Thursday, December 2, 2010

Final Installment - It Was the Best of Days, It Was the Worst of Days, It Was My Last of Days

Side-street in Auvers-Sur-Oise. Pissarro painted it
At the information centre at the Chateau Daubigny I picked up more maps and a city bus schedule. Auvers left me feeling like Alice down the Rabbit Hole and the more maps the better. I never get lost.....everybody tells me where to go! Kidding aside, this town had me seriously muddled.

I hope Daubigny did not mind as a hurriedly left his museum and crossed his famous garden to start my tour.



My first stop was the Absinthe Museum on rue Alphonse Callé. I found the pretty stone building with its green shutters fairly easily. But how to get in? I ended up in the alley behind the property fittingly called Allée de la Fée Verte. I did find the appropriate gate, but the Absinthe Museum had been closed since September 15th.

Bottle drying rack at the Auberge Ravoux

Next -  the house of Doctor Gachet at 78 rue Dr Gachet. The town of Auvers-Sur-Oise is beautiful and seemingly  unchanged since Vincent Van Gogh was there 120 years ago. Thatch may have been replaced with tile, but on the cobbled side streets you are able to pretend you're walking in his footsteps. Just squint and the cable dishes and overhead wires disappear.



One of the reasons I think I had a hard time finding places is that the majority of dwellings are found behind stone walls and not readily marked. Another reason is that street names have a nasty habit of changing names. Rue de Lery turns into Rue Victor Hugo which turns into Rue Dr. Gachet plus an appendix of a street is also called Rue Dr. Gachet.  I found Dr. Gachet's house after about 15 minutes.


But I was reluctant to enter in case I was foiled again. For the first time in my trip I was ready to go home. I wanted to curl up on the cobbles, call home (had my phone been working) and tell my husband to come get me. I was aware that the transit strike was still on and I hadn't seen a single coach since I'd been deposited by one three hours earlier. I took some pictures of Gachet's house and headed off to find the very friendly Chateau Auvers.

Lost again. From the very Three Musketeers-court yard. I tried to find the ticket office through the wrong grotto-like entrance and found myself in the upper garden. Retracing my steps through the pretty grounds was not a problem and I found the ladies at the Chateau to be charming and welcoming. I was there to see a multi-media tour called A Trip Back to the Time of the Impressionists and it was fantastic.

With headphones I walked among the displays detailing the Paris Apartment and the turn-of-the-century costume. The ridicule that the Impressionists endured was spotlighted as a drawing of an auction sale sprang to life. A thickly velvet upholstered hallway featured images of the famous grande horizontals - or if you prefer, courtesans. My favourite part of the whole place was a cabaret. I had to wait at swinging doors for the next show and when you entered you were faced with an extremely evocative nightclub scene with bentwood chairs and illuminated spritzer bottles. I found it thrilling. Another highlight was waiting for a "train" to take me through the French countryside. Through the aid of projections I was taken past the Ile de la Grande Jatte and several other country scenes featured in the Impressionists work.

Multimedia Impressionist Tour- photo found on Flickriver by Lucy 99
The Guingette of the Luncheon of the Boating Party was the snack bar but I hurried past it and Monet's life-size hay stacks. I was starting to seriously worry about how I was going to get home.

I descended the hill from the Chateau and made note that a city bus was stopped at the bottom. I headed back to the train station and waited for a bit, looking for a coach similar to the one I took earlier that morning. There had only been 5 other tourists on that bus and I hadn't seen them for hours. The train station was closed because of the strike. I walked to the Town Hall to see if they had any ideas. The Town Hall was closed for the strike. I walked back to where I saw the city bus. Lo and behold one was there. I ran, in my chunky shoes, to catch it. He pulled away without me up the hill marked To Pontoise.

I walked back to the forecourt of the train station where the coach driver said he would pick us up and waited for about 15 minutes. Though well-equipped with maps and a city bus schedule I had no idea where the city buses went or which bus stop to wait at. I did not want to be taken further out of my way.  I toyed with the idea of walking to Pontoise where I had originally been dropped off my by train, but I really had no idea which way to go. Being stranded overnight in beautiful Auvers-Sur-Oise was not the worst thing in the world but I had a plane to catch the next day.

I walked back toward where the city bus had pulled away from me. Practically mewling, I asked a French couple if they had any idea about buses. Non. I took out my bus schedule and cross-referenced it with the schedule on the pole and determined that some sort of bus would be by in 25 minutes. I waited and waited and a bus finally did appear but on the other side of the street.  To Hell with it. I ran across the road. Asked the driver Gare Pointoise?. Oui. and with my little ticket that I started my adventure with in the morning I boarded.

The return portion of my trip was nowhere near as smooth as my morning trip up to Pontoise. After 15 minutes the bus pulled into the train station. Options for trains were sorely limited. Out came my transit map. There were only 3 trains scheduled. One to Gare du Nord, one to the Opera station and a third to a place I'd never heard of. My best bet was Gare du Nord, or Paris Nord as it's called on the Metro system. I had an hour to wait.

The train became increasingly full as it passed through the 20-or-so stations that lined the route into Paris. And it just barfed passengers out onto the platform as we arrived at Paris Nord. I was getting pretty adept at reading the electronic information boards found on the platforms. The rolling strike was now in full swing. There was only one option. One train to the next station. Chatelet les Halles. That train came in and quickly filled with the miasma of people heading downtown. I don't care what anyone says, there are more pickpockets in Paris and I held on to my purse for dear life.

After spewing everybody out at Chatelet les Halles there were no further options. I waited on the appropriate platform but the overhead information board was blank. I found a monitor that said as of October 13 there would be no train service between Chatelet and the much further south Denfert Rochereau. If I could read this - why couldn't  anybody else. Throngs of people were waiting on the platform, hoping that something would happen. But it didn't. I was dismayed, but I would probably have to walk the rest of the way  to the hotel. I was tired, hungry and I hadn't used the facilities in several hours. Plus it was cold.

Luckily for me I had walked that route just the day before. It wasn't so bad. Locals were reveling in cafes as if nothing unusually was happening. I tried to reduce my blood pressure. Paris at 8 at night was great. Bright and alive. I realized that this was just a part of my journey and I enjoyed my walk home. I crossed the Pont au Change and saw the illuminated Eiffel Tower with its beaming spotlight. I made a mental note that this was the last time I'd be seeing the Tower for a while. I crossed the river and walked the hill to the hotel.

This trip took me 4 hours and 15 minutes from the time I became panicky at Auvers to the time I walked into my hotel. The first thing I did at the hotel was to order a taxi for my trip to the De Gaulle the next day. I couldn't risk this experience again.

My cab was on time. There were no disruptions at the airport. I was 4 hours early for my flight.

And that, gentle readers, is the end of my trip to Paris. Till next time.