Thursday, October 27, 2011
Paris: City of Lights
Paris: City of Lights
Wednesday, October 26, 2011: 9:00PM
I have to start with an apology for the lack of travel updates. Our voltage converter burned up and we had no computer for two days. Also, the laptop I am using will not process my RAW images from my camera, so there will be no WW photos until I can figure out how to process the ones I’ve taken. I may just take some with a Canon camera for the blog.
Anyhow! Bon jour from Paris. We left home for IAH around 1PM, got the car parked and hopped on the bus to Terminal D. A very friendly van driver whose name was Tim (my brother’s name) got us to the Air France door. We ran into our only obstacle at check-in when the clerk told me my carry-on was too heavy and I had to check it.
MA and I relaxed in the Continental President’s Club for an hour before heading to the Air France gate. We found Michel coming in with the flight crew. We had economy class seats in row 31 but Michel told us to wait by the galley as we boarded the aircraft. About 15 minutes went by and he upgraded us to two business class seats. I have to tell you, I could get used to the service you get in business class. MA and I got a kick out of watching Michel go through the safety procedures. He was very attentive and we felt special being his friend.
The flight was about 9 hours and we arrived in Charles DeGaulle airport on Monday morning. After we cleared customs and immigration we went to where we thought Michel said we were to wait for him to pick us up. We waited for quite a while, decided maybe we weren’t in the right place, asked several folks for assistance, got several different answers, and it was almost two hours later before we finally all hooked up thanks to MA getting someone to call him on his cell phone to find out where we were to go.
Michel and Chantal live in a Paris suburb called Nogent-sur-Marne which is about twenty minutes east of central Paris. He dropped us off at the hotel and went on home to rest after working the flight all night. We’re staying at the Citea Hotel which is about two blocks from their “flat”. MA picked this one because it has a kitchenette. We arrived at 11:00 AM and check in time wasn’t 2:00 PM, however the nice clerk had a room and she allowed us to check in early. I think it’s because she and MA soon discovered they each spoke Spanish and they became fast amigas.
We went up to the 2nd floor and room 204. The good news is the hotel is right on the Marne River which is a nice view to have. The rest of the news is we are right next to a high-traffic commuter bridge with all the accompanying noise, including the French sirens that sound exactly like they do in the movies. If you close the window, which greatly reduces the noise, the room soon gets really stuffy. They’ve turned off the A/C system for the winter. But as always, we go with the flow and keep on thanking the Lord for His provision.
Still on Day 1 here! We got unpacked and decided to walk to a grocery store to get some food and bottle water. We like doing our own breakfast because the local continental breakfasts start at 9 Euros a person, about $25 a day! For that same $25 we got bottled water, milk, cereal, yogurt, coffee, coffee cake, etc., enough for the whole week.
Later in the evening we walked to Michel and Chantal’s for a wonderful supper. Like me, Michel is the family “chef” and his three-course meal was the perfect introduction to French cuisine. The conversation was nonstop, some in English, some in French. MA struggles with her French sometimes but Chantal is a great coach for her and somehow she makes herself understood and continues to learn and improve. Chantal says, as others have also, that she speaks French with a Spanish accent. Did I mention the hotel maid staff all speak Portuguese? That’s MA’s other language. Go figure, we came for French and she gets to speak Spanish and Portuguese every day!
Day 2 we all piled into Michel’s car for what was to be a wonderful 10-hour adventure in Paris. We started out at Vincennes, a medieval castle and armament factory. It is still used for that purpose as evident by the number of military personnel we saw. Michel had purchased river boat cruise tickets for us all, so we continued on into Paris for a two-hour cruise along the Seine.
We boarded the “bateau” near the Eifel Tower and cruised all the way down past Notre Dame. Since we were so close to the Eiffel tower, after the cruise we decided to take a closer look. The sky was beginning to turn cloudy and I warned everyone that rain was soon coming. We had barely enough time to walk directly under the tower. What an awesome sight that is. As we started toward the car, it started to pour and we all got soaked! Undaunted, we then drove to the theater district and had lunch at a local “creperie”. The owner waited on us, and MA soon found out he was from Venezuela. They had a great conversation in Spanish about her Pan Am days and the many times she flew there. I won’t say crepes are my number favorite meal, but we were fascinated but the many, many variations in which they come.
Michel then took us to Notre Dame where we were able to photograph the Gothic cathedral in the twilight and a little bit later after the lights came on. It is enormous buildings with pointed arches which in turns support the vaulted ceilings along with “flying buttresses” you see on the side. Catholic Mass was going on inside and that, combined with the singing and the incense really gave us a feeling for the full atmosphere of that grandiose place. The signs said no flash photography but I noticed several folks just ignoring the “rules”.
From there we were off to get an excellent photographer’s view of the Eifel Tower. At 9:00 PM all the strobe lights on the Tower came on and it looked like a sparkling jewel for five minutes. This occurs every hour on the hour. Then the tower “rests” in all its lit up splendor. From there we were off to the Champs E’lysee and the Arch de Triumph. We thought about things later! If we had to leave the next day, surely thanks to Michel and Chantal, we had “lived” Paris, if only for a day.
Our day started around 12:00 noon with a drive to Versailles, home to the French kings, the last of whom was Louis XVI and wife Marie Antoinette. Versailles is on the west side of Paris and we are on the east. We drove on the Paris version of “Loop 610” and got there in no time. The first glimpse of the chateau reminded me of the Russian palaces we saw in St. Petersburg this summer. Visitors are greeted with a huge golden gilded gate. After paying our 18 Euro entry fee we began our tour. I have to admit old King Louie had a fine house. The French are in the process of restoring a lot of the paintings, walls, and ceilings. You name it, they are fixing it. Versailles is a three story chateau in the shape of a big letter H with each segment hundreds of feet in length. One interesting note, there is a room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WWI.
After our tour of the palace we elected to rent an electric cart to cover the grounds. The immaculate gardens and grounds are immense, with tree-lined paths going everywhere. There is a reservoir in the shape of a cross with each segment covering a half mile. Shrubs and plants are manicured-perfection; the statues are pure white, all in all a beautiful place. From there we went into the small town of Versailles and had dinner, spaghetti this time.
There’s more! After dinner, Michel took us into Paris where Chantal and I photographed an old metropolitan (subway) entrance gate, the Moulin Rouge, the immense Scare Coeur cathedral which overlooks Paris from the Montmartre neighborhood. We would have loved to walk around this part of Paris but MA and I were worn out we all decided to head on back.
Thursday and Friday we are on our own. Michel has some training at Air France to do so plus he’s going to get the scoop on the pending flight attendant strike that could derail our return home planes. Anyhow, we are planning to go into Paris by train and get around by subway and the hop on hop off bus. We’ll let you know how that goes.
I found some free photos to download from a Paris tourist office so you can see some of the sights as I described them. I’ll take some JPG photos of our next venture into Paris. Au revoir for now!