This is our great train experience and what we learned as first time train traveler’s in France and which is well understood by every school child I’m sure, but for us a challenge. This only applies to the main train depot in Paris which is our sole experience in train travel. We had our tickets purchased before we left the U.S. for the TGV train from Paris to La Rochelle. When we got to the station our driver showed us the small yellow colored devices located near elevators and stairs that we were to insert our ticket into to confirm our ability to travel by an imprint. We kept the ticket and located the very large sign with the names of the places the train traveled to and departure times. There are a number of departure locations for the trains that are clearly marked. The board gives the correct location for your train, but not until shortly before it departs so you have to monitor the board. There is a small waiting room and you wait until it is close to departure to check the board – no announcements were made.
We managed to get to the right area for our train which arrived. We were first class and we had an assigned car number and seat number. This is when we had our problem. I couldn’t find any number for the cars. The cars were labeled with a large number one and number two, but that referred to first and second class. We made the mistake of assuming first class would be towards the front and decided to get on and walk to our car inside the train because we knew it pulled out on time and were afraid it would leave if we were searching outside. That was a big mistake because we were in car twenty and our car was eleven which meant we were at the front of the train and our car was at the end of the train. We knew that because we could see the car numbers inside the car. These are very long cars and narrow aisles like an airplane with people walking both ways. With difficulty we pulled our roll along bags down the aisle, over the feet and belongings of angry French people a very long way to our car way at the end of the train.
The seat numbers are well marked and when we got to ours two middle aged French women were sitting in them. Lita, who speaks conversational French pointed that out to one of them who argued sonmething back in French. They didn't want to move. The wonman then switched to English saying something about having changed seats and didn’t we want the two seats up front? I was responding with “Madame, you are in our seats and we want them” to everything she said. I was prepared to forcibly remove them after the ordeal of hauling our luggage the length of the train. She saw she was not going to convince either one of us so they reluctantly gathered their things and moved to the two seats she wanted us to take. Later we figured out what she was saying. Their seats faced the rear of the train and her friend became ill traveling that way so they wanted us to take those seats instead. My reaction to that aftere we figured it out, was if we are “ugly Americans” to Europeans, the are “push to the front of the line” to me. I can’t imagine my sitting in someone else’s first class seat and when they arrived argue they should sit elsewhere because I liked their seats better.
By the way, while cars have huge letters for first and second class, there is a very small box about the size of a tissue box located near the entry door with a dark screen and numbers so small you must be within a foot to read which have the car numbers. Now we know where to look.
Chanel clothes have been fashionable for many years. Since 1983 Karl Langerfield has been the chief designer of Chanel’s fashion house. The day we left Paris was the first day of their city wide fashion show week. I was in a book store very close to our hotel the day we left when I was startled by the appearance of a man dressed in black leather, his white hair in a pony tail and black fingerless clothes with studded diamonds on the knuckles. Since he looked over eighty, even though he wore black semi high heeled leather shoes, I figured he wasn’t a Harley biker. It was, in fact, Karl Langerfield whose photo was on designer books for sale at the store. That’s my sole celebrity sighting in all of Paris to report to you.
So, where are we? Well, our three hour train ride on a very comfortable, fast train dropped us off at La Rochelle. This is a city in Western France on the Atlantic ocean. It is located between Nante and Bordeaux and is a favorite tourist spot. It is some 250 miles from Paris. There is a 1.8 mile long bridge connecting it to Ile de Re and island on the strait, which was our destination. The taxi ride from the train depot to our hotel was thirty minutes with a very friendly woman who spoke only French. The island is completely flat connected to the mainland by this bridge. It’s winter population of 20,000 residents swells to 220,000 when the tourists arrive. Bicycle trails are everywhere and that is a popular way of getting around.
We are staying at the Hotel de Toiras, a wonderful 17th century looking building. Our large room faces the harbor full of small boats. The hotel has modern amenities and the hotel restaurant, we ate in last night, is small, but with excellent food as well as service. They say that if we wanted to become involved in the food selection, the hotel will provide a wicker basket for you to take to the local market for the chef. We are looking forward to looking around, traveling to nearby beautiful La Flotte as well as La Rochelle.
I have one last story about our travels to date my wife does not want me to report. Last night she was very tired and took something to help her sleep. In the middle of the night I heard the room door, which was unlocked, close and found her walking back into our room. She was awake by then, but had walked in her sleep. The next morning she was very embarrassed to tell me she had walked in hger sleep & walked out our room door, in the nude. She had opened the unlocked door of the room directly across from ours. She woke up to realize she was facing a bald, older man, in bed reading who first looked startled and then very pleased to see her as if he had been given a prize. At which point she was fully awake and blutered “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m in the wrong room.” To which, she said, he said in French “Wait.” But, she rushed back to our room. So, she says she is going to wear a wig for fear she will meet him today and has sworn off sleep medication.
More reports to follow