Friday, November 6, 2015

No biking today so Paris and environs at last

Spoilery caption #1: En route to Giverny (with the world's crappiest bike)
Another sick day so another zero day for the November Bike Challenge. It's too bad, too; the weather seemed pretty ideal for biking today: no actual rain and no apparent wind. The forecast is for rain all weekend so I'll have to hope that it rains itself out before Monday morning.

Since I have no biking to report today, it seems a fine time to write about the one bit of biking that Scott and I did while in France. It was the day we went to Giverny which nearly didn't happen at all. I'd purchased the train tickets online and while I talked about how we should scope out the station from which we'd be leaving (St. Lazare), that just didn't sound like as much fun as whatever it is we did instead the day before. "How difficult can it be?" we rationalized. "We'll leave early so we have plenty of time to find the right platform. There must be a way to claim our tickets at the station." And so forth because, lacking a printer, we also hadn't been able to print out the e-tickets and I didn't have a smartphone on which to show them to anyone.
Spoilery caption #2: Butterfly on butterfly bush by the line to get into M. Monet's house
It might have all gone smoothly, too, if that wasn't the day that Paris' usually impeccable Metro system experienced serious difficulties, the exact nature of which we never did understand. We waited longer than usual at the Place de Clichy and when a train did arrive, it was packed full. People-with-their-faces-shoved-flat-against-the-glass full. We decided we still had plenty of time so we waited for the next train. Which took longer than usual to arrive and which, when it did show, was also packed. We shoved our way onto it anyway. It paused repeatedly en route, groaning with the effort, and with incomprehensible messages being repeated by the nice French lady who is the voice of Metro emanating from the speakers. Had we sensibly scoped out St. Lazare the day before, we would have known we could just walk to it in ten or fifteen minutes. Instead, we endured the stressful twenty-minute trip on Metro.

Once at St. Lazare we made the wrong guess about where the proper platforms would be and ran the absolutely wrong way. We reached an information desk where the woman understood enough English to inform us that we were in the wrong place and to give directions to reach the correct platform. By this time it was about seven minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. (Scott, it later turned out, misunderstood the time the train was scheduled to depart and assumed all along that we had already missed it.) "Did you understand any of that?" "Maybe." "And do you think she just hated us and deliberately sent us the wrong way?" "Possibly." Still we dashed, running past the mini-mall in the center of the station ("Hey, there's a Lush!" I thought en passant), and reached a point where we could see our actual train, still sitting there at Platform 9 3/4. There was quite a crowd in the ticket office and no way we'd get through it before the train was well and truly gone. There were also a bunch of ticket machines. How hard could that be? Well, it was more challenging than I like to admit, in part I am sure because we were so stressed. But we managed to extricate our tickets and then ran--again--to the train. We were close the last ones on and we couldn't find two seats together. For a while it seemed we would not find seats at all but I managed to convey, in the universal facial language of public transit, that if that suitcase didn't have a ticket maybe it shouldn't have a seat, and Scott did the same a few rows back and so we settled in nicely for the hour or so trip into the countryside.

 Say! Just getting onto the train is an absurdly long story, and the train doesn't even get one to Giverny; it stops in Vernon which is a charming little town where I would like to spend some time. In Vernon, you switch to bikes (unless you've arranged to take the tour bus and where's the sport in that?) It turns out, however, that the "bar that rents bikes across from the train station" isn't really immediately apparent from the trains station so it took us a few minutes to find that. We also found that Rick Steves' description of the bikes as broken-down rattletraps was, perhaps, overly generous.
Les velos!

The tires were half-flat and the seats tended not to stay where they were put, sliding down on the seat stem with irritating regularity. I rejected more than one bike while Scott simply accepted the first one handed to him. Finally, with a clash of gears, no helmets, and map in hand, we were off!
A few blocks later, we were lost. Wisely we circled around to a cafe and sat down to study the photocopied map more closely, over a couple of espressos. A photo opportunity presented itself as Scott sat marveling at how much less expensive espresso was in Vernon than in Paris. Or perhaps he was just reflecting on how long 7 kilometers could be on a bike that seemed unlikely to hold together for five blocks. (In truth, he was less critical of his bike than I was of mine; never have I appreciated Bessie so much as I did on that bike that rattled and shook nonstop.)
Fortunately, while it lacked a lot of street names and the like, the map did show the location of the post office which just happened to be half a block left of Scott's left shoulder in this photo so we were able to orient ourselves and head out in the right direction. And I remembered just enough snippets of information from my web-surfing of a few nights earlier to put us onto the "path that looks like it's taking you through people's backyards" to keep us going the right way. After a while, the signs became less subtle. . .

The line
Oh, we still managed to add a bit of distance, what with not wanting to admit that the line we passed at one point was the line we would have to be in, but it all worked out, and Giverny, about which I shall write in a later installment, was absolutely charming and wonderful.


  1. "A few blocks later, we were lost." Not for the last time, either. Those were some velos du merde, but on the whole, it was a quite fine day. I liked the bridge over the Siene, especially the remains of the pylons on the north (?) side on the way back, where I think we saw les cormorants francaise. The espresso at the cafe was pretty good. Three euros for two cups, I think.

    1. Seine, I think, but then you didn't point out my typos. I'd forgotten about les cormorants. Weren't there ducks or geese, too? And didn't we get some extra sugar with those espressos? We should go back. We weren't sick in Paris.

  2. Thank you for posting about France some more -- I enjoy visiting places virtually so much. It was good of you to suffer the merde bike so that I won't have to, and I look forward to Giverny. Have you read Vivian Swift's illustrated travel book, "Le Road Trip"? Guess what country it's about? I think you'd like it.

    Hope you feel better soonest.