Cities / Towns Visited: 4
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 10,370
Steps Taken Around the World: 416,766
And so began the dreaded, unnecessarily long travel day to Reims, brought to us proudly by the striking masses of the SNCF train services. We awoke, packed our bags, and trudged, unenthusiastically, to the driverless train station of suburban Rennes, stepping out of the crisp morning air and onto the sardine can that is any train at peak hour. We were forthwith spewed out at the central station before having to play the upstairs downstairs game of changing from metro to cross country train systems. Now the only saving grace to this situation was, of course, that because we are both older than 25 (some more than others) we automatically had to foot the extra cost of purchasing a first class Eurail pass; sometimes a little extra legroom can make you feel a little better about life, especially when you’re nearly 6ft tall.
After our 300km/hr train delivered us promptly to Paris, the next, and most painful, part of our day commenced; the 8 hour wait for our connecting train. I’m sure you’re all thinking, ‘Pfft! What are you worried about? There’s plenty you could do in Paris to fill in the time’ but take note that we collectively have around 45–50kg of luggage between us. After you’ve finished rolling your eyes and indignantly muttering ‘They should learn to travel light!’ keep in mind we are travelling for a full year and need clothes and extras to cover every climate from ‘literally snowing when we arrived’ all the way to ‘it’ll probably be 35°C in Croatia in July’. Our options were pay to store our luggage in the lockers at the station and try and fit in a couple of extra sights, or try and catch up on blogs and relax for a little while; we chose the latter.
To be fair we filled the first hour with purchasing the three train tickets we’d need to move from Reims onto Luxembourg the next afternoon, and going to the boulangerie to buy one more baguette and tart each to cover our breakfast/lunch for the day. After sorting ourselves out, we managed to find two empty seats in the bustling station to plonk ourselves down for the next 7 hours. The time passed, at some points unnaturally slowly, but I will say that the people watching was A grade. I couldn’t help but notice, in my OCD mind, just how many people were bolting past us to their trains. With every one that passed, I just wanted to attach a sign to them that said ‘I lack proper time management skills’. The observational entertainment was mainly facilitated by the fact that we’d positioned ourselves directly across from the station’s piano; seemingly a regular addition to every large French station. It was fascinating to see people stop and play a few tunes before scurrying off to catch their trains, some better than others, and it essentially became the hold music of our lives. There was a long period where a group of teens decided they were going to commandeer it in order to shoot a somewhat slapdash attempt at a music video, which seemed to just involve one of them playing the piano, one playing acoustic guitar, one guy singing uncomfortably high and one chick attempting but massacring rapping and what I imagine was her attempt at dancing to said rap but just looked like she was drowning in her oversized down jacket. They then repeated the same song for a good 40 minutes while one of them filmed it on a phone and a GoPro. Once they finally released the piano from its undeserved hostage situation, a man swooped in to take over with a few good tunes, then helped teach a couple of young kids who were attempting to play. From the humble musician, to the self obsessed teens, you really got to see the best and worst of everyone.
Eventually the time dwindled and we stepped onto our train just after 6pm. Eventually coming to journey’s end at our hotel some 11 hours after our departure from the last. We ventured far enough to have burgers for dinner at a rather upscale and thriving pub in town before wandering back though a quaint little park, and collapsing in our bed for a well needed sleep before another whirlwind, one day tour of this famous little town in north-east France.
As I reflected on my day observing the inner workings of the Paris Est station I couldn’t help but despair for the situation the world is in. From the sprinting commuters; to the heavily armed, machine gun toting, military officers standing watch over us all; to the constant announcements about notifying staff or the police immediately should an unattended bag be spotted; it all brought to light how different the world is these days; everything is so fast, so dangerous, so suspicious. It saddens me that we’ve gone from simply taking a lost bag to staff to hopefully reunite it with its, almost certainly, frantic owner, to having to call the authorities and possibly evacuate the entire area on the off chance some maniac has decided that blowing up several hundred innocent commuters is the best use of one’s life. The whole realisation only highlighted by how out of place it seems to watch the world rush past someone who has slowed down enough to play the piano, it almost brought to mind the image of the string quartet playing as the Titanic slowly sank. Something so still and peaceful, in the midst of such chaos; it is the juxtaposition of our age.