Touring France, the Burgundy Canal & Alsace, June 28-July 26, 2004
We knew it was going to be a long day. We left our home in Lodi on a regional transit bus. Our bikes were to be delivered at San Francisco International by my son, who had picked them up several days before. We arrived in Stockton and walked to the Amtrak station for another bus ride, this time from Stockton to Dublin where we would catch BART light rail to the airport.
When we arrived, we found our boxed bikes, my son and his wife and my grand daughter, Roxcie aged 12, at the baggage check in for Virgin Atlantic airlines. Roxcie was ready to go! Nancy my daughter-in-law was also flying out, back to Palm Springs where they all lived. We said goodbye to her and then said good bye to my son after we checked in the bikes and the rest of our luggage. Our tandem was in two big wooden boxes I had built and the single, (Jeanette's Specialized) was packed in its travel bag. Jeanette, Roxcie and I were ready for our big adventure.
The clerk replaced my printed internet tickets with real ones so I threw the internet paper away only to realize a short time later that our baggage claim tags had been pasted to it. I spent the next twenty minutes digging through trash cans, trying to remember the one I threw them in. Finally I gave up and we returned to the check-in where the nice lady wrote down the claim numbers.
Although we were touring France, I had been able to get return tickets from SFO to London for $411 each. The savings over a regular ticket meant that we would have to transfer to the Eurostar to get to Paris but the approximate $1500 savings compared to the standard ticket price made it worth it.
The 10 hour flight to London was as boring as ever but the food and the movies were good. We gathered up the bikes on a cart, passed through immigration and headed for the London Underground. I had brought suitcase dollies for the boxes and we lugged them through the underground and to Waterloo station where we had tickets for the Eurostar to Paris.
The lady assisting at the ticket counter looked at the tandem boxes and said they'd be too big to pass through the x-ray machine and we'd have to check them in oversize luggage. She told us how to find the check-in and we ran as fast as we could with the boxes, paid 24 pounds for their transport and then ran back to board, just in time.
The three hour ride to Paris went quickly. We exited the train at Gare de Nord and claimed our luggage at oversize baggage. The next chore was to find how to get to the youth hostel we had booked with all of our luggage and our bikes in boxes and a bag. A cab driver with a mini-van approached and said that he would take us to our hotel but that the cost would be E150. We just about fell over. We explored every option but, not knowing Paris, we finally agreed to his highway robbery.
The drive through Paris had us gawking out the windows. We threaded through small streets full of people until we arrived at our final destination, Pantin, a very ethnic, Turkish neighborhood. We saw the sign of the International Youth Hostel Association and knew we were home for the next two days.
We checked in, hauled our bike boxes down to the basement and locked them up in a luggage room and then decided to check out some place to eat before crashing for the night. We had been up for over 30 hours and anything would do. We saw a Turkish Donar-kabob across the street, walked in, sat down and ordered Donar sandwiches washed down with either Turkish beer or soft drinks.
Our host was surprisingly friendly and we asked about the pictures on the wall braving the language barrier. He understood enough English and our poor French and stated that they were all of places in Turkey. Our interest and attempts to speak French drew a complimentary glass of Turkish tea for Jeanette for dessert. While strong, it was good. She liked it, smiled and thanked her benefactor. We had made our first friend in France.
Accommodations and other recommendations: