Thursday, 12 July 2012

France: Canal Boat Trip Ends, Chatillon-sur-Loire to Gien, Gien to Paris

12 May

From the journal:

“A quick pack, a final clean, a perfectly satisfactory handover back to the Crown Blue rep, and it was time to say goodbye to our lovely Cirrus. We enjoyed her so much, irrespective of how ill we were.

Goodbye Cirrus, et merci beaucoup!

The manager at the Connoisseur office called a taxi for us to take us to Gien, where we would get a train back to Paris. The taxi arrived really quickly and so the canal was soon left behind. The drive to Gien took about half an hour, and was a drive through beautiful countryside, so another enjoyable episode. The lady taxi driver suggested that she take us first to a shop or supermarket before going to the railway station as she said the station was really small and we wouldn’t be able to get anything to eat there. We – stupid us – declined the offer and got her to take us straight to the station.

We had about 90 minutes to wait for the train, and the taxi driver was so right – there was no café or such at the station, only a dispensing machine where you could buy crisps and soft drinks.

I have to say, I did really well buying our tickets. I had been mentally rehearsing exactly what to say, and the transaction was speedy and uneventful, and we had our tickets in our hand in a couple of minutes. It was amazing, though, to watch French people coming in to buy tickets. It was never speedy and uneventful; it was a case of lots and lots of conversation, sometimes consternation, sometimes argumentation, sometimes bordering on confrontation. We were stunned: how could I, a foreigner, find buying a ticket so quick and easy, while for the locals it was almost high drama. So fascinating!

Wandering outside, I spotted a little bar/bistro down the road and suggested we go there to have a drink and a bite to eat. HUGE MISTAKE! We lugged our luggage (like that!), walked inside, and – oooh. It was like some ghastly truckies place, and I’m talking tough truckies. The place smelled sooo bad. All conversation stopped. Everybody in there – all those leather or donkey jacketed men with shaved heads and their friends – turned and just starred at us. No welcoming “Bonjour” here. We sort of smiled, very difficult to do when you’re feeling so conspicuous and uncomfortable.  There was a sort of enclosed verandah where we could see quite a few Asian people sitting, and so we went out there, thinking that perhaps they were fellow tourists and so it may be a more comfortable option. Hm, these were not fellow tourists, these were just more of the sort of people who were inside, except maybe worse because they made me think of the North Vietnamese guys in “The Deer Hunter”, and I was waiting for them to pull out a gun for a game of Russian RouletAnd to make things even worse, if the air inside was bad, the air out here was even worse. God only knows what they were smoking out there, but it just about made my eyes water.  We tried to act really cool, pretended that nothing on the menu appealed, and exited stage left, attempting to do so in a really casual manner and not run, which is what we wanted to do. Phew, when travelling there will definitely be times that take you way outside your comfort zone, times when you really don’t feel at all at ease – I’ve felt it in a couple of country towns here in Australia – and so it had to happen at some time in beautiful France.

So, we walked back down the street to the station, and those dispenser machines looked sooo good to us now. Coke and crisps for lunch, what could be better.

The train was, of course, lovely, and the carriages super comfortable. There was only one other person in our carriage for the whole trip to Paris, so we were free to ooh and aah over the stunning scenery as much as we liked.

The train pulled into Gare de Lyon, and we felt that we had been away for far more than a week. We walked straight out of the station and got a taxi straight away to take us back to the Emeraude Louvre Montana.

Ah, during the cab ride we got to be part of a little play in itself, as at one point we were pulled up at traffic lights and the people in the car next to us wound down their window and asked our driver for directions to somwhere. Like a taxi driver in “The Amazing Race” he gave very long, very involved directions, but then ended up telling them to follow him. And so we swept through the streets of Paris – no, not with the warm wind in our hair – with our taxi driver waving his arm in the air to the vehicle behind us, beeping to say goodbye when it was their time to turn off. It was charming and another example of people going out of their way to help others.

Ah, here she is to greet us.

When we got back to the hotel, it was wonderful to find that we had been allocated the same room we had stayed in before the canal boat trip, and beautiful to have the staff say hello and welcome us back. It really felt like coming home. The Louvre Montana’s management really know how to pick great employees.

What a wave.
We dropped our bags in the room and then headed around the corner to rue Saint-Honoré for some lunch at one of our favourite little cafés before heading back to the hotel for a long, long, long bath. Ah, heaven!

Must find out who this guy was, because we walked past
this statue almost every day and I fell in love with it.

In the evening we walked around the corner to Cityrama and booked ourselves onto a trip to Versailles for the 13th, and then wandered along rue de Rivoli picking up a few more souvenirs to take home.

For dinner we – of course – went back to Le Carrousel, and the meal was really fantastic. We had a wonderful, flirty waiter. I couldn’t decide what to have for dessert and so he brought me a whole plate of tiny tasters – no, not café gourmand, there were at least half a dozen delicious delights. Fabulous.

She is even more lovely at night.

A final walk over to gaze at the Louvre to our left and the Eiffel to our right in the moonlight, and then back to our room and into that huge, huge super comfortable bed for the best sleep we’d had for days.”

What a great outlook for a restaurant.

See you at Versailles tomorrow.

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