April 6, 2010 (Tuesday)

We’re up at 5:45 am, get ready, pack, and take luggage down to the hotel lobby to leave until after we get back from our day trip. When we get back this evening, we have an overnight train to catch from Paris to Berlin. Our day trip is out into the French countryside to find the town of Angers, where a castle that long had been an important medieval fortress, the Château d’Angers, houses the famous Apocalypse Tapestry that Jerry is dying to see.

The cab comes right on time at 7:15 am, and we’re off to Gare Montparnesse station for our train. The station is huge. We get a little breakfast from a café where the servers were very rude. They refused even to try to help understand selections and prices, speaking French only, dismissive of our presence, and motioning we should just get out of line if we could not speak French. I managed to speak enough French to get us a little bite to eat for breakfast. Jerry got so mad at their rudeness. All he could think of were the young American boys spilling American blood on French beaches to save France from the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

Then we are off to view the boards to determine which platform our train will be on and look for an ATM. (We need more Euros.) I tried to get info about the trains, and Jerry found an ATM. The platform number is supposed to be posted 20 minutes before the train leaves. We have a long, cold wait. The terminal is exposed to the outside air, and the waiting area is cold and drafty. Our anxiety level rises as time passes and our platform number still is not posted. Finally, when we have only 9 minutes before our train is scheduled to depart, the platform number we are supposed to go to shows up on the main board, so we rush to that platform and hop on the first car we get to just to make sure we are on the train. We figure out what car we are on and discover we are several cars away from ours. We have to walk through several cars to get to our reserved seats. We finally find our seats just seconds before we are off to Angers. Whew! That was close! [If you would like to see where Angers, France is, click the Google Maps link below. After you are finished, use the back button on your browser to get back to this page.—Jerry]

Angers Map (Google Maps)

[A little history from Jerry: The Apocalypse Tapestries were ordered by Louis I d’Anjou, who wanted to depict the scenes of the Bible’s book of Revelation. The master weaver contracted for the work was the famous Parisian artist Nicolas Bataille, working with Robert Poinçon, who designed and executed one hundred tapestries from 1375–1382. Only seventy tapestries survive, a loss of the Revolutionary period of French history. These tapestries are the oldest, most extensive, and best collection of medieval tapestry in the world. They are important not only for their craftsmanship and artistry, however. They are important to biblical scholars because they are a silent testimony to how the images of the Apocalypse were interpreted in their day. The conceptualization and depictions in the scenes of each tapestry panel become a commentary on fourteenth-century political struggles in the turmoil and uncertainty of Western Europe under Muslim invasion and conquest. In the tapestries, the forces of Antichrist are strikingly Muslim in appearance, dress, and weaponry. Only 71 years later, in fact, after the completion of the tapestries, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire fell to Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Thus, in a way, their world did come to an end. They really were not all that wrong in seeing the “end of the world” coming.—Jerry]

An hour and 40 minutes later we’re in Angers! Miracle of miracles, outside the Angers train station the Garmin gets a signal and directs us right to the castle! The hike is a short uphill walk. Road construction made the way a little confusing, but suddenly the castle appears up ahead. The castle grounds are so beautifully manicured!

We get our tickets and head straight for the Apocalypse Tapestries Museum housed in part of the castle. The time is about 11:15 or so. Yea! Photos are allowed! Just no flash. Jerry is in heaven. We enter the museum area and are taken aback by how huge the tapestries are in real life. Jerry proceeds to take pictures, and I follow along, but mostly I sit on the benches and stare in wonder at the scenes before me. By a little after 1 pm, two hours later, we are starving, but we do not want to leave the tapestries yet, so we eat some peanut butter crackers I have in my pack and drink some water. We then go through the exhibit again in sequence through the tapestry panels, with me attempting to translate the descriptions. With Jerry’s help, we manage to go through the scenes of the book of Revelation depicted in each panel of the tapestry.

After hours in the museum, and some time in the museum store, we finally leave the tapestry exhibit. We walked around the castle grounds and up on the turrets. The castle grounds and the vistas along the walls are beautiful. A little café on the castle grounds looks delightful, and we stop and get a Coke. We have a nice conversation with the waiter who is from Algeria. His English is very good. We hate to leave, but we need to make our train back into Paris.

We walk back to the Angers train station and get assistance from an attendant to get the correct platform and boarding station (S). The train ride from the French countryside back into Paris is uneventful. We arrive back at the Paris train station and hail a taxi, but our driver speaks NO English. I manage enough bad French to ask him to take us to the hotel door and wait while we get our baggage at our Hotel Louvre Forum. I can’t believe he actually understood me, but apparently he did, because we arrive at our hotel. We retrieve our bags in storage from the hotel lobby and are off to the Garde d’Lest (east train station). We get our platform information and then get some supper at a café (lasagna and Greek salad). Very good! We test the Garmin a little, because she worked when we were in Angers. The unit is back to refusing to get a satellite fix. We are starting to hate that thing!

We board our overnight train to Berlin and look for our “Deluxe” sleeper. Well, not exactly what I thought, to say the least, about accommodations called “deluxe.” I tried to clarify to the attendant that the room to which he pointed us simply could not be our room, because our tickets said “deluxe.” The attendant nodded yes he understood, but that this was, in fact, our room. Jerry got so tickled at me in this whole exchange with the attendant and evidently my expression of disbelief in response. I thought we surely had the wrong car and coach or something. I told the porter (who spoke no English) “no, we had deluxe” and he nods and points to the little sleeper with bunk beds. Yes, there is a shower that’s about 6 inches wide, and yes, there is a small sink on a moveable arm that either has to be moved into the shower or over the commode to get in the bathroom! Now that’s “deluxe”! Funny how pictures in a brochure can make rooms look so huge. We learn only later from seasoned travelers that since we have private accommodations, no matter how small, the privacy itself was “deluxe.” Otherwise, you share bunks of four with anyone and a common bathroom for the entire car! So, in fact, the porter was exactly correct. He had taken us to our “deluxe” cabin.

Jerry was nonplussed by the cramped quarters. He simply immediately went into his “boy scout” mode and got us all organized and set up efficiently, making extraordinary use of every square inch like he was on a campout in the cramped quarters of a tent. Yea for the boy scouts! I wrote in our journal while Jerry set up his charging stations on the commode. Yes, that’s right. On the commode. The only electrical plug in our entire “deluxe” cabin is in the tiny little bathroom right above the commode with no shelf. Glad we didn’t accidentally flush anything down.

Finally, lights out, and I attempt to sleep, but the sounds and train movement makes rest for me difficult. Jerry, however, had his earplugs and did fine. In any case, we’ll wake up in Berlin tomorrow morning!

Here is a video of the Angers action today: