I didn't get that shower after all. Sometime after 10:00 p.m. last night, I heard a key in the main
door, followed by the rustle of feet. Since the owner required us to remove our shoes, my new
roomies saw that someone was already in one of the rooms. When they also saw their room
had been slept in and not cleaned, it didn't matter whether it had been Goldilocks or not. They
knocked politely on my door, and inquired whether I had the right room. I told them I had no
idea, but that it seemed to be first come, first served. A quiet ensued, and I decided it would be the friendly, youth hostel thing to do to go out and introduce myself to my bunkmates.
I say youth hostel, because at the moment that other room became occupied is when these
two so called "private" rooms were not any longer that. Neither door featured a lock, the
commonly understood mechanism that produced and secured privacy in a public
accommodation. If any of us were sleepwalkers, for instance, we were all in trouble. After
introductions, I explained to the newly bewildered the other apparent libertinely applied term
"shared bathroom, " complete with visual aids. I quickly acted to assure the wife, whose look of horror upon seeing the shower portion of the "shared bathroom" to be directly opposite her
unmade bed, with the white lie that I had not planned to use it in the morning.
When the husband located a set of clean sheets, the immediate crisis resolved itself, and we
all returned to our 60s era communal arrangement for the balance of the night. (I did find myself wondering, as I spent the rest of my typical first night in Europe wide awake, what the wife might have thought when she opened her eyes in the morning to have seen a figure of Churchillian girth and gait emerge from the shower covered by a towel the size of a dishcloth. Probably not enough therapy covered by her insurance to help with that one.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant walk to the elegant Gare de Lyon train station for my train to
Barcelona the next morning. Built in 1900 as part of the World Exposition for that year, the
station is an excellent example of some architectural style or other (Belle Epoque,
Belles-Lettres, Beaux Arts or Bo Diddley--you'd really have to look that one up if you're that
interested. I've never wanted to even pretend to be an architect.) Besides the impressive clock
tower that bisects the face of the station, my main interest in the Gare de Lyon is its history as
the main departure station for the original Orient Express, as well as home base to the famous
French sleeper car maker Wagons-Lits, the European version of the Pullman company. Yes,
you guessed it: I read a book about it.
According to Andrew Martin's Night Trains: The Rise and Fall of The Sleeper , the Orient
Express we know and love, i.e., the Agatha Christie Orient Express ran from Paris to Istanbul
with its Paris departure point being the Gare de Lyon. There, the famous blue painted
Wagons-Lits sleepers were attached for the thirty-six hour trip to Istanbul. Since its route also
traversed the Simplon tunnel in Switzerland, it was also known as the Simplon Express (that
name, incidentally, was mentioned in the Kenneth Branagh Orient , along with faithful
recreations(?) of the blue and gold trimmed Wagons-Lits sleepers.)
Air travel put an end to the original Orient Express (the current incarnation is an overpriced
nostalgia attraction), just as it did the Pullman cars here. (And boy, did it ever. The rack rate for
my train trip from Paris to Barcelona is about $230. The airfare is about $80. On the other hand, this one trip will already absorb about a fifth of the total cost of my Eurail Pass.)
What remains of that Golden Age of rail travel is the Gare de Lyon station, more or less as it
was then, the classy Le Train Bleu restaurant (named after those Wagon-Lits cars), atop a
curving Gone With the Wind staircase inside the station and, lastly, a DVD version of The
Mystery of the Blue Train , based on the Agatha Christie novel.
From what I've gathered from my reading, one did not enter another's private sleeper in order
to take a shower in a Wagon-Lits manufactured car either. But there’s a final wrinkle to the
sheets concerning my hostel experience, which I’ll explain next time