Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thoiry France—Geneva, Switzerland—Day 228

I woke up this morning pretty late—catching up on some sleep that I didn’t know I had missed. I went to be at like 9:30 or something (out of lacking other things to do) and woke up around 8:45 since the zoo didn’t’ even open until 10am and I had nothing to do before that. And driving around didn’t really make sense since I was so close to topping my 100 kilometer mark and ever kilometer over adds up in fees.

So I got up, put on my same clothes from yesterday (I obviously hadn’t brought anything with me) and made myself look as best I could considering. I locked up the room, went downstairs and paid my bill. This time there were several people in the restaurant area of the hotel—all smoking and drinking coffee and looking like they’ve done this every day for the past 15 years.

A woman helped me this time and I paid for my room and left. I backed up car out of the parking lot amidst several young teenagers obviously waiting for their school bus and obviously wondering who the heck I was.

I went back into Thoiry and got two croissants and the local bread shop, drove over to the Thoiry zoo parking lot and sat there, waiting for time to pass, listening to different Euro-pop stations on the car radio. At one point I thought I had run the battery out of the car since all of a sudden the music went off, but then I realized it was my car going into “saver” mode or something which is does when its been left for too long.

I waited and waited and ate my croissants, taking a picture of my small car in the huge parking lot, alone. I watched employees arrive until it was finally time for the zoo to almost open. I pulled my car up to the entrance of the animal reserve area (where the hippos are), waited while the gates were opened, and then waited a bit for the employee to get back to the ticket booth before I pulled up, first in line.

I bought my ticket and couldn’t remember if it was the same guy from last night. Deciding that it wasn’t, I thanked him and drove off to the hippos. The hippos are on the sort of end bit of the driving path so I had to cautiously speed past all of the other animals. This takes some skill because you have to look as if you are interested in the other animals and drive fast but not too fast to scare them, or to get booted from the zoo. I had to do this because there was an official zoo car driving in front of me (going somewhat fast) and so I eventually overtook this car and drove past trying not to make it look like I was a madwoman.

But I guess in a sense, I was. I was just anxious about getting to the hippos.

I finally pulled up to them and to my complete and utter joy they were all out of the water, feeding on some hay right near the road. Thank god. I counted five hippos, as I had thought before which meant that I was missing one hippos’ name. I would worry about that later.

For the next two or so hours I spent getting pictures of the five hippos, which is difficult when its raining and when they are all chewing at different speeds. This may sound silly, but its actually hard to get a good picture “mid-chew,” especially with five of them. Plus the rain was coming and going and cars kept driving up behind me and inching up closer and closer, I guess testing to see if I was really going to move. When they realized I wasn’t, they would then back up and swerve around me, the parents shooting me dirty looks for taking up the best view and their children in the back looking at me with big eager eyes.

Oh the guilt! I could take it though. I just kept my place and watched as the hippos finished their infinite mound of hay and eventually made their way back into the water. Luckily no keepers came by to make me move (you’re really not supposed to stop) but unfortunately no one came by for me to ask about the fifth hippos’ name.

I watched until the last moment—until the last hippo gave up eating and waddled into the water. He was obviously the male hippo since he took a great amount of time getting in and then spreading his scent. Satisfied, I rolled up my window, climbed back into the driver’s side and headed to find someone to help me.

I pulled back up to the ticket counter and the guy seemed surprised to see me again. I handed over my notebook with the hippos names and tried to explain to him what I wanted. I was certain that the baby hippos’ name was missing from my list—or that the baby didn’t have a name. He thought I was nuts. Absolutely and completely nuts. He said, “what are these? What do I do with this? Who is Paulo? I do not know” and I was tried to explain to him that I had gotten the names from someone else. He just looked at me.

Finally I pulled out my translation (the “I love hippos” schpeel) and he read it out loud (almost as if to mock me in a good natured way) and then got on his walkie talking. He then told me that the baby hippos’ name was Dominique, the father Paulo and the mother Martine. I thanked him, pulled a U-turn again and headed out of the zoo, feeling that embarrassed yet completely satisfied feeling I always get.

I drove back to Versailles and pulled up to the car rental agency to bring back my car but hadn’t filled it up with gas since I wanted to show them that I hadn’t used up all of the gas. Based on my mileage and the gas reading, you could easily see that my 100 or so kilometers had not used up over half of the gas tank. It mathematically wasn’t possible. I pulled in and found the agency to be closed from 12-2:00 for lunch. Who takes a two hour lunch break? The girl who I rented the car from was inside, she came out and in her very broken English said that I could return the car even though it was past 12:00 and so I tried to point out to her the gas thing.

It was no use, she just looked at me like I was nuts so I decided what the heck, I’ll come back at 2:00.

So I spent the time walking around finding some lunch and then biting my time sitting down near the Chateau of Versailles, which ended up being a big waste of time. Not the castle, but the sitting. I realized later that I should have visited the gardens of Versailles while I waited, then the rooms later. Let me back up, I had decided that I would visit Versailles while I was, well, in Versailles (it’s the old royal palace) because at the rate I was going I might as well get back to Geneva late since everything would be closed by the time I would get there. So I wasted two hours waiting for the rental agency to open when I could have been wandering around the grounds, but I had thought to myself, there is no point starting the tour without having to do all of it.

Oh well—these past two days have seemed like a lot of wasted time. At two o’clock I went back to the rental agency, got the woman who spoke more English, tried to explain my problem, and she just looked at me. So fill it up, she says. But no, I didn’t use this gas...I try to explain, even draw pictures and point to the gas. She doesn’t get it.

Frustrated, I take the car and find a gas station and fill it up to the top. It only turned out to be like 20 Euros which in hindsight seemed worth it to just pay instead of wait and deal with the Hertz people. But out of principle, I didn’t want to pay it. In the end, I just gave up.

I returned the car back to Hertz, walked over to the Chateau of Versailles and spent a few hours on the grounds—seeing the hall of mirrors (which is undergoing renovations, by the way, which won’t be done until 2007 if you are planning on going), seeing the gardens and the state rooms. I then got a train back to Paris, a subway back to the Gare de Lyon, and just about rain to catch the train to Geneva.

I got on, found a seat in the no-smoking area and found just two. I sat down and felt relieved that I had made it on time (on an earlier train than I had planned) and a guy came and sort of awkwardly sat down next to me. I then realized crap, I didn’t get a reservation. The reason the train was so full was because all of these people had reservations—I was probably sitting in this guys seat! That is why he looked at me like I was weird. I then excused myself to get off and literally as I got off the doors closed and it left.

So much for getting back to Geneva early!

I then went and stood in line for a reservation, which took a long time but I eventually got it, all for 3 Euros. I had a brief lapse in line where I thought I saw someone I knew from Macalester (and literally bolted out of line to chase him down only to find that it wasn’t him but completely taken aback at the similarity) and then had about an hour and a half to wait for my train. I bought a book at the English bookstore in the train station and bided my time people watching.
Finally, finally I was on the train and on my way to Geneva. The train ride back was slow because my new book is much more boring than what I just finished. I was getting impatient with the characters and couldn’t get into it. We made it back to Geneva just before 11 o’clock at night—I was tired and ready for bed. I got a taxi and after being ridiculously overcharged, I was dropped off at my hotel. I climbed into bed—tired but in the end glad that I had gone back to Thoiry.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.