A House Guest in France, Part II

The first thing that I saw that was out of the ordinary at the train station was all the kids selling little bunches of Lily of the valley. Action Girl absolutely adores Lilly of the valley and within seconds, had bought her self a little clutch to happily sniff at as we started our journey. We hopped onto our train and were off to Paris.

Here is where I’m going to ruin your image of a couple roughing it across Europe on nothing but frame packs and baguettes. As I have said before, that is the the way I have done my European travels on many occasions and I have fond memories of those times. The important words here are “have done”, as in, “Been there, _have_done_ that”. I’m older now and though I think I’m still capable of roughing it with the best of them if I must, when left the choice between a family run hotel with fluffy, clean beds and a nice restaurant in the lobby or the local sweat and beer filled youth hostel… well… it’s not a hard choice. This extends to train travel as well. One of the bummers of getting older is that after a certain age you can no longer purchase a student EuRail Pass. This is a double edged sword though. Since we were now forced to pony up some real big money for adult, non-student passes, they can come as first class tickets! As we looked at the faces pressed to the glass in the stuffed-to-the-gills second class cars, any feelings of nostalgia quickly melted away with our complimentary drinks and adjustable foot rests.

We zipped along the fairly short trip to Paris and checked out tickets for the next leg of the journey. It was going to be a long haul from Paris to Lyon and we had splurged. The next train for us was the TGV.

FIRST CLASS, TGV.

Ahhhh! It looked like we would make the train change with time to spare at the Paris station and all would be good. Wrong.

After we arrived in the City Of Light, we stated looking for our train. After some fruitless searching we decided with some trepidation to ask at a window. Our hesitancy stemmed from two things. First, neither of us spoke French, though Action Girl can understand a bit of it. Second, we were in Paris; home to “the rudest people on the planet”, as innumerable ill-informed people will tell you. We steeled our selves for incomprehension, shocking incredulity at not being French or a possible croissant attack from the man behind the glass. Did he speak English? Yes, he did! Can you tell us about our train? The man looked at out tickets and grimaced and then shot us a pained smile. “This train is not at this station, I’m afraid. You need to go to the South Paris train station. I recommend that you take the Metro just out side the door. If you hurry, you should make it, but it will be close.”

We thanked him for his kindness and bolted for the Metro. With bags bouncing along behind us we melted into the Parisian crowd on their various errands. We had a still felt hopeful and we were making good time. Then the train slowed… stopped, and started going BACKWARDS. The conductor came on the P.A. and spoke at some length and the message made a visibly bad impact on everyone in the car. Action Girl and I exchanged panicked looks as we tried to figure out what the heck was going on. After a few whispered guesses, the smartly dressed woman standing next to me tapped me on the shoulder with her manicured finger and said, “Ze conductor ‘as said zat due to street protests, ze next station ees closed. We are going beck to ze last station. Where are you trying to go?”

We thanked our Parisian savior and told her about the train station. As soon as the doors opened to the train car, she practically dragged us over to a Metro map and explained in minute detail the route we needed to take, adding that we should hurry. “Eet will take much longar Zan dis train would ‘ave” Again we thanked her and bolted down a tunnel, following her directions.

She was right. It did take much longer and our hearts were pounding from a combination of running with our oversized packs for long distances and the anticipation of missing our fully-paid for, 1st class TGV seats. We ran a maze of underground Metro corridors, half expecting to find a huge hunk of cheese at the end rather than a train station. By the time we emerged like moles into the filtered light of the South Paris train station we were exhausted, sweaty messes. I loped up to the nearest information booth and disturbed the middle aged woman inside, happily reading her magazine. I could tell by her reaction to me that I mist have looked like a zombie attack victim. All that was missing from her was an oh so French “Mon Deu!”

I gathered what little breath I could muster, asked about our train and showed her our tickets. As it turned out, the fact that she spoke no english didn’t hinder transmitting the message to us. We had missed our train and she felt badly for us. We were crest fallen, exhausted and trapped in Paris with street protest raging through the city center. Great. I reached out for my useless tickets and encountered a metronome like wagging finger. On an unseen computer she immediately began typing. After a minute, and the unmistakable grinding of a dot matrix printer, she handed us shiny new tickets and pointed to a TGV train sitting by its self some distance off. We thanked her in our pathetic French and headed toward it. Another smiling Parisian, just doing her job, but with a sympathetic smile and efficiency.

Mon Deu! It’s enough to make you sing The Marseillaise

Next installment tomorrow…

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