Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Travel Blues

A photo shoot near the Eiffel Tower, April 2012. Photo by Brittany Petersen.

I've been back in Chicago for almost two months now, and there are still days I wake up and smack myself because I'm not in Paris. What was I thinking, leaving? Why didn't I stay forever?

I have to remind myself how much I missed Chicago, my friends, my cat, my full wardrobe, my day-to-day tasks. The first few days back were glorious; my bed had never been more comfortable, my roommates more doting, my cat more soft and affectionate. (My pants were snug, but I prefer to gloss over that.) In fact, the first few weeks home were pure contentment. It made me feel like Chicago really is my home, the place I feel at rest, despite the fact that none of my biological family is here.

But now, seven weeks after returning to the reality of my life, I'm torn. I left pieces of myself in every place I went, but especially in Paris. Never before had I had such a clear and unambiguous chance to chase my dreams -- like, I'd dreamed of seeing the Louvre my whole life and then there it was, waiting for me to conquer it. (The French are consistent in that way.) I lived my days with enthusiasm -- even the difficult ones, like the night I went to French Pizza Hut and then sat alone in my hostel, watching Cinderella on YouTube.

Of course, people who live in Paris probably dream of waking up in Moscow or Beijing or Milan or Melbourne or Honolulu or Atlanta. We are never satisfied, even with what makes us happy.

So now, to combat the post-travel blues, I must remind myself that enthusiasm is internally produced. Luckily, there is no place like Chicago in the summer, so there's plenty to keep me occupied, from outdoor sports to bar trivia nights to reservations at Girl & the Goat.

Still, my dreams have forever been altered by the few weeks I was allowed to wander free and unfettered through foreign lands. Innocence may have been bliss, but I much prefer knowing exactly what I'm missing -- because it ensures that I'll fight to go back.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A New Blog! This One's About Running!

I started a new blog last week, and today I wrote the first significant post. It's a blog about running, structured around my training for my first-ever marathon, which is easily the scariest thing I've ever assumed I could survive. The blog is called Quit Whining and Run, after the advice I give myself every day.

I'm still blogging about music (almost) daily at Daijams, in addition to working on longer essays for this (my "main") blog. Thanks in advance for your page views, comments, and support!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

No Wonder the Swiss are Neutral

What could they possibly be mad about, with this outside their window?

Montreux, Switzerland, overlooking Lake Geneva. Photo by Brittany Petersen

Tomorrow I board a plane back to America, ending my five-week, once-in-a-lifetime European journey. But I have many more stories to share, which I'll be working on over the coming months, so stay tuned!

Also be sure to check out my music blog, Daijams, which returns to daily production on Monday.

Auf wiedersehen -- for now!


"Day by day we lose some of our restlessness and absorb some of the spirit of quietude and ease that is in the tranquil atmosphere about us and in the demeanor of the people. We grow wise apace. We begin to comprehend what life is for." -- Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Monday, May 7, 2012

The binkie and the pickpocket

"How the fatigues and annoyances of travel fill one with bitter prejudices sometimes! I might enter Florence under happier auspices a month hence and find it all beautiful, all attractive. But I do not care to think of it now, at all..." -- Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

There was a baby's binkie lying in the middle of the floor. I keep flashing back to the moment when I first saw it. I knew something was wrong. Why wasn't anyone picking it up? There had to be five, six, ten people crammed into the entry corridor to this train car -- two of them women with babies -- but no one was picking up the dropped binkie. I pointed at it, but no one noticed. They were too busy helping another tourist get his bag onto the luggage rack. I was irked, so I ignored it too and waited for the chaos to clear so I could put my damn bag in the damn luggage rack and move to my damn train seat.

I was already annoyed. I'd arrived at the Rome Termini train station with my grandparents in tow. We'd had no trouble getting there via the subway from the hotel, my grandparents each carrying two bags, me carrying my own luggage and running ahead to make sure we were headed in the correct direction. We needed to find the main terminal so we could catch a train to Florence, our next destination. After huffing up three or four flights of stairs, we finally found the correct escalator, and I led them to the self-service ticket booths.

"Okay, Florence," I said. I started punching buttons. "Do we want a direct train or a local train?"

"The direct train would be half the time," my grandma pointed out. My grandpa considered this.

"Yes, but it's also more than twice the money," I said. I looked at my grandpa. "If this were me traveling alone, I'd do the local train. I don't mind the extra time." I shrugged. "But you guys are paying, so it's up to you."

At this point, a short Italian man approached from behind, and pointed at our screen.

"That's the direct train, you want that one," he said.

I shot him a look. "Thank you, I got it," I said. I knew what he was up to. He'd aid the helpless American tourists, then ask for a tip. I wasn't having it.

My rudeness didn't deter him.

"Here, push this, three tickets." He reached over my shoulder and touched the screen.

"Thank you, I got it," I shouldered him out of the way, but he continued giving direction from behind me, and my grandparents were listening to him.

"Let's do the direct train. It's faster," my grandma said.

I sighed -- so much for saving a little money -- and punched it in, trying to ignore the advice of the guy behind me, who was telling me how to choose seats.

"Okay, cash or credit?" I asked.

"Credit," my grandpa said, handing me his card.

"This machine may not take your card," I said. "Is it a chip-and-pin?"


"A chip-and-pin. Does it have a pin number? European card readers are finicky, it might not take the card unless it has a pin number."

"No, this one doesn't have a pin," Grandpa said.

"Here, this one has a pin number." Grandma handed me another card, but we'd already tried to slide the first card, so we had to cancel the transaction and start over. The guy behind me huffed and tried to lean in. I turned to him.

"I got it," I said, seething. I turned back to the screen and hurriedly punched the buttons, making no mistakes. The guy slipped away as we were paying, finally convinced I would not allow him to help.

"Alright, we've got more than an hour until the train. Should we grab a coffee?" I asked.

"Sure." Grandma and I led the way up another escalator to a coffee shop. We sent Grandpa to sit with the bags while we ordered a round of caffeine.

I'd intended to pay for the treat, since my grandparents had been paying for every meal and train ticket since they joined me on my travels a few days prior, but Grandma had her wallet out.

"How much?" she asked the barista, waving two 50-euro bills.

He waved his hand at her and took one. I made sure he gave her the right change.

"Grandma," I hissed as we brought the coffee back to the table. "You shouldn't flash money around like that. Not here."

She looked struck for a moment. "You're right," she conceded. A small victory for me.

I wasn't sure why I was counting victories.

We sat down with the coffee, looking down at the floor below, the chaos of the terminal. A large woman with stringy, greasy hair was walking from tourist to tourist, holding a paper cup, begging for money. I didn't see the guy by the ticket booth anymore; he must have moved on to a different terminal. Or maybe he was just trying to be helpful.

Whatever, we got our tickets.

"What time did you say the train was?" Grandma asked me, sipping her caffe americano.

"It's at 13:15, which is..." I realized I'd figured the time conversion wrong. Damn you, 24-hour clock. "Oh crap, that's in 15 minutes. We need to go."

We gulped down our coffee, and I felt particularly sheepish as I followed my grandparents toward the escalator...the escalator that only went up. There was no down escalator. We couldn't find a way down, so we walked the length of the floor, to the other side of the station, losing precious minutes, until we found a stairwell. We huffed with our luggage down the stairs and landed at the base of the giant timetable. I stopped to examine our ticket.

"Which platform?" Grandma asked me, a note of panic in her voice.

I glanced up and down to be sure, and I opened my mouth to answer. But my grandparents weren't listening; they were talking to another man, another helpful local, who'd approached us, the lost Americans.

Ugh. We must scream "tourist." I gritted my teeth as he waved at me, signaling to hand over the ticket so he could look at our train number. He glanced at the board.

"Platform 11. Follow me," he said, handing me back the ticket. He set off, my grandparents in hot pursuit.

"I knew that," I grumbled. "If you'd have just given me two more seconds..." I trudged behind the three of them.

He led us to Platform 11, then motioned for me to hand the ticket over again.

"I know we need to validate it," I said, waving the ticket under the machine like I'd done in England. Nothing happened.

He scoffed and grabbed the ticket from me and stuck it in a slot I hadn't seen. He rolled his eyes and clucked at me as he handed it back. Stupid tourist.

I was boiling. The guy started off down the platform to show us the correct car. I looked back to make sure my grandparents were following, but they were fumbling for change. They knew this guy expected a tip, so they were getting it ready.

I turned on my heel and left. I found the correct door, refusing to make eye contact with our guide as he waited for my grandparents to catch up. There were a bunch of people packed into the doorway, so I waited. A woman stood in the door of the train, looking down at me, and I swept my hand to the side in a gesture of, "Are you getting off the train?"

She shook her head. "Here," she said, grabbing my suitcase and lifting it up onto the train steps.

Oh no you don't, I thought. I'm not tipping you for helping me with my bag. I put my foot on the first step of the train, grabbed my bag handle from her, and waited.

That's when I noticed the binkie. Also a guy holding a food basket, but -- I didn't think they sold food in baskets on these trains. They sell food in more airline-like, rolling carts. He must be a local vendor. What's he doing just standing there, next to the woman with the baby?

This tourist struggling with his bag was taking forever. No one was picking up the binkie. I shoved my way in, threw my bag to the right of the luggage rack, and stepped into the seating area. I was so angry with my grandparents, I didn't look back to make sure they found the right car. I figured they were busy tipping the guy -- wasting more money -- and would find their way onto the train after the haze of people cleared.

I walked to the end of the car, found my seat, and sat down. I crossed my arms, like a toddler having a tantrum, and waited.

A couple minutes went by before I spotted my grandma sauntering down the train with her bags. She made eye contact with me from a few rows away.

"Grandpa got pickpocketed," she said.

My heart dropped. "What? What did he lose?"

"Nothing," she said, maneuvering her bags around a woman in the aisle. "She got his wallet, but then she dropped it."

I got up to help her, lifting her bag to the rack above the seats. "What? She dropped it?"

"Yeah. She dropped the wallet on the ground and he got it back." She sat down and rolled the other bag under her legs.

My grandpa walked up the aisle behind her, his bags in tow, his face dazed.

"You got pickpocketed?" I asked him for confirmation.

"Yeah, but I got it back," he said.

A man behind me wearing a black sweater spoke up.

"She thought I was a police officer," he said. "I saw her do it, and she dropped it and left."

My grandparents thanked the man profusely. My grandpa put his luggage away and slumped into his seat. We sat in silence for a minute.

I couldn't help myself.

"I'm really pissed about the whole last 15 minutes," I told them. "I knew where we needed to go. You should not have let that guy help us."

My grandma looked at her hands in her lap. "You're right," she said for the second time that day.

My grandpa didn't say anything. After a minute, I patted him on the shoulder.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah." A minute later, "I gotta check my pack."

He took his backpack down and checked to make sure his camera was still there. It was. They hadn't gotten anything. But he'd had his wallet in his front pocket -- like Rick Steves says you should -- and still he hadn't noticed when they lifted it.

It was a miracle he'd gotten it back. I tried to feel thankful, but I just felt angry. Not with my grandparents anymore, but with the pickpockets, the poverty in Italy, all of Italy.

The train ride to Florence was mostly silent. I couldn't think of anything else but what had just happened. I knew my grandpa was going over it in his head too. I asked him a few more times, "You okay?"

"Yeah," he replied each time.

But I wasn't. I couldn't look at Italy the same way anymore. It's like Mark Twain said -- under other circumstances, I may have seen Florence, and then Venice and Verona and especially Lake Garda, as the most beautiful places I'd ever been. The places were beautiful. We did recover, and we had a wonderful time, me and my grandparents, touring Italy.

But I kept seeing that binkie, and thinking about the people that would target my grandparents -- two of the most wonderful people on Earth -- to con. Luckily the Termini station pickpockets are not Italy's ambassadors to the rest of the world...but in a way, they are. When I think back on my time in Italy, that five seconds of apprehension -- that binkie -- is the first image that comes to mind. It's a rotten fact, and under any other circumstances, it wouldn't be the case. The majority of the people we met in Italy were kind and welcoming and wanted nothing more than for us to enjoy our time in their beloved country.

But I keep seeing that binkie, and I can't look at Italy the same way anymore.

All was not lost! Here we are, thoroughly enjoying a bike tour of Florence.

There are lots of moments in Italy I do remember fondly, immortalized in this letter to myself.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Last Night in Italy

Dear Future Self,

Remember what it felt like to be here. Remember how much you wanted to come, how excited you were, how hard you worked to make it happen. Remember the moment your breath caught in your throat when you saw the mountains, when you heard the birds chattering, when you walked by the lake and found a patch of sunlight to bathe in, the one day it didn't rain.


Remember how you kept accidentally speaking French when you meant to speak Italian, and how that made you friends in every city. Remember the guy you met at Notte Bianca in Florence, how amused he was when, after he picked you up so you could see the band over the crowd, you insisted on returning the favor. Remember how you walked the city for hours, neither of you wanting the night to end.


Remember what Rome looked like from the top of St. Peter's Basilica, what Florence looked like from the top of your hotel roof, what Venice looked like from the busboat sailing along the Grand Canal, and what Verona looked like after you huffed your way up a mile of steep hill just to say you'd done it.


Remember also how you felt when your grandfather got pickpocketed in the Rome train station, how too much wine at dinner made you useless in the mornings, how you spent an entire day in bed, watching Disney movies on YouTube. Remember what it felt like to be alone in a faraway place -- both the good and the bitter, the freedom and the homesickness. Remember how much you missed Chicago, and how the mere sight of your mother on Skype made you cry.

Remember how proud you were of your grandparents for striking out to a new country, and what it felt like to watch them struggle in a way you'd never seen before. Remember the mix of tenderness and agony you felt, and the love.

 Vatican City & Rome

Remember the delicious meals and the disappointing ones, the days you tried to connect and the days you didn't, the wine and the pasta and the pistachio desserts and the espresso (oh dear Lord, the wonderful espresso). Remember feeling listless one moment and energized the next, and realizing that how you felt was completely in your control, no matter where you were in the world.

Remember Italy.

Lake Garda

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Conquering Paris, Part II

 The Paris Metro, a wonder of efficiency. Photo by Brittany Petersen.

After my walking tour debacle, and realizing that I had more than a week to spend navigating Paris, I was happy to hand over responsibility for getting me around the city to the public transit system, known as the Metro. The trains are clean, fast, efficient, and they run every 2-10 minutes -- a vast improvement over the Chicago el ("elevated train") system, which may leave you stranded at the Howard el stop for the better part of an hour. The Paris Metro was a breeze, to the point that after just two days, I helped a woman punch in the correct ticket purchase on the automated Metro machine -- speaking nothing but French.

Now, I should qualify that I took seven years of French -- from seventh grade through my freshman year of college -- but I do not actually speak French. I'm lucky to recognize commonly used verbs. I've got "Je parle anglais" and "J'ai faim" ("I speak English" and "I'm hungry"), but more complex compositions leave me feeling sheepish and stupid.

But somehow, using enthusiastic gesticulations and a few key words like "oui" and "ici" ("yes" and "here"), I helped this woman buy a ticket from a Metro machine on my third day there. Whether or not she arrived at her intended destination is none of my concern; as far as I know, she's wandering Romania right now.

So I was doing really well. And after a couple days in Paris, I realized I was making no friends at my hostel, which was chock full of snorers and high school students, so I decided to strike out on my own, and on the suggestion of a friend I checked out, a website to encourage social interaction in various places, including Paris. I wanted to see some live music, I decided, and I punched in a search for live music in Paris on a Tuesday night.

Lo and behold, one music event was being held in Paris that evening -- a viewing of "gypsy jazz" at a bar on the north side of the river, an easy 30 minutes on the Metro from my hostel. It started at 8pm. I looked at the clock -- 7:45pm. I considered for a few seconds, then snapped my laptop shut and picked up my purse. Let's have an adventure, I thought.

I boarded the Metro using one of my pack that I'd bought that day, after helping the other woman. As I descended to the train, I tossed the ticket in the waste bin -- no need for it now -- and checked the clock. Two minutes to the next train. My God, I love the Paris Metro.

My route required that I change trains after a few stops, so I disembarked and, practically humming a happy tune, followed the signs toward my train exchange. That's when I spotted the police.

They were checking tickets. Apparently jumping the turnstile is a rampant problem in Paris, and so every once in awhile the police set up a cross-city sting to make sure riders have either a validated ticket or an unlimited pass. I had neither. I started to panic.

I approached one of the policewomen, who asked to see my ticket. Or at least, I think that's what she asked, since she was speaking French, and my French remains at the level of a 9th grader who hasn't paid attention in French class for the past two weeks. I asked her to repeat in English.

"Where's your ticket?" she said.

"I don't have it. I threw it away. I'm sorry, I didn't know I needed it," I answered, confident she'd take pity on me, a poor, uninformed tourist.

She said something in French. It involved the words "25 euros." She pointed at her clipboard, which indicated I owed her a fine for not having my ticket. Twenty-five euros is the equivalent of a night in a hostel, which is a lot of money to me at this point.

I looked at her pleadingly and tried to haggle. "I'm sorry, I had a ticket but I threw it away. Here, here's a new one. I'm sorry, I didn't know."

She said some more things in French, and checked with her colleague. It added up to, "No. You need to pay 25 euros."

I looked at two guys standing next to me, who were watching this unfold, and who attempted to translate for me.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand, I didn't know I needed to keep my ticket," I kept saying. "I promise I had one."

Apparently my word is no good in France. I started to cry, and so to save face, I pulled 25 euros out of my wallet -- the last cash I had -- and gave it to the woman before pushing past her and on to my train.

The nerve. I was a legitimate rider. I had paid for my ticket. I was just too uniformed to know I had to keep my ticket. I wallowed. I cried harder. A man on my next train handed me a tissue and asked what was wrong, but I responded that I didn't speak French, and he left me alone.

I'm still not sure why I got so upset, except that I was in a different country and I'd been disciplined for a crime I hadn't actually committed. The injustice drew tears.

I reached my stop, and I went up to ground level to cry a little more in the park. I tried to call my grandparents, because it was too early in the morning in my parent's time zone to call them, but I got no answer. I heaved a bit, slowed down my breathing, and tried to focus on the mission at hand. I was here to make friends. I didn't want to show up to this random meet-up -- that I'd informed no one I was attending -- with tears streaming down my cheeks. I located what was left of my cool, stood up, wiped off my face, and walked the two blocks to the bar with the gypsy jazz.

I had a fantastic night. The people I met -- half a dozen from America, France, and England, all English-speakers -- were wonderfully friendly and interesting. After the gypsy jazz was over, a few of us wandered to a nearby hookah bar, where we continued chatting until after the Metro had closed for the night. (The one major drawback of the system, in my opinion.) I had to catch an expensive cab back to my hostel, but I didn't mind because I had managed to salvage an evening that had begun with tears and what I considered a waste of my money.

I continued riding the Metro throughout my stay in Paris, though I joked that I'd learned the hard way to keep my ticket on me until I'd actually left the station.

I wouldn't be telling this story if there wasn't a happy, triumphant ending.

The day before I left Paris, I was heading into the city with my friend Alexandra when we got stopped by police checking for Metro tickets. I had mine, of course -- like I said, I'd learned the hard way -- and I flashed it proudly and sashayed by their barricade with my head held high. As we walked up the steps, I turned to Alexandra.

"I win," I said. "I win at the Paris Metro."

She laughed and shook her head. Silly tourist.

Paris, consider yourself conquered.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

An afternoon abroad

The day after we arrived in Rome, my grandparents and I traveled abroad for the afternoon, wandering into the 110-acre Vatican City, the world's smallest independent state.

Aren't my grandparents adorable?

In front of Saint Peter's Basilica, the focal point of global Catholicism.

After eating delicious sandwiches filled with strange (to us) Italian meats (we avoided the menu item that translated roughly into "lard"), we wandered the basilica, which was built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the site of the tomb of Saint Peter, one of Christ's apostles and the first Pope. After all the churches I've seen in Ireland, France, and the Czech Republic, it was incredible to walk around the one that every other is modeled after.

Saint Peter's, setting the standard high for Catholic places of worship.

There's been a church on this site since the 4th century, and a bunch of Popes are entombed in the downstairs grotto (no photos allowed). We also climbed to the top of the cupola, which has the highest view of both Vatican City and Rome. We wondered whether the Pope went up there with his buddies and hit golf balls into the city. At least, that's what I'd do.

Enjoying the view of Rome from the cupola of Saint Peter's.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Praha in 48 hours

In Prague's Old Town Square. Photos by Brittany Petersen

I spent a total of less than 48 hours in the Czech Republic, and it was AWESOME! I ate a fish that was delivered to my table with the head still attached; drank beer for lunch, dinner, and almost breakfast; attended both classic opera and modern dance (blacklight theater!) performances; and saw a large chunk of an ancient city in a matter of hours. Above is my favorite shot from my first trip to the Motherland. I'm SO glad I brought the nice camera (Nikon DSLR) on the trip, though I curse its weight whenever I have to lug it around airports and train stations.

I'm realizing that, as much as I'd like to liveblog my entire five-week journey, there are a lot of stories that I'll simply need to tell after I get home. The experiences themselves are somewhat distracting, as you might imagine. (Don't feel bad for me. I certainly wouldn't.)

Soon I'll post the conclusion of the "Conquering Paris" story, but be assured that I have many more stories from France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, England and -- as I arrive today! -- Italy to come! And now I'm traveling with my grandparents, who met me in Prague and will be traversing most of Italy with me, so that's a whole new realm of fun. (No seriously, they're hilarious.)


With my Grandma on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Conquering Paris, Part I

Yeah. Good luck with that. Paris street map photo via Etsy. All other photos by Brittany Petersen.

I was more excited about Paris than any other city on my itinerary. I purposefully sprinted through London so that I could spend a full nine days in France -- the food, the language, the Eiffel Tower, it all called to me.

I bought a "Paris Step by Step" book in the London train station and read it cover-to-cover on the Eurostar to Paris. (Note: The chunnel is cool, but if you've ever ridden a train before, you probably won't be wowed. It's fast and dark.) I prepared myself by learning the difference between a cafe, a bistro, a brasserie, and a restaurant; the ins and outs of wine and coffee consumption; and where to find the best baguettes. (Answer: everywhere.) I studied the Paris street map, identified the location of my hostel in the 15th arrondissement, then looked up what "arrondissement" meant. I was prepared.

Or, you know, I thought I was.

On my first full day in Paris, I set off from my hostel forty minutes early to join a walking tour of the city. I took my map of Paris and a general idea of the direction I was heading, toward Place St. Michel, and set off heading northeast up Rue de Vaurigard. I made a right at Blvd Pasteur, a left back onto Rue de Vaurigard, a right onto Blvd Montparnasse...or was it a left? And at this six-way intersection, off which shoot five streets, which one is my street? The street signs are on the sides of buildings, so you need to walk across the street to read where you are. Half the streets only run for a block, and then are renamed. Also, whereas in Chicago the streets all run north-south or east-west, with a few rebellious slanted connectors, in Paris everything is laid out on some sort of ingenious circle. If by ingenious, you mean completely batshit insane. Apparently that's why so many people live in Paris; they wandered in, couldn't find their way out, and decided it was easier to stay put.

Needless to say, I got very, very lost.

I glanced at the clock; ten minutes until the tour started at 11am, and if my map was any indication, I was still 20 minutes away. I started running. I tiptoed by walkers, yelling "Pardonne!" over my shoulder as I ran by, a frantic blur of American. Others were wearing peacoats and thick sweaters, but I was soon down to my tank top, still running, and getting even more lost.

At 11:05, I came to another five- or six-way intersection (it's hard to tell), found a bus map, and regained my bearings. I'd been running in the completely wrong direction. I swore loudly in English, then in French (for good measure), turned around, and ran back the other way.

At 11:20, I gave up completely. I put my back coat on and glanced listlessly down each street as I passed it. At 11:30, I found the street I'd been looking for since I left Rue de Vaurigard. I trudged toward Place St. Michel, certain that if I'd missed the tour today, I was going to make damn sure I knew where to go the next day. With the help of bus maps and a few lucky guesses, I finally found it.

The fountain at Place St. Michel, a sight for sore eyes and winded lungs.

I'd wanted to start out my trip in one of the world's most beautiful cities with a walking tour, to learn the lay of the land. Obviously I needed that tour before I even left my hostel; all I'd done so far was run around Paris like a half-dressed maniac, and I still barely knew where I was. I'd been in Paris for 24 hours, and already I was grumpy.

I felt better once I found the Seine, Paris' main topographical landmark.

My day improved as I wandered around, found a cafe, and remembered from my "Step by Step" book that the French (often) drink wine with lunch. An hour later, I was satiated, rouge-lipped, and feeling a lot better. I made a dot on my map of where I'd had lunch, found the nearest really old churches, and proceeded to prance around the St. Germain neighborhood, taking pictures and regaining my awe for the city.

Inside the medieval Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Outside Église Saint-Sulpice

 Inside Église Saint-Sulpice
This obelisk in Saint-Sulpice was accompanied by a sign: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this is not a vestige of pagan temple." Dan Brown, you just got told.

That afternoon I took the Metro back to my hostel and quickly decided it was a vastly superior method of getting around Paris. I pushed my street map into my purse and bought a pack of ten transit tickets. If I couldn't make it in the streets, then fine, I'd go underground. I felt accomplished; I'd figured out Paris!

Alas, the Metro had its own cruel and unusual tortures in store.

To be Part II here