Saturday, 25 August 2012

Day 17 - Back to Paris

There's a few things you have to accept about France.

Firstly, every person who serves you in a hotel or a restaurant isn't representative of what the general public thinks about visitors to France. Two weeks into our trip and exposed only to hotel staff and those in tourist areas, we have been spoiled. That's not to say that the average French person is as arrogant or as difficult as has been painted but just not quite as accommodating. Of course, like Australia, taxi drivers are never representative of the rest of the population either.

We left Nice genuinely disappointed to be leaving and that's a major claim when your next destination is Paris! I had ordered a taxi for our transfer to the station but we were met by a Mercedes limousine, which seemed odd. When a hotel orders a "taxi" for you, they apparently choose a privateer. This threw us a tad, especially when I questioned his credentials and he accused me of calling him a criminal. "I can be," he said, "anything you need ... driver, criminal, mafia, bad boy, good boy ... what do you need today?" Okay, so we were a little freaked out by this but he talked us into the car. Mind you, when he locked the doors after we took off, the freaking out accelerated. We were both relieved to see the train station come into view and paid him what ever he asked.

The stations in France have well organised boards letting you know what is happening and we were further helped by terrific information staff who seemed to be looking for lost souls such as us. It was when we left the lounge for the train that the fun started. Out of sight of the departure lounge, the rest of the train system is based on steps. Like two Daleks hoping to take over the universe, our confrontation with steps at every turn was exasperating. For me, I was exhausted by 50kg of weight to be lugged up or down and for Sue, it was the exhaustion that came from apologising that she couldn't help.

The odd thing about the TGV stations at least, is the use of the first bars of the X-Files theme as a precursor to every announcement. It was a little unsettling.
Tags at Marseilles

We eventually found our seats, me with a return of some back twinges that have been a problem in the past. Our empty car gradually filled with stops at Antibes, Cannes and Toulon and later, Avignon. One thing in common with each of the train stations and their associated approaches and those of Australia, are the application of tags to buildings and fences adjacent to the train lines. For once, I have to say the artwork in Australia is superior. Marseilles was littered with graffiti done by two year olds .

After Avignon, our part of the train was full for the mad rush to Paris which takes little over two and a half hours to complete 580kms ... that's an average speed of 230km/hr but at times the train sped near silently along on its rubber wheels at 320km/hr.

Travelling is taking it's toll
I had listened to "Chimes of Freedom", the compilation of Bob Dylan songs released by various artists last year to support Amnesty but as the afternoon wore on, I became seriously homesick and just aching for something of home. I have 12000 songs on my iPod, many of which are Aussie artists but nothing can content me in such serious moments so far from home as the eight songs of Chris' "The Fool You Are" CD. Accuse me all you like of promoting my own because in Aussie parlance, I don't give a rat's arse. He's good at what he does and this afternoon he was a slice if Australian real that I needed.

It was a good trip in other respects, as I drafted three poems which had been rattling around in my head for a week or so.

If we thought we had a taxi story to share in getting to the station in Nice, things got even more interesting after leaving the train in Paris. Almost everyone I have spoken with about France - Paris in particular - has a taxi driver story.

Ariving in Paris at Gare Lyon - gare meaning railway station and Lyon being a city 320kms form Paris ... yeah, I know ... its a French thing - anyone requiring a taxi must line up. I've done the line up thing at Sydney Airport so this was no biggy. A few zig zag barriers and plenty of taxis so there was no expectation it would take forever. It wouldn't have if others hadn't bypassed the line up: its amazing how often people with crying babies and blind guys get away with a lot of liberties but such is life. We were eventually rostered to an old guy who sat in the drivers seat and waved us off to the next taxi until the official guy in the red shirt drafting us like sheep up a race, insisted. The driver popped the boot and gradually made his way to the back of the taxi, trying to lift Sue's bag and grabbing at his back. I lifted both ports in.

Not quite Hemmingway
The address we gave him may as well have been on Mars. He apparently was offended by my attempts at French and more offended that I asked him if he could accommodate us in English or any language that taxi drivers use to communicate with the 27 million non-French speaking tourists who visit Paris each year. Its a rough guess, but some must come through his taxi and he's leaving himself open to being offended by picking up from the railway station. Eventually, one of the main arterial roads of his city became known to him and he took us there. I assisted by identifying the hotel as he drove past, apparently in direction stupor. Stopping on the opposite side of the road, he wouldn't let us leave paying just the fare. He added 2 euro for "baggage handling" even though I had sub-contracted the first leg of the journey! I paid and then stood at the back and watched him unload. I wouldn't have wanted him to experience guilt later at earning money under false pretenses. It was grand performance. He huffed and puffed, grabbed at his back and shook his head but I just stood back and enjoyed how I'd spent my money. The best he got from me was in a broad Aussie accent ... I wasn't wasting any French on the little bastard.

This first night at Citadines Republique is in a studio apartment and then we have seven nights in a larger apartment downstairs. The bed is a pull down from the wall - the first the bush bride and I have ever used. On the fourth floor, we face an old apartment building across the road and every window tells a story. I feel like James Stewart in Rear Window. Grace Kelly reclines, reading as I write.

Being a Paris suburb, Parmentier, we fetched up food for tonight's meal from the supermarket and the patisserie. The grog here is dirt cheap. A nice red from Bordeaux cost $5.40 AUD and a standard bottle of Chivas Regal $31AUD. We don't convert anymore but I do so for the benefit of readers.

Ah Paris ...

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