the counter, it turned out one of my bags was overweight, thus I had to pay a $50 fee. However, they don't take your bags at the Air France counter. Since my bag was overweight, I had to haul ALL of my bags over to the Air France customer service counter to pay the fee, drop off my suitcases at another stall, and then return to the check-in counter to show my receipt and get my boarding pass back. Security seemed like a breeze after such an ordeal.

After security, I ran into Helene again, and we searched for the first terminal bar we could find. (I'm a very skittish flyer, despite how many times I might be on an airplane in any given year. I don't like turbulence.) It seems you can't go far in New York without finding someone else in the media industry, as Helene worked for a NYC radio station for many years. Thus, media and the recession were one of the big topics. After talking with Helene and the bartenders for about 90 minutes, I was much more relaxed and ready for the 7-hour flight ahead of me. I said au revoir and bon voyage to Helene, who got the lucky chance to sit upstairs on the flight to Paris, while I made my way for my window seat in row 34. Departure from the gate was a little delayed, and I nearly fell asleep for take-off, but I woke up just in time to see us lift off the ground, with the lit-up Manhattan skyline grow smaller and smaller until the plane turned, and I could only see the pitch-black Atlantic Ocean.

The flight itself was relatively smooth. Since I had brought a Chipotle burrito for my meal (the last burrito I figured for a while), I waited for my complimentary glass of wine, and passed out for about three to four hours, with brief moments of turbulence here and there. It's remarkable how long I survived on such little sleep. Sunshine was breaking through the clouds as we descended over the French countryside, with a very smooth landing at Paris' Charles de Gaulle International Airport. As I disembarked from the plane, only the coffee must have kept me awake and sane, as the sun nearly blinded me through the glassy exterior of the gate ramp into the terminal. Prior to leaving for France, I was incredibly nervous for days, to the point where I thought I was developing an ulcer and couldn't eat well for days. From worrying about my poor French skills, to people judging me about being from another country, to wondering what line I should even get in at Immigration, I was a wreck. Well, one problem was solved at Immigration, since all passports had to get in the same line! When I got up to the front, the French Immigration officer was actually very nice, just asked (in French) how long I'd be staying, stamped my passport and work visa, and I was on my way.

At this point, I had about an hour and 15 minutes to get my luggage from Baggage Claim and make my way to my 12:42 PM TGV train directly from CDG to Lille Europe Station. French time is a bit slower than American time, but I noticed even the French passengers getting annoyed with how long it took for the bags to start falling onto the conveyor belt. It took about 30 minutes for suitcases from the New York-JFK flight to start arriving, since they were backed up after a flight that had just arrived from (coincidentally) San Francisco. After checking my watch every minute for about 15 minutes, I became nervous that I'd miss the train I had already booked a ticket on. Thankfully, my bags arrived just at 12:00 PM. I practically threw them onto the (thankfully, free) luggage cart and started power-walking for the TGV station.

Unfortunately, I couldn't determine which check-in machine I was supposed to use for retrieving my e-Ticket. I tried both of my credit cards on both the TGV and SNCF machines, but nothing came out. Finally, an Information Desk employee pointed me towards the TGV office, where I was able to get my ticket. Then I took the elevator down to the platform and got my bags off of the luggage cart with five minutes to spare before the train to Lille arrived. I have learned that running for trains in Europe is not romantic or Jason Bourne-esque with two 50+-lbs. suitcases.

Up to this point on my journey, getting around with my bags actually wasn't very difficult since I could hook up the carry-on suitcase to one of the bigger ones. It was just a strain on my arms. But lugging three bags onto a train by myself proved to be impossible. However, the French passengers on this train proved to be a friendly bunch, as several people offered help when I boarded and disembarked the train. The 59-minute train ride from CDG to Lille was a relaxing break after the last two hours of running across an airport with all of my life for the next seven months packed into three suitcases. Listening to the Marie Antoinette and Amelie soundtracks on my iPhone, the TGV train whisked along the northern French fields faster than you could say "Amtrak."

When I arrived at Gare Lille Europe, I had about an hour and a half to kill before taking a taxi over to the furnished flat that three other American assistants and I were renting for the next four days. I wasn't hungry, and I attempted to read the Air France magazine I picked up on the plane, but after about 10 minutes, I couldn't even turn the page anymore. My biggest task was trying not to fall asleep while sitting in the station. I felt like Forrest Gump for about 90 minutes, as several different characters ended up sitting next to me at different times, including a cute elderly French couple, and a woman headed home for a few weeks to Martinique. She noticed that my French isn't, well, the best, and asked where I was from. I said that I'm American, and she asked all about the program and moving to France, etc. The woman, probably in her mid-30s, was very friendly, noting that I shouldn't be too nervous about France, and that Lille is a nice town. Finally, it came time to get up, find a taxi and say goodbye to the latest person I met on the journey. As I picked up my bags one more time, she said, "Bonne Courage!" I replied, "Merci," knowing that I'm going to need it.

Flickr Photos

I've finally uploaded photos from my Asia tour, which you can see on Flickr here. It also looks like I'll be going home for Christmas, as I got a super cheap ticket on Virgin America...but only for the return from San Francisco to New York. I still need to buy a ticket TO San Francisco, but I'm waiting to see which bowl game Cal ends up going to.I know: Priorties, priorties. Most of my sources tell me that we'll be going to the Emerald Bowl, which is in San Francisco on Dec. 27, the day before I return to NYC, which works out perfectly for me. But I wouldn't mind flying out a week earlier to Nevada for Vegas Bowl...

Return to New York

The next time I see the inside of an airport or plane again, it will be TOO SOON. After nine, count 'em, NINE flights around the Northern Hemisphere, I am finally back in my apartment in New York City. I've forgotten how comfortable my bed is. After the last round of margaritas and Mexican food in Oakland Airport with Jenny & Chappy, I got on a very bumpy JetBlue ride to Washington D.C. Dulles Airport for a connecting flight to New York-JFK Airport. I had just fallen asleep when the plane started bouncing around like crazy over Colorado for 30 minutes at least. Coincidentally, my roommate felt it too on her flight back from Arizona last night. According to the ever-official source, Wikipedia, clear-air turbulence often occurs over mountain ranges. Thanks a lot, Rocky Mountains!! Then for four hours, I sat mindlessly in front of a flat-screen television playing CNN Headline News next to the gate while waiting for my final plane. 

I will do a wrap-up of the trip tomorrow when my brain doesn't feel like its going to fall out of my head because I'm so sleep deprived.

Big Game and Departure

Yesterday was the 111th Big Game between Cal and Stanford, and happily for me, Cal won. I took over 300 photos on my new camera, but really most of them are just duplicates on different aperture settings. The day was great because the skies were clear (and blue) and I got to see all of my friends. But since it was a 12:30 p.m. game, it was almost impossible to tailgate, um, properly. I didn't really eat much before or during the game though. When I was in band, I could never eat much before because I always had a sickening feeling in my stomach, either from being tired from practice or anxiety about the shows, or both. But I still got that feeling yesterday even though I had nothing to worry about. Bizarre. I was shocked, however, at how hot it was in the middle of November. Between standing in the sun all day and the fact that it was so early in the day, almost everyone was ready to go to bed at 8 p.m.  I loved the Cal Band's halftime show with 90s pop since it was all songs I listened to in high school. But I was kind of irked by the Stanford band show about Memorial Stadium being on a fault line and that the big earthquake was going to hit during the game. After I described the show to my mom when I got home, she said, "They always try to be cutting edge, but they always miss the mark." I do have to give them points for creativity. How could anyone else come up with harnessing a snare drum player to a contraption that spins he/she upside down through almost the whole game? But I always enjoy Big Game because its really the Homecoming for Cal alums and both sides of the rivalry get along pretty well.

big-game

My trip is almost over as the last leg of my trip back to New York City is tonight, with a FOUR hour layover in Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport. I could take the Bolt Bus and get back to my apartment faster, but then again it's a JetBlue rewards ticket on the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I'm lucky I got a seat at all. Many times when I go on long trips, by the end of it, I'm ready to go home. This time, I'm pretty depressed, so much so that even though I was exhausted yesterday, I still had trouble falling asleep. I don't know if its apprehension about dealing with job and financial stuff when I get back, or that I'll miss everyone at home and I don't know when I'm coming back exactly yet. Despite all of this, I'm pretty lucky that I get to home to a place as awesome as New York.

Leavin' on a JetBlue Plane

In six hours I will be in San Francisco for 22 hours, upon which I will eat all of the Mexican food in Berkeley. First off, as I sit in JetBlue's new Terminal 5 at JFK airport, I am very impressed with the new interior design. I have been to airports in third-world countries that were newer and cleaner than the old JetBlue terminal. Well done. Also, thankfully, I received my absentee ballot (unlike a lot of unfortunate friends) and I've already voted. I was deeply disturbed when I got a robo-call from the Yes on 8 campaign using Barack Obama's statements to endorse their campaign. While I know he has stated that he believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman, I never remember reading about him campaigning for this elimination of people's rights. Not to mention they called me at 11:55pm EST, when I could have been sleeping if I weren't packing. Anyway, all I ask is that Californians vote No on 8 and keep marriage a right to all who want to marry the partner of their choice, as well as No on 4 and not restricting a woman's right to choose, regardless of age. 

Also, please vote for whatever prop the high-speed rail train bond is. I would really like to take a train between SF and LA in 2 hours for less than $70. 

Finally, I know you have all been waiting for this, but I am officially endorsing Senator Barack Obama. It is certainly change we need, and I hope Americans are smart enough not to realize that moose-killer from Alaska is not capable of running this nation, should she ever be given the chance. Look, Manhattan Mini-Storage agrees with me:

palin-manhattan-mini-movers

Final Countdown

Only four more days until I bounce from New York City to San Francisco, and then across the other pond. Many props to my fellow interns Kelly, Brendan and Rip for helping me title this blog (and some future entry titles as well), along with those of my friends who were on gChat on Halloween when they should have been working. But the grand winner is Ms. Janet Fang with the above title, and her prize is a shiny package of fresh Fig Newtons. Honorable mentions include: Land of the Tequila Sunrise Are You There Blog? It's Me, Rachel March of the Rachels Blog to Nowhere Island in the Sun Memoirs of a Rachel Northwest Passage Southeast Passage Return of the King The King and I The Last King of Scotland

(I think the last one was a little off base...)