Friday, September 03, 2004

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg—Amneville, France—Luxembourg—Day 216

Being woken up by the maid from the hotel is not really the most pleasant way to wake up. Not only do you get a lot of noise with them trying to unlock the door, but you get them even turning on your lights for you then apologizing for waking you up when they see you there, half-awake.

This happened this morning and I was in the middle of a fascinating dream about something (all I can remember is that I was completely fascinated while in the dream) and then couldn’t make out for the life of me what the noises were coming from in my dream. I woke up to the surprised maid who had walked in on my slumber and decided that I might as well get up now that I was awake.

I got ready and went downstairs to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant which was pretty standard hotel breakfast food and then walked across the street to the train station. How nice is it that it is so close! I found my train heading to Thoinville, France (a city that I had marked as being near Amneville where I wanted to go) and as the train started, I wondered just how close my calculations were. I didn’t REALLY know if Thoinville was even close—I just had a big dot next to it on my map of Europe that I had put there, oh, 9 months ago and wasn’t really quite sure if it was right.

I would soon find out!

I got off in Thoinville which was only about a 30 minute train ride. I asked about getting to the zoo and the woman at the ticket desk told me that I had to take the next train (as in the same one that I just got off of) and go to the next stop, then ask for directions from there since it was much closer. Problem was that the next train didn’t come for another hour! It was only a ten minute extra train ride that I was in for so I was tempted to take a taxi instead, but then thought I should just take the train.

So I waited an hour and the train came and I headed back in the direction I was going in the first place. I got off at the next stop and found a much smaller train station. There was a sign for taxis outside the station but no taxis to be seen. I walked around a little bit to see if I could figure it out (if there were buses or something I could take) and then went back inside to ask about a taxi. It seemed that the woman in front of me was also asking for a taxi and what I got from the conversation (again, I don’t speak French so this was just a guess) was that you basically just had to sit out and wait for a taxi to eventually come instead of him calling one for you.

So I went back outside and there was the woman with her two children who asked about the taxi and another old woman. All of us waiting for these mystery taxis to show up.

And eventually one did! The woman with the children was first in line so she went to get in but he then gestured to the elderly woman and I about where we were going. I told him the zoo and I don’t’ know what the woman told him but before I knew it he was beckoning me into the cab along with the older woman and not the woman with her children.

I just shrugged my shoulders and gave the other woman an apologetic look as I climbed in.

We dropped off the older woman first at her house and then the taxi driver drove me to the zoo which was in the kind of huge touristy Mecca. There was a bowling alley, aquarium, zoo, mini-golf—all sorts of things in this once compact area in what seemed to be the middle of the woods. It really was quite something. I headed into the zoo which seemed on the outside to be a pretty nice zoo.

And it was—they even had a hippo “extravaganza” time at 3:30 and 5:30! Whooho! Whatever that meant, I was up for it. Problem was, it was just past noon so I had three and a half hours to kill before this extravaganza. So I went and checked out the hippo enclosure and found two hippos under the water—or at least what I thought was two. I took pictures of all of the signs and then went and found lunch at a small kiosk. I got a HUGE hotdog and a drink and tried to eat as slowly as possible to kill time (I still have to get another book and its killing me!! Argh!) I then actually went around and visited some of the other animals (the otters were quite funny and seemed excited to see me and kept following my hand holding the zoo map around) and finally went and sat down in a few places to figure out my course of action for the next few weeks. I ended up in the polar bear exhibit on these risers for the polar bear “extravaganza” which starts at three o’clock every day. It was about two at this point so I sat there for an hour going over some things and then getting out my phrasebook and trying to teach myself French.

Then the place started filling up with eager zoo visitors all waiting for the polar bear show to start. It did and the two bears came out and were fed fish by an enthusiastic zookeeper. They were just so cute and it was really fun actually to watch them hesitate about going in the water, finally plunging in and then grabbing all of the fish.

At 3:20 I left the crowded area to get my spot at the hippos. I assumed that the polar bear show ended because all of a sudden the huge mass of people migrated down the hill to the hippos and the enthusiastic keeper came over to now talk about the hippos.

I had a great spot but then the keeper kept moving around everywhere for everyone to see—which was good for everyone else but not me! The hippos came out and opened their mouths wide from all sides, so I had to dash around and try and wedge myself into groups of people to get the pictures. Eventually as the talk went on people began to disperse so I did get some really great close ups of both of the hippos. Phew. Now I just need their names.

So after the talk was done, I cornered the keeper when she was coming out of the exhibit (cornering seems like such a weird word to use, but basically I do!) and while she didn’t speak English very much she was able to help me with their names: Mara (the female) and Kinshasa (the male—I have to check on the spelling of Kinshasa—she says that he is named after a country in Africa!) Anyway, turns out that Mara is the mother of Masae, one of the hippos that is at La Fleche zoo and that is a new father! I was delighted—I wonder if Mara knows that she is a grandmother now! I didn’t want to gush to the keeper that I personally knew Masae at La Fleche because then she surely would have thought I was nuts. So I just smiled and said oh really? And kept my excitement low key.

I then went out of the zoo via the gift shop and then walked over to the main tourist information center for this whole entertainment complex thing that the zoo was a part of. The girls working at the desk called a taxi for me (she kept asking me, you really want one RIGHT NOW? And I was like, ummm, no tomorrow, yes of course right now!) and eventually it came and whizzed me back to the train station. The taxi drover dropped me off feeling a tad car sick from his swerving!

Anyways, I got on a train back to Thionville (accidentally sitting in the smoking section which was bad!), and then another to Luxembourg. I then sorted out the hippo pictures from today and then walked back into the city center to find dinner. I saw this cute little Arts Café that I thought would be nice but turned out that they stopped serving dinner for the night! It was only 8pm or so so I was a bit surprised, so I headed into the more touristy area of the city where the center square is (although when I say touristy it really is nothing like any other place I’ve been to since its so nice and small) and had dinner outside at a French restaurant. I had to wave the server over to help me and assure him that yes, I was alone and no I wasn’t waiting for anyone.

A band started playing in the square midway though my meal which was fun to listen to. Afterwards I walked over and watched them for a while (and to see those few odd people who were dancing). I then got a bus back to my hotel—getting off a stop too early but then walking back to the hotel—and that’s that! Another day. Tomorrow it is off to Paris—as I said before—and I will be there for five nights.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.