25 December 2007

Traveler's Curse

24 December

I think I may just have the worst luck in Paris. Of anyone. In all of history.

I left yesterday morning to visit the Noë’s, a very friendly French family with three thoroughly adorable children, and to spend the holidays with them. The Noë’s lived in Grand Rapids for six years, during which my family was invited to join the circle of wonderful French families in the area. They have all been a blessing for us. This family moved back to France the summer of 2006, and this is the first time I’ve seen them since, but I feel like I’ve been received into my own family.

But we’re not talking about blessings here. We’re talking about a horrendous day of travel. Yesterday morning, I was due to leave Strasbourg on the high-speed train for Paris, then Orleans, at 8:45. I arrived at the train station at 8:25 (plenty of time for train travel in France, which I’d recommend any day over air travel anywhere), and as I got off the bus, I had a seizure of conscience that I ought to check my ticket and my departure time. Okay, so I realized I hadn’t yet done that, that morning or before, or really since I had bought the tickets. But when you know, you know, right? 8:45am.


My train had left at 8:10. I couldn’t believe it—I felt like an idiot. I was so sure, like I had already checked the ticket a thousand times. I don’t know why I was so far off! I got in line to exchange my ticket, and of course the line was long, and the ticket windows were short-staffed, and the staff were short-tempered: “It is the 23rd of December," the woman at the counter reminded me.” Many trains were leaving for Paris that morning, but all of second class on every one was already full, and first class costs quite a bit more. So I opted for a train early that afternoon, called the family that was expecting me and told them I’d arrive at 6pm instead of noon, and sat awhile at the train station being mad at myself.

Finally I got on a bus to go home. While I was on the bus, the family called back and asked if I could change my ticket to arrive directly near Tours (the grandparents’ house, where we’re spending Christmas), instead of having them wait in Orleans to meet me and then driving to Tours, where the grandparents were expecting us for dinner. Of course it made more sense. I got on another bus back to the train station. When I went to change my ticket, I paid to change the second half between Paris and Orleans to Paris and Tours, because the ticket is only exchangeable one time, and here I was a second. I got on a bus again to go home, stayed home for approximately fifty minutes (long enough to realize that I’d already eaten or given away or frozen all the fresh food I’d had, so there wasn’t much left to make a lunch with), and got back on the bus to go to the station for the correctly-timed train.

The ride to Paris was blissfully uneventful, though we got off a little late. The man sitting next to me insisted on giving me his number (it happens almost every time, I don’t know why), even though I slept most of the time and made small talk only the last fifteen minutes. I arrived at the Gare de l’Est and had to catch my other train at the Gare Montparnasse in the south of Paris, taking the metro from one to the other. I would have had forty minutes between the two trains, and the metro only takes about 10 or 15, BUT because we were a little late getting out of Strasbourg, and because you are forced to walk through a maze of tunnels upon leaving the metro line and arriving at the train lines, YOU GUESSED IT: I missed the train again. I quickly exchanged the ticket for the next train to St.-Pierre-au-Corps, which thankfully comes every hour, and called the family again, almost in tears of frustration, to tell them that I would, again, be late.

The train was set to leave at 6:10, and I calmed down sitting with my bags in front of the large screens of train schedules, waiting for my platform to be announced. Half an hour passed: 5:55, fifteen minutes before, by which time the platform is usually announced. At 6:00, still nothing. At 6:05, an announcement that the train was being serviced by an intervention team, though I’m not sure what that connotes. At 6:10, departure time, still nothing. Finally, at 6:12, the platform was announced, and we all rushed towards the train, which left about four minutes later. Tough rocks for those who passengers whose eyes weren’t glued to the screen. I made it, but to top things off, of my several seating assignments that day, I remembered the wrong one, and ended up four cars down from my actual seat. But when I found it, oh did I relax.

And when I found the Noë’s waiting for me on the platform, oh did I rejoice.

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