There are too many people in this world who simply don’t understand the fascination of bandes dessinées (otherwise known as graphic novels). Monsieur and I are not among these people. We still read Tintin, raced madly through a series called XIII (Treize, as in ‘thirteen’) which gripped us with political intrigue and Kennedy-esque family, spent last year’s French holiday addicted to another series called Largo Winch about a billionaire playboy – this meant we made frequent trips to FNAC or roadside supermarkets in search of the next instalment… we even watch documentaries about the life of Tintin’s creator, Hergé. We love it all!
We’d been thinking about having a bandes dessinées weekend for some time now, so finally we stopped talking and started doing. Besides, a bit of distraction was required – Monsieur had spent months with his head in books for professional exams which were finally over and I was stressed out with various other things, so off we went to Paris and Brussels.
In Paris, we stayed near the Gare Lazare in a Hotel Mercure (part of the Accor group of hotels). The room was small but comfortable and had recently been decorated, so there was a whiff of paint in the air. Never mind. The mini bar was incredible. No, it wasn’t stocked with jars of peanuts for £10.00 a pop, or mini bottles of champagne costing as much as a magnum on the street. It was filled with non-alcoholic beverages and they were all free. What a brilliant idea! No more waking up parched from fierce hotel air-con in the middle of the night and reaching for a bottle of evian, only to find in the morning that you’d just consumed a weeny 250ml of water at £6.50 a go.
It was in Paris that we kicked off our BD adventure by going to Parc Astérix, the theme park of the Astérix world. Monsieur had been once as a child but couldn’t remember much about it. Besides, I was keen to see life-size Astérix and Obelix characters walking around Gaul villages. Let’s just say we’re very much in touch with our inner children.
Reader, please note: Monsieur and I rarely travel without some sort of adventure happening along the way. By ‘adventure’, we mean hiccup or problem or minor disaster. Our adventure of this particular weekend would prove to be getting to Parc Astérix.
How NOT to travel to Parc Astérix from central Paris
As we’d booked our entry tickets online at the Parc website, we had also printed their detailed instructions on how to get to Parc Astérix from central Paris. We followed them to the letter.
First, we had to get up at 7am (which translates into 6am UK time) – an ungodly hour when travelling for relaxation. We somehow managed breakfast in 15 minutes. (That’s pretty miraculous for us, especially considering the need to coordinate. We’re really not great in the morning; the lights are on but nobody’s home until about 10am.) Then, unsure of how long it would take to walk, we grabbed a taxi to 99, rue Rivoli, as per the Official Directions. 10 Euros later, we were standing outside the Carrousel du Louvre, at number 99, with a group of Astérix fans, happily waiting for the navette (shuttle). It should have been there at 8.45am. It didn’t come.
“Don’t worry, darling. You French are always fashionably late!” I said, optimistically.
“No, we’re not.” Monsieur was adamant ”This isn’t right.”
I didn’t believe him. After all, we were in the midst of a group of day-trippers; kids with backpacks covered in images of toys of the moment all around. We couldn’t all be wrong, could we? Nah, of course not. At 9.20am, no navette in sight, one of the women waiting with us picked up her mobile to call the Parc and find out why we hadn’t been collected yet. Apparently, we’d been waiting in the wrong place. Cue group groan. So much for the Official Directions. Mobile Phone Woman was now ranting. There was a bus park in the Louvre courtyard behind 99 rue Rivoli where the navette had already been, and gone. No, it couldn’t come back for us because it was already full with visitors who’d waited in the right place. How ever did they know? Farts. There was only one morning navette from Paris to the Parc and we’d missed it. Now what?
Pulling out the Official Directions, we found an alternate route, via métro, train and bus. This was going to be far less direct. We took the métro from Carrousel to the Gare du Nord, then jumped on a train to the airport (yes, the airport), from where we could pick up a navette to the Parc. It seemed straightforward enough. Oh, how wrong we were. The metro was fine. The train was fine. The queue for the navette was NOT fine.
Given that we were (misguidedly) visiting Parc Astérix on a French holiday and there was only one navette per half-hour leaving from the airport train station, the queue of a couple of hundred teenagers in front of us meant that we wouldn’t make it to the Parc until closing time. We stood in line pondering the options, shuffling forward a few inches every few minutes. Then we gave up, took a monorail to the airport terminal, walked straight into a taxi and paid yet more Euros to drive down the motorway to the blooming theme park filled with fake Gauls and enough hysterical adolescents with piercings to put you off them for life. And breathe. Why on earth had we thought this would be a good idea? The icing on the cake was the traffic jam on the off ramp leading to the park. Oh joy. Blessedly, that was the last of the problems. This time.
Here’s a life lesson for you: when visiting theme parks, always do so in the morning of a weekday during term time. Why? No queues. We love no queues.
On the way back, Monsieur and I forewent trying out a new ride in order to jump on an early navette back to the airport station. We didn’t want to risk waiting until park closing time to wrestle our way onto a bus out of Gaul. The bus was filled with French chav teenagers, wearing naff tracksuits, the crotches of which hung down to their knees, and those baseball caps which perch on top of the cranium, adding several inches to their height. Isn’t it reassuring to know that there are kids like this everywhere, even if they don’t wear fake Burberry or say “innit”?
On the train, there were more chavs, only older, and a number of dodgy guys wearing enough gold chain to start a market stall. Monsieur nudged me “we’re travelling through one of the roughest areas in Paris,” he whispered. Hmm. Looking around me, I could see what he meant, but it only made me more interested in where we were, who got on or off the train, and how much man-jewellery the guys were wearing. Sadly, there’s not much else to report that would be different from a suburban train trip anywhere else, but I have to admit I was pleased we were travelling in daylight.
At the Gare du Nord we got stuck trying to reach the right platform on the EM métro line that would take us back to the hotel. First, we found the right line but the trains were heading in the wrong direction, so we took the escalator up to a level that bridged all the platforms but had no down escalators. We then had to return to the entrance to the line (two more escalators going up) and finally found the level (two more escalators going down) from which you could take yet another down escalator to the right platform going in the right direction. Man, could this day be any more of a transportation hell?
When Monsieur and I got off at the Gare St Lazare, we were barely talking with the stress of it all. After a rest at the relatively peaceful hotel with a free minibar filled with cool drinks, it was time to go out again, only this time, we’d walk.
Summary of transport to get to and from Parc Astérix from central Paris:
- 2 taxis
- 2 métros
- 2 trains
- 1 navette
The moral of this story is: drive.