We landed in Paris at Orly Airport, collected our luggage – two bikes in bags, two large bike packs in bags, and we were wearing our day packs as our hand carry luggage. The first thing we did then was board the airport subway to go to the railroad station. That was the second thing we should have done. The first thing I should have done was reassemble the bikes in the airport. It would have been so much easier to roll the bikes, with the large packs already loaded on the luggage racks, through the subway trains and connecting corridors than to carry it all, bikes included, still in their shipping bags.
I was fortunate that one Parisian, who spoke English as well as I spoke French, saw the monumental effort required for me to move the four heavy pieces by myself, and silently gave me a hand. For awhile I mentally took back all the nasty remarks I have made about rude Frenchmen – but they have all come back to me since – one nice Frenchman is the lone exception that proves the rule.
Our train rolled out of Paris, giving us a charmless view of how most ancient cities look from their railroad cars – the dingy backsides of brick buildings covered with graffiti. Soon we were in the country, seeing the France that the tourist offices want you to see – picture post card villages, everything neat and orderly, no graffiti, no rude big-city Frenchmen. I just threw that last item in. Of course I couldn’t tell from the train what kind of Frenchman roamed the streets of the charming country villages, but in my mind I knew they would be an improvement over the city ones.
At some point we passed without fanfare into Germany, and our rail journey ended in Heidelberg. We checked in to the Ibis Hotel at the train station, and phoned my oldest son Bruce, stationed at Patrick Henry Village, an Army family housing area on the outskirts of Heidelberg. The next day Bruce and my oldest granddaughter Leaha, picked us up and drove us to their house on the Army post.
We visited with them a few days, and readied ourselves for the day we would strike out with our bikes and packs across the German countryside, then on to England, the Isle of Mann, Ireland, Wales, and finally back across England to Germany again.