Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

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There and back again, part 1

This morning, I got back from my trip to YAPC::Europe in Paris.

Monday/Tuesday, 21/22 July

I left Hamburg on Monday evening at around ten at night, on the night train to Paris/Stuttgart (it split up during the night) and arrived the next morning around nine.

I had read in one of the guides I had looked at that, due to bombs having been left in luggage lockers in the past, many railway stations had closed their luggage locker facilities but that Gare du Nord still had them. Fortunately, I thought, that's the railway station where I'm arriving.

However, one information kiosk I came across had a sign saying "no luggage locker facilities here; nearest facilities at Gare de l'Est". That was slightly annoying. Going down to the luggage lockers showed that there was indeed a sign there saying the facility was currently not open.

I went downstairs to the metro level to buy a week's ticket for the Paris public transport system (Carte Orange hebdomadaire, zones 1–2). I had brought a passport photograph for this purpose; it turned out to be larger than the space provided for the picture but I stuck it in anyway.

Then I headed off to Gare de l'Est—on foot, since it's not that far away from Gare du Nord. I had a look around there but didn't find any luggage lockers; only signs where the "luggage lockers this way" parts had had black plastic stuck over them. A map of the station showed that the luggage locker area was accessible from the front hall and also from the hall with the platforms, but I didn't see the front entrance.

I was a little frustrated and also hungry, so I bought a sandwich from an automatic vending machine and sat down on a bench in the (seemingly disused) luggage checking area to eat it. While I was sitting there, a group of people came along with musical instruments; they seemed to be looking for the luggage lockers as well. I jokingly asked them whether they knew where the luggage lockers were and they replied they were looking for them as well.

When I was finished with my sandwich, I got up to walk back out. On my way, I saw a sign saying that the luggage lockers were accessible from between platforms 12 and 13 (or some such), so I went into the platform area and, indeed, found luggage lockers. There was a sign outside saying that they were only for travelleres possessing a valid long-distance ticket. I thought about that and decided it did apply to me since I had come into Paris on a long-distance ticket, even if it was not Gare de l'Est that I had arrived on.

I went inside (through a metal detector, while my luggage was X-rayed) and saw that there were three sizes of lockers. The large ones went for €5 and the medium ones were €3.40; there were also extra-large ones but I could see I wouldn't need one of those. Since I could fit my suitcase into a medium locker, I didn't particularly feel like paying €5; on the other hand, the lockers wanted exact change, which I didn't have. I asked a couple of other travellers but they couldn't make change for me, either. After a little while, I gave up in disgust and resigned myself to carting my suitcase around Paris while I went sight-seeing for a bit. Thank goodness it had rollers.

My first destination was the main tourist information office on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I went there by RER; it was a surprisingly quick ride. Those trains seem to be very useful for getting around in Paris quickly, since they don't stop as often as the metro. On the other hand, they're only useful if they go where you're interested in going :)

At the tourist information office, I got a couple of useful maps (especially a bus map) but little information. I wanted to know when the bus 318 runs from Galliéni to the stop Étienne Marcel; the lady behind the counter didn't seem to know what I was talking about. She more or less reiterated what the chap on the telephone a few days earlier had told me: that busses in Paris run until nearly midnight and generally every quarter of an hour or so. She didn't seem to understand that this was a suburban bus line. Ah, the disadvantages of staying outside the city borders, even if it's only 200m outside.

After that, I decided to walk down Champs-Élysées for a bit of "flavour". After a while, I decided to "fast forward" a little bit since I was getting tired of walking; I took the metro a couple of stops until Place de la Concorde, from where I wanted to have a look at the Jardins des Tuileries. However, the sandy paths there didn't agree much with the little wheels on my suitcase, and I decided to go to the hotel and see whether I could go to my room already and leave my luggage there.

I asked the "Metro" application on my PDA how to get to Gallieni and it provided an interesting suggestion: take the 76 bus from Louvre-Rivoli to Gallieni. This took longer than taking the metro, but the app included it as an alternative because it meant fewer connections. I decided to take the bus in order to see a little bit of the city.

I took the metro from Concorde to Louvre-Rivoli (another couple of stops) and asked the person in the ticket booth where the 76 stops. He was able to tell me, and I found a bus at the stop, waiting to leave. I got in and sat near the front in order to see better.

The bus started off going along the bank of the Seine and then veered off through fairly narrow streets towards the edge of the city. At Gallieni, I had a look to see whether the bus stop of the 318 had a timetable; it had. I could see what I had suspected from somewhere before: that it only ran until about 8:30 pm, at least on the section of the route I was interested in.

After a while, the bus came and I took it. The bus stop was only two blocks away from the hotel.

I checked into the hotel. They asked me whether I wanted to pay a day at a time or for the complete stay at once, which I found rather odd. I paid for everything at once: three nights @ €35 plus three breakfasts @ €3.40, for a total of €115.20. A fair bit of money by my standards, but cheap for a hotel. I got a printed receipt that included my room number and code which I needed to tap into a device on my room door to enter.

The room was fairly Spartan: a double bed and a bunk bed, a small corner desk with chair, a sink, and a television. Underneath the bunk bed was a little rod and some coat hangers. No drawers, no wardrobe, nothing else.

The toilets were in the corridor: they had no seat or lid, though the rim was a bit wider so one could use it as a seat if one felt like it. Unlocking the door after use automatically flushed the toilet; there was no flush handle. After leaving the cabin, the "in use" light remained on and after a while, the cabin was cleaned automatically. Similarly, the shower cabin (also on the corridor) was cleaned automatically after leaving it.

What I found a bit annoying about the toilets was that they had no wash-hand basin; after using it, I had to go back to my room to wash my hands.

I went down to the reception and asked whether there was a place to go shopping. He replied that indeed there was; a large shopping centre was diagonally across the street. I also asked which metro station was closer, Robespierre or Porte de Montreuil, and got told that Porte de Montreuil was more convenient. (It seemed further away to me when I walked there once while exploring the neighbourhood a little, but that could have been subjective. At any rate, I always used Robespierre to get away.)

That afternoon, I went shopping for a little: buying something for supper that evening, some sweets to eat in the evenings, and water.

When I was finished, I went back into Paris to register for the conference; it was around five o'clock by now and the timetable said that one could register early from four until seven the evening before the start of the conference.

While leaving the metro at Strasbourg-St Denis, someone noticed the orange YAPC::Europe::19100 shirt I was wearing; it turned out to be one of the organisers. He kindly showed me exactly how to get to the CNAM, the venue, and then I registered and got my bag and T-shirt.

I decided against going to the pub with the others and did a little more sightseeing instead. I went to Notre Dame and had a look at the square. I didn't go inside, since I felt improperly dressed with my shorts and T-shirt.

After that, I decided whether to have a look at Sacré-Cœur as well but decided against it, since I would have had to go back via Porte de Montreuil then since the bus wouldn't be running from Gallieni any more.

More in a later post; this one is already big enough.

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