When your name is not your name

Growing up, my dad’s family was vocally proud about their Irish heritage. Not only was his hometown called “Irish Settlement”, but their home church was St. Patrick’s. I took Irish dance classes when they were offered in my town. We would always mark St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green and obnoxious shamrock paraphernalia, going to the local parade, having a visit from leprechauns who would leave pots of gold coins around our house and attending parties when I was older.


Totes adorbs, right?

My Irish ancestors moved to the United States almost 200 years ago now, but being Irish was certainly part of my identity as an American.

That was a big part of why I wanted to study here — my Irish heritage. However, when people ask me why I wanted to study here, I sheepishly reveal that part of my interest. It isn’t so much that I’m embarrassed, it is simply that I don’t know how to convey my family’s pride in our heritage without sounding like a creepy cultural stalker.

Then there’s my name. It’s Irish, but apparently we pronounce it differently in the United States. That’s been surprisingly weird for me here. For example,  I’ll give my name to sign in at an event and I’ll say “Kristina McLaughlin (Mic-lawf-lynn)” to which they will often repeat my name, but pronounce it as “Mac-lock-lynn”. Before I left, one of my cousins told me a story about my late aunt traveling through Ireland. She would say her name was “McLaughlin (Mic-lawf-lynn)” and would get a similar response “McLaughlin (Mic-lock-lynn)”. After awhile it drove her a little crazy to the point where she turned to my cousin and said, “Why can’t they just say it right!?”

I remember hearing that story and thinking, but they are saying in right and we are the ones saying it wrong. And at the time I couldn’t quite understand why it would bother her.

Now I get it.

Mind you, it doesn’t bother me (probably in the same way I imagine it didn’t really bother her), but it has fueled a bit of an identity crisis…or maybe just a slight stutter when I say my name. Because when I give my name, how should I pronounce it? The way it is pronounced in America? They way I have grown up pronouncing it? Do I insist that they pronounce it my way? Or do I just pronounce it the way it is supposed to be pronounced? A way that feels very foreign to my tongue? A name that doesn’t feel like it belongs to me?

This became really apparent to me on a recent flight back to the United States. They were looking for a passenger with the name “McLaughlin (Mac-lock-lynn)” and it took awhile before I realized, oh that might be me. I raised my hand and said, “I guess I’m a McLaughlin”. (Which got a few looks – like you guess you know your own name??) As it turned out they weren’t looking for me, but that moment stuck…”I guess I’m a McLaughlin”?


We loved those glasses.

Many people in the United States think of themselves as (something)-Americans. And while I would never have introduced myself as an Irish-American because my family had been in the U.S. for so long (and to be fair, I have ancestors from the majority of countries in Western Europe), it was a part of my identity. However, it was in one of those instances where I was internally frustrated with someone was telling me how to pronounce my own name that I truly lost my “(something)-Americaness”.  In that moment I realized just how American I was. While the pride and interest in my heritage didn’t melt away, the 200 years, the five generations suddenly felt like a much greater distance than it ever had before. For all the pride and representations of my Irish heritage in my life, it was really a manifestation of being American. I never felt so American in my entire life and it felt a bit strange.

I haven’t settled on an answer. I’ve noticed that I pause before giving my last name now. It probably looks as though I’ve forgotten it, but I’m really just trying to decide: do I give my name as I’ve said it all my life or not?

Traveling as an American Under a Trump Presidency

This post is mildly political (as in one chili pepper on the salsa jar mild), but if you don’t want to think about politics or the election, this is your warning to stop reading now.

Since the election, I have found myself thinking about what it will be like to be an American traveling abroad with a President Trump. For all of my international travel experiences, except one, it has been under President Obama. (And even for that trip in 2007 it was the transition of power in Britain, not our own government, that caused us problems. With several thwarted terrorist attacks across the UK during the days we were in London, it was quite a time to be there.) Whatever your personal opinion of President Obama, he was loved abroad which made it so much easier to be an American abroad.

I think back to some of the experiences I had in Africa. President Obama had just visited a month or two before I arrived and left a legacy of goodwill towards Americans. Let me share one of my favorite stories (I always thought this is the story I would share with President Obama if I had the pleasure of meeting him).

My friend and I decided to take a trip to Benin for a few days. On our way back crossing the border from Benin to Togo, we had to fill out some paperwork. As we were filling out our paperwork, one of the immigration officers grabbed my friend’s left hand, ripped it away from her paper and held it up. Unsure about what was happening, we gave each other this terrified look. We knew one thing. Using your left hand is not done in polite society because it is associated with “unclean” things. In some circles and social situations it is highly insulting. For example, you would never wave hello to someone with your left hand – that would be an insult. (Even seven years later, when I do raise my left hand to wave, I experience a bewildering moment of panic until I realize that I still unconsciously carry this association.) Remembering that my friend is left-handed and was using her left hand to fill out her papers, my mind started racing. In Benin, the language spoken is French. Based on our experiences the past few days and during a previous trip to Togo, I knew my French was at a level sufficient only to keep us from starving and from living on the streets. It was not sufficient for calmly, rationally, and diplomatically explaining that this was merely a cultural misunderstanding and that my friend did not mean to insult this officer or anyone else. Struggling to translate the words in my head in preparation, we braced ourselves for the worst. Sternly and in English, he said, “You are left-handed…”. We stood there cringing. Then his expression changed. A smile crept across his face and exclaimed excitedly, “…like Obama!”. I think the whole room heard us sigh and laugh with anxious relief. We spent the next few minutes chatting with this officer and his colleague who were, after all, very friendly.

In a place where people excitedly greeted you with the word, “Obama”, comic books portrayed a young Barack in the likeness of a young Clark Kent and you could buy any piece of merchandise with Obama’s likeness (watches, flip flops, you name it), the goodwill towards Americans because of Obama was palatable. This was one instance of many where the simple fact that Obama was president made our travels easier.

A sign in Cape Coast, Ghana for Obama's visit in 2009.

A sign in Cape Coast, Ghana for President Obama’s visit in 2009.

In all of my travels, people have asked me about politics – where I stand on international politics and my personal opinion of the president. That’s not going to change. What may change is that underlying feeling of goodwill and the epithets used to describe our president or my fellow Americans, which, depending on how it goes could be the same profane epithets I encountered abroad used to describe President Bush.

In the days since the election, I have been surprised by the responses I have received from non-Americans who have discussed it with me. Knowing that I am American, many would cautiously ask, “How do you feel about the election?” After I disclosed that I was unhappy with the outcome, they apologized to me. (And I thought I was going to be doing the apologizing!) While most people think the outcome is absurd, they aren’t shocked. We are just in another global cycle of nationalism, like before World War II, they say, suggesting that while concerning, this was inevitable (thanks, that’s really comforting). Others say, it is just like Brexit – people want change and they thought this was the only way to make that change happen. Most have said that while the president of the United States has monumental impacts across the globe (to the point where it was suggested to me that the role was too important and too impactful on a global scale for the decision to be left to Americans alone…to which I was surprised that for how open and international and “enlightened” I think I am, my inner Uncle Sam was like, “Now wait just a minute…”), they believe in our system of checks and balances and don’t think that he can really do that much damage. Others still, especially from countries much older than our own, said that every country takes their turn with bad leaders and if he turns out to be one, it will be okay. (Completely unrelated, but equally interesting was one comment about the US/Russian relations. Having grown up in the Cold War, they just couldn’t fathom this new close relationship between Trump and Putin. After all this time and everything that happened, this would be the next chapter in that story.)

The most comforting words have come from my classmates who don’t blame me personally for whatever may come next (and have kindly offered to welcome me to their countries…). Because of this, I don’t think I’ll need to fear for my safety while traveling in the near future. However, I will need to be ready to articulately discuss this election and Trump’s subsequent policies. As much as I am ready for it to be over (and not just because of the outcome, but because as an Iowan for whom the election started in what, like 2013 (?), I have been ill with “election fatigue” for some time and I’d like to have permission to think about something else for awhile), but as an American abroad I am a spokesperson for our country and I think that will be truer now than ever before.

Packing for 2.5 months in Europe

There are plenty of blogs and posts about what to pack when backpacking in Europe. I know because I have looked at many of them in creating my own list. Here are a few that I recommend:

As we traveled during the year, I took notes on what was important to me. Here is the criteria I came up with for packing:

  1. Must be able to put everything in one load of laundry so I don’t waste hours at laundromats, but not restricted to 50 shades of gray in terms of color.
  2. Must not make me look distinctly American. (American flag shirt = yes?)
  3. Must not look completely ridiculous in pictures either.
  4. Must have comfortable shoes that can conquer cobblestone streets by day and nice restaurants by night.
  5. Must have shower shoes.
  6. Must have hiking shoes.
  7. Must have shoes that work well in the rain.
  8. Must have shoes that can be worn with jeans and skirts.
  9. Must not have a suitcase with only shoes.
  10. Must have clothes that can be worn in Scotland and Spain (in hot climates and colder, rainy climates).
  11. Must cover knees and shoulders when entering churches.
  12. Must not have awkward tan lines because I will be wearing a strapless dress for a September wedding.
  13. Must be comfortable.

When I get a chance, I will add a picture of what I have packed to show you what decided. For now, you’ll just have to enjoy seeing what pops up in my pictures.

Speaking of pictures…let’s make a deal. If I do, in fact, look ridiculous, pretend with me for now that I look awesome and then we can laugh at the pictures together later. Capiche?

Bon Voyage

Thursday marked the final day of my contract with TAPIF. Over the past few weeks it has been truly sad to say goodbye to these students, teachers and assistants that I have gotten to know over the past few months.

As bittersweet as these goodbyes have been, I am incredibly excited for what I have planned for the next 2 1/2 months. I will be traveling all throughout Europe from the Glasgow to Istanbul with friends, family and at times, on my own. On this blog, I have included a page with a map of my travels. I will update the map with my locations as I travel.

During this time, I will have limited access to the internet which will restrict my ability to text/iMessage and write in this blog. I have brainstormed and planned a number of ways to keep friends and family posted about my adventures, but there are no guarantees as to what will work. My Instagram and Twitter feeds are both visible on this blog – they will likely be updated the most, so keep an eye on those. I will also try to post pictures to this blog as I am able. I’m bringing only a carry-on sized suitcase and a purse with me, so I will likely be doing laundry about every 1-2 weeks. Although the updates may be brief, I am hoping to provide an update from the laundromat during that time.

À tout à l’heure, mes amis!

Fête des Lumières in Lyon

After weeks of searching for lodging, communicating rapidly with other assistants, contemplating simply staying out all night and trying to convince myself that it was something could miss, we found a way. Take the first train Sunday morning and the last train Sunday evening. We would spend only a few hours in Lyon, but we would get to experience the city, even if only slightly, and with the early sunset in our favor, we could catch a few hours of the festival. Alex, another assistant, and I decided, yes, let’s do it.

We didn’t have to get up too early. The first train to Lyon was at around 9 AM and would get us to Lyon just before noon. Alex and I enjoyed a lovely chat for the 3-hour trip. Can I stop for a minute and just say how much I love trains? We rode throughout the beautiful countryside, enjoyed plenty of space for both, ourselves and our stuff, and got to face each other, so we could have a lovely conversation without strain.

Before long, we found ourselves at Lyon Part-Dieu, one of the train stations. Up until that point, I had nearly forgotten how small Clermont-Ferrand is, but it subtly and abundantly became clear how much bigger Lyon was than Clermont-Ferrand. We certainly saw it walking in circles trying to follow the signs to find the metro and/or bus station (literally right in front of the exit of the train station as it turned out). We saw it walking around the city with buildings several stories taller than what we were used to seeing in Clermont-Ferrand. The real kicker though was probably the presence of a Starbucks at the train station. (There are no Starbucks in Clermont-Ferrand, but there are a few McDonald’s. We are not entirely cut off from the rest of the world.)

The first thing we did, a habit I developed when traveling when visiting my brother in the Netherlands that continues to serve me well, was go to the tourism office. They were friendly and incredibly helpful – even in spite of the huge crowds, long lines and long hours they’d likely already worked. They set us up with a walking tour and directions to bouchonneries (the specialty of Lyon). We picked a couple of restaurants and decided to see what the wait would be.

Ha. Wow were we rookies. The first 3 places we went to were full – either booked well in advance for the limited seating or had an hour wait. We decided to try something a little outside of the city center in hopes that they would be less crowded (and less expensive). We were really hungry by then and had to use all of our willpower not to buy every delicious temptation along the way (beignets, churros, waffles, roasted chestnuts…even McDonalds was tempting). Finally, after inquiring at two restaurants, a third neither took reservations nor had an hour wait. We sat in a coat room for about 10 minutes and then were seated.

The restaurant was awesome. The style of the decor was like the Hapsburgs meets the 1970s. The wallpaper was a deep, scarlet red with an old-world design, but felt like velvet and the decorations were an eclectic mix of pop culture in black and white photos and baroque-style furniture. The food was incredible. We chose the 3-course fixed price meal and had a glass of wine each. Here is the menu:


Alex and I both picked different options so we could try everything. In case you want to drool:

It was all simply delicious. It was also incredibly filling, the kind of meal where you could just lay your head down on the table and sleep…

Wait, what’s an andouiette, you say? Funny you should ask because I didn’t (and I’m glad). Apparently, it is a sausage made of intestines. Bon appetit 🙂

After our scrumptious meal, we walked around a little and then headed back to the city center for our tour. We met our group and started on our tour. The English tour was sold out, so it was all in French…luckily I could at least manage by then.

The tour was nice. We saw the churches and learned a little about their history. We walked through one of the infamous passageways called a “traboule” and learned about medieval plumbing (yuck – no wonder disease killed so rapidly). We also learned about the influence of Italy and families like the Medicis. The tour ran over, so we left the group to go see the light displays.

“Festivals of lights” to me meant trees and buildings decorated in Christmas lights. This was so not that. The trees with lights were merely the appetizer. Instead, these displays would use buildings to display art, play games and fool your eyes. In theory, my favorite display was the disco ball that the basilica hung from their steeple on top of a hill – I always enjoy displays of humor from the Catholic Church.

In practice, my favorite was the “main attraction”, a combination of art, music and dance projected on the main city buildings. The description doesn’t do it justice. See for yourself in the video clip:

Another favorite included “eskimo minions” and a large video game. See below for “eskimo minions”:

It was wonderful, but we certainly didn’t get to see everything we wanted. Main culprit? Crowds and crowd control. Honestly, the barricades designed to conduct traffic were confusing and nonsensical. What should have taken 5 minutes took 20. Space was wide open and then packed. Several times we had to make a 10 minute or more detour to see an attraction that was 100 feet away from us. On top of that, just getting from one attraction to another took 2-3 times longer that it should have due to the crowds. Before we left, I met an old friend who is also an assistant in France. After fighting crowds, we talked briefly, saw the main attraction in the square and then had to catch the metro to make our train in time.

We walked to the metro station and were astounded. It was a mob. Not an angry mob, but a mob. Luckily we just decided to get an all-day metro pass so we got in the shortest line (at least 10 minutes of waiting). Everything beyond that was pretty smooth sailing except they closed exits in the metros. This meant that to get to a connecting train you had to leave the metro station, go down the block, find the other entrance to the station and go in that way. It made absolutely no sense and only added to the chaos and stress of making it back on time. (We decided to run because it made us feel better. So yeah, we were those tourists.) However, we made it back just in time to catch our train (which turned out to be a bus) that would get us back home in 6 hours (not 4 like we thought) because it had to traverse literally every roundabout between Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand (you haven’t felt motion sickness until…).

But we made it home, safe and sound, after a great day in Lyon.

Touissant Vacation: Visiting the Cathedrals

This post is long overdue. Before I talk about the cathedrals and some of the other things I did during my first break, let me explain a little about the schedule. All of the assistants arrived in France late in September for our October 1st orientation. Although many of us visited our schools during that first week, most of us didn’t have to work during the first half-week of October. We worked for the next two weeks and then we had a two week vacation for Touissant (All Saints Day).

I’m sure to most of you this sounds kind of ridiculous. However, I was so grateful to have those two weeks to complete many of the necessary tasks for immigration, banking, etc.: everything that needs to be taken care of when you move to a new country that I couldn’t get done while I was afraid of being homeless. Additionally, it provided me a great opportunity to see Clermont-Ferrand and learn more about the region, something that many others had already started doing once they had found housing.

In Clermont-Ferrand, there are several beautiful churches and cathedrals. During this break, I went with a group of assistants to tour two of them: Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption and Notre Dame du Port.

We went first to the Cathédrale. It was a brisk (for me, but cold for the less temperature averse) October morning with beautiful blue skies. We met at mid-morning and decided to immediately climb the stairs to the top of the cathedral to see the view before it closed over the lunch hour. We found the keeper of the keys for the tower, drew straws to see which unfortunate person would have to speak to him in French (I was one of the lucky ones), paid the fee and opened the door. In front of us were hundreds of stairs encased in a narrow spiral staircase that went on, well, as if it were ascending into the heavens.

We climbed. Although it did not take long, it was grueling. All of us were in at least “decent” shape and this was not fun. Approaching the top, the first of us in line, yelled “light!” to give hope to all those below still wandering in the dizzying climb. With an audible release of exasperation we flung the door open and kind of toppled out onto the observation deck. (Which was repeated multiple times by other groups that followed after us. We were glad to know that it wasn’t just us.)

The view was worth it. It was breathtaking. The mountain range was fully visible. You could see all of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding cities in the distance. We all tried to find our apartments and schools. Some did, some didn’t. What I thought was the most interesting was getting to see the weather in the cities around us. You could see rain clouds rolling in to one city and then the skies clearing in another.

We spent about 45 minutes up there, taking pictures, enduring the extreme gusts of cold wind, etc. before making the trek back down the stairs. Now for anyone who hasn’t climbed up narrow and questionable staircases to the top of a church in Europe, let me tell you, going down is worse than going up. For me it always starts with this image of me tripping and somersaulting down the remaining steps to my…demise. With that image in mind, I always step with confidence, not. When we opened the door to make our descent, there were no lights. We couldn’t tell if this was because our eyes had become accustomed to the bright sunlight or what. So we began going down in the dark. Luckily within a few minutes, someone discovered a lightswitch. Otherwise, we would have been sidestepping and hugging the wall slowly descending for an hour.

Once back in the cathedral, we walked around looking at the stained glass windows and statues trying to piece together Bible stories with what little we knew about medieval/renaissance art to identify the stories being told. For some windows, it was very challenging, but for others it was much clearer.

All in all, it was a beautiful cathedral, reminiscent of other gothic cathedrals I have seen in France.

The next day, we met and went to Notre Dame du Port, the romanesque cathedral located just miles from the cathedral. There isn’t really much to say about this church. It is beautiful and mostly we just wandered around in silence taking pictures. I’ll let my photos do the talking for this one.

Touissant Vacation: Puy de Dome (Part 1)

So this experience was a little more eventful than our visits to the churches.

We intended to meet around 8, but realistically we all found each other closer to 9. Learning that the restaurant at the top of the Puy de Dome might be closed, we decided to grab groceries at the closest Monoprix to bring with us to the top. From there we went to the bus stop to catch a bus to Royat, the only transportation that we were sure of to get us to Puy de Dome.

Are we there yet??

The bus ride was simple and we got off in Royat at the terminus of the bus route. We had some confusion then. One assistant ran off to stop a different bus that she thought we needed to take. Another assistant was waiting for an assistant who lives in Royat and was going to meet us there. The rest of us were trapped in the middle trying to figure out what in world was going on. One assistant did get the bus to stop, so we went over and told her that we were still waiting on someone so after all of that effort, we told the bus to go. Then, a group went to the local tourism office to ask which bus we needed to get to the Puy de Dome. They told us that there wasn’t one because the tourist season had ended, but there was a hike that we could do to get to the base of the mountain. We decided to do that.

Le moo.

Maybe it wasn’t a long hike, but if you want to enjoy the scenery and annoy your group by taking pictures every ten seconds of the beautiful landscapes in different light, then you tend to fall behind. The hike took us 1.5 hours. We went through the mountains (well, foothills maybe), hidden (and a little sketchy) villages, established petite villes with bus access on-demand only and farms. The landscape was beautiful and I was very much enjoying the hike.

WARNING! Mountain ahead. Oh wait, that’s for the speed bump.
(Literally the thought that went through my head as I was walking.)

Finally, we arrived at the base of the mountain. We had two options. We could continue to walk and hike up the mountain (likely another hour plus hike) or we could take the train up to the top. I’m not saying that I am a wimp, but I took the train. My feet were tired and I wasn’t sure if we were going to have to hike for 1.5 hours to get back to Royat. Our group split in half with part of us hiking and part of us riding the train.

The train ride was lovely. Even from the train, you see beautiful views of the countryside and the different mountains. It was very leisurely.

Aside from the ending, the rest of this story should be told with pictures. The view was exquisite and here it is:

Touissant Vacation: Puy de Dome (Part 2)

We have come to the end. The sun begins to set and we realize that we need to get down the mountain and head back to Royat. At this point, we aren’t exactly sure how we will get home. It is too late to take the trail back as all we would have for light would be the flashlights of our iPhones. We hope that there are taxis, but realistically we know that we are in small mountain villages. Our plan? We walk along the side of the road heading back to the trail. We are going to keep an eye out for taxis. If we don’t see any, we will find a restaurant or hotel in the village and ask them. Many were suggesting hitchhiking, but I can’t say that I was in favor of that. One of the assistants had the phone number of a taxi driver from Clermont-Ferrand, so we figured that we could always call them if we really needed to. Worst case scenario, I guess we walk along the road back to Royat. No matter what, we figured it was going to be a long walk.

We walked along side the road for about 45 minutes. It was a pretty walk with the sun setting behind the Puy de Dome.

We get back to the head of the trail (the way we came) to go back to Royat. With iPhone flashlights to guide our way, we knew that we needed another option. One of the assistants called the taxi company’s number that she had from Clermont-Ferrand and left a message. She said that she was sure they’d call back, but I think we were all a little less than optimistic.

We walked toward a village and decided that we would walk into a restaurant or something and ask them if they had a number for a local cab driver. In a parking lot, we saw a couple of gentlemen were walking towards cars. The assistant who spoke the best French was sent to speak with them to ask for the number of a cab service. However, the person offered instead to give us a ride. He ran one of the paragliding companies that launched from the side of Puy de Dôme and just happened to have 8 places in his van – exactly the number we needed. Perhaps I need to be more trusting, but accepting a ride from strangers always gives me pause. However, I figured that there were 8 of us and one of them and he seemed nice…plus we were probably in a more desperate situation than we realized at that point.

He was kind, polite and when he dropped us off at the city center of Clermont-Ferrand, he refused to accept any money. He said that the smiles on our faces were payment enough. Maybe a perfect ending to a great day.

Traveling to Clermont-Ferrand Part 3: Regrets of taking a 2nd checked bag (continued)

My platform was, of course, on the other side of station, so I resumed my role as the American madwoman and quickly walked down the ramp with my luggage. Gravity did not work in my favor, so my bags rolled out of control and I had to run to keep up. I found my platform and it had an elevator…that was not in service. So I ran to the other side, quickly hopped on the elevator and found my place on the platform. The train arrived late, which wasn’t a problem, except that I was concerned it would want to leave on time and that I may not get all of my luggage on the train before it left. When it did come, it went farther down the platform then was expected and there were long lines. After running between two lines, my luggage flipping over and dragging and my coat falling off, I finally made it into the second-class section of the train. Because of all of the confusion getting on the train (crazed Americans and French commuters alike), there were huge lines to get between the sections and store luggage. I was making my way through the aisle, my suitcases basically hitting everyone along the way until I hit a standstill. Three teenage boys were trying to get through and were giving me the “staredown”. No words were exchanged, but the gloves were off. I was not going to budge. This was mostly because I literally couldn’t, but I also figured that if I was going to be teaching teenagers in a week, I should develop the look of “I’m your elder, hear me roar” now. In the minute that passed (where they easily could have just moved to the side and let me pass), in their eyes, they seemed to be calculating what it would take to jump over me. Finally, one of them said to the other three that they should move and they did. Slightly. After two seconds, they decided that I was going too slowly (because there was still a huge line of people behind them) and they decided to go around me at all costs. After that I found a fold-down seat in a loading area and parked my luggage there. Again, this was an overbooked train. This area that was supposed to be clear for people to get on and off of the train. Instead, it was wall to wall with large luggage like mine. Any time that someone tried to pass our area or get off the train from this part, we had to play Tetris with the luggage. The conductor even remarked that every time he passed it looked different (or at least that’s what I think he said).

I should pause to say the ride was absolutely beautiful between Lyon and Clermont-Ferrand. Tucked away in mountains, we travelled from quaint village to quaint village. For all I know they were larger cities, but from the architecture to the landscape, they looked to me like idyllic French country villages.

When it was time to get off this train, I thought I had it figured out. I had everything attached and ready to go. Again, I struggled. Some guy walking by pulled one of my bags out. At this point, if he wanted to steal it, I probably would have let him. Now off the train, baggage in tow, I looked for a taxi stand. Naturally, the station was under construction so they moved the taxi stand. There was one sign for taxis that pointed towards the city in general, but not to a taxi stand. Dragging my suitcases in circles, I finally stopped a woman about my age and asked in broken, cavewoman French, “where taxi?” Luckily she knew and pointed me in the right direction. After that it was smooth sailing. The smoothest part of the whole trip. The taxi driver knew exactly where to go, drove directly there (and followed the rules of the road) and even carried my luggage up the steps of the hostel.

It was a long trip. Once I reached my hostel, I fell asleep immediately in my madwoman clothes.

Traveling to Clermont-Ferrand Part 2: Regrets of taking a 2nd checked bag

Finding the train station and getting my ticket turned out to be pretty easy. Luckily, most people spoke English, so I was spared from embarrassing myself just yet. I waited for four hours for my train and the only thing of note was the homeless man wandering and yelling about the station.

Once on the train, I had to find a place for my luggage. It was a 3-hour ride and I couldn’t have my luggage in the aisle with me, so I had to find a place to stash it. With the AirFrance strike, there were more people on the train than usual and not enough space in my compartment for my luggage. Instead, I had to lug all of it upstairs and leave it far from my seat. In my tired/crazed state, I’ll admit I was a little paranoid that someone might run off with something and ran up and down the stairs with each piece of luggage. It went something like, 1) waddle at a fast pace with large 50 lb suitcase, 2) press the button to open the door to the cabin, 3) quickly drag my luggage into the cabin, 4) watch the door close on my suitcase, 5) reopen the door and drag my suitcase in, 6) meekly lift my heavy suitcase to the top shelf (because naturally that was the only one that was still available) until a good Samaritan pitied me and helped, 7) run down the stairs in hopes that no one had stolen anything yet, and, 8) repeat 2 more times. Once my baggage was settled, my camera bag removed and safely by my side, I found my seat.

Knowing that I had 5 minutes to get off of the train once it got to Lyon before it would leave for the next station, I spent the whole train ride making sure I would stay awake so that I could begin the process again of preparing my baggage for my stop. The process was pretty similar to before. (I also discovered that someone had stored their cat in baggage area as well. I thought it was someone’s alarm because was meowing repeatedly and rhythmically until I saw another person walk off with their dog).

I was ready. Except when the train stopped, you can only really take one piece of baggage off at a time and it was all facing the wrong direction and I was blocking literally everyone from getting off…so I had to set aside my mild paranoia and allow people to help me basically toss my luggage off of the train. As I tried to attach this luggage to that bag and turn everything around, I pretended like I did not see the traffic jam I had caused both inside the train and on the platform. Once I had everything sorted out I waited for the platform number to be posted for my train to Clermont-Ferrand.