Prior to this trip, the only time I had been in France was for a single day, (many moons ago) when I crossed the channel to Le Havre and was treated to a tantalising day of French food, lifestyle and language. I was too self concious to even consider trying to speak in French, leaving this to the friend who had accompanied me. But I knew one thing – I loved the place and was definitely coming back!
Our arrival in Paris was exciting and daunting at the same time! We had been airborne for a bit over 20 hours – except for a brief stop in south east Asia to change planes. We retrieved our bikes which seemed to have arrived intact and headed for the urban train station.
In theory, using the trains sounded like a good idea, except the bike bags had no wheels, so had to be carried. We arrived at the hotel without too many problems, but it was exhausting, and we were both very tired and pleased to offload the bikes. The difficulties of carrying such awkward loads was made worse by the fact that many urban stations in Paris are underground, so we also had to carry the bikes up and down stairs. This was Lesson 1: if your bike bags have no wheels, use a taxi or bus to get around!
We unpacked the bikes and removed most of the bubble wrap, leaving this in a store room at the hotel. On our return, we would need it to repack the bikes for their return air trip. The only damage to the bikes was a deep gouge on my Anthem, but this was a result of not packing it well enough. We had used layers of bubble wrap around the frame instead of rubber from old inner tubes (Lesson 2!). [Handy tip: rubber inner tubing is easily obtainable, is far more protective and when stretched a bit, is excellent at staying where it is put!]
We stayed only a day in Paris, intending to return for a week at the end of our tour to see some of the city sights. The day was mostly spent recovering from jet lag and revelling in all things French! We found a tiny, delightful restaurant near the hotel and were treated to the most friendly service. The two people running the establishment were very helpful and helped us navigate our way through the protocols of ordering and paying for a meal the French way using our stilted language skills!
Since my partner (KJ) had never learned to speak French, it had fallen to me to brush up on what I remembered from my schooldays. I felt this was important, as I believe that visitors to a country should at least have a smattering of words with which to converse with others – I think this is a simple courtesy in a foreign country.
I had studied the language for a number of years, but had never actually heard it being spoken by anyone except my teachers (except for that one day in Le Havre!). So, before we ventured on this trip, I purchased a set of ‘How to speak French’ DVDs and diligently worked through these, hoping it would be enough. [Now, is also possible to listen to podcasts and learn the language that way. For example, the excellent (free) “Coffee break French” which I very highly recommend to anyone who is going to a French speaking country.]
In Paris the language was everywhere – it had finally come alive for me, and it was an absolute delight! My sentences were slow and hard work at that stage (the tiny dictionary I had was well used), but by the time we left the country, I was able to have a reasonably coherent conversation, which pleased me no end.
When it came time to leave (having learnt Lesson 1 very well :-)), we got a taxi to take us and the bikes to the Gare de Lyon. This is where we were catching the train to Dijon. The taxi that arrived was a tad on the small side, but we argued with the driver that if he put the seats down, the bikes would fit. He wasn’t happy, but finally agreed to the plan. He got his revenge though, the fare to get to the station was far in excess of what it should have been!
The Gare de Lyon is one of many enormous rail stations in Paris. We were fascinated by the architecture and the sheer enormity of it all. The trains were similarly impressive and it felt so good to be part of this very busy scene.
Coffee Break French – a great way to learn how to speak French
(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our Tour of France)