Tag Archives: Trains

The signs of our times…


Life is confusing.

Right from the beginning of life, we’re challenged by our existence at every turn. We have no idea what is going on and it confuses us to no end.

 

Imagine this example:

As a small child we find ourselves sitting on the floor surrounded by confusion. A parental unit places a bowl of bright red globes on a table nearby and says “Don’t touch these tomatoes Baby Johnny”, which just adds to your befuddlement because you don’t understand who Baby Johnny is, what tomatoes are, or the concept of “don’t”.

The whole incident begs investigation, so you drag yourself over to the table and snatch up one of the round red things from the bowl.

You sit back down on the floor and examine the red thing you now have, and wonder what to do with it. It feels like there might be something inside so you decide that the best course of action is to squish it with your fingers. Now you have a messy red thing that’s dripping goo all over you.

You ponder all of the red mush you’ve created and it seems obvious that wearing red mush is the thing to do, so you rub it all over your hair.

“This is great” you think, “I should get another one!” so you drop what’s left of the red mush you’ve created and go get another red globe from the bowl.

The parental unit notices and exclaims, “Oh Baby Johnny, look at the mess you’ve made” and grabs one of the red globes for themselves. The parental unit then puts the red thing in their big face hole and chomps down on it.

You look at your own red globe and realise “Hey, I have a big face hole too!” and shove the whole thing into your face, which causes it to explode into more red mash. You do manage to get some of the ooze into your big face hole, and it’s fantastic, so you try to stuff some of the red goop into your other face holes to see if it has the same effect… which it doesn’t, so you’re confused.

Then a different parental unit comes by and says “Hey, you shouldn’t feed tomatoes to the baby” and takes away your delicious red mush and carries you to the liquid torture room to immerse you into the bubble water.

This leaves you with more confusion, but it’s obvious that squishy red globes result in water torture, and if you had known that earlier, you would have stayed away from tomatoes.

There should have been a sign.

 

You would think that it gets easier as you get older, but it doesn’t. In fact it gets more bewildering as life moves on.

Life is so confusing that I’m surprised anything gets done because everybody is trying to figure out what’s going on. Everyday we’re faced with bewildering things that make us ask, “What the hell is that thing?” or “What the hell am I supposed to do now?” or “Why in the hell are they bringing back Full House and not Firefly?”

All of this confusion forces us to think, and thinking is hard. Thinking sucks and it creates mind numbing headaches, deep sighs, and in extreme cases, excessive drooling.

In order to avoid all of this damned thinking, we need instructions so we can answer all of these hellish questions with answers like “That thing, is a toaster oven” or “You need to add the flavour packet to your noodles now” or “because the network got the cast from Full House for cheap and Joss Whedon killed off half of the characters from Firefly, so just shut up and be a leaf in the wind.”

 

Many of these instructions come to us in the form of signs, and I’m not talking about that time Jesus appeared to you in your oatmeal, or the time you thought you saw Elvis at the mall working in the Radio Shack, no, I’m talking about signs that have actual instructions printed on them, like this one:

Tomato warning

Pretty straight forward, and it would have come in handy earlier in life so you could have avoided getting red mush in your ear and been spared a trip into the bubble water.

Of course back then you couldn’t read, so this sign would have just added to your bewilderment. Even though they are intended to be informative, it turns out signs are still confusing.

 

Currently, as I write this, I’m traveling on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Seattle, and boy howdy, are there a lot of signs on this train. Most are self-explanatory, like this one:

Push for bed

When I see this, I know that I need to push for bed. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to push, or whether a bed will just appear when I push it, or if the bed needs me to push for it because it can’t for some reason… but I know I have to push for bed.

Huh.

I suppose that isn’t as self-explanatory as I thought. I’m confused now.

Well, there’s this one:

Caution table

This sign really has it going on. CAUTION! Do Not Sit or Lean on Tables. I know by the capital letters that it is yelling CAUTION at me, and then being very stern about what not to sit on. I’m not sure if it just means I shouldn’t sit or lean on this particular table or all tables. It does use the plural of table and it seems to be very serious, so I’d better not take any chances, and never sit or lean on a table again.

I’m not sure why there’s a picture of Marge Simpson in front of the yellow brick road featured on this sign, but we can come back to that later.

 

After looking at all of the signs, and taking in all of the instructions in my chamber, I felt I was ready for bed pushing, and standing well away from tables. So I decided it was safe to leave my room, but then I was presented with this while trying to exit my room.

Door latch of evil

 

“What the hell does that mean?” I thought. The picture on the little sign looks nothing like the medieval looking thing underneath of it. Am I supposed to lift the door, elevate the roof, or push for bed? Wait… the little sign is red, and I remember from the incident with the tomatoes that red is bad. Maybe I’m not supposed to elevate the roof? I’m confused…

My head started to throb…

After 15 minutes of struggle with the iron maiden of door mechanisms, I went to find the conductor to enquire the meaning of the little red sign, and when I reached the door to the conductor’s room, I was presented with this:

Conductor

This little red sign didn’t have the door latch of evil under it… I’m confused.

It was then I realized that the sign wasn’t an instruction, but an indication that there is a door here, or more precisely, “Go this way to exit the box you are in.”

After wiping the drool from my face that had come with my abundance of thinking, I thought about the many pictograph signs that we see everyday and how they are supposed to transcend language barriers. Sometimes they are bewildering and cause head throbbing and drooling.

So as a public service, here are a few examples of signs I have come across, and what I have deduced their meaning to be, so you can avoid head throbbing and red mush in your ear…

Yellow Brick Road

Negotiate Legos

Press for nazi

Doorbell Ditch

Hot Oil

Beware of Thor

Devo Scrubbing Jabba

Daredevil Zone

Elipsis zone

Guy behind you

Deadpool likes Tricorder

Jenga

Ok, those are no help at all, are they?

Life is confusing…

 

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Just before I posted this, I found this sign on the way to my hotel…

 

East of Here

What is east of here? Is there east of here? Do I want to be here and I need to go east to get there, I mean here?

I ignored it and went West. That might have been a mistake and now I’ll never be here.

I’m so confused…

 

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Train angst and side trips…


The next morning in Bayeux marked the beginning of a whirlwind of activity that would take us to our last days in Europe, and that whirlwind started with a 3 hour train ride into Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare.

The train system in France is basically like spokes of a big wheel, with the center of that wheel being Paris. All of the main Paris train stations (Austerlitz, Bercy, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Nord, and Saint-Lazare)are termini and the spokes of the wheel go out from these stations. For example, all the trains coming from the northwestern parts of France like Brittany and Normandy end at Gare Saint-Lazare, and all the trains coming from the North Eastern parts like Calais and the chunnel to London end at Nord, (also known as Paris Nord, or Gare du Nord).

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So, if you are traveling from one section of France to a different section by train, you have to go through Paris, most of the time there is no other way, and some of these stations in Paris are quite far apart, however all of the stations are connected by the RER system and the Metro.

We were prepared for a three hour layover in Paris which would give us plenty of time to get from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord using the RER E commuter train that travels between the two stations.

No problem.

Gare Saint-Lazare is basically a huge shopping mall that has a train station attached to it. Loads of shops, cafés, fast food kiosks, etc. and all of the crowds that go with it, so it was a little overwhelming trying to navigate through the crowds with large pieces of luggage during the lunch rush hour when we arrived, but we were armed with research and all we needed to do was follow the signs and get to the RER platform and we would be fine.

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When we got close to the platform at a junction in a hallway, there were two SCNF officials blocking the way to the RER E and a large crowd of people pointing to the metro map and waving their arms. I waded into the crowd to see what was what, and found out there was a problem with the train so they were giving instructions on a convoluted alternate route involving two Metro trains and a walk down a street that I couldn’t quite follow from the poor woman trying to explain it to me.

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SO, instead of taking the chance of getting lost and missing our train out of Nord to Calais, we decided to go to the taxi stand and cab it. I was a little nervous about taking a taxi because I had read how large Paris is in area (14th largest city in the world) and we didn’t know how far it was or whether we would encounter gridlock in a Parisian rush hour, or even what the rates were.

Ten minutes and seven Euros later, we arrived at Gare du Nord and I exclaimed out of surprise “That’s it!?”

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The lesson learned from this, for me, was that the area within the inner part of Paris isn’t nearly as large as I imagined it, and this trip gave me a scale in my head that I could apply when looking at a map, which would be helpful when we got back here in a few days.

We killed some time in Gare du Nord (wishing that we were killing time in Gare Saint-Lazare instead) where L found a great bakery for some bread and pastry and then it was off to Calais and a lovely beachside suburb called Sangatte. The Kerloan B&B where we were staying was right across from the beach and right beside a great restaurant called Le Relais de Sangatte (formerly called the Country Cottage Pub if you’re looking for it on Trip Advisor), so our first night was filled with great food and some fantastic scenery.

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The next morning, very early, we made a side trip.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original plans for the area wasn’t going to happen. L had noticed that the Eurostar stopped in Calais and it was only a 55 minute train ride into London (actually closer than Paris) and there was a Vikings exhibit on at the British Museum.

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So after some more confusing times with a French train (there are no machines to collect the Eurostar tickets in the Calais-Fréthun train station and you have to wait until the gates open 1/2 hour before the train leaves to collect your tickets and go through security and customs… which turns out is plenty of time, but there wasn’t a single indicator or instruction anywhere about it including the website) it was off to London for about 8 hours to see some wonderful exhibits…

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…and fantastic sculpture.

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After the museum, we had a lovely walk to St Pancras station where there was a Marks and Spencer and we loaded up on snacks and Welsh Cakes.

We took the Eurostar back to Calais, and repeated the previous night with some food at Le Relais de Sangatte and another sunset on the beach.

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The following morning, it was a first class train ride back to the final destination, Paris.

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