Tag Archive | bus

Saturday in Spain II

So, they tell me yesterday was Friday. I don’t know where all these Fridays keep coming from. Around here, everyday feels pretty much the same, so it’s hard to tell the difference. Anyways, that’s another French Friday no-show, so you get the second installment of Saturday in Spain.

Spanish was the first foreign language I learned. I started in 8th grade and continued on into college, even though by that point, my French had largely eclipsed it. But the Spanish is still in my brain, hiding. And there are a few weird cases where a certain word in Spanish has always been stronger than the equivalent in French. Lápiz versus crayon, for example. When we planned our trip to Valencia, Spain six years ago, I was a little nervous, but hoping that Mr. Gren was right — that it would all come back to me when I needed it. I booked our flights and hotel and came up with a loose itinerary.

One fun thing about Valencia is that it is very Castilian and they speak with that classic lisping accent. I was all prepared to lisp my S’s. I was not prepared, however, to lisp every single consonant. My first experience with it was when we got off the plane and were waiting out on the curb in front of the airport, trying to figure out which bus we needed. I asked a man about the bus schedule and my ears strained hard to decipher words through all that lisping, but it was enough to get me locked in on the Spanish of the area. After that, it was fun. The airport we landed at was quite a ways away from the city center and I remembered from looking online that there was a bus we could take to a more central terminal which would put us within walking distance of our hotel. After figuring out the buses with the man on the sidewalk, Mr. Gren, baby Rana and I boarded the one that would take us into the city. It was a strange bus ride. It wound up and down every block through the outskirts of town, stopping every two minutes it seemed. We saw parts of Valencia that tourists definitely never see. We were on that bus for over an hour, trying to keep our luggage out of people’s way and trying to keep the baby happy.

Finally, we pulled into a big, bustling hub. We got off the bus and walked out to the sidewalk and I started getting a funny feeling. Looking back at the bus station, we saw that it was a hub for long-distance coach buses. This was not where we were supposed to be. But clearly, none of those buses were going to take us any further into town, so we set out walking, hoping to find another bus stop. Around the block we did find one and it happened to have a large map of Valencia posted on the back of the shelter. From where we were standing, we could see the large, dry riverbed that runs right through the city and we could identify it on the map. But we couldn’t find a street sign to narrow down our location. Luckily, right about that time, a police officer happened to be walking by. Using my new Castilian Spanish, I asked, “Perdoneme, señor… donde estamos??” He laughed and was very friendly and helped us find our location on the map. He asked where we needed to go and told us where we could catch a bus that would get us to our hotel. I like that police man. We had to walk a little further dragging our luggage and pushing a baby stroller, but we made it to the right bus and got into the beautiful center of Valencia without any more trouble. And my Spanish was rolling back in, just like Mr. Gren said it would.

French Friday #46: Gone to the dogs

The French love their dogs. Yes they do, you widdle cutey oh wes dey do! Dogs get a  lot of grace in France that they might not get in other places.

First: the poop. Americans are horrified at the idea that French dogs poop on the sidewalk. There are fines for it in most cities, but the fines apply only if you (or, your dog, rather) get caught. What that means is, there is still a lot of poop on the sidewalks. But, y’know? It’s really not that big of a deal. In 3.5 years of living in France, I never once stepped on a little doggy pile. The trick is this: You have to learn to scan the ground about three feet ahead of you as you walk. Not in a head-swiveling, cartoony kind of way. It’s all in the eyes. It is a skill and at first you’ll have some close calls, but with a little practice, you’ll be sauntering along with no problem at all. Then, around 4 a.m., little green men swarm through the Parisian streets and hose everything off so that they’ll be fresh for a new day of pedestrians and their pets.

Statue dogs don’t poop.

Second: The French own more than just poodles. For some reason, Americans have got it in their heads that this is somehow quintessentially French:

Honestly, I can’t remember seeing anyone walking a poodle like this (much less a pink one). I have no idea where that stereotype came from. It’s weird. A lot of French people have smaller dogs just because a lot of French people live in apartments, but I can’t even remember seeing any poodles in that group. When I was in Grenoble, the most popular dog to have was a German shepherd. My friends and I used to wonder jokingly whether that was part of the welfare system since it seemed like every panhandler in the city had a German shepherd (not very sensitive of us, I know).

In our apartment outside of Paris, there was a man who lived on the top floor who had an enormous bear of a dog. I have no idea what breed it was, but it was huge and hairy and probably could have given pony rides to small children. Or heck, probably even me. This man had the annoying habit of taking his gigantic beast of a dog in the elevator. Our elevator was small, fitting two people comfortably, three friends rather closely, and four people in 40 seconds of interminable social awkwardness. It was not made to accommodate people + a large furry animal. The worst was when I had the elevator loaded up with my groceries and the man and his bear dog commandeered it, crammed themselves in on top of my food for the week and took it all down to the first floor. Merci, dude. You’re awesome.

Third: Dogs can go anywhere. Oh yes they can. Well, just about. Storekeepers take their dogs to work. Dogs ride the bus. Dogs can politely lie under their master’s table at a restaurant. Like I said, dogs are given a lot of grace in France, (sometimes more than children). It seemed more natural there, but for some reason, it still bugs me here in the States when I see little dogs riding in grocery store carts.

This dog sells home decor in Rueil. He has made an appearance on this blog before.

Not the most definitive essay on French canines, just a little fun. Have a good Friday, everyone!

French Friday #7: The wheels on the bus

When I did my study abroad in Grenoble, I chose to live with a host family rather than in the dorms. I was placed with an older lady named Hélène who lived in centre ville. We got along quite well and I loved being smack in the middle of the city. Another plus was being able to walk out the door of her 400 year old apartment building and right onto the tram which took me straight to the university. This was a wonderful bonus not only for its convenience but also because Hansel & Gretel are better with directions than I am. Not having to switch lines or even remember which stop to get off at (the university was the end of the line) saved me from inevitable backtracking and tardiness. I had never taken any form of public transportation before and the tram was a nice introduction: clean, fast, simple.

There's the door on the left and my bedroom window is the one on the far right in the middle. Great view! The tram stop is right below.

I participated in the CUEF program (Centre universitaire d’études françaises) at the Université Stendhal. All of the international students were placed in a grammar class according to their proficiency level in French. The grammar classes had from 15-20 students and met every morning; in the afternoon we had elective classes, divided  into merely Upper Level French and Lower Level French. Those classes were much larger, taking place in auditoriums that seated a couple hundred students. Because of the small size of the grammar classes, we got to know the other students there fairly well. I became friends with a Korean girl named Kyung Jin. Just a few months before, I had taken some Korean classes at a Korean church in my town. I used the little bit of Korean that I had learned to break the ice early on with Kyung Jin and it was well worth it.

Université Stendhal, my school for a semester

Kyung Jin invited me to lunch at her apartment one weekend, along with a Danish and a Norwegian girl from our class. I was excited to do something social outside of school. Trepidation began to set in, however, when I realized she lived far off my trusty tram route. I was going to have to expand my public transportation horizons. I was going to have to take the bus. Kyung Jin gave me the bus number and I picked up a route schedule on my way home from school. I studied it for quite awhile that evening until I was sure confident not completely terrified about venturing off my beaten path.

Kyung Jin and my host parents, Hélène and André

The next morning, I made it to the bus stop and onto the bus without incident. It was going to be a ride of about twenty minutes, so I settled in and stared out the window at this area of Grenoble that I had never seen. About halfway to Kyung Jin’s place, the bus pulled into a designated bus turn-out. People began filing off. It seemed like a lot of people. But I noticed that most of them seemed to be junior highers, so I just figured that there must be a school nearby (French schoolchildren all ride the public buses; there are rarely buses reserved just for shuttling kids to and from school. Something a lot of American communities could take into consideration…). But wow, it sure did seem quiet after that. I sat patiently in my seat in the middle of the bus, waiting to continue my journey. Huh. The driver turned off the engine. Strange. I was beginning to feel a little nervous as I watched the driver in the mirror at the front of the bus. He lit a cigarette; he turned slightly in his seat and put his feet up on the dashboard; and then he unwrapped a sandwich. The dimmer switch on my brain slowly brightened to a full glow and I realized, “He’s on break!”

Embarrassed and horrified, I gathered my things and hurried towards the front of the bus. The driver, thinking himself alone, nearly jumped out of his skin. He spun around and slammed his feet back to the floor, yelling, “Que faîtes-vous?! Vous ne savez pas?! — What are you doing?! Don’t you know?!”Je sais maintenant! — I know now!” I called back as I sprung out of the bus and hurried across the street to where the rest of my fellow passengers were waiting for the bus that would complete the route. I can only imagine what was going through their minds as they saw me exit the bus a full five minutes after them.  Secret tryst with the bus driver or just an ignorant foreigner?

It's a big city, Grenoble

I did eventually make it to Kyung Jin’s apartment (not before I arrived in the general vicinity, couldn’t find it and had to call her from a beer-soaked payphone) and we all had a wonderful afternoon together. I learned interesting things like Korean chopsticks are shorter than Chinese chopsticks, Danes and Norwegians can understand each other speaking their own languages although they prefer to just use English.

And, if everyone gets off the bus, even if you don’t know why, you should, too.