16 October 2013

Paris for 42 hours...no, 39 hours...

Saturday morning, we all arose bright and early at Bandouille to say our goodbyes, and Drew drove me to the train station in Poitiers.

We got there with more than an hour to spare, but there are a couple of things I didn't know about catching a train in France. To back up a bit to the beginning of the week...when I arrived from L.A. at Charles de Gaulle, I had a two-hour wait in between my plane and the train from Paris to Poitiers. I found the signboard, I eventually discovered the platform, I went down and got onto the train sitting next to the platform, and then...I sat there for the 10 minutes until we left, wondering if I was really on the right train. Since many, many trains leave that station, and since I hadn't found anyone to confirm for me that it was indeed "my" train, this was understandable.

Once I found my seat, I asked the guy across from me and the girl next to me if they spoke English, but they didn't--quite superciliously not in the case of the man! About 30 minutes into the ride, the girl fell asleep, having laid her open book over the top of her ticket, which was lying on the table. To the horror of the man across from me, I reached out and scooched her ticket out from under her book to see what it said! Fortunately, it told me what I wanted to know--that I was NOT going somewhere unanticipated, but was on the train to La Rochelle, which stopped in Poitiers. Whew!

I tell this story to point up that I didn't learn what I needed to know about boarding French trains by that experience. So, the two things you need to know are,

  1. You wait inside the terminal until about 20 minutes before your train is due to leave, at which point they post on the LED screen at which platform your train will board. Then you hastily make your way to that platform. That part, I got.
  2. Once you are down on the platform, there is a much smaller LED screen that shows you where you are supposed to stand. Along the edge of the platform, up high, are boards with letters of the alphabet on them. If you look at the little LED screen, it tells you that if you are in car 19, you should be standing at Letter H. If you are in car 3, you should be standing at Letter B.
So--I got down onto the platform at Poitiers, not knowing this crucial piece of information, and the train pulled in. After asking two different guards where I should be and being told "Labás!" ("down there"--very helpful), I finally started looking at the numbers next to the doors on the cars, and realized that I was standing in front of car 19 when I wanted to be on car 3. Now, theoretically, you can climb on a train anywhere--but have you ever tried to pull a very large piece of luggage on wheels along the very narrow aisle of 16 train cars? No. So instead, once I realized where I should be, I started booking it along the platform. I made it level with car #4, and...the doors closed. I pushed the button on the door, and the conductor person standing behind the little window waved me off. And then the train pulled away. Without me.

I won't say that weeping ensued, but it was a near thing. I went back up to the terminal and into the ticket office, and negotiated, in my poor French, to change my ticket for the next train to Paris Montparnasse, which left two hours later. Then I went to the café and consoled myself with a pain au chocolat and waited for the next one, next to which I positioned myself correctly.

All this is to explain that instead of getting to Paris by 1:30 and, after checking in at my hotel, heading immediately to l'Orangerie to see me some post-Impressionist paintings, I instead arrived about 4:00, and by the time I had caught a cab to the hotel and checked in, it was getting late. The hotel concierge helpfully directed me to the closest Metro station and told me where to get off to go to said museum, but forgot that I then needed to get on a different Metro line to complete my journey, so when I emerged from the Metro, I was totally and completely lost. After wandering the streets for awhile trying to get my bearings (and not to panic), I ran into a big group of people speaking English who had just left the Louvre. Which is on the opposite side of the Seine from where I wanted to be. So, instead I walked six more blocks to the Louvre. Which had just closed.

The Louvre from within the Pyramid
I walked out into the central courtyard anyway, to see the pyramid, and then it started to rain. Hard. So, I walked back to the Metro, got on the wrong train (what is it with me and trains today?), got off that one and onto another one, and 400 steps up and down later, I found my hotel again. I got into the smallest shower stall I have ever encountered in life (seriously, a 12-year-old girl would have been cramped in there, and we all know I am considerably larger than that), and collapsed into bed to watch The Simpsons (in French) for an hour; but I was so hungry that I got up again, got dressed, and went out to find a restaurant. I managed to order my dinner completely in French, and was quite pleased with myself at that small accomplishment. That was the end of a very long day.

Tomorrow...my one full day in Paris!


  1. What a day, hope this one is better!

  2. Look how brave you are! This is quite a story to remember.