Amsterdam to Paris
Fast trains and taxi lanes
More text than photos for this post I’m afraid, as it was a travel day.
As our time on the cruise drew to a close, we had one last chance for a quick duck into Amsterdam’s old town to pick up some gift boxes of chocolates for some of the crew who had helped make our cruise such a wonderful experience.
In the next few days I will go into more detail about the cruise itself and our experience with Scenic, which has been largely positive, and after the debacle with Uniworld in 2019 has restored our faith a little more in river cruising. Of course, nobody’s perfect, and I’ll break down the Scenic experience warts and all, but suffice to say that I’d happily recommend Scenic as a tour company, with a few provisos.
Back at the boat, the remainder of the morning was spent saying goodbye to people as they left for their various connections to airports, train stations or hotels, and drinking non-alcoholic beverages (and OK, the occasional alcoholic one as well) at the bar. Despite my protestations to the contrary, we’d been advised to get to the station at least an hour ahead of schedule, so at 11:30 we loaded a taxi with our increasingly weighty luggage, and took the 5 minute drive to Amsterdam Centraal, where we were informed that the minimum cab fare was €20. I think we just got gouged.
OK, so here’s the deal with traveling through different countries by train in Europe. If you’re simply hopping on a train to France, Belgium, Germany etc., you don’t need to pass through any customs or border checks and you just need to be at the station with enough time to get on your train when it arrives. The exception is if you’re traveling to England via the Eurostar, where you must arrive an hour early to get through the queues – something many English people don’t seem to understand.
While waiting on the platform we were approached by a lovely smiling lady in uniform who asked us if we needed help – I think she was genuinely surprised that we had everything worked out already. Little did she know, we’re from Melbourne, and when you’ve experienced the mess that is a VLine timetable, transcontinental travel in Europe is like a walk in the park by comparison. She stopped to chat with us several times in between ferrying exasperated poms towards the Eurostar check-in. At one stage she came over to us with a cheeky grin and said “they were the ones that wanted Brexit, but now it’s my fault they have to go through customs”.
A little later in the afternoon a non-smiling, officious looking tin-pot bureaucrat in a fluorescent vest waved her arms at us and told us that the train to Paris was leaving from platform 15a, not 15b where we were standing. I pointed out to her that the diagram in front of us clearly showed that our carriage would be arriving between bays J & K, and that the train was so long that it extended from 15a all the way through to 15b, but she wasn’t having any of it and barked at us in broken English to move to the other end of the platform. We started to drag all of our stuff along, then thought better of it and went back to double check. Sure enough, there was the smiling lady dealing with a bewildered passenger who was also supposed to be in our carriage, and when we explained to her what had happened, she threw her arms up in the air as if to say, “why am I the only sane person working here?”. She smiled again and said “Don’t worry, she’s an idiot – I’ll go and talk to her, you stay right here where you were standing”. About 10 minutes later she passed us again and said “sorted”. She was still smiling sweetly, but we never did see the fluoro vest woman again.
The train arrived and there was a mad panic as everyone tried to fit their luggage in to the limited space provided – in our carriage it was made worse by the fact that the train crew was using the luggage racks at one end to store their equipment. Thankfully this was the first stop of the journey, because as the train progressed through stops at Schipol Airport, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels, space was at a real premium. At one stage a message came over the PA in various languages warning about pickpockets and to keep an eye on your overhead luggage at all times – ten minutes later a rather frazzled traveler came through with two of the crew, frantically looking at each bag in the racks above and moaning “My f***ing passports! My f***ing passports!”. Oops, sometimes you learn lessons the hard way.
Finally we arrived in Paris, and quickly breezed through Gare de Nord station to the taxi ranks outside. A short time later a guy pulled up in front of us and went to load our bags. “Where you going?” he asked. I’d practiced this, knowing damn well that we would have issues with pronouncing Rochechaurt, the name of the hotel and the boulevard on which we were staying. I’d said it over and over until I was sure.
“Boo-le-vard Roh-shay-shwar” I said in my best French accent. “Oh-tell Roh-shay-shwar”. He looked back at us, dumped our bags down and waved another guy through to pick us up. I’m not sure what the issue was, but I’ve since learned that Rochechuart is also the name of a town in south-west France, so perhaps he just didn’t fancy a five hour drive at that time of the night.
Our second driver was far more agreeable though, and we exited into surprisingly quiet traffic for a Parisienne afternoon, and made our way quickly to the hotel, at the base of Montmartre. The entire fare was €7,50, so I gave the driver a €10 note and said “keep the change”. “Are you sure?” he said as he rummaged around for change. At that moment, I felt that I’d somehow slipped into an alternative reality – ripped off by a Dutch taxi driver, while a Frenchman went out of his way to charge me only the correct fare. “Keep it” I said, and pinched myself just to make sure it wasn’t a strange dream.
Two very lovely young ladies who spoke excellent English checked us in at the reception, and we were shown to the “big elevator”, which had just enough room for a few people. There is also a traditional French hotel elevator nearby, which is a great way for a couple to rekindle the intimacy in their relationship. In other words, it’s very, very small.
Speaking of small, we arrived to our room to find it was definitely on the cosy side, especially given the amount of luggage we have with us. I’m not sure how “swinging a cat” became the definitive means for measuring the size of a room, but this one was definitely in negative swing territory – you’d struggle to swing a flea and even the bed bugs have to ride piggyback.
It does have a few redeeming factors though – a comfy bed, thick block out curtains, and a heavy double-glazed window that keeps out all of the noise from the boulevard below, but opens up to a magnificent view of Sacré Cœur and Montmartre.
After a brief rest we headed back downstairs to enquire about good places to eat. One of the girls suggested a place up on Montmartre on rue des Abessess, and despite it being a bit cheezy and touristic, we thought we’d give it a whirl. Sadly, while the food and service were quite good, and the wine was excellent, it turned out to be another bistro where they open up all of the windows at night, meaning the cigarette smoke from outside is actually worse in the ‘non-smoking’ section indoors. By the end of the night our clothes reeked and our lungs were red-raw – just the sort of thing we needed when we’re trying to get our asthma back under control after our recent bout of COVID/Not COVID on the cruise.
Thankfully the walk back to the hotel was downhill all the way, and a short time later we were back in our
broom closet room. We took one last look at the grand old lady on top of the hill, before shutting out Paris and all her blaring car horns and police sirens for the rest of the night.