Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Was the Best of Days, It Was the Worst of Days, It Was My Last of Days - Part 1

La Mairie D'Auvers-Sur-Oise, Hazel Smith 2010
La Mairie D'Auvers-Sur-Oise, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

October 13 was the day I had planned to go to Auvers-sur-Oise, the last home of Vincent Van Gogh and the place where he died. I had lunch reservations at the Auberge Ravoux at noon. The Auberge Ravoux is the location where Vincent lived during his last 70 days. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound under the eaves of the inn. This was an outing I should have saved for when my husband was with me. He’s the life-long Van Gogh aficionado. I wish I had.

I’d prepared and planned for this trip but with threats of rolling strikes from the transit unions, it turned into a bit of a make-shift day. My almost-obsessive-compulsive self said that if I was thwarted 3 times in getting there, I’d scrap the plans and spend my last day sight-seeing in Paris.

I left the Hotel du Pantheon before 9. Today it was cold for the first time - just a few degrees above freezing. I went down to the closest Metro to me, Luxembourg, and the gates were shut with a notice that said “closed for the day”. Strike 1.

I walked up to the Saint-Michel station and thankfully it was open. I had been planning on getting to Gare du Nord and taking a commuter train to Pointoise and then another to Auvers-sur-Oise but according to maps, I could get to Pointoise by taking the subway all the way. On a day like today I thought that I should take the first opportunity that presented itself so I found my way onto the platform that would lead me to Pontoise.

Announcements and the video boards said that service on the RER Line A was down to 1 train in 5. That was fine with me because the worst service of any European transit I’ve ever been on is better than Toronto’s at its best. The trip took an expected hour and 15 minutes. I wondered why so many commuters got off at Porte Maillot, then I figured that it was close to La Defense and the cluster of office buildings I’d seen earlier from the minibus. The trip was pleasant. I saw the backside of many small villages. Sleep was the only thing threatening now.

I got off at Pontoise and looked around for the clusters of people and the signs saying “this way for the platform to Auvers-sur-Oise” There were none.

Confused, I went into the station building itself to ask. The lovely girl in the wicket told me nicely “no trains today” Strike 2. She pointed me to a white coach out in the forecourt, where the station master, who looked exactly like Gauguin, had just popped the trunk open and was toying with the engine. Strike 3. But I’d made it this far and there was no going back.

The bus was broken but everyone piled onto another. We drove all through the town of Pontoise dropping off people with their shopping and then down the road 4 or 5 miles to Auvers-sur-Oise. When delivering the 5 or 6 tourists destined for the Van Gogh experience, the bus driver, in his best English, said ‘I will be back for you. Not at the town hall but at the train station.” This seemed to satisfy everybody, myself included and I got off the bus.

à bientôt!


  1. you are a brave little traveler! loving these reports. thank you.

  2. Travel baptism by fire-strike. Oof. I'm glad you went, though. I like these reports from the field, too. xo