Paris, France

Trip Start Apr 03, 2009
Trip End Apr 14, 2009

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why did Michael wake up at 3:15 a.m.? I think he was a bit paranoid about missing our train to Paris. We were both excited to take the TGV train up north today. As difficult as it was to leave the Gignouxs, we had to move on to the next stop on our trip. So, after a long and sad farewell to Dominique, Jean drove Michael and me to the train station in Aix. Once inside, we double checked the departure time and gate, then in practically no time, the train arrived and we were off to Paris.  The TGV is a very modern, clean, comfortable rail line that originates in London (under a different name), and goes all the way up to Paris and beyond.  

It was amazing to breeze past the beautiful countryside, small villages and acres of flower fields, vineyards and farmland. The homes in the country ranged from small village-style cottages to immense castle-like manors set atop hillsides. All of them looked old; not in a run-down kind of way, but in a way that you know they've withstood the test of time. 

Michael and I both managed to take a cat nap before arriving in Paris' Gare de Lyon train station.  That place was like a scene in a movie -- people and luggage everywhere, dogs and children trailing behind adults, signage all around, trains coming and going, announcements blaring, people speaking in unrecognizable languages.  It was exciting and incredible! What a great welcome to Paris. I must admit that we had no idea in what direction to go once off the train, but we managed to find our way to the ticket station and a very helpful agent who instructed us.  Then we found the currency exchange window, where we met a few other Americans from New York who were visiting Paris for the weekend. They had just arrived from Geneva, Switzerland. One of them remarked how insulated Americans are from the rest of the world and how we, as Americans, really must travel abroad more. Of course, we agreed.

After a stroll around the station (inside and out) just to get a feel for the place, we eventually found the area where our train was to depart for Montparnasse, where our hotel is located. Just as we walked onto the platform, the train arrived. I rushed through the doors with Michael trailing behind me, but he got caught as the doors closed. With one foot inside the train and the other outside, along with one of our bags, he quickly slipped his body from between the doors back onto the platform and shrugged as the train departed. I gasped when I realized that he wasn't on the train. There I was alone in Paris for the first time, on the train with my luggage. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that the bag that Michael had included my passport and cash. 

Globetrotter lesson #4: Do not panic! Think with a clear head, especially if the Globetrotters ever find themselves separated. First thought: get off at the very next stop and wait for Michael. Second thought: if he doesn't arrive within the next 20 minutes, continue on to the hotel and meet him in the lobby. How hard could that be? Thankfully, when the next train arrived (only 3 minutes later), Michael was on it. When he got off we laughed so hard I almost cried.

After asking directions from a few helpful people, we finally arrived at Le Meridien Hotel in Montparnasse. Whew! What an adventure. The hotel is quite nice, very modern. We dropped off our luggage, had a chat with the Concierge about how to get to all of the places of interest, then went out to discover Paris. We placed a quick call to Helena, Jean's niece who lives in Paris and agreed to be our informal tour guide for a day, and decided that we would go it on our own today, then connect with her tomorrow.

Just outside the hotel is a little market where we picked up a salad, some French bread and a few other snacks to hold us over until dinner, then we walked through the streets of Paris to discover its beauty. On foot, we passed brasseries (restaurants), bars, cafes, shops and apartments. With the Eiffel Tower in view, we headed in that direction and within about 40 minutes, we were there.    

The parklike area leading up to the tower reminds me of the National Mall in Washington, DC, with sandy gravel walkways on either side of a grassy stretch of lawn in the middle. There were people everywhere just sitting on the lawn eating, talking, laughing, smoking, kissing. We found a spot to sit for a while and I marveled at the reality that I was actually seeing this monument that I've seen so many times on TV and in photos. The tower is enormous, and it's no wonder that it is one of the most photographed structures of all time.

We snapped a few "self portraits" with the tower behind us. Then, a friendly onlooker (who we later discovered was from New Zealand) seemed to think we needed help with our photography, so he offered to take a picture of the Globetrotters. His photo turned out so well that we decided to use it as the main picture for this blog. That was the perfect gesture to warrant being "tagged" by the Globetrotters.We enjoy meeting other friendly travelers along our journeys because it allows us the opportunity to share the joy of travel and to learn something about others. The "tagging", well that's just our way of sharing a little piece of us with them by giving them one of our calling cards.  People are always surprised when they receive a card from the Globetrotters. 

The line to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower was ridiculously long, and we really didn't want to spend over an hour waiting in line, so we decided to skip that view. We walked the grounds around the Eiffel Tower and found a festival atmosphere just across the street from the monument (see the videos). From an accordion-playing man, to a group of pop-lock dancing teens, to a wedding celebration and hundreds of tourists snapping photos. It was very exciting. 

As the afternoon wore on, we walked the short distance to the River Seine and boarded a boat that took us on a 1-hour tour of this amazing waterway. We passed beneath ancient bridges and cruised past centuries-old buildings and picturesque scenes that seemed so real and so imagined all at the same time.  Think of the "It's A Small World" boat ride at Disneyland, only this one has real people and no soundtrack. It was great.

Following the cruise, we walked through a small shopping area and somewhere in the distance the smell of onions and sausage made its way to us. It was irresistible.  A footlong French bread with two hot dogs loaded with grilled onions! Definitely not a meal fit for a king or queen, but it was fabulous. Washed it down with a cold Coca-Cola  and we were set for the long walk back to the hotel, which ended a very busy day. 
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