The Train To Paris
2008 June 17 Getting Back to Chicago via Paris
Trains in Europe rock. Especially for those carrying paragliders.
I walked into the station with my enormous rucksack and two other
bags, bought tickets, boarded the train and sat down in a roomy, clean
comfortable seat. My bags weren't searched, I didn't endure
magnetometers or lines, nobody asked me for papers or even checked my ticket until we were
well on the way. The train left within seconds of its scheduled time of
There were no seat belts—you could get up and walk around at will.
These things are fast, too. After making a few stops within an hour
or so of leaving, they put the hammer down until we were zipping towards
Paris at over 100 mph. Watching the landscape pass by at that speed was
mesmerizing. It took an easy 3:30 to get there.
served only about 25 seats and I had a table for my laptop. All this for 70
Euros. When I first boarded the train, I wandered up into first class.
Sweet. Each seat has a plug, a light, tons of legroom
and plenty of width. Next time I may spring for the extra 50 Euros. I
wonder, though, how they would react to putting a paramotor on there?
Having ridden on the train it is now obvious why Europeans are paying
$8/gal for gas: subsidies. Public transportation must get the rest—there's
no way fares can pay for such elegance. In spite of a big
European soccer match (they call it football) the train was never more
than half full.
If you go to Europe, make sure to include a segment traveling by
train. It's worthwhile and a great way to see lots of countryside. Plus,
if you buy fuel for your car, you're paying for fare on the train anyway
given the tax diversion.
My diversion to Paris was last minute so I had no hotel reservation.
After arriving at the Gare Lyon (Lyon Station), I hadn't a clue where to
go. Do I go to a hotel? Do I explore Paris a bit? Unfortunately, I
wasn't feeling great so I opted for the hotel but figured it would be
best to get close to the airport. Thankfully, enough people spoke
English that I found a bus to the airport. Then looking for a hotel
produced sticker shock extraordinaire.
The first place I went to was a hotel in the airport. Yes, I know
those are the most expensive but about fell out of my shoes when the
fellow said they have only a few room left and the charge would 600
Euros. SIX HUNDRED! And in dollars, that's about $900. I'm sorry, I'll
sleep in my paraglider before I pay that. I finally did find a more
reasonable rate after taking a shuttle to the local hotel gaggle. Even
that was outrageous at 160 Euros.
Overall the trip was truly amazing. In spite of relatively lousy
weather we flew every day but the last and that included the cool bullet
train to Paris. Little adventures added plenty of Spice and my company
Thad Spencer is an interesting character that's course at an outer
layer but deeply human below. His quick sarcastic humor belies an way
with people that's rare. It was fun to spend time with him. He's a
paraglider and paramotor pilot who loves the variety makes friends
easily. One rainy afternoon he befriended and conversed with two
fascinating Germans. They talked for hours. Even I couldn't keep up but
it was fascinating joining them periodically between my writing and just
soaking up the incredible place we stayed. It was fun learning of his
very successful music business. He started out as a drummer then
combined his penchant for people to create a thriving commercial music
Natasha is a trooper, putting up with our paraglider centered focus
and even occasionally enjoying the process. She's a Yale educated,
published author who loves the outdoors. On one occasion she ran down
the mountain we flew down. She could keep up with Thad who stays in
shape with weekly aerobics.
Phil Russman, well, most of us know Phil. He's happiest when either
airborne, anticipating being airborne or talking about being airborne.
He's worse about it than me. And he's a genius with that camera. Too bad
we didn't have more sunshine because you wouldn't believe how gorgeous
some of these places were. And that was before launching.
Europe is not for spend thrifts. A bag of potato chips sets you back
almost $4 and my nectar of the gods (diet coke) costs about $2 per
12 oz can. Next trip I'll hopefully time my $/Euro exchange rate to be a
bit more favorable. We knew that going into it and just had to bite the
forget to bring power adaptors. The plugs in England are different than
the plugs in continental Europe which are different than in the U.S. I
brought an adapter and extension cord to give my many wall warts a place
Thanks to everyone who made it such a blast and to Phil and Thad for
making my trip so easy. They showed me some awesome sites and I had to
do essentially no driving or looking for sites.
My only regret is not making it to Germany. Next time I'll start in
Germany if Stefan Obenauer will still have me. There's so much beauty to
be had there in both country and people.
Another observation: the more I travel the more I find people to be
basically good folks trying to do their best to enjoy life. Sure there
are jerks and idiots but they're relatively rare. I've had friends talk
about French people being rude. I didn't find that at all—certainly no
more than in the U.S. Exude friendliness and, in all likelihood, you'll
get it back.
Till next time, Ciao.