Wednesday, 05/25/2011, Paris
I had a wonderful breakfast of muesli, yogurt and fruit, and a croissant with coffee -- very rich dark, wonderful coffee -- and armed with subway directions from the owner of the hotel, I headed to Gare d'Austerlitz, which was the closest train station. I entered the subway just two short blocks from the hotel and bought a Paris Visite pass at the subway window. The woman behind the counter spoke little English, but she was able to confirm that the train number I needed to connect to to get to the train station was number 10.
What a bright subway compared to NYC! White walls and broad platforms. I didn't feel like I was underground. It was just five quick minutes to the train station. But it took me another 5 minutes to find the ticket window Ð Billets! Grand Journeys. Ah! that must mean trains to other countries. Not the local ticket window. The tickets or billets for Grand Journeys was another area set back from the rest, which didn't say "tickets" until you got inside. Once there, though, the woman was very helpful. I thought. I asked her for a reservation to Dresden, Germany, the Dresden-Neustadt station, for the following day. She told me I couldn't use my EuroRail pass for the first part of the journey, from Paris to Frankfurt. I was dumbfounded. But I was so eager to check off the task of making my reservation for the next day from the long list of logistical tasks that I rambo'd through it. It didn't occur to me that I was just making a reservation so that I shouldn't have been purchasing a ticket at all. My EuroRail pass was the ticket. Pushing down my confusion and just making it happen, I paid for the ticket, even thanking the woman. To be fair to myself, I did guess that I might have missed some fine print, or that I did not make my reservation in time to use the EuroRail pass.
I handed the woman my credit card. It didn't work. It had just worked earlier that day, so I was again surprised. What else could go wrong here? I put that card back in my wallet, and pulled up my shirt to get to my money belt. I hoped no one would think I was stripping. I pulled out my back-up card. The woman's eyes got big. "Wow!" she said. I made some sounds of apology and she said, ÒNo! Is good!Ó I assume she was referring to how careful I was being with my money and credit cards by keeping backups underneath my clothes.
Voila! It worked. (I later found out it was just a setting on the first credit card and hubby fixed it for me Ð what a guy!)
Several days later, I did manage to finish reading the EuroRail Pass Traveler's Guide and guess what? If you don't get a reservation fairly early on, you may not get one of the seats set aside for EuroRail Pass holders. If they run out of those, you have to buy another ticket or reserve a seat on another train. They recommend that you make your reservations even before you enter Europe through your travel agent! Something my travel agent did not know (or at least she did not tell me). So, when next I am at the train station, I will try to make my reservations for the remainder of the journey -- especially if I can find a EuroRail office at one of the train stations, Better yet, I'll email my travel agent and have her do it!
My conclusion thus far is that a EuroRail pass is not worth the money unless you are really flexible. I am glad I did it this time, because it is nice to have some expense out of the way and now I know how to make better use of it. But, you are already paying a premium for train tickets with it. I have been told by two separate sources (one a friend who lives in Europe and the other the guy at http://www.seat61.com/index.html) that Americans pay more for train tickets than anyone else. Even direct purchases from the in-country train web sites. So, live and learn. Now that I know my way around a bit better, I think next time, I will just get the tickets either directly through the rail company web sites or when I get here. I also will be more flexible on when I travel. I didn't realize that if I had picked a later train to Dresden, I could probably have gotten on it without paying an extra fee. But I was so focused on having to get on that specific train because I had told my friends I was coming at that time, it didn't occur to me to change it. It would be one more thing I would have to manage and communicate back to my friends and I was still overwhelmed with my first day in Paris.
Even thought it was a rude awakening to discover that my EuroRail Pass was not going to always work smoothly, I was happy that I had made a connection with this woman at the train station. It is the small things!
The rest of the day was a blur. At this point, I really had to pee. I found the bathroom, but I needed .50 euro to use it. I wonder how many Americans finally find the bathroom and then just pee their pants right there in front of the sign that says .05 euro, please! when the realize they don't have any change.
I found my way to the metro, wondering if I could just hold it until I got to the Louvre, but a fashion boutique caught my eye. Perhaps I could get change for the toilette. I examined the goods and decided on a bright orange India print shawl. It would go well with my orange, red and aqua dragon print on one side of my reversible dress ($150.00 at Dragonfly on Spruce St at Broadway in Boulder, CO). (Here's a pic of me in the dress. http://preview.tinyurl.com/3w3e3cb) After explaining to the proprietress that I needed change for the toilette, and after she conferred with her friend who was chatting with her when I came up, she handed me several coins including a couple .50 euro pieces in change. I thanked her, then headed back to the toilette emporium. I put my coin into the machine, but the gate would not let me through to the toilettes. I could see the sinks from where I was stuck in the gate and I knew that the commodes were nearby, but I could not get to them. The woman tending the bathrooms said something like "not enough," and put another coin in. Perhaps I'd put in a .20 coin instead of a .50. They looked alike to me because they were both gold. "Merci," I said and continued on through the gate. What a relief!
What a hectic morning! I returned to the platform and asked directions to the Louvre. The poor woman at the window was struggling to find the words in English and did a good job getting the essentials in there so I understood. I'd ask someone else if I didn't quite get it. I thanked her and went on my merry way catching the 1st train, number 10 again, on which I traveled back one stop along the route I had taken to that station, and then I switched to train 1. I thought I had to switch again at the next stop, but it turns out that I was already there at the Louvre itself.
I was still in search of the elusive Museum Pass. Two sources said you purchase it under the Louvre, in the train station. I saw a couple of signs that looked like they said "To the Louvre," but I couldn't get through. I went back the way I had come and watched the next load of people come off the train, and followed them. I found a ticket booth. I asked the man. "No, no,Ó he said. "Not here." I gave up at that point. I was spending so much time running around trying to make all the things happen that my travel agent said I needed to make happen. I had asked everyone about the Museum pass from the hotel clerk to the subway booth cashier. Everyone sent me somewhere else, and that somewhere else turned out to be NOWHERE.
When I finally got to the Louvre, I referred to the Lonely Planet country guide on my kindle. It said that if you came through a certain entrance you could buy a pass and not wait. Oh, well. I saw a line in front of me that came all around the glass pyramid entrance to the lower level, so I stood there checking with the couple in front of me that I was in the right line., They were American, but not very talkative. But they were also traveling together. I'm told, and I think it is true given my own experiences, that when you travel with other people, you only talk with them and not with strangers you meet along the way. Alone, I am constantly talking with strangers who sometimes become acquaintances, Even friends. More about that later.
Ever learning, Everlasting