What Not To Do On a Paris Metro
For those into schadenfreude, you will enjoy this post. For the rest of my readers, sigh along with me. Our original plan (actually version three of the plan) was to fly to Paris on the 4th of September, take a train from Paris to Tours, pick up a rental car, and spend (with the McKennas) the next 18 days circumnavigating France, from Tours to Bordeaux to Nimes to Lyon to Strasbourg and back to Paris.
Two events overturned this plan. First, we have been unable to obtain the vaccine “passe sanitaire français” needed to go anywhere and do anything in France. Even in a cafe one needs to show the “QR” of the pass to get served. In our case, we could show them the paperwork for our latest COVID test results, valid only for three days (or even one day in some circumstances). Last week we submitted the paperwork to get the French pass, with the response that it would be four days before approval. We’ve heard nothing, even now; the application is still in the “en construction” status. To get by, we’ve again taken a COVID test. All of this must be paid for, of course. Paid for in euros which I was unexpectedly short of, because:
I was robbed on the Paris Metro on our way to Gare Montparnasse to catch the train to Tours. We were on a crowded metro car, shepherding our luggage and backpacks while holding on to a post. I was a 75 year old man struggling with baggage—a perfect victim. One man tried for my zipped pocket which contained my wallet. Frances slapped his hand and he stepped back and glared. Then, as the train was coming into a station another man on the other side of me pushed into me, interlocking his legs with mine. While I struggled with him, the first man got to the wallet. They both jumped off the train as the door was closing.
They got my driver’s license, a credit card, a debit card and some cash. We reported the theft to the station ticket agent, who was unable to contact the police. I called my credit card company and $8,000 had already been charged to the card, plus there were several other attempts that had been blocked.
There is a story I must relate. Fifteen years ago, while Frances and I were visiting Prague, a 75 year-old member of our group was knocked over and robbed. I remember telling Frances that we should get our more adventurous traveling in before be reaching that age and condition. There is a cruel irony to that memory.
Having a train to catch to get to Tours, we went on. Arriving in Tours I picked up a rental car (good trick, given I didn’t have my license!) and drove to our Airbnb apartment near Tours’ old town. The apartment came with a garage. It has been some trick getting the car into and out of that garage, but, with three others guiding me, we succeeded.
The apartment is a quirky place that we are sharing with the McKennas, but it’s well located to explore Tours. Before we could do much visiting though, we had a decision to make and actions to complete. The first was to officially report the robbery to the national police, given the failure of the station manager to do so. A young Frenchmen took us in tow and led us first to a municipal police station then to a national police station. None of the policemen (and women) spoke English, but our young guide (who spoke little English himself) convinced them of our reason for being there and I filled out an official “complaint”. After an hour there we “released” the McKenna’s while Frances and I continued to wait for some kind of interview. Another hour later, we asked if they could just give us a copy of our complaint. We should have thought of this earlier. One official pulled out a stamp, stamped each page of my original complaint and give it to us. Apparently, they were glad to be rid of us. Like minor crimes in San Francisco, transit robberies must be so common as to be recorded and ignored. I certainly am glad I didn’t have to look through mug books.
Our apartment. Just like we would decorate it.
Somewhere about this time the four of us had a heart to heart talk. We all decided to scrap the rest of the trip and head home. Traveling in France now is just too hard. (And I haven’t been the best of company since the robbery, I must sadly confess.) So we got on the phone with our respective airlines and we were both successful in changing our reservations to September 8th.
More fun followed with cancelling the remaining reservations for hotels and changing the place and date of returning the rental car. We’ll lose a few deposits but most of the prepaid arrangements should be refundable. A few expenses we’ll chalk up to sunk costs and sad experience. We were able to book a train reservation from Tours directly to Charles de Gaulle airport on the 7th, where we’ll stay in an airport hotel until the next morning.
We had a bit of fiasco getting new COVID tests and test results for the return, but we believe we’re set now.
A Touch of Tours
Let me take a break from our laments to mention that we have indeed been able to see a bit of the city of Tours. As I mentioned, our apartment is on the edge of the old city, the most historical part being but a few minutes walk away. Tours is on the Loire River.
We purchased food at a nearby grocery for our first breakfast (plus a couple bottles of wine and some cheese for later) but found a delightful brasserie/patisserie for our remaining breakfasts. I’d forgotten how good croissants could be and the oranges were squeezed for our juices as we ordered them. Using my backup credit card, I sheepishly admit I used “tap” payment for the first time in my life. It was quite convenient. (If there are any younger readers of this blog, please don’t laugh.)
Having leisurely breakfasts and suppers in the restaurants of Tours reminded us why we normally enjoy coming to France, even if we had to show our COVID test results to get served.
While for one evening, wine, cheese and story telling sufficed for a satisfying evening, two other nights we enjoyed local restaurants. Brian and Frances are both adept at picking these establishments, with Brian winning the award for our last Tours supper, Bibovino in the old town. We each chose a wine growing region of France and enjoyed three glasses (modest portions, I promise) of different wines from the selected region. The food was equally good. This is all the best of France.
Before, during, and after our meal:
On Sunday, much of mid-town and old town were dedicated to a street market. (And, yes, one had to show a vaccine passport to get by the barriers. Fortunately, the guards accepted our passports plus COVID test report.) All we purchased was frozen yogurt.
Sunday, besides several hours trying to get presentable proof of our test results, we visited Tours magnificent 900 year old Saint Gatien Cathedral. This cathedral was the successor to several Roman and Dark Ages cathedrals. The location has a long history. The twin towers, built in the early 1500’s, are 230 feet high! Repair and rebuilding took place throughout its history, as Hundred Years Wars and French Revolutions are wont to require. Renovation of windows and cleaning of the exterior continues. The stained glass windows alone are worth a trip to Tours. There are dozens of these extraordinary windows. These pictures do them no justice.
Monday we wandered through the old town. It’s a nice place to visit, both for the preserved centuries old structures and the ambiance of a lively French community. Mixed in with the structures were attractions such as The Basilique of St. Martin (merely 300 years old—and beautiful), Tour (Tower?) Charlemagne, and a beautiful in-town chateau whose name I failed to record. (Six years ago we stayed in nearby Amboise and can confirm the entire area is a wonderful place to visit, which is true of most of France—except maybe the Paris metro.)
So this blog is the end of an interesting but problematic trip. The fact is that traveling in the COVID era is not for everyone. Wearing masks for hours on end, especially in the heat, is, well, wearing. Places are closed and the differing rules in different locales show that no one really knows what best to do to balance safety with sanity. The degree of rigor in wearing masks by the natives varied widely, from most (i.e. > 50%), as in Tbilisi, to almost no one, as in Yerevan. Conformance inside establishments was much better, except restaurants, of course. Our advice? For the adventuresome, go for it and deal with the aggravations as they occur. For those wary of the danger or who do not want to deal with the aggravations, stay home for now. We can all hope better times will return.
It’s clear France does not yet want American tourists. Our inability to get the vaccine passport is proof of this. We tried both pharmacies and official websites. No luck. So be it. This is official France that does not want us; all the French people we encountered were friendly and, as in the case of the young man who led us for nearly 30 minutes to a police station, helpful.
One must also be wary of airports. When leaving Armenia, we arrived over two and a half hours early—and barely made the flight. We spent nearly an hour in the ticket line and an hour passing through passport control. Thankfully we got through security relatively quickly. And at CDG? We were in line at passport control well over an hour. It was a mess. Half of French colonial Africa was in line with us. Some of the national costumes were quite interesting. (Does this make my pickpocket-prone cargo pants the American costume?) For our return, we intend to get to CDG at least three hours early! And, if we have any luck, we’ll be successful with getting on the flight, France and American Airlines willing.
We are due to arrive back in Austin late the 8th. The trick then? Among the items I lost with my wallet is my parking ticket for our auto, parked somewhere in the airport’s economy lot. The location? Written on the lost ticket. I can only laugh.