We tried to plan better for our drive back to Paris. last time we went way too slow, and got a super-late start, so we only arrived at Bordeaux at 8pm. This time we packed the night ahead. We also had everything laid out so all we had to do was put everything in the car, and drive. This managed to get us out the door and checked out of the hotel by around 10:30. Much better.
I even had time before everyone got up to get over to the store to buy us some packing material to protect the wine, and an extra bag to distribute the weight better. I also got us some freshly baked Croissants and some Fromage Blanc, so we didn’t leave completely hungry.
The drive up was pretty hard still, there was lot of trucking traffic on the road, and it gets pretty nerve racking to keep passing slow trucks on a two-lane freeway. Especially since our Fiat Panda doesn’t exactly "accelerate" as much as we wait for a downhill run and try to roll past.
After a quick five hours we finally hit the outskirts of Paris, and since we couldn’t find a freeway that drops us right into the center (I don’t think there actually is one), we slogged along trying to get to our third (and final) hotel. Paris doesn’t seem to like to note on maps which of its streets are one way, where left turns are or are not allowed, and with the frequent use of Bus-only lanes, even right turns are not a given. So once in the center we spun and spun around various streets, trying to get to where the street that our hotel is on should be. Since this hotel is located near the Eiffel tower, we pretty just kept driving towards the tower, and gave up on street names.
Once we got within striking distance we noticed that our street wasn’t actually on the Michelin Guide map. Fortunately I had it marked in my little Moleskine book, so we used that map. it took several tries to find out how to approach through the one-way streets, but eventually we found Rue du Gros Caillou, which I think is the smallest street in all of Paris. Our Panda filled the street from side to side, and fortunately no one else came while we unloaded.
It was about 6pm now, with all the winding on local streets, and I took the bags up to the room (more on our room later) and headed out to the Train station to get rid of the rental car. Since the woman told me that they closed at 8pm, I figured that i should have plenty of time. It was a straight shot to the station from our hotel, (going Ring is always easier than going radial in old cities) and I approached that station at around 6:50. Looking on the rental agreement, I found the number to call the desk to let them know I was coming, and I noticed another thing, They closed at 7pm, not 8! So I now had 8 minutes to get in there, or I was screwed for another day of fees. And, of course, no one was answering the phone when I called.
I finally found a parking lot in the station that looked promising, but nothing was labeled to tell me where to go. After a bit of circling someone finally answered the phone, and spoke almost no English. I tried to follow his directions, and this led me up a ramp, and through the train station. By "through" I mean I was on an exposed ramp that crossed over the train tracks, with folks on the platform looking up at me, in a big cavernous French train station. The ramp led me out into an upper lot, and I found the main office and parked. Just in time. Thankfully some woman with a last-minute rental was still keeping the guy at his desk, so i was in luck. In person i still couldn’t understand him well, but he gave me a map and instructions where to drop off, and he left the desk to meet me there. The map led be back to the previous lot, and to a lower unmarked archway, with an A4 size piece of paper with AVIS written on it in faded sharpie. Of course, I didn’t rent from Avis,
In any case, this led to another ram inside the station, where some parking lot had been constructed over the tracks, with steel beams and support columns every few feet, making driving a Byzantine maze. I found my guy on Level 1, and with a smile dropped him the keys and said goodbye to our Panda once and for all.
It was now 7:30. We had dinner reservations on a boat at 9. This should have been plenty of time to metro over to the hotel and rest before changing for dinner. I grabbed a ticket from the machine, and planned a quick route that needed two transfers, but dropped me right there. Once on the train, I saw that my first transfer station was closed, the notice showed a dotted connection as a transfer, so I stayed on course and headed for the station. Once I got there, I discovered that the dotted transfer meant that they had paper arrows on the street pointing the distance I had to walk to the next station (about 200m). I was screwed, and It had just finally gotten hot that day, and I was already sweating from being in a cramped car all day. By the time I made it that short walk, I was parched, I looked for a working drink machine on the platform, but my train came so I just jumped on and ignored it.
Once on my second train, I found that my second transfer station was also closed. I was now in hell. Hot, Sticky and confused, I got out my map and plotted out a longer, alternate route that had open stations. I jumped off at the next platform to make the change and found a working drink machine. For a cheap 2 Euros I got a bottle of Orangina, which exploded all over me when I opened it. I made the rest of my trip and was met at the exit to the metro by my family. It was 8:20, and they thought originally that we should just walk directly to the boat. After seeing that I was drenched in sweat, covered in Orangina, and smelling like the Parisian homeless, The second thought of a shower and a change was agreed by all.
We headed back to the hotel.