We spent the morning quite leisurely - I've gotten over my "rush, rush, rush" attitude and have settled into a more relaxed pace. After studying the maps (again), Kristen and I agreed to visit Rouen - all we needed to do was locate the appropriate station for the departure. I asked the hotel desk clerk, and he kindly told us which station. A very interesting thing about the French language is the way consonants are dropped and words are run together in the dropping of the consonant. In other words, I hadn't the foggiest idea where he said to go. We thanked him and headed out to Gare Montparnasse, with a quick stop at Inno for our brunch meal - 4 donuts for Kristen and a chicken baguette for me.
We went directly upstairs at the Montparnasse station into the area we needed to be for our Rail Passes, stood in line and waited for an English-speaking attendant. I pointed at the word Rouen, showed her our rail passes, and asked from which station we would depart. Remember the funny thing about the French language? She told me the exact same station. One would think I could understand something as simple as Saint-Lazare, but when it sounded like Sahnlahzear, it simply was not clear to me. She wrote it down. I also asked her how to pronounce Rouen - and Kristen and I still giggle over that one! I couldn't possible pronounce it - it is somehow a one syllable word (even though the r is slightly rolled) that sounds similar to "row" - except not quite.
We took the metro to Saint-Lazare, and on entering the main area of the station, were hopelessly lost. A very kind elderly gentleman saw the confusion on our faces and asked our destination - I pulled out the index card and pointed, since I couldn't pronouce the word. He hesitated for a moment, as if considering telling us the direction, then motioned for us to follow him. I understood why when we arrived at the appropriate area - there was no way to explain the directions - it was simply too far and too complicated.
Our train was to leave from track 27 - we walked the considerable distance to the track and looked for the departure times on the boards. The next train was... THREE HOURS away! No, we didn't believe we wanted to wait 3 hours for the train to Rouen. Kristen recommended we simply take a train that left soon, regardless of destination. We left the high-speed tracks and headed for the local tracks, and finally settled on a destination and boarded the train.
The trip to Mantes La Jolie was right around one hour; we had our brunch on the train and watched the scenery as we traveled East/Northeast. When we arrived and left the station, we were not in an apparent tourist area. It was quite cold, and we headed toward a restaurant for something more substantial for Kristen to eat. There were two - each had signs saying "Bar - Restaurant - Hotel". We thought the second one looked more promising (there were pictures of food in the windows), so we selected that one.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon; there were perhaps 5 patrons in the place. The waiter, of course, did not speak English. I was able to inquire about frites (french fries?) - and he somehow explained that the restaurant part of the business was not open at the time. Lovely. I glanced around quickly and decided coffee was most likely not served. I asked for a light beer (Kristen still had her coke from Inno). He asked me if I wanted it in a can - ummm - that was fine, I said. He returned with a glass and a bottle of Heinekin (pronounced, of course, "in a can" - we found that disturbingly hilarious).
Boarding the train back immediately was a no-brainer - there was nothing we could see to do in this town, and we certainly didn't want to get lost. There was a train leaving for Gare Montparnasse in... 3 minutes! We made it, with only seconds to spare. Since we were returning to a different station, we got to see another part of the country. To see the routes we took on a map, it is very close to a square, with the right and top legs covered on the trip out, and the left and bottom legs covered on the return trip.
We stopped in at the hotel for a bit before going out for supper (most people simply don't eat supper here until 7:30 or later, and I needed to do a bit of laundry in the sink), then headed adventurously out, going a different direction this time. We found what appeared to be quite a nice place about 2 blocks from the hotel, went inside, and were seated next to a man and his wife. I had read on the Fodor's site that tables in Paris were so close together that you were basically seated with people you did not know - this is true in most cases, and certainly in this case.
There was a kid's menu here - Kristen had a steak (medium rare), with french fries, ice cream (vanilla with a chocolate streak), and a little toy elephant (Happy Meal?????). The adult menu was rather limited - it appeared we had entered into a mussels restaurant. I had... mussels. There were at least a dozen choices of how you wanted your mussels - I selected one that was prepared with a cheese and cream sauce.
We couldn't understand anything the couple next to us said, but heard the word American a time or two, and were convinced they were talking about us (who knows?). After a bit, we were in a conversation with them - they were from Russia, the husband spoke a little english; the wife spoke no english. Kristen had a wonderful conversation with the wife, a very pleasant lady with 2 children, aged 11 and 5, and showed Kristen pictures on her cell phone. We discussed everything from family to taxes - it was a broad range of conversation using limited communication skills, but it worked very well.
We said our good-bye's outside the restaurant and headed our respective ways. It had been a lovely day.