I Love Paris in the Springtime!!!

Trip Start Apr 27, 2014
Trip End May 17, 2014

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Thursday, May 1, 2014

You may or may not remember that old Cole Porter tune from the 1950s, "I Love Paris in the Springtime."  If nothing else it just shows my age.  Be that is it may, we're heading to Paris today!

 We were up and out of our hotel in Brussels by 7:15 am and baggage in tow, walked the five minutes to the Brussels North train station.  Unfortunately the nice little bakery we stopped at yesterday was closed.  And the streets seemed eerily quiet for this time of day.  Later on we would learn it is Labor Day in Belgium, and some holiday in France as well.  All the banks and most of the shops were closed.  No problem, we planned on spending most of the day on the train to Paris anyway.  

 Now, you've heard of the fast trains to Paris, well, we could take one of those, using our Eurail Passes, and we'd be there in two hours, but it was going to cost and extra $300!  Say what?  No way.  Seems the French don't care much for Eurail passes nor the people who use them.  So they restrict them by requiring a reservation (usually made weeks in advance) and a serious up-charge.  We spoke to a nice lady in the train station window and explained that we wanted to take the slow train to Paris, not wanting to pay the extra money.  We told her we saw one that left at 7:55 am.  She had never heard of such a thing, not wanting to get somewhere quickly.  We had researched the route the night before on the Eurail Pass website.  It made three stops and got us to Paris in about 5 hours.  Five hours on these trains is not only doable, but enjoyable!  She finally researched the idea and came up with the same itinerary we had worked out the night before...Brussels to Ghent, Ghent to Lille Flanders, Lille Flanders to Amiens and finally, Amiens to Paris North.  She printed out the details for us, and after purchasing breakfast (muffin, croissant, juice and a diet Coke...breakfast of champions!), we headed to the track.    

We basically boarded the train we took the night before coming from Ghent and Brugge in reverse.  As we got off the train in Ghent, a young man with whom we had exchanged pleasantries got off with us. We headed to our next train (ten minute turn around time).  As we stood there waiting for our train, the same young man appeared, we said, hello again, and asked where he was headed.  He said, Paris North....same place we were going!  He was on holiday visiting a little town in the middle of France which was the end of some obscure rail line.  Little did we know that we had run into "the Sheldon Cooper of Belgium!"  He said, "I work for the train company in Belgium and I'm a bit of a train nut and wanted to see this little rail stop before they tore it down.  It may be the only one I haven't seen."   I immediately thought he was Sheldon Cooper from The Big Band Theory!  We sat across from each other in 1st Class.  He said his ticket cost him 1 Euro.  Nice perk. 

Turns out his name is Bart, as he said, "Like Bart Simpson."  We all chuckled.  He is a traffic controller for the railways of Belgium and has been for 8 years.   As the zoomed along, he pointed out his parents house and grandmother's house right next to the train track.  No wonder he was so interested in trains.  Next stop, Lille Flanders and we 12 minutes to catch the train to  Amiens.  No problem, especially with our very own train guide with us.  We sat near each other for that part of the journey, with less conversation.  We changed trains for the last time at Amiens and as we headed for first class, he said, his ticket was only good for second class on this train.  So, we decided to travel second class in an enclosed cabin seating 8...just the three of us.  Those are the trains Sandy and I remember from our travels forty years ago.  

Bart got really chatty on that trip to Paris.  We discussed history, government, education, health care (theirs is similar to Obamacare) and a myriad of other topics, including of course trains!  He was skilled and fluent in three languages (French, Dutch and  English and spoke a little German).  He spoke English very well.  

 We were fortunate to find a young man like that on the train to Paris.  Made the ride that much more enjoyable.  Not that it wouldn't have been with just the two of us, as the South Belgian and Northern French countryside was very beautiful.  One particular plant that was in full bloom had beautiful yellow flowers on it and was raised in that region in abundance. Grape seed.  It's yellow contrasted nicely with the other bright green fields.  Sandy and I were discussing words that described the landscape around here and words like pastoral, idyllic and arcadian came to mind.

Got in to Paris and said "au revour" (see you soon) to our friend Bart or do you say Sheldon?  
Headed to a taxi for a 10 minute ride to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza - Repulique.  Very nice room upgrade.  Taking care of us well.  Grabbed a bite to eat a cafe across the street and spoke with a very talkative Frenchman.  Sort of strange dude.  Back up to our room and like all good Americans do in Paris, took a nap!  

 I started blogging and then we headed down to the concierge to discuss museum tickets, hop on-hop off bus tickets and a trip to Normandy.  We made the reservation for the Normandy tour for Sunday.  Our last day in Paris.  It's raining here.  But we walked in it...Sandy brought her umbrella.  Had dinner at another nearby restaurant and walked around a bit before heading back to the hotel finishing my blog and turning in.  Tomorrow is a day in Paris at museums and we'll see what comes after that.  

Take care my friends and family!   

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