Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Paris, France—Day 221

I woke up today ready to spend the day at the Thoiry Zoo. I had full hopes of getting there early, when it opened at 10am, and to find the hippos in action. I knew that this zoo was an animal safari park (those ones that you drive through) but as always, wasn’t really sure what to expect.

So I got on the train and ended up at the Avis rental place almost 45 minutes early. Please with my timing, I strolled confidently into the office and showed the man at the counter my passport to prove my reservation. He spoke a little English, not much, and registered and rented me the car.

He then handed me the keys, pointed me in the direction of where the car was and sent me on my way.

I sort of looked at him and then got out my map—um, can you show me where to go?

He made all sorts of hand motions and gestures saying that he really didn’t know but that I needed to go “in that way.”


So I get down to the car (after getting on the wrong level at first) and get in. Pulling the car out of the garage I am thinking, this is not a good idea.

Pulling out of the parking garage, now I am thinking this is really not a good idea.

Heading down the street off of the railway station into, cutting off some drivers and not stopping for pedestrians I am thinking this is REALLY NOT a good idea.

What can I say, it was NOT a good idea for me to be trying to maneuver myself out of Paris, in rush hour traffic, with not really a clue on how or where to get where I needed to go.

So I pulled a U-turn (illegal in France? Who knows!) and found the train station again. I was praying that I wouldn’t get lost in the like four minutes that it had taken me to get where I was from the train station, and hoping that I would make it back (and the car) in one piece.

I found the station and a parking garage (whether it was the same one that I pulled out of I still don’t know), parked my car on some level, and went back into the Avis office.

I threw down my keys and my map and told the guy that there was no way that I should be driving around Paris. He just looked at me, got up, and went out the door.

He came back with another guy who spoke English (ah, so that is why he left) and so I explained to him, who explained to HIM, that I would get incredibly lost if they even let me out of the train station again and could I rent the car in perhaps Versailles, where there was a rental agency, and I will take the train out there instead of driving?

They guy relayed this back to the Avis guy, who was asking where I got into an accident, and we kept telling him no, there was no accident, just a silly American girl.

So he just smiled and said no problem, and he forwarded my reservation to the office in Versailles (about 20 minutes from Thoiry, supposedly) and I left feeling very, very relieved.

I followed their instructions on how to get to Versailles, which meant taking a commuter train from a different train station than the one I was at, so I had to get back on the Metro to get there. Then when I was at that station I had a moment of lapsed brain activity and bought a ticket for the main station in Versailles, thinking it was the one I needed to go to. When the woman at the ticket counter gave me the ticket, but told me that I had to go to a different station to get on the train, I really should have thought hmmm, this must be the wrong place in Versailles, but I didn’t.

Instead I got back on the metro, went to the next train station, got out and realized that oops, I was at the wrong place. Luckily this station also had trains going to where I really was supposed to go, so I was in the clear.


But by this time it was almost eleven and I still wasn’t even close to Versailles. I finally made it to the correct train station around eleven thirty, and by the time I had rented the car and was on my way to Thoiry it was going on noon. I wasn’t even sure if I was going in the right direction (the woman at the car rental place didn’t even know where Thoiry was) so I stopped at a gas station and got a map, and directions, all in French of course.

I could kind of follow what the guy was telling me to do and where to go but ended up going on the right highway just in totally the wrong direction. So I ended up twenty minutes from Versailles in the opposite direction. I finally figured this out (since I wasn’t really driving and reading the map at the same time) and headed, hopefully, to Thoiry.

Just when I was like, ok, WHERE is it, signs for Thoiry started to show up. Thank goodness. I followed the signs and eventually ended up at the entrance to the zoo, along with the Chateaux, Animal Safari Park, Labyrinth and botanical gardens. I figured that it was highly likely that the hippos would be in the Safari Park so I drove up and bought my ticket.

Sure enough, they were. After following the map and driving alongside zebras, I found the hippos. There appeared to be five of them, at least five of which I could sort of make out. They were really far away from me and it was hard to tell really where one hippo ended and the other began, as well as get any sort of decent pictures since they were so far away.

I snapped a few anyhow and took some videos of the hippos while I read over the map. “Do not stop car at anytime” it said. On well! I stayed there for quite a bit while the hippos basked in the sun, and while several cars passed me, and debated on what to do. Based on the hot sun and time of day, along with my basic experience with hippos now, I figured that they weren’t really going to be making any special appearances out on land any time soon. So I decided to drive around and see if I could find anyone to help me.

I didn’t spot a SINGLE keeper in the ENTIRE safari park. No one. I didn’t really know what to do! I drove out of the park and parked my car in the gigantic parking lot (they claim that they have “infinite parking” and I believe them) and went over to the zoo area where you are able to walk around and see the rest of the animals, you know, monkeys and things.

I went in and tried to find someone to help me but to no avail. I went back out of the zoo area and sat down to have some lunch, pondering what to do. It seemed like there wasn’t really anyone around to ask since the Animal Safari portion of the zoo was completely separated from the walking area. And if I were to find someone, the likelihood of the hippos being fed anytime soon were slim.

I decided that the best thing for me to do was to head back to Versailles and then on to Paris and contact the curator from the Paris Zoo who helped me, and to ask her if she knew someone at Thoiry to help me. She told me when I met her that she would help me if I needed anything else and I know for sure that she is in contact with this zoo since they might switch Poupouille.

So I stopped by the Chateaux before heading out of the park, determined to get the hippo pictures, even if it took some time sorting things out.

So I drove back to Versailles which was quite funny—me getting lost and not really knowing where to go. Roundabouts are hard going the opposite way that you came in (when the signs are not pointing to your specific destinations). Eventually, after double backing a few times, I found the road to Versailles and was on my way. It is only like 20 minutes from Versailles really, if you know what you are doing of course!

I eventually ended up in the main part of Versailles, near the famous Chateaux there (the one with the hall of mirrors…) and after getting honked and yelled at a few times and fighting traffic, I made it back to the train station, all in one piece.

Thank God. Whatever I had to go through to get to Thoiry today was much, much better than me trying to leave from Paris like I thought I could this morning!

I took the train back to Versailles, contacted Julie the Curator via email, and got a picnic dinner to sit by the Eiffel Tower for my last night in Paris. Hopefully, hopefully, Julie will get in touch with me and we can work something out for Thoiry. Instead of biting my time in Paris, I am now heading south to Lyon, where there are three zoos there (one of which is an Animal Safari Park—oh joy!) and I will have four nights there to get the three zoos.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.