Thursday, June 19, 2014

The best-laid plans..

An unexpected plan change - or how we learned to stop worrying and love the train strikes in France.

So we wanted to take a nice overnight train from Milan to Paris, saves on accommodation and would put us in Paris on the morning of the same day as Naomi's mum arrived.
No problem, these are both big cities, surely there's a direct train between them that we can use?


Nope - at least not one we could use with our EUrail pass.

Genius..?
So, we talked to the ticket office in Milan, and after first getting to talk to a man who held his PC mouse backwards (I kid you not!), we got moved to another window when this ticketing task was too complex for him (guess his brain cycles were occupied with remapping the directions of mouse vs screen pointer), and got a nice and competent lady to assist us.

We managed to book a train trip which, while not ideal, was an overnight trip so our accommodation needs would be met.

Rather than being a direct trip from Milan to Paris, the trip was from Milan to Ventimiglia (our old nemesis), to Nice and then overnight to Paris on a sleeper.

We bought the reservations for the bits that needed them (Milan - Ventimiglia and Nice - Paris) and set off on the day.

We made it to Nice with the only negative being the tiredness and sore-butt-edness that accompanies several hours on a train. At least we both got some reading done!

In Nice, we had a 4-hour stop-over scheduled, so we took the opportunity to acquire French mobile sims from the nearest mobile outlet - Orange - which meant I got a nice stroll down to the main street of Nice, which is actually quite pleasant. Having been told that Nice, isn't in fact nice, this brief look went counter to that claim.

Having obtained the sims, I returned to Naomi at the station, and we were preparing to settle in for a long wait.
On her way to the toilet, Naomi saw a departures board (and wanted to check it, as she does every few minutes, when there is one) which as it happened didn't have our train on it, so she went to a bigger board to double-check.

It wasn't there either - there were trains on either side of our time slot, but our train was missing.

She inquired from a station staff member, and was told "Oh, that's cancelled".
"Are you joking?"
"No, that train is not running today"

Aaaaaaaaaaarrrgh!!!

Even more fun was the "To get to Paris, the last train is leaving in a couple of minutes, if you miss it, you will have to wait until tomorrow" that followed.
We later found out that the cancellation was part of an ongoing strike by the railway staff, due to the company wanting to phase out some benefits.

Naomi ran back to me (I was watching our bags), explained the situation very quickly and we grabbed our stuff, sprinted to the train and picked seats at random.
A couple of minutes later, the train pulled out, so it's good that I didn't get stuck 5 minutes longer in the Orange store!!

Now, of course, this was not a sleeper train, nor was it arriving in Paris the next morning. It was an afternoon/evening train, due in Paris just before midnight.

We, of course, had no accommodation booked, as we were supposed to sleep on the overnight train that night!
So, some frantic searching for hotels, on the pathetically slow Orange data connections we now had, before inspiration struck - we had already booked an AirBnB apartment from the next night (for the ten days we've scheduled to be in Paris) - maybe we could check in early?

With a message explaining our predicament and asking for an early check-in, we were very pleasantly surprised to be offered to check in when we arrived in Paris around midnight (we'd thought we'd be spending some hours at the train station, vagrant-style, then check in in the morning).
We were saved!

We endured the train ride, with the biggest hassle being that we didn't have seat reservations on this one, so we had to move seats when our seats turned out to be booked. But luckily, this only happened once, so not too bad.

We arrived in Paris, and had decided to get a taxi to the apartment, given the lateness of the hour.
However, all the cabbies in Paris must have gone home to sleep, as the taxi stand at the station was full of people and empty of taxis.

A big "M" sign beckoned - and no, not this one.



But rather, this one

The Metro!
We knew which stop we needed to get to, and thanks to Orange, we could ask Google Maps to plot a route for us. We bought tickets (1.70 Euro per person) and jumped on the metro, made our way to the apartment, and called our host, who got us inside (at about 00:30 - that's great service)!

Safe, and with a soft bed ready for us.. We're so grateful for this!


Side note on the metro:
The Metro in Paris is comprehensive and fast - very impressive. We got to the apartment before we would have reached the front of the taxi line, let alone driven from the station to the apartment. And for a fraction of the cost.
Loads of stations!
My only criticism of the metro is that their weekly tickets are weird - they start on Monday, not the day you buy them, and finish on Sunday, not after 7 days of use.. So if you buy it on Wednesday, you just lose Monday and Tuesday... O_o