GETTING TO CHARTRES
It's easy to get to Chartres. Trains leave frequently from gare Montparnasse. From Charles de Gaulle Airport getting to Montparnasse is a breeze. The details below are ten years old, but should still be helpful..
Air France Bus
It is not necessary to be an Air France customer to use their bus service. At Charles de Gaulle Airport, most American airlines arrive at Terminal 2. The Air France bus stop is between Hall C and Hall A. There is probably a second one for the new terminal (Hall E?) as well. You can ask at any information desk for the right door to go out. The Air France buses are white. If you stand outside, you'll see them go by. Watch where they stop. At Terminal 2 you can pay for the ticket on the bus. I suggest a one-way ticket (see below).
If you deplane at Terminal 1 (the round terminal, very interesting architecture), you will find the Air France bus at Porte (door) 36. There is an information booth right there, as well, so you can always ask. Go outside to the small glassed-in building next to the bus stop, where you purchase your ticket. A one-way ticket should be around 15 euros (almost $20). I suggest getting a one-way ticket (in French, allez, pronounced "ah-lay," with equal stress on the syllables), because you may very well take the shuttle back to the airport from Paris, as it is more convenient. If you know you are returning directly from Chartres, then the bus in more likely, so you could get a round-trip ticket (allez-retour, "ah-lay ret-oor")
The white Air France buses go to several different destinations. Be sure the bus says"Montparnasse" on the front or ask the driver or luggage handler if that is the right bus. When taking the Air France bus, note that it stops first at Gare de Lyon. Don't get off there. The second (and final) stop will be Gare Montparnasse. The bus plays a video and audio tape in several languages, including English. It should be clear where you are.
If you need to ask for the location of the Air France bus stop, note that the French word for "bus" is car. Now isn't that confusing. (The word for car is voiture.) In the airport, just ask someone, "Excusez-moi de vous deranger, mais ou se trouve le car Air France au Gare Montparnasse?" OK, I'm just kidding. Stop someone, say "Pardon" ("par-dough-n" form the final "n" but don't really say it), look puzzled, smile, shrug your shoulders, and ask "le car Air France?" "Air" is pronounced much like English, but the "a" in "France" is pronounced "awe" ("Frawnse"). If you don't speak any French, don't worry about it. Despite rumors to the contrary, the French really do like Americans and are willing to help. I have never seen anyone tip the men loading the baggage onto the bus. I guess it just isn't done. Still, a "merci" ("mehr-see") is always appreciated.
If you have several people in your group, you can arrange for an airport shuttle to meet you and take you all the way to Chartres. It should cost around 200 euros ($250). That isn't any more, per person, than you will pay for the bus and train tickets if you have six or seven people.
If you are arriving early and plan to spend a few days in Paris before going to Chartres, you can save yourself a lot of luggage lugging by taking one of the airport shuttles directly to your hotel. They cost far less than a taxi (shuttle = $18, taxi = $50). All the services now say to make reservations via their website at least 48 hours in advance. They will give you a toll-free number to call when you arrive to verify where to meet. Other passengers may get off before you do, so the trip can be longer than with a taxi. The drivers generally speak English. Tips are in order (a couple of Euros).
Airport Shuttle www.airportshuttle.fr
Airport Connection www.hotels.fr/shuttle-us.html
If you have not made reservations in advance, there still may be room in the vans. Airport Connection can be found in terminal 1 at door 20, and terminal 2 at gate 8. Or call the toll free numbers from the luggage area and ask if there is space available.
In the station, follow the signs to the ticket windows. It's a little tricky, as you need to go to a window that says Depart Aujourd'hui (leaving today). If you know some French and are courageous, there are also machines that sell tickets. Or you can go to the information desk and ask. Buy a ticket to Chartres which is a one-syllable word in French ("shart"). You probably want a round trip ticket (allez-retour "Ah-lay-ret-oor"). Each way should be around $20. Tickets are good for a year. If you want to make it very easy, just go to www.raileurope.com and get your train ticket in advance (first class: $28 each way, second class: $22 each way). Then you can go right from the bus to the train. Either way, once you have your ticket, go look at the big sign to confirm the departure time and quai (platform) for your train.
Remember that trains are very punctual in Europe. You can get a reserved seat, but I wouldn't worry about it for such a short trip (one hour). The class of the train is marked in big numbers on each car, either 1 or 2. Non-smoking cars are clearly marked. People coming at the last minute dash into the closest cars, so if you are there in plenty of time, walk towards the front of the train and you will have more room.
Here's a feasible timetable: Your flight arrives at 8 am, you get the Air France bus at 9 am, and you get to Montparnasse at 10 am. Get your ticket and catch the 11:14 am train that arrives in Chartres at 12:24 pm. Trains to Chartres leave frequently.
A park on the roof
Getting a bite to eat
Before the hotel, along Rue du Maine, are several little restaurants that are a good value. But a French meal can take quite a while, as there are several courses. If you walk past Central Hotel and turn to your left, you will see a small restaurant called Tarte Julie (a chain in France). Tarte is the word for quiche. In the windows you will see the tartes. Some are for the main course and some are for dessert. If you can't read the menu, just go to the window and point. A mini-menu of salad, tarte and a glass of wine will cost $8 to $10), which is not expensive for Paris. (A "menu" is a combination of two or more courses, often with wine and coffee. The French word for menu, in the English sense, is "carte." Buying things individually is thus "a la carte.") The food is better than anything you will find in the train station. You can check your luggage at a locker in the train station, or just wheel it with you. It isn't far. (You packed light, of course, so there is no difficulty.) Remember, you must ask for the check or you will sit there for hours. They wouldn't think of rushing you.
If you would rather have a tremendous gourmet lunch at a cost of $35
(very reasonable for what you get, even by French standards), across the
street from the Air France bus stop is the Meridien Montparnasse Hotel.
Rooms are about $500 per night. During the heat wave in August of 2003,
I spent an entire day inside the Meridien because it was air conditioned.
That's how I discovered the restaurant. They serve a buffet lunch, with
a large selection of delectable items. And the dessert bar . . . well,
you'll have to see for yourself. If you are spending a couple of days
at Central Hotel, you might consider coming here for a splurge (dinner,
I mean, not a room).
If you are hungry because you didn't eat in Paris, walk past the Hotel de Boeuf Courroné and the adjacent English pub. The next establishment is the Brasserie du Chatelet. It is a truly authentic French bistro, with copious amounts of delicious food at reasonable prices. During your week in Chartres, you may want to come here for a meal.
Once you walk up the little street towards the cathedral, go past the pizza restaurant (don't eat there!) to the next corner, where you turn left. You will then see the way to the cathedral. Stop at the Tourist Office to get a map or other information. Later, for a quick look at Chartres, come back and take the Little Train, which leaves from the Tourist Office. Shortly, you will be standing in front of the cathedral. Wow.
That is the west side. To your right is the south side of the cathedral. Walk along that side, the whole length of the cathedral. You will see a little street in front of you that goes a short ways and then turns right, going down the hill. It is narrow, and cars go rather fast. Be attentive. A very short distance (40 yards?) down this little street is the driveway entrance to the pilgrimage quarters, Maison Saint Yves (on the left). There will be signs. You have arrived. Pilgrims throughout history have born tremendous hardship to reach their destinations. This wasn't so bad. Remember, café au lait helps fight jet lag. To the French, however, it is a breakfast item. To get the daytime version, ask for a "café creme."