I have one rule when I travel: “Never pack anything you aren’t willing to carry a mile.” It’s probably even more important than “Don’t drink the water.” Aside from road trips, that first rule has held me in good stead, and today was no exception.
My family vacations growing up ALWAYS included some long trek – it was part of the experience. I won’t bore you with the details of those fond memories. Instead will bore you with the details of my first international trip without my family which was to the City of Light (or Lights, apparently both are equally unenlightened (that was a French to English mistranslation joke – you have to do some research to get it, or speak French – I fall in the first category)).
So, we (a group of about 13 college students and 3 chaperones – the college (not my alma mater) sponsoring the trip required(!?!) chaperones – it’s true) landed in Paris on New Year’s Eve, 1987. Even in those days, the airport was rife with soldiers bearing assault rifles riffling through the crowds. (I had rife and rifle in there and had to do something to make it look more intentional. I think it still makes sense, and may even be poetic, if I dare. Google doesn’t like the way it’s spelled the third time. You, on the other hand, will either have to trust me or look it up yourself. It is still pronounced like rifling. That is not a typo.)
We retrieved our luggage and headed out the front door to find transportation to our hostel. Having ascertained from a map that there was no good public transit option, and having a group too large and too unknowledgeable in French (only one of us, me, spoke even alting French – a fact which led to some interesting and most memorable tribulations later that evening) to take cabs, and noticing that the hostel was only one and a quarter miles away, we decided to hoof it.
Now, you need to know that one member of our group, whose name I don’t recall, brought along a rather large suitcase. Well, calling it a suitcase is a bit of an understatement. It was more of a hutch on wheels. Small wheels. And it was PACKED. She had a lot of clothes in there. Who could need so many clothes we wondered, half jokingly, half outloud. Whatever. To each their own.
When faced with the trek, the member in question said that she could roll her portmanteau (emphasis on “tow”). Everything started out well, at least for the first block, and even much of the second. The first block had sidewalks. On the second block, the buildings came right to the edge of the street, so we moved there, and merrily we rolled along. And then, with a tip of the hat to Simon and Garfunkel, we reached the narrow streets of cobblestone, and with it the inability to roll any further.
We pause here to take in the beauty of Paris. It is an incredible city (right Cris?). If you go, I very highly recommend waking up really early (4 or 5 am), walking outside, and inhaling the scent of the baking baguettes. It is the City of Light, but could equally well hold the title City of Aromas. I still get weak knees reminiscing on the perfumes French women wear, even on the subway. A pause within a pause here, while I steady my knees.
I think I’m OK now. As it turned out, our fellow traveller did not have sufficient upper body strength to heave her refrigerator truck-sized luggage (emphasis on “lug” – did you know that luggage originally denoted, in the 16th century – about the time these roads were built, inconveniently heavy baggage? Prophetic, I’d say.) over the cobblestones. Fortunately, the particular college in question had a knack for producing gentlemen, in the classic sense, so about six of us took turns lugging (which is a word of Scandinavian origin) the thing the rest of the way.
About three days later (long enough for our muscles to recover), we found out that there were indeed items in addition to clothing in there. The one that sticks in my mind was the steam hairsetter. Walmart still sells these things: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Babyliss-Pro-Nano-Titanium-12-Roller-Hair-Setter-BABNTCHV15/787436477
How, you ask, did we find out that that was in there? By the vociferous complaints which emanated when it didn’t work on European voltage, even with a converter. C’est la vie.
So, what am I willing to carry a mile? A sense of privacy prevents me from listing the entire manifest, but I had Alice’s rolling suitcase (which I may now have to replace – that’s foreshadowing right there), a duffel bag, a backpack and Ellie (my bike from Chicago – that girl gets around. Some of you will remember that she is sturdy and comfortable, and at 45 pounds, shall we say, not as portable as those ultra-lights). The first time I tried to move all four simultaneously was getting them from the car to the train platform in Guilford. I need to apologize to Jean here for being somewhat short of temper when she offered to help during that transition. As it turned out, that 50 yard transfer was a good warm up for the rest of the trip.
Ellie had to face the indignity of riding face-up resting only on her back wheel. Fortunately, that was a short leg of the trip – only about 24 minutes. I waited until everyone else had alighted from the train in New Haven before I attempted to drag my luggage (I use that term advisedly, now) down the aisle and rescue Ellie. I heaved the luggage out the door and jumped back in to free her from her predicament. We crossed the platform to the Metro North train headed for Grand Central. There were seats that folded up, so Ellie was able to ride in comfort as we headed to NYC.
On the trip I met Mona, who was just the sweetest thing. She looked like a shepherd cross, and was maybe six or seven months old. She rode the train (her first time) like a champ.
As we crossed into New York State, I took the opportunity to check my connection to the Number 1 train to the Bronx. I was kind of dreading the end of that ride at 238th Street, since it meant bringing all four items DOWN from an elevated platform – by stairs – no elevator, followed by a four block walk to the self storage unit where Ellie is staying (my AirBnB is a fourth floor pre-war walk-up , so she can’t stay here).
I probably should’ve paid more attention when Google suggested taking Amtrak into the city rather than Metro North. You see, the Number 1 train leaves from Penn Station were Amtrak ends up. I was headed to Grand Central – a twelve minute walk away (without three pieces of luggage and a bike and no skills moving them all at the same time). In my defense, everybody says to avoid Penn if you can. Besides, I like Grand Central.
I played around with Google Maps looking for an alternate route. Finally, I found one with less walking – and it saved time, because I could switch trains at Harlem-125th, and not go all the way to midtown just to turn around and ride back. Plus, Harlem-125th has an elevator. And apparently a festival – I’m pretty sure it was the Pride March (insert rainbow flag).
I managed to get my stuff into the elevator, and down to the ground floor, where tickets are sold.I got a ticket on the Hudson-Croton line to Marble Hill. Track 2. Back up the elevator. I should say that each time I moved my stuff I got a little better at it – learning to switch sides optimally, and so on.
During the bumpy (the train lurched all over, so I had to stand holding Ellie up) 22 minute ride (which passed right by Yankee Stadium) I realized I had to go to the bathroom, but none was in sight. I got off on the narrow platform at Marble Hill (New Yorkers are nice – someone helped me with my heaviest bag). I paused there to assess the situation. I had to get to the Number 1 train for a few more stops. I checked the directions to the train stop, and started to get off the platform.
If you’ve been to that stop, you realize the problem here. It is in no way handicapped (or bike) accessible. You have to climb four full flights of stairs to get out. I needed a better way to move my stuff. I hit upon the idea of using the telescoping handle of the suitcase to act as a perch for the duffel. Then I could but the bike up two stairs with one hand, let it rest, then pull the luggage up two stairs. Bike, rest, luggage, rest. Bike, rest, luggage, rest. Bike, rest, luggage, rest.
I got to the top and found the entrance to the Number 1 train … and decided not to take it. It was another climb for only two stops, and then a climb back down. Google said only a twenty minute walk to the storage place, and that seemed like a deal to me. Plus, I got a chance to know what’s around. Originally I though only chain restaurants, but there’s plenty of independent ones as well. Alice’s suitcase may have suffered some damage from being dragged up stairs and over curbs.
I got Ellie squared away in her spa (she has a private mini garage, 4 feet tall), and began the trip to my AirBnb. My hostess suggested taking a cab from 231st street (there’s a cab stand there), but I was already at 235th, so I decided (once again) to hoof it, laden with the final three bags.
The walk start off with a slight uphill, but after about four blocks, the hill gets pretty steep. The pizza delivery guys from the place I later ate dinner all have motorized bicycles. Then you cross the street, and there is a set of stairs to climb. Five sets of 13 steps each. I paused on each landing – this was getting exhausting. At the top of the stairs, just off to the right, there were five teen-aged couples learning salsa dancing together – the closest thing to an adult was a kid who looked to be college aged. This is a nice neighborhood.
Finally, I arrived at the apartment. I will admit to taking a break and waiting an extra long time before ringing the buzzer a second time – four more flights of stairs to go with the luggage. Finally, I settled in, got my stuff unpacked, when my phone rang. It was the guy from the self-storage unit – I left my credit card there. Off I go, back down the hill to retrieve it.
If nothing else, my legs will be in hill shape by the time this summer ends. And then, you won’t have to listen to me complain about it any more.