Downtown & Around the Corner

Bus driver why you act like dat
Fight like dog & cat
Man please don’t kill me for $1.00
I mean $1.25
Let me off this trap
I den say bus stop from 3 blocks back!

Thursday, July 11th.

Our morning routine is still slow, even if we’re up earlier than on previous days.

Our first point of order: book our excursions.

On Friday, we’ll go to a nearby island for a three-hour session swimming with dolphins. (Or, more accurately, Christine and Jen will swim with the dolphins; I’ll be observing.)

Then on Monday, we’ll take a powerboat trip approximately an hour south to one of the smaller islands – or cays – for an afternoon of sun, sand, snorkeling, sharks and stingrays.

DSC00554Later in the morning, we catch the bus into downtown Nassau, to take a peek around and perhaps do some shopping. It’s cruise ship central, so we see a LOT of tourists crowding the sidewalks.

We start on a random street, walking up one side, then over to another. We visit Nassau’s Straw Market, past many women hawking their wares, trying to get our attention to buy one of their many tchotchkes.

We pop in and out of shop after shop, looking at liquor, t-shirts, sarongs, dresses and other knick-knacks for possible souvenirs to bring home for friends and family.

In one shop, Christine and Jen purchase some hot pepper sauce, while I decide on some mango and hibiscus jelly which – according to the label – is supposed to be Bahamian-made.

DSC00561As we pass through the middle of town, we notice that various displays and patriotically-coloured bunting is still hanging from the day before – it gives the area an almost perpetually festive feel.

We stop for lunch after 2 p.m., then do another partial circuit, where we stop at a liquor store so Jen can load up on Bahamian rum.

We return to the place we were dropped off, then climb onto a bus … which takes FOREVER to leave, because the driver is trying to fill every seat.

When we DO finally depart the town centre, we don’t get very far. We hit a single-lane traffic jam. Apparently there’s an accident up ahead. (And – as with anyplace else on earth – likely drivers rubbernecking to check out said accident.)

One of the local passengers calls her friend to say she’ll be late, then passes the time by singing along to the tunes the driver is playing. Another passenger – wedged in next to me – sucks her teeth in exasperation. Woman #2 leans forward to talk to Woman # 1, probably to commiserate about the snail’s pace at which the bus is going.

Woman #1 (presumably a cook – she’s wearing a white smock with a matching white cap, holding her cell phone in one hand, and a julienne peeler and a straw in the other), points out that she herself is running late, and has errands to run.

“No use in worryin’, ” she replies. “Yuh reach when yuh reach.” I couldn’t agree more.

As we creep and, eventually, drive closer, a song called “Bus Driver” starts playing over the speakers. The song and lyrics, to me, are fitting.

Later in the day, after we’ve unwound (and I’ve taken a nap), we head down the street to a local italian restaurant, called Capriccio.

We start with some mussels in a spicy, tasty arrabbiata sauce. For dinner, Christine and Jen enjoy some seafood pasta with cream sauce, while I try some pan-fried grouper … with ACTUAL VEGETABLES (which I haven’t had for at least several days, and am beyond happy to see on my plate).

After dinner, it’s back to the “villa”, where we drink, dance around to music from our iPods and generally goof off.

It’s almost 1:30 a.m. when my head hits the pillow for a long, gin-stained slumber … filled with dreams of weird movie sequences involving mysteries to be solved, and King Kong pulling down the Eiffel Tower, against a brilliant sunset.

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Touchdown in Paris

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Friday, September 14th.

I oversleep a bit this morning, clean up the flat and finish packing. I’m convinced my exit will be uneventful, but I’m dawdling by the time my host, Michael, appears at the flat. I take a few moments to thank him for his hospitality and allowing me to use his flat during my stay.

I arrive at Schoenfeld Airport, where I have my first easyJet experience. It’s … interesting. Especially the part with no assigned seating. I’m in a crush of passengers, essentially boarding a Greyhound bus with wings.

I’m eventually wedged between a twentysomething blonde – who’s wedged herself as close to the window as her slight little frame would allow – and a blond German guy in shorts, who tucks into a bag of fast food at the first opportunity. Ah, well. At least it’s a short flight.

Once safely landed at Orly Airport, I manage to navigate the luggage carousels, and the information booth, whose agent was quite helpful in directing me towards the shuttle train into the city centre.

I get to one of the main train hubs (Châtelet – Les Halles – with little difficulty … until I surface in the midst of a massive shopping mall.

Sure, there are multiple signs and escalators. But – sweaty and tired – where do I exit? Where on earth do I turn?

Just when I’m ready to just throw up my hands and let out a growl of frustration, a young woman approaches me and starts speaking French.

What should have happened (as I had been imagining in my mind for at least a month prior) was that I should have been expressing my desire to get the hell out of this place – in French.

What actually happens is that I say nothing, and a look of anxiety has likely crossed my face; the woman almost instantly switches to English. Turns out she’s a North American in Paris learning French and – as it happens – lives near the Pompidou Centre, which is the direction in which I need to go.

She graciously shepherds me out of the mall and across the Boulevard de Sébastopol, and I can see Rue Saint-Martin just off in the distance.

I make a couple of missteps, but finally head in the direction of the rental flat I’m staying in. I’m just about to set down my backpack and ring my host when I hear (the French version of) my name being called behind me.

It’s my host, Nathalie, sitting at a table outside a bar across the street, wearing a very snazzy (and almost too-warm-looking) red jacket.

“Bonjour!” I exclaim, my voice dripping with relief, and cross the street.

I sit; Nathalie helps me order me a “welcome” rum-and-coke”. We sit there – she in her sharp jacket, and I in my grubby, sweat-laden travel wear – under a somewhat grey, cloudy sky, getting acquainted. I feel very shy and extremely self-conscious (and awkward) at not being able to break into fluent French with relative ease. But I suppose that’s all right.

After our drink, Nathalie takes me to the flat, gives me the five-cent tour, shows me where everything is – including a “welcome” package of little chocolates, meringues, and THE loveliest tea. We make arrangements to meet the next day, so she can show me around the area.

And then I’m alone, in a very quiet flat. No TV. No CD player (despite there being a number of CDs). I poke around, unpack some basics and put those away.

I work through some initial anxiety and go to grab dinner at the nearest place I can find. I’m not yet ready to sit in a restaurant by myself. Which is strange, considering I did so in Berlin with a bit less worry.

The last thing I remember before getting ready for bed, is just sitting in the lone chair in Nathalie’s apartment in the middle of her flat, not doing a thing.

Just sitting there, listening to silence and the muffled, faraway sounds of the neighbourhood beyond the shut window.

And – possibly outwardly, probably inwardly – smiling.