For Versailles, Go via Saint-Lazare

Cafe-Bar Le Bougnat, near Temple
Most ordinary bars used to sell firewood as well as beer.

Plus Funny Money, Big Numbers and a Birthday

Paris:- Saturday, 19. July 1997:- In mentioning Versailles' desire last week for two billion francs to fix itself up, I also mentioned in passing that I hadn't heard any complaints about the SNCF's line 'C' lately. This is the train line which takes so many visitors out there. I shouldn't have said that.

On Thursday, Le Parisien reported that the SNCF is making a real effort to provide living human beings to aid passengers. But they start their story with a hypothetical account of visitors in the Gare Montparnasse, looking at the departure signs, trying to figure out which trains go to Versailles.

As the line 'C' is a commuter line like all others, it makes about a dozen stops before reaching Versailles-Chantiers. All of these intermediate stops are listed by name, and if local commuters know them off by heart, visitors don't. With the ticket-selling automats, it is difficult for visitors to buy tickets and there is no one to give directions. Luckily, other passengers on the train are usually helpful.

As far as the ticket-automats are concerned, nobody uses them with ease, even if they are working. Smaller stations along the route are not always manned full-time, and although many of these have outside ticket-automats - they do not give directions.

Actually, Le Parisien's piece only mentions the problems of visitors to Versailles in the first paragraph. The other six paragraphs are about the problems all local passengers face, not just visitors.

My solution for those intending to visit Versailles is simple. Go by way of the Gare Saint-Lazare instead. As you face the tracks, the trains leaving for Versailles are at the far left. They go to Versailles-Rive-Droit and no further. I figure this station is about exactly as far a walk from the château as the RER's line 'C' station.

Depending on the time of day, the ride from Saint-Lazare may take longer because the train may stop at more stations along the way, but it can also be boarded at La Défense. There is a better view of all Paris 14 July parade, A2 TV-news from this line and it runs through the park of Saint-Cloud as a bonus.

In addition to the military, the police now march on Bastille Day too.

The ticket-vending automats at Saint-Lazare are identical to the ones at Montparnasse, so I have no good advice about this - except that I think there are more manned ticket windows if you can't get satisfaction from the machine.

Both machines and ticket windows are on the same level as the tracks, but in the big hall behind. In general, Saint-Lazare is laid-out more simply than Montparnasse has become since the TGV's were added to it.

You Like France and France Likes You

The numbers are in and you did it again; all 62.4 million of you who paid a visit to France in 1996. Germany sent 13 million and Great Britain 10 million and the fastest growing groups were visitors from the United States and from eastern Europe.

But instead of staying eight days as was the case three years ago, it was only seven last year. Visitors blitz Paris by taking in the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe and a ride on a bateau-mouche, because the three are physically close together.

Despite the world's record for visitors, France ranks only third for income from visitors, following the United States and Spain.

Visitors are handling their money with caution and looking for bargains - and in September the Paris Tourist Office intends to propose visits to couture houses - as so-called 'Journées à la Française.' But being realistic, the PTO also plans to show visitors where to find the shops with marked-down quality goods - some of which have been mentioned already in Metropole.

The Disney-DM Gang is Back in Town

Some clever fellows have got some suitcases full of 1000 DM notes which have Uncle Scrooge's portrait on one side. These guys go to a jeweler - for example - and ask to exchange - for example - 30,000 real DMs for Francs, at a very favorable exchange-rate.

When they think they have the fish hooked, then they come back with a suitcase full of phoney 1000 DM notes to do another exchange, or purchase something really valuable.

If the fish bites, he ends up with a lot of funny money. These guys have been around with the same dodge a couple of times this year already, and one gang of them were snapped up on 8. July in the rue Copernic, along with 478 samples of 1000 DM notes issued by Scrooge's Bank.

As in the first occurrence, early this year involving a jeweler in the place Vendôme, Disney does not know where the fake bread is coming from. In the latest seizures, the police have also gotten samples of 10,000 dollar notes from Hong Kong and 10,000 DM notes.

Le Parisien's story uses Uncle Scrooge's French name, Oncle Picsou, so if you get offered a bargain-basement rate on a 1000 DM 'Oncle Picsou' keep your wallet in your pocket.

Sandwiches Go Public in Paris

For many thousands of years, a sandwich in France was a half-baguette sliced length-wise, liberally smeared with butter, and containing a slice of honest ham, and you could get one almost any time of day or night in any café-bar.

Some two centuries after the sandwich was invented by Lord Raglan - or was it Lord Cardigan? - the word entered the Larousse dictionary in 1875. Le Parisien says the French version can also be made with farm-fresh cheese, washed down with Beaujolais, and the delicious damage costs only 500 calories.

Grand hotels, catering to Americans, have long served sandwiches of the more elaborate sort, such as the famous 'Club' sandwich. The Bristol charges 40 francs for theirs, while the Prince de Galles snoozing in the Tuileries asks 130 francs for one containing lobster.

'Paris-Plage' is where you make it.

But what probably set the democratic seal of acceptance of the ordinary 'Wonder-bread' sandwich in Paris was the introduction of them by Marks and Spencer on the boulevard Haussmann. They bring in tons of them direct from Britain every day. The idea of being able to buy an inexpensive sandwich where you shop really caught on.

Last Wednesday, Le Parisien devoted two full pages to the subject, listing no less than 21 good sandwich locations - from the Plaza-Athénée to the kosher l'As du Fallafel in the rue des Rosiers, while not leaving out the traditional version as served by the Boutique Flo Prestige.

In fact, as you go around Paris, it seems as if sandwich kiosques have almost completely displaced the - also traditional - crêpes booths, although they haven't completely disappeared. And, do not forget, you can still get an honest and sturdy baguette-ham sandwich in almost any bar-café at any time of the day or night.

The Official Reason for Holidays

On Saturday, Le Parisien stated on page two in a very large double-page headline, 'L'Essentiel, c'est le Plaisir.' What can I add?

And the Reason for Not Having Fun

In the same edition of the paper, it poses the question: 'Paris, Ville la Plus Chère du Monde?' It goes on, 'Tokyo Counter-Attacks,' by reporting that the Japanese Ministry of International Commerce and the MITI have claimed that Paris is more expensive than Tokyo by two percent.

Ninety-three items were compared for price and Paris came out on top, two percent higher than Tokyo. The Paris Tourist Office has counter-counter attacked by stating that Paris is in thirteenth place in Europe and only in 32nd place worldwide if you are comparing the prices of overnight stays.

Paris also quotes the Euro-org 'Eurocost' as stating that Moscow is the most expensive in the world, followed by Tokyo... all the same Paris estimates the cost for a couple for a weekend from Friday noon to Sunday evening at a cool 3500 francs. Figures I have from a couple of years ago reckoned on a thousand to 1,500 francs a day per person.

It is what might be the warm-up to a big mud-slinging match, because the stakes are colossal. Meanwhile there are the two Polish guys who are camping out in the Champ de Mars, hoping to last three weeks on 800 francs between them. They've found a way to get up to the first floor of the Tour Eiffel without paying too.

Sports News is Sort of Off Again

This week my excuse is that I've run out of time. Fiat 500 Instead of boring Sports News, I want to remind readers of the 40th anniversary of the Fiat 500, which first took to the roads of Europe in 1957. When production stopped in 1975, 3.5 million had been licensed. At 2.90 metres in length, it was 10 cm shorter than the Mini.
Here is a beautifully-preserved sun-roof Fiat 500, right behind the National Assembly.

La 84e Edition de la Tour de France

If this year's Tour de France interests you, there is a full-service Web site in French as well as in English, which contains far more information than you could hope to ask for - unless you are a 'true' fan, of course.

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