For out third anniversary, Angela and I decided to to Paris, France. I had been apprehensive about going to a country in which I don’t speak the language. After going to England a couple of years earlier, neither of us were really concerned that the French would treat us differently than other tourists because of our nationality. They might however, I feared, treat us badly if we didn’t know how to speak even simple phrases in their language. Angela assured me that with her rudimentary knowledge of the language, we’d be okay.
Getting Ready For The Trip
First, we try and prepare for our trips by purchasing any tickets or passes in advance. For this trip, we bought 2 Museum Passes and 2 Paris Visit (RER, Metro, & bus) passes. This proved to be a wise decision. We bought some travel books: Frommer’s "Paris from $90 a Day" and DK’s "France". In addition, we bought a French phrase book and Angela made sure to pack her old English-French Dictionary dictionary. The pocket phrase book came in especially handy. I got really good at ordering crepes and coffee. Lastly, we downloaded "Rush Hour French" for our iPods to help pass time on the flight to France. I didn’t learn anything other how to say "nice to meet you" from that, but it was funny to listen to.
Knowing that the Europeans don’t share our love of elevators and ramps, we knew to pack backpacks instead of suitcases. You do not want to try and roll a pullman up stairwells in the Paris Metro during rush-hour crowds. We put our backpacks into special duffel bags for the airline trip, because these are our nice backpacks and we really can’t afford to let the baggage handlers trash them. Anyway, we also have a really handy multi-country power converter. It is a power step-down device (220 to 110) and has plug adapters from pretty much every country. It weighs about 4 pounds, but it’s really handy.
It has been said that one should enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and I truly believe that. Of course, whoever said that didn’t book our flight to France. We were looking to earn some frequent flyer miles as well as save a few bucks, which pointed us to buying our tickets through our usual airline: Delta. What was weird, was the fact that we were to fly from Richmond to New York Laguardia and then fly from New York JFK to Charles de Gaulle. Delta gave us no direction as to what to do, and when I called to speak to someone, they simply informed me that we would have to pick up our luggage and then get a taxi or something. It turned out we could take a bus straight from one airport to the other, but this was during rush hour and we were getting pressed for time. We ended up going to the Delta counter, where we were informed we needed to be at the Air France counter, which was in another terminal altogether. Now, this is at JFK, where there are 9 terminals and none are easy to get to from the others. We g0t a shuttle to take us to the correct terminal for a few bucks and rush to get our bags checked.
We arrived to the gate just before boarding began, but unfortunately our seats weren’t together. The prospect of spending the next 7 hours between two perfect strangers knowing I could be sitting next to my wife was not appealing. Angela got the Delta customer service number and spend her last few minutes on US soil chewing them out. I’m glad she vented before she got on the plane.
Friday – The Eiffel Tower and The Seine
We arrived via Air France flight 007 (like James Bond, yeah we heard that a couple of times) at around 10:00 am. Tired, sore, and groggy, we took the RER and Metro into the 15th arrondissement to hour hotel, the Timhotel Eiffel. Fortunately, the hotel was only a block away from the Metro stop, but unfortunately, our rooms wouldn’t be ready for another couple of hours. The concierge stowed our large backpacks in a closet and we walked a couple of blocks away to get a bite to eat. Lunch, breakfast, dinner… we weren’t really sure what we were eating. Jet lag is generally understood to be fatigue (although Webster’s includes "irritability" in their definition). I can say that when we arrived at the hotel after a seven hour overnight flight, I didn’t feel fatigued or irritable so much as confused. I had no idea what time it was. It was the same feeling when one goes into a movie theater during daylight only to emerge a couple of hours later into night.
Lunch was not good. A huge plate of greasy, heavy food was not what our stomachs needed at that point. We both agreed that we’d go back, get the room key, and take a nap. That seemed to help re-set our clocks a bit and we felt a lot better, although our stomachs wouldn’t calm down for another couple of hours. We walked over to the Eiffel Tower around 5:00 pm. Monuments such as the Eiffel are best walked up to. You get a feel of the size by seeing it from far away and then realizing just how big it is by how long it still takes you to reach it. For all the cliche-ness of the Eiffel Tower, it is really a cool structure. The structure is a remarkable spider web of late 19th century iron work, the views from the three levels are stunning, and the size is so immense, you feel like you’re on another world up there. Not just the height, but the breadth as well. The base of the structure is a large city block, and looking up into the first level is like looking up into some alien mother ship; it covers your entire view.
The view of Paris from the top is like floating above the city. Paris, unlike so many other major cities, has very view tall buildings. Most are not over eight stories. The one exception in the central part of the city is Tour Montparnasse, which is really Paris’ only skyscraper. It sticks out like some sort black monolith, full of stars… While I love skyscrapers, I instantly felt most Parisians disgust with this building. It doesn’t belong. That highest part of the city skyline belongs to the Eiffel.
We took the tram down from the view platform at the top of the tower to the second level, and then Angela decided it would be cool to walk down the stairs from the second to the first level. Walking down the stairs of the Eiffel Tower isn’t like walking down the stairs on any other skyscraper. You’re pretty much fully exposed to the wind, which whips through the structure’s lattice-like surface at full force. You are still roughly four hundred feet up in the air at his point, and it is around 175 feet down to the first level. I have to admit, vertigo began to set in winding down the staircase.
After reaching the ground, we decided to go over to the boat dock we had seen from up on the observation deck to take a river tour of the Seine through the city. Along the way, we stopped at a fast food shack for coffee and crepes. I have become addicted to crepes with Nutella spread. I’ll get to that more later. There was a sports car rally going on in the river-side park, so we checked out the European super-cars: Ferrari, Porsche, Mazaratti, Austin Healy, Bently, Lotus, etc. Some really amazing machines, many of which aren’t street legal in the U.S. Angela’s knows more about cars that I do, and even she was very much impressed with this collection of cars.
The lights on the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted, which is kind of stupid in my opinion. However, I’m posting this picture since the glass windows of the boat effectively change the light patterns, therefore altering the copyrighted pattern. Ha.
The boat tour of the Seine was fun, but since it was getting rather dark at that time and too cold for us to stand outside the glass enclosure of the boat, I wasn’t able to get many good pictures of the sights. However, it helped to orient us to the different areas of the central part of the city. I was also pretty impressed that the tour guide was fluent in six or more languages. We came to learn that most Parisians, at least in the service industry, speak a little of many languages other than French. This comes in handy when you speak almost no French. I eventually was able to even impress the locals with what little French I could spurt out. This proved to be problematic. I got good at saying a few phrases, mostly questions. Therefore, the locals assumed I could understand their response. My blank expression betrayed the fact that I had only perfected the pronunciation of a simple phrase, and was no more "speaking" French than one breathes water rather than holds their breath while swimming.