How to Avoid Losing an Entire Day in France

This is the story of how I screwed up (one of many) and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did. Feel free to have a laugh at my expense while I describe my misadventures.

Anyone who may travel with me in the future will find out very quickly that I don’t like to waste time. Spending time relaxing on a beach or aimlessly wandering the streets of a city to see what I can find is totally fine with me if that’s what I planned to do. However, I absolutely hate losing time to poor planning. Mostly it’s just a control issue. I had saved up for so long for this trip and to lose as much time as I did was exasperating.

The plan for the day was to leave Chartres after a café and a croissant to try and get to Angers and see the castle midday, then back to Saumur to spend the rest of the evening to eat, see the castle, and taste wines along the Loire (my favorite wines come from the Loire Valley, especially Sancerre). To be fair, I did get to all three cities, but nothing went to plan.

The morning after my first night in France, I woke up in Chartres in a restored 17th-century monastery (originally built in the 11th century, but the majority of the current building is of later construction) just steps from the UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral. The Hôtellerie St Yves was such a wonderful and character filled hotel and the woman working the front desk was so cheery and helpful it was a great start to my trip. I made sure to get up very early (did I mention I hate wasting time?) so that I could have a coffee and croissant outdoors in the calm of the morning. Pretty soon the cathedral bells started to ring so I decided to go back in one more time for a last look around before checking out of my hotel and heading to the train station.

This is where the trouble began. I packed all of my stuff back into my backpack and hefted my things to the train station. I had read the schedule the night before and assumed it would be the same in the morning. Error #1 for the day. In France, worker strikes are not uncommon and it is actually suggested to always check train schedules ahead of time to keep from being in situations like the one I was about to find myself in. When I arrived I scanned the television screens announcing the arrival and departure times of trains. Mine was nowhere to be found. I saw a notice on one screen but didn’t take the time to read it. Instead, I asked an employee in a bright vest when my train might be arriving. It wasn’t. Due to a strike down the line, that particular trip was canceled. Great.

Somehow, I had convinced myself it was ok to wait the two hours in the station for the next train. Error #2. I could have spent that two hours wandering the streets of Chartres that I had not yet seen. Instead, I scrolled Instagram and Facebook like the phone addicted millennial I am. I’m rolling my eyes at myself thinking about the two hours of sitting but what can I do now?

A train did finally come and I was whisked away towards Angers and the nearby Loire Valley. I spent the entire ride excited to see the castle, it was one of the ones high on my list of castles to see. I arrived in Angers around a half an hour before the castle closed. Just enough time for me to buy my ticket. Nope. Error #3. When visiting monuments in France, always remember to check the policy on bags before you rush out to see them, especially during the high tourist season. A lot of cities have places called “consignes” where you can drop your bags off for a few euro. Depending on the level of the vigipirate (the French national security alert system) lockers may be unavailable but you can usually find them in train stations or nearby and some hotels even offer a consigne service at the front desk. By the time I reached the castle gate, it was too late to run back and drop my stuff off. To recap, not only did I fail to properly plan my train trips for the day, I wasted two full hours in a station, and then missed seeing one of the castles I was most excited to see. Oh, and now, by the time I got to Saumur, the castle there would be closed too. I was on a roll.

To be fair, the rest of the evening was far more pleasant so I didn’t waste the entire day. Once I got to Saumur things went more smoothly. Saumur is a cute city on the banks of the Loire with a castle with some amazing views out over the river where I took some awesome pictures of the sunset. The point is, though, whether you planned your trek ahead of time, or traveled somewhat improvisationally as I did, always stay up to date on your schedules. Check the status of your trains or planes. Have backups. Check the rules and regulations for your bags as they can also inhibit your travels. If you’ve saved up and worked hard for a vacation, it’s extremely frustrating to waste any time so making sure to stay on top of the details is of utmost importance!

So there you have it, folks, my almost entirely wasted day. Hopefully, you got a good giggle from my mishaps like I did writing about them. Re-reading my journal to review the details gave me a good chuckle!

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