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Tigres de Voyage

May 17, 2002
Friday

Train to Paris (Day 1 of 4)

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Mont St Michel - Rennes

Train to Paris - Gare Montparnasse

Renaissance Grande Arche

Notre Dame, Dinner on the Seine

Day 06 Return to Main Page Day 08

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Mont St Michel - Rennes

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Dave:  Morning came early, after I stayed up until 2am cropping, assembling and uploading pictures for Lyn to see. I had caught up all the way through dinner last night, and my reward was her 6am wake-up call. We needed to be Rennes for the early train (10am), and it was over an hour away from Mt Saint Michel, so she stayed up late and called us at 6am (midnight in the USA). She gushed about the pictures, and we laughed and told stories. I can sleep when I get home.

By the way, she laughed about the pictures of the famous island cathedral from our hotel room, and how the large green recycling bin sorta overshadowed everything else. After we hung up, I looked at the pictures and laughed, too. Then I had Jesse lean his head out (strategically) and took these much improved these pictures

Mont Saint Michal from our balcony

Mont Saint Michel from our balcony

Jesse and Mont Saint Michal from our balcony

Jesse and Mont Saint Michel
from our room balcony

Our hotel, Hotel La Digue was Fantastic and I heartily recommend it to you if you are visiting Mt Saint Michel. It is on the "land side" of the causeway, just two doors down. It was clean and modern and, at this time of year, relatively inexpensive. Of course, the telephone system was modern, which had allowed us to upload our pictures to the web site for Lyn. Morning Live!While we were dressing and packing this morning, we again left on Channel 6 and the "Morning Live" show. Even though it was entirely in French, we were each starting to pick our "favorite" personalities, and follow the "Loft Story"

We dressed and showered and packed, having left our clothes out last night in "fireman mode" to make a quick start for Rennes. We actually found ourselves ready too quickly, and had a few minutes to spare. The checkout was unfortunate, as the morning desk person was a lovely middle aged woman that chattered in French and was aghast (actually ashen) when we spoke our familiar "English with a few French words thrown in" (She held up her hand, and ran from the room to get a delightful young man who spoke English for us). I pointed out to Jesse that she then actually hid in a nearby closet, missing the opportunity to be a goodwill ambassador to us for both her country and her employer. Oh well.

Hotel La Digue in Mont St Michel

Jesse, with our teeny-tiny Euro-Beds

Hotel La Digue in Mont St Michel

A great room with a great view of the famous church

Hotel La Digue in Mont St Michel

Hotel La Digue in Mont St Michel

A delightful little hotel
Our noisy little car bids adieu

Jus De Pommes / Jus D'OrangeDave: The Drive to Rennes was nice, along back country two lane "blue highways". I had captured key GPS points for our trip the night before, and had good notes ready, so it was a piece of cake to drop ourselves right at the Rennes train station. Since we skipped the breakfast at the hotel, we stopped at a bakery along the way (of course). We finally stopped for fuel in Rennes, and picked up another "Jus d'Orange" and "Jus De Pommes", the elixir that kept us going across this entire trip.

The Hertz office in Rennes was completely stupid, so sad after having such a delightful experience picking up the car in Caen. There were no signs or directions, causing us to circle the station a couple times and eventually make an illegal left turn into the barely marked parking lot. Once in, there were no directions where to drive or where to park, in French, English or Euro symbols. We drove into a garage area (marked Hertz), parked the car and got out, but could find not a soul and not a sign. We took a few minutes and organized our luggage and papers, then got back in and circled the lot two more times before finally guessing that the office must be near the train ticket area. We finally just parked the car and follow the typical directions from the USA (note mileage, fuel, etc). When we gave the ticket agent our pack and keys, with the spot number written on it, there was no effort on her part to organize the transaction or be helpful or even courteous. We wanted to explain about the bad muffler ("silencier") and eventually held up the note that the taxi driver in Caen had written for us ("j'Bruit Echappement"). She read it and simply couldn't care less. So what? Who cares? So we headed off into the train station.

Rennes, France from the train station

Panorama of Rennes, France from the train station entrance

Dave: The station was efficient and a large schedule board showed 4 trains departing for Paris in about 45 minutes time. The station also had a few small restaurants and a bakery and we had almost an hour to kill and our Eurail passes were in our pocket. We decided to get a "plat du jour" at a small creperie, was told to seat ourselves, then were completely ignored for five full minutes. (How French!) Well, that wasn't going to work. So we repacked up our stuff and stepped out, and walked about the station a little. We bought a couple of "sandwiche d'ligne" and "Pomme Tarte" instead. While we cooled our jets, waiting for the trains to arrive, we read the many French signs including the one explaining that tracks would be identified 20 minutes before departure. Nothing else for us to do.

We decided to make small talk with the guy in the ticket window. Why four trains to Paris? One from Brest, one from Cherborg, etc, etc. What a delight. "Ah, Rennes est Centraal, oui?" I said. In passing I showed him our Eurail pass and asked which train he would advice us to "walk on", like we did for Paris to Caen and Brussels to Brugge. His eyes went wide. "Reservation Required" he gasped and pointed us off to the Ticket Booth ("Billeterie") area. Thank God we had made small talk! This problem was specifically addressed in Rick Steve's book, but to this day I don't know when a reservation is and is not required, or even how to tell.

We waited in line for a reservation clerk, as one window closed for break and two other clerks chatted idly in a corner. The line was not moving and I started to panic, watching precious minutes tick away with the trains due to leave very soon. Jesse was confident that Frenchmen knew how to procrastinate and dally, but then rise to meet the daily train schedule. And he was exactly right. We got a very nice man, and I did my "goodwill Ambassador" French routine. Asking first if he spoke English (as always "a little"). "Deux, Par-ee, Eurail, Oops he-he sans reservation". Fumar? "No, Sans Fumar, merci, j'idiot, he-he". He smiled with just a small twinkle in his eye.

He typed, then he made a face, then he typed, and typed some more, much furrowing, then typing. Eventually "Six Euros Please" (I had exact change) and one ticket size card in return. "What? Deux Reservation? Pardon?" "Ok, ok, zis train, zis car, zees seats. "Merci, Merci Beaucoup Monsiur", and a "Bon Voyage" back to us.

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Train to Paris - Gare Montparnasse

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Dave: As we found our train and car, it became obvious what took our agent so long to do. Of the four trains heading to Paris, he had found us one with two facing seats (in a four seat compartment), non-smoking, first class, and on the window. Then he kept the other two seats vacant. As we arrived, a Frenchman was sitting there, but he stood and moved to his assigned seat (on the one-side of the aisle). As soon as the door closed, he grabbed his papers and sat himself in the empty compartment next to ours. We did our "Big Loud Americans" act, just in case somebody might want to try squatters rights in our adjacent empty chairs. This is where we talk loudly in English and tell each other jokes, laughing and snorting loudly with a lot of arm gestures and shoulder punches, noogies, etc. Don't know if this routine actually keeps Frenchmen away, but we certainly had empty seats on each of our 5 journeys, so why doubt it?

We took pictures and read a little, and had our "Tarte d'Pomme" and "Tarte d'Raisson" breakfast treat. Jesse crashed sound asleep first, and I uploaded pictures and wrote web stories until the laptop battery gave out. Eventually I fell asleep, too, and when I awoke, we had our "sandwich d'ligne" lunch. Finally, with a half hour to go to the station, we organized our luggage for the forthcoming trip through the Paris Metro, packing the drained laptop into the locked rolly bag, confident that we knew the routine this time.

We arrived in the station and let the scurrying Frenchmen off first, then snapped a couple pictures of the station, the trains, each other. We confidently made our way to the attached metro station, first pausing to step outside to see and capture the front of the station. Gare Montparnasse is a 1970's glass palace, very near "Tour Montparnasse" an ugly 60+ story office tower equally dated and equally ugly. For a town filled with French provincial and gaudy historic architecture, whoever did Montparnasse should have had to face exile to Elba. But hey, I'm an American, what do I know?

With metro tickets from last time, we simply headed for the subway platform.

Jesse on the train platform in Rennes

Jesse doing his "Big Loud American" act at the station.

Got up too early, I'm ready for my nap

The glass facade of Gare Montparnasse, which we passed through going to our hotel

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Renaissance Paris - La Grande Arche - La Defense

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La Grande ArcheJesse: We headed back into the Gare Montparnasse and down the escalators to the metro. We got a plan together at a metro map, realizing we would need to make at least two line changes to make it to La Defense. We waited for our train and remained on high alert. Two big Americans rolling suitcases behind them would be a good target. The trip took a while, but we were glad to rest our feet and ears between the long up-and-down treks between lines and the constant clacking of our luggage on the ground.

La Grande ArcheWe reached La Defense only to discover that the plaza above, as well as the underground metro station, were truly huge in size. There were over 6 possible exits to the plaza above. We wandered around the station hoping to find a map, to locate both the best exit as well as our hotel. We eventually found one, although it proved of little help in either of our goals. Guessing our orientation to the Arche (a hard thing to do underground), we picked an exit and rode the escalator up.

The Arche was impossible to miss as we hopped off the escalator. What is hard to discern in pictures of the thing is the number of steps that make up the base of the building. The energetic traveller (one who had not been carrying luggage through the metros all day ) could have scaled the many steps and appreciated the modern-art style sculptures inside the arch up-close, or might take the elevator to the observation levels of the building. We decided it would be best to locate our hotel first, and make any plans for touristing from our room, sans-luggage.

We recognized the Renaissance Hotel building next to the Arche from pictures on the internet, and began the long walk to our hotel. We passed by the Arche on the way there, and from ground level it looks like pretty much any other graffiti-covered Parisian building. We limped into the lobby and checked in, getting a spacious room with a king bed and a direct view of the Grand Arche. We took the opportunity to rest our legs and formulate a plan for the rest of the day, which was quickly fading to darkness.

La Grande Arche

The Grand Arche was unexpectedly huge
The major plaza features were concrete and grafitti

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Notre Dame, Dinner on the Seine

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Dave: After our bad dinner experience in Paris three days ago, (wandering aimlessly looking for dinner), we decided to head straight away and find ourselves a cafe. We took the Metro from Grande Arche, and again were frustrated by the unnatural amount of up and down stairs when connecting trains. We popped out near Notre Dame as daylight was fading and the skies threatened rain. Nothing could prepare us for our first sight of the Eiffel Tower, lit orange in the darkening night skies. Notre Dame cathedral was before us, and we took several low-light pictures that came out well after adjusting the contrast. We walked another block, heading toward cafe signs, and settled in for dinner.

Our first sighting of the Eiffel Towe

Our first sighting of the Eiffel Tower in Evening

Our first sighting of Notre Dame

Our first sighting of Notre Dame

Our first sighting of Notre Dame and the Seine
These pictures were much darker, evening had arrived

There were several cafes directly over the Seine, facing Notre Dame. We paced between them, looking at menus, trying to decide. The host from the first cafe sprang upon us. "An English Menu, Gentlemen?" he offered, and "I am serving what you are looking for" (forgetting to ask what we were looking for). He was confident and boisterous and had an easy smile, of course we asked to be seated. From our table we watched him repeat his act a dozen times, with at least a 50% success rates. I had to ask Jesse: did we look THAT American? Certainly everybody else he approached did.

By now we were onto French cafe cuisine. Look, I said, we are Americans, we would like to eat dinner in reverse order, American-style. "OK", the host said as he took our order (our waiter was very busy due to the number of tables being pulled in). "I would like coffee first, then the cheese tray, then soup, then dinner". French style had become too much of a exhausting ritual for me, with water first and coffee last, dinner first and cheese between dinner and dessert. "OK, American-style for American guests". He brought my coffee, then chattered extensively, briefing our waiter (who did A LOT of nodding) then returned to the cafe entryway and continued to flag down passing tourists. So we got dinner and a floor show! Of course, as evening progressed, the subtle lighting on Notre Dame became more pronounced, with the cool weather, and warm coffee, and DELICIOUS French food. Jesse and I sat and ate and talked for the full two hour ritual of a marvelous French dinner.

Dinner near Notre Dame in Paris

Dinner near Notre Dame in Paris

Dinner near Notre Dame in Paris

Another delightful cafe
Dessert? But of course!
Historic City Hall in the Rain

Sadly, between dinner and dessert, the skies began to drizzle a light rain. We were under an overhanging canopy at our table (although Jesse did have to "scootch" in a bit). But the other tables, the ones out under the second, free standing umbrellas found that they paid for their better view of famous Notre Dame with Street Noise and leaky table overhangs. A couple tables needed to relocate as they found themselves on the joint between the two overhangs as a small "Niagara falls" appeared here and there. But we just sat, and sipped warm coffee and ate rich desserts. We had packed our two umbrellas, and were protected from the light drizzle on our eventual walk back to the Metro station. However, the rain was cold, and although our heads were kept dry, our pants and jackets were cold and damp and my legs and back were aching by the time we got back to the Renaissance hotel at Grande Arche. I enjoyed a long hot American shower, and slept soundly. Tomorrow, we decided, we would see Paris on foot (and tourist bus).

Day 06 Return to Main Page Day 08


Original Web Upload May 2002
Last Update: March 18, 2008