Behind-the-Scenes: Paris Day 4
Day three was spent in London.
Day four started out, clearly, not as planned because instead of leaving our apartment promptly at 8:00 am to catch the train to Musée du Louvre, we were nowhere near our cozy home or the world-famous glass pyramid. At 8:00 am we were functioning on three braincells in the Charles de Gaulle train terminal purchasing tickets to Paris. (Our lovely bus had dropped us off at CDG earlier.) We were exhausted from hardly sleeping all night and were ready for a hot shower, clean clothes, and breakfast. But, sleep would have to wait.
According to our meticulous schedule, by 10:30 am we were to have left the Louvre and been on a RER train heading to Gare de Lyon station in order to switch to the Transilien line for a 40 minute ride southeast of the city to the utterly lovely Château de Fontainebleau. Instead, we were riding the slow train from Charles du Gaulle to our home station. We knew we had to take the fast train. We carefully studied the information board, but we discovered our error only after it was too late to jump off. The next one and a half hours were a blur just fighting to stay awake. If we fell asleep, we were certain to miss our stop…Ruth can’t stay awake on any moving object, so I was the “designated driver.” After pulling Ruth’s lifeless body from the train, we went home as fast as we could. I was determined not to miss one of my most-anticipated places on the entire trip. After quick showers and breakfast at Noon, we were ready to hit the town again.
To get to Gare de Lyon from Saint-Michele, you have to take the RER D train – the same one that will either creep slowly or creep extra slowly to the airport; it’s just a matter of reading the revolving sign that says, “stops at every single station” or “doesn’t stop at the station you need.” This time we ended up on the fast train when we should have been on the slow one. We were now on our way back to the airport and away from Gare de Lyon. If our horrified expressions didn’t alert the full train car that something dreadful had just occurred to us, our loud and hysterical shrieks did. We both looked at each other in utter disbelief before collapsing into a blubbering mess. Just joking! Thankfully, we both have a sense of humor and just remained quietly seated while trying to figure out what on earth happened.
We reached the now all-too-familiar airport and caught the next slow train back to Paris. We thought our day’s schedule couldn’t get any worse, well, that was until we arrived at Gare de Lyon. The train to Fontainebleau departed every 30 minutes, so we had about 15 minutes to find the ticket machines, purchase tickets, and find the train platform. Gare de Lyon is a very big station and not exactly easy to navigate when functioning normally, but when simple things like reading directions and using a ticket machine have become as mentally and physically challenging as climbing Mount Everest’s “Death Zone” without oxygen, it’s a comedy waiting to happen. Unfortunately, my detailed instructions which said, “Unless you have a ticket good for all 5 zones, you’ll have to buy a special ticket for this train. This can be done only at the SNCF/Transilien Ile-de-france ticket window just west of the Blue platform, or the blue, boxy ticket vending machines at the end of the Galeries des Fresques just west of the ticket window, or on the Yellow Zone platform just outside the building.” That sounds simple enough when you’re at home researching and creating neatly organized Dropbox folders for each country. However, as we stood in that large concrete station, everything I had written turned into Chinese. We joined a long queue hoping we could ask for directions to the elusive Transilien office or vending machine. We were starting to calmly freak out because this was going entirely too slow and we were about to miss our train. It’s all a blur, but I think someone came along who pointed us in the direction of the ticket office because we took off running and arrived in time to join another queue. After what seemed like an eternity, one of the ticket agents helped us and told us to use the vending machines directly outside the office doors. “It’s easy,” he said. “You just scroll the mouse until you find the Ile-de-France zone 5 ticket…but don’t hit the button for blah, blah, blah…” It made perfect sense when he was telling us. Standing at the machines scrolling through the ticket options, it became obvious that the part “…and there are 500 different tickets with similar wording” wasn’t covered in his speech. Never fear, we figured out what we thought looked like Zone 5 for 17 Euros, and simultaneously fed the machines 20 Euros. What a relief! Our train was about the leave and we had gotten our tickets just in time! Unfortunately, instead of receiving two tickets, the machine gave us 10 tickets for Zones 1-3. We already had a five-day Zone 1-3 ticket and now we had 10 more and were 20 Euros poorer. We rushed back into the office and this time the attendant came out to the vending machines to help us. Oh, and by this time, our train was long gone…and an additional 20 Euros.
We now had 30 minutes to wait for the next train, so we decided to talk to someone who could refund our money. In theory, that’s a great idea. In real life, good luck! We were handed a large piece of paper to disclose our entire live history, along with instructions to mail it somewhere in France and wait three years for a refund.
What a relief to finally find our platform and see our train. We hurried and jumped on, but held our breath for fear of finding ourselves going back to the airport. This train had deep red velvet-looking seats and curtains. Even if we were going back to the airport, at least it was pretty and comfortable. Once the train started to move, Ruth promptly fell asleep. I wasn’t about to follow her example and miss my most-anticipated excursion. After all, getting out of the city and into the countryside is my favorite part about traveling because, eventually, all cities start to look the same.
Forty minutes later, and after stops at Melun and Bois-le-Roi, we arrived at Fontainebleau. Our next task, as two wasted, mentally-impaired women, shouldn’t have been so complicated, but it was. In theory, we were supposed to exit the back of the station and look for a bus with a red circled “1” heading in the direction Les Lilas. We only had six busses to chose from. We followed the crowd and waited at the sign that looked correct. It said, “Bus 1,” but when the handsome bus driver pulled up, he sent us to another bus. Fine. We waited some more and then climbed on for what was supposed to be a 15 minute ride. Twenty minutes later, we asked when we’d get there. The driver said, “I already went there.” Either we were both in a complete coma or he had been there earlier in the day, but we didn’t recall driving by the château. We did our best to enjoy his route and appreciate the wait at each stop, but the clock was ticking loudly. A few minutes later, he pulled up in front of, what felt like, the gates of heaven.
With only a few minutes to spare before the 45-minute cut off time before closing, we walked through the entrance. The self-guided audio tour was additional, but this time we paid for it. We didn’t want to miss any interesting Marie Antoinette history, since she had once lived here. However, it’s hard to hold an audio speaker to one side of your face and a big camera to the other. In the end, I relied on Ruth to just tell me the interesting facts and all was perfectly fine because I was really there to take pictures, right?
Château de Fontainebleau is extra lovely because it looks “lived in.” That simply means, the facility hasn’t been given the same constant restoration and upkeep as its sister château at Versailles. The grand staircase outside at the front is stunning with it’s partial covering of moss and lichen. The stone work hasn’t been white-washed and is beautiful just the way it is. Inside, has so no less charm, after all, why are old doors, walls, and windows so charming and irresistible to photograph?
After finishing the inside tour, we headed back outside to the grand staircase for a photo shoot. The château was now closed and that meant we couldn’t visit the beautiful back gardens, however, the place as deserted and I was in paradise. Ruth did her best to appear alert, awake, and beautiful. On a side note, we have decided one day we will be rich and buy this lovely place and live here forever. In the mean time, just shooting pictures on the grand staircase has guaranteed that I will die happy. We took our bus back to the station and caught the train to Gare de Lyon. It seemed that our schedule was back on track and the day hadn’t been a complete waste. Our visit to Château de Fontainebleau had been a smashing success and it’s definitely on the list of places to come back to one day.
Back at home, we were very hungry and went on the hunt for food. Since we are both delightful creatures of habit with simple culinary expectations, it was only a matter of minutes before we found ourselves seated at the same table outside of, what we think is the best Italian restaurant, Rim Cafe…or maybe we have just been exceptionally hungry both times we’ve wandered there. Either way, we ordered the exact same thing, aubergines parmigiana and ravioli fromage. Once again, we had a lovely view of the hookah bar across the street and decide we really like their decor. If we smoked, we’d have to go there just to sit at their tables covered in silky, bright orange and hot pink cloths.
Tonight we will make up for the last 36 hours of sleep deprivation. Tomorrow is supposed to be another fantastic day. If we don’t miss the train, we will be visiting Château de Versailles, along with hundreds and hundreds of other people, so we are going to get there early to beat the massive tour groups who keep getting in they way of my camera with their oh, so, fashionable selfie sticks.
This trip is so much fun. We are bonding through the planned and unplanned experiences and creating life-long memories. Traveling is the best entertainment. ever.
Bonne nuit from Paris!
To see my professional pictures from today, please click here.
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