Our Trip to Paris

Note: This entry has nothing at all to do with the triplets.  If that’s all you want to hear about, go back to work. 

Last weekend, Julie and I took a quick trip to Paris.  I had been to Paris only briefly before, and it was a place that Julie had yet to visit.  Julie’s Dad, along with his friend Sarah, were nice enough to come in to town and watch the kiddos while we made our getaway.  That’s no small feat, given that the holiday weekend meant they were on their own for several says in a row.  We could not have made the trip without their help, and we can not thank them enough.

Here’s a recap of the trip:

Day 1: I’m a leavin’ on a jet plane…I’m glad I’m only 5’ 8”

Actually, it was not that bad unless you like sleep, food and room.  We inquired about upgrading, but after hearing the fee of roughly $7,000 per person, we thought college for the kids was a better idea.  Honestly though, it could have been worse, and even in the middle seat I was not too bad off.  Neither of us slept more than 1-2 hours, though.

Arrival in Paris was surprisingly smooth; a very short line at immigration and no customs.  I guess with the global recession, France has gotten a little looser on who they let in.  The only paperwork was a H1N1 (swine) Flu disclosure form.  (Q: Do you currently have H1N1 virus? Y/N?  If Y, please return to your country of origin.  If N, enjoy your stay in France).  Anyway, I hit the ATM, Julie reloaded with a large 2oz coffee and we were ready to go.  We lucked out on the transportation into the city.  We were walking to the subway (they call it “the metro”), when Julie noticed a public bus that had an end stop of the Opera Station, which was very close to our hotel.  It turned out to be an express bus, and in 30 minutes we were in town.

Since we were dropped off next to the Paris Opera House,  we decided to make that our first stop (with luggage in tow).  I guess this happens a lot, because they had a bag check.  The main auditorium was closed due to a rehearsal, but we found an open door into one of the boxes.

Here is Julie on the main staircase at the opera house.

 

After the opera, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out again.  The trick when traveling to Europe, in my opinion, is to do things outdoors your first day as to avoid passing out from lack of sleep.  At the start of the day, my over/under on bedtime was 5:00pm.

Our hotel was near Place Vendome, pictured below.

Our next stop was Le Louvre, which was a mere 30 minutes walk from our hotel.  It was a holiday weekend in France, and the Louvre was the first of many totally packed attractions we would visit. Note to self:  check the local holiday schedule before visiting another country.  A couple we met later on the trip said they had been visiting France for 20 years and had never seen Paris so crowded.  We waited in line for about 20 minutes for tickets only to find out it was the wrong line.  We wanted to buy a “museum pass” which would get us unlimited access to museums all over town, but that was in a different department.  Oh, well at least the pass would save us money and time elsewhere, right?  Stay tuned…

The Louvre has many of the classics, like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and a bunch of other stuff you can impress your friends by saying you saw.  In reality, the Mona Lisa is pretty small, the Venus de Milo has no arms and when you’ve seen 100 oil-on-canvases of baby Christ and Virgin, you’ve seen them all (not to mention the watercolors, the marble statues, the bronze reliefs and the Crayola crayons of the baby Christ and Virgin.  Until the 2008 economic stimulus package was passed, the Catholic church was clearly the worlds main sponsor of the arts).  I recommend the Louvre to check those big names off your list and to get some exercise because it’s huge.

Here we are outside the Louvre.

 

Was Julie really in front of the Mona Lisa, or did I just PhotoShop this?  You’ll have to trust me.

 

After the museum, I thought we would walk up Champ Elysee to the Arc du Triumph, but we were way too tired for that.  So, we decided to take the metro to the Eiffel Tower.  Have you ever heard the rumors about the French people who hate Americans, particularly those who don’t know French?  The ones who lose site of the fact that while you took time off work, time away from your kids, spent lots of your hard earned money to fly coach to visit her country, they can only focus on the fact that just because you never visit Quebec City, Haiti or Paris you never had the decency to learn French?  That’s the woman who sold us our subway passes.  We tried to get a three day pass to all areas, but when the ticket printed out, it was only for the city center.  I showed her the “error” and she literally threw her hands in the air, said something in French that I surmised was “it’s not my fault I don’t speak English”, and walked away from her station to disappear into a back room.  Lady, if you are reading this blog, all I have to say is, “I still made it everywhere I wanted to go, and you can kiss my overweight, socialism hating, English-only speaking, American butt”.

The Eiffel tower was brown and a bit smaller that we were expecting, but impressive nonetheless.  From there, we bought a three day pass on a tour bus that we could get on and off of as many times as we wanted.  We figured that would be an easy way to get around from the main attractions.

OK, when compared to us, it is pretty big.

 

Next stop: Notre Dame.  We were particularly interested in Notre Dame, because it not only is the most famous church in Paris, but because our museum pass got us free admission.  Little known fact:  holidays are free admission to Notre Dame.  Either way, free’s free.  Notre Dame is very nice, but we missed the Touchdown Jesus.  Not sure where they keep that.

The crowds at Notre Dame.  Lots of this during the trip.

 

From Notre Dame, we walked to a restaurant recommended by a former co-worker of Julie’s for a nice meal, and it was back to the hotel.  We finally made it to bed at 9:30.  So much for the guess of 5:00, but we slept until 10am the next morning.

Day 2:  Sore Legs

All of the walking the previous day took its toll.  I’d say it felt like I had just run a marathon, but that’s only 26 miles on a full nights rest.  This seemed worse.

We had lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries, which is a large public park outside the Louvre.

Here’s Julie next to one of the sculptures in the park.

Then it was on to the Musee du Orsay.  The Orsay was on our list of museums, not only because it houses one of the worlds largest collections of impressionist art, but because our museum pass would get us free, expedited admission.  I was on a flight once where everyone had premier status and they cancelled premier boarding.  This was pretty much the same thing.  Lots of people had the museum pass, and the wait for the metal detector was ridiculous.  There was a special Rodin sculpture exhibit which had more sculpture from Wilhelm Lehmbruck than Rodin, but the rest of the museum was very nice.   Lots of classics you would recognize.  From the Orsay, we did some more walking in a shopping mall that seemed like the most crowded Macy’s I’d ever been in.

After the mall, we decided to make our way to the Arc du Triumph.  Rather than going straight there, we thought we would stop at a museum someone had recommended that also had a nice café.  After all, we had the museum pass.  When we reached the museum, we were given good news and bad news.  The bad news is that the museum pass was not accepted there.  The good news was that since the museum was closing, we could peek in at the garden free of charge.  Oh well, at least it was a nice garden.  From there it was on a bus to the Arch.

The Arch is located in a major traffic circle that is at least 10 lanes wide.  There were people at the center,  so we figured there had to be an underground passage.  Here’s the thing; the area is also a major subway intersection.  There are at least 10 entryways to underground, some of which say “metro” on them and some do not.  One of them is the tunnel to the arch.  After miles of walking in the hot sun, who isn’t up for a rousing game of Find That Tunnel?  We saw some people give up and actually jaywalk (read: run for their lives) across the 10 lanes of traffic.

Bill at the Arc, with a tempting open run through traffic behind him.

 

Backing up a bit, we did make it to a selection of Paris’s many, many Starbucks.  The saving grace of these is that you can get a large coffee in a cup to go.  Everywhere else, coffee is undersized and not mobile.  Sometimes the service is not the best, and they are begging for air conditioning but they came to be predictable bathroom stops.

Anyway, after the Arch, we grabbed the subway back to the hotel to clean up for our dinner cruise.  We’d heard from various sources that a dinner cruise on the Seine was not to be missed.  Our concierge booked us on a very nice one for the evening.  On the cab ride to the marina, we asked our driver to take us by the Bastille, which was in same area.  She never did, so we assumed a language gap.  More to come on this one, too.

The cruise was “a bit” pricey (think round-trip airfare for two to New York)but enjoyable, with spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower.  The high walls of the river, however, made it hard to see much else.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed lounging on the upper deck, taking in the night air, and the atmosphere along the river.

Julie on the top deck before we set sail.

 

The view we had of the Eiffel Tower from the boat.

The highlight of the cruise was actually the dessert.  We were served a hollow ball of chocolate, roughly the size of a billiard ball, perched atop a cylinder made from a chocolate-covered wafer.  The waiter poured hot raspberry sauce on top of the ball, and it slowly melted away and deposited the chocolate-raspberry mousse it contained inside on to your place.  A very cool effect.

Day 3:  Didn’t Know Paris Got This Hot

Hello mid-80s.  Before we left, the weather showed cloudy and 70s, so we only brought long pants.  The country seemed very ill equipped from an air conditioning perspective, but it beats cold and rainy.  We decided on another day of walking.  Our first stop was the Bastille area.  There is a very large outdoor market right near the metro stop.  Part of the market was flea market type stuff, and the other part was food (fresh seafood, fresh cooked paella, and lots of other stuff).

Julie grabs a snack at the open market.

 

From there it was on to the Bastille…or so we thought.  Turns out the actual Bastille was destroyed in the French Revolution, and we arrived 220 years too late to see it.  We really should have read the guide book more closely on that one.  After lunch in a café, it was a bus ride in the wrong direction followed by a metro ride back to the hotel for our tour of Versailles.

Versailles is only a 30 minute ride from Paris.  On the way we passed by Roland Garros, where the French Open had just started.  Our guide was originally from Peru (strangely by way of France and Illinois), so his English, French and Spanish were impeccable.  We got to hear all three; there was a couple from Venezuela on the tour (strangely by way of Houston).  Versailles is as over the top as you would expect, and I’d probably revolt too if I was a peasant and had to walk by that thing every day.  Thanks to the holiday, the fountains were running in the(gigantic) gardens.  It would have been nice to have more time to explore them all, but a straight walk with no stops from one end to the other took an hour.  Either way, Versailles is a ton of walking, so you should bring comfortable shoes.  On the way back, our driver took us the back way as to avoid the holiday traffic on the highway, and we got to see some smaller French towns.

Oh, look.  Everyone from Notre Dame joined us at Versailles.

 

Bill and Julie in the Hall of Mirrors (and the hall of hard, marble floors; read more)

 

Julie in the gardens out back.  Calling them "gardens" doesn’t quite capture it.

 

One other note about Versailles.  The marble floors are very unforgiving, and if you drop your camera on them, it will break.  Learn from our experience.

Once back in town, we had dinner in the St. Germaine area for the second time.  We really liked that area, and there are a wide variety of restaurants and cafés to sample.

Day 4:  Not enough walking yet?  Try some hills.

This day brought us to Montmartre.  Montmartre is the San Francisco of Paris with its very steep hills.  It’s built on the highest part of the city and has nice views.  The hills and windy, narrow roads make the area very pretty.

Bill on one of the hills.

 

Julie outside one of the store fronts in Montmartre.

It’s also as artist area, and there are all kinds of painters and other artisans on the street.  There are also some very aggressive hustlers.  Here’s my conversation with one of them as he followed me down the street:

Him: Sir, would you like a profile?

Me: No, thank you.

Him: Please, it’s very fast.

Me: No, thank you

Him: Yes

Me: No, thank you

Him: Yes

Me: No, thank you

Him: Yes

And so on…Luckily, I was able to resist.

There is also a cathedral at the top of the hill.  It’s fairly contemporary (1920s), but the stained glass is very nice.  I liked it, even though our guide book referred to the architecture as “mediocre”.  In the middle of town you can also find a Salvadore Dali museum.  He was one of many famous artists who spent  time in the area.

After that we walked downhill, which is any direction away from Montmartre, and hit a dessert shop Julie had read about in our guide book.  After that we just wandered around until we became too tired to explore any more.   We went back to the hotel to relax in the courtyard until dinner time.

We had dinner with Geoffroy, a French attorney that interned in Julie’s office a couple of years ago.  He’s since passed the bar and is working as an associate at a Paris law firm.  He took us out to a nice dinner and afterwards for crepes.  It was another fun, but very long day.

Day 5: Heading Home

The trip back to the airport was a smooth as the trip into the city.  The express bus was definitely the right way to go.  The flight back was uneventful and on time.  Just like you want them.  It was great to see the kids again, and Opa and Sarah survived the weekend.  It’s good to be back.

 

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