Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: London Paris Geneva

Today I enjoyed the pleasure of European high speed train travel and public transportation.

  My goal was to depart London for Paris, where I would collect Spot #5, and continue to Geneva for a good night's rest.

The Eurostar train from London's St. Pancras station took about 2hrs 15 minutes to the Paris Gare du Nord station.  It was a very smooth and pleasant journey this morning.  I recall the worldwide sensation when the two sides tunneling below the English Channel reached each other.  Today, it is a routine, even slightly boring, train ride and my traveling companions were all business people reviewing reports and preparing for meetings.  Still, I felt excited to experience the ride on this engineering marvel.  

I arrived just past noon and set about finding the Paris Gagosian Gallery at 4 Rue de Ponthieu, which is just off the Champs Elysee roughly half way between the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde.   I was feeling a little anxious, because I really wanted to catch the 3:11pm train to Geneva from another Paris train station, Gare de Lyon.  It is a great credit to the Paris Metro system that I, having only once before visited the city and not a French speaker, was able to find the Gallery, collect my spot, and arrive at Gare de Lyon in just over an hour!  For those fellow challengers who may wish to have this info, listen up.  If you are heading to Paris from London on Eurostar, consider buying a Paris Metro day ticket from the Eurostar ticket office at St. Pancras.  I did this, for 10 pounds, and I considered it a good investment, as the lines for Metro tickets were long at Gare du Nord and, also, I didn't see any ATMs (although there must be some there I would think) and I didn't have any Euros.  In any event, I proceeded directly to the Metro station after stepping off the train with my pre-paid day ticket and it worked fine.  In the Metro, take Line 4 -- it's important to note the final destination of the direction in which you wish to travel, as that's how the lines are marked and you'll need to know that info or you might wind up going in the wrong direction.   Take Line 4 towards Porte d'Orleans three stops to Strasbourg Saint-Denis, where you will transfer to Line 9 towards Pont de Sevres.  You may find yourself going up and down various staircases and winding around various passages, but if you follow the signs you'll find it.  Take Line 9 to Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is 9 stops.  You'll come out in a huge circle called Rond Point des Champs Elysees.  Till this moment I had only seen the train station and the metro stations, tunnels, and trains.  I felt somewhat ill at ease the whole time.  During my last and only visit to Paris, I was awestruck by it's grand size and scale, which is surpassed only by its beauty.  But I truly felt like an alien, as if Paris is meant for the French or more particularly for Parisians, and I would never feel comfortable there.  But as I walked out of the dark Metro, the dazzling sun was shining upon the buildings along the Champs Elysees and I couldn't help but feel my soul soar.  This is Paris!

The Gagosian is on Rue de Ponthieu, which is between two of the spokes that come out of this Circle, Rue Jean Mermoz and Avenue Matignon.

I crossed the Champs Elysees and just started looking at the streets.  In no time I found Rue Jean Mermoz and turned left.

(By the way there are some interesting looking restaurants in this area but unfortunately I didn't have time for any of that.)  Just up the street is Rue de Ponthieu and you turn right and Gagosian is on the left. 

This was the first gallery that I needed to visit carrying my luggage, and I admit I felt a bit self conscious about that (although it's just a small carryon), although they must be used to it by now.  In fact, the staff could not have been nicer.  The young lady downstairs sent me to the second floor, where two women sat at the desk.  They asked me if I had to catch a train (perhaps a pattern for this spot has emerged!) and they assured me they would have me on my way quickly and they did, with a cheerful, "good luck!"  I was too rushed to take a picture inside -- I wanted to get to Gare de Lyon and buy my ticket for my next destination.  So I left with a "merci beaucoup!" and headed back to the same Metro Station.  You take line 1 in the direction of Chateau de Vicennes 6 or 7 stops to Gare de Lyon.  So, as I mentioned, it took almost no time!

Gare de Lyon is a large, open train station that reminds one of a WWII movie train station, with whistles and all, but with modern trains waiting on the tracks.  I wanted to snap a few photos, but there were armed military patroling the station and I thought the better of it in these times.

I went to the ticket counter and the very helpful gentleman sold me a ticket to Geneva on the train I wanted, departing at 3:11pm and arriving at 6:16pm.  The journey was very relaxing, and in the last hour the scenery abruptly change from rolling farmland and small towns to snow covered mountains, tunnels, and frozen alpine lakes.  As we were approaching Geneva, I began to concoct a plan to dash over to the Geneva Gagosian to try to collect that spot before the gallery closed at 7pm.  Geneva is not that big and, according to the map, the gallery is just over the river from the station.  So I thought I'd try to hop in a cab as soon as I arrived.  Unfortunately, the train arrived about 10 minutes late, and when I emerged from the station expecting an orderly taxi stand, there was some kind of major gridlock event going on and all traffic in all directions was at a standstill.  Plus it was COLD.  As I write this, it is -13 degrees, and I am not dressed for the weather.  As an Angeleno, the heaviest thing I have is a lined trench coat, which I brought, and a cashmere scarf I bought at the Hong Kong airport before I left for London.  No hat, no gloves. I wouldn't have room for them in my small case anyway.  So I decided getting the Geneva spot today was not meant to be, and I walked the short walk to my hotel where I defrosted and settled in for the evening.  Tomorrow will be possibly the most challenging day of my challenge.  The only way for me to collect the Geneva spot after the gallery opens at 11 and get to Rome is to fly on an EasyJet flight that gets into Rome at 4:40pm, and I'll need to get to the gallery before 7.  I am familiar with Rome, having been there several times, most recently last October, and a 2-hour window in Rome to get that spot is a little too close for comfort!  But I look forward to seeing in the daylight tomorrow the city of Geneva, the only city in the challenge that I haven't visited before.