I lost my apple in Paris

Bound from Bonnes to beyond Beaune

Every aspect of the alarm clock had been double-checked.

Turned it off and had another half hour snooze, then all systems go.

Things into suitcases (GPS at the very bottom), check money, camera, information about where I was going, cupboards, drawers, under beds...all set.

Early cup of tea with the dogs.


Lovely farewell breakfast and hugs all ‘round and I stepped into my car for the last time. I sincerely hoped.

I would hand it in at Augouleme then take the train to Chagny, beyond Beaune south east of Paris.

The road to Angouleme where I was to catch the train was “dead easy”. I didn’t like the sound of that.

I got the first bit. Then went through a village which confused me and I thought I’d missed a turn, so doubled back (I’m getting very good at that), realised I had been on the right road after all and resumed the journey. It seems I expect something to go wrong to the point that I don’t recognise when everything is actually going to plan.

The roads got flatter and straighter and wider and the signs I needed were usually there. Sometimes they were placed on the other side of a roundabout or intersection where you could only see them if you knew that was the way you were going and therefore turned your head in that direction, which seemed a bit redundant to me, but I managed each roundabout with only one circuit, unlike my early days of driving here.

Suddenly the little signs to the railway (SNCF) weren’t there any more, and I wondered how people were meant to know when they’d actually arrived at the station. I’d actually arrived at the station. Spotted the car hire place, found an intersection to make a turn, and found a park right outside their front door. PHEW!!!!!!!!!

Cleverly, as I’d returned the car a week early, I used the extra time to leave my bags in the boot (trunk) (coffre) and go across the road to the railway station, use their toilet, and print out my tickets.

I had on one previous occasion run into a French railway toilet so I approached this one with a casual air. It was cheaper than the last one (30 centimes rather than 50) and the space inside was bigger. Money into the machine, electronic clunking sound, door unlocks. Step inside. Close door...no lock or handle...electronic clunking sound and you are committed. This time, however, I was finally face to face with the notorious hole-in-the ground toilet. I had met their kind before in other countries, but was fascinated to finally confront the French species. Obviously designed by a man. I have to give it to the French, though, they’re very hygienic. The instant the door locked, the water started running to wash your hands. Unlike the previous pay-to-pee unit, this one didn’t say exactly how long one had before it automatically hosed itself out. In any event, there isn’t enough time for germs to do anything untoward as you either don’t make physical contact with anything in these getups, or you are so afraid of being hosed down you are out of there as fast as you can. If only there were a way out. Ah yes, press the button...electronic clunking sound, you are released.

I had a wonderful day!

Whereas cars are designed to prevent you from making contact with others, rail and bus travel require you to use your French and wink and nod knowingly to fellow passengers as we silently comment on that idiot standing in the doorway of the jam packed bus blocking passengers from getting on and off, and watch the little French woman mutter under her breath about him, then make comments as she alights which he responds rudely to, for which other passengers admonish him. Finally a woman getting on tells him to move and he does. The rest of us nod and wink at each other.

I got my tickets out of a self-serve machine at the Angouleme station, with the help of a SNCF staff member who spoke English while I persevered with my French. I suppose it was more important for me to understand her.

I composted my ticket (see an earlier train voyage episode).

One may wonder why French stations are filled with people standing and sitting silently, gazing up at a central screen, then suddenly they’re on the move, streams of them flowing quickly in several different directions passing through each other like bagpipers in a military tattoo. On the screen is a list of all of the trains, but you don’t know which platform yours is on until the sign flickers and there it is. Then you have 20 minutes to get to your seat. If you’re smart, you’ve already sussed out where the various platforms might be. Once you’ve found your TGV platform (they don’t believe in elevators and escalators at stations for the most part..silly of one to have luggage ) you find another little screen with the “composition” of the train. If you’re in car 11, the little picture of the train will have car 11 under area “F”. You look up and along the platform and find the sign saying “F”, then go and stand under it. You feel smug that your spot is out in the first bit of sun you’ve seen that day and not under the sheltered bit. Then it rains.

The TGV (very fast train) pulls in and it isn’t car 11 but car 12 in front of you. This is my first TGV. Remembering how the subway in Russia takes one breath then pelts off at breakneck speed, and visualising ending up in a pile at the back of the train with the other tardy passengers who weren’t in their seats when the TGV left, like that stuff at the bottom of the fridge, I was a bit panicky and enlisted help. Some young fellows helped me stow my bag. I was in seat 14, but the seats seemed to go down to 32 and stopped. No, there was a small compartment at the front with what amounted to a couch running around the walls, and a large young man theatrically asleep in my place.

I took the seat beside him and tried to like it better.

French trains are very silent. People on the trains are very silent.

I prepared myself for the explosive lurch into motion.

The TGV politely began to glide forward, cautiously picked its way through the outskirts of Paris, then when it was sure we were all ready, gathered momentum and got down to the task of putting the French countryside behind it as fast as it possibly could.

I couldn’t see much because the strip of window at the top revealed the sky, the strip at the bottom revealed the bushes and banks just beside the train, and there was no strip in between which would have contained all of the villages, agriculture, geography, topography and other useful bits. I can report, however, that the clouds between Angouleme and Paris are lovely.

The train arrived at Paris Montparnasse station (Gare) , I caught the aforementioned overcrowded bus to Gare de Lyon and in so doing learned how buses work, and was delighted to pass through Paris again, a city which reminds me of Saint Petersburg in Russia. Seeing St Petersburg before Paris is like seeing the movie before reading the book. St Petersburg was built by one of the “Great”s, Peter. I don’t know how Great he was compared to Alexander . Presumably Catherine, being a woman, had to be extra Great . Anyway, he thought he could make better use of the space than the Finnish so he put St Petersburg there.

First he travelled about Europe incignito, learning architecture and shipbuilding, posing as an apprentice in order to learn from the ground (or seabed) up. Of course, being about 7 feet tall, speaking Russian, being highly educated and having Russian noblemen with him, it’s probable he was the only one who thought he was fooling anybody.

He was very excited by Europe and built St Petersburg to be a picture European city, Like Paris.

Outside Gare de Lyon.......

Gare de Lyon.....

Another TGV, a change at Dijon where I decided to get some fresh air but had to retreat back into the station due to the cloud of smoke outside...a LOT of people in France smoke, and they spread out when they go outside for a cigarette, presumably in consideration for one another’s health.

Smaller train but equally determined to get us there to Chagny, met by my host, into my new abode, and a glass of wine at my next kitchen table.

I have learned that I MUCH prefer to travel any way than by car, because then I actually get to learn so much and have to talk to people, and I LOVE people-watching. Paris is full of different people- like the monk with a coat over his robes, sandles, a monkish haircut, and a briefcase. I wondered what was in it...a quill pen, stone jar of ink and maybe some gold leaf? The man with the most stunning solid dark comb-over I’ve ever seen that stopped exactly halfway back- when he looks in the mirror it looks like he has hair. I wonder if he’s ever seen the back. Maybe he doesn’t care. Stiletto heels, leather jackets, Japanese tourists, suave older men, rollerbladers, scooters, poodles, so much to enjoy.

Tomorrow I get on a bicycle.

Oh, I bought some food in Paris between trains. It was in a bag. I hung the bag from the handle of my rolling suitcase. When I arrived at my new abode and dived for my apple and sandwich, there was a hole in the bag from running along the ground, some centimeters of the sandwich had been ground off, and my apple is lost in Paris.