Saturday, September 11, 2004

Lyon, France—Dompierre sur Bresbe, France—Lyon, France—Day 224

I woke up early again today ready to get the third zoo done. I got my stuff together and found my car and took the A6 motorway up. I was going in the direction that I had come from yesterday, so it really would have made sense for me to do Touroparc and the zoo today all in one go, but oh well. Both the zoos yesterday worked out just great so I didn’t mind having to do the extra driving.

So I drove up and since I had my map I had the directions all laid out. That didn’t mean that I didn’t get sort of confused at a few points but luckily I didn’t make any wrong turns.

I did realize though that I was in need of gas, but kept driving because I knew that I was almost there. Or so I thought. I kept driving and driving, and it seemed to be taking forever. Because I had to get off of the main highway and take a smaller road, which seemed to be windy and endless, I seemed to be driving for ever.

But I finally started seeing signs for the zoo (as I always do when I feel ok, I am DEFINITELY going in the wrong direction, and that’s when my gas warning light came on.


At this point I had just passed the town near the zoo with the gas station of course and was just a few kilometers away. I didn’t want to turn back now and drive all the way back to the town when I was so close to the zoo. So I kept my fingers crossed and tried to coast down to where the zoo was.

I pulled into the parking lot and parked the car and went into the zoo.

The Le Pal Zoo is again like Touroparc—it is a zoo but also has other things like roller coasters and such. It was really quite impressive and there were loads of people there, unlike Touroparc. It was also huge so it took me quite a while to find the hippos.

But I did and I also realized that there was a hippo feeding time!! What luck! It said on the brochure that I got when I entered that the hippos were going to be fed at 1:05pm. I had just over an hour and a half to wait.

I went up to the hippos and found three of them in the water. One big, one medium sized and one little one—kind of like the three bears in Goldilocks. One immediately came over to me, much like Kip and Pof did yesterday, and laid her (or his) head on the wall. This time though I was looking down on them which was nice and I was able to get some good pictures of the hippo.

The other two hippos started playing around a bit and were basically going at each other, biting each other and what not. But it seemed all in good fun (not like they were fighting) until I realized something.

The big one was trying to mate with the little one.

Oh no! I just stood there and realized what was happening. It was obvious that the huge big hippo was a male and he kept trying to get on the little hippo!! And then the little hippo didn’t really know what to do and would keep trying to get away. But then it seemed like the little hippo just wanted to play, so then she (I assumed) would then try and jump (literally) on the big hippo’s back and sit on him.

Noooo! I couldn’t take pictures of this!

But it kept going on and the two hippos kept chasing each other around the pool trying to catch one another, but for obviously VERY different reasons. The first hippo (who came up to me and rested her head) seemed to take notice of them unless the baby hippo came dashing over to her (almost for protection) and if the male hippo actually did manage to (sorry, I hate to use this word) mount the little hippo, the first hippo would intervene and grunt at the male.

It was most bizarre but I didn’t know what to do but to stand there and watch, and take pictures when I could. Other zoo goers came and went, some of them noticing what was going on and some not, and I was embarrassed to be standing there watching it all. At least they weren’t, well, you know. At one point the largest hippo started almost ranting around the pool by himself, obviously, err, frustrated.

With about fifteen minutes before the talk was to begin, I went and found a bench and sat down on it. I waited, hoping that my interpretation of the brochure was correct and that there WAS a feeding time. I got out my phrase book and realized that they only did the feedings on weekends, which was great timing for me since it was Saturday.

Finally a keeper on her bicycle appeared. She brought over a small speaker and put it inside a sort of hilly bit in the enclosure where I assumed she would be standing to give her talk. I went over and showed her my piece of paper and she smiled and wrote down their names for me: Juliette (the little one), Irma (the middle one) and Emile (the big male).

Then she went and turned on the music.

It was so funny. She turned on this like techno-beat thing that was sort of trippy in a way (that’s the only way I can really explain it). The hippos came over in (they knew what this music meant—feeding time!) and I just laughed. It was something out of a movie—almost like the hippos were then going to perform for me or something. Plus I was the only one there! The girl had a microphone and everything but when she realized that I didn’t know French, and would not have a clue what she was saying, she put it down.

So we both stood there and waited. And waited. And waited for more people to come. We just smiled in that “gee, this is really funny” way and thankfully some people showed up so she could begin her talk. She turned down the techno music and started.

I took pictures as she talked to the other zoo visitors about the hippos and got some great pictures of them eating carrots and other vegetables that the keeper would throw in. This went on until the vegetables ran out (much to the hippos dismay) and all three of the hippos eventually went back into the water.

Emile took this moment to make his mark on the world and Juliette did the most awful thing. Since she was pestering him again (not that again!) she was right behind him as he started to, well, poop everywhere (which of course means flinging it everywhere) and she just stood there, mouth WIDE open, taking it all in.

Ewwwwww!!! Grooooosssssssss!

I couldn’t believe it! Now THAT was just too much. I said goodbye to the hippos, shaking my head and laughing, and went on my way to get something to eat for lunch.


(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Lyon, France—Peaugres and Romanche-Thoins, France—Lyon, France—Day 223

And what an early start I got! I was up and at ‘em way earlier than I thought. I kept waking up in the middle of the night hoping that I wouldn’t miss my alarm to get up since I knew that I had a big day ahead of me. It was rather silly really—almost as if I had a plane to catch or something. All I was doing was renting a car and let’s be honest, nothing would ever be as bad as driving in Paris.

So I got ready and headed down for breakfast where I discovered my first ever egg cooker. Its this thing where its almost like a toaster, except for eggs. You put your egg on this wire rack thing and I think you push it down into the boiling water and then it pops back up again with your boiled egg. It seemed like a good idea but I decided on a bowl of cereal instead.

I then walked over to the train station to rent my car. The same woman who had registered me yesterday was there and I was early! A whole half and hour. I was making good time—it was just turning 8 o’clock. I filled out the necessary forms and she handed me the keys, telling me where the car was. You know, just under the bridge, outside to the left, over the street and down a bit.

Um, ok.

So I went out and then had to turn around back again to get directions for a second time (repeated by with an additional frustrated emphasis) and I got it right the second time. I located my car (thank goodness for license plate numbers because I had no idea what type of car or what color I had rented) and by the grace of god the entrance to the freeway was RIGHT outside of the train station—like you practically had no other choice in the matter but to get on the freeway.

I was happy.

So I zoomed out in search of Peaugres, France which is south of Lyon. I only went here first out of the tree because I found a nifty brochure about it at the tourist office yesterday, where I inquired about renting a car. I set off with directions in hand (practically a first!) and just over an hour and a bit of trying to sing along to French pop songs, I was in Peaugres.

And I was early! I had about a half an hour before the zoo was even going to open. So I set about trying to find a cash machine to get some money out which meant me driving around the downtown area of Peaugres trying to find a bank and more crucially somewhere to park the car. I found a bank alright, but no parking spaces despite going around one-way streets for a bit, so I drove back out to the safari park, stopping at a big supermarket again with hopes of finding a cash machine.

I parked and walked in and there was the cash machine right smack dab in the front entrance. I walked up excited about my discovery only to find it to be out of order. Dang!

I gave up my quest for cash and drove back to the safari park. I pulled up to the entrance and was first in line, that is until some wise guy pulled up in front of me! I couldn’t believe it! I bought my ticket after the gates opened and set off, beating the guy and his family in their mini-van into the safari entrance.

The map to the zoo had me going in all sorts of directions before I would eventually end up at the hippos. So I drove along through the zebras, hyenas, elephants….yaaaawwwwn…..up and over hills, all with my eye out for some signs of the hippos. I even made sort of an illegal move (illegal as in I didn’t follow the route properly) and cut pass the bear enclosure and instead snuck over to the last bit of the zoo where I knew the hippos were. As I pulled past the bear side though I glanced over and actually saw a black bear sitting in middle of the road, right next to signs basically claiming that if you got out of your car or stopped or rolled down your windows in the bear enclosure you would die.

I couldn’t believe it—this bear just sitting there right where you were supposed to drive your car through. I am sorry, but in no way did I want to be the car that had to drive through to make the bear move!

So I veered left and sure enough, the hippo enclosure was right there, but no hippos! Gasp! Where would they be? There was the signs and everything, yet no hippos. So I kept driving and found this dirty muck sewage looking pond thing at the bottom of a hill. Surely they couldn’t be in there, could they? It looked more like a water sewage storage pool to me than a hippo pool. Plus the map made it look like the hippos were in a lake, not in a concrete rectangle.

So I stopped for a bit, saw no signs of hippo life, and kept going, only to find myself at the end of the safari part of the park. That wouldn’t do! So I again (illegally) turned my car around and headed back through the zebras, etc. and snuck back over to the hippo area for a second glance (but really, how on earth could you miss them!).

That’s when I saw a keeper within the enclosure. So I waited and stopped my car in front of it and waited to see what would happen. Sure enough, the keeper finished whatever she was doing, got in her tractor, and came around to the other side where I was waiting and yelled to me as she zoomed past, and gestured with her arms. She pointed down to where the pool was and (I think) said, “They’re down there!”

So I smiled, started up the car and followed her. When we got to the bottom of the hill she stopped and pointed at the pool to the left and sure enough, as she drove away waving, two little noses came up for air.

Ah-hah! So they WERE in the nasty sewage looking pool!

I spent the next two hours or so there. I stopped my car and had pulled it up to get a better view of the hippos (thus blocking anyone else’s view of them who drove by) and waited. Eventually they both took notice of me taking notice of them and just stared at me. Then they started opening their mouths to show me who was boss (the hippos’ way of threatening me is to show me their teeth) and I happily snapped away. Then the pair started getting playful and after a while started going at each other. It was great and I just took picture after picture.

Several cars pulled up behind me and then went around me and then drove off (probably in a huff) but I took no notice. I just pretended that I had JUST pulled up and was getting some good pictures. Luckily no keepers came around to tell me to move and I wasn’t in any danger of being attacked by a free-roaming animal at that point in the park so they couldn’t really get me for stopping with my windows down.

These two hippos were hilarious and I was quite excited to get some pictures of them and to get (you’re going to laugh) ALONE time with the hippos. When its just me and not bazillions of other zoo goers I can just sit and wait patiently and eventually the hippos will do their thing, taking no notice of me.

I eventually pulled away when I had gotten enough pictures and when a big camper van with small children pulled up. I couldn’t bear staying in their way so I pulled away and set off to find out the hippos’ names.

I parked my car in the lot outside of the safari area and walked under these creepy small tunnels under the road to get to the other side of the zoo where there is a restaurant, souvenir shop and an zoo area that you walk through rather than drive. I went in and stopped at the souvenir shop picking up a few things before getting something to eat at the restaurant for lunch.

Since I had gotten the man at the front desk of the hotel this morning to write out for me in French “What are their names?” I was set to find out someone to help me with the hippos. (I should note that the man at the front desk thought I was delirious when asking him this—he kept asking what did I need it for, so I finally told him that I photograph hippos, and so he wrote down “Hippopotame” and said, see? It’s the same. And then I tried to explain to him that I didn’t need “hippopotamus” in French but the phrase “What are their names.” I had to explain this a few times before he finally got it…) Anyways, I decided that I would go back to the girl working at the ticket desk that I originally pulled up to to ask her, since she spoke a little English back to me when I bought my ticket.

So I pulled up, got out my notebook with my handy phrase, and passed it through my window over to her. She took it, read it, and laughed. She got on her walkie talkie and a few seconds later I learned their names: Congo and Zaire.

Perfect! I thanked her and was on my way, out of the zoo. I decided that since things were going so well, and that it was only just going on 12:30 at this point, that I would try and get ANOTHER zoo done in the afternoon.

Couldn’t be THAT far from where I was, could it?

So I started driving and realized about, oh, two hours later that I didn’t really know which exit I was supposed to take. And I didn’t really have a good map showing me where to go so I was basically just estimating where I should get off and where I was actually going.

I decided that this was no good and pulled off to a gas station to check my location on a map. I bought a map and found where I was—about 2 exits past where I needed to get off! The exits here are a little different than in the States because they are much less frequent. There seems to be an exit ever 20 kilometers or so which meant that I had to drive until I found the next exit and then drive all the way back to the previous exits, making my total out of the way driving about 50 kilometers.

But I just kept going and was determined to get to the zoo. After finally getting on the right road and going in what I thought was the right direction, I started seeing signs for the zoo. Whooho! I found it! I followed the signs and soon was at this parking lot, which I just assumed was the parking lot of the zoo.

It was, but the zoo (actually it’s called “Touroparc” and claims to be “Three parks in one!” because it has a water park portion, a zoo, and I think some roller coasters. Anyways, I parked my car and headed into this building which kind of looked more like an entry way to an office complex or something. If the big sign wasn’t out there showing me the “Three parks in one!” one might not really know that they had in fact made it to Touroparc.

But I did, and I bought my ticket and went through the building and back outside again where I found the camels. So I really WAS at a zoo. I followed the map and soon ended up at the hippos.

There were two of them and they had this smallish sort of pond that they were in as well as a dirt area and a small little hippo hut. They both eyed me suspiciously as I approached and then came over to me, resting their heads on the wall of their pond and looking at me with this sort of look. Delighted, I took pictures of the two of them resting their heads and it seemed to me that they wanted me to feed them.

I watched them for a bit as they watched me and soon they both moved and gruntingly got out of the water and went over to their hut. They both walked around in it for a bit (I couldn’t really see them at this point) grunting away and again it seemed like they were wanting to be fed. Perhaps they thought I was the keeper and were disappointed that I didn’t have anything for them.

So they eventually came back out, then went over to this other wall where they rested their heads again (turning their back on me) and sure enough, I could hear this faint tractor sound that was getting louder and louder.

Soon it was evident to me and to the hippos that someone WAS coming to feed them. Up pulled two guys in a tractor and in a truck and they both got out and started throwing big green stalks of some sort of plant that they must have chopped down into the hippo’s enclosure. They started munching away and I went over to ask them their names.

More like show them my piece of paper rather than verbally asking them really. I went up to the first guy and handed him my notebook with “What are their names” written on it and he kind of looked at me confused and started talking in French. I did my uhhh, ummm routine and he then turned to his coworker and they talked for a bit. Finally the first guy gets on his walkie talkie to ask someone who responds to him. He writes down their names: Kif and Pof.

What funny names! I thanked them and went back to taking pictures of Kif and Pof who were eating the plants like there was no tomorrow. Its funny trying to take pictures of hippos eating because they bob their heads up and down and at the rate that Kif and Pof were eating it was difficult to get a steady shot of them.

But I did and watched them until the very last bit of greenery was eaten, which takes quite a while. I have realized that when hippos are fed they usually eat everything that is laid out for them in one sitting. There is none of this “I’ll eat a bit now and then more later” with them, they just plow through the whole lot.

So about an hour and a half later, they were finished and went back into the water. I had my pictures, along with several strange looks from the few people that had walked by while I was photographing them, especially from the family who came by twice while I was there.

Besides those few people though, Touroparc seemed completely empty. As I walked back out I noticed the monorail (which had this sort of appearance that it was made in the 1950s and was quite the thing at that time) and the dried up water park. Either Touroparc is just really, really slow in the off-season (which I guess could be September) or its sort of lacking in the attendance rate.

Anyways, I got back in my car with map in hand and headed back to Lyon, which actually wasn’t relatively too far from the Touroparc when I actually had the right directions. I made it back to Lyon and had quite a time finding my hotel and a parking space since there was loads of traffic on the freeway and I just decided to get off before my exit. I made it back though, despite the detour through Lyon, and found a parking garage for the car at the train station where I rented it. I then took the subway down to the main square and had dinner at an Italian restaurant before crashing back at my hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Paris, France—Lyon, France—Day 222

I checked out of my Paris hotel this morning—the man at the desk commenting on how he will miss seeing me go in and out in the mornings. He told me that he never saw me but for a flash every morning, when I would just dart out of the hotel. I thought this was funny since it was true—I didn’t really idle in the lobby for any reason.

I had to lug my things down the narrow stairs which really is quite a feat in itself when you want to prevent not only damage to your suitcase, but to yourself and to the stairs. I would hate to see the day when the luggage gets the best of me and takes me tumbling down the stairs. Luckily, it hasn’t come yet but I have a feeling that one of these days it might.

I have to say that I’ve gotten a bit stronger now that I have to carry my things around with me everywhere I go and up and off of trains, down stairs, up broken escalators, the lot. The train station in Luxembourg City had this nifty sort of luggage conveyor belt that you put your luggage on and you could walk along next to it while still holding your luggage as the belt moved it up. Quite nifty really—more train station should have them. Ahh, but I guess most do have escalators and Luxembourg did not.

Anyways, back to France! So I checked out of the hotel and left my bags in the lobby while I went to the post office which was thankfully down the street from my hotel. I mailed some zoo goodies and hippo CDs to their appropriate places and was happy to find an English speaking teller and delighted in the fact that they accepted credit cards for payment.

I then dragged my bags across the street from the hotel to get a taxi to the train station. The idea of getting down into the subway and dealing with it all with my stuff didn’t seem like a fun idea at the time, so a taxi was my best bet. One zoomed up to me before I could even get to the taxi stand and I hopped in.

At the train station, I paid my fare and waited for my noon train to Lyon. Its on a TGV train which are these super high speed trains that they have in France—something like 300 kilometers per hour. It was going to get me to Lyon in just under two hours. Since I have this fabulous Eurorail pass, I don’t have to buy individual tickets but then I started thinking (this is like ten minutes before the train is supposed to leave) hmm, maybe I need a reservation.

Turned out I did—basically you have to buy a ticket (unless you are me, of course, with the Eurorail pass) and then pay something like 3 Euros for a seat reservation. So I got in line and soon had my designated seat.

Just then the platform number for the departing train appeared and the crowds (all anxiously waiting) moved en masse towards the designated platform. Everyone kept putting their tickets into a punch machine so I followed along—getting my reservation punched, whatever that is supposed to mean. I think it put a stamp on it but I don’t really know.

I found my appropriate train car and heaved my stuff on. Luckily I was on the lower level of the train (there were two!) so I didn’t have to haul all of my stuff up stairs as well. I put one of my bags on one of the luggage racks in the sort of hall area of the train and then made my way forwards to my seat where I put my other bags. I was worried about my bag in the luggage rack (making up scenarios in my head about someone just coming on and taking mine—out of all others of course—off and me getting to Lyon before realizing it) but as the train pulled away, my luggage was still there.

I then moved my other bag in between two seats that were facing the opposite directions with their backs to one another (after seeing another girl do the same) and sat down with my book in hand.

The woman next to me was this cute little old lady who kept having to get up and get her snacks during the train ride. It was fine but she first asked me in French (probably saying “can I get out please”) which of course I would respond to with a dumb look on my face, which, I must say, I have perfected.

After some uhhhs and ummms, and her actually physically moving to get up, I realized oh, she wants to get up. She came back with several cookies and granola bars and happily started munching on them as we pulled away.

The train was great—I was distracted from my book by this cute little girl playing with her toy animals, she kept STOMP STOMP STOMPing them on her table in front of her and then playing cute with the guy sitting behind her which was making both him and I laugh. We made it into Lyon just before two and not long thereafter I hailed a taxi and was on my way to the hotel.

I got dropped off and the taxi driver tried to weasel his way into getting more money from me (“train and luggage fees, Miss”) and I just shook my head as I handed over my money. Yeah yeah yeeaaaah right.

I checked into my hotel which is this quirky place where I feel like I am the only one here. I had to switch rooms to get a non-smoking room, even though the guy at the desk warned me that it would be a “very large room.” And it is indeed and something straight out of the 60s. Brown and pinks and orange everywhere. The comforter is peach and yellow, the walls are peach—why, everything is just peachy!

I then ate my lunch (which I had bought before getting on the train at a supermarket near my hotel in Paris) which turned out to be a salmon salad which isn’t so nice after its been sitting un-refrigerated for a few hours. If I only knew French I could have saved myself from the salad, but oh well. I ate it anyways.

I then made a plan of action for the three zoos that I have to get to while I am based in Lyon. None of which are in Lyon, but Lyon is just the closest city to all of them. I will have to rent a car and drive to them all. So I decided that tomorrow I will rent a car for a few days and get to the zoos. So I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Lyon—first inquiring about renting a car.

I went in the tourist office to ask this (a fair walk from my hotel) and the woman working at the desk was like, “oh, that’s at dafjkhsdlfhsd” (something incomprehensible in French). And I was like, um, excuse me? And she was like, “ALKJSDHFLAJS” (again something in comprehensible, this time with more of an attitude with it).

So I made her point out this on the map, whatever it was and it turned out to be the train station right next to my hotel. Ooooh, that. Ok. So, how do I get there? She just looked at me as if I had three eyes or something. She said (sighing) “just go down this street, or this street, ANY street and you will find it.”


So I walked down this supposedly main pedestrian street and voila! I made it to the train station. Now I had the problem of finding a rental car place, which I eventually did down these stairs, and this escalator, and through this hallway. I went in the first agency that I saw, Hertz, and fifteen minutes later I emerged with a reservation for the morning for three days.

After that I spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening roaming Lyon. I say this because it was really like I was just wandering around getting sort of lost but finding my way back eventually. Its amazing how much I have developed this skill since I started this job—almost 8 full months ago! It shard to believe that so much time has passed!

I made it back to the hotel eventually. I ended up shopping a bit and having dinner at this sandwich shop, only because I knew that I could sit and eat by myself without any worries and could get a quick dinner and get back to the hotel for an early start in the morning. The people at my hotel are nice—the guy at the desk handing me my key back without even asking for my room number. Probably its because I am like the only person staying at the hotel, but I’ll pretend its because I’m such a great hotel guest.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Photo--Me and the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Paris, France—Day 221

I woke up today ready to spend the day at the Thoiry Zoo. I had full hopes of getting there early, when it opened at 10am, and to find the hippos in action. I knew that this zoo was an animal safari park (those ones that you drive through) but as always, wasn’t really sure what to expect.

So I got on the train and ended up at the Avis rental place almost 45 minutes early. Please with my timing, I strolled confidently into the office and showed the man at the counter my passport to prove my reservation. He spoke a little English, not much, and registered and rented me the car.

He then handed me the keys, pointed me in the direction of where the car was and sent me on my way.

I sort of looked at him and then got out my map—um, can you show me where to go?

He made all sorts of hand motions and gestures saying that he really didn’t know but that I needed to go “in that way.”


So I get down to the car (after getting on the wrong level at first) and get in. Pulling the car out of the garage I am thinking, this is not a good idea.

Pulling out of the parking garage, now I am thinking this is really not a good idea.

Heading down the street off of the railway station into, cutting off some drivers and not stopping for pedestrians I am thinking this is REALLY NOT a good idea.

What can I say, it was NOT a good idea for me to be trying to maneuver myself out of Paris, in rush hour traffic, with not really a clue on how or where to get where I needed to go.

So I pulled a U-turn (illegal in France? Who knows!) and found the train station again. I was praying that I wouldn’t get lost in the like four minutes that it had taken me to get where I was from the train station, and hoping that I would make it back (and the car) in one piece.

I found the station and a parking garage (whether it was the same one that I pulled out of I still don’t know), parked my car on some level, and went back into the Avis office.

I threw down my keys and my map and told the guy that there was no way that I should be driving around Paris. He just looked at me, got up, and went out the door.

He came back with another guy who spoke English (ah, so that is why he left) and so I explained to him, who explained to HIM, that I would get incredibly lost if they even let me out of the train station again and could I rent the car in perhaps Versailles, where there was a rental agency, and I will take the train out there instead of driving?

They guy relayed this back to the Avis guy, who was asking where I got into an accident, and we kept telling him no, there was no accident, just a silly American girl.

So he just smiled and said no problem, and he forwarded my reservation to the office in Versailles (about 20 minutes from Thoiry, supposedly) and I left feeling very, very relieved.

I followed their instructions on how to get to Versailles, which meant taking a commuter train from a different train station than the one I was at, so I had to get back on the Metro to get there. Then when I was at that station I had a moment of lapsed brain activity and bought a ticket for the main station in Versailles, thinking it was the one I needed to go to. When the woman at the ticket counter gave me the ticket, but told me that I had to go to a different station to get on the train, I really should have thought hmmm, this must be the wrong place in Versailles, but I didn’t.

Instead I got back on the metro, went to the next train station, got out and realized that oops, I was at the wrong place. Luckily this station also had trains going to where I really was supposed to go, so I was in the clear.


But by this time it was almost eleven and I still wasn’t even close to Versailles. I finally made it to the correct train station around eleven thirty, and by the time I had rented the car and was on my way to Thoiry it was going on noon. I wasn’t even sure if I was going in the right direction (the woman at the car rental place didn’t even know where Thoiry was) so I stopped at a gas station and got a map, and directions, all in French of course.

I could kind of follow what the guy was telling me to do and where to go but ended up going on the right highway just in totally the wrong direction. So I ended up twenty minutes from Versailles in the opposite direction. I finally figured this out (since I wasn’t really driving and reading the map at the same time) and headed, hopefully, to Thoiry.

Just when I was like, ok, WHERE is it, signs for Thoiry started to show up. Thank goodness. I followed the signs and eventually ended up at the entrance to the zoo, along with the Chateaux, Animal Safari Park, Labyrinth and botanical gardens. I figured that it was highly likely that the hippos would be in the Safari Park so I drove up and bought my ticket.

Sure enough, they were. After following the map and driving alongside zebras, I found the hippos. There appeared to be five of them, at least five of which I could sort of make out. They were really far away from me and it was hard to tell really where one hippo ended and the other began, as well as get any sort of decent pictures since they were so far away.

I snapped a few anyhow and took some videos of the hippos while I read over the map. “Do not stop car at anytime” it said. On well! I stayed there for quite a bit while the hippos basked in the sun, and while several cars passed me, and debated on what to do. Based on the hot sun and time of day, along with my basic experience with hippos now, I figured that they weren’t really going to be making any special appearances out on land any time soon. So I decided to drive around and see if I could find anyone to help me.

I didn’t spot a SINGLE keeper in the ENTIRE safari park. No one. I didn’t really know what to do! I drove out of the park and parked my car in the gigantic parking lot (they claim that they have “infinite parking” and I believe them) and went over to the zoo area where you are able to walk around and see the rest of the animals, you know, monkeys and things.

I went in and tried to find someone to help me but to no avail. I went back out of the zoo area and sat down to have some lunch, pondering what to do. It seemed like there wasn’t really anyone around to ask since the Animal Safari portion of the zoo was completely separated from the walking area. And if I were to find someone, the likelihood of the hippos being fed anytime soon were slim.

I decided that the best thing for me to do was to head back to Versailles and then on to Paris and contact the curator from the Paris Zoo who helped me, and to ask her if she knew someone at Thoiry to help me. She told me when I met her that she would help me if I needed anything else and I know for sure that she is in contact with this zoo since they might switch Poupouille.

So I stopped by the Chateaux before heading out of the park, determined to get the hippo pictures, even if it took some time sorting things out.

So I drove back to Versailles which was quite funny—me getting lost and not really knowing where to go. Roundabouts are hard going the opposite way that you came in (when the signs are not pointing to your specific destinations). Eventually, after double backing a few times, I found the road to Versailles and was on my way. It is only like 20 minutes from Versailles really, if you know what you are doing of course!

I eventually ended up in the main part of Versailles, near the famous Chateaux there (the one with the hall of mirrors…) and after getting honked and yelled at a few times and fighting traffic, I made it back to the train station, all in one piece.

Thank God. Whatever I had to go through to get to Thoiry today was much, much better than me trying to leave from Paris like I thought I could this morning!

I took the train back to Versailles, contacted Julie the Curator via email, and got a picnic dinner to sit by the Eiffel Tower for my last night in Paris. Hopefully, hopefully, Julie will get in touch with me and we can work something out for Thoiry. Instead of biting my time in Paris, I am now heading south to Lyon, where there are three zoos there (one of which is an Animal Safari Park—oh joy!) and I will have four nights there to get the three zoos.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Paris, France—Day 220

With today’s goal being conquering the Thoiry Zoological Park (about 35 kms outside of Paris), I got up early and headed straight to where I knew there was a car rental agency—at the train station that I came in on.

The thing with Paris is that there are like five different train stations (there could be more—I don’t know exactly) and I was sure that all of them would have car rental places. I knew for sure that the one that I came into it, but thought that they all would.

I was wrong—or at least, when I went to a different station, the Gare du Nord, I couldn’t find them for the life of me. I found a really big, huge station that I managed to get totally turned around and almost lost in, but couldn’t really find the rental car places at all. I decided that my best bet would be to just got to the Gare de l’Est, where I knew there were agencies (I had seen them!) and was only a stop away on the Metro.

So I get to the Gare de l’Est and find the first car rental agency: Avis. I walk in and ask the surprised woman (why she was surprised by me, I don’t know but she was!) about renting a car. She told me that there were no more cars available for the day. Sorry.

I headed out but then thought, well, what about tomorrow?

I turned back around and again, the surprised woman (surprised to see me twice I think!) helped me and said well yes, there are cars available for tomorrow.

Great. I reserved one and thought well, I do have another day in Paris, I will just fit in some more sight seeing while I wait for my car. I could I guess have found a different car rental place but I thought ok, I know where this place is, I need to just stick to the plan.

So I spent the rest of the day doing much more of the same—playing the tourist. I went to Ste-Chapelle, a Gothic chapel which is just amazing. I had to stand in line for quite a while and I was happily reading my NEW book which was exciting in itself not only in its content (“Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) but because for so long I have gone without reading material. So I read in line which prompted a British guy behind me to strike up conversation.

Oh hello, you must be English then, reading, well, in English.

I smiled and put my book down. I started chatting with the guy and felt rude to go back to reading my book, even though it was getting to a good part. We talked for a while about the usual things you do when you meet someone when you travel—where are you from, yadda yadda yadda, how long will you be here, yadda yadda yadda, etc. Then it was my turn to buy my tickets and I headed in after that.

Ste-Chapelle is absolutely gorgeous—built by Louis IX to house Christ’s crown of thorns among other things and I was really impressed. I took quite a lot of pictures while the crowds around me chattered away. Every so often a man would come on the loudspeaker and go “SILENCE!” and everyone would sort of hush up for a bit. It slightly had that “is that God speaking?” type feel to it.

After Ste-Chapelle, I went over to the Conciergerie, a quite famous prison in Paris that is near the Ste-Chapelle. It housed Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre which is quite impressive for a prison. I then wandered back out and after grabbing a baguette from a local patisserie (feeling very French of course) I went to the Musee D’Orsay and spent the afternoon walking around Impressionist art, getting quite a good impression of it all. Heehee, ok, bad joke, I know. The museum used to be an old train station which they have converted and its very nice. You should go. I spent a few hours there on my own, well, except for a funny French woman showing me which escalator I must ride on. She was telling me no no no (as I tried to go in one way) and showed me that I must follow her on HER escalator, never mind that it was going in the opposite direction.

Oh well!

I then spent the rest of the late afternoon literally walking around. There is sure a lot of walking to be done in Paris! I walked around the St. Paul area and managed to find all sorts of wonderful little shops and schools and thing away from all of the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas of Paris. It was quite nice. I spent probably, oh, well over two—probably almost three hours walking around before I ended up (luckily) at a metro stop. I spotted a café across the road and went in and had the most delicious dinner. I ordered the “almost cooked salmon” hoping that it was more than just almost cooked, and it turned out to be wonderful. Perfect in fact.

I was happy and wandered back to the metro, hopped on, and got off at my stop. I then walked over to the Eiffel Tower (its just a short ways from my hotel) and watched the sun set among the kissing couples.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Paris, France—Day 219

This morning I ventured over to the Parc Zoologique de Paris (a-ha! The zoo I needed yesterday!) which I found DID exist via the internet. So, upon the recommendations of some strange website (not the zoos), I took the metro out to Ponte Doree Station and was soon at the gates to the zoo.

The zoo looked completely closed and based on the graffiti type banners that were hanging over it, all exclaiming something in French, I thought for sure that the zoo was really closed, if not for today but for good. But I walked up to the seemingly deserted ticket counter and a woman showed up. I bought my ticket and headed in, feeling like the only person in the zoo.

As I walked to the hippos, I found that really, I was almost the only person. I only saw one other girl, who actually looked quite like me, which was bizarre. Perhaps she is on a world-tour photographing giraffes.

I found the hippos and there were two of them in an outdoor pool but based on the looks of things, the hippos were not getting along. The smaller of the two had all sorts of bleeding cuts on him (or her) and was chomping away at some hay while the larger of the two seemed to keep watch over the other hippo from the water.

I stopped and got out my camera and was able to get some good pictures of the smaller one—the one out of the water. The larger one was proving to be more difficult.

I heard some rustling noises coming from behind a closed off area so I thought for sure that a keeper would come out and be able to help me. One did but as I approached him and asked him for his help, he literally waved me off and said No, no! and kept walking.


I stood there in disbelief for a long time while I waited for some other sort of official looking person to walk by. Eventually one did, so I stopped him to ask if he spoke English and could help me. He didn’t speak English, but he did offer to help (or at least, I think he did!). He started asking me things and I just didn’t know what to do and then Mr. No came back with a large wheelbarrow. Mr. Nice and Helpful stopped Mr. No and they started talking about me, and eventually Mr. No got on his walkie talkie and paged someone to come down and help me.

Then Mr. Nice and Helpful turned to me and (I think) said that someone would be here shortly to help me.

I smiled and thanked them both and stood there and sure enough, a girl approached on her bicycle. She introduced herself as the curator of the hippos—what luck! And she spoke wonderful English. She was able to tell me about Poupouille (the smaller of the two—the son) and Pelagie (the bigger—the mother) and said that there was a third hippo, Rodolphe (the father) inside. She told me that Pelagie was starting to reject Poupouille, which was evident based on his wounds. Poor Poupouille! Turns out also that originally they thought Poupouille was a female (up until like May—and now he’s about three years old) so they are worried about Poupouille liking his mother a little too much, if you know what I mean.

I felt so bad for poor little Poupouille. All he wanted to do was be close to his mother (and not necessarily in that sense) and his mother would not have it. It took her quite a while to even let Poupouille close to the water and to let him get in. It was quite a spectacular and sad thing to watch really.

Julie, the curator, took me behind the scenes to see Rodolphe who was in an inside area. I tried to get some pictures of him, but indoor shots are really not great. Rodolphe comes out at nighttime and the other two during the day. Julie told me that they are most likely going to try to send Poupouille to the Thoiry Zoo (where I will go!) in the next few weeks and exchange him with another male since Pelagie the mother is rejecting him so early and so forcefully. She also told me that the state of the Paris Zoo is uncertain because the design of the zoo includes these massive rock formations (that aren’t real) but everything in the zoo is either built around or in them. And the rocks, after seventy years of no upkeep, are literally falling off making it quite a situation for everyone involved, especially the animals! Julie speculated that there might not even be a Paris Zoo by the end of this year and that they would have to close it.

We then headed up to Julie’s office where she gave me some more information about the hippos (Poupouille is three, Pelagie is around 25-30 years old and Rodolphe is 31 years old) and gave me her card. I thanked her for her help and set back out to get another glimpse at the hippos and promising Julie that I would be back at the zoo around 5 o’clock in the evening to perhaps get a glimpse of Rodolphe in the open enclosure.

I then headed out of the zoo and spent most of the afternoon doing much of the same as yesterday—lots of wandering around different streets of Paris and sitting in Jardin des Tuilleries reading my book. The weather was much more agreeable today than the past few and I was happy to be sitting outside in the shade. I wandered around trying to find a cheap pair of sunglasses (and finally did for 3 Euros! Haha!) and marveled at everything over 100 Euros, which seemed to be just about everything in every shop!

I eventually made it back to the zoo, albeit 15 minutes late. Despite losing my original ticket, I weaseled my way back into the zoo without having to pay a second time using Julie’s card. They let me in and I raced over to the hippos where I found Julie waiting for me. It was clear that things were not going well with Poupouille and Pelagie—the keeper was trying to round them both up inside and every time Poupouille tried to follow his mother (a natural thing for hippos), she would turn on him and chase him back into the water. Poor Poupouille!

Julie told me that Rodolphe would not be making an appearance this evening and would be staying indoors because they were going to change the water in the outdoor pool. She told me that she would email me a picture of Rodolphe so I thanked her and headed back out of the zoo.

I sat down in the park near the zoo which was really quite nice—they even had row boats that you could rent before heading out to find some dinner.

And where did I go?

Why the Hippopotamus Restaurant, of course!

For all of you who don’t know, there is a chain food store here (much like Denny’s really) that is called, well, Hippopotamus. It was too good to be true. To top it off, I knew that there was one in the Bastille area—literally hippos storming the Bastille. I set out on the metro and found the restaurant with no problem.

I sat down and looked over the menu—my choice ranged from the “Hippo Mixed Grill” for dinner to the “Hippo Banana” and the “Crème Brule Hippo” for dessert and even the “Cocktail Hippo:” and the “Sangria Hippo” for drinks. I couldn’t find it in myself to order anything with hippo in its name (too close for comfort really) so I got some Tandoori chicken salad. Probably a bad move on my part—I’m sure the hippo dishes are their specialties. But it was fine, and I even pocketed the hippo place mat and the drink stirrer in my bag while the waiter (wearing a “Hippo Team” t-shirt by the way) brought my food.

He came back most amused when he saw me writing down hippo named items on the menu and probably wondered what on earth I was doing. And I was pretty amused at myself and at the other people who were actually eating at the restaurant! You would think, ok, you’re in Paris—one of the most beautiful cities on earth and you’re going to eat WHERE?!?!

Perhaps they too have a little hippo love inside.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg—Paris, France—Days 217/218

Oh Paris.

I made it here a few days ago on the 4th—spending most of the morning walking around various sights in Luxembourg before checking out of my hotel and catching my noon train to Paris, which got me here and checked into my hotel at around 5:00pm. I didn’t have a reservation for the train which was fine, but this meant that I had to sit next to a big old guy who was drinking beer and making salmon sandwiches the entire way down (and it wasn’t like smoked salmon, it was puréed salmon that looked more like cat food than anything else).

Anyways, we pulled into Paris and I got off of the train and lugged my things inside the station to find a money exchange place and a taxi to my hotel.

I found both and was soon heading to my hotel which is right near the Eiffel Tower. This is the first time that I have ever been to Paris so I was excited. However my taxi driver seemed to have no idea where my hotel was (its called the Derby Eiffel—so I thought that would give away some hint of what national landmark it was near) and despite having the address, he still didn’t know where it was. So most of the trip was spent with him driving while reading his map in front of him which was a little unnerving.

Finally, finally we made it and he dropped me off. In I went and I checked in to the hotel. The woman working at the desk was (well, she still is) this raspy voiced French woman who must be about 50 going on 24. She had quite the tight outfit and the tan to go along with it. Anyways, she was tre excited to show me all of the “romantic” things I could do in Paris—private dinner cruises, the lot—and I just took her map with all of these romantic sights circled and headed upstairs to set my things down.

This would be just the start of my realization that Paris really is for lovers. They like cater to it. I don’t know if it is just the “oh-my-goodness-let’s-make-out-because-that-is-what-you-do-in-Paris” or what but honestly, honestly is like c’mon people! I even saw some people make out tonight who were both talking on their cellular phones to OTHER people at the same time. How do they do it?!?

Paris for Singles Lesson #1—Don’t question the French kissers—they have a kiss named after them for a REASON.

Anyways, back to my first night. I spent it sort of walking around the area trying to get a feel of where I was. It was hard to know where to go—I ended up taking the subway like one stop and getting off down the street from where I was standing before which I could see and clearly could have walked from. Anyways, I tried to spend what time I had that afternoon doing Paris things, but ended up just taking the BatoBus (this nifty but expensive “bus” that takes you on the river Seine) and walking around the Notre Dame.

I found the English-language bookstore and got myself a new book and then walked around a bit trying to find somewhere to eat. I spotted a cute little vegetarian restaurant and thought ok, this is it and caught the eye of a server. She told me to just wait a few minutes, if I could.

I smiled and said yes so I stood there trying not to stare at the other people eating their food outside. It was hard though because not only was there seating on the sidewalk but that was where you had to stand to wait to be seated so it was hard not to stand over them.

Anyways, I keep waiting and waiting and soon different couples start showing up to wait to. Another waiter comes out and tells them yes, please just wait a few minutes, and I thought ah-hah! I am before ALL of you. The food looked so good and I was so hungry…

Then another waiter came out and looked from one side to another side of the people that were waiting (with me dead smack in the middle, actually standing right in front of him) and he said to the people who were like soo much farther behind me ok, we have a table for you.

And they went it! I just stood there shocked. Not only did they not tell them hey, she was first, and politely let me go in, but they all just ignored the fact that I was standing right there.

Paris for Singles Lesson #2—Eating by yourself is more of a challenge here. Try to learn “Excuse me, I was first” and “Yes, I am eating by myself” in French before hand.

Anyways, I decided to find a different place to eat and sort of went off in a huff of sorts. I ended up at this small little restaurant that was nice but a little slow. I ended up talking to the people sitting next to me who were shocked and awed that I was by myself (a couple from Liverpool) and were equally shocked and awed to hear my reasons for being in Paris.

The next morning I headed over to the Jardin des Plantes, where I knew there was a zoo. I took the subway out and walked through the gardens which was filling up with joggers and people pushes strollers, all out on this beautiful Sunday morning. When I got to the zoo (the Menagerie), I bought my ticket and went in. I spotted three great big hippo statues right away and took pictures of them and then looked at my map.

Ok, where were the REAL hippos?

I couldn’t see them on the map so I went to ask. The woman just looked at me, shrugged, and said “No hippos!”

Ok, no hippos. Great. I must be at the wrong zoo. There had to be another zoo in Paris and I just went to the wrong one!

Whoops. Well, I decided that since I have a few days in Paris, I could just go ahead and do some sightseeing and go back to the mysterious zoo that I knew existed WITH the hippos tomorrow morning. It was already beginning to heat up and I knew that at the rate the temperature was rising, the hippos were most likely in the water at this point so I should get them as early as possible.

So I spent the day wandering around—I went to the Louvre and battled lines to see the Mona Lisa (its so small and so far away!) and then meandered around different parts of the Louvre trying to get a brief overview of things. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, admission was free which was great because you didn’t have to wait in line but awful because there were SO many people there. Then again, it might just be super crowded all of the time during tourist season.

I spent about three hours trying to absorb all of the art around me and through my audio tour before getting lunch at the cafeteria. I sat down with my quiche (tre French btw) and an Austrian man sat down next to me. I knew he was Austrian because he started talking to me, at first about how he was confused that my egg was SLICED on my salad, and his was not. I pointed out to him my knife and showed him how I sliced my OWN egg myself. He thought this was hilarious and we started to chit chat—he thought my hippo story was even more hilarious than the egg.

After I was finished I said goodbye to this Austrian guy and went back out to cope in the heat and see more of Paris. The weather is absurdly hot and all you want to do is go swimming! A lot of people were putting their feet and even wading around in the Louvre’s fountains.

I spent the rest of the afternoon going on this silly bus tour where you buy a ticket and it is good for two days along four routes. They give you these headsets and you get cheesy commentary the whole way though. I decided that I needed to see Paris above ground instead of just below because I was getting nowhere (well, not seeing much) using the metro. So I bought a 25 Euro ticket (along with my arm and my leg), got a funny green stethoscope type apparatus for my headseat, headed up to the top level of the bus and started heading towards the sights of Paris.

Problem was I got on the wrong route. But of course I didn’t realize this until maybe ¾ of the way through when I hadn’t seen any of the “famous” sights of Paris. We went sort of in the eastern direction and saw things like the new library and the sport stadium all of which I understand are interesting but not really what I was thinking.

But I had to stay on the bus to get back to where I wanted to be so I rode the whole tour, which was about an hour, got off at the Notre Dame and decided to go visit that first before even trying to get on another bus. The Notre Dame is beautiful and a service was just starting as I walked in, so I looked around a bit and then sat down for a bit. I then walked out to try and find the right bus that I wanted to get on and soon one pulled up. I was then on the “Grande Tour” of Paris which was what I wanted in the first place. It took us down all of the main sights which was interesting and I was satisfied with being able to see where everything was in relation to each other.

I got off on the Champs-Elysees (the huge road that ends in the Arc de Triomphe and the place de Concorde on the other—both of which are important sights of course) and walked along it for a bit, taking in all of the designer clothing shops. I made the mistake of stopping at a sunglasses shop to find a pair (I’ve been dying without mine since I lost them a bit ago) and leaving immediately when I saw that all of the glasses were over 100 Euros each.

I then went up with Arc de Triomphe which was just spectacular—I definitely recommend it if you are ever in Paris. The view is amazing and you get a view that includes the Eiffel Tower which is nice.

I then headed down and wandered (and I do mean wandered) over to the Eiffel Tower. It took me a while to get there but I FINALLY did, just when I was going to give up. Funny how my map seems to exclude like a bazillion streets so everything looks a lot closer than it really is.

Anyways, I sat down on the grass outside of the Eiffel Tower to sit down for a bit but then decided that while I was there, I should go up. So I got a ticket and was herded into tiny elevators with the zillions of other tourists, pushed onto one elevator after another, after another, and finally making it to the top where I could get somewhat of a view out over Paris but had to push through the masses to get a view, and then get back in line and repeat the whole process over again of waiting and pushing.

I made it back down about an hour and a half later and felt good to be back on the ground. I am definitely not afraid of heights or anything but being at the tip top with all of those people (and not really knowing when you are actually going to get down) makes me a little nervous. Plus I have to say that I enjoyed my view from the Arc a little bit better, but then again it was still light out when I did that so I could see a little bit more. Paris however looks great both during the day and night so I was happy that I saw the view from the Eiffel Tower at night.

By this point it was just going on ten o’clock. I hadn’t had dinner but was too tired from all of the walking today to even attempt to go find something to eat so I settled for heading to my hotel instead.

Paris for Singles Lesson #3—Isn’t it great do be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to?

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.