After celebrating May 1st with my cousins, we left in the evening to stay at a small Paris hotel near the Gare du Nord station. Our room in the Hotel Maubeuge was small, but clean, with a bizarre décor scheme. We were on the top floor and had a nice window where we could even see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I took several pictures as the sun went down.
click on collage to enlarge then on click on each pictureIn the morning it rained for about 10 minutes, which was the only rain we experienced the whole time we were in Paris. We stopped at a café for a small breakfast. I had the best croissant – very fresh, crusty and authentic – yum! I think the café was called “Le Chalet du Nord.” We then walked to the Gare du Nord, which I found a lot cleaner than I remembered.
When I worked in Paris I stayed at my parents’ apartment but on the week-ends I would walk to the Gare du Nord and take the train to the suburban town where they lived named St-Leu-la-Forêt (20 kms from the center of Paris or 12.5 miles.) . Before that I also rode the train when I went to school in Paris after high school. Even before that, when I lived in St Leu, I rode the train to go to high school. The train station was about 15 minutes from home and luckily it was a walk downhill. I remember many mornings when I could hear the train approaching (it was a steam train then and made much noise and would also blow its whistle) and I would start a sprint to the station. I have a postcard of the station. It looked pretty much the same when I went to high school in the 50s as in this vintage card – well, almost. I found another picture of the station on the Net showing how it looks now.
My high school was in Enghien-les-Bains, another suburban town from Paris - about 12 kms from my home or 7.5 miles, but the train took about 20 minutes. It is a very pretty town, with a large lake and the only casino close to Paris. My high school was bordering the lake – I found a picture of my high school in winter.
The trains then were slow and used steam. I think they changed over to electric engines in the late 60s. Below are the types of trains I would ride then.
Previous to all these times, when I was a child, we would take the train at the Gare St Lazare in Paris to visit my grandparents in another little suburban town called Courbevoie. I have used trains for many a year. I do not have a picture of the Gare St Lazare but Claude Monet painted it.
La Gare St Lazare by Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926I also visited all those below and some, like Italy, several times.
When I would come back from my high school I sometimes would have to wait for a train to return home. I would look at all the beautiful posters lining the station and dreamed of those faraway places. Many posters said “Visitez…” which means “come and visit… “ Apart from Poland and the Czech Republic, I visited all those pictured below.
The first time I went to England, when I was 13 (December 1953), I met a small group at the station in Paris where we took a train to Dieppe, then a ferry to Folkestone, then boarded an English train going to London. The English train had more comfortable seats, in velvet, and attendants would come and serve tea.
A English Southern Railway boat train (courtesy N.E. Norman)
Vintage postcard of the Gare de Lyon, Paris
Starting in 1957, I went to Italy four times on vacation during the month of August. I would catch the overnight train to Milan then connect with an Italian train going to the Adriatic Coast. I had to get my ticket and reservation a long time in advance because a huge number of Parisians took the train to points south around the 1st August. Sometimes I would get a “couchette” which was a bench where I could lay down. If not I was in a compartment with 6 other people. There was a small corridor outside of the compartment, as shown below. I would also go to the dining car for dinner, usually the second seating.
During the night we would be awaken when we went through Switzerland. The train would stop and the Customs Agents would get in. If we had time and I saw some vendors on the platform, I would run and buy some Swiss chocolate. It was a long trip then but now the SNCF, the French Railroad Company, has very fast trains which they call TGV. This stands for Train à Grande Vitesse, or literally 'train with a very fast speed.' We took a TGV to Marseille in November 2009 and it took only 3 hours from Paris. It is a distance of 489 miles, or 783 kms, which is a little more than the distance between New York City and Columbus, Ohio - in 3 hours!
French TGV train Marseille-ParisWe walked around the station, bought some magazines and I took pictures. My husband bought the New York Herald Tribune to read some news – it said that Osama Ben Laden had been found and killed, which we did not know.
But we finally boarded our train and sat in our comfortable red seats.
This TGV train was going quite fast. I tried to take some pictures but they did not come out sharp at all. We were going through fields and small towns. We passed several rivers and lakes.
We left Paris, France at 10:01 am and arrived at the Midi station in Brussels, Belgium at 11:20 am, or a trip of 1 hour and 20 minutes. If we had taken a flight, when you consider going to the airport in advance, boarding the plane, the flight, then deplaning, it would have taken much longer.
On an another note, we had been considering taking the train from Atlanta to New Orleans. I checked this week and found one train, called the Crescent, leaving Atlanta daily at 8:38 am and arriving in New Orleans at 7:38 pm, or a trip of 12 hours. The distance is about 469 miles – 754 kms – which is less than the distance Paris Marseille (489 M/783 kms) taking only 3 hours on the TGV. In addition, there are many trains going to either Brussels or Marseille during the day. There is only one train going to New Orleans in a southern direction and then back to Washington, DC and on to New York City going north. Just one train for a population in greater Atlanta of 5,475,213 (2009 census.) The whole country of New Zealand has a population of 4,315,000 and more than one train. There are no other trains in Atlanta going anywhere else, that's it.
In my next post I’ll explain why we went to Brussels and who we met there (we had a great time!)