Monday, August 10, 2009

Paris Day 9 : A wandering lone trail from St Lazare to Bibliotheque National And Then Disaster Yet Beauty Getting Home - Friday

My class on writing shorter titles and summaries begins Thursday.

A Summary of the Easy, Non Disaster Part of Friday

Lara was tired and needed a rest day, so I headed into Paris alone
with her transit pass. I lost my pass some time after boarding the
Vethueil bus Thursday evening. This drove me crazy as I looked and
relooked for it. I wouldn't call somebody else stupid for losing his
pass, but I felt stupid. It was an electronic card, so replacing
should be as simple as showing the receipt for the pass and paying for
a new electronic card. Not in France. I wasn't supposed to use Lara's
pass, but it seemed fair enough. For Saturday, when we would both
travel, I had to buy a $20 card. Ouch. Thank goodness it was the end
of the week (Carte Orange week passes run from Monday to Sunday,
regardless of when you buy it, which exactly visitor friendly if you
roll into town on a Thursday).

To cheer myself up, I made a ten mile or so round trip, walking
underground through statiob but not using the metro and RER(I had been
curious to try this for a while after seeing it on the map). Then came
walking in circles around the Opera building to figure out the airport
bus stop, riding on a city bus, walking again along the "beach" on the
Seine, lunching, taking another bus to the library, browsing and
admiring the architecture of the library, taking the same bus back to
a stop that was named the same but was really 1/3 mile away,
unsuccessfully attempting to rent a bike with my nonmicrochipped
credit card, flirting with taking the subway, and yet taking another
bus to Gare Saint Lazare.

The summary sounded like the details, but here are some more:

The library is several blocks around with four L-shaped buildings
facing each other, like open books. It has a large foreign periodical
section, with several English magazines and periodicals. It has a
small forest of tree in the middle of the L's.

I am not sure why I am writing so much about logistics. I think it
makes me more comfortable in a city as I explore it and understand it.

The buses are generally very nicely labeled in Paris. The route number
appears on all sides and a list of stops appears on the sides (genius
idea - on most buses you just get the terminal stop on the front). On
the inside is a digital display estimating the time to the terminal
station. Some buses display the next stop. At some bus stops, a
display shows the next two bus arrival times. These improvements all
bring more of the convenience and undertstandability of the subway to
the bus system.

I took the No 24 bus from Gare d' Austerlitz/Jardin des Plantes to
Gare Saint Lazare. It turned out to be very scenic, passing Notre
Dame, Left Bank, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, the
National Assembly, and an important looking building with a 20 foot
high head out front. L found another scenic bus that was on the other
side of the Seine, the No 69, but we ran out of time to tour on it.

This all happened fluidly without much planning. Walk, catch a bus,
look around, catch another bus. Buses and metros keep coming, so there
are always lots of options.

A Summary of the Disaster Part of Friday:

What happened next, concerning the suburban rail and bus lines, was
not fluid. It was a mini disaster. I waited 30 minutes for the train
to leave because of a computer glitch, the train traveled more slowly
than normal, I missed the last bus, I took another bus a mile or so,
and then I walked for 2.5 hours. I walked through areas with no open
stores or potable water, but the views were wonderful.

Taxi averted. That is, $40 taxi averted.

Details of the Disaster:
Back to the scenic 24 bus.
The display on the bus showed we were scheduled to arrive at 6:13. An
expres train leaves at 6:13. Maybe, I could make it. Running up the
stairs, I immediately looked up to the schedule board to see which
track to check. But it was blank. So was the next and the next. All 25
platform monitors and all 5 big boards were down. The whole system had
crashed. The station headed toward impassability as passengers entered
the station without heading onto the proper platforms to board the
right trains because no one knew the proper platform.

I headed for platform 25, in the Grand Lignes section of the building,
because the evening express trains are national trains first making a
stop at Mantes Jolie. Very fortunately, there was a conductor who
could tell me in English. I can't even tell what a number in French
sounds like because to me, it all runs together, and also I didn't
know there was a track 27. I started getting nervous as 6:13 turned
into 6:40.

I waited on board the 6:13 or 6:38 train (not sure which, more on that
later, but both should have left at least 20 minutes to catch the LAST
bus to Vetheuil). The late departure meant people kept flooding onto
the train.

I don't know if the display system was up by the time we left. With a
35 hour work week and 5 weeks of vacation, there is a good chance that
at 6 pm on a Friday, the employee who knows how to fix the problem is
on the Meditteranean coast.

The train left at 6:45, still enough time to catch the 7:30 bus out.
For some reason, the express train took 45 minutes instead of the
usual 35 minutes. Uh-oh!

The crush of people exiting onto a narrow platform with one exit meant
I didn't make it to the bus stop until 7:35. A woman was also waiting
at the stop. She spoke a little English and was also going to Vethuil.
We hoped the last bus was running late. At 7:50, she mentioned a taxi.
I asked her if she wanted to split a taxi. She shook her hand and said
maybe. Unfortunately, as an unescorted male, I am a potential
predator, so I didn't blame her.

I rushed to the Internet café and searched for other buses and
schedules. I didn't come up with anything. I rushed back to the train
station and looked for posted bus schedules. There are several stops
along a two block area, so I ran around comparing options. Most buses
stopped running by 8 PM. One bus, the number 50 (maybe, there were so
many options) seemed like it might get me a couple of kilometers
closer home, to Limay. I called Lara to let her know what was going on
and that I would be there at 10 instead of before 8. I didn't want to
take a taxi because I had already spent $20 on my lost bus pass. Night
rates start at 7 pm, so the taxi would cost $40.

It seemed from the schedule that the bus might even take me 5 km of
the 10 km trip. But that was not to be. The terminal stop was in
Limay. It had a suburban feel, with houses spaced apart with maybe a
1/4 of an acre each. I was not in the country, so I wasn't close to

A friendly man at the bus stop saw me fumbling with the GPS and asked
me where I was going. I showed him the map, and he was very concerned
for me. I told him it would just be a long walk.

So let's see the countryside!

It turned out the scenery quickly turns into a beautiful rural area
with rolling hills and sometimes a view of the midrise buildings of
Mantes Jolie in the background. I saw only 20 or 30 cars in a two hour
period on several miles of roads. There were harvested fields, some
pasture land, and two small towns. Unfortunately, there were a few
constraints to the walk:
-Fading daylight makes for wonderful views, comparable to the Spain
oceanside setting sun, but bodes for dark walking in rural areas
-Hunger and thirst (more below)
-GPS battery power. After a day of adventure, the battery wants to be
recharged. I turned it off during long stretches without turns to
conserve power.

Perhaps the French are more private than Americans. In any case, they
like to wall or gate or hedge off their entire yards. In suburban
America, I could walk up to the side of a house, turn on the spicket,
and fill my bottle with 2 cents of water. I'll admit it would be
weird, but when you haven't had any water in 4 hours and you are
facing another 2 hours of walking, weird will do. But not here. At
some point, I thought of offering someone in a house a couple of Euros
for a Coke or just tap water, but weird, lone possible predator male,
foreigner considerations made me reconsider. But I was tempted as I
saw people eating in the few houses I passed. I'm normal, just hungry,
really! The size of my belly speaks the truth - I had a lot of
reserves, so it wasn't really a problem.

The GPS led me down a road sounding roughly like ancient road to Saint
Martin. And it turned out to be ancient. It was walkable and without
interfering cars because most because most cars couldn't. I saw a
calf feeding from its mother, who looked at me suspiciously. The sun
was setting across the fields. Again it was a series of scenes that's
hard to capture in words or photos. The center of Paris is great and
full of things to do, but a little trip west on the Seine is
unforgettable too.

I made it to St. Martin around 9:30 pm (the town we explored our first
Sunday here). I called Lara again on the first payphone in a couple of
hours. The store there wasn't open. The GPS battery ran empty, but I
was on the road to Vetheuil by then. At 10 pm, I could see the church
next to the house and hear the last ring of the day. At about 10:30,
my roughly planned and completely unplanned adventures, both
worthwhile, came to an end as I climbed the stairs and sav the red
shutters. Lara stuffed me with three crepes. I returned a call to my
parents, who had called earlier, only to hear from Lara that their son
was roaming the French countryside alone in the dark.

I can use some rest. I guess that's what home is for.


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