Monday, October 25, 2010

Surviving Paris: Trains and Automobiles

In September, we spent a week in the Loire Valley of France. When it came time for us to head out to Paris, we went into Angers and booked tickets to Paris on the TGV. These high-speed trains have limited stops and reach up to 200mph. Woo-hoo!

I loved the TGV - the drive from Paris to Le Moulin took over 3 hours, much of it on country roads. The train trip took about 1 hour 15 minutes. Smooth as silk, easy as can be. Except luggage storage. We had two fair-sized hard-sided bags stuffed with wine and each was maxed out at 50 pounds. They weren't big, just heavy. Still, the luggage storage space was full with all 5 people in our compartment hogging it all. I can't imagine what it would be like when the train is full!

Helpful signs for the TGV.
One final note on the TGV - first class doesn't seem worth it. Second class can be fairly pricey as it is, so on the shorter trips, I would recommend skipping the deluxe accommodations. 

We arrived at the Montparnasse station on a Saturday afternoon looking forward to a couple days in Paris. It was our first trip to Paris and we were very excited. The confusion that day nearly killed that excitement (and my husband).

Leaving our TGV train, it was easy to find the taxi stands. All seemed to be going well. Our hotel wasn't far, but with two heavy bags we were advised by friends to take a taxi and skip trying to get through the Metro. Unfortunately, the fates were against us. After standing in line about 20 minutes with no taxis, a driver showed up and began to speak very excitedly in French. The man in the couple in front of us spoke some French and I overheard him saying the streets were closed, no one could get anywhere. Oh. Oh no!

In my other post, the The Kindness of Strangers, I wrote about this couple and how helpful they were that day. What I didn't mention was the joy of dragging heavy suitcases through the Paris Metro. I managed to get stuck in a turnstile once (the bag couldn't pull through correctly, had to be turned sideways) and I know we must have walked two miles in tunnels. The worst part was for my husband - there were stairs all over. Up, down. Up, down. He was carrying both suitcases up and down each set of stairs the whole way. Up, down, up, down. At one point I began to think we were trapped in a hellish maze of stairs and would never see daylight again.

We finally reached our platform (up some stairs, down some more) and took the Metro two stops to our hotel location. Yeah! We did it........except there were two final flights of stairs up to street level. My hubby is a pretty strong guy, works out all the time, and he finally broke just before we reached daylight. He had to stop after the first flight and rest. But - we could smell fresh air and we were determined to escape up into the daylight.

Deceptive picture: looks clean and nice smelling.

Thankfully our hotel was only half a block from there. But there were stairs into the lobby and down to the elevator. SERIOUSLY??

So - word to the wise - know what is going on in Paris on the day you arrive and do not attempt the Metro with heavy bags.

We recovered pretty quick from hating the Metro and Paris (hubby's first words about Paris "I hate Paris") and reached the point where we pretty much want to move there and live forever. But I will say the Metros have a bad habit of smelling strongly of piss. Nasty. Watch where you step. Overall though, they are easy to figure out and reliable and far better than a taxi.

Which brings me to taxis...goodness. We took a cab to the airport on the morning we left and it was crazy expensive. We left from near Notre Dame and it took about 50 minutes in traffic. The meter was off the charts. We expected this, but were not about to try the Metro and trains again and had requested a cab that would accept credit cards. When we arrived at the airport, the cab driver ran my card and said it was declined. Ok, credit card security probably kicked in - try another one. Declined. My husband tried two cards - also declined. I'm about to get violent with the taxi driver, clearly his credit card machine has an issue and he won't let us out of the cab. I finally get him to understand I needed to go inside the airport and find an ATM and he lets me out. Luckily, the debit card that had just come up "declined" really did work and I was able to withdraw some euro to pay the bill. I have no idea what would have happened had that not worked.

Next time I'll look for a pre-pay shuttle or something. Or maybe pack lighter and take the trains. But, you know, we really needed to bring all that wine back home. :-)

-- Happy Travels!

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