Other Grandeur Travelers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Classic case of Dumb Luck

After the gypsies stole my camera (with almost 1300 pictures of my one month trip) at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I was determined to take as many pictures as I can in Paris. It was the only logical thing to do. My Parisian friend Cyrille suggested that I should get a disposable camera, but there was no way I would take my chances with such a device. I did not want to come home only to find out that I was not able to take any pictures. That would be kamikaze. Times were too modern for me to take suck a risk. My parents sent me enough money through Western Union so I can do the things I needed to do. I finally decided to buy a decent Pentax 7.1 megapixel camera as replacement for my 10.1 megapixel Canon Powershot.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Old Travel Tales: The Gypsies Made Me Cry

I lose things all the time. The surprise factor is close to nil when it happens. People straightforwardly ask: "What is it..AGAIN?" Cellphones. Laptops. Cameras. Ipods. Money. Ballpens (millions probably). I can never seem to escape such misfortune. Half of the time, my badluck is brought about by carelessness. For the remaining half, it is due to a mastered craft by millions -- thievery. I suppose thieves think I am an easy target. They are instantly drawn to my non-thief resistant energy. That I had to uncover the hard way.

It was May 4, 2007. My 1-month vacation around Europe was about to end but it did not feel right to leave yet. The half day I had left in Paris may have not been sufficient but that did not stop me from savoring my last few hours as a Parisian. My dilemma was where that "savoring" would take place. I decided to stay in the gardens of Palais Royal, which was a lovely and divine place near the Louvre. Sitting on one of the park benches under a well- aligned and trimmed tree, I kept on wishing for a few more days in the city. The overpowering allure of Paris beckoned and taunted. Fate knew what to do with that desire. It was granted at a price I was not ready to pay.

One day before my flight, I was in St Germain des Pres, a favorite shopping district of Paris. I was there to look for a pasalubong (in our vernacular, anything you want to buy for anyone when you travel) for my mom. Finding a pasalubong for her was not hard since Louis Vuitton, Chanel, or Hermes bags never suited her practical taste in fashion. My search led me to a quaint antique shop where I found a Euro-friendly straw tote bag with Parisian cafes painted all over it. I believed that was the right bag for her--authentic and unpretentious. However, I failed to envision that bag was about to become the worst purchase during my entire trip.
When I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport, I haphazardly stacked all my bags and luggages on top of each other onto my push cart. Since there was nothing else to do, taking pictures until my camera's battery died was the best way to keep me occupied. Satisfied with all my shots, I placed my camera inside the widely open tote bag I had recently bought.
It slipped out of my consciousness that I needed to find the Emirates check-in counter. I had an hour and a half before boarding my flight to Dubai. Unaware of my surroundings, I went to the help desk and asked one of the ladies where my check-in counter was. My push cart was right behind me but I did not think something unpleasant would be happening in a few minutes.
As I was lining up behind the counter, I thought about removing all the fluids out of my bags and luggages before reaching the security check-points to avoid hassling myself. Before I even started, I noticed that my brown jacket was missing. My messenger bag with my ipod (and more!) in it was also gone! And to my horror, the unthinkable was staring at me. The tote bag was nowhere in sight! At that moment, there was a vertiginous flashback of my entire vacation. Rome. Milan. Venice. Madrid, Toledo, and Paris. Most of my pictures were gone! (except for Cologne, Frankfurt, Linz, Bonn and Amsterdam. We all burned the files to a cd). It was a peculiar feeling that briefly destroyed the enthusiasm I had for traveling.
The situation was out of my control. My airway closed and I was literally gasping for air. It was like an imminent asthma attack. The tragic heaviness of it all made cry. Without a moment's hesitation, I left my cart in the middle of the airport and ran around, in vain hope of recovering that tote bag. People must have been wondering who this deranged boy was. My bags might have fallen out my cart, I thought. "Maybe someone surrendered it to the lost and found section"?
"Sh*t Sh*t". These were the only words in my head. Two French security personnel approached me and warned me that leaving my luggage in the middle of the airport was suspicious. An act that may warrant further extensive interrogation. I explained my situation but eliciting empathy from these Frenchmen was impossible. Did I look a lunatic terrorist capable of wiring a couple of bombs in his luggages? Ay Caramba. I was panicking and no one could understand me. Words were flying out of my mouth with lighting but occasionally-disrupted-by-stuttering speed. You'd think the French airport personnel could have at least understood simple and plain English. Was this possibly the so-called French arrogance? Would help not be given until you spoke the French magic words? For a busy airport, Charles de Gaulle clearly lacked tight security measures and foresight. They had no security cameras in most areas and everyone could just go inside the airport.
Of all the people there, a limousine driver named Andreas was the only person who was generous enough to help me. Fortunately, he spoke both French and English. He said that it was common for that to happen. "A laptop was even stolen while it was in front of the owner", he stressed. We went to the lost and found section but to no avail. We asked dozens of people but no one claimed to have seen any of my things. Andreas still wanted to extend the rare French altruism but a client was waiting for him. "Don't worry, I'll figure it out. Merci", I said.

The Gypsies were my primary suspect. I heard they were masters of this craft. I imagined them dressed like Esmeralda in Hunchback of Notredame but that would not be the smartest disguise, I reckoned. My second suspect: a syndicate that had some people doing an inside job. It was fool-proof. Act like you did not know anything. The third: There was not any. This was a reality prank show called "1001 ways to make a stranger shamelessly cry in public!".
What was I going to do now? At least my wallet and credit card were not stolen. With all the horror I was experiencing, the world became obscure. I remembered that my flight would leave in 40 minutes and I had not checked-in yet. Emirates pressured me to decide whether I would board the plane or not. The Emirates' staff showed mercy when they mentioned that rebooking my flight would not cost me anything. Obviously, I could not leave without any pictures of the Eiffel tower or the Louvre. It would be bollocks. Sure, I had photos but they were all taken using my underpixerlated camera phone. Tina and I really should've taken more pictures together.

I was running out of time and a quick decision was necessary. I thought that five more days in Paris seemed right. I texted my Dad and he told me extra cash will be sent via Western Union. ] Despite that, no amount of money can replace the pictures that will soon be erased by someone who will look past my smiles and jump shots. That person would press the "Delete all" command, devoid of any trace of remorse. Karma will have its way with them.

I had no hotel or any lodging that night, which made my predicament more complicated. I had to pull out all my resources together. I needed to wriggle out of my desperate situation. I texted Cyrille, a Parisian I had the pleasure of meeting through Angeline, a Malaysian girl I had met at the Aloha Hostel. To my relief, Cyrille and her girlfriend were nice enough to let me stay in their house in Ivry-sur-Seine, located in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris. The last thing I wanted to do was wander around Paris looking for a hotel while carrying all my luggages.

The train ride from Charles de Gaulle to Ivry was a dark and lonely journey. I did not lose anyone but I lost part of myself that day. Worse, I had lost trust in humanity. When I reached Cyrille's home, I was a wreck. Smiling was the last thing on my mind but my Dad brought back my optimism using few words. He sent me a text message: You are in Paris. Just enjoy every single minute of it.

It took me a while to realize what that had truly meant. But yes, my dad was right. I was in the City of Lights! It was not about pictures. My vivid memories and experiences would suffice. I understood what had happened might have been terrible, but I was still one of the few lucky people who had five more days to relive the Parisian dream. I forced myself to sleep, believing that the following morning, my spirit would be in fighting form. And it certainly was. Paris was again waiting for me to rediscover its magic.

(That morning, I saw one of my memory cards which had a some of my pictures from Spain, Venice, etc. The next day, I got to stay at a hotel near the Louvre. I even watched the French open. Best thing - I met a Filipino family (my uncle's friend) that adopted me for four days! but of course, it wasn't all well..

La Tour Eiffel

Da Vinci Trail. St Sulpice. Where is the Rose Line??

Dinner with (L-R) Celine, Cyrille, Angeline in the 13th arrondissement (district)

I think this is my only picture with Tina in Paris!

Sculptures in the Louvre

May be prohibited but who cares.

Sacre Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart)

Jardin du Luxembourg

Arc de Triomphe on Champes-Elysees

Got to watch the French Open (Another story!)

On St Michel. Near Tita Mina's apartment
(Notice my European Tan?)

More Salvaged pictures:

Going up Le Tour Eiffel!

Ahhh....Paris. Views from the Eiffel Tower.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The zit that saved the day

Our morning was anything but typical in the nippy and foggy town of Lohmar. It was scenic. After waking up to the polluted air and traffic of Espana (in Manila; not the country) for two years, it was refreshing to see the mountains and sprawling fields for a change. When you are lucky enough, you can even see a hare hop across the field while you eat your fruits or drink Heineken in the garden. It was the life I was longing to have after years of medical school. Tina and I were actually getting ready for our trip to the quintessential European destination for early 20s travelers--Amsterdam. However, it was not a quick decision to make. Since we were staying in Germany for ten days, we also considered Hamburg and Munich but the inexaustible appeal of Amsterdam was a winner. The images of the Red light district, Van Gogh, Windmills, and Space cakes swallowed the idea of visiting the English garden and Bavarian Alps in Munich or the canals in Hamburg (where the Hamburger may have originated). It was then cut and dried. We were going to be stoned. Or so I thought.

Waiting for the bus in a foreign country can be quite challenging but it was painless in suburban Germany. They had a system which worked. Something that I always wished Manila had. You just had to check the time and the buses will pick you up as scheduled.

When we arrived at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof (train station), we were way ahead of schedule. Oblivious to the time, Tina and I were just chatting away when I suddenly noticed that I had a painful zit on my chin. At that moment, a train (ICE 123) arrived but it was not ours. The digital announcement board said 10 minutes before our train, ICE 126, arrived. It was unusual for the German trains to be late. I found it odd that ICE 123 was still there when all the passengers had completely left the train. I was getting worried that our train might be delayed. Vanity never failed to distract me though. The pain of my zit was bothersome that I had to look for a mirror to see how big it was. Luckily, the train's side had a metal shiny enough to be a mirror. Beside the metal was the digital display of the train's name - ICE 123. The digital board was already flashing 2 minutes before ICE 126 was going to leave. But where was our train??? Had ICE 126 melted? So much for German punctuality. Back to my previous business then. I again inspected my zit when the digital name of train abrubtly changed from ICE 123 to ICE 126. Good Lord. It was our train and it was about to leave! I immediately shouted " Shit! Tina! It's our train!". I grabbed my bag and hopped on to the train. Tina also did the same. We were relieved that I was able to figure it out just in time. We found our seats and laughed at the thought that we could have been left behind.

My zit was the hero of day. Vanity could not have served a better purpose. As soon as we were settled, we knew it was going to be a smooth ride going to Amsterdam. We were right. But, in a few hours, we would find out that there would be more close calls in the Land of Magic Space Cakes.