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Long Day's Journey Into Night
updated: Oct 31, 2009, 8:52 AM
By John McCafferty
(This is one in a series of John McCafferty's and Sharon Dirlam's train escapades around Europe, from Spain to Norway and France to Poland.)
After prowling around the famous Riviera and spending an idyllic several days in Provence with Americans Frank and Mandy Frost, a crude Americaine would say, "Le merde toucha le ventilateur!" (the s--- hit the fan!).
It started as soon as Mandy dropped us off early in the morning in Avignon. We'd had a wonderful, restful, interesting time with her and Frank, in their charmant seasonal digs in a little Provence town. But she had no sooner driven off than we found that the train from Avignon to Marseilles, connecting to our target city of Barcelona, was "fully booked," a term you really come to hate.
Heavy sigh (another thing you do a lot of) . . . What to do . . .
We decided to head to Paris and catch a connection to Spain there, so we booked seats and were soon on our way. But when we arrived in the huge Gare du Nord station -- later in the afternoon than planned owing to an auto crash on the tracks somewhere -- we found that trains from there were "fully booked."
The booking clerk du Nord, luckily for us, was a happy, helpful young man who suggested we zoom over to the Gare Montparnasse, get tix to Bordeaux, and from there to Barcelona. Longer, more roundabout, but available - thanks to our unlimited Eurail Pass. We had to hurry, but we'd spent time in Paree before and knew the Metro system, so we got to Montparnasse probably about as fast as humanly possible.
Panting, we rushed to a ticket window and were relieved to get tix to Bordeaux.
We flopped into a seat and across from a nice-looking young guy who frowned at us, his face saying "Aw merde, pourquois moi?" After the hectic day on trains and metros, dragging our luggage, we probably looked like a pair of escapees from a mental hospital. I couldn't get my hand loose from the tangle of two bag straps and a cane, and began to curse as I thought I was breaking my fingers.
Sharon helped untangle me while I yelled at her to check the tix and see if we were in the right car while there was still time. She confirmed that it didn't matter, and order was finally restored.
In Bordeaux we stumbled into a good hotel deal we'd found elsewhere, the Ibis chain, which offers reasonable prices but are usually located out in the 'burbs. This one was only a few blocks from the train station. Exiting the station, you turn right on Rue Wino, left on Place Derelict and you're there, relaxed at last.
Bordeaux didn't seem too impressive to me, including the countryside. Unless the surroundings are noteworthy, as in the Napa or Santa Ynez valleys in California, if you've seen one vineyard you've seen 'em all.
BUT there are a couple of good museums there, and almost worth a trip in itself was the best croissant/pastry shop ever: Le Pain d'Emmeline. Old Bernard behind the counter, probably Emmeline's husband, offered a splendid variety of fruity, fluffy, creamy stuff, with a nice little pot of cherry confiture on the side, some typically fine French coffee . . . sigh . . . I LOVED that place, reluctantly leaving after two days' breakfasts. Total breakfast cost for two per morning: $16 US. (Ibis's tired-looking breakfast offerings would have cost $22 US.)
On to Barcelona. . .
Photographs of various journeys on www.picturetrail.com/mccafferty
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