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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

En Route with Andrew Hamilton: VI

Ring Around the Roissy

[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
The Last in a Series
Roissy, France
I usually hang a few days in Paris on the way out, but because of weather fluctuations, undoubtedly attributable to global warming. it was below zero Celsius in Paris, and I got an Air France flight direct from Ajaccio to Orly and took the Orly-CDG shuttle bus and stayed in the Hôtel Première Classe in Roissy, right next to the airport. It was only about 115€ from Ajaccio on Air France because there's competition with an EasyJet flight from Ajaccio direct to CDG. My flight to San Francisco was early enough in the morning that I didn't want to get up before dawn to make the regional train from Paris-nord to the airport.

There are five or six separate hotel bus lines from CDG to the hotel district on the edge of Roissy about five minutes away over spaghetti roads. The bus is free from the airport to the hotel but five euros from the hotel to the airport, at least in the case of the Hôtel Première Classe.

Première Classe is the Motel Six of France -- I stayed in one once on the edge of Bayeux where I had to unscrew the window hardware and dismantle it to lean far enough out the window for a few pulls on a cigar, which is the customary procedure for that activity in modern French hotels. The Première Classe in Roissy had had too many carpets burned to try to seal the smokers inside, and the window opened wide enough to lean way out and see all the cigarette dog-ends that catch on architectural features below.

Roissy is a nice little Ile-de-France village that had the misfortune of having the aeorport Charles DeGaulle laid down on top of it.  There's a nice romanesque or early Gothic church as in most of those towns, and a confusing town center with North Africans and old French hanging together, a huge park, lots of municipal plantings, and sad signs about the history of the town with sepia pictures of the way it was back in the day on this very spot. Next to the cemetery is a municipal apiary with fruit trees, and signs warning you to not disturb the bees, and some signboard bee biology.

The Première Classe gives you a bon or at least a discount ticket to eat from the cafeteria line in the classier hotel next door, but they also have a map showing restaurants in town, which cater to adventurous layover travelers willing to walk a few blocks. I went into a more or less obscure or unadvertised galette joint away from the center where one single waitress ended up serving about fifty people. Had some really good terrine, and then a galette filled with a famous local charcuterie that turned out to taste and feel exactly like Oscar Meyer hot-dog tubes, a huge hot mound of them inside the galette flooded with one of those white Velveeta cream sauces. The rouge ordinaire was not bad, but as in most places nowadays you have to know your way around to get it, because it's not on the menu. Your modern hipster Frog wants something in a bottle, with a cork, and hardly anyone announces that you can get en vrac wine poured straight from the tank through a plastic hose into the carafe.

I recommend staying in the village of Roissy. You don't have to say wistful goodbye to Paris, hauling your baggage up and down métro stairs to the Gare du Nord to catch the RER.

Somewhere during this trip, I forget exactly where, a swarthy lady in a shawl tried to work the old Gypsy Gold Ring scam on me, which is something I've missed in the past few trips. I think it was on that pedestrian bridge in Paris where couples inscribe their names on Master™-Locks and fasten them to the railing to attest to their undying love. "Sous le pont de Master™ Locks coule la Seine, et nos amours./  Faut-it qu'il m'en souvienne, la joie venait toujours après la peine..../ etc." 

It's the old hilarious scam where the gypsy or other miscreant discovers a gold ring on the sidewalk closer to you than to her, and then tells you that you probably should be the one to keep it because it was closer to you. The item in question is a big brass-coated gate-post ring like you might set in a bull's nostril, and if you decline she points out that it fits your finger better than it fits her finger.

If you walk around a sizeable French city alone and looking clueless, maybe with a camera, away from teams of cops, you are almost certain to experience the gypsy gold ring ploy.

I usually wheedle the perp down to the price of a bus ticket as their cut, if I don't get embarrassed for participating and offer to take the ring to the police station to check it against loss reports. It's an amusement and a check on how slick you've got with the language, and if I could be sure of it happening every time I was on my way to the Gare du Nord to catch the RER, I'd stay in Paris every last night before leaving.

(Mr. Hamilton is The PJ's travel editor).