We were about 5 minutes into our trip to Paris when I realized that I had forgotten my trusty French Road Atlas. Mon mari, ever the typical male, refused to turn back: "We're going to Paris; I think we can find it". We did. There it was. We could see it off to our left…no behind us….no to our right….wait, there it is again! It's not that we were lost; we knew right where we were: in the little village of ?#@!? We just didn't know where ?#@!? was in relation to the rest of France.
Allow me to go back: After leaving home we spent the day touring 'Castles of the Loire'. We admired (and purchased) tapestries at Langeais, discovered Leonardo di Vinci's tomb at Amboise (didn't know he was buried there!) and thoroughly inspected the kitchens at Chenonceau (see photos). After an exhausting day (for sis and s-i-l) we spent the night in a lovely small, country hotel, Hostellerie du Chateau de l'Isle near Chenonceau. Up with the birds (damn, noisy things) we visited the Cathedral at Chartres with its famous Labyrinthe (lunch at McDonald's; happy rellies) followed by an afternoon at the Palace of Versailles. We had planned on leaving our car at the train station in the town of Versailles and take the train into Paris. Not being suicidal or in anyway tired of life, we opted not to drive into Paris to search for parking in the Latin Quarter – plus it would be expensive…. The train station in Versailles did not have long-term parking. It had short-term parking with pictures of big, ugly tow-trucks hauling out cute little cars. Our options, as we knew them, were to drive back to Chartres train station where we had left the car in the past or, new idea, go to Orly and get transport from there. Orly it was. Only we missed the exit. And my guidebook said that one had to take a bus from Orly to the train station. Sounded complicated so we decided to simply drive to the train station.
Which is how we found ourselves in the smack in the middle of ?#@!? not knowing where it was because I didn't have my Road Atlas. Sis and s-i-l had been amazingly quiet during all this (I think they were asleep). Suddenly sis has a bright idea. "Why don't you ask for directions?" she says
scathingly helpfully. Mon mari pointed out that asking for directions is easy. It's understanding the answer that's difficult. She wasn't buying this excuse because she had seen me manage limited conversations in French in shops, cafes, with neighbors, etc. She has never tried to speak another language so is blissfully unaware of the many pitfalls. So, I will now attempt to explain for her and everyone else why it's so damn difficult to ask for directions!
Let's say I'm in Paris and I ask directions to Chez Rene (which I would do). The person would (most likely) turn in the correct direction and say the equivalent of "go straight until you come to xyz street, then turn left for 2 blocks. It will be on your right" I understand this easily and thank him.
Now, I'm in ?#@!? and I already don't know where I am. I am to ask a nice-looking stranger how to get to the nearest train station that has long-term parking. So, to be clear: I don't know where I am and I don't know where I want to go but I am to ask a stranger to tell me and expect a concise, understandable answer. The nice stranger would probably start with the obvious: what's long-term parking? (He lives there, if he takes a train into Paris, he walks to the station) Then the directions: Weellll, I suppose you could go over to $##@?! or maybe to @##?!$… at which point another passerby stops to be helpful. An argument ensues between the two as to which station would be best for me. Then they start quizzing me in rapid-fire French: What station in Paris do you want? Do you want the TGV, the RER, the TER or the Metro? Do you have luggage? What hotel are you staying at? Do you agree with Bush's policy in Iraq? Where do you live? Do you like France? I'm still trying to understand the first 2 questions; haven't even heard the next 2… my eyes roll back, I faint and end up getting to Paris in a nice, cushy ambulance.
We found the station…..eventually….in time to have dinner in Paris which, after all, is the only truly important thing!
Oh yeah: the parking was free, the train took us directly to the Metro station next to our hotel and our car was happily waiting for us, unscathed, upon our return on Sunday. Train ticket? 4.80 euro each.