Last London Looks then on to Paris
Today Boxing Day is a holiday following Christmas and observed in England, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Its major significance at this time seems to be a setting for the post-Christmas sale. Here our English speaking cultures seem to meet, in the drunken ecstasy of consumerism, buying things with all the fury of past Dionysian Bacchanals.
But, before that, in England and those former colonies that most closely followed the mother ways, folk working in service; mail carriers, milk deliverers, paper carriers, would be given a gift of cash.
And before that, many think Boxing Day came out of Medieval England. There the gentry would give their servants who, of course, had to work on Christmas Day, on the next day after Christmas a box filled with goods, coins, cloth, tools, fruit.
But, before that, it would seem on this day the churches would open their poor boxes and distribute whatever was in them to the needy of the community. This, I think is important. Here, I believe, we begin a turning into something compelling. Now we are moving into the ancient and dark and mysterious where the light can be discerned and collected. Here we are at a point of serving the vast web of relationships. Here something holy is going on. Here that light dreamt by so many begins to gather.
At the north tip of Hyde Park is Speaker’s corner. Each Sunday anybody and everybody can come, get on their soapbox, and speak their mind. Topics range from politics to religion to mumblings. Dad and I walked up (it’s just 2 blocks from the hotel) to see who was performing this morning. Only one black guy was there. He was surrounded by about eight individuals. Frankly, he had nothing to say but said many words. I believe he was rambling about religion, but don’t quote me on it.
Dad had yet seen the changing of the guard. We walked down to Buckingham Palace and got a front row seat. The best seat is just to the left of the main gates and right up front. You have to arrive mighty early to gain a decent position. The guard changes at 11:30 am every other day during the winter months.
Today is our last day in downtown London. We pack and ride the metro LHR. Security to Paris is definitely more relaxed then in the US. Nobody has to remove coats or shoes; laptops do not have come out their bags; and the general impression is a more hassle-free atmosphere. Boarding passes are checked before you enter the gate area. Air France, our carrier, buses us out to the plane. Not all their gates have a jet-way. The flight is uneventful. Air France serves complimentary beverages to all cabin passengers – including alcohol. Way different from the US carriers!
Landing at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport finally makes me realize I’m no longer in the states. Traveling through Scotland and London was unique but at times you would think you had not left the States. No longer the case! We made our way to the Sorties (exits), found an ATM and retrieved 100 euros, then gingerly purchased train tickets to downtown. That was my first experience communicating with a French national. Fortunately, almost everyone we encountered spoke at least “a little” English. (I would say 70% of the people we spoke to in French knew “a little” English. That was the common answer to “do you speak English?”)
Communicating and navigating CDG was such a new, overwhelming, and exhilarating time that we forgot about personal security. And it almost cost us (me). Let me setup the situation. Imagine my dad, my mom and myself sitting on a metro train traveling to downtown. We are trying to interrupt the map to find our transfer stop while confirming we are heading the right direction. Also remember everything is in French. We have two bags a piece. My day camera bag is snapped over one of our roller boards. Most of our luggage is in the booth of seats with me. Mom and dad are sitting the next booth back. I’m right next to the door, my back turned away from the door. About five stops into the trip somebody taps me on the shoulder. Of course, I turn around and look. The man (Hispanic decent, ~35ish) asks which endpoint the train is heading towards. I stand and point. He speaks French, I do not, so it takes a minute. He does not seem to be getting it so I turn back around. As I am turning I see a second man (black also ~30’s) moving away from my camera bag. Dad is standing up coming towards the bags. It still doesn’t click, until I look and see the camera bag half unzipped and unclipped from the roller board. Then it hits me like a bag of bricks – the textbook distract, grab and run scam. Thankfully, they failed! But what makes this story really interesting is that my camera was housed in my camera/laptop bag at my feet. Only apples were in my day camera bag. I almost wished they had taken it!
This incident was probably the best thing that happened. We all had become complacent. Never in London or Scotland did I ever feel threatened or insecure. After the failed distract, grab and run we were much more aware and protective. The bottom line is this: while in public watch your belongings like a hawk. Do not sit near a train’s exit. And never leave an object easily distinguishable (eg. camera bag) in the open!
Wow. With that behind us we get off at Chatlet and transfer to the yellow line to George V. Navigating the French metro is not simple, at first. Arrows do not always point in the direction you should walk. We saw numerous examples where arrows point in opposite directions (side by side signs) to a location! Our final destination was Chatelle de Gualle. The Arc de Troumpe stares us in the face when we exit to street level. The arc unites about seven different roads. Its massive structure is a great Paris greeting.
The hotel is wonderful. It’s the five star Starwood property, Prince de Galles, on George V avenue. George V intersects with Champs des Elyess – a main thoroughfare connecting the Arc de Troumpe and Concorde place. The staff is accommodating (English speaking, too) and the room is nicely furnished. Mom believes the bathroom here is the best we’ve had. She has fallen in love with the towel warmers.
Tonight we meander over a few streets and locate a French restaurant. They speak some English but we have to point and explain a lot. Smiling and talking very slow seems to help.
The day has been long and it is now bedtime.