And so we bid a fond farewell to Amsterdam. What a lovely city full of lovely people. The contrast it provides to Paris, as you’ll read later, makes us especially appreciative of that Dutch city. I don’t know if we’ll be back, but if we do come back, it will be gladly.
These are our last photos of Amsterdam, including a bevy of parked bicycles that so defines the city.
And of course the last Door of the Day:
We boarded a Thaylis train for Paris after returning our rental car. It was nice to drive early on Sunday morning as there was little traffic, and downtown Amsterdam is as challenging a city to drive in as I’ve ever seen. Already we’ve seen parts of Paris that are a little daunting (like four lanes all converging in a sort of roundabout with no street lines whatsoever, in what can only be described as complete chaos), but Amsterdam is overall more complicated. But it’s a good thing, because the complications favor bike-riding, pedestrians, and mass transit.
The journey through Holland, Belgium, and then France provided a little countryside scenery. Nothing overly interesting, although we did observe that once we hit Belgium you could see a noticeable difference in cleanliness and quality of life and surroundings. Far more junk was strewn about everywhere, and it looked much more industrial. The houses were far more unkempt than in Holland. Granted, it was a view from a train, but it was noticeable throughout Belgium until we approached France.
I’m not sure what the cultural and political differences are between the two countries that causes that, but whatever it is, it’s another feather in the cap of Holland.
We also have noticed throughout all three of these countries that graffiti is far more prevalent than we normally see in the US, but a lot of it is of an artistic quality that is quite impressive. Again, no idea why something like this is true, but from the train’s window, anytime there was a building, there was likely graffiti on it.
The train stopped in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels before it finally arrived in Paris. And that’s when the fun really began.
So just to paint the proper picture, when we left Amsterdam, it was on a peaceful Sunday morning with little traffic. The train station there was quiet and peaceful and well organized. The information booth they held to help passengers answered the questions thoroughly and understandably. Once on the train, it reminded us as to how quiet and smooth a nice train could be. You could almost hear a pin drop in the compartment. I will say I expected a little bit more of a full-service train, however… we were in car 18 and the food car was all the way up in number 1, and that’s just too far to walk to bother. It was otherwise like a very comfortable, and quiet, commuter train. We watched the countryside roll by, looking forward to seeing Paris for the first time.
The first problem we had with Paris was all my fault. I apparently wrote down the arrival time in a trip book I created to keep track of all this as 11:30. The reality was 1:30. In the meantime, Arnaud, our host of the AirBnB apartment we were staying at in France, had planned to greet us at 12:00. At 1:00 he began texting me. This is the actual transcript of the text:
Arnaud “Hello Kevin it’s 1:00 PM. Where are you please?”
Me: “Still on the train.” (At that point, I had no idea that I had given him the wrong information.)
Arnaud: “I will plan on another meeting at 6:00 pm. I am sorry I have other’s meetings and I cannot wait you.”
Me: “I’m sorry, perhaps the eta they gave us was wrong? How will we get into the apt.?”
Arnaud: “Where are you exactly?”
Me: “I’m not sure- the internet on the train isn’t working. My best guess right now is that perhaps instead of 11:35 arrival it was 1:35.”
Arnaud: “Where are you?”
Arnaud: “Hello Kevin it’s 1:00 PM. Where are you please?”
Me: “I can only guess that we are 1/2 hour outside of Paris.”
Me: “Please confirm that you can read this text.”
Arnaud: “Yes I can. We meet us at 6:00 PM.”
Me: “Any suggestions as to what we can do in the meantime with our luggage?”
Arnaud: “At the train station Gare du Nord.”
Um, yeah. As it turns out, Arnaud is a delightful man who simply doesn’t speak English as his first language. I still don’t understand why he kept asking where we were no matter what I said, but in the end, I screwed up and gave him the wrong time, and we departed the train knowing that we were going to have four or five hours to kill with two big pieces of luggage.
But boy what a difference a big city like Paris makes. Unlike the bucolic friendliness of Amsterdam with bluebirds nesting in the rafters pooping little sherbet rainbows, the Paris train station was all noise and mayhem and confusion. As soon as we got off the train we were accosted by Middle Eastern-looking women asking us if we spoke English and if so could we sign this petition for something or other? Taxi drivers wanted our fare. We saw a man and a woman, presumably competing vendors of some kind, screaming at each other to the point where the man raised his hand as if to strike her. Unintimidated, the woman continued to scream at him. The crowds roiled around them seemingly without taking any notice of the near-violence.
Carolyn went off to find a toilet (only to discover that it costs about 70 cents to get in. I’d heard that one of the U.S.’s hidden benefits was “free toilets everywhere!” Apparently that’s true. The bathroom was also unisex.), and while I was standing there wondering what we were going to do with our luggage, a very nice and well dressed man approached me and offered his assistance. When I explained our predicament with the luggage, he said that every apartment complex has a doorman or whatever and you can leave the luggage with him no problem. I was a bit dubious about that, and he even looked at a map with me and called Arnaud to see if he could straighten out that fact in French, but only got a message. I told him we were going to take an Uber to the apartment and he said Uber was not so good there, and there was a big strike of some sort in the city and traffic was horrible. I grew ever more suspicious as his helpfulness knew no bounds, until he began to offer the limo service his company so conveniently offered. I politely declined and proceeded to an information booth where the man inside gruffly pointed across the terminal saying I could store our luggage “over there.”
Not knowing quite sure what he meant, we proceeded with the luggage in that direction, with Mr. Helpful calling after us as if he couldn’t believe we weren’t going to allow him to continue to help us.
(I don’t know if there was a strike, but the traffic wasn’t that bad, there was no doorman of any kind at the apartment, and Uber was absolutely no problem. It began to appear to us that the French were either extremely unhelpful or extremely helpful if they wanted to rip you off.)
We saw a bank of elevators (why are all the elevators in Europe so small? Most of them can barely handle four people, much less two or more with any kind of luggage) with a floor that said something about lost luggage, so we proceeded there. We were greeted with an XRay scanner just like at an airport, so we put it through, hoping we weren’t about to board a plane to Algiers, collected it on the other side, and wondered what to do. Not a one of the employees bothered to help us, and of course none of them spoke English anyway. Then we spotted a whole bank of lockers. Voila! Lockers!
Unfortunately, despite this being a seven week trip, our big American luggage just doesn’t work that well in Europe. In fact, before we boarded the train in Amsterdam, the lady who checked our tickets shook her head and pointed us to another door, even though we had assigned seating, saying something about “there are written rules for oversized luggage, you have to go over there.” Like I’d read the rules about the size of the luggage. I think she was French, it was, after all, a French train.
Although to be fair, we did encounter a train purser who was French and very friendly and joked with all the passengers as he checked the tickets. Maybe he lives in Amsterdam.
Anyway, I did my best to cram the two suitcases into the largest locker they had, but after much grunting and sweating we just couldn’t fit them both in. Okay, two lockers. They’re $10 lockers, so my mistyping of a “1” into an “11” will now cost us $20. Long story short, it probably took us twenty minutes to figure out how to lock those lockers and get them paid for. The people at the counter were of no help at all. A man who was fixing the lockers came over to help, started the process, and left. But it still didn’t work. I used credit cards, got some change converted to some that looked like they only took change, it was useless. I must’ve tried 15 times and 15 different ways. And we weren’t the only ones. One couple had their ticket eaten by the machine when they were trying to retrieve their luggage. The man explained to them in French they didn’t understand that they had to have a ticket to get their luggage out. They explained that they did, but the machine ate it. The man continued to explain that they needed a ticket.
Some of the lockers were broken. Some had numbers over them while others did not. It was a mess worthy of a third world country.
All the while, virtually every French person we met would only provide help in one sentence increments, except for the guy who was trying to con us into an expensive limo ride, where we would’ve been left at the curb at an apartment that had, in fact, no doorman or anything of the kind.
It was a madhouse. Dirty. Noisy. Grumpy. Chaotic.
Welcome to France!
As we finally successfully locked the lockers, I simply cracked up. All of the stereotypes of French people were confirmed to us in one fell swoop. I thought maybe they were just a little touchy about speaking French. But in fact, most of them are just totally disinclined to provide any assistance to anyone, even if they are sitting under a sign that says, “Assistance Here.” Hey, it’s a better story than everything going smoothly and everything working well. And it proves that sometimes stereotypes develop for a reason.
So, our plans for that day changed somewhat, and we found a little restaurant and ordered lasagna and a Heineken beer (which tasted sweeter than the Heineken I’ve had in the US), because when in Paris, you must eat Italian food and drink Dutch beer. It was actually quite good, however, and not terribly expensive.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in a walkabout around Paris. Paris reminds me so much of New York, except for the architecture. It’s just a big, bustling city with people of every stripe and color, with cars and busses competing on the roads that are virtually bereft of bicycles. Amsterdam, it ain’t.
So we just wandered about, snapping some pictures here and there, until it was time to go back to the train station, retrieve our luggage, and Uber over to the apartment. But not, of course, without getting the Door Fix in:
The apartment is as advertised, and as mentioned earlier, Arnaud is a lovely man who gave us a nice tour of the two rooms. It has everything we need and nothing more, and is only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, which we drove right by on the way to apartment. The side-street neighborhood it’s on looks nice and quiet, and we’re content to be in our new home in Paris, albeit already exposed to the craziness that Paris can offer.
After yet another afternoon of walking, along with all of the challenges of travel, and after washing our clothes worn in Amsterdam, Carolyn lay on the couch for a well-deserved nap. During the next two days, we will conquer the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, The Louvre, and whatever else we can find. Two full days in Paris is certainly not enough, but we’ll get our taste of it and then move on to London.