by wjw on October 20, 2014

The sad fact is, Henry spoiled us.  After ten days of Henry planning our travel, our meals, and arranging our public appearances, our travelers’ instincts had faded.  Thus, when catastrophe struck, we found ourselves with small resource.

Yesterday we flew from Tel Aviv to Paris.  The plan was simple: we’d arrive at 11pm, clear customs, rent a car from Hertz before their desk closed at midnight, then drive to a hotel where I’d arranged a reservation.

Of course that’s not what happened.  The plane was a little late, and Charles de Gaulle was built before travel by air really expanded, so there’s literally not enough room for the planes at the terminals.  Most planes sit out on the ramp somewhere, and their passengers have to travel to the terminal by bus.  Which we did, but it took time.  And then my bag didn’t come out till after midnight.  Hertz had said they’d keep the desk open for a while if they knew we were coming, but where was Hertz exactly?  The Information lady said we’d have to catch their shuttle, but seemed dubious that it would still be running.

So: an expensive taxi ride to the hotel.  We left the terminal to find a taxi driver in a loud, shouted argument with the guy in charge of loading taxis— and then he gestured us over.  Great, I thought, we get Shouty Guy.

Nevertheless we set off to the Hotel Campanile in nearby Chelles, which turned out not to be nearby.  In fact the ride went on and on, until the fare was in excess of the number of euros we possessed.  I wasn’t too worried, because I always travel with an emergency stack of dollars, and a lot of taxis now take credit cards.

We arrived at the hotel to find the place fortified against us.  A gate could only be opened by a code that none of us had (eventually a resident wandered through and opened it for us).  The office was closed, and pounding and yelling failed to wake up any manager.  It was after 1am and there was no place to stay.

Nothing for it but to get back in the taxi and head for the airport.  So off we went, but about halfway we saw an Ibis hotel off the road.  Ibis is a businessman’s hotel chain, with small basic rooms that make Motel 6 look like the Ritz,  and because it was near the airport the tariff ran to 180 euros per night, over $200.

Well, that’s what credit cards are for.  We checked in, and I gave the taxi driver $140 in dollars, plus 20 euros, which I hope made the whole frustrating expedition worth his while.

After a few hours’ sleep we enjoyed a hotel breakfast buffet, then set about fixing our problems.  That which seemed cause for despair at 2am seemed a cause for optimism in daylight: we got a taxi driver who’d take credit cards, and he took us to the Hertz desk.  Along the way I found an ATM and replenished our euros.

Wanting to prevent any more 2am wandering, I sprang for a GPS, which proved worthless.  We wanted to go to Rouen, but the GPS seemed to want to take us to Lichtenstein.  We were on the highway with all the signs reading “Rouen,” but the GPS wanted us to go the other way.

I noticed signs for Chateau Gaillard— “Saucy Castle”— which is famous as one of Richard I’s most splendid fortifications.  This gave us a pleasant detour to view the ruins, which are on spectacular limestone bluffs above the Seine, and then lunch at the celebrated La Chaîne d’Or in nearby Andelys, where I enjoyed foie gras, sweetbreads (if you’re going to chow down on a thymus, a place like Chaîne d’Or is the place to do it), and then a tarte aux pommes flamed in calvados.  Which was expensive, but which I felt was deserved after the preceding 24 hours.  Better the money go to a good restaurant rather than a bare-bones hotel.

So now, having achieved Rouen, we’ll view the cathedral, famously painted by Monet, and some other sites.  With luck, traveler’s reflexes have returned, and I won’t find myself in the cold and dark, on the wrong side of a castle gate.

Hélène October 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm

I live on the other side of France and can’t help you with Rouen (or Lichtenstein!) but I hope you’ll have a nice stay here. The two abbeys in Caen are worth the trip too and Bayeux tapestry and… etc. Enjoy!

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