As I write this, I’m sitting in the train station in Sweden after having taken my second night train in 2 days and waiting for my connection to farther north. This night train, though, was a lot more successful than the first.
I left Le Chambon early on Wednesday morning and headed for Paris. I arrived by 13h00 and had arranged to meet up with some friends of mine at 17h15, so I had about four hours to hang around. I’ve been to Paris twice before and spent a lot of time walking across the city. If you know me, you know I’m not a big fan of big cities. They tend to have a lot of people and, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a people person. Paris is better than most big cities, but it's still a big city.
This time, though, seemed to be fairly low on tourists compared to when I’ve been there before. After a delicious Parisian meal (for the record, I’ve never paid for a meal in France that I didn’t enjoy to the utmost, but then I don’t eat at the normal tourist places) that was, of course, more than I could possibly eat, I walked along the Seine and drank in the view (and the language!) for awhile before deciding to head toward Notre Dame. I had visited the famous church back in 2004, but there were a lot of people at the time, and I wanted to take another look. I approached the cathedral from the back. This let me walk through all the lovely parks surrounding it. Parks tend to be one thing out of many that the French are experts at. When I arrived at the front of the cathedral I discovered to my dismay that I couldn’t take my backpack in with me.
With no baggage check and nothing to do, I decided to head on toward Paris Nord, the station I was to leave from for Berlin. Since I still had a few hours, I decided to walk and drink in the sights. I met my friends one metro stop away from Paris Nord at a Starbucks (yes, they do have them in Paris). Holly came to France one month after my first visit to work with the mission group (CEF) I had done my summer-mission’s trip with. We met in 2006 when I went back to France and have been in contact via email for two years. She married the eldest son of the CEF national director in France right after I left in 2006. Our chat was too brief, but it was lovely to meet up with someone with whom I share a common language, country, religion, and world view. I can’t remember talking about anything particularly important in our chatting (except the French waitress who asked me what cologne I was wearing... awkward), but I do remember that I was incredibly refreshed afterwards. This is something that God has allowed me to experience several times in my stay in Europe so far: the refreshing fellowship of the Saints. First my friends in Holland, then my Northern Irish friends in Brussels, Mary, Peter, and Susan & Geoff in London, and Holly & Jean in France. Most of these people I would never have met if we all lived in the same country. Or we would have approached each other with suspicion, distrust, and our doctrinal divisions.
My time in Paris came all too quickly to an end as I boarded my train toward Berlin. The train was fully booked I had reserved my tickets too late to get a couchette (bed in shared compartment) or a sleeper. I was stuck in a tiny compartment with five other people. Two of them, a teenage boy and his mother, didn’t speak French, English, or German, but they did speak some language that sounded something like a cross between a dying frog and fingernails on a chalkboard. What they had been doing in France or how they managed to get around is beyond me. They were from somewhere in eastern Europe and kept their eyes lowered the whole time. Strange. The other people in my car were nice enough, but we were so cramped and tired that no one really talked a lot. I did end up having a nice long conversation in the corridor with a lovely Frenchman and his wife who were going to Berlin to visit their daughter. He didn’t speak any English so it was great for giving me one last stretch of my French skills. Seriously, I think my French improved more in four days in France than ten weeks in Belgium. It makes me wish I had been more assertive in going to Paris. But then I would have missed all the fun and people I met in Brussels.
So to you, my dear reader, I leave three closing thoughts: 1) The fellowship of the Saints is refreshing indeed, 2) if you want to learn a foreign language, go to the country of its origin, and 3) if you’re going to take an overnight train, make sure you get a couchette or sleeper.