The trip from France back to Ireland

I’m really late with this post, but it’s been a busy 2 weeks since I got back to Ireland. Be forewarned, this is a really long narrative.

This is what I wrote in my journal on my travels from France back to Ireland, beginning on Monday, 2 May 2011:

It’s 4:30am here in Poitiers at the train station. I’ve been here in one of the waiting rooms since about 11pm last night. I wasn’t supposed to be able to stay here, but after being rousted from the main station, I wandered back towards the parking garage and found an open door. Not realizing this was an actual waiting room, I just sat down in a corner and worked a puzzle until I got so sleepy I was able to sleep sitting up in various positions. Each time I went to sleep, I only stayed that way for about half an hour. Once or twice I think I slept almost an hour. My neck hurts from curling forward over my knees, my back hurts from leaning back over the chair.

I’m cold and still wet from the horrific rain shower I endured huddled in a shop doorway earlier. The storm was so strong the street was white with small hail and thunder was so close I’m sure I came very close to getting hit by lightning. I thought I was going to meet an American living here who is a CouchSurfer. It took me over an hour of walking to find her apartment building, including getting directions from a couple of people in my broken French. Alas, she didn’t appear to be home. The storm that had been threatening during my walk started up, and I waited over a half hour in the shop doorway, until I gave up and went down the street to Le Raja, a Pakistani/Indian restaurant I’d seen earlier. The smells were heavenly! I was greeted warmly, taken to a table and brought a pappadum and a complimentary aperitif (white wine, rum, orange juice, and rose syrup, in a small glass with a rose-scented sugar rim). I ordered butter chicken (mild to medium spice), and a garlic nan, along with 250ml of the red table wine and water. My waiter said “toilette?” at the same time I did, and we both laughed. I said, “je suis une femme,” and he said essentially that he figured I’d need it because of the rain. I lingered as long as I could over my dinner, and left just after 10pm.

I walked back to the CouchSurfer’s building and a couple arriving home let me in. I went up to her apartment and rang the bell twice, but no answer, so I left and walked all the way back down to the Gare (train station) and settled in to spend the night. Lest you think CouchSurfing isn’t a good thing, let me explain that I didn’t actually wait to hear back from her before setting out to find her. I didn’t have access to a French mobile phone, and my UK sim card didn’t have enough money on it to call her. So my bad; you know what they say about assuming.

My train (the TGV) to Paris leaves at 8:20am. I’ll need to go to a self-service kiosk once the main hall opens and print out my ticket from the confirmation code I received when I booked the travel. Hopefully I’ll find wifi on the train, or at least a power outlet so I can recharge my laptop and play games and/or work on photos for my blog.

I’ll need to find some food before I board. I could eat a low carb protein bar–I still have 2–but I’d rather have real food. This train will only take about 2 1/2 hours to get to the Paris airport. Once there I’ll have just about an hour and a half to get to the bus terminal there (I think it’s just a short walk).

The lights came back up in the waiting room. Sometime after midnight they were turned off. I had the idea that someone had seen me and turned off the lights while I was sleeping, but I think they’re on a timer. The arrival/departure screens had turned off as well and came back on almost an hour ago.

This is what I wrote on Wednesday after I got back to Corcreggan Mill:

Wow, what a day. Feels like more than 16 hours since I last wrote. On the train from Poitiers to Charles De Gaulle airport, I met an American girl who was doing a semester in France. We chatted quite a lot, and I gave her my card so she could contact me. Then I walked more than I thought I would to find where I was to pick up the Eurolines bus from Paris to London (at the same place that the Disneyland Paris buses leave from). THAT trip was very weird and awesome.

The coach to London didn’t cross over on a ferry like I thought it would, but instead took the Eurotunnel under the English Channel. The bus entered a train, and it felt like going into the belly of a snake. I was a little claustrophobic. Once in, the train took off. The only way I knew we were moving is the gentle side-to-side swaying, and the fact that my ears started popping from the descent under the seabed. It only took 20-30 minutes to cross, though, and we were soon back on the surface and traveling to London.

On the coach, I began a conversation with the woman sitting across the aisle from me. Gaëtane is French, and a year and a half ago just decided to uproot herself and her young daughter (not quite 5 now) and moved to London. Her English was very good, which was nice for me. We chatted from the French side of the Eurotunnel all the way to London.

Once at Victoria Coaching Station, Gaëtane and I walked together to Victoria train station. She took a train to her destination; I bought a single tkt and took the Victoria underground line to Euston station. Went to a ticket kiosk and printed out my tickets. Went to the toilet, bought a Cornish steak pasty and a bottle of water, found a post box to mail John’s voting ballot, and then went back to get HP sauce. Went to platform 4 where I realized I was missing a ticket stub from Crewe to Chester. I went back to talk to the ticket people, who said no problem, it was only a 20 minute ride. Went to platform 4 but there was no train so I decided I’d better recheck the departures board. That was when I discovered my train was departing from platform 14. I had to run the entire length of the train to get on about a minute or 2 before it left. The train to Crewe took an hour and a half or so, then I hopped off (and lugged my bags up a flight of stairs over the tracks and back down) and onto another train to Chester (20 mins), then hopped a final train to Holyhead, in Wales. My ferry ticket is connected with the train. Once there, I had a wait of about an hour and a half before sailing. Made friends with an Irish couple who’ve been living in England for several years, but were going home for a funeral, and a lovely man named Gerry, who, in typical Irish fashion, grilled me on all the aspects of my life and travels.

The ferry arrived at 5:55am; the bus back to Dublin city was later than the posted 6:10am, but was an uneventful ride. The McGinley coach wasn’t due to leave until 9:30am, so I had plently of time to walk from the bus station to Parnell Square. Oh, but of course, I needed to pee again, so decided to have breakfast at Candy’s Café on the corner. Was served one egg, 2 sausages, one slice of bacon, and what was probably the worst coffee I’ve ever had. Adding milk only lightened it slightly, and adding a lot of sugar didn’t improve it. Tried to pay with my PayPal debit card, only to have it denied…twice. The gent wouldn’t take my British pound coins, and I only had €3 besides the €20 note I needed for the bus ride. Horrors! I ended up leaving my bags at the café and traipsing three blocks to the Bureau de Change. The fairly rude man there informed me he didn’t change coins, and no banks would, either. I was almost in tears and really wanted to yell at him. I left the shop and was informed by the tourist shop owner next door that he’d change my money for me. He tried to give me €7 for £9, about the opposite of what should have happened, telling me it was because ‘they’ were dearer. I said, ‘right, so I should get MORE euros, not less.” I was happy to trade even, though, and so he gave me €9, plus I just gave him the British change in my pocket. I paid my €6.50 bill, went to the toilet (again!) and then went to wait on the bus driver.

When the McGinley Coach driver arrived, he checked out the bus, then said he had a flat tire and would be back in 10-15 minutes with another bus. It was a little cold, but I managed to while away the time until he returned, and then we set off. I was so tired, I kept falling asleep on the journey. However, once we reached Letterkenny, I was wide awake and looking for my first view of Muckish Mountain. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the gorse blooming bright yellow, as well as the white thorn (hawthorne).
As I got off the bus at Corcreggan Mill, I noticed the coconut rum smell of the gorse was intense. I walked down the driveway, dropped my bags in the annex, then wondered where everyone was. Marina came out and was watering a plant. When she saw me, she hugged me and welcomed me back. She took me to see Denis’s new wall. Denis dropped what he was doing and ran to hug me, as well. I hugged Darian, and Danu kissed me. Marina gave me leftover rice and venison and tea, and later, when Brendan came home, he gave me a hug, as well. I felt like I was well and truly home in that moment. Such a welcome is not to be taken lightly.

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