Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life is a Highway

I actually really like that song. I know it’s a bit dated, I know it’s a bit trite, but it kinda kicks ass, and is—in my book—one of the all-time great road trip songs.
“Its relevancy to today’s post?” you might ask. Well, July 1st, I embarked on a journey: a road trip. I rented a car, filled it to the brim*, and drove through the picturesque Norman countryside and into Île de France.
I left Caen around 1 p.m. I didn’t immediately take the “interstate;” I wanted to make a quick stop in Lisieux to see the famed Carmelite Basilica. I had seen it from the train, sitting atop a hill, overlooking the city several times, but never made the 20-minute voyage. By car, it is more of a 40-minute trip as one travels at much slower speeds and must stop in every little hamlet and village on the way there. This is a complete pain in the ass if you are driving a manual transmission for the first time in almost 10 years.

The Basilica is…enormous. imposing. large. really large…big**. It is fairly new (built in the last century), and completely shames every other major cathedral I have ever seen. Ever. It’s big, yea—bigger than Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur in Paris, but the best thing about this church is the interior design. Every interior surface is covered in mosaic tiles. Saints, biblical scenes, heavenly beings, this church is off the hook, yo! They used bright, rich colors and the effect is…affecting.
There is very little else of interest in Lisieux. It is a pleasant French town with a population large enough to support a “mall” and McDo, but really skippable. The Basilica, however, is not. It is by far, my favorite church in Europe***.
Next, I was on the interstate, rocking out to a Scottish radio station I miraculously picked up. They were all about the upcoming UK/Portugal game, and were playing requests—including Tiffany’s I think we’re alone now!!!! I will never forget rolling all of my windows down, turning the volume all the way up and rocking out to my favorite 3rd grade song. I scared a few French cows, and received some concerned looks from other motorists.
Normandy is truly a beautiful region, and in the summertime, actually pleasant to visit. It is hot, green, and they like Americans. I really loved the drive, but I paid 16€ to put a quarter of a tank of gas in my Twingo, and another 15 on tolls. *grump*
Getting into Paris I did something I swore I’d never, ever do: I drove through Paris. I wish I could explain the rules of the road here, but I fear there aren’t any. In the city, there are no lanes, just space for one regular-sized car, or two compacts side by side, or two compacts and a scooter, or one regular-sized car, a dangerously close compact, and a scooter (sans helmet, of course). And as this is France, there are few stoplights, but several round-abouts. It appears to me that these are rather complete and total free-for-alls. At any given time, the large round-abouts in Paris (like Place d’Italie and l’Etoile) can have as many as 80 autos circling their cobble-stoned “lanes,” and not one of these cars, trucks, wagons abide by any of the same protocols as any of the others. And no one minds the speed limit. But I did it. I drove in Paris, and I lived. I am used to driving in heavy traffic—next to L.A., Seattle is the worst in the States, but I am not in the habit of driving in crazy traffic. Crazy traffic is…er, um crazy.
I got settled into my room, but without a parking permit, I was forced to leave the Twingo on the street. Unbeknownst to me, France would later win their World Cup Match against Brazil and everyone partying and watching the match on the big screens at the stadium next door would be spending the better part of three hours partying in said street. When I heard the fireworks, horns, and screams, I ran out into the street and to the car. I got in, locked the doors, and rolled the windows down. No one would be hurting my rental. No one. I had to sit, parked until all of the festivities were over with—which was a painfully long time, and spent several minutes trying to convince a guy that he and his girlfriend should not make-out on my bumper, and that no, I did not want to join them.
I will say that it was quite a show. Everyone was going completely nuts and the street—a main vein in Paris-- was shut down by the celebration. There was no traffic; the cops weren’t even trying. No fights, no vandalism (no permanent vandalism: a few over-turned trash cans), and a lot of fun.
And thus ended my first night back in the City of Lights.

*It took me about 3 hours to load the car (a Renault Twingo). I had pretty good visibility, but couldn’t move my seat or open the passenger door or hatch. Its tiny wheels earned their mileage that day.
**all the same thing, but different because of the spelling
***I am close to sure that is a
Carmelite church. I could be wrong. I am also close to sure that Liseux does have the French equivalent to a mall, but folks, Serena-abroad is a non-profit blog and thus, has little in the way of resources to commit to fact checking. That said, we gladly accept your generous donations in the form of clicking on the ads at the right of your screen.


Blogger Serena said...

little by little i'm gettin back into the swing of blogging-- i have internet and everything. but in my haste to get these posts online, i am taking very little care to spell check, etc. if, by chance, you see a mortifyingly egregious error- do tell. otherwise, sit on it :)

2:25 AM  
Blogger European said...

We had to drive through Paris with a camping trailer. My dad drove, my mom alternately yelled and shut her eyes, and my sister and I sat in the back, oblivious. I was 11.

Thanks, by the way, for spelling "effect" and "affecting" right. I overreact a little to those kinds of mistakes.

5:42 PM  

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