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When I plan and daydream about trips I always plan and anticipate the idle times. I dream of sleeping in, sitting in cafes, reading, and writing in this journal. But who has time!?! There is so much to see here! And as far as I’m concerned, the story of the rude Parisian is a myth.
Friday, March 11, 2005
We flew out of Green Bay at 3:45 on Friday. In Cincinnati we walked straight to our gate and got there as our flight was boarding. The flight was long but uneventful, and I got some studying done. Neither of us slept.
We landed in Paris Saturday morning at 9:00, spent 30 seconds in immigration, and walked straight to the trains. After waiting a few minutes in line we told the ticket-taker we were going to St. Germaine de Pres (Unfortunately, I pronounced the “S.” It’s “PRAY.”). I only say unfortunately because it was a little embarrassing. The ticket-taker good-naturedly ribbed us for the mispronunciation, and he was very nice and helpful. We gave him 15 Euros, and hopped on the train.
I was nervous on the train because the surroundings were so different (there is no light rail in Green Bay…), but in reality anyone with a street map could use the diagrams on the train.
With our bodies telling us it was 4 AM after an all-nighter, we stumbled comatose to the hotel, checked our bags, and went to the Café St. Germaine to wait for our room. When the room was ready we slept solidly from noon to 3:00.
We walked around Les Invalides and across the Seine. We stopped for a beer in a café, and had a gin-tonic at another café. We saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and I got a lump in my throat. Fatigue and alcohol both make me emotional, and it was so COOL that we were actually in Paris!
The concierge made dinner reservations for us at Le Petit Chaise, reputedly the oldest restaurant in Paris (???). We got there at 8:00 and it was all Americans! Suddenly it occurred to us were in tourist-land, and the restaurant began to feel like an internment camp. But ever-so-slowly the Americans trickled out and the French trickled in. Oh yeah, the dinner hour is later here. From that point on we made dinner reservations at 9:00 or later.
Despite being extremely tired and a little drunk, I woke up at 3 AM and fell back to sleep at 6. Jet lag is no fun.
We walked to Les Deux Magots Café, a big hangout of Ernest Hemmingway. We didn’t see him there, but we both got some studying done. After fortifying ourselves with croissants, chocolate, and lots of coffee, we began our day of walking.
We walked down Boulevard St. Germaine to Ile de la Cite, checked out Notre Dame from the outside, ate lunch, then hurried back to the hotel to answer a call of nature. This confirmed my longstanding theory: 90% of all travel inconveniences are caused by our own digestive system…Anywho, we missed the hotel and mistakenly walked the length of Boulevard St. Germaine and back. We got there eventually, napped from 2 to 3, and then did some REAL walking.
We walked to the Place de Concorde, up the Champs Elysees, up the stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, to the Eiffel Tower, and back to our hotel. Bypassing the hotel, we walked on to a pizza place Kim had seen earlier. Several days later we retraced our steps on a map. Total distance walked: 12 MILES! I ate a TON of pizza and we drank a TON of water. We slept a solid 11 hours that night.
Kim had wanted to experience two different Paris neighborhoods, so she booked two different hotels for the week. Monday morning we checked out of the K&K Cayre hotel and walked with our luggage a mile or two to the hotel LeWalt. At 10 AM they already had a room waiting for us with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
We went to the café on the corner two doors down from Le Walt. The Café Tourville was to become our “beach head.” We started and ended every day there.
More walking today! We walked under the Eiffel Tower (now just two blocks away), across the Seine, to the Place de Concorde, past the American Embassy (guarded by French soldiers), and through the bustling Right Bank to Harry’s New York Bar. The Bloody Mary was invented here, but according to Kim it wasn’t perfected here. We had fun talking to the bartender, though.
We walked back to the hotel and napped, then showered and walked to the base of the Eiffel Tower where we boarded a Seine river barge dinner cruise.
We were nervously anticipating touristy excursion boat cheesiness (I had to drag Kim on board), but it was beautiful. The food was good, the views were great, and I loved the boat. The live singer was a little cheesy, but I tried to convince Kim that French cheese was the best cheese. When we passed Notre Dame the boat hovered in the current while she sang Ave Maria. Towards the end of the night, when we passed the smaller twin of the Statue of Liberty, the boat spun slowly to give everyone a view while she sang New York, New York.
We slept in again. It’s awesome! In France Kim needs more sleep than I do! We sat at the Café Tourville for at least two hours, drinking coffee, people-watching, writing, reading, etc. We walked down the Avenue Motte Piquet to the Blvd de Grenelle and had lunch on the corner. We had passed into a less touristy part of town.
After lunch we walked to the Trocadero for an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower. Then we walked back to our beach head for a beer and back to the hotel for a nap. We had dinner across the street, watched Sex and the City on DVD, and went to sleep. A nice, low-key day.
Another marathon day of walking, we hit 12 miles again. We walked through the Musee D’Orsay (much less crowded than the Louvre – check out the pointillism exhibits) and walked back to Harry’s New York Bar. After a drink, we walked to Monmartre, past the Moulin Rouge, past cool sex shops (at least they were cool to me), and to Sacre Coeure.
The neighborhood around Sacre Coeure is awfully touristy, but since the tourists were from all over the world it was never sterile or boring.
We walked down to the Bastile, to the Arsenal Marina, across the Pont des Artes, and into St. Germaine de Pres (pray). We collapsed into chairs at a pizza joint.
We sat by a couple from Nova Scotia. She decided to drop everything and be a waitress in Paris for six months, he joined her at the end, and they are traveling Europe for two months. COOL! We walked back to the hotel, watched TV a little, and crashed.
The weather was beautiful, one of those early spring days when it is just barely warm enough for shorts for the first time. After fortifying ourselves at the beach head, we walked to the Maritime Museum by the Trocadero.
The security guard told us he loved Americans, but Bush had to go. We said it’s OK because we are from a blue state, but he didn’t get it. The museum had cool boat models and a cool Jules Verne exhibit. Kim indulged me at the museum as a birthday present.
We had a 4:00 “lunch” at a Patisserie and returned to the hotel for another long nap. For dinner we had a four-course wine pairing, and for dessert we were served “Soupe de Bonbons.” It’s still the best dessert I’ve ever had, a “broth” of citrusy-sweet creaminess with chocolate-covered candies floating in it. I wonder if we’ll ever eat that again.
After dinner we hustled to the Eiffel Tower, where we got in just under the wire for the last elevator ride to the second level (the third level was already closed). The view was great, but rude “Ugly American” tourists were everywhere, being aggressive in line, trying to barter in the gift shops, and of course assuming everyone in France speaks English. An overweight, young blonde girl with an ultra-thick southern accent cut to the front of the line and asked, “Where-r the bathrooms at?!” As she shuffled off, giggling with her friends, I was ashamed. Anywho, that leads to my second longstanding theory: If you are in Paris and people are being rude to you, look a little closer to home. It might be because you’re a jerk…
The Eiffel Tower is beautiful – from a distance.
We headed back and had a martini at La Terrace, then crashed into bed at 1 AM.
We skipped croissants at the Café Tourville and walked to the RER station (light rail) at the Pont de l’Almay. We took the train to Versailles, and walked up to the HUGE chateau! We took a headphone-guided tour (in English) of the chapel, the royal apartments. We walked through the HUGE gardens with HUGE reflecting pools.
We had lunch in the City of Versailles and took the train back to Paris, then sat for a while in the Café Tourville, people-watching and reading.
While we sat, five traffic cops drove up and shut down the whole intersection. A few minutes later several undercover police cars rounded the corner followed by a police van. A soldier leaned out of the open door of the van, holding an automatic rifle. This was followed by a limo, several other cars, and several more police cars.
We went back to the hotel, napped, read, and watched a live CNN broadcast from Paris – of Putin, Chirac, and two other heads of state. We discovered that Putin was in the limo!!
We had a nice Italian dinner at Lei, then went to bed.
We started the day studying at Café Tourville. We decided that day to walk to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Jardins de Luxembourg were really cool, even though it was March and only buds were showing. There were a lot of people out because the weather was unseasonably warm. We saw the Medeci Fountain and walked past the Sorbonne. We stopped by a perfume store on the way home.
Every café was packed. It was shorts weather. We had a brief siesta then had dinner just down the road at Casa de Pizza. It was very good, but Kim had come down with a cold. To her credit, though, we had one more drink at Café Tourville before turning in early.
We went to the Tourville and I finished a paper that was due. We got the address of an Internet café, open seven days a week. Kim’s cold was a little better so we decided to do some serious walking again. We walked to the Internet café, but it was closed, probably because of the beautiful weather…The bar in our hotel had a computer, though, and they let me email the Professor to say my paper was done, but it would be late.
We walked to the Jardins des Tourvilles, through the grounds of the Louvre, down the Seine, and had lunch in a café. After reading for a while in the café, we walked to Les Halles, sat on a park bench, and read some more. Then we visited the Centre Pompidou, bought candy, and walked back down the river to the hotel. We had been warned that the area between Les Halles and the Centre Pompidou can get a little seedy after dark, and sure enough, right around sunset the crowd magically sprouted baggy clothing, gold chains, and baseball hats at various angles. It was odd to see “gang” attire in a foreign country, but so many “normal” people were still out that we didn’t feel the least bit threatened. All the same, we left the area before it got too dark.
We rested our feet, then had dinner at Le Comptoir 7ieme. It had very good food and a great ambiance, but I ordered a salad with “Gesarer” on it. I had no idea what meat it was, but I smiled and ate it. I think it may have been gizzards, but it didn’t taste bad. We went to bed early.
Monday morning came early. Kim couldn’t sleep well so she got up at 4:30 and watched some videos. I got out of bed at 7 and we packed.
We took the Metro to the RER, transferred one more time, and then got off at the wrong terminal at Charles de Gaulle. We were lost for a bit, then we took a shuttle to Terminal 2. THEN we got off at the wrong hall of terminal 2. We got into the check in line 90 minutes before the flight, but after waiting an hour in line they bumped us. Delta had overbooked by 30 passengers.
The Air France agent told us to stand in a special line for standby airline employees, but we couldn’t figure out why. There was a bit of a language barrier. After another half hour of waiting, the agent working our line left. No explanation. A backpacker in line with us had heard of an empty plane headed to Cincinnati from Brussels, and we toyed with the idea of taking a train to Brussels. I’m glad we didn’t.
I stood in line at the Delta service counter, and although I was getting irritated and worried I couldn’t help but be impressed with the service agent. She was fielding harshly-worded questions and taking abuse in three different languages without flinching! She hunted down the agent who had told us to stand in the line that was abandoned, and he looked like he had been wondering where we were! They put us in first class on a flight to New York, took care of our connection to Cincinnati, and actually got us there in time for our original Green Bay flight. We made it home!