Saturday, May 20, 2000

For our extended weekend trip to Paris, we needed to catch a train to Rotterdam, where we would catch the Thalys (TGV) to Paris. We decided to arrive early enough to catch a train leaving for Rotterdam half an hour before the last possible train to Rotterdam--a good thing, because the direct train was canceled and we had to stop over for almost 30 minutes in Gouda.

We theoretically had window seats on the Thalys, but our seats were in a row with no window at all, just lots of curtains from other people's windows. That was annoying. The trip was uneventful; only slow until after we left Brussels.

In Paris Gare du Nord, the ATMs weren't working, so we went to a change bureau to change a little cash. It wasn't until after we had changed it that we discovered that the bureau that we chose, the closest one (with the long lines) had a far worse exchange rate than the slightly farther one, with no lines at all. We figured that the $40 we changed would easily get us to a working ATM.

Buying Metro tickets was easy and cheap; the tickets are well under $1 per ride unless you are foolish enough to buy single tickets. In each metro station we went through, we looked at the ATMs, and they were all temporarily out of service. When walking outside, we checked the ATMs at all the banks and exchange bureaux we went by, and they were all temporarily out of service too. It did not take us long to joke that the ATMs were on strike. Well, at worst, we could change a couple of emergency traveler's checks at the hotel.

Going down to the Metro for the first time, the ticket validating machines were broken. I had read that you could get large fines for not having a valid ticket and so I was worried; I imagined the response of a conductor to "Honest, the machine was broken, I couldn't validate my ticket!" Despite my paranoia, no one asked for our tickets. When we changed lines at Montparnasse Bienvenüe, we had to walk outside due to construction, which meant that we had to (re)validate our tickets, and then I breathed easier.

The hotel, somewhat out of the way in the 15th arrondissement, did have non-smoking rooms available (yay!) and we checked in and got settled. Then we went to look at the Tour Eiffel. We saw the lines, saw that just getting to the first platform (of three) would cost us nearly all our cash, and decided to go find something to eat first, since it was nearly supper and I had not really had a meal yet. Fortunately, we found a place that took credit cards, a nice little créperie. (We were amused by eating Dutch pancakes one day and French pancakes the next.)

We then returned to the Tour Eiffel and waited in line for about 45 minutes. We wanted to go to the top, but didn't see any credit card signs in the window, and, well, if one of us didn't go up at all, we had sufficient cash for the other to go to the top, but that wouldn't really be much fun. We were relieved to find out that they did take credit card after all, and we both went up to the top. I suppose we spent over 1.5 hours in the tower, starting by going straight up to the top level, then going down stage by stage. We walked down from the 2nd stage to the 1st stage.

We were pleased to note in the brochure that we got with the ticket that there was an ATM on the first floor; no doubt that would solve our money problems. But it was on strike, too.

After wandering around the Champs du Mars, we found our first ATM that wasn't on strike--with a line of people. We got our first real hint that there was widespread trouble when someone came up behind us and asked, "Ça marche?" "Oui," we responded. Our turn with the magical money machine came, and we confidently went through the motions. It even had an option to use English, a great convenience to us barbarians not familiar with French banking jargon. Unfortunately, each of the several times we tried, we were told "Connection disconnected" and we were out of luck.

Somewhat dispirited and rather tired, we returned to the hotel at about 10pm and dropped off to sleep almost immediately.