``We have two hours,'' I said, to reassure bunny_hugger everything was fine, ``to go one stop on the subway.'' She was anxious about the unexpected point in the next leg of our travel. I was overconfident.
We'd left Caen on another high-speed train. This one we had to validate our tickets for, at an unmonitored automatic station on the platform, that wasn't the machine we had just got our tickets from. It was another terminus-to-terminus train. This one ended in Paris, from which we'd take the Eurostar train --- the Chunnel train --- to London. We got out in Paris, went to the bathroom, and settled in, considering getting something to eat to pass the two and a half hours or so until our connecting train. Then I noticed something important.
Our Eurostar tickets listed the departure as being from Gare du Nord. We were in the Gare Saint Lazare. I assumed Nord meant the north wing of the terminal. No: it meant a completely different train station, one that nothing in any of the railway booking web sites or travel guides bunny_hugger used thought worthy of mention. And we had maybe two hours to find it, somewhere in Paris.
We were luckily right next to an information desk. The guide told us we would have to get on the Metro, but it was just a single stop away. He We just had to get on the E train, ``either train'', an instruction that was baffling at that point, and take it one stop to the Magenta station and from there walk through the connector to Gare du Nord. And the Metro station was just through the doors a little bit down the way. This was why I was so confident.
Something you forget about the public transportation in a city where public transport goes back a long ways and started as dozens of competing, mutually antagonistic agencies: they didn't really want you making transfers back then. The stations might be close to one another in a cosmic sense, but that doesn't mean you don't have to connect by taking a long, twisty tunnel to another long, twisty tunnel to a partial flight of stairs to another long, twisty tunnel, past signs vaguely warning of construction and not really saying much about where you are or whether you're in the subway station yet.
Still. We got there with our luggage monsters intact, and found the gate ready for law-abiding tourists like us to shuffle through. Or for something like one person in four to just jump over. French public transport might not actually be on the honor system but it certainly seems like it. The Turnstile jumping seemed shocking enough to us, but this was also immediately in front of the information window. Of course, the information window was dealing with a small queue of people who had the most complicated public transportation questions of all time, because the queue was not moving and would not move all the time we were there. At some point when we weren't looking the queue vanished and the information desk closed, but how this happened neither of us could say.
You might wonder why we hadn't bought a subway ticket from the automated vending machine. This is because the machine was opened up, with some guy working at it. It seemed to be more than just taking out payments or reloading the ticket dispenser, although what, we couldn't tell. We were wondering if it was possible to actually buy legitimate entry to the Metro. Finally whatever he was doing was done, and I went up to the ticket machine and saw it was rebooting. Slowly. Very slowly. It progressed through a couple of percentages and then restarted the process. Slowly.
Anyway. We were through. We just had to get to whatever platform E trains leave from. There are at least three levels in the station. They're not all connected by single elevators. There's this weird network of elevators instead, suggesting the station is more a couple nearby lines clumped together rather than something designed as a unified whole. And there's not signs for anything.
We tried the first (lower) level. This was a pair of endlessly long tunnels and the occasional wave of people coming in from somewhere else. There weren't enough signs, but I ran off ahead to look and came away feeling like this probably wasn't bringing us to the E line. We tried the next lower level and there, finally, we found the E trains.
Since the Gare Saint Lazare station was a terminus for that line, there were two trains waiting on adjacent platforms. I supposed this was maybe what the information desk guy meant when he said we could take either train. I was mistaken, but not in any way that hurt us. The E train path splits along its line, to different ultimate destinations, but that split happens well past the Magneta station we needed. We studied the overhead boards to take the train leaving sooner, and huddled near the door. We had used, incredibly, nearly a full hour just to get to the subway car.
The seven minutes until the train left ticked away, and it was just a couple minutes on the train until the Magneta station. And then we had to find our way out of the subway line and into the Gare du Nord station proper. There were a few signs, not many but enough for the general shuffling along twisty inclined passages. We got to a two-level plaza and a sign that pointed upwards for Gare du Nord, which seemed straightforward enough. There were turnstile barriers in front of an information desk, although I didn't think it wise to go through them what with how if we left the subway area we might never get back alive.
I asked the information desk how to get to the Gare do Nord, and showed the Eurostar tickets, figuring that would help them understand what I really wanted. They said to walk around the outside of this plaza (within the subway-passenger area) and go up into the station. There were elevators over there. The elevators could only go down. They were literally blocked by slabs of concrete from going up any. Somewhere along the way connecting from one train to another had gone through a Terry Gilliam film.
I went back to the information desk and the woman just insisted that I had to go up to get to the Gare du Nord, like she just said. I asked if we could just go through the passengers-with-baggage turnstile, the way I had seen some other people doing. I imagined if we got out of this subway station dead end we might find the train station after all, if need be by taxi. She said no.
I went back to the elevators trying to figure if there was anything I had missed. And looked around the other directions. bunny_hugger pointed out our dwindling time or something like that and I cried out, ``Yes, well, if there were any sign that pointed anyone to anything'' --- or something like that. My cry of despair attracted a woman who'd been walking past. We explained what we were trying to do. She pointed down the end of a corridor past the elevators that we hadn't thought promising. She believed that if we went through the turnstiles there we'd be in the connector tunnel to Gare du Nord. And since she had come from that direction we supposed she had probably at least seen signs indicating the existence of the train station. We thanked her profusely. She was right. She was from Canada, and was lost herself, and we couldn't help her find whatever she needed in the Metro. We had no idea where to even look.
From the connector plaza there were signs pointing upstairs, for the Gare du Nord, and that seemed straightforward enough. We couldn't find an elevator. Rather than lose even more of our time to that, we got on the escalator, which with a couple behemoth suitcases is exactly one-quarter as much fun as you imagine. At the top of the escalator was a free-standing door, because it wasn't challenging enough to shuffle off an escalator with suitcase and duffel bag and messenger bag.
At this point the frustration-nightmare aspect of the experience receded. We had to follow, of course, long passages to get to our platform. And they should have taken the number of signs, added two, doubled that, squared that, and doubled it again, but there wasn't anything that defied logic. We got to our designated platform, to officially check in and begin filling out British customs forms, almost exactly the half-hour ahead of departure they wanted everyone checked in and going through customs.
So we did not need two hours to travel one stop on the subway. We needed more like 100 minutes.
Also we had a much happier day than we would have had we needed twenty more minutes to realize we started at the wrong train station.
Trivia: Bruce McCandless was the Capsule Communicator for Apollo 11 when the moonwalk ended, at 12:11 am Houston time the 21st of July, 1969. Owen Garriott was Capsule Communicator shortly after, following the tentative signoff for the night, to ask Armstrong and Aldrin some follow-up questions from the scientists. Source: Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of NASA's Lunar Expeditions, William David Compton.
Currently Reading: Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life, Robin Wilson.
PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: y-axis, because there's just not that much mathematics stuff with a name that starts with 'y', is why. One.