We're getting more adventurous with trains. There are lots of departure times and routes. We know we can change trains all right, and now we plan short travel days so we'll be OK even if there are delays.
France is a special problem for train travelers. Before WW II, the map of France's train lines looked exactly like a bicycle wheel, without the rim: all spokes went to Paris. Even as late as 1965 the fastest way from Toulouse to Lyon was by way of Paris, almost 600 km longer. The reason is political; Paris is the heart of France, and politicians and bureaucrats decided where the trains would go. To make matters worse, there are no fewer than five different train stations in Paris, and there are no through trains! If you want to go through Paris, you must disembark at one station, somehow get to the next station, and continue your journey. The metro connects all the stations, but it is neither easy nor safe to move baggage through the metro. About the only other choice is a taxicab. Rail travelers going through Paris must allow an extra hour.
We have made two trips to Paris, in 1990 and again in 1997, and are eager to see other parts of France, but we decided not to fight the railroads; we'd stay two nights in Paris and then move on.
When we got to the Luxemburg station, the first train to Metz went through Thionville, so that's what we chose. Southern Luxembourg and northwest France are both rather industrial areas. In Thionville we merely walked across the platform to the waiting train for Metz.
When we got to Metz we found the next train to Paris left in an hour, so we had coffee and walked around the train station, which was covered with sculpture and a tall clock tower.
There were plenty of seats on the train, even though it was an express from Frankfurt, which made only one stop during the three-hour trip from Metz to Paris. We saw swollen rivers and a few flooded fields, but the water level hadn't reached the roads, let alone the high railroads. We felt safe.
We landed at Paris Est and taxied to our hotel. Cuddles was besides herself with joy. She could see the top of the Eiffel Tower from the hotel room, and if we held her way out over the balcony, she could also see the Arc de Triomphe.
We set out for a Paris walk as soon as we were unpacked. The streets were full of pedestrians, with tourists mingling with working people leaving their businesses; many stores stayed open late. We passed lots of fancy clothing stores for women and men, lots of little bars, pastry shops and restaurants, and lots of busy people with places to go and things to do.
We stopped to visit the Madeleine, a massive church with huge columns and a long wide staircase. Inside it was still huge, but dark and not really beautiful; perhaps imposing would be a better word. It was started several times in the 18th century and finally finished under Napoleon who wanted a church to honor his army.
We passed a couple of restaurants we had located with the Michelin Red Guide (the bible for hotels and restaurants in France, suggested to us by a friend) but they wouldn't open until 6:45 p.m. It was only 5:00, starting to sprinkle, and we hadn't had much to eat on the train. So we found a small place with a chalked menu, and sat down. The featured dish was "pot au feu" a pot roast served with vegetables and the marrow bone. The waiter showed us how to spread the marrow on a piece of bread and add sea salt. Delicious!
On the way back to the hotel we passed the British and American embassies, down the street from the official residence of the President of French Republic, Jacques Chirac. We find that doing the same activities -- walking, taking metros, visiting museums -- in different cities gives us a way of comparing them. Just as we had remembered, Paris is constantly alive and on the move, its streets filled with cars and motorcycles, its people moving quickly and with purpose. There are tourists in Paris, but they are heavily outnumbered by the locals. The buildings show more architectural variety than cities like Vienna and Munich, but most of all Paris has an ineffable atmosphere of a historic city living comfortably in present times. Of all the European cities we know, Paris is most like New York.