Our main concern in Paris was getting out of there. Not because we disliked it, but because we needed to be at a conference in Italy in two days' time. And the strike was making it look like we might not get there. So we spent a morning queueing in the Gare to get our Eurail pass validated and to find out whether our train would "circulate". The good news was that it would; the bad news was that it was leaving from a minor station called Bercy, where they didn't even have baggage lockers, so we ended up hanging out in a lot of cafes, sandbagged by all our luggage at an outdoor table.
On that subject, I have to recommend traveling with a large number of small bags, rather than one or two huge bags. We managed to fit two months' worth of stuff into six things the size of small duffels, which can easily be put on little wheelie-things and rolled around. Contrast this with the numerous people we saw in, say, Spain, who seemed to think that a Volkswagen-sized suitcase was a good thing to bring on a train. Several times, I would see a young man, sweating profusely, lug a suitcase that would comfortably accomodate R2-D2 up to the train, look around panicked, find someone to help him hoist the thing onto the train, and then realize that there was absolutely nowhere it could be stowed. I suspect that some of these people ended up sleeping inside their suitcases.
We did have some time to wander about the city and eat some tasty food items. One puzzling thing was the apparent popularity of what were called "Scandinavian sandwiches". Annelie had no idea what these might be. Looking into this, we observed that these seem to consist of a typical (but yucky, in the opinion of this author) kind of Swedish bread with various salmon-type things on it. Do they eat these in Scandinavia? No. But that's how it often is, isn't it? I was hoping they would be served with Swedish Fries, but no such luck.
Speaking of which, I was disappointed not to see anyone selling "pommes frites de la liberté". I thought that would be awfully funny.
We encountered several other puzzling establishments, such as these:
Our trip to Florence was a long overnight one. We had decided that, for the first time for either of us, we would travel first class. This meant a private sleeping compartment, and we imagined untold other luxuries: Would we have a private bath with shower? Would they bring us coffee and newspapers? Perhaps satellite television and a foot massage? Who knew?
The train was Italian and dated possibly from the Mussolini era. When we got onboard, we found ourselves in a tiny little compartment much like a phone booth with bunkbeds. The beds were either down, leaving just enough room to breathe, or up--folded through a mechanical process no less complicated than arming a B-52 for nuclear combat, I'm sure--leaving just enough room to sit facing a blank wall. We did have a little sink, which was nice, and--this was most exotic--a bedpan. So much for our private shower.
We did have a good time, however, picnicking on the supplies we had bought at the supermarché, including a cheap but satisfying bottle of Bordeaux. One of the things we had never had time to do in Boston was buy some of those nerdy little folding fork-and-spoon combinations used in camping; we thought they would come in terribly handy, and we were right--they would have. As it was, we found ourselves with several tins of yogurt and nothing to eat them with. Until, that is, I found that I had brought a plastic shoehorn, compliments of my brother's wedding. (Yes, Adam, I ate yogurt in France with a Martin's Tuxedo shoehorn! Oh, and by the way, the duffelbag you gave me is holding up great--thanks. And thanks to the monogram, everybody in Europe knows that I'm Mr. Bean.)
We cleaned the shoehorn with moist towelettes and so introduced a new collocation into the English language: "lemony shoehorn". I defy anyone to find any prior instance of this noun phrase.
What we didn't know was that our route went through Switzerland. This was exciting, because we woke up in the middle of the night and saw immense snow-capped mountains in the light of the full moon. It was beautiful, but we were nervous. You see, we had bought this special Eurail pass that allows you to travel through five countries, which you must specify beforehand. Switzerland was not one of our countries, and so we were afraid we were in for trouble. Then, at some unknown hour just before dawn, the train stopped and there was a sudden knocking, and someone shouting "Polizei!" We thought we were in for it. But it was the next compartment they were knocking at. We heard them say, "Mista Johnson? Plees come vis us, and bring your backs." But, as we lay quaking in our sheets (or I did; I think Annelie actually slept through the whole thing), the train started up again, and we were spared.