Let the Good Times Roll
The next day we walked in the opposite direction we had before (a much better idea) and we hopped on the metro. Oh my goodness! The Metro! What an adventure! The metro is fine. It’s fun and you can figure out how to get this way and that without speaking any French at all. But let me warn you about the Chatelet subway stop or hub. It’s like a spider web of hallways on multiple levels. I think almost all the trains cross at that stop. Sometimes you have to go up and then down to get where you are going. It can be very confusing.
We didn’t get lost because at every turn there is a sign that says go this way for this place and that way for that place but it’s more like a “choose-your-own adventure” novel and there is really no way you can get a good birds eye picture of where you are if you’re like me with a poor sense of direction. Of course there are maps but they are not in 3-D so they don’t explain all the ups and downs you must take to go in a straight line. It’s definitely an experience I wouldn’t want to miss.
Unfortunately my Mom has put her foot down and told me she has had ENOUGH. So it looks like we’re riding the bus from now on. Which is fine because the bus goes everywhere we want to go and you get a nice view of the city while you’re getting there. It can be a bit bumpy and jolty but nothing we can’t handle. You know what’s funny but sort of cool. We bought one ticket and we use it for everything. Bus, subway, train etc etc. But when you get on the bus nobody checks your ticket. You can validate your ticket if you want but it seems to be on the honor system. Not that we didn’t pay but we just bypass the funny validating machine and sit right down. Nobody seems to mind. I wonder if I lived here if I could ride the bus for free if I wanted to…
We hopped off the metro in the basement of the BHV store. I heard about this store before I even got here. It’s a crazy department store with somewhat reasonable prices. In the basement is the hardware section. It’s as crowded as a ACE Hardware store back home but as big as a Target Greatland. I guess it’s as big as Home Depot but with tiny little aisles and no great big warehouse type ceiling. It’s a very fun place to get lost tinkering. In fact, as the urban myth goes, it is so popular that it is considered a happy hunting ground for young Parisians to meet their future mates over pipe fittings and hinges etc! How about that? Skip the smokey bar and meet your future wife while you pick what color you’re going to paint your kitchen!
It was a fun place to look but we quickly found the escalator and moved upwards towards things we can buy that don’t follow the metric system or plug into 110 plugs. My mom and I quickly found our groove. And shop shop shop we did.
In fact we shopped so much we had to buy a suitcase to fit all of the things we bought to bring home. We knew we would have to do this and had planned on it before we even left but we had no idea how quickly we would fill up our newly purchased suitcase.
But what really surprised me like a iron skillet up side the head was that I had NO IDEA my credit card would FAIL me!!!! $%#@!!!! This has been my worst experience in Paris. It’s not Paris’ fault so don’t worry, I’m not going to bag on Paris but you might want to just skip along to the next post because I am about to unload the wrath of Brenda regarding my credit card company and how they left me stranded in a foreign country without a penny!!!!
I appreciate that my credit card company is looking out for my own good. I appreciate that at the slightest sign of irregular spending they shut it off tighter than the Hoover Dam (is that a good analogy? I’m just thinking of something big and heavy) BUT I called them before I left for Paris. I told them I would be traveling from such and such a date to such and such a date and I planned on spending a lot of money while I was there. They thanked me for letting them know and the woman even lowered my interest rate. She told me she would put a note in my file and I assumed the clickety clack typing I could hear over the phone was her diligently doing just that. But now I’m thinking she playing solitaire or instant messaging her cube buddy and not paying a speck of attention to me.
So the first time my credit card got denied, I was fine. I was even fine the second and third time. I finally figured out what phone number to call and got quite used to going through all their checks and balances with security, what my mother’s maiden name is, how old I am etc etc. That was fine… up until the FIFTH TIME!!!!! By the fifth time I was steaming mad. I know what my balance is, I know what my limit is and I know I AM NO WHERE NEAR REACHING IT!!!! I understand that they see my spending behavior as suspicious because I hardly ever use my card when I am at home BUT STILL!!!! It’s not like I have ever maxed out my card. And what really made me mad was that every time I called to get the hold cleared the representative assured me IT WOULDN’T HAPPEN AGAIN!!! They promised me, they apologized, they said they understood my frustration. But did they? I don’t think so because the next time it HAPPENED AGAIN!!!
Finally, I got someone rational on the phone and he said the very same thing happened to him TEN TIMES when he was out of the country. So I guess this is just part of the course. What a stupid stupid thing! They should be happy to lend me money. I’m good for it. They will make a huge profit off me. What a stupid stupid company. When I get home I fully intend to switch to another company unless they pay for all of my cell phone calls which should add up to about $50 by now since every time I call I have to pay 99 cents a minute.
But it doesn’t end there.
Because my mom is a big sweetheart and she hates to see me humiliated in public, she pulled out her bank card and rescued me four of the five times. And because we have been spending a lot and she rescued me in this way, she over-extended her bank account and incurred charges because she doesn’t have over-draft protection. And then because her bank saw that her balance was zero and someone in Paris was spending money like a fiend, they shut her account down too! So here we are in Paris with no money!!!
Thankfully I do have a phone number on my card that I can call and get it released after every transaction but it is the biggest pain in the ass ever. Try reading off your credit card number out loud on a crowded street or in a busy department store. If you can even hear yourself or the crackly person on the other end of the phone line, then you need to worry that some pick pocket or thief might be hearing as well and remembering your social security number and your mother’s maiden name for their own future gain. It’s good that they do this but if I had known this would happen I would have come with three or four cards and maybe just paid cash. Another good thing is that after I get my card released I have been able to get euros out of the ATM so I am shopping the old fashioned way from now on. So technically, we are not stranded and penniless but the threat is there and it is SCARY!!!
You’re probably thinking maybe it’s time Brenda, the tourist, stepped outside the department store and learned to appreciate the simpler things in life. I would agree with you BUT I HAVE BEEN SAVING UP FOR FOUR MONTHS just so I could shop with abandon in the mecca of all things fashionable. I thought using a credit card would be the safest way to go since they really discourage traveler’s checks these days. Now I just don’t know. Maybe someone else with a more active credit spending habit would have better luck. I’m usually really good and pay off my card every time I use it. I’m probably not their favorite type of customer. And after my last few phone calls I’m definitely not their favorite customer. At least not with the call center in India.
It was a sad day as we said farewell to our tour buddies and loaded up our luggage into a taxi to go to our new hotel. It got even sadder as we drove away from our old familiar quaint neighborhood and into somewhere strange and not quaint at all. The buildings got taller, the sidewalks colder… in fact it all looked a bit industrial to me. For a minute I thought I was in downtown New York or something. I kept my feelings inside, hoping our hotel would be something special since it had been recommended and the pictures on the internet seemed really cool.
But everybody knows how misleading pictures on the internet can be. I’m a chief offender myself. I always post the most appealing pictures and toss the rest. I love portraying a rosier side of life. That’s all fine except when you’re buying a house or reserving a room at a hotel. It was nothing like what it advertised and the free internet access? Well, that was a crock too. This hotel does offer internet access but you can either pay 6 euros for a half hour or 25 euros for 24 hours. Obviously I opted for the 25 euro deal but it was a bit of a surprise especially when I had to express my confusion in broken French.
We trudged up the stairs and into our room. Right away we re-arranged the furniture to accommodate my mom’s breathing machine (she has sleep apnea). The plugs were all on one wall and the beds (two twins pushed together under one bed spread) on the other so now we have a very creative arrangement of furniture with my bed on the wall where the head board is and my mom’s pushed up against the mini-fridge and television stand. The maids are going to love us.
As soon as I had rearranged the furniture, I quick-like-a-bunny, popped open my laptop computer to see what kind of networks I might be able to log onto. I was hoping there might be some free connection I could get through the wall… you just never know. There was a connection all right but I needed an access code, so downstairs I went to get the access code. Next step: logging on with access code. Denied! Try again. Denied! Try Try Try again. Still denied. Down the stairs I go hoping not to seem like a really high maintenance customer with an addiction to the internet.
It didn’t work until after 9pm that night. The hotel had to call their IT guy and everything. It was sad sad sad. I hate to admit it but I even had a little cry about it. What a spoiled brat I am. I think I was feeling just the first twinges of homesickness and all I really wanted to do was call Toby, but of course he’s sleeping when I’m awake so that was out of the question.
The reality is, the weather had turned. Everything was suddenly gray and cloudy and cold. Our new neighborhood was unfamiliar and not as open and full of people as our old neighborhood. Our guides were gone and it was just now sinking in that here I am in a strange country where the menus aren’t always translated into English and I’m without a clue where to go or what to do. I can’t stay in my hotel all day. I’d never live that down. I must get out and about but my mood was darkening and I really started to question my choice to extend my stay. Plus, six days with your mom is bound to wear you thin even if she is the best mom on the planet. I think what really got me is that I’m the brave one and I have to be the one who always asks how to get somewhere or how much something costs. After a while I just wanted to take a brain nap and let my mom do the all the talking. I think I really got spoiled with our tour guides doing everything for us. It didn’t help that I got the could shoulder from a few locals when I attempted to get them to speak English for me. I totally don’t blame them for being annoyed but it’s just so hard sometimes.
You have to approach Parisians with just the right amount of politeness and butchering of their language. If you try too hard they dismiss you as an idiot, if you don’t try at all they dismiss you as an idiot. I’ve found that immediate eye contact and a quick “bonjour” is very very important. Skip that step and you might as well just walk out and try again at the next stop.
Good thing my mom is a smart cookie. She knew just what would revive my spirits: a strong cup of “cafe” and a brisk walk around the block. Before we knew it we were be-bopping into shops and buying my nieces all kinds of expensive Parisian clothes. The little kid’s clothes here is soooooo cute! I couldn’t resist. And so all’s well that ends well, right?
Stay tuned though, the plot thickens…
Isn’t this car cute? It can park both ways! Parallel to the sidewalk or perpendicular because it’s square! This would solve all my parking hassles back home. Also for future reference: notice how ugly my hair is.