It was bittersweet leaving Strasbourg yesterday morning, and our little apartment there – we had had a wonderful stay and loved every minute of our time there. But, our bags were packed, we were up early for coffee and one last kugelhopf for breakfast, and were out the door by 8:00 in time to catch our train to Paris. I was very nervous about having to change stations in Paris as I figured if anything could go wrong it would be during this portion of the trip. It also didn’t help that my head cold was, if anything, worse than it had been the day before, and I also slipped on the last step leaving the apartment building and pulled a muscle in the back of my right leg.
We were booked first class for the entire trip, and the seats on our first train were oh-so-comfortable except for one little thing: They faced backwards, and I cannot ride backwards on anything (something to do with my middle ear and balance). I lasted all of five minutes in my seat before heading to the dining car next door, where I found a seat facing forward at a small table and nursed two cafe au lait all the way through the one and a half hour journey to Paris. The train had originally come from Frankfurt, so while I ordered my drinks in French (or at least tried to), the waiter spoke nothing but German to me!
We had an hour between the arrival of our first train at Gare de l’Est to get to the second at Gare Montparnasse. We had intended to ride the Paris Metro between the two stations, but the night before we left Strasbourg Brett discovered that there was work being done on the Metro line that ran between the two stations and decided we should instead take a taxi from one to the other. That was fine with me as I was not relishing moving our bags up and down stairs and off and on the Metro. We headed to the taxi stand when we arrived in Paris, but immediately a man came rushing up to us and said in English, “There’s a big taxi strike today, and most of Paris is closed for a 20 km race! Come with me, I will get you a car” We thought this was strange as we had already seen a few taxis arriving and departing but he insisted that those taxis were only taking people to the airport. We started to walk with him over to an area where a few private cars with drivers were parked, but when he said the ride would take 40 minutes and would cost 85€ we said “nope” and headed back to the taxi stand feeling a bit foolish and angry at ourselves for listening to him.
In the meantime a bit of drama had erupted at the taxi stand. A well-dressed elderly man and an equally well-dressed older woman were about to come to blows over who was going to get the next taxi. They were yelling at each other, calling each other names and the woman had her purse raised and was about to strike the man. He had actually been in line ahead of her, but for some reason she had felt entitled to the cab and was not going to let it go. However, before things really got out of hand two more taxis appeared, so the man got into the first one, the woman the one behind (both of them still steaming), and we climbed in the third, a VW mini van with loads of room for our suitcases. Our driver was a lovely woman who spoke English and who drove us past the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon and other sites on our way to Gare Montparnasse. We were at our destination in less than 20 minutes (not 40!) even though estimates had said it would take at least 30) for just 20€! She apologized for the ride taking longer than usual because the 20km race had made a shorter route impossible.
Thankfully the comfy seats on the train to Bordeaux faced forward! My cold was getting the better of me at this point though and I fell asleep for much of the ride. The TGV trains in France are pretty amazing, and travel at rates of up to 195 mph. The speed can make it hard to watch things out the window, but the ride is smooth and you’re at your destination before you know it.
We were very hungry when we arrived at Bordeaux at 2:00 in the afternoon, so Brett and I walked across the street for lunch at an outdoor cafe before heading to our apartment. We shared a delicious but inexpensive Margherita pizza and each had a glass of wine, and then walked back over to the taxi stand at the station to grab a ride to our lodgings. There was another American couple ahead of us in line, but when a little blue taxi pulled up they looked at it and said we could have it; they would take the bigger car behind it (they were large people and had four big suitcases). Our taxi driver, an elderly man, helped Brett load our suitcases into the trunk, we hopped in and were off.
Or so we thought. I had shown the driver our address and he had nodded that he understood, but it became apparent in a matter of minutes that he had absolutely no idea where he was or where he was going. Every time the taxi would stop he would pull out some old maps and try to find the address. I showed him the GPS map on my phone and he acted like he understood, but still kept pulling out the maps and we could see he was looking at parts of town nowhere near our destination, and he was sometimes looking at the map sideways or upside down. We became a bit scared, a) because we could not communicate with the driver; b) because we had no idea where we would end up; and c) because we thought the guy would run the meter up to 40 or 50€ or even more and then demand payment. We could have asked him to stop and let us off, but he had our luggage in the trunk and we had absolutely no idea where we were in the city or how we would find another taxi – we were trapped.
Thankfully our host called me to let me know he was waiting for us at the apartment (we were a half hour late at that point). I gave the phone to the driver, who had a long conversation with our host, and he finally got the car turned around and apparently headed in the right direction. We seemed to go in circles for a while, but eventually our host, who had been standing out on the street near the apartment, somehow recognized the taxi and stopped it! We got our bags, paid the driver (after our host argued down the price) and went to the apartment. Our host was shaking his head the whole way, telling us how bizarre the driver was, how strange he was – both old and not quite right in the head. We told him we had never felt physically threatened, but we knew something wasn’t right, and felt lucky to finally be where we were supposed to be. Our host agreed we were lucky, and urged us to use Uber next time, that it has a very good reputation in the city.
All’s well that ends well though. Our Bordeaux apartment is spacious and lovely, with absolutely every amenity. It almost feels like we’re living in a mansion compared to our Strasbourg home (which we had grown to love even though it was tiny). It was raining earlier today and as I still don’t feel very well all we did is go to the supermarket and to a boulangerie. We had a simple lunch after we got back, and will have cheese and wine for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, rain or shine, we’ll head out and begin discovering Bordeaux.