Starting a long trip in Paris

Trip Start Jun 18, 2014
Trip End Aug 13, 2014

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Where I stayed
Villa des Princes Paris
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of France  , Ile-de-France,
Thursday, June 19, 2014

I have begun what promises to be both a cultured and adventurous trip through Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean zone. It will mostly be pastoral work, but there I've planned a few days of personal time to explore some places I’ve not visited before. Best of all I am accompanied by my favorite and best travelling companion; my wife Marjolaine.

She has traveled with me to Europe many times; in fact we lived in France for nine years after we were first married. She has traveled with me to North, sub-Saharan and Southern Africa several times. But with our daughters at home and with her work as a high school French teacher, the last time she came to Africa was eight years ago. Our nest is now empty and she has not yet accepted another position since our move to the Dallas area, so this seemed like an ideal time for her to come with me.

The trip will take us through French-speaking Europe for about two weeks, then to Africa for about four weeks, then to Indian-Ocean islands for a long week before we return to South Africa, for a Ministerial Conference and to surrounding regions for some personal time (about which I’ll write more as we get there but it should involve lemurs and one of the world’s largest waterfalls).

Yesterday, after our last few days of panic-mode preparations, Marguerite Evans kindly drove us to the DFW airport. The previous days were a blur of details, since an absence of two months requires forethought and planning.

Our flight to Detroit left Dallas ten minutes late and we had quite a bit of turbulence on the way up through the clouds. Marjolaine really doesn't care for turbulence, but I don’t mind as much because when we encounter any, she very much likes to hold my hand….

We were further delayed by having to fly around big thunderheads, and then on arrival in Detroit by thunderstorms and lighting strikes that had forced ground crews to take refuge in the airport buildings. Even though the flight left 30 minutes late, we were just able to complete the connection onto the Airbus bound for Paris before the doors closed. The eight-hour flight was uneventful. Before and during dinner I watched Captain Philips, a film based on the true story of an American ship captain taken captive by Somali pirates. It was quite good, I recommend it.

We arrived in Paris half an hour late, around 8:00 am, neither of us having slept very much; I’m not sure I slept at all which is unusual for me on transatlantic flights. Formalities went quickly: with my frequent flyer status we were allowed to use an expeditious lane to clear immigration, probably saving 20 minutes or more. Our bags also arrived among the first off the belt because of an extra tag they put on "priority access" passengers. Many business travelers will go to great lengths to keep these perks, and I have to admit I follow the requirements closely, to not miss out if I can help it.

We took a taxi into Paris through what the French call either a bouchon (a cork) or an embouteillage (an embottlement), both meaning traffic jam. They do like bottles and corks in France, actually the contents of the bottles, but no one in the world like traffic jams. I watched motorcyclists zoom in between lanes of moving or stopped cars. It’s legal to do this in France and car and bus drivers accommodate motorcycles by moving aside in their respective lanes to create a mini-lane and let the bikers pass. It is not without danger, especially from non-native car drivers who don’t know to look for two-wheelers, there are regular accidents, but the lure of speed and arriving at destination less slowly, means most bikers do this.

Our taxi driver was a good one and was checking different routes on his GPS to find the quickest one to the 6th arrondissement, where our hotel is located. We arrived a little after 10:00 am, only to be told, as we expected, that our room was not ready and would not be until 2:00 pm. What we really wanted was a shower a change and a nap, but that was not to be. This is almost always the case when arriving in Europe from North America; the flights arrive early to mid-morning, and hotels usually don’t have rooms ready until well into the afternoon, so one is left to find things to do to keep active and alert until a room is available.

After storing our luggage in a hotel closet we decided to carry on a great American tradition; that is to say we went shopping…. Specifically we went shopping for hair-care electronics. Our daughter Tatiana will be studying at university in Paris next fall, and she shamelessly begged and wheedled (hi Tatiana!) her mother into turning over her beloved 220 V electronics. This was one of the highest expressions of love it has been my pleasure to witness. We hopped a metro (subway) train north to the Halles shopping center, just north of the Seine River by the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and very near the modern-art, Pompidou museum. Then it was my turn to express epic, selfless love by turning over a credit card to purchase replacements….

This took until about 11:00, so we decided to go to a bookstore where we used to take our (then little) daughters twice a year to buy them books in French. It was located in the same huge underground shopping complex, so it was only steps away. We bought our Paris-bound daughter a book about cool free activities to do in Paris. She’ll need that as a starving student, which, I was nostalgic to think, was the way I discovered Paris more than 30 years ago when I thought the whole wonderful, historical, cultural sublimity belonged to me.

In passing, I also noticed one guide book among many that made me smile. Here’s a photo of the cover. The translation is delicate, but could be rendered as (with apologies to any easily offended) Where to Pee in Paris. This is probably a most useful guide because it proposes 200 different places in Paris where one may use the loo (as the British say) for free, on public property, and promises that most are surprisingly clean. Anyone who has traveled to Europe and France in particular will appreciate the potential utility of this guidebook….

By the time we had our walk through and made our purchase it was past noon, and while we weren't terribly hungry, we were slightly so. Getting adjusted to meal times is important in overcoming jet lag. We took the metro back just south of Ile de la cité (island of the city) where the famous Cathedral is located, and which is the historic heart of Paris. When Julius Caesar was battling his way around ancient Gaul, he wrote of the Gallic settlement of Lutèce, located on that little island. Shortly thereafter it became a Roman city and remained so until the fall of the Roman Empire and even beyond. The history of the place is quite impressive, but we just rode under it in a subway train, we rode under the River Seine as well, that always makes me a bit pensive. I always hope the engineers checked their calculations twice when I’m passing under billions of gallons of water without a scuba tank.

In the Latin Quarter, a stone’s throw from where I ate my first-ever restaurant meal in France, we ate at one of our favorite pizzerias. The Latin Quarter received its name during the medieval period when the Sorbonne, founded it the 1200s, the first university in France and one of the first in Europe, had all its lessons and lectures delivered in Latin – to students bound for the Catholic priesthood (the official language of which was Latin). So there were many poor students ambling around speaking (mostly bad) Latin. And so, 800 years later, the area is still called the Latin Quarter. Today it’s very touristy, and a great place to get a relatively inexpensive meal.

The pizzas were delicious. After 1:00 pm we had a walk around the colorful pedestrian streets and alleys of the Latin Quarter, full of restaurants and tourists (and tourist traps), then made our way back to the hotel where the room, of course, was still not ready. We sat and waited in the small lobby for half an hour. Hotels generally don’t like one to do that, especially when their lobbies are small, and we have found that doing so often expedites the process of receiving a room. We were finally given our room just before 2:00 pm and were able to shower, change and have a nap of several hours.

For dinner we took the metro to Bouillon Chartier, about which I have written several times before. It’s a big cavernous place, noisy and relaxed and inexpensive. We were seated with two young men from Hong Kong who of course spoke English, but one also spoke French well. We talked with them about Hong Kong and their visit to France as we waited for our food to be served.

About 9:00 pm we finished (we’re already eating at French hours) and walked back to the Grands Magasins metro stop. We had already validated our tickets when a security announcement came over the speakers urging us to leave the metro station for safety’s sake. We hurried out with everyone else. These alerts could be due to several reasons, the most arresting of which would be a bomb threat. We walked down the line a few blocks to the next station Bonne- Nouvelle (Good News) stop (names for a Catholic church close by. It was closed too. We walked farther down the line to the Strasbourg-St Denis station, also closed. Along the way there were fire trucks and EMT personnel waiting for whatever might happen.

From the Strasbourg station we headed south along a different metro line to the Réaumur-Sebastopol station, named for the intersection of streets above it, which themselves were named for a famous French chemist who invented the alcohol thermometer in the 1700s and the famous city in the Crimea which French and English troops captured during the Crimean War in 1855.

This station and line was open so we rode the rest of the way back to the hotel which saved us an hour’s walk more or less.

After a good meal and some exercise, hopefully we’ll sleep well tonight and not be troubled by jetlag.
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Clyde Knew trendilough on

Have a great trip, Joel and Marjolaine! Glad you could see CP on the flight, and you've probably put budding authors onto an entirely new genre of possibility! Looking forward to the rest of your blogs.

Mary on

Thanks, Joel, for the interesting commentary and photos. We're so glad you and Marjolaine can make this trip together. We look forward to tagging along vicariously!

Karen Meeker on

What a nice way to start the morning--a trip to France with thrills, suspense, political intrigue, and wonderful detail. Can hardly wait for the next installment of Meeker's You Are There :).

Bernard on

Glad you made it safely and enjoy France. Our prayers will accompany you for the next few weeks. Enjoying the blog as always. Bonjour Marjolaine !

Margaret Villaescusa on

Hello Mr and Mrs Meeker,
So pleased to hear that Marjolaine can accompany you this time. I am sure her presence will be greatly appreciated not only by you, but by the church brethren too, especially the ladies.
With prayers for a safe trip.

Tim on

Bon Voyage Mr. and Mrs. Meeker!

Tatiana Meeker on

I would like to dispute the "shamelessly begged and wheedled" part. ;) Miss you and Mom and hope things continue to go well! Love you!

Beverly Lofty on

so love to read your blogs :-) tell Marjolaine hello from Bruce and I :-) so glad she is with you on this trip :-) hope we see the two of you this winter or the next :-)

Tess Washington on

So good to read your blog Mr. Meeker! Wonderful to know that Mrs. Meeker is with you on this trip of so many weeks. I smiled when you mentioned about her holding your hand during the turbulent flight...I do the same thing with my hubby when there's flight turbulence! We (my husband) both liked the Captain Philips movie...we thought it was an excellent movie! Thank you for the photos and the very descriptive narrative of your trip from Dallas to Paris...I felt like I was just there tagging along...

Rochelle on

Stirs again the desire w/to attend the Feast in France!

Tanya Horchak on

Looking forward to part 3. I would love to travel with the two of you thru France. An educaion for sure. Safe travels:)

Bill Beauchamp on

It is so enjoyable to read the details of your travels. This trip is special because your wife is with you to share it all. It must bring back many happy memories.

Fiona Meeker on

I thought we were going to write that guide book! lol Love you both :)

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