The moment I boarded the bus to Paris it became clear that I was in for a cultural treat. On the entire trip thus far – Munich, Fussen, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam – I haven’t encountered a single person who doesn’t speak English. Most people are virtually fluent. But on this bus to France, the driver couldn’t understand even one word I said. Nor could the luggage handler. Nor could the woman sitting in front of me, nor the man who sat next to me part way through.
France was going to be different, that’s for sure.
The ride through the Dutch countryside was – as always – gorgeous. Blindingly green meadows as far as the eye can see, without so much as a hill to obstruct the endless panorama. Sadly, after sleeping only four hours, sprinting halfway across Holland, and flying through the countryside on bicycle, I was completely exhausted. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t keep my eyes opened, and slept like a baby all the way to Antwerp.
When I finally did open my eyes, one of my favorite songs – Rise Up by Yves LaRock – was playing on the radio. A couple rows in front of me someone in the front row was gathering his things. So I Rose Up and snatched one of only four seats on the 2-story bus with a full panoramic view out the second story front window – a better view even than the driver’s. Talk about a potentially disastrous situation working out perfectly; not only did I make it onto the bus, but I ended up in the best seat in the house!
Although train travel is generally far quicker and more comfortable than bus, with a view like this I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. In addition to the small villages and natural greenery I saw along the way, it was like I’d gotten a free tour of each city we passed through – particularly Antwerp, which was far prettier than I’d anticipated.
Then in Brussels, my third stroke of luck hit. While getting some fresh air as new passengers loaded up their belongings, I said hi to another traveler who looked to be about my age. She turned out to be half Dutch half Japanese, who spoke fluent Japanese and has spent more than 3 months living in Osaka. The seat next to me had just opened up, so she joined me and we chatted the entire rest of the ride to Paris – thanks to her the remaining four hours flew by like nothing. And when her local Parisian friend joined us at the bus station, it wasn’t long before I got an invite to her birthday party that Friday night.
“If you don’t have any plans, wanna come to a house party with a bunch of Paris locals?”
“Um, yeah!! 🙂 ”
We exchanged Facebook info, parted ways, and just before midnight I tucked myself into my new home for the week.
A note: Until this post I was only keeping rough blog notes on my cellphone: “Went to keukenhof. Arrived late. Weather bad but improved. Not what expected. Rented bike to ride thru fields. Rushed through Schiphol. Grumpy woman changed ticket for free. Almost missed bus.” From this point on, I began writing nearly complete posts as I went – typing full sentences and thoughts. Hopefully this’ll prevent me from falling so far behind on posts again, as turning rough notes into coherent narratives obviously takes significantly longer than coming back to fill in a few blanks for nearly-written articles 🙂