France - Red Wine, Train Travels and Police!

Trip Start Jun 01, 2002
Trip End Sep 11, 2007

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Flag of France  ,
Friday, March 21, 2003

"Monsieur and Madams; we would like to welcome you all aboard this Eurostar train, travelling from London to Paris. We will be on our way in 5 mins. On a side note, I would like to ask the Australian gentleman in seat 73a , to stop bouncing up and down on his seat like a 4 year old and stop pressing his face against the window to look outside - someone has to clean that"

Yes this little Australian chicken was on his way to Paris - the land of towers, arches, cheese, garlic and the French!. With a great friend Claire beside me, who had just spent the last 5 weeks jet setting through South America a weekend away to catch up and see the sights and sounds of Paris/France was definitely in call. And if all went well an opportunity to spend the day on Monday at Euro Disney - yes the land of oversized mice that scare the hell out of 4 year olds.!

So from the land of work, to a quick tube ride to Waterloo station where I could check in and get my passport stamped - there is something about getting another stamp in ones passport that gives a sense of achievement, or maybe it is a lame type of justification for spending thousands of dollars tramping around the world. As I work my way through customs trying look unsuspicious as possible, with 3 days growth, beanie on head, dirty jeans and creased T Shirt displayed I am surprised I stroll through without a blink of any eyelid. As I round the corner I see the trustee X ray machine and straight away my thoughts take over "Shit, I have my pocket knife (new one) in my hand luggage (again)" but this caused no problems as you actual take your main backpack on board - hmmm that is a different safety standard to a plane.

There is something about train travel that gives me a bit of a buzz the whole rocking back and forth motion, the weird smells of people near you, the complete uncomforted of trying to get some sleep! As I entered my coach number after the 200 metre walk to the front (yes 200 metres - big train) and find my seat, the general announcements are made - welcome aboard, the café is open etc and then I hear this:-

"Please take 5 mins to make yourself familiar to the safety procedure card in the pocket in front of you" , With eagerness I grab the card and begin reading:-

- Now let me head off in a tangent here as I explain to you the safety process of the Eurostar. The "safety" card had the standard badly drawn figures of men and women calmly exiting the train in an emergency. It talked about leaving luggage behind and exiting the carriages.

What I believe the card should read is something like:

"Welcome to the Eurostar, we hope you have an enjoyable time at your destination.....if we make it. We would like to tell you that in the case of a crash at approx 230miles per hour - you will not survive - think about it really, that fast and the amount of momentum and energy behind each carriage. Not going to be pretty. Oh and if you are looking for the staff during this crisis - they will be the people flying horizontally past you like scud missiles. Oh and just to let you into a secret, if by any chance we crash in the Channel tunnel and you actually survive the crash (yeah right) you more than likely drown as 2 billion mega litres come flooding in.

Actually I am not even sure why we bothered to print these safety cards. You are either going to make it to your destination in one piece or not. - Thank you for travelling with Eurostar and have a great day! -"

You will be pleased to know that I made it there and back in one piece and have taken the "safety card" as a momentum - I know it is a morbid outlook but hey it is funny.

So on my way, situated next to a young French girl; she greeted me in French and I greeted her in English and that is about as far as our romantic relationship went. After about 4 hours travelling and dozing on and off I arrive at Guad Nord Station - right in the heart of Paris.

Finally, meet Claire and head back to the hotel to check in and dump our gear and first thing on the agenda is to scale the Eiffel Tower, by the stairs mind you - yeah someone who has not exercised for 4 months. - great idea! So with all our gear for the evening into a day pack and the trustee "How to speak French like a dickhead guide" we are off. Down into the metro, purchase our tickets, put our stuff back in the bag and clip up the carabineer on the zip to avoid people getting stealing anything and down to the platform. Apologise to an old man who bumped into me and then board the train..... to discover my bag wide open and Claire's purse missing...... yep you got it - we got screwed over!

Now at this particular stage a number of emotions run through - for example:-

Anger - "I thought I said to you to clip the bag shut, because we would get pick pocketed"

Apologetic - "Oh you did didn't you, you even commented on what a great safety idea it was to have a rock climbing carabineer as makeshift lock"

Disbelief - Looking at the woman across from us "Does this happen a lot????" - "Wee"
Confusion - "So how the fuck did they get into my bag" "It had that super duper carabineer thing on it"

Realisation - "That guy who bumped into me, must have had a mate behind me and distracted me"

Appreciation - "Wow, that is pretty clever to do that in about 15 seconds"
Anger (again) - "That arsehole has 140 euro, visa cards and personal items"

So there you have it - robbed in broad daylight. Not even an hour into Paris and screwed over. Now normally, it would be a great opportunity to get angry and ranting and raving but what can you do? But in hindsight, it was pretty much out own fault. Should have turned off that neon side above our heads saying "Tourists here who have just been to a Cash Machine". The next plan of attack, well first of all was to get off the train and try and find a telephone to cancel the visa card - that would normally be easy in a country that spoke English. After 15 mins of trying to say "we have been robbed and need to find a police station" in crap French we headed back to the hotel and cancelled the visa by calling the Australian Visa Office.(a big thank you to my Mum who I raised out of bed to complete the task).

Conferring with the front desk they point us in the right direction of the Police station where we spend the next 90mins trying to explain the situation. After what seems a lifetime we are presented with a number of papers to sign. The catch; they are all in French - I have a feeling that Claire signed the UN Declaration to declare World War 3 on Iraq or it could have been a just a statement stating that her purse had got stolen - who knows! What a night - the plan of attack tomorrow get the hell out of Paris and go and see some of what France has to offer! On one of those really fast trains of course.

So 1st stop was to head out of Paris and head north to a little place known as Amiens. Very nice and taint little country side village, the train trip was pleasant and of course ran on time, off to the local tourist office and found a place to stay with a French family about 5 kms out of the main town. Quickly popping across to the local supermarket to invest in some snacks and wine, which back in Australia would be chocolate and chips, but in France need to do what the French do and enjoy the bread, cheese, olives, fruits and wine!!! Oh how the French make very crap wine but oh so cheap that it makes it drinkable.

Once we arrived and settled in, after a very hard conversation with the French owners. A decision was made to head out and find a bar and have a few beers. This proved to be harder then expected -the town we were staying at, having not only any pubs but not even a restaurant was open on a Saturday night. So back we head to consume goods we had invested our hard earned Euros into. Ahh cheap wine ...... and now about a 4 day growth!

Up early the next morning (Sunday) and a decision to head into town was made - being a Sunday and being out of Paris public transport is not so regular, with the sun shining we decide to walk the 6 km into town. Arriving into a town, we could have walked into a ghost town! Standing in the centre of the town stands a "Gothic Cathedral" which is larger than life (actually 2nd largest in Europe), very amazing sight! After wondering around and fighting the chilling winds which had blown in, we came to the realisation that the only thing open was the "Pub" - things could be worse. As we take shelter and the rains start to come down we start to think how are we going to get back and collect our gear. "We could hitch hike back" Claire says with a smirk. Hell why not, so exiting the warm shelter, we hit the rain and begin the walk... as we move out of the town and hit the main road Claire places her "virgin" thumb out, me being the resident expert (not) went into the poor hiker walk.. Now sure what the French saw from their warm cars, but it just look like two drowned rats walking along the road going nowhere fast. Success, within 10 minutes a car pulls across and we jump in - wet clothes and all. Ahhh the French are not too bad, within another 10 minutes we are back with our French family.

This perfect French family even drove us to the train station and as we left and as we departed a tear rolled down my eye - no not really just trying to put some drama into the scene. Said our goodbyes and back and organised our trip back to Paris, just missed the train. Heading back towards Paris Claire and I chatted about our plans of visiting Euro Disneyland, but with the rain pouring down and bitter cold biting at our necks an alternative spontaneous decision needed to be made! Lets get on another train and head out towards Sthn France!! Why the hell not.

Once we arrived back at the station we stood in a line to purchase some tickets to somewhere - looking at the timetable "Bordeaux" was the next place to visit. With a very rude man next to us who was just the stereotype Frenchman you can imagine, we came across ticket seller who spoke basic English and was fantastic in organinising our tickets and accommodation. 1st class tickets from Paris to Southern France... With about 2 hours to kill, Claire and I set out to pick up some more cheap wine and cheese. As we wondered the surrounding streets of Paris, the waft of Chinese food hit me - hmmm food. So quickly through the little market to pick up a bottle on wine, fruit and bread and then back down the street and the waft hit me again, "we have to get some for the trip" I said to Claire as my mouth drooled. Time check - we had time up our sleeves, no worries!!

Into the restaurant and greeted by the little Asian lady who wanted us to sit and enjoy her wonderful food, but after offending her by not sitting down and telling her that we had a train to catch in about 20 mins, there was only 12 mins left before the train took off. This was going to be close. Finally the bell rings and the piping hot Curry Chicken is ready, I grab it from the lady and run with "Merci" flying from my mouth,. Claire strategically had my pack positioned so I could run past and fling it onto my back we are off - wine, bread, fruit and Chinese food in hand! Geez, that food smells nice!

The sounds and sights of people in airports and train stations always amaze me. I laugh at the times when I am at an airport or even in the street and see people running down the aisle ways trying to get to their flights, or tripping over themselves to make a business appointment and I would always think "why do they leave everything to the last minute" and then at this moment food and pack in hand realisation hits - I AM ONE OF THEM! Onto platform 5 and jump onto the 1st class carriage - we made it, just by the skin of our teeth (do teeth have skin??) and we are off.

1st class travel is very very nice! All that needs to be said. As we get into our food and wine and begin our 4 hour train journey we start to take in the surroundings and people near us. Looks like a young couple have run away from Paris for the weekend, the sleeping business man across from us, the man with the dog walking up and down the aisle. As we drain off the bottle of red we purchased at the store, a trip to the bar is in hand to collect more wine and then once we drain that bottle off to the bar to purchase more - you get the picture. By the time we reach our destination at about 10pm we are ready to take on the world and as we exit the station straight across the road is a bar..... oh dear!

Next morning worse for wear, off to the tourist office to find out how we can see the best of Bordeaux in 5 hours, in short this was not going to be possible, especially not having a car to actually head out to the wineries with. So we spend the day in out of bakeries in the main town and walking through the parks and cobbled streets. By the time we had actually made our way to the town "siesta" time had kicked in and all the shops had closed - bad timing.

Working our way back to the train station and confirming our tickets, we again looked at our watches and confirm that we have time to pop down and have a coffee in a café. With Claire continuing her travels through Sthn France I would be returning home by myself with 4 hours to Paris then another 3 hours to London on the Eurostar, not sure how many kilometres I would rack up in the next 7 hours but I was ready for a snooze. As we sat and chatted and laughed about the past weekend, I glanced at my watch to see that time had flown away and my scheduled train was going to take off in 4 mins - Shit! Here we go again!..... With quick goodbyes and thanks I jump on the train and hike up through the carriages to find my seat. Toot Toot (trains really do not make that sound) and I am off!!

Just as I get comfortable to curl up and enjoy the trip, a young French stylish woman sits next to me "Bonjour" I manage to say without breaking my stare - "Bonjour Monsieur" she replies... 4 hours hmmm, who needs sleep!

Arriving home safely (French girl no where to be seen) I crash out and prepare myself for a normal routine week ahead in old London Town. Paris was not what I expected and will definitely head back their one weekend to give it another crack - will turn off the tourist sign above my head though.

Saying that I pleased to tell you all that you will continue to hear about my up and coming adventures (if you choose to read them of course) at the end of April 03 as I head towards Spain and catch up with the Parents (that is going to be interesting) and then off to Chicago, Dallas and Canada and then across to New York/Boston to return to London before jet setting off to Amsterdam for some serious relaxation! All in 5-6 weeks...

Take care and with the current situation with the war and all, please make sure you cancel that flight to Iraq...

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