I traveled from Arles in Southern France here to Paris yesterday afternoon. By the time I got here, I was too worn out to make my blog entry, especially after my experience with the computer bag. I had to take four trains to get here, two short-distance trains to reach Avignon and a high-speed train from Avignon to Paris, and a local train beneath the streets of Paris. Once I got on the high-speed train, the journey to Paris was less than three hours, a trip that once took all day. The high-speed train reached peak speeds of almost 190 miles per hour.
I might as well tell the story of the lost computer bag first. I arrived at Paris at the southern railway station Gare de Lyon and then boarded a local train for the norther station, which is close to the hostel where I’m staying. When I reached the platform, the train was about to leave. Instead of using common sense and waiting another five minutes or so for the next train, I jumped on board, pulling my suitcase and computer bag behind me. The doors closed on my computer bag leaving it outside the train. A young Chinese couple grabbed my bag, and I hoped they would board the next train with it, and I would meet them at the next station.
However, it didn’t work out that way. I did off at the next station, and the couple did arrive on the next train, but they explained that they had left the bag with “the police,” in reality probably one of the railway employees. I took a train back, and inquired for the bag. I was sent from a security guard to an information both, and to lost and found, where I spent a lot of time answering questions a man who had apparently never used a computer before laboriously entered information into a computer terminals. They had no idea where my bag was.
Because the Chinese couple has said thy had left the bag with the police, I next looked for the station’s police office. I found it, but before I entered, a young man in a railway worker’s uniform asked me my name. When I answered “Jack Quinn,” he said “We have your bag.”
To skip the rest of the story, I’ll just say that ten minutes later I had the bag with all of its contents. One of the officials had used my cell phone, which was in the bag, to call my sister, my emergency contact. Of course, it was a useless call, because without my computer and cell phones, I had no way of receiving communication from my her.
There is an ancient merry-go-round operating near the Tourist Office in Arles. The poor operator doesn’t get much business. I don’t think I ever saw more than four kids riding it at one time. When I took the following picture, there was no one riding it at all.
Also near the Tourist Office, an exhibition of old Corvette automobiles was taking place. Many people were snapping photos of the car shown below. I know nothing about old cars, but since everyone else seemed to be photographing this one, I did, too. In total, there were several dozen Corvettes parked there.
While walking to the Arles railroad station, I happened upon this tunnel. The sign above it says that it was part of the old Roman aqueduct that once carried water to Arles.
To enter the little railroad station in Arles, we had to pass through a metal detector, something I had never seen in France. The five or so officials operating the metal detectors seemed to have little training. We had to go through the metal detector carrying our suitcases or backpacks. Naturally, anyone with luggage set off the metal detector. When I set it off, the official asked to see my passport bag, but before I could show it to him, he changed his mind and asked if I were carrying a knife. I was, a Swiss Army knife, and I made the mistake of showing it to him. He shook his head and said I couldn’t carry the knife on the train.
I objected. To the best of my knowledge, there is no rule against carrying a pocket knife on a French train. He consulted another official. Soon all five of them were huddled around me discussing the situation. Finally the official who had examined me shook his head. “C’est bon ?” I asked him. Is it OK. “Oui, c’est bon,” he answered.
It’s no wonder that France has a bigger problem with terrorist attacks that most western countries. Except for the airport, the security measures in France are for show and too poorly conducted to have any genuine effect.
Here’s a picture of the waiting area in Avignon for those of us taking the high-speed train to Paris. Compared to the cramped conditions in the main part of the station, our waiting area was comfortable and spacious. Instead of standing in cramped conditions in the main hall, we had large seats and plenty of room to stretch out. The train itself was immense. It is not exaggeration to say that it carried thousands of passengers. The trip from Avignon to Paris was non-stop. It was amazing to look out the train window and see that we were speeding by cars and trucks on the freeway. We were traveling at well more than double the speed of freeway traffic.