This is huge. I’ve got train schedules, maps and metro paths to figure out. Naturally, I am frightened. His train gets in at 11:35 at Gard du Nord and I have a vague idea of how to get there and an even vaguer idea of where to meet him.
I studied the transillien schedules for hours last night, trying to figure out the right connections into Paris. I’ve been told it’s Auvers to Pontoise and then from Pontoise into Gare du Nord. But the times just aren’t meshing. The train from Auvers to Pontoise gets in two minutes after the train from Pontoise to Paris leaves which means I’d have to spend 45 minutes in Pontoise waiting for the next train. But at closer glance, I notice that if I get off one stop before Pontoise in Saint Ouen, where the train to Paris also stops, the timing would be perfect…6 minutes between trains. I’m hesitant to try it because everyone told me the point of transfer is Pontoise, and who am I to deviate from the advice of people who know better? And what if Saint Ouen is as confusing as Pontoise and it takes me longer than 6 minutes to find the train to Paris? But it has to be done, because I sure as heck don’t want to spend another 45 minutes at the Pontoise station.
The lady at the Auvers station confirmed my decision by drawing a picture because I kept looking at her blankly when she spoke. So off I went.
The connection works perfectly and I spend the 45 minute train ride watching a baby in a stroller sucking on a pacifier (much more enjoyable than watching grungy teenaged boys sucking on a joint). Every time the father takes the pacifier out of the baby’s mouth, tthe baby breaks into a huge grin and yelps joyfully. It’s almost like uncorking a bottle of champagne, without the foam, (thank goodness).
As we pass Sacre Coeur perched majestically on the hill, I start to get nervous again. Gare du Nord is huge. A city unto itself. I’m to meet Alan at the gate where his train arrives, wherever that is. I left myself enough time to get lost, and promptly do so. It seems the only way I can meet Alan at his gate is to pay for a train ticket, which I don’t want to do. I consider fleeing, but decide that a better course of action is to ask a woman behind the ticket counter. She kindly buzzes me in.
I arrive five minutes before Alan’s train pulls in. When Alan appears I’m faced with the next daunting task of the day…figuring out where exactly Gare du Nord is in relation to the rest of Paris. Since Alan has no particular thoughts on what he’d like to see in Paris, I wing it and we start walking.
As long as a city is on a grid system, I’m fine. Unfortunately, Paris is not. Every time I think I knew where we are, another diagonal street intersects up and confuses me all over again. We wind up in Les Halles, which isn’t my favorite part of Paris, so we head towards the left bank. Or so I think. I start to feel as though we are walking in circles and the only thing that tips me off that we aren’t is the fact that the naked mannequins in the store window here have nipples while the ones we saw earlier didn’t. The nipples hearten me.
We wind up at the Pompidou center, which has the longest line I’ve ever seen (damn tourists!). Alan knows nothing about Paris, and being the creative person I am,, I tell him that the Pompidou center is a large public toilet. He wants to go in until I tell him that it’s really just a museum.
After lunch we wander through the Latin quarter (or maybe it’s Rome), checking out all the food on display on the narrow streets. It’s almost enough to make me hungry again.
We consider going to the Louvre, but decide since I can’t find my way around Paris, the Louvre would be an inescapable nightmare. They would probably find our bones in some obscure, dusty corner years from now.
We pass through the Louvre courtyard, which is impressive in itself and continue to the Palais Royal and Rue St Honore. We take a right because neither of us can afford to even look in the store windows.
At this point we hear sirens approaching and my visceral reaction is to hide, as I’m sure they’re coming to get me for some NY rent violation, but they pass. Dozens of police cars head in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. My second visceral reaction is to find a spot where we can check and make sure that the landmark is not a smouldering pile of ashes. It’s still there. We decide to celebrate by having drinks in the Marais. We find a nice spot under the eaves of the Place du Vosges, which is one of my favorite spots in Paris. I tell Alan a little history of the area (this time the truth…I think). It’s lovely and peaceful until a batch of teenaged girls come screeching through, as loud and obnoxious as any American teenagers.
At this point, I’m starting to get a little nervous that we won’t find the Gare du Nord in time to catch the train back to Auvers. So we pay and head off at about 5:30. I believe I stopped people to ask directions approximately seven times between the Marais and the Gare de l’est. And another four between the Gare de l’est and Gare du Nord, which are about 3 blocks apart. Everyone was very friendly and helpful.
We arrive at Gare du Nord at about seven. And this is the only time I start to feel like I’m in New York. There’s a huge line for tickets and only two people manning the booth. Further, the machines that dispense tickets aren’t working. Alan just follows me mutely as I storm back and forth between the two, my head about to explode in rage.
The line moves fairly quickly and we make the train with a few minutes to spare.
We make it back to Auvers without a hitch.
In all, I ‘m sure we must have walked 26 miles and asked approximately 30 people for directions (that’s a little more than one person per mile, which doesn’t sound nearly so bad). I’m not sure what Alan got out of the experience, except that Paris is beautiful, French people aren’t rude as legend has it, citron crepes are delicious, Victor Hugo lived in the Place de Vosges, the Pompidou center isn’t a public toilet and that mannequin nipples are almost as good as a compass when it comes to finding one’s direction.
I’m very happy to have contributed something valuable to his cultural experience.
See my Paris picture gallery.
Filed under: france on a budget, Language, Paris, transportation, travel | Tagged: Gare du Nord, Louvre, Marais, Paris, Place de Vosges, Pontoise, sacre coeur, Saint Ouen, train schedule, transillien | 1 Comment »