Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quest for Cash

After getting on the road, we figured the best way to handle things was to try to skirt Paris as best we could (rather than going right through the middle of the city) and head straight to Chartres. After we got out of the heart of things and into the suburbs, we'd be able to find a bank and a phone store and get our final administrative tasks out of the way. Here's a hint: it didn't work out that way...

First thing was that it was about 8:30 in the morning and we were stuck in the middle of rush hour traffic in Paris. The second thing was that our map that covered the entirety of a large country like France was not suitable for detailed route planning in a city like Paris. The third thing was that the map, as bad as it was, was in the trunk.

With this set of circumstances, we figured we would try to find a sign to a town or city that we knew was to the west of Paris and follow it. We saw a sign for Rouen, and since we had seen our little animated plane fly over Rouen on the status tracker they show on the airplane, we figured that following the road to Rouen would probably not be a complete disaster.

With this plan in place, we decided to just enjoy the drive, and actually saw some interesting things from the road:

Our first sign pointing the way to Paris

The Stade de France where France beat Brazil 3-0
in the 1998 World Cup

Crazy motorcyclists everywhere!

I have to make special mention of the motorcyclists in Paris. These guys are a) crazy, and b) everywhere! If you've every driven in California, you know how the motorcyclists are there: they ride in between cars, they go on the shoulder, they weave in and out of traffic. Now take that and multiply that by about 1000 and you have some idea of the motorcycles in Paris. There was one point where about 20 motorcycles had queued up at a stoplight, pretty much creating their own motorcycle lane between rows of cars! It was crazy.

Things were going perfectly to plan (albeit slowly in the traffic), and we were following the signs to Rouen. Unfortunately, this is when I noticed that the signs for the highway we were following started showing the word péage next to it. I had a bad feeling that this meant a toll road. In addition, the fact that they started counting down the distance to something "péage"-related in 2km made me really worried. I was going to be at a tool booth, potentially with credit cards that don't work and absolutely no Euros in my pocket.

It was at this point I decided that I absolutely had to get off the highway and get some cash. We took an exit and ended up in an area of Paris called La Défense. I'd seen this name before, and eventually came to realize that this was where E&Y's Paris office was located. It turns out that this is a massive commercial area, and finding a nice place to park in order to run in and use an ATM was next to impossible.

We ended up driving around for at least 30 minutes trying to find a place to park and use a cash machine. We eventually found a market that had a parking garage and we pulled in. We found an LCL bank and got some much needed cash, then grabbed some chocolate croissants and some drinks for the road.

We returned to the car and got our giant map from the trunk. It turned out that going to Rouen would have been a terrible idea, and that we needed to get on some other highway. Of course our super scaled down map was little help in navigating through Paris, so we just had to get in the car, point it south and hope we'd eventually hit one of the highways that would go to Chartres.

Off we went. Fortunately, I'm reasonably good with getting my bearings, and soon we were retracing our path back to the highway. We eventually found a sign pointing us to one of the highways we were looking for. The funny part was that we had been on the right road all along, but going in the opposite direction! The other funny thing was that the road we were travelling on eventually turned into the Champs-Elysees, and we could see not only the Arc de Triomphe in front of us, but also the Eiffel Tower. So much for avoiding the middle of Paris!

After much maneuvering, we made it onto one of the "A" highways to Chartres. These highways are equivalent to the Interstates highways in the US. They are wide, divided highways with high speed limits (130 km/h, or roughly 81 mph). Needless to say, we were able to make good time once we had the proper road sorted. I also learned that my interpretation of "péage" was right on the money as I had to stop at a couple "péage" booths along the way.

One note on French rest stops: I thought I'd "rest" at one of them at a toll plazas we stopped at. It turns out that the rest stop consisted of two open air urinals and two toilets with doors for men. Not only are the urinals not inside a building, they are also pretty close to right out in the open, with not much (or really anything) to keep your business private when you are using one. I decided that I didn't have to go that bad and headed back to the car!

The rest of our trip to Chartres was rather uneventful, but Chartres itself turned out to be amazing. That, however, will have to wait for another post.

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