Arrival in France
We flew on Air Tahiti Nui non-stop from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is not really in L.A., to Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport, which is not really in Paris.
The first day I wanted to just be able to find the hotel and not have a lot of chance of getting lost after the long plane flight. We booked an airport hotel called Comfort Hotel CDG. It had a free airport shuttle, and the idea was that we would arrive and be whisked away to our hotel room.
After finding our luggage at baggage claim, we started to look around at this massive airport and had no idea where to go, or what to do. We went to a public phone to try and call the hotel, but the first thing I noticed was none of them took coins. I tried to stick one of my credit cards in it, but it didn’t work. Then I remembered that I had rented a cell phone from my carrier in L.A. called Nextel. This phone accepted the Sim chip from my own phone, and when it was put into the Europe phone, it became my L.A. phone. This means that it would accept calls made to my L.A. phone number and ring in Europe. I could also get my voicemail from that phone. I fired it up and we called the Comfort Inn. Jane went on and told them in French that she didn’t speak very much French, and did they speak English? The person did, and gave her instructions on where to stand. The shuttle arrived within minutes.
From the outside, the hotel looked okay, like any airport hotel. But, inside it was kind of a mess. The rooms were very small and have little or no décor. The television was small and played only local television in French, though they did have a movie channel for €9.00 per film, but I couldn’t figure it out. The room has a private bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet. The shower was tiny and had these deep spines built into the floor to avoid slipping, but hurt your feet to stand on them, because they were about a half inch tall. Motel 6 would seem like a Ritz Carlton compared to this place.
The staff spoke fairly good English, and was helpful. The room rate was a bargain. The free shuttle was a big savings over taxis, and they would take you on unlimited trips to and from the train station, or the airport.
Our son, Christian had flown out ahead of us by about two weeks to visit a friend in Hungary. He was scheduled to fly in a few hours after we arrived. Jane and I decided to take the shuttle back to CDG airport to try to meet his plane.
He was flying a Hungarian airline called Malev, and the flight was operated in cooperation with Air France. So, we told the shuttle driver to take us to Malev. He said that there was no such thing. Then we asked to be taken to Air France, and he laughed and said that Air France had a counter in every terminal building. So, we just had him drop us off at the first terminal and went in to see if we could figure it out.
His flight ended up way across the airport in another terminal. So, we got on an airport shuttle and went over to that terminal. We got dropped off on the opposite side, and it appeared that there was no way to get over to where we needed. We were on a second level and there was all kind of traffic, and no place for pedestrians.
We went inside and found an underground route to the other side. Then Jane did her best to speak French (after 26 years) to an information person to find out where the people from the flight would come out. The person pointed at a gate area, so we waited there. Hundreds of people came out over a half hour period, but no Christian. We wondered if he might have missed his flight. Then nobody came out, and all the people waiting to pick people up vanished. We were the only ones there, when a few minutes ago, there had been hundreds. Jane went back to the info kiosk, and found out we were in the wrong place. They sent us to the right place, but I figured that Christian must have already gone out and was probably lost someplace in the airport trying to figure out how to call a shuttle (with no cell phone).
Jane waited at the door, and I peeked behind the glass and saw Christian walking through baggage claim. It worked like clockwork in the end, and we collected our Son, and got on the shuttle to go back to the hotel.
At some point, I learned that our hotel wasn’t far from Disneyland Paris. I mentioned this to the girls and we all really wanted to go, even if for a few hours. We thought it might be a good way to force us to stay up until normal bedtime. So, when we got back to the hotel with Christian, we all got back onto the shuttle and headed for the airport, where they had a bus to Disneyland.
We live in Southern California, and I have no idea how many times we have all been to Disneyland in Anaheim. We needed another trip to the magic kingdom like a whole in the head, but somehow the opportunity to experience the Haunted Mansion (Phantom Manor in Paris), and the Pirates of the Caribbean in French was just overwhelming.
We were all so tired we were kind of hysterical. But, we managed to see several of our favorite attractions. Everything is much newer at Disneyland Paris. The Anaheim park is close to 50 years old. So, they took an opportunity to redesign a lot of things and it was fun to see what they changed. It was odd because we are so familiar with Disneyland, sometimes I thought we were in California. Other times I was totally lost.
We made one of the last busses back to the airport, then on the shuttle again to the Comfort Hotel.
Jane was too tired for dinner, so I took the kids down and they had a buffet style dinner. Jane is the only one of us who speaks French at all, so it was a bit of an adventure. Back when I was in acting school, I wondered why we spent so much time on Pantomime, and when I my life I would ever be able to use it. Well, this was my chance. Lots of gestures and pointing. But, we survived our first dinner in a foreign country just fine.
The next day we had nothing on the schedule until late in the afternoon, when we needed to be at the Bercy train station on the south side of Paris to catch the night train to Rome. So, we decided we would try to figure out how to get to the Bercy station. We stopped at the front desk to talk to the attendant, who was the kind of snooty Frenchman that you see in Hollywood movies. It went something like this:
Jane: Can you tell us how to get to the Bercy train station?
Man: (looking puzzled). Which station?
Jane: Bercy. B-E-R-C-Y.
Man: Oh…Bercy! (but he said it with a proper French accent, where it sounded like he was going to bring up some phlegm in the middle of the word. We all jumped). Take our shuttle to the RER station at the airport. Take the RER and transfer to Metro number 14, and that will take you to Bercy.
I was kind of looking around not paying much attention during this. I’m really talented with some things. I can tell you what is wrong with a computer before I even see it. But, the part of my brain that handles directions is faulty. I can get lost driving around my own neighborhood. It’s so bad, that I don’t even try most of the time. If Jane is around I let her handle figuring out how to get us places.
So, we jumped on the shuttle and headed for the CDG airport once again. At the train station we took the opportunity to have our Eurail pass validated. We told the lady that we would be taking the night train to Rome. She informed us that we would NOT be taking the night train without a reservation. We happily showed her the sleeper car reservations that we purchased online months before.
Then we went to the ticket window and bought day passes for the metro, and down the escalator to the “B” train.
This is where things got a little screwed up…
The train came, the door opened, I got on thinking that everyone was following me on the train. Then I heard a buzzer sound and turned around and looked. Everyone else in my family was standing outside the train, and then, WHAM! The door shut. Casey screamed, “DADDY!”. I looked at Jane, her eyes got really big, then at the same time, we both waved goodbye. Then they were gone in a blur.
I started thinking… “oh no…oh no…I’m in France, I don’t speak French. I don’t know where I’m going. Maybe they didn’t get on behind me because this is the wrong train. Oh no… what am I going to do?”.
I thought about getting off at the next stop and going back. Then I thought of just going back to the hotel. Then I thought that maybe I should just try to find the Bercy station and see if they would show up there.
I looked up and there was a metro map on above the door. It showed all the stops, and I thought back to French hotel guy saying “BERCY!” and “Fourteen”.
There was a station coming called Chatelet that showed the 14 under it. So, I took the RER to Chatelet. When I got off, I waited for the next several trains to see if Jane and the kids would get off one of them. But, they never came. So, I went up the escalator toward the 14 and got on the Metro for the first time.
When I arrived at the Bercy Metro station I figured out that there must be a Train station by the same name. Luckily they have little picture signs all over the place, so I followed the one of the big train up the escalator and out on the street. I walked down the street, around a corner past café’s and shops. Then I could see the train station and crossed over and went inside.
No wife and kids in the Bercy station. I went to a vending machine and bought a bottle of water. I figured that I would wait around the station for a half hour, and if they didn’t show up, I’d head back to the hotel. I went into a French public restroom for the first time. I head heard all this stuff about public bathrooms in Europe being kind of a nightmare with no toilet paper, and having to go in a hole in the ground. It was actually one of the cleanest most private bathrooms I’d ever been in.
When I came out, I walked around the station a little longer then all of a sudden in walked my family. We all laughed about the situation and expressed surprise that we were all on the same page about going to our destination even though we got separated. We agreed that if it happened again, that was the plan.
Jane went up and talked to the lady at the ticket window for a moment to make sure that our reservations for the sleeper cars for later that day were in order. Then we decided to have lunch at one of the café’s I had passed.
We were looking at a menu, when a man came around the corner, “HELLO!… you want CHEE-KEN? POM FRITES? Right this way!”.
So, we followed him to the next restaurant. He had effectively stolen us from a competitor. But, heck, if he wanted us in his place, why not?
That turned out to be the only English this waiter knew. Jane spoke to him in French, and told him that Erin and I wanted something “very French”. Christian is a vegetarian, so I think he had a cheese sandwich. Casey ordered a French soft drink with strawberry and milk. I don’t know how to spell it, but it sounds like “Lait Frez”.
The waiter was very funny, and tried very hard to make us happy. At one point, Jane asked him if he would take our picture, and he sat down next to Erin to be in the picture, so Jane took the photo.
Before he brought the bill, he came with an small espresso cup and said to Erin, Café? And then pretended to stumble and spill it on her, but the cup was empty. Everyone laughed.
We took the metro and the RER back to the hotel just in time to get our luggage out of storage, get back on the shuttle, back on the RER to the 14 and to the Bercy station to get on the night train to Rome.
After this… our five nights in Rome in a private Apartment.
But first, here are two photos. On the left, Disneyland Paris at the entrance of a ride called “Blanche Neige et les Sept Nains” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). On the right, us with our waiter at our first French Café near Bercy Station: