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Arriving in Paris

The adventure starts in Rome. When we were at the Termini the previous day I thought I might as well buy a ticket but Erric convinced me to do it the next day. The result of this little incident was that I couldn't get a reservation on the overnight train to Paris. ``On the train!'' the man in the window yelled.

I thought if I just got to the station early, maybe I could get a reservation. 5pm saw me at the station - I decided that was probably early enough for a 7pm train, fool that I am. I should have stayed out later! This is not like an airline desk at an airport, I was telling myself. Well, at least I could find the right platform and wait there.

At about 6:30 I happened to look over at the next platform, and noticed the sign said ``19:00 - Paris Lyon''. What the hell?!! Ok, I grabbed the backpacks (the large one weighing in at 60 lb., and the smaller one a ``mere'' 25 lb.) and moved.

Soon (well, at about 6:55) the train arrived and there was a frantic rush towards the conductors. I found a uniformed man and asked for a couchette. ``Next car!'' he shouted. Ok... I ran to the next car and found the conductor, thrust my ticket under his nose (while using the Italian queueing system, i.e. push anyone smaller and/or weaker than you out of the way) and yelled, ``Un couchette, s'il vous plait!'' It seemed to do the trick, and he wrote ``56'' - the seat number - on the ticket.

The rest of the journey went smoothly, at least once the air conditioning kicked in. There was a restaurant car which actually served a pretty fine meal.

The next morning we woke up to a sunny French day. I tried a few words of French on the other passengers but soon gave up and just waited for the Gare de Lyon. The smart thing to do, I thought, would be to check the heavy backpack (which contained all my camping and climbing stuff, including all the hardware like the ice-axe, crampons etc.) at the railway station, and just take the small pack (all the ``civilian'' clothes) with me for the week in Paris. Accordingly I found the information desk and asked for the left-luggage office.

``Left-luggage? There is no left-luggage office here. Terrorist threats.''

What! What terrorists? If I were a terrorist a little thing like the absence of a left-luggage office certainly wouldn't deter me. But he seemed to take pity on me, probably because the backpack looked bigger than me.

``You can go the Gare d'Austerlitz, they have lockers there.''

He gave me a map and showed me where Austerlitz was. On the other side of the Seine! God damn it! Well, nothing for it but to spit on one's hand, pull up one's socks, hash a few metaphors and get down to it. I picked the packs and commended my soul to God. The exercise would probably do me good anyway.

Luckily it was quite a cool day, and crossing the bridge over the Seine there was a nice breeze too. It was wonderful, and Paris looked spectacular. I finally found the Gare d'Austerlitz, wandered around inside for a while and finally found the room with the lockers. With security more strict than at any US airport. Phew, I thought, and took off the packs and went in. And then of course I realise a little detail: I had no French money. The gentlemen behind the bulletproof glass were unable to or refused to speak English but I finally managed to understand that they did not take credit cards or foreign money. They suggested I go to the Post Office where they would change money, and gave me directions. They firmly refused any suggestion that I might leave my backpacks there while I went and got some money.

Oh well.... I was feeling distinctly like a mule or some such pack animal as I put on the backpacks again and set off. Luckily I managed to find the post office without getting lost. It was a little tricky negotiating the double security doors with the packs but I finally managed it, changed the money and headed back to the Gare d'Austerlitz. Finally, some one and a half hours after I actually arrived in Paris, I was free of the large pack!

Next: Veynes or Bust! Previous: Europe
Copyright © 1998 by Shamim Mohamed.