Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to Paris Part I: The French train system is quite lacking in ALL the things

Wednesday 18 June 2014 Happy Birthday Mark!! <3
We were up early and caught a taxi to the commuter station to catch our train to Hendaye-a French border town, where we could catch our train to Paris.

The commuter train was uneventful, but we arrived at the station in Hendaye to find that our train wasn’t on the board!! 

Unbeknownst to us…the French Rail System was in the middle of (another) strike. Mara had warned us that this happens ALL THE TIME, but we didn’t think to check. Not that checking would have made much difference...there was only ONE train leaving for Paris anyway. Unfortunately, this train was leaving in EIGHT hours. Blah!!

We considered renting a car and driving to Paris. I walked up the street in search of an internet café, but was unlucky in finding one. I settled on a coffee shop across the street with an insanely rude barkeep, but there was wifi. I discovered that while we could be refunded for our train tickets, the drive to Paris would be very long and that all the cars in town were sold out. Boo.

I returned to the station to wait it out with Preston.

I gotta say…we have traveled on trains in Italy and they were sleek and modern and on time with easy e-tickets I could show from my phone, convenient schedules, and mostly (night train cough cough) comfortable rides. We have traveled on trains in Spain and they were amazing and easy and efficient. But, France?? NIGHTMARE. It’s ALWAYS something with these French trains. Someone was hit by a train…there’s a strike…the train is late…the trains are crowded…the conductors are rude. Fail. The French rail system really leaves something to be desired.

Luckily, I could still get the rude bar’s wifi from the train station, so we camped out and I worked on booking the UK part of our trip.

In the late afternoon, an incredibly smelly homeless man sat next to me :-/ I ignored the smell as best I could and breathed through my mouth, while he drank beer in a brown bag.

At one point, a young English guy with a bike noticed I had internet and asked if he could please use it to make a reservation because someone had stolen his phone!!

I, of course, obliged and he sat down with me to use the computer. We started chatting only to be surprisingly joined by the homeless man who turned out to be a well spoken and educated Irish guy!! What the heck?

The Irish man was VERY drunk and kept repeating the same questions, but we had a good time talking. I was very amused that he told us he was ‘traveling’, as if he was on vacation and NOT a hobo. (He was CLEARLY a hobo). I mean, he had a filthy bag full of beer and clothes that smelled like pee. More power to him, I guess :D

FINALLY, we could board the train. In fact, it had been sitting there allll day.
We were first on board and the train was empty. We asked the conductor where we should sit, since our train had been cancelled. He chuckled and said to sit anywhere we could find a seat and good luck!!

We were confused, because the train was empty, but we soon came to find out what he meant.

The train made multiple stops in our 6 hour journey back to Paris. At every stop, more and more people boarded the train. Finally, after about 2 hours…the train was nearly full. A young French couple boarded and told us that we were in their seats. We explained that with five trains being combined into one…that EVERYONE was in someone else’s seat and we’d been told to sit where we could. They accepted this and moved on.

Within minutes, the girl was back and I finally got to see some of that infamous French attitude. I was SO grateful that Preston was with me, because I hate confrontation like that.

The girl got kind of nasty and was like, “So you expect us to sit separately so that you can sit together?” and Preston said, “Yes, that’s exactly right. Why should WE sit separately so YOU can sit together? They are our seats as much as yours. We’ve been on this train for hours” The girl got angry and said she would get the conductor, so Preston said…”Great. Go get him. HE told us to sit here. If HE wants us to move, we will…but we are NOT moving for you.”

Lol. Oh my Gosh. I had my head down this entire time. If it had just been me, I would have stood in the hall for the remaining 4 hours :P I was glad to have my strong husband with me.

Conveniently, the conductors would conspicuously disappear at every boarding and left the conflict to the passengers. Amazing. These same confrontations happened again and again all over the train every time it stopped. Many people did give up their seats for newcomers boarding the train and many people pointed to Preston and said “He didn’t move…so I’m not!!” haha. Oh my goodness.

The angry French girl found a seat at the front of the train facing us and proceeded to glare in our direction for a while. I think it was the most stressful and anxiety-filled ride of my life. It was a tense and uncomfortable all the way to Paris.

At least the views were nice.

Hasta Spain!!

It was close to midnight when we did arrive in Paris. We made our way through the GIANT Montparnesse train station and to the metro.

Since our original plan was to leave Paris the following day, I had booked us in a cheap hostel for the night. Our plans had changed and I found us an apartment for the rest of the week, but we still had to honor our reservation at the hostel or lose our money.

The hostel was in Montemarte and we arrived at 1am. It was very much a hostel…loud twentysomethings in the common area and lots of colored lights and posters. 

We found our teeny double room and headed to bed. Unfortunately, I found that I had a UTI and spent a miserable night running to the shared bathroom. Luckily, we had the forethought to be prepared for nearly every illness prior to our departure, so I had the antibiotics I needed on hand.

We are back in Paris to meet up tomorrow with one of Preston’s best friends-Slavko, his wife Pam and Pam’s sister Christina. Slavko happens to be Mara’s brother.

We are thrilled for the fun times ahead!! 

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