20 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 14 - Train Day Stress

Alarm set for 08:00. An hour to shower and dress. An hour to eat. Breakie was the same as yesterday except Mike had banana-applesauce. Coffee still great. An hour to finishing packing, check-out and short walk to the train station for our departure.

We ran into Benedict's papa in the hotel lobby. He wondered how our Monaco trip had been. He had talked his wife out of going, but after our review would talk her back into it. He was especially interested in the architecture of housing on the cliffs.

We had fun chatting with the receptionist who spoke English very well. Her name was Duarta, no relation to our Hotel Durante. I said they had forgotten our breakfast charges, so straightened that out. At the train station wondered if they also forgot the laundry. Will check when I get home.

Today was our most challenging schedule, connecting by ground transport from SNCF (French national railway system in the southeast quarter of Paris) to Thalys (Belgium national railway system in the north central quarter) --

     - Depart Niceville at 11:32 and arrive Paris Gare de Lyon at 17:11

     - Take local Metro train or cab to Paris Gare du Nord (about three miles away). Transport time is normally 30 minutes and we had 1 hour 14 minutes scheduled time to make it. Back home I had studied up on the options to get between stations, so we were prepared.

     - Connecting leg departing Paris Gare du Nord at 18:25 and arrive Brugge at 20:51.

Eurail had scheduled us on this route as "normal" connecting time. But even though all trains had been on time to this point, we had doubts and were worried from the get-go. As two retired airline employees we know the endless possibilities of things that can go wrong, especially when you are relying on ground transportation to make a connection between two transit points. 

In Nice there were two trains leaving for Paris Gare de Lyon at the same time -- one high-speed (ours) and one not. We inadvertently got into the wrong queue but thankfully got directed to the right spot in time. So we were now on the right train and it was on time. Off to a good start.

Our route back tracked through Marseille and Lyon, territory we had viewed before from the train. We spotted slices of the Mediterranean Sea, today a misty Navy blue. There was an occasional shower, but mostly just gray cloud cover.

We went through a number tunnels and one really long one. Roof tops were ALL red tile on homes, but some flat or slopped gravel types on businesses or apartments. Lots of French blue doors and shutters. Occasionally you would see the French flag flying atop a flagpole in someone's yard. A proud nation.

Passed by a huge cemetery sprawling down a tall hill. Grave stones looked ancient and well-adorned with sculpted angels and flowers. I bet it is spooky at night.

Landscape was kind of rocky and rolling with Italian cypress and pines for greenery. Leaves still had not turned to fall colors as they were doing back home. We passed a canal with a large barge going through a lock. We saw lots of wind turbines along the route (yay!).

For lunch Mike ordered a ham and cheese sandwich (gave me the cheese half) and Pellegrino water for lunch. He got an industrial size bag of M&M peanuts for dessert.

We had time to recharge our iStuff and the Kindle. The high-speed trains have an electric socket for each set of seats. We had our trusty adapter plug, so de-charged with use and re-charged along the way.

FYI - For most electronics (in our case, iPad, iPhone, Kindle and two cameras) you do not need the electric converter to change from 110v (for USA) up to 240v (for Europe). These type devices accept a range of electricity types (check on your plug where it will tell you the range). So you only need the plug adapter. For other things, like hair dryers or shavers, you need the actual converter and plug adapter (two to three prong).

There was one dog with owner in our first class compartment. It was so well behaved. It sat on his owner's lap for the whole 4-¾ hours without a whimper or bark. So cute. (We miss Bella!!!!!)

We passed through Provence (fairly flat), Cannes, Toulon, Marseille, Avignon, Lyon (lots of farming), and Dijon. About an hour and a half outside Paris, we started seeing patches of blue sky. Also, started traveling at a slower and slower pace. I started to worry again about our connection. With good reason.

We ended up being 25 minutes late into Gare de Lyon, arriving at 18:13. And in a little panic. If we did not catch our train to Brugge we would have to overnight in Paris. We opted to take a taxi rather than figure out how to purchase a ticket and find our way to the right Metro track. Another little lady with her pooch pointed us toward the taxi stand.

Our driver was not the talkie type, but that was fine. I wanted him to concentrate on getting us to the next station. It did not look good. At the very first street light we had to wait for five cycles (which seemed forever) to get through. Traffic was a mess. Once we got through that first light it was slow but steady.

We did not have to tell the driver to hurry. I'm sure he could feel our tension in the air. It was obvious he was doing the best he could. But I was eye-balling possible hotels as we went along. I'm a pretty positive person, but at this point I was sure we would not make it. 

Our route went through central Paris. Fountains, sidewalk cafes, wrought iron balconies all screamed "this is the Paris everyone knows and loves." (Not the dirty industrial landscape we had seen upon our original arrival from the airport.)

Nice scenery, but would we make are next train?

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