Monday, 31 March 2008

It Never Rains, But it Pours

As a showcase for the generally very good French railway network, the Gare du Nord is a big disappointment. Arrive off the Eurostar here and head for the Metro - as most people do due to a shortage of taxis in the city - and your first stop is most likely to be a long queue for tickets. There is usually only one ticket booth open and a couple of ticket machines that, as well as being complicated for visitors, are frequently out of order. It is a pity this is many people's first experience of Paris. When friends tell me they are coming I send them a couple of tickets so they do not waste their first hour. (In fairness, I should point out in Paris a single metro ticket will cost 1,50 euros or £1.18 - 11,10 euros or £8.72 if you buy a 'carnet' of 10 - as opposed to £4.00 for a single ticket on the London Underground, but didn't someone say time is money too?)

Even more surprising is that the Eurostar terminal, the pearl in the showcase, is as bad. On Sunday only one of the automatic ticket machines was working and there were a dozen people waiting to use it. Inside the Eurostar office there were about 15 people waiting but three positions open. I did a quick calculation (OK, not quick, but maths was never my forté) and waited inside. And waited. And waited. Several passengers appeared in a panic, dashed in, took a look at the queue went "Aaaagghhh" and ran out again. In the supermarkets near where we stay in London if more than three people form a queue at the checkout someone rings a bell and someone else appears to open another till. Yet this is the international terminal of one of the biggest stations, if not THE biggest, in the French capital, and as I wait people are casually setting out their "position closed" signs and disappearing.

I got my tickets eventually. Meanwhile it had begun to rain; more heavily than I thought when I set off to walk home. All in all, it has been a wet weekend.

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