Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Want to know what I did for 10 days? Here's my Trip Report

Europe Trip 2005
London, September 16-18, Paris September 18-25.

Time for a trip report.

DH and I to went to London for a couple of days before meeting our parents in Paris for a week. In London, we stayed at the Cherry Court Hotel near Victoria Station, a Rick Steves recommendation we used back in 2003, and even though the accommodations are rudimentary (decent, but small) we decided to go back. I was especially sold on going back after the July subway attacks in London, when Mrs. Patel (owner of the Cherry Court) posted a message on the Rick Steves traveler’s helpline board that she would be of assistance to anyone who needed her if they were in London, whether they were a guest or not.

London -- we arrived an hour late on Friday morning, but arrived otherwise intact. The flight to Newark and transfer to Virgin Atlantic was uneventful. I must say that Virgin wasn’t better than BA from our trip a couple of years ago. The food was much worse, the TV/movie selection was slim, but not as bad as Continental coming home.

We arrived in London at Heathrow at 10 a.m., had no trouble getting through Immigration (I love it that they still stamp our passports), and thankfully had the experience to know that we needed to hustle off the plane to get in line to reduce the waiting time. We headed onto the Tube to Victoria Station, and on to our hotel, which this time took no wandering behind the station to find. I had made a lunch date with an online friend at 1 p.m. in Lincolns Inn Fields area of London, so we checked into our room at the Cherry Court hotel by noon and quickly freshened up to go for our lunch appointment.

The fun began when we walked in the door. My friend, who I'd never met in person, told the waitstaff that "a couple of Americans" were coming to meet them for lunch. Of course they saw us in the door, and we barely had to say "We're here to..." and they were motioning us downstairs to meet our friends. We are a dead giveaway, and any mention that DH is Canadian is of no discernable difference.

I didn't know this small fact, but my friend (who I've known through an online group for several years) is a barrister, as is her husband, both Oxford-educated lawyers, who work in the area. She did a walk-about with us, showing us where she worked, then took us on about through the neighborhood. It was fantastic to get to meet a local Londoner who had such great knowledge, and a willingness to show us everything from The Old Curiosity Shop nearby to a personal tour of the National Royal Court building, which looks a lot like a cathedral.

Afterwards, we headed towards Covent Garden Market -- it was much smaller than I imagined, but much nicer. I was picturing an older feel to it, but found neat outdoor market stuff as well as upscale shops, classical music playing, and a lovely cafe downstairs. The street performance was hilarious -- a couple of gay guys (their words), riding unicycles, juggling and other antics using a little girl from the audience who was absolutely thrilled to be part of the show.

On we walked toward Trafalgar Square for my husband's London visit with "his" lions at the foot of Lord Nelson. I love the view from there, as you can see such beautiful London sights from the National Gallery, St. Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben beyond.

We walked down Whitehall this time -- having missed it last time, towards Westminster. It was neat to walk past #10 Downing, and see some of the larger government buildings, even if it was just for the stroll through it. We went to the Eye for our flight -- having been on it a couple of years ago and knowing it was a favorite with my husband, I went ahead a booked reservations again, but I don't think I need to repeat that ride again now that I know the lay of the land. I do enjoy the view of the city though, and as always enjoy the descent as we viewed Big Ben/Parliament. That evening we stopped at a brew pub near our hotel, where we drank a couple of beers, had some sausage & mash, and headed for bed.

The next morning (Saturday, Nov. 17), we arose at a reasonable hour, headed for the Starbucks (sorry, it's my vice in London due to the portability of the coffee, but one that I avoid once I'm in Paris), and walked toward Buck Palace with our lattes in hand. We continued on to the Cabinet War Rooms, arriving just in advance of a tour group. We decided to let them go ahead so we wouldn't have to ride the wave of tourists, and the plot worked. We were virtually alone, and the Cabinet War Rooms were fascinating -- and the audio tour is well worth the 3 BP I think it cost to buy. I'm a big WWII fan/student and thoroughly enjoyed this visit. The new Winston Churchill museum has a stunningly modern photo file with giant touch screens that allow you to follow English history for as long as pictures have been taken.

Afterwards, we headed up to the British Museum, where we saw the Rosetta Stone and a number of other pieces of art. I should say that by then I had bought about 10 postcards, and by the time I'd seen the Rosetta Stone and admired its size (one of those things you thought would be smaller), I sat down to write out some postcards while DH continued to wander the rooms. I like paintings, he likes Old Archeological Stuff, so there are times we part company instead of one of us yawning our way through an exhibit pretending to be interested. After a couple of hours we started walking towards a Tube stop and found a Thai restaurant very near the British Library that had some of the BEST Thai food I've ever eaten. I'm from Seattle and know a few good places to eat there, but this was lovely.

That afternoon we went to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, where we missed the afternoon performance, but the Bank was having a big "Children's Society" walk, so we got caught up in the crowds, ice cream and other delights offered near the Globe. There is something neat about stumbling onto a local fair, exhibit or other freebie that makes one feel like they get to be a local for a short time. We then took the boat ride back to Westminster, headed to the hotel where we got ready to go out for a night on the town -- and off to our date to see the production of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre.

The Theatre itself was a bit older and smaller than I anticipated, certainly not as posh as even the Paramount in Seattle. But still, a very nice place, and an outstanding show. My husband, a highly discerning and extensively-trained musician, pronounced the show a great piece of music writing and overall production. While I appreciate music enough to know the Britney Spears can't sing and Christina Aguilera has "one hell of a set of pipes", the only persons in the show who really grabbed my attention with their singing ability were the star and his girl from the 'hood who loves him and dies trying to save him. Overall, Les Miserables aren't as MISERABLE as you'd think, everyone doesn't die as I expected, so it wasn't as difficult to see it as I thought it would be.

This time around on our trip, I was surprised that this time we didn’t run into any Brits willing to chat as they did before…perhaps we were just lucky with the pubs we went to before, but I regret that this time we didn‘t run into anybody as chatty as last time. But there wasn’t much time in London this time around, so all too soon, we were headed back to our hotel for the last time, packed our stuff, and the next morning were off to Waterloo station to go to Paris to Meet The Parents.

Unlike last time, when we showed up at the station with 2 hours to departure, only a 10 minute wait to only leave us 1 hour 50 minutes to kill, this time we were wiser and took a cab to Waterloo with only an hour to spare (we always take at least one cab in London just for the experience of riding on the "wrong side" of the road, which for some reason always feels normal once you're in the car). With coffee in hand, we waited a few minutes for the train to board, and were quickly seated in our car. For some reason, they felt bigger and more comfortable. We’d bought our $98 RT tickets way in advance through an agent here in the States, and that actually worked to our advantage, as there was a special line for “paper tickets” that empty while all the electronic ticket-holders waited to check in.

The seats in front of us were taken by a family of three, clearly an American elder father, about 60, his 40-year-old son, and his young son of about 20. The eldest kept commenting about all the foreign things about England, the one that got my attention was "Why is everything here electric, don't they have oil?" I felt the urge to answer the question that pollution is lessened when the trains run on electricity, which I'm sure is a priority in a sprawling city like London, but I held my tongue. The USS Enterprise hat the eldest was wearing told me that his generation just perhaps looked at things differently, and I wasn't going to educate him on the finer points of European approaches to technology and environmentalism in one 2.5 hour train ride.

I bought one of the worst breakfasts since I ate at McDonalds on a road trip in 1998. But I enjoyed the walk to the dining car to get it. There is something inherently romantic about train travel, I guess the fact that I can walk through cars, go to the bathroom, and still be moving 200 miles an hour with the landscape out the window is just plain neat.

Upon arrival in Paris, DH and I split up -- DH to meet his parents at the hotel in the 7th Arrondisement, me to the airport to find my Aunt and Mom, who had just landed at CDG. Despite getting off at the wrong terminal and having to walk underground from 2A to 2B to find them, I was able to find them in the waiting area rather easily, and we grabbed a cab and for $45E, we were quickly within the city. The cab ride took us on the freeways of Paris, we got off near the Arc de Triomphe, and I kept my map with me as I watched the taxi driver make the wrong turn away from Rue Cler, and was able to correct it fairly quickly. By about 2 p.m., our party of 6 was checked into our rooms, and shortly thereafter drinking wine at the Cafe du Marche. The meal was unremarkable, except everyone but me and my father-in-law (henceforth FIL in this post) ordered some meat dish "tartare", which means it was RAW. Directly proportional to how much they ate, they were all sick the next day with a tummy ailment that didn't allow them to go far beyond the bathroom, but within 24 hours all were ok. I can only imagine what kind of shock that was to their systems.

We walked over to the Eiffel Tower, about 10 minutes from our hotel, and I so enjoyed my Aunt and Mom (who've never been to Europe before) see the Tour Eiffel for the first time in person. Pictures snapped, ooh's and ah's, and "I can't believe it's that big" statements later, we walked under the tower and sat in the park to enjoy our first "pinch us we're in Paris" moments. Soon Mom and Aunt Kathy slowed down and wanted to go back to the hotel, so DH and his folks walked to the river for an evening cruise down the Seine, and I walked Mom and Aunt back to the hotel. Later that evening, we joined up for a late dinner, then all went to bed except DH and me, who went to the cafe' around the corner for a late drink and to talk about our adventures so far. This became a regular thing for us, which was great because we'd often separate during the day to go with different people, and it gave us a chance to be together, compare notes, and talk with some of the French people who soon befriended us at the bar.

Monday morning, we met in the lobby at 8 a.m., and walked to a favorite cafe' of mine for breakfast. It'd been 2 years since our last visit, and I was pleased that the waitress/owner of the cafe' was still there, and still teasing me about my attempts at French. Some cafe au laits and omelettes later, all six of us were caffeinated and fed enough to venture out. Thanks to the ratp.fr website (thanks, Ira and Rex), I had done some homework on how to get some places on the bus, and we hopped the #69 bus to Pont Neuf, and we headed to our first adventure -- Ile de la Cite'. It was lovely weather that day, and all week for the most part, so we enjoyed our visit to Ste. Chappele first (where we bought a Museum Pass for the whole week), then on to Notre Dame.

After lunch, we then headed to the Deportation Museum -- which was something of a letdown in that I expected a bigger spectacle, but as I realized the limits of space and the full meaning of the exhibit, I was touched by it. Again, as a student of WWII, I found this to be another place where I could take in the full impact of this great war that I had studied for so long in college.

We went on to the Conciergerie, which we hadn't seen before. I've been reading "A Tale of Two Cities" before my trip, and was pleased to visit the site of the Queen's and others' incarceration during the French Revolution and Terror that followed. By the time that was over, my mother-in-law, Mom and Kathy were tired and not feeling particularly well following the “tartare incident” the night before and were done touring, The three hopped in a cab, and DH, father-in-law and I climbed the Notre Dame bell tower (which was closed the last time we were there), and thoroughly enjoyed getting up to the gargoyles, taking pictures and taking in the view. After that, the three of us walked up to the Hotel de Ville, and on to the Pompidou, where we saw some art (I enjoyed the random bell that rang, and the stuff that made me ask "This is ART? I could have made that at home! LOL). Afterwards we walked the backstreets, stopping at shops to buy music, cookies, and whatever else caught us, and finally heading back to the hotel for dinner with the crew. Another late night drink at the cafe' around the corner with DH helped finish off the day, as a couple of French guys befriended us, and we talked about our day.

Tuesday dawned with just a few of us waking to make it to the first trip up the Eiffel Tower. My mom, exhausted from her trip and feeling a bit overwhelmed, slept through the morning. My Aunt and I, DH and FIL (MIL hates heights) all went up the Eiffel Tower in the morning, and later met Mom and MIL for lunch.

It took me forever to remember what the heck I did on Tuesday afternoon -- I finally realized I didn’t have pictures because I did laundry, bought stamps for postcards and got them in the mail at long last. DH took off with his parents to do some museum stuff at the Rodin. Later that evening we were all supposed to meet at the Arc de Triomphe -- DH and his folks split up to go via subway, and Kathy, Mom and I went to catch a cab, but none came. With the use of the handy bus map I picked up in the hotel lobby, I quickly I realized we could catch the 92, which dropped us at the Arc within 10 minutes. (Later, I read Rick Steves comment that the “Paris bus system can be tricky but is worth figuring out” -- AMEN to that!)

There was a band playing (it was about 6:30 p.m.) and a full military honor guard, and found out EVERY DAY they lay a new pile of flowers at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier from WWI under the Arch and play music. Talk about "NEVER FORGET!"

By 7 p.m., DH and his folks hadn't shown up, and I was worried. Turned out they snuck into the Arc with a wave from the very same police who told me I couldn’t proceed, and they climbed it without us. My mom wanted to climb it, but was unsure of taking the steps…she finally resolved to try it, and that's when we found out that the French will offer ANYONE a ride on their "lift" if they have a cane! So we ended up getting an elevator ride up the Arc de Triomphe and Aunt went with us too.

Wednesday we all went to Sacre Coeur Basilica. It's at the highest point in Paris, and was very beautiful in its Byzantine style (even though it's newer than that). DH, FIL and I climbed the dome and got some beautiful views of Paris, despite the haze of the midday sun.
In a rather wierd mix-up, Brian ended up taking off with his parents, and Mom and Kathy and I headed off in some direction towards home, and we missed the area I THOUGHT we were going to be walking through. I asked Brian to meet me at the Orsay at 3 p.m. so we could spend some time together.

After me lunching with Mom & Aunt and dropping them near the hotel, I met DH at the Orsay. We went up to the 5th floor (the stair/elevators in the Orsay are quite confusing) and saw what I really was dying to see -- the Monets, Van Goghs and Cezanne Impressionist paintings.

By 4:30 or 5, I had to go home to change. I went to meet Kate, from the Fodors board. She was real nice, and we met up with Gina and her husband Frank, also from Fodors. Frank was exceptional -- very funny. Gina was hilarious, gave me more than one good laugh. We walked around several restaurants (found the one we were looking for but oddly enough it was closed on a Wednesday, which never happens in Paris). Finally at Chez Rene, just across the river from Ile St. Louis, we settled in for dinner.

It was a decent meal, the service was good, but then I got the chocolate mousse at the end so I‘m easy to please. And hey, by now I've learned to end every meal with "un cafe" (a small shot of espresso) and all is well. We finished with dinner by about 11, and I was in the 6th Arrondisement on Blvd. St. Germain, and I “lived” in the 7th. Not knowing how far it is but having a map and a will to walk, I start walking towards the metro, then follow the metro line all the way back. It took me an hour, but it was delicious to walk through the streets of Paris alone -- without being bothered with any conversation from family or anyone else, and just taking in all that was around me. How lovely that city is after dark -- and to be walking towards the towering Eiffel the whole time -- it was lovely.

Thursday came and Mom, Aunt, DH and I went to Versailles. The train ride out was uneventful, even though Mom hates subways (roughly 1/4 of it is underground, the rest is above), and they obviously enjoyed seeing the palace and the gardens. We arrived right at 9 before the tour groups hit, and it felt like we rode a wave of tour groups that were right behind us. I read the Rick Steves guide to each room, we looked a bit and moved on. It only took about 1.5-2 hours, then we went to the gardens.

The Gardens were awesome -- this time we walked down into them quite a ways, and the weather was so perfect we had a great time. One really nice thing DH did was buying a 6-pack of water bottles every morning after breakfast, so we always had water with us, which was great since my Mom tends to get heat stroke easily, and the temperatures headed towards 80 that day. I still can't believe how Louis XIV built a palace away from his palace on the grounds, built a mini-canal ala' Venice (with gondolas and everything) and the thousands of fountains.

By 1:00 everyone was done, so we headed back to Paris. We got back around 2, had a quick lunch, left Mom and Aunt back at the hotel to rest, and DH and I went off on our own to walk around the Jewish Quarter. We stopped at a Spanish restaurant first to eat, then we went to the Picasso museum, walked around a bit, then headed towards the Hotel de Ville to catch the subway back before dinner.

We ate at Phillippe's "La Varange" for dinner 4 times that week. Phillippe is so fabulous, his escargot is to die for, and we all enjoyed his fabulous hospitality. By the time we left he asked us to take his picture with DH in the kitchen, and asked us to mail him a copy. What a treasure he is. He even remembered us from 2 years earlier when he joked that he “overcharged us” but in reality, we had just mis-read the bill. The “1” in Europe looked like a 5, so we ended up leaving a $20 Euro tip. J

Friday morning was The Louvre -- we all met up and MIL & FIL took off their own way pretty quickly. We found the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's Dying Slave, just to name a few.

We walked along a bunch, and quickly discovered Aunt and Mom enjoyed more of the sculpture than anything, so we tried to add some of that. Afterwards, we walked up to the Colonade at the Palais Royale, where the Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade” was shot. Charade was an Alfred Hitchcock movie with Walter Mathau and Cary Grant.

We had lunch together, then made our way to the bus to go to Ile St. Louis for Mom and Kath to stop off and do a little shopping. Ile St. Louis is the small island next to Ile de la Cite (where Notre Dame and Ste. Chappelle are), and I found some lovely earrings, a bracelet and a new sweater that I just adore. One of the sales clerks, who sold me my sweater, didn’t speak a lick of English, but was very accommodating. DH had studied in advance to speak French, and was quickly put into use. He said “Merci, Madame” as we left the store, and since I thought her age/marital status was in question -- I said “Merci, Madamoiselle?” And she smiled and said “Oui, madamoisselle” pointing to herself. I tried hard to learn the words of items in the store, and she was so helpful. I just loved that experience and again vowed to learn more French the next time I go.

After leaving Mom & Aunt, DH and I continued on to the Latin Quarter. It's a bit of a sleeper at first. We walked a lot, stopped off at a restaurant, had a couple of drinks while we watched the police block off a street and the TV trucks move in. I had to go to the ladies room and when I came back out I was standing on the street where a police officer approached me in French -- and my response was simply (in French) "I don't understand French, do you speak English?" He said no, but then he said in English that I shouldn't stand there for long. I said I was waiting for my husband, and he said ok. I asked what was going on, and he said the Minister of Defense was visiting "My Boss" he said -- I'm sure a few miles up the food chain. He was very nice and told me to have a nice time in Paris. I said we loved the city, and he smiled. I do love how the French appreciate the fact that we appreciate their beloved city. I’m sure it’s the same everywhere in some respects, but there is something special to French pride I think.

We headed to the Pantheon, which was MUCH more impressive than Rick Steves gave credit for. The outside of the building is rather majestic, and the inside is nice too. We walked on to the Luxumbourg Gardens, where we had a lovely gelato, then head on to St. Sulpice, which was less than enamoring. It was covered in scaffolding on the outside, and the inside was dark. I did light a candle there (perhaps in a subliminal acknowledgement of wanting to bring some light to the place), and we found the brass line that goes through the side wings across the nave (a point that the Da Vinci Code book makes to mark a clue in the search for the "Holy Grail's" supposed location). Very soon we were off and trying to decide if we should head back to the hotel.

Here it is Friday and we realized our time was limited for sight seeing, so we better get busy and do some more. So DH and I walked up to the St. Sulpice metro stop and took the subway out to Montparnasse, and paid the $7.50 Euro each to take the elevator ride up to the top floor. At first I was sort of sorry to have spent the money (hazy days tend to do that to me, since I'm always in search of the perfect photo, and mid-day sun does nothing to help my cause).

But the 360* view from the VERY top of Montparnasse, including the Eiffel Tower and all points Paris, was in the end worth it. We could see where we had been that day -- looking at the Seine river, the Louvre, the path to the Pantheon and Luxumbourg Gardens, as well as a very interesting cemetery that I haven't yet looked at on the map.
Exhausted, it was nearing sundown and we took the elevator back down, stopped at the Galeries Lafayette looking for some CDs for Brian, and then on home to dinner with the Gang.

Saturday morning, we got to take care of unfinished business. Mom, who had been too sick Tuesday to go up the Eiffel Tower, was ready to go. This was the first day it was cloudy and a bit rainy, so we opted to only go up to the 2nd level since the top was largely obscured by clouds. We got over there around 9 a.m., and discovered that busload after busload of tourists were coming, and making a rather large crowd of people waiting at two of the 4 feet. Note to Self: Move heaven and earth to avoid the Eiffel Tower elevators on a Saturday.

What's odd about the crowds waiting for the place to open (I thought it opened at 9, but on Saturdays it opens at 9:30), is that they move like schools of fish. At first there was one crowd over on the northwest corner, then they moved almost simultaneously to the 2nd entrance. The signage said the exact same thing, but I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Finally, they moved away, and I directed my Mom and Aunt to get in the line at the Northeast Tower and to hold still. We were 2nd in line in the "non-tour" area, and we beat every one of them onto the elevators. My mom is somewhat claustrophobic, so we were lucky to have only bought the 2nd level. She was able to walk around, see the view, then when she was ready to come down, there was no changing of elevators and getting crammed in twice.

The previous couple of days, we heard news that Hurricane Rita was about to slam into Houston, where we were all supposed to land the next day. Not knowing if we'd be stuck in Houston or rerouted and rescheduled from somewhere else, DH wisely decided to do some laundry and make sure we were safely in possession of clean underwear. This turned out to be a wise decision for reasons other than Hurricane Rita.

Later that afternoon, we all had lunch together and agreed upon a time to meet back at the hotel. Brian and I took off to check on the Hurrican Rita status, try to reach the airline, which said we had to check in the morning since they had closed the airport on Saturday and would be able to tell us if it opened on Sunday or not.

Then, DH and I went off to Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides -- it was far more impressive than I expected in terms of all the people buried there, but the tomb itself seemed rather plain, considering the importance of the Little General to French history. I did enjoy the cathedral, and it had a very nice free audio tour.

From there we walked to the War Museum, where we quickly dashed through a few things. I know I could have spent a lot more time there, and we did take a few pictures. I enjoy studying history, and I especially enjoy going to museums specifically about WWI and WWII in Europe because of the different national perspectives on the experiences of the people and how they turn them into the exhibits themselves. In England, there is a very strong sense of unity and NEED for the U.S. to get involved. Because they weren't taken over (but rather brutally bombed) by the Nazis, there isn't the same horror as compared to the French, who endured occupation and deportation of its Jews. The hatred, therefore, of the Nazi occupation and what it did to its French citizens is very clear, and the French also refer to much of the action as being "Allied Action" -- not claiming sole movement, but at the same time not giving the same credit to Britain and the US and other countries. It's a fine point, but one I guess I couldn't really miss.

After that, we agreed to walk to the Grand Palais -- but we headed out the door and it turned out they were having quite a military demonstration. The entire Ministry of Defense from the Army, Navy, Air Force and other special forces were out to show their might, complete with parachuting Army guys, various fighter jets, tanks, and people movers. I got to see the TRAGIC Navy uniforms, and would make my first plea to the French Navy to change those horrific outfits (traditional but FLUFFY Navy Whites with square necklines and blue piping, and the hats are awful, replete with a red pom-pom on the top). I did a lot of people watching here, as it appeared to me to attract a number of different types of folks, from families and others who stumbled on it, to those who had actually meant to attend.

We walked on to the Grand Palais in hopes of getting in, but here it was Saturday afternoon and every French person and their dog found out they were having a special exhibition or something -- and the lines were not just long, they were DISNEY LONG. I honestly have never seen a bigger and well organized line in my life. We decided to bag the 60-minute wait and head for Place de la Concorde.

We walked over there just to get a last view of our favorite spots in Paris. I still like to go there and picture the guillotine taking off the head of Marie Antoinette where the obelisk now stands. Having recently read "A Tale of Two Cities" I was especially attuned to how the streets of Paris must have looked in the day. I still find the cobblestones fascinating when you consider how long they've been there, and the changes the rest of the city has been through as the cobblestones stand their ground.

It was our last evening in Paris. We didn't have reservations, but all 6 of us wanted to eat together at a nice place. I finally figured something out -- it took me the week, but I did it -- that the general cafes and brasseries on the street corners and main streets are generally your eat-and-go kinda places. Not usually full of the best foods, etc. the best little places are tucked into the side streets.

Well, we walked a ways -- maybe 10 minutes, before I found a side street with about 5 restaurants on the street, all very close together. I asked MIL to help me interpret the menus that were posted, and we finally settled on a small restaurant that appeared to have a wonderful menu and ambiance, and the least amount of people inside to offend with our spirited and loud conversation. We aren‘t obnoxious, at least by American standards, and might be considered quiet in New York, but we certainly are lively in a Parisian restaurant, that‘s for sure.

The place we founded ended up being superb. I had a lovely lamb dish with some rice, along with a great dessert (creme broulee) and a Cafe Ledoux. LOVELY.

As we walked home, we took some pictures of the Eiffel Tower, then we dropped the folks at the hotel and DH and I walked over to Champ du Mars park for the last time. We sat in front of the Tower for about 15 minutes before a soaking rain came, which drove us under a tree with some other French kids.

This was a very relaxing vacation -- one that we felt went extremely well, especially considering both my husband and me had our in-laws around all week. Sitting below the Eiffel Tower and walking the streets home, we pronounced the entire trip a success.

The peace of that night was soon to be interrupted by what I now jokingly refer to “The International Incident”.

We called Continental on Sunday morning, and our flight to Houston was set to go. My in-laws left on an earlier American Airlines flight to Dallas, so it was just four of us left, and we were due to fly together to Houston before splitting up to go our individual ways. Houston had been closed the day before because of Hurricane Rita, but we were given the green light that Houston International was open. We cabbed it to the airport -- we lucked out that a station wagon taxi stopped and picked all four of us up, and charged us $45 Euro for a ride from the 7th to CDG.

Upon arrival, a Continental agent was checking passports, and pulled mine, my aunt’s and mom’s (all American), then asked my husband for his. His Canadian passport produced, the woman asked him where he lived, and he said “The U.S.” and she said “so, you have a Green Card?” Why yes, of course he does. “Can I see it?” With a Homer Simpson slap to the forehead, my husband realized he had left his Green Card at home, in his wallet, in DENVER. I reminded him we had a color copy in our documents, so we produced that. There was a moment when another agent interceded and we thought they’d let us go, then they decided no, DH can’t get on the flight.

The immediacy with which she assumed all three of us would just leave my husband behind slapped me in the face…just like that, I had to make a decision to stay with him while we fixed the paperwork on Monday, or just leave him with a “see ya when I see ya“ mentality that I haven‘t treated him with in my lifetime. But, after a few minutes, we realized the expense would be greater if I stayed, our house sitter would be further inconvenienced, and my Mom and Aunt would be flying alone into unknown conditions in Houston, we decided I should go.

Just then there was a security breach, and the entire terminal had to be emptied. Urged on by police armed with machine guns (that is still something I find interesting, since it’s not scary anymore) we scrambled to get our bags, head out of the way, and still collect our thoughts and items. Fortunately we didn’t “co-pack”. My husband had my two bottles of wine I bought, but other than that we didn’t mix our stuff too much.

I had $80 Euro left over in cash, and I handed that over, along with the Rick Steves Paris book, and a few other items. Up til then, our rented Planetfone cell phone had been of no use to us except for a couple of calls for dinner reservations, but it earned its keep for the last couple of days following my departure. I forgot to get the key to the house, but that worked itself out with a $8.99 Airfone call to the house sitter, and another one to Planetfone extended the phone service so DH could use it in Paris.

Before we knew it, I was off to go through check our bags, get through security and leave my husband behind. I felt instant remorse for leaving him and worried about his getting home, but like he said as we parted, “There are much worse places to be stuck than Paris.”

So off we went. Our flight out of Paris was on time, and our flight into Houston was late, so we were pushing it to make our three connecting flights -- me to Denver, Mom and Aunt to different cities on the West Coast, but we all made it. Half of the flights out of Houston were cancelled that day, so we were grateful to all get out of there on time. Plus, my plane wasn‘t full, and I asked for an aisle seat at the last minute, and ended up with an empty row of seats -- the only one on the plane that I could see. I finally slept for the last 3 hours into Denver, and for about 2 hours that night as I waited up until 12:30 p.m. for my husband to call me and tell me where he was staying, and how he was doing.

As Monday morning came , I knew it was getting to be the afternoon in Paris, so I called my husband on his cell phone and found out he had just left the US Consulate office after a 6-hour ordeal to get traveling papers to leave France and re-enter the US. Fortunately he had the copy of his Green Card with him, so it at least eased the process of them finding him in the system. He sat listening to story after story of people with missing passports who’d left them in purses or in luggage at the hotel and had them stolen. He vowed to use a money belt forever after that.

His flight home from Paris to Houston went ok -- he had to wait until the 1 p.m. flight Tuesday, so he had a little extra time in Paris, met a few extra people, and hunted down Jim Morrison’s grave for me at Pere LaChaise cemetery. Upon arrival in Houston, he was questioned for more than 2 hours by the Department of Homeland Security, charged a $250 fine for leaving the US without his Green Card (in addition to the $165 USD charge at the Consulate office to get his travel documents), and finally allowed in. Since he missed his connecting flight, he had to wait until another one left several hours later, but otherwise made it home intact. Continental was very kind not to charge us anything for all the changed flights.

OK, NOW it’s funny…but it wasn’t funny at the time. I call my husband “Green Card” now and then, but other than that all we know is that he IS going to get his citizenship taken care of before we go again, or he’s at least going to make the heck sure he has his card with him the next time we go…and at this rate, it’s going to be soon.

A few parting thoughts -- We decided that since we only had 10 days, and London was so expensive, we’d spend a couple of days in London again, and go on to Paris for a week. The last time we went in 2003, we went on a death-defying trip of 23 days, including London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens, Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey. We padded the big cities with 4 days for the most part, but really, we moved quite a bit. This time it was so nice to put our suitcases down, unpack, and really spend some time in the city we love so much. We’re of course, trying to decide where to go next, and it’s edging towards Eastern Europe, but we’re not sure…

And finally: On Paris Fashion: It’s fall, so black everywhere is fine. I found that when I wore black from head to toe with a splash of color and put my hair up in a nice, messy way that I was approached in French all the time. So if that’s your goal, that’s the way to do it. Paris is a big city like New York in that fashion does have a few standards (like lots of black and super-pointy shoes) but what people wear individually is ALL over the map. Next time I will still wear lots of black but be much less conscientious about the rest, as that’s apparently what they consider “personal style”. J

Happy Travels


1 comment:

Sheri said...

This has to be one of the single most well written travel reviews I've ever read. You kept such great details about everything!

Thank you Thank you for sharing this adventure with us. I truly enjoyed it!


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