Last Tango in Paris

I woke up in Fougeres feeling a bit anxious about the fact that we did not have tickets yet to get back to Paris. The day before we were told that we had to come back to the bus station and buy tickets. We were told at Gare De Lyon in Paris that our return trip was on a holiday, and that we would have to return via private bus to catch a train out of Laval or Rennes.

I checked my train schedule, and it looked like Rennes was probably a better bet as far as having more trains that day to Paris. So, we packed up, had breakfast at the buffet downstairs, and asked the hotel clerk to call a cab big enough for five and luggage.

The same cab driver that brought us to the hotel returned to take us back to the bus station. It was raining that morning, and we quickly loaded up the luggage and said goodbye to our nice little hotel in Fougeres.

When we arrived at the bus station, we unloaded everything and stood under a covered area. After the taxi left, we realized that we were very alone.

It looked like we were the only people alive in this area. Jane and I walked over to the office where we had talked to the young woman the day before. It was locked up.

As we walked past the restrooms, I noticed that they had these three little sinks on the outside. I thought that was a bit unusual.

We stood there and wondered if there were going to be any buses that day. After a while, we noticed people driving by us and staring at us as we waited under the shelter with our luggage. I told Jane that the taxi driver probably told everyone to go see the stupid Americans standing at the bus station on a day when it was closed.

The longer it went without any fellow passengers, the more I started to wonder what plan-b was. If we didn’t make it back to Paris that day, we wouldn’t be in position to get to the CDG airport and fly back the next morning. Air Tahiti Nui is a very small airline. According to their website they only own four planes. Our flight from LAX had been packed with not a single empty seat. What if we missed the flight? How long might it take before they had a flight that had five empty seats? What would we do in the meantime? Maybe we could get another airline, but this late, what would it cost? $2,000 each? That would be $10,000.

I was really stressing out when a man came up and started asking us questions in French. When he figured out we were American tourists, he just kind of waved at us and walked off toward the sinks.

Then, right out in front of God and everyone, he unzipped his fly and urinated into one of the three sinks, which I figured out at this point were outdoor urinals.

Casey yelled “GROSS!”. I thought about grabbing the camera, but didn’t. I guess this was one of the biggest cultural differences we experienced on our trip.

Soon after that a bus showed up. Jane and I went over and talked to the driver. She told him in French that she didn't speak very much French.  "C'est pas grade", he replied.  Jane told me she hadn't heard that expression in years.  It meant something like, "That's not so bad".  He was going to Rennes. We went and got the kids and luggage and got on board. We paid the driver directly in cash, and the bus wasn’t very full at all. What a relief!

When we arrived in Rennes, we went into the bus station and I started looking at the board. A train was leaving for Paris right away, but it was a TGV, that required a reservation. So, we left the kids with the luggage and went to the ticket line.

When we got up to an agent, we found out that all trains to Paris were sold out, except one late in the afternoon. Without any other choice, we booked it. At least it was a fast TGV train. It appeared that there would not be any more sign seeing in Paris. We had hoped to get in early and have most of the day and evening to see a few things we had missed. All that looked impossible now.

We staked out a bench by a window, and grouped our luggage together. I told Jane that maybe some of us should find lunch, while others waited with the luggage. She suggested that Christian, Erin and I go and she and Casey would take the second shift.

Me and the older kids found a restaurant in the Rennes station. We sat down, and when the waitress came up, I said, “Parlez-vous l'anglais ?”. The waitress looked at me and her eyes became wide. She literally turned around and ran!

She brought back a manager. Christian asked, “Parlez-vous l'anglais ?”. He said “Yes!”. So, I said to him, “My Son is a vegetarian. Do you have anything without meat?”.

He looked at me with the wide eyes like he wanted to run. Somehow we did enough pantomime and partial French/English sentences to where he seemed to get the idea. He started pointing to items on the menu. “Cheekin?”. No. “Poisson?”. The kids looked at me wondering why he would want to serve Christian Poison. I said, “That’s fish, No.”. Then he said, “Zees one is a Peeg (pig)”. “No, Pork” I said. “No, not Pork, it is PEEG!”.

We all got up at the same time, and thanked him, and left. It looked like without Jane there to interpret, Christian might starve to death.

We found a bar that had a big sign outside that said “Pizza”. So, we figured that might be safe. We went in and sat down. A waitress came up and asked what we would like. I said, “Menu?”. She brought me a drink menu. I said, “Food?” . She gave me that wide eyed look. I started to pantomime like I was eating something out of my hand. “No”. She said.

We got up and left again.

Finally, we found a stand selling sandwiches. I pointed at one of the pre-made sandwiches behind the counter and said, “Meat?”. No connection. But, after a bit of grunting and gesturing, she opened it up and I could see it was just cheese. So, we bought it, and two more sandwiches with cold cuts for me and Erin.

We returned back to Jane and told her about our ordeal. She seemed pleased that we missed her so much.

I started eating my sandwich, and got kind of grossed out, because instead of mayonnaise they used butter. It wasn’t nice soft, butter, it was hunks of stick butter put all down the sandwich that was cold and hard. Jane said that this was they way they did it in some parts of France. I really missed the wonderful restaurant we had dinner at in Fougeres the night before.

Jane and Casey took their shift, and had a much easier time of it than we did. When they got back, I had my eye on these two nice lounge areas that were private. But, they had a notice on the outside that Jane and I could not read. I had bought this talking translator off Ebay before we left, and I had barely touched it. I punched in one of the key words on the door and hit translate. It came back with something that didn’t make any sense at all. During the entire trip, this thing didn’t provide one useful piece of information. I had imagined it being my ace in the hole. Typing complex paragraphs into it and having my words of wisdom effortlessly translated into the dialect of the region. When we got back, I sold it used on Ebay for just a few cents less than I bought it for new.

In time, we figured out on our own that the lounge was for ticketed passengers only. So, we moved ourselves into the glass cage and watched the monitor. When our train finally had a track assigned, we gathered the luggage and the kids and headed down to board the TGV.

Jane and Erin on the TGV from Rennes to Paris, returning for one last night before flying back to Los Angeles.

We would return to the Montparnasse train station in the southwestern section of Paris. From there, we would need to get on the metro and catch the RER B, to the CDG airport where we could get the shuttle to the Comfort Hotel, where we started out what seemed like a lifetime ago.

We arrived back in Paris late in the afternoon. We talked a bit about trying to get to the hotel, leave our bags and rush back into Paris for one last bit of sight seeing.

When we got to the Metro, Erin found out that she had lost her 3 day pass that we had purchased before going to Fougeres. It had been in her back pocket. She thought it had probably come out while waiting at the train station at Rennes. I wondered if someone had slipped it out of her pocket in a crowd. Jane and I went to a ticket window and purchased a one-way fare to CDG, which was only a few Euro.

We transferred from the Metro to the RER at Chatalet, the station that I had gotten off at when I accidentally boarded the train while the buzzer was sounding and got whisked off into Paris alone on my first day in Europe. I looked around and it was interesting how familiar this place seemed after all the Metro stations I had been in around Europe. I remembered the overpass, and the elevator. I remembered standing on the overpass watching trains to see if my family would get off of one of them. It was just over two weeks ago, but it seemed like years had passed.

We found the RER, and got on the next northbound train. I ended up in the back of the car, and Jane and the kids were toward the front. After a few minutes, I noticed a man talking to Jane. She came back to tell me that he said that the train we were on did not go to the CDG airport.

I looked up at the map, and noticed that there was a fork. It looked like the trains could go one of two ways.

The map of the Paris RER Train from Chatelet to the CDG Airport

Apparently, there were two trains, the B5 and the B3. The man was probably trying to tell us we were on the B5 that would not go to CDG.

We exited the train before the split, and waited for the correct one. We started to realize it was getting late, and the sun was setting. We started talking about it being too late to turn around and go back to Paris.

Casey got very upset about it and began to argue with Jane, who got very upset in return. I pulled Casey aside to try and get her to calm down. She looked at me and said, “But this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” She was talking about Paris, and Europe in general, and this is how she was expressing what we all felt. We were all upset that this trip was only hours away from being over.

We arrived at the CDG RER station and stood back at the same taxi stand we had been at to catch the shuttle before, right next to the Hotel Ibis. I called the hotel on my rented cell phone and asked if they could send a shuttle. We waited a very long time, and finally the shuttle arrived. We loaded our luggage in back and headed to the Comfort Hotel.

I hoped that we would get to see the delightfully snooty hotel clerk that gave us directions to the Bercy station. But, he was nowhere to be found. I checked us in to our two rooms, and we headed up the tiny lift in two shifts, like always.

The rooms were just as I had remembered them. Sparse. This was definitely the hotel with the least attractive rooms we had been in. But, there were two reasons we picked it again when MinOtel dumped us. First was the shuttle, we knew how to use it and we knew that it would get us to our flight. The second was that it was in a beautiful little town called Le Mesnil Amelot. Our first day in Paris, going from the airport to the hotel, to Disneyland Paris, we didn’t feel like we had left the U.S.. The next morning, we took a walk around the corner from the hotel, and we were suddenly in Europe. This little town is a delight, and we wanted to see it one more time before we left.

We went down to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was buffet style, and not that great, as we remembered. But, we were tired and it appeared that with it being Sunday, all the local restaurants were closed.

I saw an American man talking to the waitress at the buffet, asking her what was in a particular dish, and if it was meat. She said, “Zees one eess…”, then she snorted like a pig.

He rolled his eyes and walked by our table. I said, “We’ve been traveling for a while. My son here, is a vegetarian too. He had an easy time in Italy, but in France it has been hard to find anything other than a cheese sandwich. They don’t really get the vegetarian thing here.”

We talked with him for a little while, and some of the other Americans in the restaurant. Most were just arriving. I thought back to what it was like the last time I had dinner in this same place, and suddenly felt like an experienced road warrior.

A few minutes later, Christian got up to get something else from the buffet. I saw the man approach him. He was speaking in very low tones, and was standing close to him. I heard him say something about, “It’s an investment”. Christian smiled and came and sat down with us. The man left, and went back up the elevator to his room.

I asked Christian what that was all about. He said the man was telling him to stick with being a vegetarian, that it was an investment. I asked him if he thought the guy was kind of creepy. He said the guy was definitely creepy. As we continued to eat, I started imitating the guy, grumbling in low tones, “Christian, I want you to come up to my room tonight so we can talk more about vegetarianism. Wear these handcuffs. It’s only precaution”.

Jane suggested that I  knock it off. But, I kept coming up with lines for the guy, making him sound like the Vegetarian Police, working undercover to bust the meat-loving French. Christian would be Robin to his Batman . When Jane met me she was one of my cast members. She was used to this kind of thing by now.

We finished dinner and went up to our rooms. It was already too dark and cold to take a walk around the town. We vowed to get up early and walk in the morning. I can’t explain how sad we felt that our time together in Europe was about to be over.

Next: The trip home. We head back to LAX.

But First:

A photo of Christian on the TGV from Rennes to Paris. We all had this same look that day:

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