Towards Normandy

We got up early on 18 April and had an early breakfast at the Hotel Ibis while we waited for our 7:45 taxi. The previous evening we’d gone for a walk through the suburbs around the hotel.  It seems to be a popular thing in Zurich to go for an evening walk.  We met several people out and about with their children or their dogs.  We found ourselves at the local Co-op and spent some time wandering the shelves just checking out all the different food s available. We left with a small variety of nibbles including, of course, some chocolate.

Our cab came early and we found ourselves at the Zurich main station well before 8:00 AM.  This gave us time to visit the pharmacy for some lozenges for my throat which had slowly been getting worse. We then found our train and settled into our second class seats which were very nice and far better than economy on the plane.  The train left dead on time thanks to Swiss railway efficiency.  The journey to Basel was uneventful and we soon found ourselves at Basel bahnhof drinking a coffee while waiting for our Paris connection.

The train to Paris travelling first class was very nice.  The seats reclined and had fold down tables, armrests and footrests and were very comfortable.  All up a very civilised way to travel.  The journey to Paris was again uneventful and we passed the time watching the countryside change.  The only indication of how fast we were travelling was the occassional jump from Glenda as we passed a train travelling in the other direction.

We arrived in Paris at Gare D’Est without incident and then had to find our way to the Metro. This was a little more challenging as the French don’t seem to have many escalators in the older stations and we had to lug our cases up and down stairs to get to the Metro station.  A little confusion over buying our tickets was our only real problem and we soon found ourselves on the Number 7 metro with a number of others with suitcases.  A quick change of trains at Opera with more stairs to negotiate soon found us on the number 5 Metro to Gare Le’zare.

Once there we spent a little time getting our bearings (ie we got lost) until we worked out we had to follow the Le Grande Lines signs. Doing so we soon found ourselves on the streets of Paris which were a little assault on the senses after the relative quiet of Zurich.  More steps awaited us as the escalator was not operating.  Glenda waited while I went looking for where we were supposed to go.  The information kiosk was closed so I resorted to reading the signs and worked out we had to follow the Pink line.  This was harder to achieve as it appeared as there was a lot of construction going on at the station installing new escalators.
We found ourselves negotiating our way around the construction zone and had to pass by several homeless people, one of whom was busily plucking and apparently eating raw a pigeon he had just caught.  While this was confronting, What impressed me least about this was the number of tourists who had stopped and were taking photographs.

We found our way to the platform without indicent, via yet more stairs.  Once there Glenda grabbed us a couple of seats while I went looking for an ATM so we could grab some lunch  The only ATM at the station appeared to be back where we had left the Metro, so I found myself effectively retracing our steps back to the ATM.  Grabbed a couple of baguettes and some drinks and returned to Glenda who had had some trouble keeping a seat for me.

When our train finally arrived, there was a mad dash of people for the train and we felt glad that we had booked seats.  That was until we found out that we had seats on Wagon 7 and the first wagon was wagon 8.  The conductor told us to get onto wagon 8 and we fought our way down the corridor and found seats 61 and 62 and were about to settle in when another couple said that they were their seats.  Confusion reigned until I decided to get off the train 5 mins before it was due to leave (and giving Glenda a scare by doing so) and talk to the conductor again.  This time a lady translated for me and I was told again that there was no wagon 7 and we were supposed to be on wagon 8.

As I got back on the train, there was an announcement in French that got everyone laughing. Or at least everyone that understood French.  The man who had taken seat 61 translated for us and told us that because of the rail strike there was no wagon 7 and the reserved seats for wagon 7 had been reallocated`to wagon 8 and we had to look for a ticket above the seats.  I did this and found our seats about 4 seats down the carriage.  This then involved persuading those sitting in those seats that we had them reserved.  All up we finally found ourselves sitting in our seats about 15 minutes after the train was supposed to have left.

This confusion was taking place all through the carriage as people were looking for their seats and asking others to leave seats once found.  It also turns out that there were people on the train without reserved`seats who were basically told to sit in seats that were unoccupied.  The train left well after it was supposed to and with people who couldn’t get a seat sitting in the corridors.  BTW The first class seats on this train were of a much lower standard than the second class seats on the Zurich-Basel leg. but we were glad just to be sitting down.

Sitting opposite us was a very nice French man and his Japanese wife who was visiting his father in Bayeux.  He gave us a running commentary about some of the places we were passing through and gave us a potted history of the D-Day landings which happened nearby.

Eventually we arrived at Cherbourg and after a very long walk down the platform, we found ourselves at the station forecourt with no idea what to do next.  We were not alone.  We had people asking us where the ferry left from.  All I could do was point them at the sign that said “Car Ferries” and hope I was sending them in the right direction.  We on the other hand were looking for a hotel, so we headed in the other direction looking for some indication of where they might be. Eventually we found a bus stop map which we used to gain our bearings and then used Glenda’s iPhone to locate the tourist info office.  So we set off to find it.

After a while we came across the Maison de Tourisme which was of course closed.  But it did have a map of the some of the hotels available outside which gave us an idea where to start looking.  We walked into one hotel which didn’t impress us but did give us a map of the town including a list of the hotels by rating.  At this stage we were so buggered that we decided that we would go for the Hotel Mercure which was the only 3 star hotel in the town.  The map said it was in map reference B11 and I am sure we walked every street within that square without finding it.  Eventually we asked someone in the street who wasn’t a local but was able to ask a local.  He pointed out that the hotel was on the other side of the harbour in the very tip of B11 that we hadn’t walked.  We considered a taxi but then decided that a little more walking wouldn’t hurt.  But first we rang to confirm that they had rooms which they did, so we then hoofed it around the harbour and down to the hotel.

The Hotel Marine (formerly Mercure) was in the middle of renovations, but we didn’t really care at this point, so we grabbed our room key and found our way to our room (with a harbour view). We spent about ten minutes trying to open the door until finally on the verge of going back to the reception, the door finally opened and we could collapse in our room.

Given the time [it was about 9:00pm] we decided to quickly freshen up and head down to the hotel restuarant.  I ordered the Grilled Beef Steak and French Fries and Glenda ordered the Mixed Grill.  These both were very delicious but it was the Double Chocolate Pudding with Mint Icecream that stole the show.   After dinner, we decided that we’d well and truly had enough and hit the sack.

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