France (Part 1/5) – Paris
16th May 2007
Finished up at work at 5pm and proceeded to head back to the apartment to drop off my laptops and finalize some packing. By the time I got to Amsterdam Schiphol airport it was time to check in my bags with no queues whatsoever. The only queue is through security checking which takes a while as there are constantly so many travelers.
I was flying with Vueling which is a Spanish airline and it just so happens that my flights were the first to Paris from Amsterdam. Since this route is new the desk assistant handed me a 10 Euro voucher to buy anything I wanted in the Duty Free shops. I think I may use it to purchase another Lonely Planet guide and continue to build my collection.
Whilst boarding the plane to Paris the air hostess handed everyone yellow flowers and also took some photos. I don’t know what the occasion is for these flowers but it is no use for me so I threw it in the cabin luggage not to be seen again. On the plane I was greeted by many Bonsoir’s despite the air hostess’ being Spanish. The plane was rather empty which was a surprise as usually these planes were packed like sardines.
Flight was really quick around the 45min mark. I expected Paris airport to be quite sophisticated, modern and very sleek but instead it was this crappy old airport with not many shops, not many people nor was the place very big. What a disappointing airport despite its locality. I guess the French enjoy their trains more than their planes.
It’s not easy to get out of Paris CDG airport; it is quite confusing in fact. If you arrive between the hours of 9-5 there is an Air France bus service which takes you to the heart of Paris at various train locations. Train services only run until midnight so if you happened to miss those trains you are pretty much stuck with the expensive taxi. Once you get your bag you need to take the lift downstairs to get the tram. The tram then takes you to the trains and the trains will take you to Paris itself.
From the airport the train goes to Gare Du Nord then it snakes its way down to Chatelle Les Halles where I got a connecting train to Gare De Lyon. I wanted to be close to Gare De Lyon because the train to Marseille leaves from here. I had no problems getting the connecting trains as they were on opposite lanes. To determine if a train does go to a specific station, just look at the sign and see if the marker usually white or orange at night is marked against your station. If it is then it will be going to stop there.
The TGV trains are very easy to find and board as those are the main trains that link city to city all over France and also internationally around Europe. The metro and RER network are quite complicated the first time you see it but once you know what’s going on, it’s quite easy to navigate. When I first arrived to Gare De Lyon you don’t understand how confusing it was. It was like a labyrinth with signs pointing to go in different locations depending on the number.
I had no idea what was going on and it took me some time to work out how to escape this maze. I understand how a mice being place in a maze has to go through to find that piece of cheese but for me I was trying to find the damn exit. You’d think that the maze is only on one level but in fact it goes up to three or four different levels. Pac-man would have loved this kind of environment. There is no clear exit, it just says “sortie” which I assume means exit and it’s blocked by these metallic doors. Once you enter that zone, it magically opens and then you take in a sigh of relief as freedom is for you to take.
I arrived outside of Gare De Lyon at 11.30pm and the next challenge was to find the hotel. It should have taken me about 10-15mins but it ended up being an hr or so which is not surprising. I was walking through narrow streets with dim lights. Not a soul was in sight and with the gear that I had on me; I could have been easily robbed. Well not that easy, I would have put up a fight at least. By the end of the walk my t-shirt was soaked from all the perspiration.
I drew maps and wrote down instructions inside my travel book yet I couldn’t find that illusive hotel. I was clearly going the right way but on the street where the hotel was supposed to be, I just couldn’t find it. It turns out I walked up and down the street a few times passing the place when it was just sitting on the corner when you first enter the street.
The hotel looked great on the outside but inside where the stairs are need a bit of work. They look like they are going to break some time soon. The room itself is adequate with a queen size bed, television with all but French content (I’m in France after all, what was I thinking?) and shower. That’s all I need.