A Strike Free France

A Strike Free France
Flexibility is one characteristic that comes in handy for anyone who is a frequent visitor to France. This is especially true in a country where some say strikes are second only to soccer as the country’s favorite past time. During the past ten years, my wife and I have visited France on three separate occasions and toured much of the country. Ironically, on each visit we have had to deal with labor unrest of one kind or another. It was our ability to adjust to circumstances that enabled us to turn most of these hindrances into winning experiences.            Our first encounter with the French labor movement happened during a six-week,1,000-mile bike tour. It took place in Paris’ Gare d’ Austerlitz as we hurried to catch a train to Versailles. Upon entering the station, we found ourselves ankle deep in trash. At the top of a staircase leading to a boarding platform, we came face-to-face with several Gendarmes escorting Uzi-toting members of the French military. Nervously, we stepped aside and let them pass. Apparently there had been unrest resulting from a garbage collector’s strike… Several weeks later in the Franche-Comté hamlet of Dole, 200 miles from our destination city of Strasbourg we had our second encounter. It was mid-October and we had covered more than 800 miles since leaving Brussels four weeks earlier. We were beginning to experience inclement weather and fatigue was starting to take its toll. The steady drizzle we encountered ten miles outside of Dole left us cold and wet and did little to improve our spirits. The rain continued most of the day and the weather for the following day did not seem promising. Upon arriving in town we headed straight for the train station to inquire about taking a train the following day to Besancon, our next destination. The good news was that we could take the train but the bad news was we would have to wait a day. The station clerk told us a one-day transportation strike protesting some perceived injustice was planned for the following day. At the Office of Tourism we booked a hotel room and contemplated spending a rainy day in an obscure, little town in eastern France, miles from nowhere. This was not part of our agenda. Much to our surprise the day spent in Dole was one of the most enjoyable days of our entire trip. By mid-morning, the rain subsided, the sun broke through and our sense of adventure kicked in. We set out to explore and discovered a delightful city with wood-framed houses set on charming winding streets. In the center of town, on a bluff overlooking the River Doubs, is the 16th century Eglise Notre-Dame with its mossy-covered roof and its towering high bell tower, the highest in all of Frenche-Comté. A city of 27,000, Dole is the former capital of Comté and the birthplace of French Chemist Louis Pasteur. The house, in which he was born, set beside a picturesque canal, is now a museum. The warming afternoon sun enticed us back onto our bikes for a short ride along the river, which was lined with trees displaying brilliant fall foliage. Two years after our bicycle odyssey we once again returned to France having fallen in love with Paris during our all-too-brief initial visit. On this visit, the better part of our three weeks stay would be spent immersing ourselves in the City of Lights. Two items where high on our agenda: a visit to the Louvre along with several other major museums, and my long-anticipated trip to Roland Garros. Prior to leaving home, I shelled out $225 to secure a seat for the men’s quarterfinals match at the French Open tennis tournament. Upon arriving in Paris, our agenda would immediately come into conflict with the French labor movement. Our long-awaited visit to the Louvre had to be postponed because employees at all the major museums were on strike. The strike, we learned, was a day-to-day affair with employees voting each morning on returning to work. Surely, we thought, this could not last long. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The museums remained locked during our entire time. As fate would have it, the strike ended the day we left for home. With our museum tour plans on hold, the labor gods were not yet done with us. They were about to deal the bitterest blow of all – a citywide metro strike on the day I was to attend the French Open. At the metro station, I was stranded with many other commuters and the gates to the under ground metro station were barred. With a city in gridlock it soon became clear that it would take an act of God for me to get me to Roland Garros, and up to now the gods had not being cooperative. I can’t recall which was most painful- eating a $225 ticket or, as an avid tennis fan, missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Bitterly disappointed, we returned to our apartment to contemplate our next move. Once again we had to be flexible. We would not be defeated in a city that had so much to offer. After a light lunch and an hour of relaxation, we…
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