Sunday, October 16, 2005

Chapter 1: France to London to Albany

After nearly a year of planning, my first trip back to the US in two and a half years began on September 7, 2005.

I took the TGV from Tours in the Loire Valley to Paris and transferred to Eurostar to go to London. I was supposed to bypass Paris and transfer to Eurostar in Lille, but there had been a power outage on the train line earlier in the morning and the trains were delayed such that I would have missed my connection - ça commence bien, I thought. But the agents at SNCF (French National Railway) put me on a train to Paris and authorized Eurostar to re-book me to London from there, and I was on my way.

The reason for bypassing Paris was to avoid having to cross town from the Montparnasse station (where the TGV from Tours arrives) to the Gare du Nord (where the Eurostar departs). The best laid plans... Once in Paris I was faced with the choice: taxi or subway. Of course, being the train fan that I am, I chose the subway. The fact that I didn't want to spend the money to take a taxi across town between train stations did not sway my decision in the least. So I lugged my bags through the Paris métro. Many stairs and long corridors later, I got to the Gare du Nord, soaked in sweat. Should've spent the money on a cab. Everything went smoothly at Eurostar, and the train departed the Gare du Nord at 1:04 pm. Even with the delay and re-route, I got to London's Waterloo station only a half an hour later than scheduled.

I spent the night in the Majestic Hotel (photo) in South Kensington/Central London, a place I found on the internet. And no, I did not learn my lesson in Paris; I lugged my bags to the hotel on the London Underground. Arriving a day early was my plan to avoid missing the flight from Heathrow to JFK the next day.

My less than 24 hours in London were fun; it was my first time there. I walked for a few hours around the Soho neighborhood, Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden, and Charing Cross, shopped for curry powder, ate dinner in a Thai restaurant, and finally walked through Trafalgar Square and Whitehall over to the houses of Parliament before heading back to the hotel for the night.

The next day I took the tube out to Heathrow to get my 1:30 pm flight to New York. I was able to get on the internet at the airport to check e-mail and send messages. The flight was on time, smooth and comfortable aboard the Boeing 777, and the champagne flowed.

I snuck a few photos while on the plane. Not the most interesting pictures, but this is an experiment, remember? I had to check to be sure the wing and engine were still there...

After landing at JFK and going through all the normal getting-off-the-plane stuff (passport control, customs, baggage claim, car rental), I headed upstate to Albany. The Van Wyck was easy, but there was construction at the Whitestone Bridge. I had nearly forgotten what urban traffic at rush hour can be like. Traffic crawled up through the Bronx and over to the Saw Mill River Parkway. I took the Taconic State Parkway north since I hadn’t done that in more than 20 years. The views of the Hudson Valley and southern Catskills were beautiful, but it got dark about halfway up, so I missed some of the scenery.

I arrived at my friends’ house outside of Albany about 8:30 pm. Turns out that I made good time after all. It was great to see them again and we sat and caught up for a couple of hours before bedtime.
What follows this first post will be an attempt to publish photos from my USA trip in September. We shall see how this works out...