When you are living abroad for a short year you do things that you wouldn’t normally do back home. Go to an opera, a ballet, a recital and a soccer game in one week, stay out with new found friends til six in the morning, meet people from all over the world, eat falafel more than three times in a week, and travel whenever possible.
This past weekend I made the longer-than-thought trip to Paris to see my dear Smithie friends. While I knew I loved being in Hamburg, this trip reinforced how much I love this city, even though it is harder and more expensive to get to places like Paris and London than if I were in, say, Berlin. So I opted with the cheapest way- overnight train. I left Hamburg at 10:30 PM, changed trains at 3 AM in freezing cold Cologne, and continued on to Frankfurt where arriving twenty minutes late meant missing my connection to Paris by ten minutes. I almost cried. But then I put on my big girl pants and remembered that I can handle pretty much anything at this point. The lady at the information desk simply said there was one in three hours and sent me on my way. I almost cried again. But I walked around the corner and directly into a Starbucks.
Drinking my expensive-but-better-than-average-European-coffee, I quickly thought of all the things that could’ve gone wrong; then, I made a mental list of all the things to be thankful for. The best thing I realized is that traveling by rail and having a long layover means being able to leave the station and explore the city. So I ventured out into the cold, dark Frankfurt morning.
I was so happy to be finally catching the train to Paris after 12 hours underway, but I quickly realized my reservation was for the previous train and had to fight for a seat on the crowded, second-class cars. I sat next to no fewer than five people in my seat-switching, bouncing from empty seat to empty seat while I waited for people to come and claim their reserved places. I made new friends, talked politics with a Brit, and listened to people choose German, French, or English when speaking to a stranger (and inevitably choose the wrong one.)
Getting there was one of the most eventful parts. I spent the next 8 hours hanging out in Paris with Ashton and Nellie, eating Kebab döner, drinking wine in the park while freezing cold (and moving on to Starbucks with our reusable pink, plastic cups), eating (traditionally) gluten free crepes from Brittany, galettes, and walking the Champs-Élysées before getting on the 11pm bus to London with Ashton.
Taking a night bus from Paris after only 8 hours there, having to get off and go through customs with screaming teenagers at 3AM, boarding a ferry to cross the English Channel (below), and arriving in foggy, freezing Victoria Station at 7:30 in the morning is surreal, trippy, wild, and incredible.
After getting our bearings in the nearest Starbucks, we ate breakfast at the cutest cafe in Victoria, then ventured on to the Tate Britain to see the Turner Semi-Finalist Art Exhibit, then on to the Tate Modern for lunch in the cafe and a quick overview of their permanent collections before trekking all the way uptown to the British Museum.
We walked back from the British Museum to Victoria through Piccadilly and Trafalgar Squares and past Buckingham Palace, enjoying all the Christmas decorations and festivities of a Saturday night in London. London wouldn’t be complete without a pub meal, so after hot hard cider, meat and potatoes we climbed back on our bus at 9 pm. ‘Who are we!’ we commented after we pinched ourselves, ‘Can you believe we’re in London?’ We joked all the way back to Paris: ‘Remember that time that we went to London for 12 hours?’
Bus and ferry back, Metro back across the city to Ashton’s host family’s house to shower and regroup. Three nights without a bed, two full days without a shower, but two cities and a lifetime of memories with great friends. We ate Sunday brunch at the most incredible cafe, Rose Bakery, and tried hard to stay awake as we sipped juice and nibbled on fresh bread. Sunlight streaming through cold Paris; I was ready for my afternoon train back to Hamburg.
I made it home with minor delays, fewer changes in trains, and even managed to write an essay and finish readings. It was a weekend to remember.