26 September 2009

Arrival in Metz

Now that I've shared how lovely Metz is, I can get on with the difficult arrival process. I woke up at 5am to call a cab to take my ridiculous amount of luggage from my hotel to Gare de l'Est in Paris for my train to Metz.  

My luggage included: 

TWO massive suitcases, one weighing 70 pounds, the other, 50 pounds (I paid handsomely for this at the airport.) 

A large over the shoulder carry-on containing my laptop and tons of electronic devices, batteries, chargers, cameras, etc.

A large 'purse' that really should be called a tote bag. In fact, according to Vera Bradley, it IS a tote bag.

All of my bags were bursting at the seams, and thankfully, a Frenchman helped my drag my belongings onboard the train.  The ride itself was very brief (only 82 minutes from Paris to Metz on the high speed TGV trains).  However, getting off the train was another matter.  I managed to lug one suitcase and one carry-on onto the platform, but had to reboard to grab my other suitcase and totebag/purse.  Naturally there was a crush of people exiting the train, rendering me powerless to get back onboard... Miraculously, I did get back on board, and managed to rescue my second load of worldly possessions as the doors were closing.  

I felt everyone's curiosity/amusement as I fashioned my rolling luggage into a sort of train by hooking them together.  Trudging toward the elevator, I had to wait for the crowd to diminish before squeezing inside, and then caused people waiting on the ground floor to miss the elevator as I struggled to drag everything out.  I resisted the urge to glare at the guy who laughed at me boisterously without raising a hand to help me.

Breathless, I arrived outside the station, where I was ignored by taxi drivers for nearly half an hour (the short fare and daunting amount of luggage wasn't worth their effort.)  I finally sat on the ground behind my fortress of baggage, fighting back tears of frustration, which caused one of the drivers to develop a heart and agree to take me.  We made small talk in French, and he complimented my ability, which was very sweet of him, considering the fact that I'm hardly fluent yet.

At the foyer where I'm staying, I was proud of myself for handling the check in process, paperwork, and questions entirely in French.  My studio is pretty small, but with a pleasant view of a church.  It's quite simple, with a desk and chair, bed, bathroom, shower, and bureau. There is ample shelving space, but I hesitate to unpack since I plan on moving into something better within the month.  This place is very utilitarian, and not especially welcoming, so hopefully I'll find some friendly Frenchies to reside with in the near future.

Armed with a map of the city, I set out to accomplish Mission number 1: getting a French mobile phone.  I found a centrally located SFR shop, where I was able to secure a very basic flip phone and a prepaid plan.  The owner of the shop, as well as several French customers in line behind me, complimented me, saying that they wished their English was as good as my French. I ate up that bit of reassurance like a fresh piece of pain au chocolate! Obtaining a French cell phone has been one of my dreaded tasks, but it was remarkably easy, compared to the rest of my day.  

With newfound confidence, I explored the city a bit before heading back to my foyer for lunch... I walked into the cafeteria, flashed a smile and a bonjour to the café workers, and proceeded to place food on my tray.  Fresh baked bread, salad, cheeses, and fresh fruit!  

"Mademoiselle? Votre carte! " A woman in an apron emerged from the back, demanding to know where my residence card was... I replied that I had not yet received one from the front desk, as today was my first day.  She told me that I could not eat without the card and made me put everything back that I had on my tray.  My cheeks flushed in embarrassment, and I could feel the eyes of everyone in the dining room on me. Every bit of confidence gained in the cell phone experience seemed to be deflated now.  Still, I returned to the front desk where I was able to obtain this magical card, and everything turned out fine back in the lunch room, although I still felt self-conscious when some of the diners tittered when I walked back in. I remade a tray of food, sat down, and buried my head in a book.  It would have been nice to have company... I'm one of those people who has a natural inclination to smile at passers-by, but in the foyer, not many people return this gesture... especially in the cafeteria.

After lunch, I walked back to the city center, to do some exploring before dinner.  Thank God for the Cathedral. It will be my favorite place in Metz. The portals are magnificently carved (some of the finest examples of Medieval carving in Europe), but one is completely unprepared for the splendor that awaits inside. Built in the 12th century, Saint-Etienne (Saint Steven) has one of the highest naves in Europe.  I gasped audibly when I stepped inside.  The sheer height of the nave and incredible amount of glass is like nothing I've seen before at even Notre Dame, Saint-Denis or Chartres.  Apparently the cathedral is one of the largest in France, and has one of the largest expanses of stained glass in the world, which has earned it the nickname: God's Lantern. At night, it's lit from the inside, exposing the stained glass to everyone outside. It's not often that beauty moves me to tears, and that's exactly what happened in Saint-Etienne today. The best part is, my favorite artist of all time, Marc Chagall, completed the stained glass windows in certain sections of the church. I spent quite some time there, even exploring the crypt from the original church beneath the foundations.  The atmosphere was warm and cleansing, and seemed to say "Rest, you'll be safe here." The lack of sleep and series of stressful events of today seemed to melt away.  

Since people tend to eat dinner much later in Europe than in the States, I assumed I'd be able to stroll down to dinner at 7:30pm without a problem.  I assumed wrongly.  The cafeteria was already closed, which meant I had to venture back out for dinner (and spend more money!)  I wandered through Metz, which is lit up beautifully at night to enhance its architectural features. Unfortunately, the sandwich stands and pastry shops were closed.  I couldn't justify eating out at one of the fancy brasseries or outdoor cafés alone, and those seemed to be the only things open.  For a Friday night, the streets seemed practically deserted, except for the nice restaurants.  I was about to accept defeat and return to call it an early night when I stumbled upon O'Kebab, a sort of mediterranean fast food joint.  After all the carb-o-licious cuisine I've been sampling, I decided on a salad.  I read some more Camus before returning to my foyer to spend my first night in Metz, looking forward to a hot shower to wash away the grime of travel.

I burst into tears when I couldn't figure out the shower in my studio... it seems that it turns itself off every 10 seconds to save energy/water, and each time I press the button to restart the flow of water, the water is frigid again, and just when it starts to warm up, it shuts back off again, and the process begins anew.

I attribute my emotional reaction to the shower to lack of sleep and the stress of being submerged in a new country with a different language and cultural norms, and being completely taken away from my world as I know it.  I reassure myself that it can only get better from here, and that with time, I become settled into life dans le pays messin. 

1 comment:

  1. Awww! Jamie! Don't let "them" get to you. You're learning and pretty soon you'll have everything down to a science!
    Sounds like you're having some great adventures so far :)


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