We left about a half-hour earlier than planned, giving us plenty of leeway on our later transportation connections, owing to a train strike today. I had to double-back within the first kilometer, to be certain I was on the correct road out of Amboise. Robert held it against me, no error-free drive yet.
The drive to Paris was carefree for starters, but as soon as we approached the ring-road around Paris, our atlas failed us miserably. I took one exit at the very last moment, cutting off another car quite badly, but we eventually discovered it was indeed the correct direction. Driving by feel for ten or fifteen minutes, we eventually found signs for the “peripherique” and then for Charles de Gaulle airport. Traffic was heavy at 11 AM, but “fluide.” Within 10 kilometers of the airport, the low gasoline light came on (shades of Carcassonne), but this time it was a pleasant circumstance, since we were expected to return the car without any fuel. We found the Sodexa/Open Europe lot flawlessly and the return of the car was handled quickly. Our scratches from CinqueTerre were shrugged off as a trifle, and the mountain of cookie crumbs in back did not even merit a look.
The buyback scheme worked quite easily for us, and we got nearly 5900 kilometers out of the car in 40 days, roughly equivalent to driving across the USA. I wondered about its fate (a rental car for a year or so?), but I was glad to remit the keys and registration (which I have carried on my person) and be car-free for the next 11 days. There is something very liberating about only carrying enough possessions to fit into one reasonable sized suitcase.
We were an hour early for our drop-off, and it was two hours until our scheduled shuttle ride into the city center. And a phone call resulted in news of no possibility of it happening sooner. Worse, we probably should have conducted the whole transaction at the closer Orly airport and just taken a taxi in. In any event, we had a mediocre lunch at the low-key Terminal 3, played cards and read. By 2:10 our shuttle had not appeared for the 2 PM pickup, so I went inside to phone again. This time, they didn’t quite know who I was. Terminal 1? One person? Do you have a confirmation number (none had been provided)? Just as it was resolved, I saw the van itself pull up. We all scrunched into the VW van, making a total of eight passengers and one driver. The middle-aged male riders from the US were incredulous as the motorcycles weaved in and out of heavy traffic, usually riding the white-striped line between two vehicles. “We’d tattoo them if they tried that in Wisconsin!” I reminded them cheerfully that they weren’t in Wisconsin anymore. The fellow next to me in the front seat was very impatient about the whole affair.
We seemed to traverse another 45% of the ring-road, leaving us just 10% untraveled today. We were to be dropped first, but he turned the wrong way off the main road, and then it made more sense to drop somebody else first. At their address, there was no hotel. Rue Chappel or Boulevard Chappel? “Does it make a difference?” came the cry from the back seat. We ended up being dropped last, but at least we saw a lot of the neighborhood.
We arrived at 41 rue de Bac, home of the Manoncourts’ apartment on the fourth floor. We navigated the numeric code for the lobby door, used our magnetic wand to open the door leading to the elevators, then the key to the apartment. Blandine, another of the Manoncourts’ daughters lives downstairs and had left us several helpful notes. Before we could get organized to come down and introduce ourselves to her, she was up to say hello with her 2-year-old daughter.
We made a foray out for croissants and groceries, stocking up for breakfast and snacks. The corner grocery store, the local analogue of a 7-11, had the skinniest aisles I’ve ever seen in a store, and shelves stocked floor to ceiling. A new model for efficient use of space. Returning home, Blandine was about, and she and Pat ran down all the sites and transportation options.
After our early dinner we set out for a walk along the river, and ended up at the bridge leading over to Notre Dame and St. Chappel. Turning right instead, we encountered the Latin Quarter, very alive. This route then brought us home, the only blemish being that we did not encounter any Internet cafes close to our location.