Today started early, with my body-clock waking me at 3.57am, rather than the alarm, which was set for 3 minutes later… In fact I am starting to wonder why I bother to set an alarm in the first place.
I must admit though, even 3.57 felt like a lie-in, as after many years of having to travel for a couple of hours to get to an airport, today’s trip was literally 10 minutes in the car to our local airport at Exeter. Probably the most relaxed start I have ever had to a trip – in fact I could have had another 30 mins sleep as I ended up being first through security and the sole occupant of the departures lounge for the first 30 minutes after I arrived.
So a peaceful start to what I hoped would be a smooth trip back, although with the ongoing strikes in France I couldn’t be sure.
Today’s journey back is yet another untested route for us… Exeter to Paris CDG Airport, then 2 1/2 hrs for a connection by RER & Metro to the Gare de Lyon, before catching the TGV to Avignon (confirmed a couple of days ago as running), before a final bus connection to Apt & a friend driving me the last couple of km back to the house. I know it sounds ridiculous and I would love to be able to cut the flight out of the equation, but it is bizarrely the cheapest way for me to get back today as the cost of train travel in the UK just for me to get to London for a flight from Heathrow early enough to make the bus connections back to Apt from Marseille was more than this entire trip – something is seriously wrong with the pricing structure for train travel in the UK, when this is the case.
Happily the flight arrived on time and having looked at the SNCF site with strike updates http://www.sncf.com I could see that if all went smoothly through the airport, I had a whisker of a chance of catching the RER to Paris at 9.24 with a Metro connection that should get me to the Gare de Lyon in plenty of time for my TGV.
So I sharpened my elbows, stretched my legs and started a fast walk via the electronic gates at passport control towards the Train station, getting a ticket from the automatic machines in the hall before heading through the gate and down the escalator to the waiting train. It isn’t often I walk down escalators, especially when hauling a suitcase in one hand with a rucksack in the other, but my watch had been showing 9.22 when I started buying the ticket so I knew time was tight. I really hadn’t appreciated quite how tight it was as I dashed into the nearest open door and was still putting my rucksack down when the warning sounded and the doors closed, leaving people I had passed on the escalator stranded on the platform. I couldn’t have come any closer to missing it.
I knew in the back of my mind that there was another train leaving 30 minutes later that should have been fine, but I was a little worried about how many trains may be running in Paris due to the strike, so was just happy to have caught this earlier one to give me a little more breathing space… Little did I appreciate how lucky I had been.
On the way into The Gare Du Nord I checked the website again, noting the connection it recommended and considering what other options there may be. In the end all I could come up with was the connection or walk… Google Maps showed it to be a walk of a little under 5km, expected to take an hour, so at least if there were problems with Métro line 5 then I had an alternative.
Arriving into Gare du Nord I followed the signs to line 5, arriving to find the access stairwell taped off…
… So there was no point in taking stock of what to do next, I zipped my valuables into my pockets, threw my rucksack on my back, set Google maps to show me directions to the Gare de Lyon and headed out onto the busy Parisien streets.
There is something rather nice about walking through a city and with Google guiding me I set off along the route marked between the stations. Many of the main roads were gridlocked with drivers blaring horns as they waited to inch forward, whilst the cycle lanes were busy with a stream of people riding all nature of bikes and electric scooters, skipping past the traffic on their way along the streets, past beautiful buildings…..
And venues, such as the Cirque D’Hiver that I hadn’t heard of before….
My route took me along main roads, through the Place de La République with its iconic statue of Marianne, the site of public mourning and vigils after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, the first of which took place at the Charlie Hebdo Offices 5 years ago today.
From here I walked along back streets, away from the wide boulevards past quirky shops including a cobblers specialising in shoes for Clowns…
… A few doors away from another selling delicate satin pointe-shoes for ballet dancers….
…. To the odd vintage & Brocante store, doing their best to distract me from the task in hand.
The smell of food from cafe kitchen windows was delightful and it was nice to see a different side of Paris, even though I was in its busy, beating heart.
My next stop was the Place de La Bastille, site of the original prison, stormed on 14th July 1789, flashpoint of The French Revolution and the date now celebrated as the National Public Holiday in France. With no traces left of the original building it is home to the Colonne de Juilliet, topped by the figure of Mercury, celebrating the July Revolution of 1830, which led to the removal of Charles X from the throne.
From here it was on past the Viaduc Des Arts, with its aerial green walkway and Artisan workshops Viaduc Des Arts, which I would love to go back to explore if I had more time….
… before finally seeing signs to the Gare De Lyon, which was soon within sight at the end of the street.
As I walked across the square towards the station, the huge clock was showing 1108….
I had made it with 31 minutes to spare, which proved to be just enough time to buy some lunch, a hot chocolate and board the train….
As I collapsed into my seat I realised how lucky it was that I had managed to catch the early train from the airport, as if I had left there 30 mins later, I honestly don’t know how I would have made it across Paris in time.
So time then on the TGV to sit back and relax whilst watching the cloud and mist clear and the skies turn blue as we headed south, reflecting on an unexpectedly energetic, but rather delightful morning, before the next stage of the journey..heralded by the sight of Mont Ventoux…
The local bus from Avignon to Apt, which arrived slightly early, provided much-welcome warmth after standing in the vicious Mistral whipping through the bus-stop outside the station.
The local bus service is superb and for only 2e60 (less than the price of a coffee) it takes us all the way through to the bus station in Apt and is a perfect way to get back to the house with the landmarks we know so well bringing a smile to my face this afternoon… The mast on the Mourre Nègre (visible from the furthest point), to Gordes sat high on the hillside to the left and Lacoste & Bonnieux staring at each other across the valley floor, before the final few kilomètres into the town against the backdrop of Saignon & Caseneuve.
As promised, our friends were waiting and bundled me straight into the car and back to the house, kindly waiting whilst I opened up & turned on the water as everything started to turn pink in the spectacular sunset that was setting the sky ablaze.
So that’s it, another slightly frantic trip, but I’m back, settled in and curled up in front of the fire, which is blazing merrily thanks to the great supply of logs Andy brought up when he was last here.
I’m too tired to do anything much tonight, so shopping can wait till tomorrow, although it’s tough as there is no wine or chocolate hidden anywhere. To be honest though it’s just lovely to be back after my longest period away since we bought the house nearly 4 years ago…. We really must make sure it never happens again!
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