Belgium to Paris by train, blood, tears and reluctance.

It was the best of times, but the worst was coming... we were leaving Brussels today. We were leaving Sarah for something unknown, Paris, a place that I was warned was touristy, and that I'd later dub 'The Vegas of Europe'. I mean, we were excited but Brussels had been life altering. We were practically ready to marry Sarah. I offered to be a live in maid, cooking and cleaning for her and her roommate. In the end, we reluctantly left Sarah at Gare du Midi in Brussels aboard a high speed Thalys train with me sobbing like this was the last day of my life.

The day started off simple enough. I woke up several hours before everyone and walked out to Sarah's balcony, now "my" balcony, and just stood in the crisp, cool Brussels morning air. The plaza came alive as the minutes passed. It was pure joy just to watch the locals cross the street, the tram stop because of a tow truck, or the old ladies bewildered and lost on their way to buy morning flowers and a baguette. Eventually I made my way to her laptop where I felt I just had to share what was going on. It was just too much to hold in. All the beauty, all the wonder... I was in complete euphoria just pretending to be Belgian for the day. Sleeping in their real Belgian apartment, eating from the Stockel market, pretending that just for a moment that this was my life and that all the smog, fast-food, angry tea-baggers, and loud mouthed Americans wasn't my true life.

It's in these moments of bliss I can almost justify some insane thoughts. Like the homeless people in Brussels who all have puppies. The joke was if you became homeless you get a free puppy. One guy fed his dogs Belgian cookies. Even the homeless puppies are doing well here. I could do homeless I thought?

Eventually I snapped out of it. I then lost all emotional control over Sarah's tale of man and his self-gratification in front of her on a street one night when she was returning  home. We just happened to be sharing a giant hot-dog at the moment and without thinking I ended up making a comment juxtaposing the two conversations which by this point had me laughing and crying so hard I couldn't breathe. No really... I'm not exaggerating. I thought for a moment I'd pass out, miss my train and end up in some hospital with a condition of hysteria. A dream come true.... or didn't I guess. That's how I left Brussels.

The TGV really wasn't as big of a deal as I expected. I imagined prior to arriving that it would be something like a theme park ride, but high speed rail is actually pretty tame. The only way of telling how fast you're going is by the poles that go swishing by, and only if you have some reference to compare it too, like the U.K.'s National Rail.

When we arrived at Gare Du Nord in Paris there was no immigration because of the Schengen Treaty. We walked the one block to our hotel, the Albert Premier. It was a pricey 3 star with American amenities but a view to die for! Two balconies facing outward onto the city of Paris. We would only realize the beauty of the hotel when we awoke the next day to church bells from our balcony. Total movie moment.

The next 7 hours were a blur. Shan in some impromptu slap-stick comedy managed to get stuck in every Paris Metro turnstile. Buying tickets in French and not remembering how to say "ticket" in French. Walking approximately eight miles on blistered, and bleeding feet in our attempt to get all of it in, every nuance. In the end, we did pretty good. In one night we saw the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, The Louvre, Champ du Mars, every last foot of Avenue Des Champs Elysees, Notre Dame, and lastly Quick Burger. Quick Burger you scoff? We shall explain later. See we knew we were in a time crunch, add into the fact every holiday-maker (vacationers) in the world came to Paris that day and it quickly became a race against the clock. Lines over a mile long (no exaggeration) into the Eiffel Tower meant we would not get to climb the tower. We grabbed a quick sandwich at a grocery store somewhere early in the evening and ate it while walking to to the Arc De Triomph. A cute French man advises "bon apetite" with the cutest of smiles as we practically jogged in the rain. We were alive, we were having a blast... but my body was shutting down. My shoe was now awash in blood. I hobbled as fast as I could from my damaged foot. At one point before hitting Notre Dame Shannon insisted we call it a night and find a Metro station back to the hotel. This is when I grabbed her by collar and said... "I'm in effing Paris... This princess's fairy tale isn't over yet!" and off we went- blood and tears. Hope was restored inside the cathedral for a Easter service in Latin, and then finally at the end of the night a lovely stroll (hobble) back to Le Metro and back to our hotel. Before it was over though, and much to our surprise (unlike London which shuts down at 7pm) everything was still open. So we decided to hit Quick Burger.

Why Quick Burger? Well from the moment I started planning this trip Sarah had told us she'd meet us at Quick Burger at Brussels National. We never ate there with her, but for me it was this elusive restaurant that formed my images of what would become our vacation. I had always assumed the name of the restaurant wasn't "Quick Burger" but that- that was just a descriptor. No... that's its name. There's also a Quality Burger. Not exactly Parisian cuisine but with me practically now a paraplegic; the idea of grabbing some food and heading back to our room at 11pm at night seemed rightfully acceptable. That and also the fact that French and Belgian mayonnaise is amazing. It also gave me one last Paris moment. A chance to prove myself and order in French. Shan refused and pushed me to the counter. I figured, hell I can figure this out, after all, the menu actually says "Bacon, Barbecue Cheeseburger". "Deux bacon barbecue cheese burgers" I advised the lady in my best French accent. I followed up with "aux frites" and "Coca Cola". (We got O.J?) Hey it isn't pretty, but here I was the retarded little farm girl from North Carolina surviving, managing dinner in France. I was so proud of myself, and later got enough courage to add "I want" in French to the next day's ordering experience. That's immersion- one word at a time. I loved it. I wanted more. I still do, though I'm not sure how to get it.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel to ride the tiniest hotel elevator in the world up to our postage stamp bedroom where I carefully removed my shoes, took a shower and watched Super Nanny in French. Tomorrow would be another day, another train, another city. Paris is one of those places you've got to go once in your life. It's very touristy, though I bet if you stay away from the touristy things there's much more to enjoy. In all honesty I was still missing Sarah and Brussels. One last cry before bed. Tomorrow we'd be in London. "London"... I say that like it's home. It felt like it. We knew where everything is. We have all the local tools: Oyster cards, a mobile phone, and a past knowledge of what to do, and how to do it. It's a home I've visited in my dreams, and tomorrow it would be real again. Paris would fade to some mental filing cabinet, but Brussels would still be lodged in my heart like a silver bullet causing me to bleed tears of blood. Don't get me wrong, I liked Paris, Je t'aime Paris, it was dramatic, beautiful, and flamboyant. Unfortunately, and also quite ironically (and I say this as least hypocritically as I can)- there were too many darn Americans.


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