Our time in Reims has come to an end and we move now from the land of champagne to the northwest of France to visit some world war II battlefields and see a really old monastery. But first we have to get there.
Two things about train travel in France. Like Germany, there are a couple of different types of trains. The high speed train is what whisked us (very quickly) multiple times from Paris to Reims and back. There are also regional trains that are much cheaper, not as quick and a bit of a free for all. Hold that thought.
The other thing to realize is that traveling through Paris can be a bit tricky. There isn’t one central train station, but instead there are a couple of stations throughout the city and the station you use depends on the direction in which you are traveling. We went to Reims which is east of the city, so we used Gare l’Est (and check out my use of French there!). To get to Caen, the train leaves from Saint Lazare. Once we arrive in L’Est from Reims, we need to get to Saint Lazare for our connection. We can take the metro (one transfer, 15 minutes, 6ish euros), Uber/Cab (10 minutes, 10ish Euros) or we can walk. From the teen age part of the contingent we hear Uber. I’d prefer not to drag our bags through the metro so we decide to walk. 30 minutes and that may be the sum total of our exercise for the day.
It is Saturday morning and it is getting on holiday season here in France. The train to Reims is full and lots of suitcases. We get out at L’Est, Jan fires up google (and our data is working just fine today, thank you very much) and we are off. The sidewalks are almost empty; it seems that 10am in France is still sleepy time. Our only competition is delivery people, a couple of coffee drinkers at cafes and the random scooters trying to run us down. 35 minutes later we are at Saint Lazare. We find our train tracks, grab some ‘to-go’ sandwiches for the train and head to the track.
And find us a little feces fiesta. This train is LONG. Really, really long and our car is way at the back, so we have a bit of a hike. When we get to car 8, we get in the queue to get aboard with about 15 other suitcase toting bubbas (and bubettes). And their kids. And their grandkids. We get on the train with all our luggage and are heading down the aisle in a bit of a conga line, when the two grandmothers at the head of the line decide they are on the wrong car, do a 180 degree turn and head back through all of us behind them. Lots of groaning as we in the body of the line try to find a place to wedge ourselves to let the ladies out. AJ, who has (like all teen agers) his head in some other dimension, sees the people in front of him part like the Red Sea. He assumes he is Moses and we all want us to get to his seat first and so walks forward and bumps into two old ladies walking back. A meeting of the generations and of the cultures. AJ somehow gets out o their wa and we all manage to unscrew ourselves and make our way to the seats. Our reserved seats. Which are, of course, full. Grandmother, mother and son. With my mastery of one word of French (pardon), a smile, and my cell phone opened to our tickets showing our seat reservations, I look at the grandmother and she tells me (presumably) that she understands and will move. And off goes the family and we are on the train heading towards Caen.
Short side note on kids. They seem to be the same no matter where we are at in the world. For example, we are on a train crammed with people heading on vacation. And the kids are screaming, yelling, laughing, kicking seats and in general, having the time of their lives. Most seemed to be ‘supervised’ by parents who started the celebration early or were asleep in their seats recovering from their celebrations last night. Or ‘supervised’ by grandparents who frankly didn’t give a crap what their grandkids did.
We extract ourselves from the train car in Caen (not, you should note pronounced Kai-anne as in cayenne pepper. But instead as kahn and in the “Wrath of Kahn.” Because of course it is) and head off to the car rental station. There is a bit of a line for the car, but to make us feel better, the nice lady at the counter asks if anyone would like a cup of coffee or glass of water while we wait. Queue the murmuring in the room and a bunch of hands go up and the lady behind the counter, who is actually only person working, takes a count of the coffee vs. waters and then disappears in the back.
At which point I heard a ‘popping’ sound behind me.
Turns out that popping noise was the back of Jan’s head exploding from the build up of the pressure triggered by the massive aneurysm caused by the one lady in the room who could make the line go down LEAVING TO MAKE SOME COFFEE! Someone has not embraced the ‘vacation mode’ or the ‘European way.’ Some amount of time (and coffee) later, we get our new (to us) ‘Compact Limousine’ (their words, not ours), which looks a lot like a VW.
And by the way VW…why do you make your trunks so hard to get into that it requires googling ‘how the hell do I get into a VW trunk?’
We head off towards Bayeux. It is a short (40 minute) trip to our next Airbnb which is located right downtown Bayeux. Google is taking us to where we need to go, but failed take into account that the mainstreet of downtown Bayeux is closed off for the day; it is the Saturday before their 14 July celebration and the town is apparently getting a head start. We run into detour signs, which are pronounced ‘diversion’ here. We run into gates. We run into a whole bunch of one way streets that are NOT taking us in the direction we want to go. Google is useless, as is the nav program in the car–they don’t know the roads are closed. So we decide to stop. We find a parking spot that is relatively close to our Airbnb, we take our backpacks and get into our new place no problem. We then take five minutes to look at a street map (old school once again) and plot our way from the parking spot to where we are at now and then Jan and I return to the car and successfully navigate our way. Victory! Who needs technology?
Our Airbnb is excellent. An apartment with two large rooms, a kitchenette and all just steps from the main drag. Once we unpack, we head to the street where we find it jammed with people shopping and enjoying the beautiful weather. We find a grocery store, grab some provisions and make our first home made dinner on the trip.
Tomorrow we jump back to WWII.