Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Metro, Metro, bus, bus, Metro, walk, train ... whew


Okay, so I figured out the Metro and bus system, and of course then it was time to leave Paris and go home.

Let me rephrase that.

I figured out the Metro and bus system going to and from Le Bourget for the airshow, and maybe for a couple other places such as the Champs Elysee because I had two events near there.

What I apparently had not figured out was how to get to the train station that would start me on the overnight journey to Argeles-sur-mer.

Had plenty of time, or so I thought. From the airshow I went back to M’s to finish packing. Even skyped with D-L, took a shower, had a piece of leftover cold pepperoni pizza.

I had come to Paris with two bags – a duffel and a backpack. I was going home with four, and I’m not sure how that happened. The only thing I bought was a “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” at the airshow. 50th Paris Airshow, by the way … I love milestone events. I had diligently tried to avoid keeping the huge show-daily magazines, tearing out selected pages I wanted to read later (including a couple articles I wrote). Yet I now had a tote bag from the EASA-FAA safety conference, which serves as my over-the-shoulder “man bag” for my two computers (my first mistake right there, but I needed the high-end computer for video editing projects at night and the tablet for connecting to the web during the day), and I was using the P&W-sponsored airshow cloth bag for my dirty laundry. Guess I’ll find out when I unpack what extra stuff I accumulated.

Part of the extra weight has to be moisture. The past two days have been a monsoon followed by a sauna, exacerbated by armpit-to-armpit rush hour public transportation. The shower had only a short-term effect. By the time I walked to the bus station with my four pieces of baggage, I was soaked in sweat again. The temp was about 30C.

The plan was to leave M’s house plenty early, arrive with at least 90 minutes to spare for my 21h57 train. But somehow I was 30 minutes later than intended getting out of the apartment, and when I got to the 144 bus stop around the corner I had missed the 19h50 bus, and the next one wasn’t scheduled for at least 25-30 minutes. Didn’t have that much time to spare, so I hoofed it to the next possible bus stop in the centre of Puteaux. At that point I was starting to realize how heavy the duffel was, how the long strap wouldn’t stay shortened up as I preferred, and how tired I already was from six days of mostly walking. Looked around for a taxi but there were only a couple and they were occupied. Did not want to have to walk up the steep hill to La Defence, where I would catch the Metro.

Thank you, thank you. The 141 bus came through centre-ville a couple minutes after I walked up to the bus shelter. Got to ride up the hill.

I was headed for Gare Austerlitz but the only ways to get there by Metro seemed rather convoluted. I noticed Gare Lyon was right across the river, so how long a walk could it be across the bridge?

Had a little trouble getting all those bags through the turnstile barrier but managed with brute force. (The next time through the turnstile, I set the duffel on the floor in front of me and pushed it through with my foot. Worked better than carrying everything.)

Took the express Red A train to Gare Lyon, came up to street level, and walked toward Pont Charles de Gaulle. The bags were getting really heavy – two-strap backpack over both shoulders, “man bag” with computers over my neck, duffel strapped over one shoulder or the other, and laundry bag carried by hand on the opposite side. Thought about hailing a taxi, but figured they’d be annoyed at such a low fare to simply cross the bridge. Even if it was a long bridge.

Found the bridge, but the place I crossed the street was a bit of a no-man’s land. I could see a pathway on the other side of the road, but no crosswalk, and I would have to dart across three lanes of traffic. Okay, wait for a break in the traffic. Except there was no break. They just kept coming. Doubled-back, crossed the street, and worked my way up the other side to a crosswalk maybe 100 yards to the east. Up the slope to the bridge. Bags getting heavier. I stopped to rest from time to time, hoping I wouldn’t have a heart attack and fall into the river. (“Américaine en Seine,” would be the droll French newspaper headline.)

By the way, every once in awhile, it seemed like my pants were falling down. I’ve lost a lot of weight, the new belt I bought needs at least one more notch, the pants were getting heavier from humidity, and I was wearing silk boxers. Tried tucking my shirt in, and it helped a little. (In fact, I lost 4 kilos for the week, about 9 pounds, and have now lost 37 pounds since last summer.)

Most of the way across the bridge, a sharp piece of the duffel buckle gouged into the inside base of my thumb. Deep cut. This would be a bleeder, and I’d used my only bandage a couple days ago to preclude getting a blister on my big toe. I’d just have to lick or wipe the blood off from time to time.

Of course, Gare Austerlitz is still under construction. So I couldn’t walk directly into the station. At least it was downhill around the fence, then back up the other side of the fence to the entrance.

I was parched. I had been at least since no-man’s land. So bought a bottle of Evian and a bottle of Zero for the 9 and ½-hour train ride, then found a seat near the train platforms where I could see the signboard on which the track number would be posted for 3171 Limoges-Perpignan-Port Bou.

About 45 minutes before departure, they posted Track 20, which fortunately was not far away. Showed my ticket, which I had already validated at the composteur (yellow time-stamp machine), and looked for my car – 28. Yes, it was right at the end … the far end. This was to be a double train – one set of cars splitting off partway, at Limoges, I think, and the other set continuing down to Port Bou near th Spanish border after stopping briefly for me in Argeles.

Hadn’t decided if I would try to sleep on the journey, read, use both computers til the battery died on each. My only concern was being asleep when we stopped at Argeles, and I’d end up in Port Bou. It’s not that far, and there’s probably a bus back to Argeles. But I really, really didn’t want to drag that luggage around anymore than necessary.

Next time, rolling suitcase or briefcase. Anything with wheels. Even my big orange rolling duffel into which everything would fit and then some. The handle on my small rolling carry-on broke a month ago, and I was going to wait until routing through Dallas to pick up my spare.

The best thing was I didn’t have to change trains, not even once.

My thumb stopped bleeding, pretty much, and that cold Coke Zero had a refreshing kick.

Let me rephrase a previous sentence. The best thing about this trip was that Donna-Lane was waiting for me at the end of it!  

Tous à bord

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