Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Return to Baltimore (part 1)

This post is a little late, as I've been back in Baltimore City for a week now, but unfortunately I fell victim to some kind of respiratory virus, which I just finally seem to be recovering from now. I think I've slept as much as I've been awake in the last six days, and the mental fog I've been in while awake really makes me grateful for how well my brain works when it IS in top shape (and also how delicate a balance life has to be in for it to reach that ideal mode of operation).

Perhaps my illness has made the transition back to Baltimore from abroad an easier one; it prevented me from immediately diving completely back into my routine (though I did start class the day after I returned, thanks to a scheduling issue with UB) and even without illness, my body would have appreciated the rest. My trip from Paris to Baltimore was about as perfect as possible; all trains and flights arrived and departed on time, my layover was just enough time to make it through comfortably without getting too bored waiting on my next flight, and customs was a breeze. U.S. Airways even gave us a free glass of wine with lunch!

But, let me back up a few days. I left La Muse on Thursday and took a train to Carcassonne. By this point I was nervous about all my travel, but John helped me buy my ticket to Montpellier and got me where I needed to be on the platform, which was an immense relief. Once in Montpellier I got a little lost trying to find my hotel from the train station but managed to make my way thanks to a couple of screen shots I'd taken with my phone of Google Maps. (Despite paying for the roaming data on my Verizon phone, it was very finicky about the connection and thus usually of little use.) Upon checking in, I was humbled to discover that the desk clerk spoke better English than I did French, though most of our conversations thereafter were some mix of the two. He gave me a train map and explained to me how to get to the beach via the public transit, and I decided to try that first.

I have to say, going to the beach alone is weird. Going alone to a beach where nearly no one speaks your language is even weirder. I didn't see anyone else there alone, and I didn't particularly feel like people were noticing that I was alone, but I didn't end up staying all that long. I waded into the water (the Mediterranean Sea!) and floated around for awhile, picked up a couple of shells at water's edge then sat long enough to (mostly) dry off before heading back to the city. The transport system they've set up is quite nice; they have a light rail which stops at the southern end of the city, and from there you use your train ticket to access a shuttle bus to the beach.
The Mediterranean Sea from Montpellier

Back at the hotel, I soon learned just how ideally situated I was, despite being wedged down a cramped little side street: one block away was the Place de la Comedie, Montpellier's big open square and the edge of a several-block-radius of shops, cafes, and restaurants. I spent my evening wandering around, feeling much less conspicuous as a loner. I bought a couple of French-language books to practice with at a multi-floor bookstore and had dinner outside at a cheap little place called Sucre Sale. There were various musicians and street performers throughout the evening, including like an 8-piece brass band at one point and a group of carousel-music type musicians (what's that music called? Ragtime?) at another. The lights and the energy and the atmosphere were all lovely, and it was nice to be in a place so alive into the evening and night. People were out shopping, or just walking, and it wasn't too crowded or touristy.

And the next day, I went to Paris.

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