Day 17: The First Night in Paris

14 October 2010

6.30 PM: On board of Thalys train, near Antwerp. The train was stopped due to technical problem. I hoped it won’t take long because I have to catch another train to Lourdes from Paris this night.

Thalys train was nice. The seat was a bit cramped but for 3 hours journey, it’s still bearable. There’s a wi-fi connection on the train, but it was down. Another nice thing about the journey was the train ticket. I booked the ticket via internet, a few weeks before and I received the ticket via email. There’s a barcode on the confirmation email. I just have to print the email and showed the barcode to the ticket officer on the train (he carried a barcode scanner to validate the tickets). You can read more about the ticket-less service here.

7.26 PM: on thalys train @ Brussels (Germany). The wi-fi connection was available but I could only open Thalys web site, to access other web sites, I had to buy WiFi credits. The service was free of charge for those who bought 1st class ticket. Read more about it here.

Something a bit disappointing about the train was the toilet. It was dirty so I decided to hold back my natural urges until I arrived in Paris.

In the Netherlands, the fee to empty your bladder at a public toilet was 50 cents.

8.30 PM: There was an announcement that the train would be 10-15 minutes late due to heavy traffic.

The Thalys train arrived in Paris Gare du Nord at 8.50 PM. The train stopped outside the station. I was glad that the weather was nice so it wasn’t a problem to walk to the station. The first stop was the toilet. The public toilet was not free, I had to pay €0.7 for the service.

Next, I went looking for the Metro station. At first, I wanted to buy 1 carnet that contains 10 single trip tickets, but the ticket machine only accepts coins. It was €12 and I didn’t have coins that much. So I bought 1 single trip ticket which cost €1.7. It was cheaper to buy 1 carnet.

The place where the ticket machine located was a bit creepy. There were – I presumed – homeless people sitting around the station. There was an old lady who ‘unofficially’ help people to buy the ticket from the machine (the machine instructions was in French – so for those who don’t speak the language, it was rather unnerving). She asked for small change in return for her service. I was glad that my rusty French was adequate to help me navigate the machine by myself. If you want to know how to buy the ticket, please read the article from parisbytrain.com here.

I was amazed that the Metro in Paris still used paper tickets instead of magnetic card as in Singapore and Bangkok.

One thing that I always did before my journey was to study the transportation system. I felt at ease when I know for sure how to get from point A to point B. A few months before my journey, a friend of mine traveled to Paris and I got the city map from him. I studied the map up to the point that I knew by heart how to reach the places that I wanted to visit.

I was grateful that I studied the map beforehand, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time at the creepy station. If you’re not used to look at subway map, you’ll spend more time to find out how to reach your destination – especially if the subway have so many routes like the one in Paris (check out the map here). I took metro line 5 in direction to the Place d’Italie and got off at Gare d’Austerlitz.

It turned out that the Metro station at Gare d’Austerlitz was on a different building from the train station. When I wanted to exit the metro station, there were an Indian couple in front of me. They were confused on how to open the gate. Then I saw a gate with ‘Accueil’ sign on top of it. I went to the gate and it automatically opened.

I climbed up the stairs to the street level and saw a sign with ‘Train’ on it and I followed it. The train station was on the right side of the metro station. I went inside and went straight to the ticket machine to print out my TGV ticket to Lourdes. I booked the ticket online and I only had to key-in the booking code at the ticket machine and it printed out my ticket. This article from parisbytrain.com shows how to do it.

I checked the departure board and couldn’t see the train number there, so I went to the waiting area and sat there.

10.10 PM: The lady officer just announced that they’re on strike so there would be no train for that night. WHATTTTT??????

Well, I wasn’t the only one who got shock by the news. There were about 40-50 people waiting at the station that night. We were told that we could spend the night on the night train and there would be a bus to take us to Gare Montparnasse at 6 AM in the morning. I was told to take the 7 AM train to Lourdes from there. The customer service officer wrote this alternative route at the back of my ticket:

10.40 PM: I was inside one of the couchette train that was parked at the station. I shared the room with a woman from Spain. We didn’t talk much that night. Each was busy with our own thought.

I was thinking about how small the space was. There were 6 beds inside the cabin. The width of each bed was about 60 cm, the length was about 2 m and the height between each bed was only 80 cm….maybe….because I wasn’t able to sit straight. I thought that I was lucky to spend the night here with only another person. I couldn’t imagine how to spend the night with 5 other people inside such a small space. I decided to use the lowest bed and folded up the upper beds to get more space.

The night was a bit cold and we were told that the toilets on the train were dirty but we could use the one at the station. It was rather far to get to the toilet. I was hoping that my bladder could survive the night….hehehehe….. We were given a bottle of water, a blanket and a pillow. I used my bag to support my back and decided to sleep in sitting position.

So….that’s how I spent my first night in Paris…..what a night to remember….hehehehe….

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