Days 23 - 29, Strasbourg to Paris, Paris to London, London to Home
Day 23, Around Strasbourg
We had all day in Strasbourg and had a list of things we wanted to do that included seeing the astronomical clock in the cathedral, visiting some of the museums, riding the tourist elephant train and taking the bus into Germany for lunch. We fit all of them in and especially enjoyed the bus trip to the German town of Kehl, across the Rhine from Strasbourg. We left the bikes at the hostel for the day and used public transportation, riding the buses and trams for the day. We bought a family all day pass for E5.60 that allowed the three of us to ride as many times as we wanted. We had only one problem. We had bought food that needed cooking for dinner. When we returned to the hostel and went to use the electric range, it quit working. We asked if we could have the food cooked in the conference room microwave. No problem. I just told them how many minutes and waited by the kitchen door. We spent the evening visiting some of the people at the hostel.
Day 24, Strasbourg to Paris - 20 kilometers
Our train did not leave for Paris until shortly after one in the afternoon. That left us the morning to spend visiting Strasbourg one more time. Jeanette wanted to visit a museum but I was museumed out. I sat in the cathedral square, sipped coffee and watched the bikes and all the people while the two girls spent the morning walking through rooms and looking at paintings and artifacts.
Strasbourg has a very big train station. We were able to buy sandwiches, snacks and drinks to take with us on the train ride to Paris. We boarded the last car and hung the single and I tied the tandem to a handrail. The train ride took five hours, time that Jeanette and I did not mind at all since we peered out the window most of the way, seeing many more miles of France that we thought perfect for bicycle touring. Roxcie, on the other hand, crashed and cut zees most of the way.
We had saved our map of Paris and thought it was going to be an easy ride back to the hostel from Gare de Est. WRONG. We rode the bikes along the canal in reverse of the direction we had ridden more than three weeks before. The streets seemed even dirtier and even more dog poop filled after spending three weeks in the country, especially Alsace with it's practically scrubbed and swept roadways. In addition, it being a little past six in the evening, the hour had brought out all the disreputable characters who were lounging on the curbs, parkways, and any other place they could stand in order to mooch money and not get run over while doing so. Even so, we were threading our way through the heavy vehicle traffic and the sometimes grungy foot traffic when the front tire on the tandem went flat. Luckily we were in a park along the canal when it happened. We stepped around the dog poop and over to a bench so that I could check the tire and change the tube. I found a large shard of glass had punctured the Schwalbe Marathon Slick. I wasn't surprised. We couldn't have avoided the numerous broken bottles and other garbage on the streets. We were soon back on the bikes but within a few blocks the tire went flat again.
The tube I had used was one that I had repaired. I wasn't sure if I had done a proper repair on the tube or whether I had missed something else penetrating the tire. We were about a quarter mile away from the hostel. I decided to just pump the tire up and walk it until I had to pump it up again until we reached the hostel. It took about ten stops to make it the rest of the way to the hostel. Once there, our bike riding in Europe was done. After a rest and dinner I went down to the basement, disassembled the bikes and packed them for our trip home. The girls did our laundry one last time while I worked. We didn't get to bed until after midnight.
Days 25 and 26, around Paris
Our first full day in Paris, we spent the whole day at the Louve. Even then, we didn't see everything we wanted to see. In doing so, we left the hostel at 8:00am and returned at 6:30pm. We were tired.
Our last day in Paris was devoted to shopping. Part of the deal in taking two women on tour is that you have to allow for some, "shopping" time. When we planned this trip I promised the two girls that they'd be able to spend some time in Paris. We had also planned to visit some friends in Southampton on the way back to England by going via ferry from Cherbourg. I had purchased the airline tickets way back in November of 2003. In doing so I purchased tickets for exactly 28 days. When I laid out the trip however, I accidentally planned for 30 days. We didn't catch the mistake until three weeks before we were to leave. It meant scrubbing the trip to Southampton and cutting our time in London to the minimum.
My grand daughter had two MUSTS to visit Louis Vuttion to buy something for her mom and to buy 25 key chains for her friends. She had seen Eiffel Tower key chains near the Eiffel Tower for one Euro each. We rode the train to the tourist express busses, bought all day tickets and toured the town, getting on and off to shop as well as tour. In doing so, we fulfilled both of Roxcie's MUSTS and also visited Notre Dame Cathedral and other Paris landmarks. We decided to stop by Gare de Nord station to check out how we would transport the bikes back to the Eurostar. We went by excess baggage and were told that to have the bikes shipped tomorrow, we'd have to deliver them within the next two hours, tonight!
It was impossible! We could not get back to the hostel. Get the bike boxes, haul them to the Metro and down the stairs to the train, haul them up the stairs to Gare de Nord and then check them all in two hours, especially in the heavy afternoon Metro traffic.
We raced to a car rental and picked up a car from National for E68, and drove through Paris traffic which is more like flying than driving since you move along four wide and no lanes at 40-50 miles an hour and there are no rules as to turning left or right, even across all the other lanes.
We could just fit the bikes in the car. Jeanette and I drove back and made it just in time. The oversize baggage was just about to close when we arrived. Jeanette went in and explained that we wanted the bikes shipped on the soonest Eurostar to London so that they'd be there when we arrived the next day.
The rushing around and driving through French traffic exhausted us. We decided to have our last dinner at the Turkish donar-kabob, the same place where we had eaten our first dinner in Paris. The owner warmly greeted us. He took extra care with our dinner and said he was sad to see us go. He hoped we'd come again some day. It was late when we turned in for the last time in France.
Days 27 and 28, Paris to London, Around London (lots of problems!)
Since we had the car, we drove to Gare de Nord early the next morning and boarded the Eurostar without problems. Four hours later we were in London at Waterloo Station. We had debated dragging the boxes around to the hotel via the tube and then to the airport the next day and decided that it would be easier just to rent a car. We checked out the car and drove to the oversize baggage terminal. The bikes hadn't arrived. The baggage handler checked carefully and then tried to call France on the phone. No answer. He sent a fax and we waited for half an hour. No reply. he tried calling again. No answer. He suggested we go on our way and call later in the day when he was getting off shift. We drove to our hotel through downtown London and really heavy traffic, all seeming to be driving on the wrong side of the road. My wife kept yelling at me that I was going to drive right into the curb. I did a few times. We finally reached Lancaster Gate and unloaded our stuff at our hotel. The driving and missing bikes had taken their toll. We went to dinner at the Mitre across the street and took a walk through Hyde Park. I was worried, $4,500 in bikes were somewhere in Paris and we were due to fly out the day after tomorrow.
I called the baggage facility again the next morning and was relieved but still skeptical when the same handler I spoke to the day before told me that the bikes should arrive some time around four in the afternoon. That meant that we would have most of the day to explore London. We walked most of the day, visiting Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, Parliament House and Westminster Abbey. I was worried and nervous all day. We arrived back at the hotel about 3:30 and again drove through London traffic, back to Waterloo Station. The drive took longer than we thought and we didn't arrive until close to five in the afternoon. When I walked in the door I saw the two tandem boxes and the large canvas bag the single was in. I felt a huge release of tension.
The baggage clerk and I discussed the whole deal. He said that late delivery from France was very common and that the Eurostar only advertised oversize baggage delivery within 24 hours of passenger arrival. In this case, it was about 28 hours. The cause of the delay this time was that the French baggage handler had the day off on Saturday and no one was scheduled to take his place. The French terminal had just shut down. I asked what would have happened if I would have had to fly home, did they have some type of baggage forwarding. The answer was, "Unfortunately, no." If the baggage had not arrived I would have had the choice of abandoning it or missing my flight to stay and claim it. Cases had also occurred when French customs had refused shipment of an item and the passenger had to return to Paris to reclaim his property. I shook my head. Unbelievable.
It was five-thirty. We were relieved but tired and stressed from the day. We were close to the Globe Theater. I phoned. They had pit tickets for 5 pounds each to, "Much Ado About Nothing." with a show time of 7:30. It seemed only apropos that we attend that particular play. The play, featuring an all female cast was excellent. Roxcie really loved it and it was fun to watch the play standing in the pit, only ten feet away from the actors. We went for a late night Greek dinner afterwards and then drove back to the hotel, exhausted on our last night in London.
Day 29, London to home
Since we had the rented car, the drive to London Heathrow was a piece of cake. Dropped the rental car off, loaded our luggage on carts and in a short time passed through baggage check-in and security. All that was left was our ten hour flight home. Our 2004 adventure was over.