After three nights in Dijon in beautiful Burgundy, it was time for us to make the next transition back to Paris. Now that we had handed back our rental car, all our future travel had to be conducted either on foot or public transport. Before leaving Australia we had already purchased two tickets from Dijon to Paris on the French TGV train system. At this point I should point out that there are several train systems in France, all run by different companies with different ticketing and staff. The TGV is supposed to be the most sophisticated with the fastest trains (TGV – “Train Grand Vitesse”).
In previous trips we had traveled on TGV trains and I had photos of my GPS showing speeds over 300 kph. Even at these extreme speeds, inside the carriages the ride is smooth and quiet. The trip to Paris was just over 300 km and scheduled to take around 90 minutes. We bundled up our luggage in our Dijon apartment and prepared for the trip. Maggie obviously thought my case had some surplus space inside and packed it with gifts for the grandkids and about 5 kg of magazines that she decided would make good reading back home in Australia.
By the time I strapped on my backpack and started dragging the case, I figured that I had about 35 kg of luggage to navigate safely to our apartment in Paris. At the same time Maggie appeared to have conveniently lightened her load and kept wondering why I was struggling to keep up with her.
We walked the first few hundred metres to the tram stop. We had researched the tram system the previous day so I knew how much the tickets would cost and carefully sorted out the correct change in advance. While I looked after the mountain of luggage, I sent Maggie across to the ticket machine to buy our tickets. She came back with only one ticket and a story that “the price had gone up to 1.60 Euros”. Now I know that prices can increase due to inflation, but that did seem a bit steep. I gave her a handful of extra coins and send her back to buy my ticket. This time she came back and announced that the price was “only 1.50 Euros”. I have no idea what she had been doing on the ticket machine, but it seems like she had managed to select the poker machine mode whereby it generates a random price for each ticket. At least we had two tickets, even though I felt like we had been fleeced.
When the next tram came along we piled our luggage on board and narrowly avoided injuring any of the other passengers in the process. The tram took us straight to the DijonVille Train Station where we were to catch our train. The first ominous signs that the trip was not going to go smoothly was the sign that announced that our train “was delayed”. We sat and waited. And waited.
When the train finally appeared the platform was jammed with other paasengers, mostly also with huge amounts of luggage. We found our carriage and pulled our luggage on board, only to find that every possible storage space for luggage was already crammed to overflowing. I dragged my confounded case from one end of the carriage to the other (damn those heavy magazines) without success. People were starting to look at us with smirks on their faces. I partially got even by making sure I bumped into their shoulders each time I passed by.
Eventually we came to the unhappy conclusion that there was NOWHERE for our luggage. We would have to just cram it into our seat and squash in next to it. So that’s what we did. Maggie got in first and I heaved the case in next. By the time it was my turn, there was only room for my left buttock on the seat. Maggie started to complain that the wheels were cutting off her circulation. I replied that my problem was much worse. I was sitting half in the aisle, looking like the world’s biggest imbecile. At least it provided free entertainment for the rest of the carriage.
“Don’t worry, it’s only 90 minutes”, I told her. It wasn’t. The so called TGV train struggled to muster anything above 100 kph. No wonder it had been delayed. At one point it stopped completely without a station anywhere in sight. Maggie’s right leg went to sleep, but she didn’t. I felt like murdering someone, but I couldn’t. We had no alternative other than to just sit there as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course, at that stage, we had no idea that our day was going to get worse. Much worse.
The train had originally been due at Gare de Lyon in Paris at around 1.30 pm. It eventually arrived at around 2.30 pm. It was only in the final 30 minutes of the trip that the driver finally managed to find the throttle and get it flying along at 305 kph. By then it was already too late. Maggie was worried that she was going to lose her leg and join Carol and Fran in the sad French leg injury tally.
It did finally pull into the station. We stumbled out onto the platform and into the biggest jam of people I had ever seen on a railway station. We could hardly move. We both just wanted somewhere to sit comfortably, but Maggie had an even more pressing need. She needed a toilet and fast. I sat with the pile of luggage while she set off in search of that elusive Holy Grail – a clean toilet. About 30 minutes later she returned.
We then went in search of the right Metro line to take us close to our apartment. We found it without too much trouble, but what was trouble was the multitude of flights of stairs that we had to ascend and descend in order to get to the right platform. I pity any disabled person who has to survive this system.
At least we were relieved to find that the Metro was not too crowded and we were soon headed in the right direction. “Not long to go now”, I tried to calm Maggie’s anxiety. She looked up at the list of stations on the carriage wall.
“Which station do we get off at ?”, she asked.
“The Louvre”, I replied.
“But that sign says it’s closed”. I looked up and saw that she was right. Apparently there was work being done and it was “ferme”, for the next few weeks. Well that’s how our day had been going. And it was still going to get worse.
We had no alternative other than to go to the next station and walk back. That was not such a big problem, except that we could not find the “Sortie” (exit) anywhere. We walked back and forth until we eventually located the exit doors. I had been through these types of doors many times and knew that it was possible to wheel my bag through, however for some reason, this time my brain was not working properly. We saw a special line that had a luggage symbol so I thought maybe I should put the bag through there. I lined up the bag and then walked through the neighbouring exit. The problem was the luggage door did not open. I was on one side and Maggie was still on the other with both bags and a very worried look on her face. Well what do we do now ? I wondered.
“Pass your bag over the top”, I called to her. She did that and that was one problem partially solved.
“OK, now come through with my bag”. She started through, only to find that the barrier snapped back like a giant alligator, securely grabbing my bag in their huge jaws. I tried to force them open without success. I tried to just pull my bag through. At least that achieved something – I almost managed to rip the entire top of the bag from one end to the other. Not exactly what I had planned.
At that moment a helpful French lady noticed our predicament and used her ticket to reopen the doors for us. I retrieved the ruins of my case and the two of us stood seething at the damage. What an absolutely stupid system, I thought. Just like the French to design a gate that would be capable of cutting a small child (or slow senior) completely in two.
I would liked to have punched someone right on the nose at that point, but there would have been no point. We should have known that is what France is like. It can be frustrating, it can be irritating, but it is never boring.
I managed to roll the remains of my bag to the apartment we had booked on the Internet. It was situated on the left bank of the Seine, not far from the Musee D’Orsay and the location and the description, looked too good to miss. We were met at the door by a young spiff and his “cousin”. Young Guillaume certainly spoke good English but he was just too much of a smart Alec for our liking. He insisted on making every question we asked into some sort of joke and really managed to really get under our skin. I suspect he would have been happy to sell us the Eiffel Tower if we had shown any interest.
The apartment itself was not exactly as it appeared in the advertisement. It was a collection of rooms and corridors with ceilings low enough to crack the head of the shortest midget. At least it had a bed and a toilet and we had to agree that the location was perfect. It is probably typical of what to expect in Paris when you are traveling on a budget. There was no doubt it did have character and we would probably look back on this day in the years ahead and laugh about it.
That evening we went out and brought some supplies and some beautiful fresh baguettes and had a feast in our room. It was fun. Already the hassles of the previous few hours started to fade and we looked forward to what we would do it in the next four days in this amazing city.