Not until I came to London did I realize how great and logical of a grid system New York has – I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve ever been lost in NY. London on the other hand, is a different story. Not only do they not have any sort of grid system, but the streets are not well marked… at all. You can’t just say ‘oh I want to walk from 2nd street to 14th street’ and start walking, knowing you’ll get there. All the streets have different names, they all wind and curve, and more often than not you’ll find yourself on a corner that is not marked with any sort of street name. Thankfully though, the subway or I guess tube, is extremely efficient and easy to navigate, but once you exit the underground there’s no telling where you’ll end up. An additional challenge is that I can no longer depend on my iPhone with built in Google maps. If I turn the data-roaming on (which unfortunately has happened a couple times) I can expect an inquiring phone call a few weeks later from my father as to the sizable charges that my data-roaming has incurred on the monthly phone bill.
So, I’ve resorted to looking up my destination beforehand, and then taking pictures of the surrounding area that I can look at once I get off the tube. It’s not the most reliable form of finding my way, but it does usually work. Within the first two weeks of being here, I didn’t mind getting lost because I felt like it was my time to explore the city, so if I took a wrong turn, or went a completely wrong direction then it was a welcomed little detour. As a result of my aimless wandering, within the first couple weeks I actually found some rather interesting places that I now frequent, purposefully. In my opinion, it’s good to get a little lost sometimes because you never know what little boutique, coffee shop, or farmers market you will stumble upon. One of the added benefits of being in London is that if I really am very, very lost I can always pop in somewhere to ask for directions, and people are usually more than willing to help direct me to where I’m going. I am the type of person who always generally likes to have a working knowledge of where exactly I am at all times, which is why I realize now how much I take the completely logical lay out of New York for granted. But, a little detour or misadventure can never hurt, which is why I guess you just have to go with the flow sometimes.
Unlike most of New York City's streets that follow the grid system, Paris is made up of meandering rues that are fully fitting to the puddle shape the city takes on. The neighborhood in which I live is called Le Marais and more specifically Village Saint-Paul. The streets are just as romantic as in the movies and the people watching is just about as French as it gets. Early birds sitting outside cafés breaking into warm pastries while old men with wooden canes and Jay Gatsby caps are opening their book stands for the day along The Seine.
When I got into the taxi at Charles De Gaulle I knew the street name to give the taxi driver and that was as far as my french went. Lucky for me, the taxi driver was very understanding of my embarrassing attempt at his language and like the majority of Parisians and he spoke English pretty well (at least a lot better than my French). I felt anxious about getting to my apartment and what I would do first. I knew I needed to sleep, but would I wake up feeling even more disoriented? I didn't know anyone here really. I could picture in my mind a rough estimate of where I was heading within Paris, remembering where I'd seen my address marked on the map in relation to Paris's big North and South marker, the Seine (I am just a couple blocks north of The Seine). Thanks to google street view I knew I lived either next to or across from The Red Wheelbarrow, which turns out to be a very handy english bookstore.
Being that I am both directionaly challenged and notoriously late, I decided it would be wise to find my way to NYU in Paris before the first day of orientation. So, after resting up for a day and spending a solid 20 minutes trying to purchase a metro ticket, I successfully hopped on the metro heading west towards school. I found the metro surprisingly idiot proof. And to us directionally challenged and notoriously late, this is a big deal. The ticket machines have an array of language options (I did not realize this on my first metro adventure) and the signs posting which train stops at which other stops are big, new and brightly colored and placed before each staircase. Good for groggy mornings sans iced coffee. And no express trains, simply this way or that way. The only problem I have with the Paris metro is the passenger etiquette. First, it is the walk in the park all Parisians seem to be taking in the underground tunnels at 9am, and then it is the horrifying fear of making eye contact.
Strangers in France do not look at each other unless they want to get it on. I thought this was a joke. It's not. Oh and don't attempt at a smile to escape the awkward glance in their direction, it'll be returned with a deer in headlights look that will leave you punching yourself for ignoring Dr. Rosenberg's orders to "wear your retainers every night". My solution has been to wear sunglasses and keep my eyes on my ipod.
My metro adventure from my apartment in the 4th arrondissement to NYU in Paris in the 16th took me about 25 minutes the first time, but as the days have gone on I have realized that it can take as long as 40 minutes on a bad day. In order to pick up my morning coffee on the way, I leave a solid 45 minutes to arrive on time. This seems to be a standard time estimate for getting from any point A to point B in Paris. But like I said, an idiot proof metro and a good reason to pop in the earbuds merely means a solid opportunity to space out. Day dreaming whilst sipping on a hot cappuccino is definitely not the worst way to start the day.
Now that I’ve been here for a month and know my way to and from the places I go most, I like to give myself some leeway to get a little lost when I’m walking, just to see what I’ll find and get to know the area better. I might take the side streets parallel to the main ones or take a walk around the block, which is always nice because every street in Paris really does look like a movie set. I’ve found it kind of difficult to actually get lost here, as confusing as the city is. I always find that I’ll end up at a famous landmark, a metro station, or the river, all from which I can find my way home or where I need to go. That being said, my map of Paris was probably the most valuable thing I carried around with me my first few weeks here. Without it, I’d most likely have ended up walking around in circles only to realize I was a street away from where I needed to be on more than one occasion. Getting used to whipping out an actual map as opposed to a phone that finds you took some getting used to and was a bit awkward at first, I must say.
Traveling to school is quite simple, but takes a lot longer than it did back in New York. In theory it should only take about 25-30 minutes, but sometimes it takes longer. Luckily, the metro station it literally across the street from my house so I usually end up getting on the metro still half asleep. The metro here run quite differently than it does in New York. For starters, it closes at night, which is really annoying. Also, there is only one train per route, meaning there isn’t an express and local train that runs on the same line. And, though there is cellphone service on the metro, there is no AC so it can get a little toasty when the train is packed.
And after dinner, in an attempt to make friends, I agreed to go out to a bar with some people. It was my first time in a metro, and it took us no more than 5 minutes to get to the stop where we needed to get off. I learnt much later that what was a 5 minute subway ride, is actually a half hour walk. So when we left the bar around 2 a.m., much after the metros had stopped running, my friend and I made the stupid decision of walking back home. Everyone else cabbed it, but with no money I figured I’d just walk with this other girl whom I had just met but seemed friendly and smart enough.
So with our limited knowledge of Czech and zero sense of direction, we opened a map of the city for the first time and started our hour long trek home. The map was as useful as a pizza sauce-stained napkin. We were quick to learn that NYU had lied to us; no one here spoke English. I approached some cops, thinking that they could speak some English and help us out. They laughed at me and continued to sip their beer, much to my horror.
We decided to get on a tram; after all it had to get us somewhere! And it did. The tram driver rolled his eyes at us when we told him where we wanted to go and told us “4 stops”. I tried swiping my card at the door but he snapped at me. That’s when I learnt of the “honor system”.
When we got off at the fourth stop, we still really didn’t know where to go and probably walked around in the wrong direction for a while. The streets were deserted which was quite frightening. We were told later that unlike in New York, where if you see a deserted unlit street and make a detour, in Prague, they are fairly safe to walk down.
We eventually got home, safe and feeling rather learned of the Czech ways. See, even though it is a very shy and unfriendly nation, if approached politely, most people are willing to go out of their way to help you out. I would never recommend discovering a city in that manner, but at least it makes for a fun story.
People scream at me in Twi, assuming I speak the language, and a small but loud part of me is frustrated because, unlike my white friends who are obviously foreign (or “obruni”), I look like I belong. Coming from the whitest neighborhood in Queens and NYU Gallatin, I have become almost uncomfortably accustomed to being among the few, if not the only person of color in most social situations. Trying to navigate blending in as opposed to always standing out has been wonderful and jarring and awful and frustrating. I’m used to getting “You’re probably not from around here” sideways looks, but now unless I’m with a bunch of my non-black friends (or even non-Ghanaian friends) no one will look twice at me when I walk down the street.
SO because I’m still finding my way in Accra, I decided it would be a good reason to leave Ghana altogether and take a day trip to the neighboring West African nation Togo!
On Sunday morning, five of us took a tro-tro on the three-hour trip over highways and dirt roads and through cities and villages to Lomé, the capital of Togo. This is a trip that I will definitely take again and which I wholeheartedly recommend: Lomé is quiet and beautiful, a coastal city that hugs the ocean where you can take a motorcycle in lieu of a taxi for short distances for less than 5 dollars. I liked practicing my French and walking through the much less busy, but just as swelteringly hot streets. There was no pressure to know where I was going because I’d lived there for six weeks, or know the language because I don't look especially Togolese. It was also a chance to leave the NYU Labone bubble, if only for twelve hours.
Because we only had about four hours in Lomé before the border closed, the only thing we really had time to do was visit the Fetish Market, a traditional market filled with dried animal skins, lizard bones, cow and leopard and lion skulls, and talismans used by healers in traditional West African medicine. Even as we got our tour, men and women on motorcycles were roaring through with prescriptions, waiting to pick up their pouches of crystallized chameleon. I almost bought a necklace made of a cobra’s vertebrae. The picture above is me hanging out with the skull of a hippopotamus. I think its dried skin cures gout, but I could just as easily be lying.
In a city with a metro and bus system as sophisticated and well laid out as that of Madrid, getting around is a breeze. I can type in a starting point and end destination on Google Maps (on my iPad even) and within seconds, have a direct route that includes all relevant bus and metro connections. Technology is mindboggling and such tools are of great use when I am on a tight schedule, but if I have the time, walking is certainly my preferred mode of transportation. In any city, particularly one in which I will stay for an extended period of time, I want to know it.
A few days back, some friends and I went to lunch at a restaurant we found online – a delicious vegetarian spot called Crucina, for those that may be interested! Despite the fact that the eatery was a good distance from any metro stop or main thoroughfare, with a free afternoon ahead, we set to walking. The map seemed to indicate that a trendy shopping area lay to the east, complete with a bustling flea market. So off we went! We zigged and zagged, stopping to marvel at the urban architecture (see my photo above) and smattering of cafés on the fairly quiet streets. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we found ourselves surrounded by swarms of people, tourists and Spaniards alike. The streets were lined with tables and chairs, restaurants and clothing stores, art galleries and travel agencies and multilingual chatter abounded. A couple of coffees and a frozen yogurt later, we had walked the length of the main street and found ourselves crossing a main road, the dividing line to a trendy neighborhood that was known for its bars and nightlife. Walking through the small streets, we came to a square filled with outdoor cafés and lined with modern art hotels; this was the very place friends of ours had raved about only a couple of days before, yet could not explain a route to get back there. The rest of the afternoon was spent in an adjacent neighboorhood, one of the ritziest shopping areas in the city. I marvel at this ability to completely change settings in a matter of blocks, a matter of minutes.
This is what I love to discover in new cities: paths that go places, anyplace, someplace, an unknown place.
Relatively speaking, going from city to city is the easy part. Language to language on the other hand- has proven to be a bit more challenging.
Like Alanna (the other girl writing from Paris on this blog that I have yet to meet) stated: The Parisian metro is relatively easy to navigate. It's extremely similar to the T is Boston. While it was a little challenging in the beginning...navigating the metro, changing to the appropriate lines, metro etiquette (not making eye contact with shady characters unless you want them to approach you), etc. has become relatively easy. Once out of the metro, things get a bit more challenging. Paris is old...and kind of like DC (with its unnecessary amount of traffic circles), the roads have remained the same for a long time, and often were old cart paths like the roads in our American capital. Thus, they are sometimes painfully hard to follow. However, after 10 minutes or so of wandering in circles around a general area, one will most often find the road they are looking for. The beginning was tough, but yes, like people have said...this part did get easier.
While I don't necessarily feel physically completely lost all of the time, mentally is another story. I speak french. Well, some french. To be honest, I probably speak far less than I should given the amount of years that I have taken the language. Nevertheless, I decided that while I am here I would take only classes in french including one at Sciences Po (a very well respected university in Paris for Political Science, Law classes, etc.). I have since realized that it is a lot harder than I thought it would be. For example, I went to my first Sciences Po. recitation for my International Law class at the school last night. There are around 20 people in it. The TA was reviewing the lecture from last week that I was unable to attend (Actual NYU Paris classes started just this past Monday)...Honestly it was one of the most confusing things I have experienced. French classes apparently start out very theoretical. So reiteration of vague theory on International law + Rapid french + Me =mass quantities of confusion. Not to mention the TA decided to ask me questions about Law in the US- First of which I only mildly understood, and second of which I had no idea how to answer. Onto studying supreme court justice names and every law ever passed ever in the states, I guess. Embarrassment number one.
Embarrassment number two...My other classes are also in french, and are all taught by professors who have a tendency of speaking like they're doing live horse race commentary. A professor asked a question about French-African relations. I brought up and talked about the Battle of Algiers and its significance. The professor let me finish then says in french "Well, yes, that is important...but it doesn't have anything to do with sports." Sports? What? Apparently something was lost in translation.
Thus, hopefully like the physical navigating, speaking french will come easier in time...I'll let you know if it happens.
Oh, there is one thing harder than speaking, though....That would be mastering the bus system. Maybe I'll give that a go the last week of study abroad.
Hope you all are doing well, and are making it through any similar language problems you may be having.
If you look at a map of Accra, each street it labeled and it looks simple enough to find your way around. But unless you are in a helicopter and can see the city from a bird’s eye view, the map is going to be essentially useless. Almost every street is not labeled. This makes finding your way rather difficult. Here, it is landmarks that are essential to directions. Not street names. When figuring out how to walk from my house to the academic center, we figured out the route by saying, “you take a left at the end of the road, a right at the pink wall, a right at the construction house and a left at the painted water melon in the gutter”. And while that may sound confusing and vague to you, those are actually very precise instructions.
And it is not just newcomers, like myself, that use this system. Even the locals do not refer to the street names, and many I fear do not even know they have names. When asking how to get to my volunteer site, our coordinator (a local Ghanaian) gave directions using phrases like “go straight down the straight road” (okay…) , “right at traffic light” (um which traffic light?), “there is a Total station” (yes there are about 50 Total gas stations in Accra). And yet, somehow we find our way. When in the actual situation it works. I knew the traffic light when I saw it and for one reason or another, knew it was the right one.
Maybe street signs are not so necessary after all, and in some way can be a hindrance from experiencing a place. I have found that for one because I am new, I pay a lot more attention to my surroundings to figure out where I am and even more so because I have to notice not just a small sign that I know exactly what it will look like, but something actually within the scenery. In a way, it is like a giant Where’s Waldo game. Finding that one significant item amongst a crowded landscape. And if I lose, hey, to figure out where you’re going, sometimes you have to get lost.
Speed walk as quickly and decisively as possible while dodging tourists, taxis, and the like.
My typical walk to the academic center in Accra goes something like this:
Exchange greetings with the resident hall guard. Depending on who the guard is, the greeting may either be in Twi or Ga (both are local languages). Walk about twenty paces outside. Stop to greet another guard sitting outside. Ask how he is in Ga. Continue until meet gentleman in front of a hotel. Exchange greetings in Twi. Walk down a dusty red dirt road. Turn right and see lady grilling plantains. Start conversation in Twi. Possibly learn new words and/or phrases. Arrive at the academic center gate. Sing hello to guard as he sings back. Get to class.
No New York City grid, no local street signs, I felt extremely disoriented the first two weeks here. Riding a bus from place to place confused me even more; the Accra I knew then consisted of isolated bubbles drifting around the same space. Walking helped in regaining some sense of equilibrium; it developed connections between places I had come to know. I am still organizing the city in my mind though, trying to figure this tangled web of roads out.
Someone told me that Ghanaians don’t use maps; they just ask other people for help. Sure enough, I have yet to meet a taxi driver who navigates with addresses rather than landmarks. I don’t think I’ve seen a local street sign since I’ve been here. I have, however, encountered Ghanaians who have gone out of their way to guarantee I get where I need to go.
On my way home from my first day at community service, a kind elderly gentleman walked me to the nearby trotro stop. Since I had never ridden one before, he guided me onto the correct bus and asked the fare collector to make sure I got off at the right stop.
Often times dilapidated and crowded with people, trotros are public transportation vans that are a cheap and popular way of travelling. The trotro I got into was a bit like a run-down party bus. Bright orange on the outside and pounding music on the inside, it whizzed down the street and picked up passengers as it went. The fare collector, sporting a sideways cap and Mardi Gras beads, leaned out a window and shouted the final destination. The gentleman sitting next to me volunteered to lead me to the shared taxi stand once we got there. He probably realized from my questions that I had no idea where I was going.
From the elderly gentleman to the fare collector, a gentlemanly stranger and finally the taxi driver, one person passed me to another until I arrived home. It’s people rather than streets that are creating my mental map of Accra. I’ve spent just over a month here. I don’t know my way around in the conventional sense. I’m okay with that.
While this was frustrating in the beginning, I have now come to take it for granted in a sense. I no longer need to know exactly where I am in relation to everything else. As long as I know if something is “near the water” or “past Koala” (the grocery store) I am fine. Relative directions are good enough for a cab driver, who will never admit they don’t know where something is even if they have no idea. Once you get to a general area the driver will ask others around, or if I know where it is I can direct them where to go. It’s almost liberating in a way, to just give up knowing, and accepting the ease of jumping in a cab and vaguely explaining where you want to be.
Something else I hated about the cabs initially was that there are no meters, so you have to barter a price before you get in. Now that I know about how much things should cost, I usually know when someone is totally ripping me off. Now I enjoy seeing how much I can get the priced knocked down, something I will probably miss when I return to New York. Another thing that is great about the cabs is the fact that they will allow you to fit as many people as you can. Our group has only managed up to 6 so far.
One thing I have yet to master is the Tro-Tro system. These are the mini-vans that run on set paths with people constantly jumping in and out at various points along the road. I walk to the “junction” to catch the one Tro-Tro I know how to take to my internship, but other than that simple journey and back, I’ve only taken them in the company of Ghanaians taking me somewhere. The plus side to the Tro-Tro’s is that a typical ride is about 30 peshwa (about 20 cents?). This is my next transportation goal. Slowly but surely right?
Everyone has that ah ha moment when learning the layout of a new city. This more often than not happens when you, in a sense, connect the dots. In the beginning the places you go in the city are all just dots on a map, destinations. You get to them by cab, subway or the best way walking, but regardless they are distinct. These ah ha moments happen when you suddenly on your way to one of those destinations you stubble upon a previous destination. Your brain quickly rewrites your spatial understanding of where you are on a map. When talking about Buenos Aires (though it could just as easily apply to any city) Argentine author Sergio Chejfe compares wayfinding in a new city as reading. The best way to read is to walk through the streets, take in the information, and feel and understand not only the palces themselves but equally important the spaces between the places. This way of wayfinding also allows one to write the city. The city is written in the mind in a unique ever changing way. It is your city as you find it. This is a constant process that can happen in your hometown even. A map is an organized representation of a city. It is rich in information but is not on an intimate human scale. Looking at a map it is interesting to notice everything seems so easy to get to, seeing the world from that birds eye view. It won't tell you about the traffic, or what you'll encounter on your way. It is only distance. Imagine for a moment maps were like the weather. Say for instance it may be 69 degrees out but the “feels like” is all the way down to 50 degrees. That will factor in the wind chill, maybe the sun, the humidity. What if maps said this stretch of highway is 143 miles however it feels like only 80 miles (you won't hit traffic and the scenery is in such a way that makes you forget you're driving, straight roads). That is what you have to feel for yourself. Also getting to a destination more than once in different ways, say take public transportation once and walk the next, can exponentially improve your spatial understanding of those spaces between places. Walking around Buenos Aires I have had a pretty good sense of direction however right after getting here I hoped on my skateboard and rode around the city. I almost immediately got lost because of the faster pace. I couldn't stop and get a sense of where I was. The city to me looked like a row of parked cars passing by. I guess direction has to be absorbed. Thank god though that Buenos Aires has some sort of waterfront that makes wayfinding so much easier. I get disoriented and often claustrophobic in a way when I visit land locked and flat cities.
The metro stops entirely, and while those three lines aren’t much, they’re still preferable to the slow trams and buses. The tram and bus systems switch to “night trams” and “night buses.” Not only is it difficult to learn one set of tram schedules, but two are too much to ask. When we first arrived and tried our hand with the night trams we were told that our normal day tram was the same as a night tram by the name of the 56. This statement was entirely inaccurate. As we got on the friendly 56 to go to a club on the other side of the river we felt confident. We had routed out a plan, drawn it on a map, and knew about how long it should take us. After fifteen minutes of unrecognizable stops though we learned, to our dismay, the trams were not the same. We hopped off, grabbed a cab, and headed into the opposite direction.
Maybe this could have been avoided, but only maybe. Google maps in the Czech Republic does not provide that lovely public transport option like it does in the states, and there is no app that can tell me how the system works like the impressive NYC Mate. In order to illustrate a plan of attack I have to go to the public transit website, select English, “plan a journey,” and then instead of simply being able to copy and paste the addresses of points A and B, I have to find the locations on a map. It’s not quick, it’s not easy, but it’s the only option.
Prague is not on a grid. This is saddening and ads to the public transit woes, but I grew up with real street names and step-by-step instructions; however Prague is another bag of snakes. My route to class involves two unmarked tunnels with no names that go through little shops. The tunnels aren’t on the maps but it’s the quickest way to get from the subway stop to class; it also happens to be the only way I know. At night though the tunnels shut down and the doors close so my familiar area becomes less familiar. Now my friends and I are forced to use landmarks like “the one sausage place” or “Erotic City” or “The Newyorker.”
Some back story: I am Time Out Shanghai’s newest photo intern and part of the job is going out and taking pictures of places that the in-house photographer doesn’t have time to get to (usually in a pinch). On Tuesday night my boss emailed me to ask if I would be able to take some pictures of two beautiful early 20th century mansions in northern Shanghai that are probably going to be demolished.
So, on Wednesday I got out of class at 2:50 armed with the cross streets she had given me (in English, just my luck) and set out to find a taxi. I got into the taxi, recited the cross streets with my minimal understanding of Chinese pronunciation and was met with a blank stare.- a far more common occurrence that I am comfortable with. Oh no. This is bad. I quickly Google the location on my phone and get the district that one of the buildings is in and tell the driver to just drive there, I scramble through many helpless Google findings, wasting megabytes of my data plan, finally coming across an address in Chinese characters and showing it to the driver. As I get out of the cab 25 minutes later I am very apologetic for the confusion and he replies with “Mei guan xi” which means it’s no problem or it doesn’t matter. With a smile I leave the taxi and cross the street, pleased that I managed to navigate myself to this new area. As I continue down the street I’m worried that I might have not found the correct place – after all this building was a Kung Foo Studio over 100 years ago and it is at risk of being torn down by the city – who’s to say that Google didn’t just spit a random article at me? I also a group of old men playing cards if they know “Chin Woo” the name of the school. They point down the street. I ask again, “Chin Woo?” to a group of women, they look confused. I search the dictionary on my phone for the word for school or studio or gym – nothing works. I keep walking. I stumble upon the street for the second location – an old mansion/garden complex - still inexplicably called Nie’s Garden even though the manmade rivers, ponds, flowers, and trees were paved over by the city in the last few years. I take a variety of pictures of the two remaining homes now inhabited by squatters, the huge cement lot in between them, and the beautiful old details – screen porches, grand staircases, and crumbling walls that remain from when they were built in the early 1900s. The sun is setting; I’m getting worried that I won’t be able to find the school. I call my boss, telling her I cant find it. She says she’ll look it up and call me back. She does and she apologizes for giving me the wrong cross streets but that the other building is just down the road from where I’m standing. The old men were right. I smile. I thank her and hang up and finally find four beautiful Spanish mansions built in 1906 that were converted into a Kung Foo School. In the setting sun amidst old palm trees the wrought iron balconies, colored glass windows, and Spanish-tiled roofs look magical as opposed to covered in garbage and graffiti.
This is one of the pictures from my adventure of the Spanish mansion/ Kung Foo School (Sorry for the poor quality, it wouldn't let me use the original) - who knows, maybe one of my pictures will end up on the website or the magazine?
Everyone knows one of the best ways to learn a city is to get lost in it. But for me that is easier said than done. It is so incredibly hard for me to get lost, even when I try. I was born with an innate sense of direction
Because of Hurricane Irene I was alone in Paris for five days. During the days I forced myself to venture out and explore the city. Sometimes I had a destination in mind, and other times I figured I would just walk. In the hopes of getting lost one day I left home without a map and a plan. I walked aimlessly for about two hours in various directions and when I was ready to find my way home, I retraced my steps perfectly without even trying. I wove through streets that I had recognized from my stroll, Rue de Rivoli, Rue de Rennes, Boulevard Saint Germain, and Boulevard Raspail. All the while passing by landmarks everyone knows, Musee de Orsay, St. Sulpice, and Luxembourg Gardens.
Paris is a city that caters to tourists. Popping up all over the place are huge maps on the streets with a big “you are here/vous êtes ici” circle. In addition, every street sign states the arrondisement or neighborhood you are in, ranging from 1-20, so you can really never get that lost or turned around. Finally, big markers pointing the way to famous landmarks are abundant.
The journey to school is a complete nuisance. It is located about 40 minutes away, and to get there we have to take two different metros and walk about 15 minutes. It is kind of on the outskirts of town, in the 16eme arrondisement, and whenever people ask where school is and we tell them, their response is usually “I’m sorry”. The best part about the commute is the second metro we take, line 6. We get on it at an underground station but within seconds we are taken outside onto an above ground track for the rest of the ride. Curving through the neighborhood right behind the Eiffel tower and then crossing the Seine, it feels surreal and movie like, as if we are riding through a studio back lot.
There was another metro I was on this past week that was above ground, and I can’t remember which line it was. I do remember though, that I got a jolt of excitement when sun radiated into the metro car. Being above ground ads to the magic of the city. It is so much more beautiful when you get to see everything between your starting and end point. The next night I made a point to take the bus instead of the metro. If I cannot walk somewhere, this is the next best option, allowing for a complete intake of my surroundings.
I hate getting lost. The moment that you realize that you are lost in a foreign place, your heart sinks, your body temperature rises, and you try so hard to not *look* lost. Any guide book and knowledgeable traveller knows that the worse thing you can do when you are lost is to not look lost. Don’t stop. Don’t look around. Pretend nothing is happening.
And don’t ever take out your map. EVER.
Taking out your map when you’re lost is like placing the target on yourself as the “tourist.” And none of us want to be the target of pickpocketers that will surely swarm to you when you take out your map, right?
Being lost in Madrid is scary. The buildings begin to melt together and I can swear I know where I am going. Was that orange building on the corner of my block? Or am I lost? Does that building look familiar because I’m going the right way or because I’ve been lost here before?
There are no words to describe the joy of FINALLY being able to get from school and home without the sickly feeling of disorientation. The happiness that comes when you have mastered the two metro lines that run by your home is truly indescribable.
There’s also something beautiful about being lost in a foreign city. As a newcomer, I see the city in differently. The buildings are more beautiful, and the fountains look more mystical. Everything shines a little brighter when you find yourself lost in this amazing place.
This is something that natives miss. I know that sometimes walking in the center of Los Angeles I see all of the tourists looking up in the sky, amazed by the sunshine and grand buildings, something that I have never done.
Here in Madrid, I look up all the time. Everything is new and beautiful and I’m probably lost anyway so why not value the new place I’ve just walked into, right?
(Pic: The first thing I pack in my purse when I leave: map, and travel guide)