Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paris - City of Lights and Strikes

We awaken and turn on the BBC. Their lead story? Tape of an empty Paris Metro station and the nationwide strike taking place that day. The strike was in support of French transit workers. They were upset that they would no longer be able to retire at 50. As my 50th birthday was 24 hours away and  I saw many long years of labor ahead of me I was somewhat unsympathetic to their cause.

We eat breakfast and, as advised, get to the train station early. The adorable young man from 2 days earlier is once again manning the information kiosk. Displaying our tickets we explain we are headed to Paris and want to make sure that all is well with our train. He looks at our tickets, then fixes his adorable eyes on us and says in adorably French accented English, "Oh, it is not a good day for that." He goes on to say the only real problem would be if we planned to return from Paris that day. We reply that, as we have a reservation for 2 nights in Paris that is not likely. He then directs us to the track our train will be departing from. As we left we did not employ the Belgian custom of kissing him on both cheeks, although the thought did cross our minds.

We were traveling on Eurorail passes. However, Brussels to Paris is a high speed train. This required us to make a reservation on the train and purchase an upgrade. The only thing available when we made the arrangements for this leg of the trip when we were in Amsterdam was first class. It did not cost that much more that 2nd class plus there were no other alternatives. Feeling very chic and worldly, we strode, heads held high, to the first class section of the train.

On the platform a group of official looking men were standing, heads together, deep in discussion. We produced our tickets and went aboard. As we settled ourselves in the plush seats one of the men who had been on the platform came through the train muttering to himself, "At least they found someone to conduct the train." This set our minds at ease.

We had been warned that half hour delays could be expected. Almost immediately the train began to move. I consulted my watch and realized that we were not on the train we had reservations for but on the train prior to that one. It had been delayed a half hour. We would not be arriving a half hour later in Paris, as we had been expecting, we would be arriving a half hour earlier. For the next hour and twenty minutes the charming Belgian crew waited on us hand and foot as we were virtually the only passengers in first class. We moved, at 120 miles an hour, through a rolling green landscape towards Paris.

Considering that all French public workers were on strike, the scene at the Paris train station when we arrived was remarkably orderly. Standing in line we were in a cab inside of 20 minutes. We had reservations at a small hotel carved out of a former Prince's home on Rue Monsieur de la Prince, or Street of the Princes. Familiar with the location the English speaking driver started off through the streets of the city. Crossing a bridge my partner caught his first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. He began to bounce around in the back seat of the cab like a little kid yelling "There it is, there it is!"

We were shortly dropped off on a narrow street lined with beautiful yet elegantly restrained facades. Entering the tiny lobby of our hotel the desk attendant checked us in and informed us that the hotel possessed "The world's smallest lift." I have been in phone booths that were larger. Stacking our luggage in it I ran up to the second floor, where our room was located, to retrieve it, then sent it back down to retrieve my partner. Our room was on the same diminutive scale as the lift. Speaking to other people since we have learned that many hotel rooms in Paris are "modest" size wise. A generous, by comparison, window opened onto an air shaft. Street view rooms were outrageously expensive. By the skillful positioning of our luggage we were able to create a space we could maneuver in, as long as we didn't intend to maneuver excessively.

Returning downstairs and exiting the hotel we started off to explore Paris.

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