Vacation with Mom, Part 2: Paris
(August 21 - September 7, 1999)

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The train ride to Paris was long, six hours, but a nice ride.  We had a compartment with 6 seats in it.  There was a guy and a woman in it when we arrived.  We had reserved seats, but the other two just had first class reservations, but no specific seats.  The woman realized there was only one man in the next compartment, so she moved in there.  That made it very comfortable with four people in a 6 seat compartment.  The guy mostly slept or read, and occasionally engaged in conversation.  Mom is very friendly and I was waiting for mom to invite him to visit her in Florida as she had a few other folks she has met on this trip.  The compartment even had a power supply, so I worked on the Germany section of the 'Vacations with Mom' travelogue en route. 

We arrived in Paris a little late (trains aren't as great as in Japan), got the luggage, got a taxi and headed to the hotel.  The driver didn't know where it was, but I was able to direct him to the general area.  When he got close, I told him I had the phone number, so he called the hotel on his cell phone and we were about 4 blocks away.  We checked in, got keys, and went to the rooms. 

They say ownership is 9/10 of the law.  It's true.  We found out how true that was as we got to our rooms.  You see, I didn't bother to check out the rooms before giving mom her key.  I found the hotel via research on the web and decided on the Oscar Wilde Suite in the Hotel Louvre Marsollier Opera.  We like to stay in the area of the old Opera because it is pretty much centrally located to lots of the sites we like to visit in Paris.  This hotel was a few blocks off of the L'avenue de l'Opera in a quiet neighborhood.  The price was right for Paris and the 'suite', also referred to as the Family Suite, consisted of two separate rooms.  One room was a good size with a queen size bed, an extra single bed, a small table and desk.  The other room was smaller and had two TWIN beds pushed together, a desk.  Each room had a bathroom.  It would have been fine for one person.  I managed to give mom the 'wrong' key and realized it after we got into the rooms.  You probably see where this is going, right?  There was no way mom was going to give up the 'big' room for the smaller room.  As I said, ownership is 9/10 of the law and mom owned the key to the room in which she had already put her suitcase.  You can see the hotel at

There's another saying that says "if momma's happy, then everyone is happy".  There were TWO mommas on this trip and there was risk that one of them was going to be unhappy with the situation.  However, Diane said she had no problem staying in the smaller room for the six nights, and it would be good practice for living in an RV for the next several years.  There was, however, one small problem.  Sometimes, twin beds are pushed together with a large mattress cover to make it one big bed with big bed sheets and blankets.  In this case, these were twin beds that were made up as twin beds with covers tightly tucked under each bed's mattress.  Got the picture? 

Mom had gotten spoiled by the Marriott in Sindelfingen.  The room in Paris, although a good size, was NOT a Marriott, although the price was about the same.  The bathroom was tiny, which was more of a problem for Diane and I than for her.  Mom is, after all, just 4' 11 1/2" tall (mom always makes sure that the "1/2" is mentioned when her height is divulged).  Diane and I have stayed in small accommodations before, and we knew that small rooms were the norm in Europe.  The building was very old and the connection to Oscar Wilde is that he stayed there in 1899.  The elevator held two persons maximum, but that also is not so unusual.  We experienced that in the Milan area back in 1994 when I worked there for a month.  I guess I would say the hotel was quaint.  There are hundreds of these types of hotels in Paris and, unless you win a lottery, or inherit lots of money, this is where you stay when visiting Paris.  Mom got used to the hotel as the days passed.  Continental breakfast was included in the price of the room, so we ate there every day before starting out for the day.

After we checked in, we headed to the Champs Elysee and did dinner outside at one of the restaurants on the street.  Mom seemed to enjoy it, but I wasn't sure.  It turned out that she had this image of Paris in her head from movies (e.g., those with Maurice Chevalier) and was looking for that picture.   We went to the Place de la Concorde on the way back to the hotel.  From there you can see the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, and the Place de la Concorde all lit up marvelously.  Its one of my favorite places to go to on the planet.  We took a metro back to the hotel and called it a day.

On Sunday we decided to do mass at Sacre Coeur and hoped it would be a high mass.  It wasn't.  But we stuck around for the beginning of the high mass just to hear the choir of nuns sing some hymns.  Mom liked that a lot.  After mass, we went to the Place du Tertre in Monmartre to take in the sites and get something to eat.  It was here on the side streets that mom found the image of Paris she had in her head.  We had great crepes for brunch, along with tea and cappuccino.

The goal for Sunday was to see the Eiffel Tower up close.  This is the reason mom wanted to come to Paris.  So we took a metro to the area of the Trocadero, which is across the river from the tower.  On the way to the metro, we took mom into the Pigalle area of Paris, which is near Montmartre.  It is where the Moulin Rouge is located.  I don't think she expected to see what she saw there.  You see, Pigalle has lots of sex shops and peep shows, as well as the Moulin Rouge, and some of the ads on the shop fronts are pretty explicit.  Some of the shops were even open for business, even by mid-day on a Sunday.  We were walking in the median that went up the street.  I was walking up in front of mom and Diane when some guy crossed the street to the median and tried to engage me in conversation.  What he saw was one guy, walking alone, with a camera, in Pigalle.  Was I advertising 'tourist', or what?  It took me a few seconds to figure out he was trying to talk me into going into his sex shop to watch a show.

We got to Trocadero only to find the plaza area closed.  Several of the top tourist spots are covered or closed because they are cleaning everything up for the big Y2K celebration.  Actually, next year would be the better year to go to Europe since everything will be clean and restored.  So we made our way around the buildings to the other side so we could see the great fountain in front of the tower.  This fountain takes about an hour to complete its cycle and have all of the water spouts going, including the 20 water cannons.  When everything is going, it's a beautiful site.  Diane and I had seen it several times.

And there it was, the Eiffel Tower, up close.  Mom took lots of pictures and we took the obligatory pictures of her in front of the tower.  She really enjoyed this site and I think it was everything she thought it would be.  We sat for a while to enjoy the view before heading down under the tower.  The lines were too long to go into the tower, and mom said she wasn't interested in going up anyway since she doesn't like heights.  So we headed back towards the hotel and made a stop at the Pont de l'Alma.  It was here in 1997 that Diana had her accident that horrible night.  Diane and I were in Paris on vacation that evening, and had even been in the area about 45 minutes before the accident.  However, we went back to the hotel around midnight, went to bed, and didn't hear about the accident until we woke up and put on CNN.  It was quite a shock.  We visited the Pont de l'Alma then and there was lots of activity, including a crew from Entertainment Tonight doing a piece.  This time it was still crowded and people continue to leave letters, card, poems, flowers.  It's a sad place.

My former manager, Sue, is on assignment in Paris now and we wanted to hook up with her and her husband for a visit.  She had called the hotel the evening we were out, and she said she would call again Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, we would be gone and she didn't leave a phone number.  She did call again and left a cell phone number.  So I called and they were not too far from the Opera area.  So, instead of taking a break, we put shoes back on and headed to the Cafe de la Paix for a short visit.  Turns out she and Pete were heading off to vacation in the south of France the next morning.  We had a short, but nice, visit.  Sue and Pete had to head home to finish packing, so they didn't have enough time to join us for dinner.  Since it was now 6 PM, we decided to just go to dinner, so we went across the street and ate outside at Chez Clement.

The two hotels that I have stayed at when I worked in Paris were across the street.  One was the Scribe, the other the Grand (under which is the Cafe de la Paix).  Both are 5 star hotels that you stay at if you have lots of money, or the company is paying.  Even with a corporate rate, it is pretty expensive.  We took mom into both lobbies to check them out.  The Grand has a great ballroom that must be seen to be believed and we took mom to see that, too.  We headed back to the hotel to call it a day.  I have to say that mom sure has a lot of energy for 76 years old.

Monday the ladies went shopping at Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, a couple of department stores near the Opera.  I was not able to get money when we arrived in Paris on Saturday, nor on Sunday.  It appeared to be a network problem with AMEX.  I was finally able to get francs at the AMEX office on Monday morning.  We bought tickets for the on/off bus that tours the city.  You can get on and off over a 24 or 48 hour period.  We opted for the 48 hours, at least that's what we thought.  However, none of us read the fine print that
said the ticket was good for two CONSECUTIVE days.  We were used to the London on/off bus that gives you 24 hours from time you buy the ticket.  This ended up being a rather embarrassing situation on Wednesday. 

We went to Sainte Chapelle first and mom was impressed with the stained glass in the upper chapel.  This church is part of the buildings of the Palais de Justice (once the royal palace) on the Île-de-la-Cité.  It was built in the 1240s for Louis IX (St. Louis) to enshrine the Crown of Thorns and other sacred relics brought back from the Crusades. It was restored in the 19th century and is now a museum.  It consists of two chapels, one above the other, and a spire. A winding staircase leads from the painted and gilded lower chapel to the upper chapel, which is really why one goes to visit this monument.  It is spacious and has 15 huge stained glass windows, separated only by thin framing reaching nearly from floor to ceiling.  Here is a url for Sainte Chapelle with photos:

When we finished our visit of Sainte Chapelle, we went over to Notre Dame which is a couple of blocks away.  Mom wasn't actually that impressed with it.  She brought a lot of expectations with her on this trip based on what she'd seen in movies and magazines.  That's always dangerous because it may not be possible to find exactly what you see in those media.  Luckily, as we sat eating brunch in Montmartre on Sunday morning, she said that was what she envisioned Paris to be like.  I'm not sure what she expected from Notre Dame, but it didn't meet her expectations.  Maybe she was looking for Charles Laughton (the Hunchback of Notre Dame)?  ;-)  We reboarded the tour bus and were going to go to the Arc de triomphe, but it was getting late afternoon (we got a late start), so we decided to get off at the Madeleine stop and visit that unusual church.  It doesn't look at all like a church from the outside.  It has rows of columns and looks more like a Greek temple than a Christian church.  The inside is rather dark and gloomy, but spacious.  The only natural light comes from three small domes as there are no windows.  It was completed in 1842. 

By now, there were three tired people, so we decided it was time to think about dinner and call it a day.  We ate at La Taverne near the Opera and then went back to the hotel for the night.

On Tuesday, we got a somewhat earlier start (about 10....feels good to sleep in after the early mornings in Germany to get up to drive to places).  We went to visit the inside of the Opera, which is quite plush.  The Opera is housed in the Palais Garnier and is the thirteenth theater to house the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV in 1669.  It was built on the orders of Napoleon III as part of the Parisian reconstruction project carried out by Baron Haussmann.  It took 15 years to complete the construction of the Palais Garnier
(1860 to 1875).  The project was interrupted several times during this time frame by events such as the 1870 war and fall of the French Empire.  It was finally completed in January 1875.

After visiting the Opera, we boarded the tour bus to go to see the Pantheon, a monument to the French Revolution.  Some famous people are buried in the crypt - Rousseau, Voltaire, Madam Curie, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola.  After that, we went towards Notre Dame and had lunch at a place Diane and I sat for breakfast after mass one Sunday in 1996 when I was working here.

Then we boarded the bus again and headed for the Arc de Triomphe.  Unfortunately, the only way to the top was via the 284 stairs.  Diane and I had done that on our vacation in 1997, but mom was not about to attempt that feat.  So we passed and reboarded the bus to complete the loop of the tour, which went by the Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, a visit scheduled for Wednesday.

We had dinner at Bistro Romain, the one near the Opera that we (my team) have eaten at many times.  For the first time in my 10 weeks of visiting Paris, we experienced a very rude French waiter.  He was a young guy and was probably what people think of when they say the French are rude.  This was unfortunate because it gave mom an incorrect impression.  Diane and I explained that this was not the norm.  Mom being mom, she would shoot this guy 'the look' and finally got around to asking him if he got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.  Good old mom.

We wanted to take a night boat ride on the Seine and it was a nice evening, so we decided to do it.  We took the metro to Pont Neuf and got a boat from there.  There are lots of boats roaming the river day and night.  We got there early because Diane had her sites set on a front seat, so I was able to get nice video of the sunset from the point on Ile de Cite.  Diane got her front seats.  As we waited for the trip to start, I sat on a bench in a small park near the dock to video a beautiful sunset.  It was a one hour ride and was very nice.  The highlight, of course, was being right up under the Eiffel Tower all lit up.  What a marvelous site.  As we headed back towards the dock, we could see Notre Dame, which also looked great with its facade shining bright in the lights.  Along the banks of the Seine were many people walking along, or couples just sitting on benches or the wall, some talking, some being romantic.  We also saw a few groups of people dancing, one to raggae type music, another group to tango music.

I asked mom how she was enjoying her trip and she said it was good but the time was going by too fast.  I figured this trip would either turn her off to travel or she'd want to know when we were going again.  I think it may be the latter.  She wants to go back to Hawaii.  She and my dad and a couple of aunts and uncles went there about 30 years ago and she'd like to go back.  So she not so subtlety asked me if we were going to go to Hawaii next year.  I know what that meant.  No, we have no plans to go to Hawaii next year.  I'm still sort of semi obsessed with doing the Budapest, Vienna, Prague trip that has been on my mind for the past couple of years.  There is a Marriott in each of those cities.  :-)

We figured we had until 3 PM on Wednesday to use the tour bus tickets.  It actually expired on Tuesday evening, although I asked one of the drivers and he said it was for 48 hours.  We boarded a bus on Wednesday morning and the driver gave us a hard time about the ticket and said it was not valid anymore.  I pleaded my case and asked him to call his office for a reading on the situation.  He did not speak much English and seemed to indicate that everything was OK, so Diane and I went back upstairs (mom didn't like the upstairs uncovered portion of the bus and stayed downstairs).  At the next stop, he comes upstairs and tells us again we have invalid tickets and have to leave.  At this point, I knew it was a lost cause.  However, we were a long ways from a metro station, so I asked him if he could let us go to Notre Dame where we could take a metro to our destination.  This new tour bus operation needs to get its act together.  I can imagine how disgruntled customers would be who buy their tickets at 5 PM expecting to get two days usage only to find out they only get a couple of hours that remain the day of purchase plus the next day.  The London version of this type of tour bus time stamped the ticket and the tickets were valid for 24 hours.  Oh well, it made for an interesting morning.

We took the metro to Les Invalides.  It is actually called Hotel des Invalides because it was founded by Louis XIV in 1674 to house wounded veterans.  Some French veterans still live there, although not very many.  On the grounds is the Musee de L'Armee, a military museum that has a large collection of arms, armor, banners, etc down through the ages.  Mom seemed to really enjoy looking at all the various types of armor people wore, including armor on life-sized models of horses and soldiers. 

The Eglise du Dome (Church of the Dome) is located at Invalides.  The original church, Eglise St-Louis des Invalides, is also located at Invalides.  The Dome church was built onto the end of the original church but was blocked off from it in 1793.  The Dome church was built between 1677 and 1735 and contains the remains of the great Napoleon.  It is an impressive tomb.  There are no less than six coffins, one inside the next, and all enclosed in a huge tomb of red porphyry, which looks like a very rich, shiny, wood.  The dome is circular and the tomb is viewed from the ground floor by looking down on it in a huge circular crypt.  You can go down into the crypt and view the tomb by looking up to it, and it is huge.  There are a dozen very large statues surrounding the tomb, each symbolizing one of Napoleon's campaigns.  I couldn't believe that after having spent nine weeks in Paris on various trips, that Diane and I had never been to Invalides.  It was great.  We had some lunch in the cafeteria there and it was still early, so I suggested we head out to Versailles since we were close to the RER line that goes out that way.  So off we were to Versailles, which is about 15 miles outside of Paris.

Versailles, of course, is one of the more famous chateaux in France.  It was built by Louis XIV because he hated the rowdy city that Paris was at the time.  So he selected the location on which his father had a small hunting lodge.  Versailles is very big.  It had to hold not only the king and his court, but some 20,000 noblemen, servants, etc.  It became a new city at the time.  We took an English tour of the King's quarters and the chapel and then had some time to wander by ourselves to look at the Queen's quarters.  Mom was really
impressed with the Hall of Mirrors and the bedrooms.  Although very impressive, we a
ll liked Neuschwanstein better than Versailles.

A guy who worked on my team in London was on assignment in Paris for three years suggested we go to an entrecote (steak) restaurant at Porte Maillot, which was on the way back.  So we got off there and found the restaurant (it was right outside the station - lucky us).  We were about an hour early since they didn't open until 7 PM, so we found a bench on the wide avenue that connects the Arc de Triomphe and the Arc de la Defense.  What a great meal we had.  You don't get any choices.  It's steak.  The only choice is how you want it cooked.  Mom and I had a kir (a new drink she found that she likes.  I'll have to buy the stuff when we get home and show her how to make it).  The sauce served with the steak was marvelous, the meat was tender, the French Fries very good. get seconds.   The dessert that was suggested to us was 'vancherin'.  We ordered two of those and a profitaroll.  I think we all need to go to confession now because it must certainly be sinful to have eaten those desserts.  But were they ever great.  Mom said she really liked the meal.  The waitress we had, Franzcire, was great.  Lots of personality.  She made up for the rude waiter we had the night before. 

Our last day in Paris turned out to be a great one.  We went to visit the cathedral in Chartre, about a 1-hour train ride from Paris.  It's one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and was built in the 12th century.  I happened to see my friend Dave Meck on-line the night before and chatted with him for a few minutes.  I told him we were going to Chartre and he suggested taking the Malcolm Miller tour, to which I asked "is that a bus tour?".  Dave said no, it was a tour inside the cathedral given by Malcolm Miller.  We missed the noon tour, so we went to get some lunch, and the ladies shopped again, and we returned to the cathedral for the 2:45 tour.  It was actually a lecture tour. He started with some history, then a discussion about the stained glass window over the main doors (did you know you read the windows from left to right, bottom to top?  And that the pattern alternated from round to square to round on alternate rows?), then we moved to another window and he told its story, then he told us about the architecture (did you know that there are round pillars surrounded by octagonal pillars and octagonal pillars surrounded by round pillars?), then we moved to one of the rose windows and finally outside to hear about the statues outside the door.  He was very interesting and said it would take more than 10 weeks of daily lessons to hear all about the cathedral.  Mom listened intently and enjoyed it a lot.  I told her she just attended a college level class.  I have to say that it is one thing to study this stuff in a classroom from a book, but it is quite another to listen to someone talk about it while you're looking at the real thing.  I think we all were up for more.  He spoke for about 1 1/4 hours. 

We got back to the hotel around 6:30 to get ready for our last meal in Paris.  We had scouted out a restaurant around the corner from the hotel and decided that was where we would have our last meal in Paris.  It was close to the hotel and would allow us to get back early enough to pack for the trip to Switzerland the next day.  Our hotel was a few blocks off the main streets so it was very quiet in the neighborhood.  We had stopped at this restaurant the other evening on the way back to the hotel and there was a young guy who spoke good English and he made our reservation.  He also knew how to make a Manhattan, so mom got her Manhattan before dinner.  However, he said he had told us he didn't have any Canadian Club or Seagram's 7, but he had bourbon.  Somehow, tonight he managed to come up with some Canadian Club.  I actually think he went across the street to another restaurant and got some from them.  Mom and I had a rack of lamb and Diane had fish.  I had my last creme brulee and mom and Diane had chocolate cake and cream.  I think we all were starting to outgrow our clothes.

Mom had been on the lookout for a French waiter since we arrived.  You know, the type with the apron.  She wanted a photo.  But she didn't see anything she liked.  This one was too grumpy.  That one was too young.  She said tonight she was hoping to find a waiter her age with whom she could take a picture.  I said that all those guys are now retired.  To which she said, "yeah, but even the young ones look half dead sometimes".  Good old mom.  She has a way with words.  ;-)  She did, however, get a picture with this guy tonight and I
thought she was going to invite him and his family to visit her in Ocala when he mentioned that he'd like to go to Disney World.  Why not?  Seemed like she invited half of Germany when we were there.

Here is a url with photos of several famous attractions in Paris:

Our stay in Paris was only six days, but we did a lot of touring.  Mom had more energy than I expected.  Sometimes, I think Diane and I were more willing to call it a day than she was.  But she was to meet her match at Mt. Rigi in Switzerland.  On Friday, it would be up at 5 AM to make sure we caught the 7:18 train to Lausanne (a TGV high speed train) to connect with a train to Zurich to visit with Peter, Yoko, and Naoko for the weekend.  It would be the final leg of this vacation with mom.

Until next time.

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