Rental car return debacle, Thalys train to Amsterdam, Red light district
26.05.2007 - 26.05.2007 20 °C
Our train from Paris to Amsterdam left at 3:55 pm and we knew it was about 3 hours from Honfleur to Paris. Working backwards, that meant we needed to leave Honfleur around 11 am to give us enough time to catch the train.
We woke up late and took our time packing and getting ready. We left the hotel just before 11 am. After buying some pastries at a local shop, we hit McDonald's for some coffee. We weren't proud to stop in McDonald's but it was the only place we could find that served coffee to go.
Pedal to the metal back to Paris, well at least for 1 km before I made a wrong turn and had us headed west to Caen instead of east to Paris. 10 minutes later we were headed in the right direction with Megan's Ipod blaring a random selection of tunes.
All went well until we got off the Peripherique onto the local Paris roads. The downhill slide started at the gas station. Have you ever been in a traffic jam at a gas station? I can now say that I have been. With a little patience, we were able to pay and get out. I pulled a semi-legal u-turn out of the station and we were off again. We quickly ground to a halt. The streets of Paris are like Belmont in Chicago at 5 pm on a Friday. No movement. 45 minutes later, we were finally close to the train station.
Problem numero dos, we didn't know where to return the car. I knew where we exited the garage when we picked up the car. I wrongfully assumed that you would return it in the same spot. Bad assumption. When you make a wrong turn in Paris, you don't just circle the block. The one way streets and traffic make this a blood boiling experience. If it wasn't for Megan making a quick decision to turn right on some unknown street in front of the train station and her spying the National rental car sign, I would probably still be circling the station looking for a return sign. "Look kids Big Ben." A European Vacation movie quote is very appropriate here.
The rental car debacle continues..... We are now it the parking garage and the signs point us down to level -6. No problem, until we get to level 6. There's a gate that won't go up. I back up and park the car in a nearby spot so we can figure out how to get the gate to go up. We call the parking attendant on the nearby machine. He tells us to put our ticket in the machine. Great, I have a ticket, but the machine won't take it. We try again. No luck. We call the attendant again. We finally decipher his English enough to realize that the machine won't work unless the car is next to it triggering the in-ground sensors. Success! The gate opens when the car is next to the machine and you insert the ticket. (stupid Americans) We quickly drive through and park in the National return spots.
One might think our troubles ended there. Oh no. Now we have to exit the garage. We are on the -6 level. The rental car return counter is on the -1 level. We have 3 large bags. All we can find are staircases. I'm not a fan of lugging 125 lbs of shit up 5 flights of stairs. Every sign that points to an elevator is wrong. No elevator. We eventually find an elevator that takes us to level -2. What elevator doesn't stop on the ground foor? We exit to find more stairs. Shit! I'm not happy and I'm cursing the French profusely at this point. After more wandering, we find a wheelchair ramp that leads to the return counter. What an ordeal. I'm sweating and it's a 100 degrees in the train station. I just want to get on the train.
Things do look up from there. We grab some lunch and wait for the train. With 10 minutes to go before our scheduled departure time, the platform number is posted on the departure board. We hurry to the platform and find car 12. We get situated and within a few minutes the train leaves the station. They sure don't give you much time to board.
Now things really start getting better. We are in first class. That means snacks, beer, cola, and food. What a score! The attendant just keeps bringing stuff. I can't help myself, it's free. I actually get full from the train food. That has never happened on any of my plane rides. I really like the train.
The train stops at several cities along the way. At one point, we think the train has stopped at Amsterdam. Megan looks out the window and says, "Yes, the sign says Amsterdam." We get our things and step off the train. I ask the attendant if this is Amerstam. He says no and so we quickly get back on the train. It's a good thing I asked because we would have been stranded in some random Belgium town.
4 hours after leaving Paris we arrive in Amsterdam. The tram ride to our hotel was uneventful. Our hotel was wonderful. Right on the canal and we have a view.
We headed out for a little exploring before it got dark. We wound up in the old city center. Then we decided to check out the red light district because it was close. What an experience. It is really hard to describe. There are paraphanalia shops, porn shops, and prostitutes everywhere. The streets are packed with men. Not too many women but a few couples. We cruise up and down the street once and then head to our hotel. We were exhausted from our travels. Tomorrow we are going to see the Anne Frank house and some sights.