A mad dash between trains: the one from Lure, France arrived 30 minutes late. 5:45 pm, and the one to Vernon was scheduled to depart in 7 minutes.
We raced to the ticket machine. It was less than agreeable. In fact, it refused to issue the tickets that we’d selected. So we just ran for the train. We’d buy tickets on board, paying a premium for the privilege, no doubt.
With only one stop to go, we were scheduled to arrive in Vernon within 10 minutes. Still, there was no conductor. No ticket-checking. No last-minute purchase. Wow! What a fluke!
We tumbled off the train and into the station to buy tomorrow’s tickets. We didn’t want a repeat of today’s experience. The clerk was bland and as unhelpful as she could be. Finally, with an air of disgust, she pointed out the window toward a bus stop. We could take a bus from Vernon to our final destination, Giverny, home of Claude Monet’s famous garden and house.
The bus schedule let us know that we had missed the last bus of the day—by a few hours. So we went back into the train station. Miss Friendly was no more helpful this time around. “Taxi,” was all she said. At our insistence, she scribbled a couple of phone numbers on a small square of paper. Placing the paper in her vandal-proof tray, she shoved it under the glass partition. We took the paper and thanked her, with a reticent smile. No response. Then we turned to scan the station. “Where’s a phone?” we asked. She pointed straight ahead with an indignant smirk.
Tucked into a dark alcove there were 2 phones, neither of which accepted coins. We had no phone card, so we couldn’t call anyone. We’d have to find an open shop to buy the card . . . at 7 pm? . . . no easy feat.
We stood motionless, considering our next move. That’s when we spied a man out front talking to a friend. Hmmm. We approached him. “Is it true that there are no more buses for Giverny today?” His response, “Oui.” Somehow we convinced him that we needed a taxi and that to do that we needed a calling card. He looked doubtful. Then he took out his cell phone and dialed the first number on the paper. After a brief conversation, he turned to inform us that there would be a 2-hour wait. “What!?” we said simultaneously. He gave us one of those “What can you do?” looks and then proceeded to call the second number on our blue paper. Just as with the first company, he turned to report that there would be a lengthy delay.
Then he motioned toward his 1986 hand-painted van (unidentifiable figures on curious backgrounds). He invited us to climb aboard, and took us on a personalized 10 minute ride to Giverny. As we collected our stuff, we offered him some cash—at least to cover the cost of gasoline, which is even more expensive in Europe. He refused the money and wished us well. We watched as he drove away, realizing that we hadn’t even asked his name. What a nice gesture, especially after the encounter with the grouchy train station clerk.
The next day we were near the head of the line when the Monet Garden opened at 9:30. We were armed with cameras and ready to roll—one still and one video. We scoured every corner of the magnificent garden, crossed through the underground passageway to the Japanese water-lily pond across the road, and snapped pictures from the windows of the house, imagining Monet being inspired by the view from each room.
Our return train was scheduled to leave at 10:56, so we left the garden at 10:20 for the bus. When we arrived at the stop, we found that the first return bus to Vernon was scheduled for 11:15. Oops! We approached a uniformed man to ask him if that could be true. Unfortunately, yes, and there was nothing to do but wait. We considered walking, but the guy said in British English that he didn’t think we could make the train even if we ran. Then he made an unbelieveably kind offer. He’d take us to the station! What?!
He went to retrieve his “van” while we stood at the edge of the parking lot. We watched as one of the large tourist buses began to make a few tricky maneuvers. What?! Could THAT be his “van?”
Indeed it was. We climbed aboard a beautiful 52-passenger tour bus, and the 3 of us headed for the station. As it turned out, Martin (yes, we thought to ask his name) hails from Poland and moved to England to earn a better living. He lives there with his wife, who teaches English. Yes, she is also Polish, but Martin explained that she’s quite brilliant and in fact, speaks “the Queen’s English.”
He dropped us at the station and we walked through the gate without looking to see if Miss Friendly was there. We preferred to bask in the warmth of kindhearted strangers who had helped us along the way. It’s wonderful to know that the “Good Samaritan” is still there in today’s world, extending a helping hand—or in our case a helping bus and van.
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