I wasn’t happy to learn that I would have a seven hour layover. However that layover was going to be at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. While the airport itself is kind of a dump, (I call it the Newark of Europe) I figured that seven hours did give us enough time for a quick visit into the city. I wasn’t particularly interested in sitting on the floor of the CDG international terminal for seven straight hours staring at Rolex billboards featuring Leo DiCaprio.
With a little research, I learned that we could take the RER train from the airport into town. Even though we had plenty of time, I was still anxious about completing the round-trip in enough time to make our connection. We had no trouble finding a locker to store our baggage in the train station and getting a ticket for the train. (Note: There was no line for the ticket machine, but it was very early in the morning when I made the purchase. Several hours later when we returned to the station I noticed that the line for the ticket machine was quite long. See, the early bird really does get the worm…) Our plan was to ride one stop past Gare du Nord, walk around the Île de la Cité, and grab some breakfast at a Patisserie.
The ride in from the airport was long and dull. Unbeknownst to us our train terminated at Gare du Nord. We ended up sitting there at the station waiting for the train to move on to the next stop (like idiots) for quite a while. Instead of moving onto the next stop the train went back to the last stop prior. We ended up needing to backtrack and lost quite a bit of time in reaching down town. Additionally we had to buy an extra ticket just to switch tracks to head back in our original direction, which was particularly frustrating.
During our second attempt at Gare du Nord, we managed to make some progress. However, my lack of French language ability made things particularly challenging in navigating the rail station, and trying to make sure we were headed the right way. I recognize, and even begrudgingly respect, how protective the French are of their native language. However, I do think that a little bit more signage in other languages inside their largest train station might be worth considering. As a sidenote, I am a pretty experienced traveler. I have successfully navigated railway systems in countries who experience less tourism in a year than France (particularly Paris) experiences in a week. Therefore, this experience both surprised and frustrated me. Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world after all…
We did finally make it downtown. It was very early Saturday morning so the streets were practically empty. We took a walk down Rue de Rivoli, and found a small Patisserie for a quick pastry and a drink. After that we crossed the bridge over to the island. The water in the Seine was running very high from all of the recent rain. On my last trip to Paris I tried to go inside Sainte Chapelle, which is something I have always wanted to do. Unfortunately it was too early in the day and was still closed. Because of our pending flight we did not have time to wait for it to open. We walked around the island and crossed back over the river via Pont Neuf. That’s the bridge where the lovers put padlocks on the side to “lock up their love.” It has appeared in countless movies. We could even (barely) see the Eiffel Tower from the bridge.
From there we made our way back to the train station for what felt like an even longer ride back to the airport. The adrenaline faded and the jet lag started to take hold. I managed to stay awake but Sam crashed pretty hard on the train. We managed to make our flight in plenty of time. It wasn’t the longest or grandest tour of Paris, but our seven hour layover went by very quickly. I think watching seven hours go by on Leo’s giant Rolex just might have killed me.