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  • Dougie

Intrepid explorers ... we are not!

Updated: May 21, 2022

Today we rise to our first real challenge ... cross the city by train, transfer to the suburban tram, find the market ... buy the purse. Return to The Pompidou on the way back to photograph 'The Bride' by the late, great Niki de Saint Phalle.

How hard could that be?

So, inside the Gare du Nord it took a while -- would that be the right term? -- to locate the ascenseur to take us one floor down, in the direction of RER line B. We could see the next level down. We just couldn't find the lift to carry us to it until, like Harry Potter's 'room of requirements', it magically appeared before our eyes.

We descended one level.

We began to think our journey might take longer then we'd imagined. And one level down, it took a while -- if that's still the right term -- to locate the assistance staff member of the Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF) to whom the disabled traveller requiring assistance must make themselves known.

Not. A. Railway. Person. In. Sight.

Fortunately, after about 10 minutes, Harry Potter's room of requirements came to our rescue again. Sort of.

I heard a voice inside my head. "Excusez-moi, monsieur," it said, "avez-vous besoin d'aide?"

And I thought, "those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad."

But the voice in my head persisted, "Monsieur ...?"

I turned round to discover that a member of the SNCF Maintenance staff had been talking to the back of my head. Perhaps he could see where what little sense I have (at times) is located.

I could tell what the man was thinking:

  • I don't have time for this.

  • We have 29,901 kilometres of tracks to maintain.

  • Any one of the 14,000 trains we operate every day could need emergency maintenance at any moment.

  • This tourist is going to attempt to communicate with me using his lamentable school days French.

But the man smiled politely and waited for me to speak. Which I did (utilising -- to the best of my limited ability -- my lamentable school days French). The man spoke into his walkie-talkie (which hissed and crackled in sympathy). Then he turned to me again and spoke.

"Five minutes." he said (in perfect English). Then he sped off to repair or maintain something to keep the French railway system running smoothly.

Not long afterwards we were assisted through ticket barriers, down lifts and along underground passageways to board the train. We sped south, under the city, under the River Seine than helped to alight at Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. The tram line we had fretted about finding was located immediately outside the station of RER line B because ... you know ... the French had thought about what an integrated transport system might look like. Then they built one so tourists like me could find their way around.

In twelve minutes we travelled the five tram stops to Porte de Vanve. And somewhere nearby, Paris's third largest and friendliest (according to Time Out Paris) marché aux puces is located. If you know where to look. Which we didn't. Not even with the help of the street map we'd found at Paris-Nord.

So that took some time.

But we made it in the end. And we browsed. And Spike bought a purse.

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