Monday, June 16, 2014

STRIKE! the conclusion

Because of the train strike, a lot of unhappy people were stranded at the station staring up at the departure/arrival screens that never changed.

 Every seat in the lounge was taken and most of the floor space occupied.  David and I finally crowded on to a wooden seat that encircled one of the structural poles, but we were jostled by someone trying to squeeze in every few seconds.  We propped our feet against our suitcases to keep our balance on the wooden circle and discussed our options.

It might be possible to rent a car, although there might be none available as a lot of Parisians had probably beaten us to that option.  Then, too,  neither David nor I could imagine trying to navigate Saturday traffic in Paris.  It'd be far better to spend the rest of our days in the train station rather than come to an untimely end on the Champs Elysee!

We could take a bus if we didn't mind getting to Colmar a few days late, but we had no idea where to find the bus station, what the timetable might be, or how much extra that would cost.

It was at this moment of despair, when we were cursing Napoleon III for introducing Parisians to strikes almost two hundred years ago, that we noticed a couple people with SNCF vests and sheafs of paper.
We got in line and, sure enough, a woman helped us untangle the mess.  While there would be no direct trains to Colmar today, we could take one to Strasbourg and then transfer to another that would eventually get us to our destination.  Instead of arriving at 3:00, it'd be more like 8:30, but at least we wouldn't have to sleep in the train station tonight.  The SNCF employee even used her cell phone to call our landlady in Colmar, who speaks no English, to explain our delayed arrival.  With any luck, there would be a comfortable bed waiting for us at the end of the day.

David and I made a conscious effort to relax.  We got free drinks and candies at the SNCF table and tried to enjoy our unique vantage point.  This train station, a crossroads for so many, is a kaleidoscope of cultures.  We saw cornrowed hippie types hauling their backpacks, African women dressed in colorful garb and elaborate eye make-up,  Mulims wearing hijab, more thinner-than-a-slice-of-diet-bread  Parisians, and lots of Brits.

David and I got an outside table at Starbucks (Yes, they're
everywhere!), shared a muffin and waited.

Check her eye make-up.
When our train finally arrived, it seemed thousands were pushing their way into the cars.  David and I feared we'd waited four hours only to be turned away.  A conductor took pity on us and told us to go to the other train where we climbed into a virtually empty car.  After being crowded into the station with thousands, we were now in a car with only three other people!
 We rode to Strasbourg in style, but we weren't as lucky with the next train.  We managed to catch a local, along with a million other people, and had to stand during the entire one-hour trip.  Not that we're complaining.  We made it to Colmar, the kind folks at the restaurant up the street called our landlady, and we sat down to pizza and beer a little later. 
The great restaurant half a block from our apartment.
Practicalities -
If you get caught in a greve, and they happen a lot because the French love to strike, don't panic.  Find the SNCF employees wearing vests and walking around the station (evidently they can't use their offices, but their impromptu ones work well).  Write down the information, go to the platform in plenty of time, make sure to ask the conductor if you're getting on the right train (Cars are often "released" at various stops along the way, and you want to ensure you get to the proper destination.), and don't worry about your assigned seat.  Most likely no one will check your ticket or make  you change seats because there are no extra people working--only the driver and the passengers.  Don't expect any services.  The bar car will be closed so take your food and drink with you.

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