The time: Friday, May 9, a little after 4 pm Eastern.
The place: Dulles International Airport.
The people: My mom, my dad, my sister Erin, her husband Adam, and myself.
The destination: Paris, France.
The emotion: Wheeeee!
Somehow we juggled all of our luggage in a manner that did NOT knock any unsuspecting strangers unconscious. We maneuvered our way towards the gate from which our Air France flight would depart, and I think all of our eyes widened.
The plane was a double-decker, and it was impressive. We filed to our seats and tucked in for the six-hour flight ahead of us. Since we would arrive in Paris around 6 am local time and napping that first day is ill-advised, I wanted to try and get some shut-eye, but that would wait until after dinner.
Two things about dinner: 1) I can’t remember the last time I had an actual meal on an airplane, and 2) It was one of the best meals I’d had in a while, period.
The trip was off to a good start.
I did eventually doze off, and the time passed comfortably. We touched down at Charles de Gaulle just in time for a French sunrise.
We were in France!!!
Buoyed by a tasty onboard breakfast and the adrenaline of arrival, we made our way through customs and baggage claim, exchanged dollars for euros, and found the shuttle that would take us to our hotel.
Navigate Charles de Gaulle Airport? Check!
Before long, we were walking through the doors of Hotel Therese. The hotel is beautiful, with gabled rooms, a steep, curving staircase [we actually encountered a lot of those during the course of our vacation], and great views. Here’s the view from one room:
Also, it’s within walking distance of the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and dozens of other fabulous places, which doesn’t hurt.
We walked to a nearby cafe for breakfast: Coffee. Pain au chocolat. Croissants. Nuff said.
Fortified, we started acquainting ourselves with the neighborhood. The weather was cool and intermittently rainy, but that didn’t slow us down. We walked, savored, and walked some more. We ate lunch in the Latin Quarter, and I learned a new definition of blissful contentment: Just standing outside Notre Dame and looking at it.
We had an appointment to keep, however: a bicycle tour through Paris. Our guide was a well-traveled Dutch girl named Amber. Amber was very nice. The tour, however, was one of the more nerve-rattling experiences of my recent memory. Steering a bike through Paris traffic, through dense crowds of people, through narrow gaps between sidewalk posts…not for the cycling novice! That said, we did see a lot of cool things, and if you’re into cycling, I would certainly recommend a bike tour as a way to see any new city.
On Sunday morning, several of us stepped out for a run on a route which promptly became one of my favorites ever: We ran the short distance from the hotel to the Louvre, then just ran straight out, through the Jardin des Tuileries, past the Obelisk (commemorating the site of many a beheading), up the Champs Elysees, to the Arc de Triomphe. Talk about a Rave Run!
After breakfast in the hotel (two delicious pastries and coffee for 6 euros) we did some more exploring. We strolled through the Jardin and meandered up the Champs Elysees, trying to imagine how it will look just a couple of months from now for the end of the Tour de France. We reached the Arc de Triomphe and did some exploring there, including a visit to the top. Like Notre Dame, the Arc did not disappoint — it is every bit as magnificent, if not more so, as you’d imagine.
We couldn’t leave Paris without visiting the Louvre, but having been warned about the immensity of the place, we went in with a game plan. On Monday morning after our run (darting between early-morning commuters on the Champs is a flat-out fun way to do an interval workout, FYI) we entered the museum with the goal of seeking out the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and a couple of other specific items. We succeeded, but good GRIEF is it easy to get lost in there!
After the Louvre, we decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower. We had been unable to get tickets to the top before our trip, but Dad was feeling lucky, and we hoped that the wind and rain would keep the competition — er, other tourists — indoors.
Again, success! We got tickets and climbed in. One elevator takes you part of the way up, then you have to get in another to finish the journey. Before we got on the second elevator, we stopped for coffee and a panoramic view of the city, and warily eyed the weather, which wasn’t getting any better. No matter. We were there, we were DOING THIS.
At last we stepped out at the top…and were met with rainy gusts of sufficient force to keep everyone at one end or another, away from the wind tunnels that comprised the other two sides. I think I stayed outside for all of four minutes. Oh well!
Couples in Paris have taken to putting their names or initials on padlocks, attaching the padlock somewhere prominent, and throwing away the key.
We made our slightly soggy way back our hotel’s neighborhood, where we had another delicious meal, and then called it a day. The next day we would be taking the train to Verdun for an immersion into World War I history.
* The people of Paris were lovely. I can’t think of a single complaint about them.
* It’s worth keeping a few one-euro coins handy. There are public bathrooms in Paris, but you frequently have to pay to use them.
* Every church we saw was awe-inspiring. Every. One of them. Especially Saint Chappelle, with its towering stained-glass windows. Definitely worth visiting if you’re in Paris!
* To conclude: I loved Paris.
Next week: France, Part II — Vive Verdun!