First you travel.
The excitement of going masks the boredom of getting there. You get on a plane, then off. Then on, then off. Then on, then off. You plan to sleep over the ocean, but the airline is determined to feed you. Every time you get comfortable and start to sleep, they come through with drinks, or food, or to make sure you’re comfortable. “Do you need anything?” Yes, you need sleep.
Seventeen hours later, you are suddenly there. The monotony of flying is over and you are excited again. You’ve made it, almost. You are geographically close to where you are going, but you still have hurdles to clear. You are at an airport an hour away from the city you are technically in. You need your bags, and transportation, and a hairbrush. When you stepped off of the plane, you left behind your language. Until you are acclimated, you will struggle to understand and to be understood.
You navigate your way through baggage claim and customs and tackle public transportation. You could take Uber, which requires the least interaction between you and your driver. You could hop into a taxi, but that could be astronomically expensive. You plan to use public transportation for the majority of your trip, so you might as well figure it out now.
There are similarities between cities within the same country, but there are little differences as well. Marseille requires a bus ride to a train track that takes you into the heart of town. Selecting “English” at the station kiosk gets a couple of words you know thrown onto the French menu, but not enough. You feel pretty certain that you’ve bought the right ticket. You climb the stairs to the platform and wait for your train. Announcements are made only in French and you worry every time you hear your station mentioned between other words you don’t know. But the train shows up and you roll your luggage through the narrow aisles. The train is empty so you set your bags next to you and wait for your station to be called.
By now it is dark and there is nothing to see out of the windows. You look at each other, and the interior of the train, and finally, out the window into the darkness. The black of night is broken up by the lights of tunnels and stations that are not your stop. You are tired again. It would be easy to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the steel tracks, but you stay awake because you are too concerned about missing your stop.
The train pulls into your station, and you find the metro line that takes you to your hotel. By now, things feel almost like the France you remember. You know how to purchase your metro pass. You know how to validate the ticket. You still don’t remember the elementary French you’ve been practicing for months. When the hotel clerk greets you with “Bonsoir,” you become the idiot you’ve feared and answer with, “Uh, hi.”
You open the door to your room and feel less tired. You open closet doors and windows and flip light switches until you figure out how everything works. You turn on the TV and flip through channels.
You plug your phone in and look at dinner suggestions on Yelp. What are you in the mood for? Food that isn’t from an airplane or an airport lounge. Beyond that — something that looks familiar. Not McDonalds. You’re not that kind of traveler.
You find something that looks good. It’s close and open late, so you walk to the restaurant and fumble with French words until they take pity on you and speak English. They’re nice about it, but you feel defeated. You’re led to a table and given English menus — another sharp dagger in your tired heart.
You order wine. “Un verre du vin — Rosé.” When it arrives, you toast. “à la France!” “Santé!”
When the wine hits your tongue, you are in France. The cheap glass you’ve ordered is dry and complex and better than any cloying pink wine you’ve had at home. Your eyes close in satisfaction. “à la France,” you say again.
You are no longer tired. You are awake and alive and this restaurant is your new home. You order meals, then cheese, then dessert. You talk and drink and eat and look into each other’s eyes. For months you have researched and planned and now, suddenly, you are here. The work of arriving has faded with the day.
The restaurant is winding down. You’ve finished your panna cotta and wine. You’ve lounged and lingered, but now you ask for your check. “L’addition, s’il vous plait.” You pay and walk back to the hotel. Tomorrow there will be a bit more arriving when you check into your AirBNB. But for now, as you look out your hotel room window, you are here. Salut, Marseille. What do you have for me?