Armed with a fresh breath of confidence, we headed out this morning toward Gare Montparnasse with our list of places to travel with our France Rail Pass, this time *determined* that we would be successful. Delightfully, the open air market was set up along Edgar Quinnet, so we strolled through the center and enjoyed the jewelry, food and clothing articles available for purchase. At the end of the block, we went into Inno for "food to go" - Kristen getting loaves of the small bread she is so fond of, and I getting a baguette with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato.
We entered the station and headed to the second floor. What a relief! No indoor rain today! We made it to the first window we saw with an English-speaking attendant (a British flag is posted as a sign of this), found out we were in the wrong area for the use of Rail Passes, and were directed to the appropriate area.
I pulled out my index card on which I had printed the names of the four destinations of choice, as well as the rail passes. The kind lady was a bit confused as to what we wanted to do - after all, there were *four* destinations, and we could not go to four places at once. She explained that three of our destinations did not require reservations - we simply got on the appropriate train (what she didn't understand was we did not know HOW to find the appropriate train). Anyway, we settled on Lyon - which does require a reservation - and she told us the first train was around 1 pm. That would be fine - approximately an hour. I explained we would need return ticket reservations as well, and she asked at what time... About 5 pm, I said, as it sounded good to me, and would get us home after dark but in time to get enough sleep for the London trip tomorrow. "Only two hours in Lyon???," she asked. Ummm... maybe not.
Finally she offered the information that the only direct train from Gare Montparnasse on our list was the one to Chartres. The trip was only 1 hour and 11 minutes, so we would have a decent amount of time to look around. Great! She told us we did not need reservations - simply a validated rail pass. Ohmygosh. Ok, "Where," I asked, "do we get the passes validated???"
"Here," she said (as I wondered why it was so difficult to accomplish such a simple task). She validated my ticket after checking it against my passport, and tried to send us on our way. Errr... I pointed to Kristen's ticket and passport, still laying untouched before her. Ooops. She validated that one, too. When I asked where to go, she instructed (more with gestures than English) out the doors, down a ways, and to the left. I asked again, wanting something more specific, but that was the best we could get.
We went through the doors, down a ways, and stopped some people for help (they had on some type uniform - it LOOKED promising!). Again, they did not really speak english. The gentleman led us to an information office, and he queried the attendant. As we understood, we were to take the train that would leave from a gate between numbers 18 and 22, but we would have to wait to find out which. After one has experienced the entire event, the instructions become *very* clear. For a first-timer, however, everything was extremely vague and somewhat frightening. Bottom line: the train is at a gate that is determined close to the last minute - not known ahead of time, so you simply must wait until the gate is posted.
The ride was great - the train very similar to the RER lines but a bit faster and a very wee bit more "posh" (the seats were uphostered, but not padded, as opposed to the plastic/leather in the RER line). We arrived in Chartres and headed out into the town.
The Notre-Dame de Chartres was visible from the station, so it was simply a matter of "look up and find where it is and walk in that direction," which we did. Inside the cathedral, Kristen and I were both in awe. Mind you, I've only been inside one Catholic church, and that was on my trip to Yale; that one paled in comparison. I took countless photos, but did not use a flash, and sadly, most of my photos were not good (good enough to show family, but not good enough for much else). We must have spent an hour inside, walking and looking, walking and sitting, and then walking and looking some more.
We were so fortunate when we left, as we took a great path into a shopping district. We stopped at a Pizzeria, La Roma Nostra, for lunch. Kristen had a cheese pizza - larger than an American large size, for sure - and I had a lovely salad with cheese toasted over bread. We did a bit of window shopping (Kristen is *not* good at this sport - she understands only real shopping - the kind where money changes hands and goods are passed), and headed back to the station.
I won't bore you with the confusion of how we tried to find the train back (*LOL* - it was equally as confusing as how to find the train to get to Chartres), but we did indeed find the train, boarded, and arrived safely "home" in Montparnasse. A quick stop at Inno for more fruit, another quick stop at the chocolate shop for some more chocolates, and we were back at the hotel before 7 pm. The desk clerk worried when we asked for a 5 am wake-up call - "Uh-oh!," he exclaimed, "what happened???" *lol* "London," we told him.
We have two minutes left on our internet card, and the desk is completely out of them. I will try to make this post, and try to get the images uploaded as well, but not sure it is possible in such a short amount of time (I write this in notepad, then simply paste into the blog to save precious and expensive minutes). London is tomorrow - I hope the weather is as good as it was today!