Chapter XXIV - France
The journey took a little over five days and then there was land again, a land we had not planned to see but were glad we did. Cherbourg, France, was the port in Normandy where we disembarked. The ship came close to the embankment, a ramp was attached to the ship, a door opened and the passengers filed out to firm land. Conveniently a train was waiting for the passengers. We proceeded to board the train and eight hours later the train arrived at Paris.
The trains are different from ours. They are divided into compartments containing six seats. A corridor runs the length of the car.
Eight hours is a long time to be confined. The corridor with windows gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs and view the countryside. The time went fast with conversation with the other passengers.
We arrived in Paris in the early evening and sought some information. An American Expressman asked us where we were to go. We said, "Rome, Italy." He said, "Trains for Rome don't leave from here. You will have to go to Gara De Leon to take the train for Rome." A taxi took us to Gara De Leon. An American Expressman asked the ticket clerk for a schedule for Rome. There was a train that left for Rome that same night at 11:30 p.m. and would arrive in Rome two days later at 9:00 a.m. Another train would leave at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. We decided to take the morning train and arrive in Rome at 10:00 a.m., since the morning train was an express.
We checked our luggage at the station, and, without knowing a word of the French language, we walked out of the station and started to look for a place to eat. We did not want to venture too far from the railroad station because we did not want to lose our way back. We saw a place where people were seated at a table eating so we assumed it was a restaurant. We decided to enter. We were approached by a man who said something. I asked, "Do you speak English?" He shrugged his shoulders. I asked, "Do you speak Italian?" He motioned with his hands for us to wait and he went to a back room and came back with a waiter. The waiter, in broken English, asked us what we wanted. I said, "We want to eat."
He sat us at a table and brought a menu and then he left. The menu was in French. He came back and I said, "We don't understand the menu."
He said, "What do you want to eat?"
My husband ordered soup, steak, salad and wine.
After eating we had to look for lodging for the night. We saw a sign advertising the Hotel Modern. We entered and went to the desk. A woman asked us what we wanted in French. I said, "I don't understand. Do you speak English?" She shook her head. Then I asked her if she spoke Italian. She motioned for us to wait. Then she came back with a chambermaid. The chambermaid asked us in English if we were looking for a room. I said, "Yes."
She said, "Where is your luggage?" I showed her the stub for where we had checked our luggage. She said, "Do you have a passport?" I showed her the passports and then she told us to follow her. We were assigned a room on the second floor. The room was large and clean with a bathroom. I wanted to wash but there wasn't any soap or toilet paper. I called on the phone and waited for the maid to come. She asked what I wanted and I told her. She came back with the items requested.
The next morning we got up early since we had to have breakfast and go for the train. We found out that you could not buy a full breakfast, only coffee and a bun. We arrived at the station in plenty of time, redeemed our luggage and boarded the train.
We had been told to travel second class because first class was too expensive and third class unfit. On one of the cars we saw a Roman numeral two so we assumed it was second class car section. We seated ourselves, relaxed and the train started to move. We were the only two passengers in the whole compartment. The next compartment was overflowing and I said to my husband, "I like to be alone with only the two of us. We have privacy."
The seats were covered with red velvet cloth. You could pull a table down in front of you and write. I said, "Not bad!" and then I proceeded to relax and enjoy the countryside.
In due time the ticket collector came into the compartment and asked for our tickets. My husband handed them to him. He looked at the tickets and began to speak rapidly. We could not understand one word of what he was saying. Again we asked if he could speak English or Italian but he shook his head. We gave a helpless gesture with our hands. Then he rubbed his thumb with his index finger. This was an international language we understood.
He wanted more money because we were seated in the first class compartment. My husband took out the francs we had. It was money we had exchanged at the station and the collector took the difference owing on our fare. Then he escorted us to the second class compartment. Consequently, we did not have enough money to buy meals on the train. We had only enough French money to see us to Rome.
When we reached the frontier separating France and Italy there was a half-hour layover. This was for the purpose of inspecting the luggage to see that there weren't any taxable or non-allowable goods in it.
We decided that my husband would stay for the inspection and I would go and buy some food for us to eat. I was sure I could find what I wanted because the people spoke Italian. I saw a place that looked like a store so I entered and asked for bread. I was told I had to go to a bakery to buy bread since grocery stores did not carry bread. I bought some Swiss cheese and bananas and proceeded to find a bakery. The grocer told me to go down a little way and I would come to the place. The town consisted of only one long street at the foot of the Alps. I walked the whole length of the street and could not see any sign of a bakery. I decided to go back to the train because I was afraid the train would start and leave me behind.
When I got back I found that my husband had gone in search of me. He was afraid that I would not come back in time and had instructed the other passengers to throw the luggage out of the train if we did not make it in time. Fortunately he came back before the train started. He was angry at me for taking so long and I was angry at him for leaving the train. The train started and our lunch consisted of Swiss cheese and bananas.
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