Ah Paris!
  (July 23, 2007 to July 29, 2007)

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The last time Diane and I were out of the country was a trip to England in January 2000 for my last work assignment before retiring later that month. We haven't been out of the country since that time. Every year we talked about using some of our Delta miles and Marriott points that I accumulated and going abroad, but we always talked ourselves out of it because we were having such a great time being fulltime RVers. This year was our 30th anniversary in June so we decided to celebrate by booking a trip abroad. We decided on Europe for a couple of reasons. One was that we hadn't seen our friends, Peter and Yoko, in Switzerland for eight years and it was way past time to visit with them. The other reason was to finally make plans to visit Prague, which was on our list of places to see. Once we decided to do that it was a no brainer for us to include Paris on our itinerary as we both love Paris.

We made our plans and bookings in the fall of 2006 and it was already getting late for getting free business class flights to Europe. The Delta agent was great. He worked with me for about an hour to find us a flight to Paris and a return from Prague. The downside was that we couldn't get on one of the direct flights from Atlanta to Paris, but had to connect through Dulles in Washington, D.C. We were wait listed on two direct flights out of Atlanta, but neither one cleared prior to the commencement of our trip.


Jill dropped us off at the airport and we were off from Atlanta to Dulles. Given that our international leg was in business class we also had first class seats to Washington. It was a long time since we got to sit in a Delta Crown Room while waiting for a flight and it felt good. It got our juices flowing again for international travel. The flight to D.C. was uneventful and the airport was rather empty when we arrived. Our connection was with Air France, an airline we have never flown. Given that our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 10:20 PM, that gave us a three hour wait. I figured there wouldn't be a big meal on board until breakfast, so we went and got a sandwich. That turned out to be a mistake as we had a full dinner on board the flight. Oh well. 

We found the business class lounge for Air France and went there to wait the almost three hours until our flight to Paris was scheduled to leave. We read, had something to drink, and watched as the crews prepared the plane for the flight. The time came to board and now we were really getting excited. The Air France plane was an Airbus wide body and was great. The business class (and first class) seats reclined totally flat. We've never been on a plane with seats that did that. It sure was more comfortable than seats that just reclined part way down. Still, there really isn't much time to sleep by the time the plane gets airborne and the meal is served. We did get a couple of hours in before it was time to have some breakfast. To say we had become spoiled when we were doing a lot of traveling from 1993 to 2000 would be an understatement. It will be quite a bit different when the miles run out and we have to pay for our flights as that means flying long flights in coach.

DAY 1 - Monday

The flight was uneventful and we arrived at the Charles deGaulle airport right on time. We got through passport control and customs quickly and went to pick up the one bag we had to check. We waited and waited and waited and no bag. It ended up taking us about two hours to get out of the airport due to the time waiting for our luggage and then having to file a report for the lost luggage. I had set up a ride with a shuttle service to get to the hotel and they were on time. The weather in Paris was heavy rain all day on Monday when we arrived so we just sat back and enjoyed the ride to the hotel.

Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, or areas. When I was there on business, we always stayed in the 9th arrondissement near the Opera. This time we opted to stay at the Marriott Rive Gauche (Left Bank) Hotel and Conference Center in the 14th arrondissement. It was a bit different for us, but gave us an opportunity to experience staying in another part of Paris. The hotel was previously a Sofitel and was being renovated. Most of the work was done and we had a nice room with a great view of the city. We could look out our window and see the Pantheon, the towers of Notre Dame, and way off in the distance was the Basilica of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) up on the hill of Monmartre.

It took Diane about a second when we got into the room to notice there was no coffee maker or way to boil water for her tea. We had never been in a hotel that didn't offer a way to make coffee and tea. We asked the concierge about this and he said they were still renovating and the coffee/tea maker would be available in September. I indicated to him that didn't help us as we wouldn't be there in September. There was no way we would pay Marriott prices for coffee and tea from room service, so I told him that I thought it would be nice if Marriott gave us complimentary coffee and tea. He hesitated for a bit and then said he would take care of it. So we had coffee and tea whenever we called for room service and it just cost us a tip for the person who delivered the tray. I'm a firm believer in "if you don't ask, you don't get."

The other disappointing thing was that there was no free access to the Internet. Actually, Marriott, and I'm sure some other chains, rip people off to access the Internet in some of their properties. The cost was eight euros for an hour and more than 12 euros for a day. With the horrible exchange rate due to a very weak dollar, that came to about $11 per hour or $16 per day. Luckily, we came across Internet shops as we walked around the city and were able to spend 30 minutes to an hour for one or two euros to catch up on email.

After getting unpacked we went out to find a place to eat and found a restaurant a block away where we had a pizza. We noticed pizza being eaten a lot as we walked around the city, and that's probably because it's affordable. There was a metro station across the street so we went there to buy two carnets (pronounced "car nay" and there are 10 tickets to a carnet) to use during the week. Then it was back to the hotel to crash. The secret to dealing with jet lag on a trip is to stay up as long as you can and then go to bed on the local time. The worst thing to do is to go to bed in the morning or afternoon after arriving from the US. That really screws up the body clock. I learned early on in my travels that it was best to stay up until bedtime wherever it is I landed.

DAY 2 - Tuesday

Thankfully, our luggage was there waiting for us when we got back from the market. Good for Air France and Delta for finding the bag and getting it to us so quickly.

We ate breakfast and headed out about noon for our first walk around Paris since 1999 when we were last there. Our plan was to walk to Notre Dame and then to the Opera area to find a restaurant we remembered from prior trips. Along the way we stopped for photo ops and a quick stop in an Internet shop. The Pantheon was on our path, but we had been there a couple of times so we just stopped to take some photos. Then it was on to Notre Dame on the Ile de Cite. We never tire of walking through that marvelous cathedral situated on an island in the Seine.

As we continued our walk we crossed over Pont Neuf. I noticed on the map that we were very close to the church in which Eva Longoria and Tony Parker were wed a few weeks earlier, so we detoured a couple of blocks to look at the church. We did see some of the photos of the wedding in magazines and it must have been quite a gala.

We had walked around the city so much in past visits that the route to the Opera came back to me as we walked and I didn't need the map to get us there. The restaurant we were looking for, Chez Clement, was still there. We had a nice meal and then crossed the Boulevard des Capucine to the Cafe de la Paix on the corner overlooking the Opera. We thought we'd have a cappuccino and tea for old time sake. However, thanks to the low value of the dollar against the euro, those drinks were $9.70 each and we both drew the line and said no way. It was nice to be back in an area in which we had spent 10 weeks on four prior trips to Paris. So we kept on walking to the Hard Rock Cafe and then got on the metro back to the hotel. We had forgotten that the Paris metro is not air conditioned and it was pretty hot on the train.

When we got back to the room we were pleasantly surprised with a tray containing coffee and tea waiting for us. With the end of our first full day in Paris all we could say was AH, PARIS.

DAY 3 - Wednesday

Today we planned to go to some old favorite sites, the Eiffel Tower, Trocadero, Champs Elysee, Place de la Concorde, the Madeleine. We started out walking up to the metro and saw a sign for the catacombs, which we had never visited. It wasn't crowded so we bought tickets and spent some time walking through them.

Underneath Paris are old abandoned limestone quarries. The area is known as the Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary, but more commonly as the Catacombs. Here lie the bones of maybe five or six million Parisians that were placed here to avoid disease from rotting corpses in cemeteries as a result of the French Revolution in 1786. The re-interment of the bones went on until around 1860. We entered a long dark and damp tunnel and kept walking, but saw no bones. I started to wonder what the big deal was with this attraction. Then we crossed into an area where the walls were actually neatly stacked bones of humans along with skulls. We didn't see any full skeletons, just rows and rows of bones that were stacked a good five feet, or so. The bones went on and on and on as we walked through the tunnel. Some areas were blocked off by steel gates behind which were more bones. We weren't sure why those areas were blocked.

There is a huge underground in Paris that is made up of 125 miles of the metro, 1,300 miles of sewer, and about 185 miles of catacombs. We learned that it is actually illegal to go into some of the areas, but it is so huge that the "cataphiles" find ways to get into areas that are blocked off. Although it was a strange feeling to be among so many human remains, I'm glad we finally got to see the catacombs.

The exit was several blocks from the entrance so we had to figure out how to find the nearest metro station. It really was always kind of fun for us to walk around cities with a map trying to find places. It's a challenge. We did finally find a metro station and took it to the stop for the Trocadero, which is across from the Eiffel Tower. The Trocadero has a huge fountain, actually several fountains. When they are working it takes about an hour for them all to cycle from small fountains to the finale with several water cannons shooting water far out into the fountain. We bought some food at a vendor and sat on a bench eating lunch while taking in the scenery.

Paris is definitely a walking city and we have done our fair share of walking around the city. We walked to the Arc di Triomphe and took some photos before walking the full length of the Champs Elysees to the Place de la Concorde. Workers were setting up bleachers along the Champs and we found out later it was for the finale of the Tour de France bike race that would conclude on Sunday.

From there we could see the Madeleine and walked there to tour the inside of the church. We don't get tired of visiting some of these marvelous places again and again. We found out that a concert by the Oxfordshire Schools' Senior Orchestra was about to start in about a half hour, so we stayed around and listened. What a magnificent sound inside the church.

We hopped the metro back to the hotel to find a restaurant to eat near the hotel. Another fine day in Paris.

DAY 4 - Thursday

Montmartre (Hill of Martyrs) is an artsy area on Paris and way up on a hill overlooking the city. We decided it would be a good idea to test the metro route to get to the Gare de l'Est train station from which we would catch the high speed TGV train to Zurich on Monday. It would mean taking the metro to the Gare du Nord and then walking a couple of blocks to the Gare de l'Est. The metro is actually made up of local trains usually referred to as the metro and higher speed trains known as the RER. We love riding the RER with it's bigger, heavier, smoother cars. There are five RER lines crossing Paris and into the suburbs. We needed the "B" line, found it and tested the route to the Gare de l'Est. From there we walked up to Montmartre.

There are two ways one can get up to Montmartre. One is steps, of which there are many around Paris, or the funicular, which takes a metro ticket. We've done the steps before, so we opted to take the funicular up and the steps down. Our first stop was to tour the beautiful Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). From a distance it doesn't look like a Catholic church at all, but almost more like a mosque. It was built between 1875 and 1914. Although we do love walking through the basilica we find that they take things much too serious in there. It is one of the very few churches we've visited in which photography is not allowed. There was a "guard" near the entrance who we saw turning away some women who he deemed had shorts on that weren't below the knee, as well as women who had shirts on with no sleeves. But thems the rules and they enforce them.

Around the corner from the basilica is the Place du Tetre where portrait artists abound and will all ask if they can make your portrait. This is a plaza in the center of which are several outdoor restaurant eating areas under canvas tops. We walked around the square and then selected La Boheme in which to have lunch. When I saw they offered "moules et frite" (muscles and fries), I couldn't resist as it had been a very long time since I had that meal. Diane opted for the "jambon et frommage crepe (ham and cheese), which was also delicious. We walked around a bit more taking pictures of the city from in front of the basilica. Although it was relatively crowded when we were there
it's on the weekends that it bustles with people. Along with the locals and tourists there are always lots of mimes, street performers, and artists and great people watching.

We made our way down the steps to the street below and continued on to Pigalle which is home to the Moulin Rouge. Along the way are shops reminiscent of how Times Square looked before it was cleaned up. Lots of shops selling some very interesting "gadgets".

Our plan was to head back to the hotel, eat out, and then take a break before heading out for a nighttime ride on the Seine. We took the metro back to the hotel and stopped at a sidewalk cafe for dinner. Unfortunately, we didn't get to take that boat ride tonight thanks to closed RER stations that detoured us and made it too late for the last ride of the night. So we said we'd do it another night and back to the hotel we went. The evening did give us a chance to see Paris at night, which is amazing. It isn't called the City of Lights for nothing.

DAY 5 - Friday

I woke up not feeling very well this morning, so we stayed in until late afternoon when I felt somewhat better and we ventured out for dinner. I had read about a restaurant near the Pantheon, Kaza Maza, but we couldn't find it. So we decided to go over to the Champs Elysees to eat dinner at a restaurant we liked from previous visits, l'Alsace. On the way we wanted to stop at the Place de l'lalma. That was where Princess Diana died in 1997. Diane and I remember it clearly. We were in Paris on vacation at that time. We were staying at the newly opened Marriott on the Champs Elysees and had been out late walking until around midnight. Diana's accident happened about 30 minutes later. Given the time difference, people in the US knew about it long before we did. We woke to the news of her death and couldn't believe it. When we realized that the accident happened only several blocks from the hotel, we walked over there. Lots of people were there placing flowers and photos at the base of a replica of the Statue of Liberty torch that sits above the tunnel in which the accident occurred. Given that this is the tenth anniversary of her death, we thought there may be some activity in the area. It was still several weeks before the actual anniversary date, but people had already started leaving flowers and photos.

We continued our walk to the l'Alsace restaurant and had a very nice dinner outside on the Champs Ulysses. Afterwards, we walked around for a while, got some ice cream, and then walked to the river to buy tickets for a night boat ride on the Seine. It was a lovely night and the city is magnificent at night. It was the end of another great day in Paris.

DAY 6 - Saturday

Diane had been to the Musee d'Orsay a couple of times and loves it. She loves the impressionist paintings, especially those by Monet. We took the metro to the museum stop, but didn't go into the museum as the line was very long to get in. We decided we would come back on Sunday. Instead, we walked along the Seine to Notre Dame while taking photos along the way. From there we walked towards the Pantheon to St. Etienne. The church was locked but we could see folks were waiting to get in for an event that turned out to be a wedding. When the doors were unlocked we were able to get in and walk around before the ceremony started.

Another church in the area that we wanted to see was St. Sulpice that was mentioned in the DaVinci Code novel and movie. For no other reason than to say we'd been there. We have been in many of the churches in Paris and they are all different and beautiful in their own way.

One of the advantages to repeat visits to beloved places is that we don't ever feel pressured to be on the move every hour of every day. We are able to relax and move at a leisurely pace and even have some downtime and do nothing time. Today was one of those days.

From St. Sulpice we took the metro to the Place d'Italie station near the hotel to find a place to eat dinner.

DAY 7 - Sunday

After having great weather in the low to mid 70s all week, we woke up to rain today. We got up and walked to Au Revell, a restaurant close by that we knew served breakfast. Then it was on to the metro to the Musee d'Orsay. There was a line and, of course, today it was raining. However, the line moved fairly quickly and we got into the museum where we spent a few hours admiring the works of many famous artists, such as Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Gaugin, Manet, Matisse, Renoir, Seurat, Toulouse-Loutrec, van Gogh, and Whistler. There were many other artists represented, but those are the names with whom I believe most people are familiar. I had never been to this museum, or the Louvre for that matter, because the weather was always great and I only had weekends free when I was there on business and preferred to be outdoors. Diane loves this museum and I also had a good time looking at the artwork and sculptures.

Diane and I can't imagine how anyone could not fall in love with Paris, but we did run into some folks who didn't care for it at all. While we were waiting on line to get into the museum, we started chatting with three folks behind us. They were from Romania and had driven to Paris because the guy didn't like to fly. One of the women spoke fluent English. We found out it was their first time in Paris and would probably be their last. They didn't care for the crowds and the difficulty in finding places to park. Maybe it's easier for Americans to fall in love with Paris and it's beautiful architecture than for other Europeans who probably also have beautiful and historical architecture, and I mean history that is many hundreds of years old. US history is new compared to European history. In any case, we finally met some folks who didn't like Paris.

By the time we left the rain had stopped so we thought we would walk to the Trocadero to see if the fountain was working. It wasn't and that was probably because it was a bit breezy and the water just turns into spray when it's too windy. We did get to see the fountain working on prior trips.

On the way there we saw crowds forming near the Place de la Concorde so we walked over that way and found out it was for the end of the Tour de France. We waited for a while thinking I could get a photo of the racers as they rode by, but when we found out they were still about an hour away we left. It wasn't something we were willing to sit around for an hour to see. Actually, it was more like two hours because we got back to the hotel room in time to see the finish on TV.

Our time in Paris was coming to an end and I wanted to ride the RER one more time, so we took the long way back to the hotel to afford a longer ride on the RER. We took it from the Charles de Gaulle Etoile (Arc di Triomphe) station to the Nation station where we transferred to a metro to get to our stop near the hotel. We went to Au Revell for dinner and the waiter who waited on us for breakfast was still there. We had a nice meal and then went back to the room to pack.

Departure Day - Monday

The TGV to Zurich was leaving at 8:24 a.m. so we got up early to leave enough time to get to the Gare de l'Est. It turned out that it was a good idea to test the route to the train station. Even still, we went out a wrong door when we arrived at the Gare du Nord and had a much longer walk, with luggage in tow, to the station. I was turned around and finally asked an older guy on the street how to get there. He pointed the way and we kept walking. At every street corner I would turn around and he would wave me straight ahead. Finally we saw a sign and got the the station in plenty of time. We bought some sandwiches and drinks to take on the train and then found a place to sit while waiting for the boarding call.

When that came, we walked down the platform to the train on which we had reserved seats in car #11. I saw that there were engines in the middle of the train so I knew the train would split at some point. I showed a conductor our ticket and she pointed to the car to board. We got on, stored our luggage and got our seats, # 34 and 35. However, something didn't feel right when I looked at the digital sign. This was a dual numbered train and I didn't see our number, 9192. I got off the train and asked the lady again and she said, oh no, wrong car, you must go all the way to the front of the train to the OTHER car #11. We had FIVE minutes before the train would leave, and they do leave on time in Europe. So we grabbed the luggage and hoofed it to the front of the train to the correct car #11. We got on and the train started to move within a couple of minutes. Whew. Good thing I spotted that or we would have been disconnected along the way and ended up in Germany. Nothing like excitement to get the blood flowing.

As the TGV slowly moved out of the station we bid farewell to one of our favorite cities. We have no idea when we'll go back there, but we both still harbor a dream of living there for up to six months sometime. It hasn't become a goal yet, so it's still a dream.

Ah, Paris.

Until next time, safe travels.....

Copyright © 2007, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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