Saturday, July 1, 2017

My love-hate relationship

Hi all,

I'm going to write about something I think most travelers have experienced. The love-hate relationship. Not with someone, or with the feeling of endless travel, but with a city. You adore this city, idealizing it as you plan your trip. But then you get there and it stomps on you, steals your money, and throws you overboard. This is a story about Paris, France.

I had visited Paris in June 2007 as the starting point of a group tour across France, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal for intrepid high schoolers. Well our plane from Virginia was delayed, we missed our flight from New York, and we spent the day at a Newark mall instead of on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. But I'll tell that story later. Oh and then there was the MRD trip to London and Paris in 2011, in which my flight group missed the Paris part and had to meet up with everyone in London. Basically Paris was a blip in my memory, and a sore spot, and I was determined to visit it fully in 2016. As the start of my big European Backpacking Adventure!

Flying in was exciting and the first days were enjoyable. But cold. Parisians were wearing coats in the middle of June. I wandered, I recolored my hair, I sipped classy drinks and ate fine food. I tried to live as a local and experience Paris correctly. I had a plan to see the tourist sites on the weekend, after I moved from my current Airbnb to a hostel across town. A teaching family I knew was also going to be in Paris the day that I moved, so I planned on dropping my stuff off and then exploring with them. See I made good plans. I was nice to the city. And it repaid me by kicking me in the stomach.

*Here's where it gets TMI. You've been warned.*
I thankfully have a habit of packing up most of my stuff the night before I leave a place. Plus I'd only just arrived 2 days ago, so most of my stuff was still packed. My Airbnb was in a cool student neighborhood and the host (in messages, he wasn't in town) had recommended a pizza place nearby. I wandered naively down there, had a beer, and ordered what ended up being a full pie.

It looked fine. I took a photo of it for Instagram (later deleting it after the horror) and dug in. I was never going to eat it all, but I made a decent dent. Then my stomach felt... unsure. I had another beer to settle it. I decided not to have any of my wine when I got back to the apartment and got ready for bed. I remember listening to a Spanish CD from my laptop to lull me to sleep.

*Some of this story I wrote the day after the "incident", so let's now time-travel to my nice hostel in Paris (where I moved).*

June 17th, 2016.

I just realized today is my half-birthday. 25.5.

Sucky day to celebrate though because today... (graphic, read on at own "ew" risk) I woke up with what I assume has been food poisoning. Probably from the combo of pizza and beer last night. Throw-up count is at 4 (3am, 4am, 9:30am, 4pm) and my stomach was empty-empty when last I saw its contents (water). I've been dizzy all day and my muscles feel super weak and useless. 

I'm at a hostel now, and a very nice Argentinian woman bought me gatorade, which has helped. A French woman also gave me some strong paracetamol and stomach spasm medicine. I laid down on a couch in the hostel (room wasn't ready yet) for several hours midday. No lunch.

Tried to have the tiniest bit of banana when I woke up in the afternoon after incident 4pm and that was a trigger on my poor stomach. Last expulsion seems to have helped my dizziness though, and I now have a bed (bunk, so gotta be careful) so I'm down for the next several hours. Didn't get to see the teaching family today on account of trying to not feel like death.

Being sick sucks, but the positive factors are: 
1) I've learned I don't give a __ what strangers think of me.

2) I'm able to be respectful even when I'm white as a ghost and lacking stomach bile.

3) People are super nice, just, there are really good people all around. 

4) I'm in this hostel until Sunday morning when I'm planning on going to Monaco, but nothing is booked, so travel-freedom has taken that pressure off my mind.

5) This hostel is clean and the hosts are very helpful. One guy carried my ridiculous, huge purple backpack up the stairs for me and the main host let me sleep on the couch downstairs for those hours.

6) I honestly don't care if I don't see all the sites in Paris. Which I may well not. I got to Notre Dame. Yes the Eiffel Tower is special, but I won't cry about not getting to see it on this trip. I'll be in Europe again someday when I live here.

Stay hydrated and healthy my friends,

I don't think you really need the gory details, but if you've read this far apparently you want them.
Still reading? Okay I'll tell you.

My body rejected everything possible that night at the apartment. I thought I was okay in the morning, waking up around 7am, and even walked down the street to a supermarket to buy a banana and some yogurt as breakfast. Foolish me.

I packed up my bags fully and managed to walk down the street wearing my 20+ pounds of luggage (backpacks) on my poor body. Mind over matter, legs just keep moving. I got to the metro and held on to the railing as the train rolled and rocked in that usual way. Except that my stomach was not happy. I thank the universe that the doors of the train opened at a random, open-air station just as the banana and yogurt decided to leave me. That was the 9:30am incident. I managed to get my front backpack off before spewing my guts on a plastic chair bench and the wall behind.

This will make you laugh with pity - I felt so guilty for the mess that I tried to wash it all away with my water bottle. Then I found a station manager and explained that he should call someone to come with a hose to wash it away. So thankful it was an open-air station...

Now I wasn't crazy enough to try to get on another train and continue my journey to the hostel. My weakened body was going to have to make the trip on foot. At least it was a nice day and I felt capable to walking with my backpacks as long as I could breath fresh air and rush to a bush or trash can if needed. (My willpower is pretty strong some days. Still, I definitely wished I wasn't traveling alone right then.)

I had the GPS coordinates on my phone (Thanks Google Maps!) and started off on the longest trek of my life. Well it felt like that because I was slower than a snail and didn't feel I was getting any closer. I passed through a park that had a dinosaur statute in it. I dragged myself along a row of endless identical houses on an empty sidewalk. That's when I sat down and surrendered to the streets of Paris. Accepting that the city had beat me and that we shouldn't be together anymore.

I considered just booking myself into the next hotel I saw, but I didn't see any. I considered paying a driver however much was necessary to get me to the hostel but then worried about getting sick in their car. I considered ordering a taxi but my phone just had wifi access, not calling or instant internet. And again, the car movement worried me. So I sat there.

Eventually, superhumanly, I summoned enough energy to pull myself up and trudge on to the hostel. It was a very welcome sight. But it was like 11am and the room wouldn't be ready until 4pm. The host was lovely. She saw I was in a miserable state and let me collapse on the couch in the "game room" down some stairs.

I shamelessly covered myself completely in a blanket and lay still like a corpse on that couch for the whole afternoon. I probably creeped some people out. I tried to get up once in the afternoon and incident 4 told me that my mind was not going to win this battle of wills over my body. Luckily I was in a bathroom. Then, as the journal entry says, I met nice people who helped. I survived, got to my room, slept, and later got online to apologize to the family since we hadn't met up. It hadn't been a set plan, just a maybe.

The next day I was better. 24 hours of destruction and the poison was out of my system. Thank your body today - it knows what to do in these situations, even if disgusting.

So then I had a lovely weekend wandering around the sites in Paris, as I'd planned. Even met someone cute. But that's another story. See you later!    

Happy traveling!
- Christina

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