A travel morning
We’re up bright and early because I am taking Christina to Gatwick airport for a morning flight to DFW, while Mom and Kaitlyn are going ahead to Paris. We all take the trusty tube again to Waterloo station where Mom and Kaitlyn catch the EuroStar. Christina and I plan to take a so-called Black cab (it’s brown, really) to Gatwick, but the cabbie we manage to hail kindly suggests an alternative. Rather than pay his £90 fare, fight traffic, and possibly miss the flight, we should instead ride 5 minutes with him to Victoria station and catch the Gatwick Express train. The train costs only £15 a ticket and arrives a prompt 40 minutes later. We take his advice, go to Victoria, catch the train, and arrive at Gatwick just in time. Luckily there is no wait at the check-in counter at the airport.
Meanwhile Mom and Kaitlyn are speedily heading to Paris first class. When they arrive at Gare du Nord station, mom trips and her face has a nasty encounter with the floor. A kind traveller helps her up and fortunately he’s German and can communicate with her. Mom’s poor face has some cuts and her nose is bleeding, but she is okay. Mom and Kaitlyn take a taxi to the hotel and the driver gives them a scenic tour of Paris along the way. They arrive at the hotel and wait for me.
Back in London, I make my way to Waterloo station via the Express and have a couple of hours before my train leaves. Check out this coffee shop I discover at the station. It’s the same company that serves us coffee at IBM in San Jose, and the coffee tastes exactly the same. The train ride is fast and smooth. It’s so smooth that it doesn’t feel at all like you’re zooming along at over 150 mph.
I make it to Paris and choose to take the Metro so that I can get used to the system. “Pardon, parlais vous anglais?” “oui.” “Which way to La Chapelle station?” I get hand gestures and directions in French. So much for “oui.” But hey, it’s his country, so I’m not complaining.. just laughing inside. I instead get bearings from looking at the map and head to the metro station a few blocks away. It’s a pretty run down part of town with residents of Indian ethnicity. It seems safe, though, with kids running in the streets. At the station, it is difficult to determine which kind of ticket to buy (after I stock up on Euros from the handy ATM, of course). Again, not many are willing to help me through their broken English and the four or five simple French phrases I know. Finally a lady tells me that most all of Paris is within zones 1-2, so I get the ticket. Now to decipher the map; a man helps me understand that each line has a number. That isn’t the hard part. Determining the shortest route is, because the layout and directions of the routes seem more criss-crossed than London’s.
I end up taking three separate trains, with my heavy luggage at ~17:00 during rush hour. Mom and Kaitlyn wait about an hour and a half longer than they would have had I taken a cab, I’m sure. But at least I now know how the Metro works. It’s almost as good as the London Underground, but the trains aren’t as frequent (5-10 minute wait, rather than 1-3 minutes) and most of the trains are old. You have to open the door yourself to exit, too. Quite strange. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The schedule is better than any US subway system I know of.
We eat at a decent yuppy restaurant on Rue du Champs de Mars, just north of the hotel. Mom has a good soup, I have fish, and Kaitlyn has green beans and thinly sliced smoked ham. I think we eat sliced smoked ham more than anything else on this trip, in fact.
After dinner we go to the Eiffel tower. Even though I’ve seen it before, I’m actually moved. It’s beautiful when it’s all lit up at night. And, at the top of every hour it sparkles with thousands of little lights for about 5 minutes. Many vendors approach to sell little models of the thing. We finally break down and get one after talking him down a bit and getting him to throw in a few key chains, too. We then go to the very top of the tower. I’d recommend going just to the second level when the weather is hazy because you don’t see much more from the top, and the wait for the elevator to the top is long, both up and down. But we can say that we did it!