Thursday, July 30, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 10. The long and winding road to Paris

I woke up early, packed, and got on my way back to Perigueux. I had to stop at the post office, to send to myself back in the US the statuettes I had bought (the post office had the perfect box for the job and, though expensive, the cost was totally worth not having to juggle yet another piece of luggage). Then I returned my faithful little Fiat at the rental place, and was ready to go. Wait . . . the train doesn’t come for another 2 hours. The people at Avis were kind enough to let me leave my backpack there, so I decided to go visit the remains of the old Roman city. It turns out that in the first couple of centuries AD a large Roman city was built in the meander of the river where Perigueux now stands. This city was the provincial capital of one of the four provinces of Gaul (the Roman name for France), and developed into quite the small metropolis, with its own Forum (the seat of government) and Coliseum. Most of these structures have been studied by excavation between modern buildings, but the remains of a beautiful mansion have been preserved as an archaeological park and museum. I tell you, Romans of the upper class had nothing to envy from their equivalents of the modern age!

Back to Avis to pick up my stuff (folks are so nice around here) and to the station to wait for my train, which went from Perigueux to Limoge, where I had to transfer to the TGV to Paris. Now, according to me, I had to stop in the station Thivier-Limoge and, yes, that was the next station. I made a comment to that effect to the nice people around me and promptly fell asleep. … All of a sudden I was woken up by a very concerned group of people, telling me that I had reached my station and had to hurry up. Many hands helped me gather my luggage, and half asleep I tumbled out of the train, thanking my good Samaritans for their help. I stood, numb and dazed, on the tiny platform, and then my brain mumbled “it sure is a tiny station for the TGV to stop at”. Realization doomed on me that something was not right. I grabbed at my ticket and there, in black and white, said clearly “Limoge-Benedicti”. By the time I realized my error the train was departing and I was, for the time, stuck in Thivier. Still under the delusion I was in a suburb of Limoge I went in the station to find out if there was a bus or taxi that could take me to the main station in Limoge, but alas no. I was 80 km from Limoge, and would have to wait for another hour before another train to Limoge would come. This upset my connection to Paris, of course, but most important it affected the arrangements I had made to meet Maya and Geraldine at Gare Saint-Lazare at 6 pm. Nothing to it but wait.

When I got to Limoge I was able to shoot a WhatsApp message to both Gerladine and Maya, and it turns out that I was going to be only one hour late to our appointment, so nothing was broken. Maya? Yes, my spunky Goddaughter decided to come join me for four days in Paris, from her base of operations down in Basel. She was supposed to be on a grand tour of Europe with her irascible grandfather, but that was like bringing fire and gasoline together, and after a few days the mixture exploded, she grabbed her Eurail pass, and is now exploring on her own for a couple of months. Fortunately one of the Swizz aunts adopted her, she has a couple of cousins of her own age, and is gifted with a happy personality and indomitable will, so she will do grand. In the meantime I get to have her for a few days, and I am delighted about it.

So we three met as planned at Gare Saint-Lazare, took a local train to the small village where Geraldine and her family lives, and by 8 pm were happily ensconced in their beautiful kitchen exchanging news. Geraldine and I met 25 years ago, in Germany, where she was earning some credits in Economics before starting her PhD in France. Faby was 12 years old at the time, and we and other American and German friends became a core family, often getting together for dinner or fetes. She and her husband Nicolas live in a village about 40 km west of Paris, where they could buy an independent house with a large backyard, ideal for their sons Theo and Lucas to grow up. Theirs is a historic old house (the barnyard of the farm that King Louis gave to his nursemaid in her old age), that they have modernized with a lot of good taste. The ceilings are still tall and with exposed beams that are several hundred years old, but the annex of the kitchen and the bathrooms are super modern and very comfortable. It is so nice to visit old friends! 

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