Raining in Reims
If you are ever to visit Reims, I suggest you stay down in the caves and not stop drinking.
Let it be said that I am overly aware that my negative biases has to do with the following: the cold and rainy weather, being sick and completely alone for the first time in my life, living in a cubicle with no wifi or means of communication and no one to talk to.
The Champagne was amazing but not even that could keep me there. It was an abrupt and harsh start to traveling on your own for 6 months. Those who know me, know how social and outspoken I am and there was no one there but me. The loneliness was expected and all part of the reason for this journey – to be alone with myself and know and accept all those parts of me. However, these past three days were not fun, nor magical like Paris had been and no one spoke English. I mostly talked to myself and thought nonsensical things.
There were 3 characters in Reims. Only 3 that I had experiences with and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from them.
Character #1 … we’ll call him “Z”, for Dragon ball Z, because he seemed that type.
He was the first and only person I spoke to arriving off the train at Reims. It was cold, raining, and I was hung over. Not a soul spoke English in this train station … not a soul but Z. A Guido-looking, French guy with a cleft lip who, after seeing the vending machine steal my 2 euros, began body slamming the machine in attempts to rescue it for me. Taken completely off guard, as one would expect to be if a stranger hurled his body across the room into the vending machine you were standing in front of, I backed up and just stared at him.
When I realized what he was doing, I tried to tell him to stop and that it was fine but all he would say was “No. Not fine,” and throw his short and stocky weight into the machine again and again. I feigned a smile, horrified but trying to be polite, and looked back at his friends who just chanted “He get it. He get it,” with huge smiles on their faces. Tripping over my feet, I retreated and turned to go, smiling and waving that it was fine and it was not necessary for him to bleed internally any longer for 2 euros. I heard the thumping continue behind me as I walked away.
A shocking and panic-stricken sort of adrenaline now pumping through me, I was trying to contact the host whom I would be staying with my first night in Reims. She had given me the address and I kept plugging it in and getting results that were an hour and forty minutes away. It was pouring and I had been planning on walking but now I didn’t know where to walk. No one in the station could help or understand me so I plunged out into the downpour blind as I saw Z and his friends approaching from around the corner.
This brings me to Character #2 … we will call her "A", for Angel, because that is what she was… an English-speaking angel.
A was the host that I had to requested to stay with just the night prior through a social network for traveler’s called airbnb. She was currently staying in her apartment but said she would gladly accommodate me if I didn’t mind her sleeping on the couch since it was so last minute. I didn’t mind. I had an instinctual draw to her and felt safe immediately.She texted me to tell me she would come get me from the train station and to meet her on Clairmaris side of the station. Her place was only 5 minutes away. I had no idea what Clairmaris meant and bartered spare French words for English ones with the staff at the station to find out. They pointed and I took off in that direction.
I had to pass Z and his friends to get down into the tunnel I had been directed too. They beckoned me to come over and then Z proceeded to point to my sandals and ask to kiss my feet … to which, I declined. I bolted down the stairs underground but saw nothing reading “Clairmaris.” Every stairway I walked up, I was only entering where I had just been, but one track down. Z and his friends pointed and hollered each time I rose to the top of yet again another wrong stair case within their view. This was a terrible time.
Finally, rounding the corner of the tunnel, I almost ran right into a girl who exclaimed, “Kristen!?” It was A. She had come to look for me. Helping me with my bags and driving me to her place, she gave me her bed and told me her home was mine. I was so exhausted and sick that I fell asleep almost immediately. I barely spent any time with her at all, but I will never forget A and the kindness she showed to me as a complete stranger.
I had already arranged the next 2 nights stay in downtown Reims with a different host. I left A’s the next morning, rented a car for the first time, (who knew that would be in a foreign land?), and headed to pick up the keys from my next host …
Character #3: we will call him "S" for Slayer, because that is what he was.
I had been trying to communicate with him via text for the past two days, but he didn’t speak English (only “The French” as he called it), and I had to use a translating app to decipher every text and how to reply, which was okay because I was in his country after all. He had left the apartment keys in a lock box outside of his home for me to collect, and left with me with the address of the room and no further instructions.
The building was located directly next to the ginormous, gothic cathedral of Notre Dame. Literally, right next to it. I entered the building and realized that he didn’t tell me which number was mine inside. I searched the mailboxes for his name, walked three flights of stairs looking at all of the doors, and then reached the fourth floor. This floor was completely dark with at least 20 rooms down both hallways. This had to be mine, up in the slave quarters. But there were no names or numbers on the doors that I could see in the dark. I sat down on the stairs to relieve the weight on my back and text S to ask him which room was mine. He didn’t answer, so I rephrased the text so that it would come out maybe in better French. Finally, he responded. Two responses came through.
The first translated: “Fourth floor, second door on the right.”
Second response translated: “Do you have any holes!? My name is written on the door in any fine print!!”
Slayer! Defined right then and there. I took “holes” to mean “eyes”? I found the room and after about 30 minutes, discovered how to work the electricity. It was a cubicle but it wasn’t too bad, if it had only had wifi. Oh, and maybe a bathroom. I had to walk down the dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night when I had to go, so I just tried not to go (or found other measures).
Oh right, and maybe if I wasn’t next to a huge, scary church with gargoyles and disgruntled pig statues coming off of it right into my window. No need for an alarm clock since I was practically LIVING in the cathedral. The bells started at 6: 50 am and went for a full 10 minutes before every hour. Every single hour. The first time literally jolted me from my bed and put me on the floor. (Those of you know me, know I do not, cannot wake up for anything, so I leave you to imagine.) These were not just your ordinary church bells. They were a series of gonging, eerie high pitch, low-pitch, and I don’t even know what pitch combination of tones, all mashed up together.
Finally, on my last morning, after waking with seizure by the bells, I arranged to drop the keys back off to S before his next guest arrived. I decided that I would from this point on, leave a little something in my wake for the next traveler. I left him the wine cask that I had walked home from the bar with the previous night (not the wine, just the cask; I drank the wine) and scribbled a note, shoving it inside.
I didn’t even ring S’s doorbell. I left the keys in the lockbox and text him in English while walking back to my car: “Keys are in the lockbox.” He said something, assumedly, asinine, like “I only speak the French! Don’t you have holes?? I don’t know; I didn’t translate it. I only replied, “translate it,” and then turned off my cell service. Never even met the man.
Yep. So, other than the Champagne, that's all that I can offer you for Reims. Those were pretty much my only interactions. Dragon ball Z. Angel A. The Slayer. The gongs. The rain. The cold. Oh, and the Champagne … the lovely Champagne. But no, that was still not enough. Glad to be onto the next town and adventure! Heading south and I'll see you there.