No planes but trains and automobiles
By seanharris on Feb 10, 2008
Many people live under the impression that to travel for business is some how romantic and pleasurable. These are typically people who rarely travel and when they do it is for vacation. The times when it was romantic to travel (for business or pleasure) are long passed as I hope this example will show.
I recently travelled to Paris with a couple of other people to talk to a group of developers about the latest and greatest technology from Sun. We left mid afternoon from St. Pancras on the EuroStar (I have long since stopped flying to Paris due to the delays, cancellations and general discomfort). Our plan was to arrive in Paris in time to check into the hotel and have some dinner. When we arrived at the hotel and tried to check in we were greeted by the concierge who explained that the hotel was over booked (due to a large party extending their stay) and that they were in the process of transferring us to another hotel near by. Thankfully the guys that I was with were pretty chilled and so when he offered a free drink at the bar while we waited for arrangements to be made they agreed immediately. A short while later we were loaded into a taxi courtesy of the hotel to head for our new hotel. At this point the taxi driver started demanding that we direct him to where we wanted to go. We had no idea. We had been told by the first hotel that they would arrnage and pay for the taxi and tell him where to go. The taxi driver started to get very upset when we told him that we had no idea. Luckily we had the phone number of the first hotel and so a quick call to them cleared up the confusion and tald the taxi driver that he was going in the wrong direction which got him more upset. Then we remebered that we had another colleague due in on a much later train. A quick call back to the hotel to find out if he was also going to be moved, yes, and a quick call and SMS to give him details of the change and all was back on track - we thought.
The following morning we were up and into a taxi heading for the clients site. We were complaining bitterly at the incompetance of our travel agent who appeared to have booked us in a hotel on the opposite side of Paris from the client's site. After an hour in a taxi we arrived at the street name that we had been given but there was no sign of the clients building. A quick couple of phone calls and we managed to find out that the street name that we had was correct but the client was based in a suburb of Paris. A quick look at google maps and we reolised that this was back across town near to our hotel. The travel agents logic now becoming clearer ;-). So back in a taxi and we finally arrived at the clients site about 1 hour late. On leaving the clients site we decided to hail a taxi in the street. After 45 minutes of trying we have up and went into a bar to plan the next steps. After a beer I managed to get the courage and confidence in my French (which is very poor) to go and ask the bar man to call us a taxi. Now the comedy started. The bar did not have a telephone but the bar man did have the number of a taxi company. No problem we all had GSM mobiles. Ah but my French is weak face to face over a poor GSM connection it was never going to work. At this point one of the locals in the bar took pity on us and offered to help. I explained that we needed a taxi to take 4 people or 2 taxis and where our hotel was and he arranged the cab. There was a brief argument between him and the taxi firm because they were not happy to take a booking from a mobile phone and wanted us to call from a fixed line. He explained that there was no fixed line in the place and that we were foreigners who were lost and needed a taxi and they then agreed to take the booking. That evening after a 2 mile walk, due to misunderstanding the directs from the hotel, we found a very pleasant restaurant and enjoyed an excellent meal. Things were looking up.
The following morning we checked out of the hotel and asked them to arrange a taxi to take us back to the client. We told that they could not because the taxi drivers were on strike today. Dam. What now. A quick look at a public transport map revealed that there was a tram service that went nearly door to door. If only we had known that the night before. Our only minor problem was that the ticket machines had been vandalised so we had to board the tram without a ticket but sincer no ticket inspector arrived this was a non issue. Once we came to leave the client we went back to the tram station and decided to take the tram one stop and then change to the RER or the metro. We were able to purchase tickets this time on the platform and off we went. I was pleased to see that the tram ticket also covered us for the RER and the Metro. I validated my ticket on the tram but in the crush did not realise that the other 3 had not. When we tried to enter the RER we then ran into ptoblems. The barriers did not open properly for me but I was able to barge my way through as did one of my collegues. The other 2 could not. We decided that this was because they had not validated their tickets so they went back to validate their tickets. When they finally returned their tickets still did not work but by now we were running out of time so they climbed over the barrier and off we went. We had valid tickets - or so we thought - so what could we be doing wrong. When we came to change trains on teh RER we were now at the peak rush hour. The platform was about 6 people deep when we arrived and it was 15 minutes before a train arrived. We had to make this train so we put the slimmer guy in front and two ex rugby forwards drove then hard at the open train doors. We were on. At the Gare Du Nord when we came to leave three of us managed ot exit no problem but one guy was stuck behind the barriers. This time it was 10ft high sliding glass doors so there was no way of climbing over. Finally we through him one of our tickets and he came out OK. At this point we reolised that he had never validated his ticket on entering the system. We made it to the EuroStar with about 10 minutes to spare. On route we further examined our subway tickets and the guide map we had been given at the hotel and reolised our error. The tickets that we had were valid for the RER but only within the limits of Paris (not the suburbs). We had boarded the RER at La Defense which is a suburb and so our tickets were not valid. Good job we did not encounter any ticket inspectors. The EuroStar gave us a chance to relax and reflect on the excitement of our trip.
Unfortunately for me it was not over yet. We all parted company at St. Pancras and headed off in our own directions. I arrived at Paddington at around 9pm and which I bought my ticket mused on the fact that the station was rather busy for this time of night. Then a glance up at the board for the next traing to Reading and what did I see - Cancelled, Delayed, Delayed, Delayed, Cancelled, Delayed, Delayed. Then I began to notice that none of the trains platforms where warming up their engines and that the lack of the usual roar of deisel engines ment that you could hear the hum of voices from the crowd on the concourse. Shartly afterwards there was an announcement explaining that the line was closed near Slough due to a fatality on the line and so no trains were going into or out of the station at the moment except those going to Heathrow. So 3 choices. Sit it out, try going down to Waterloo and ramming onto the milk train from Waterloo to Reading or take the train to Heathrow and the coach on from there. I opted for the former and went and curled up in the vestibule of a 1st class carraige of a 125 safe in the knowledge that it would leave at some time and that it's first stop would be Reading. Eventually I made it to Reading but too late for a connection onwards so I went with everyone else to join the long queue and 45 minute wait for a taxi.
When I finally got home very late I was able to reflect on the joys, pleasure and romance of modern travel and wonder if it might be time for a change in career.