The Night Before

Trip Start Aug 26, 2010
Trip End Sep 04, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson had it right.  Traveling is not just about going from Place A to Place B.  The journey itself is as important as what you see and do when you get to your destination.  There must be some nomadic gene inside of me, because if I had it my way I would be on the road all the time -- making a journey from one wonderful place to another.  The great affair is to move.

Well, it is time to move again.  The suitcases are out and ready to be packed.   The passports are ready and I know that I am not going to be able to sleep tonight.  We hit the road at 5:15 a.m. tomorrow.  If all goes well, we will be in Paris 18 hours later.

It has been quite a while since Jim and I have hit the road for a break.  Some of you may recall our blog entries (unfinished) from our June 2009 trip to the Baltics.  Since then our only major venture away from home took us to Tokyo.  That trek was back in December 2009 and was as close as we ever get to a "spur of the moment" vacation.  Truth be told, we planned the Tokyo trip in August as way for me to cross the 100,000 mile mark on United and get 1K status for 2010.  Fate, however, intervened and in September 2009 I returned to Winston & Strawn to direct its Los Angeles office.  For the last four months of 2009 and the first two months of 2010, I flew down to Los Angeles every Monday morning and returned to San Francisco every Friday evening.  (In March, I took over Winston's San Francisco office so the weekly trips to Southern California continue, but I didn't have to move out of Marin County -- Yippeee!!!!)  When it came time to leave for Tokyo on Christmas Eve, I already had 120,000 United miles for the year, so the extra miles earned flying roundtrip to Japan were icing on the cake.

Immediately after returning from Tokyo, we started to discuss our next big trip.  Given my increasing responsibilities at work and some family events already on the travel calendar (New York in May and Detroit in July), we decided to delay our major 2010 vacation to August.  But where to go?  We both want to return to Asia.  I am itching to go to Hong Kong, Vietnam and China.  However, southeast Asia in the summer is not my idea of a good time.  We also considered South America, a return trip to Hawaii, central Europe (Berlin, Prague and Budapest) and a number of cruises.  We also looked at remaining in North America and heading north to Banff in Alberta, Canada.  However, I had 4 systemwide upgrades that were valid on flight to any of United's worldwide destinations and I didn't want to waste them.  (They are only valid for 12 months from the date of issue.)

I have always known that Jim would love Paris.  He studied French in school and has always wanted to see the "city of lights."  We made the final decision in February and I immediately put on my travel agent hat to begin planning our Parisian adventure.  We decided to spend the week before Labor Day in France.  We set our sights on a departure date of Thursday, August 26, 2010 -- which put us in Paris on Friday, August 27, 2010.  We decided to come home on Saturday, August 4, 2010, which gives us two full days to recover from jet lag before we have to resume a normal schedule.

The decision to fly United was a no brainer.  All I needed to do was find out whether or not there was space available and whether or not we would be able to apply the systemwide upgrades.  Because United does not fly to Paris directly from San Francisco, we had three choices.  Fly to Paris via (1) Chicago O'Hare, (2) Washington Dulles, or (3) Frankfurt, Germany.  Option (3) was my first choice.  If I have to make a connection on an international flight, then I prefer to do so in the city that is closest to my final destination.  I figured that even if our flight to Frankfurt was significantly delayed, once we were in Europe we would have a number of options to continue on to Paris.  Alas, I could not get a confirmed upgrade on the flight between San Francisco and Frankfurt and there was no way I was going to fly for 12 hours in coach.  In the end I chose option (1) -- the price was right and I was able to confirm our upgrades for the entire trip when making the reservations.

The next big decision was where to stay.  We changed our mind twice between February and July.  Our first reservation was at Pavillon de la Reine, a charming boutique hotel at the Place des Vosges, for 450 Euro/night.  After confirming the reservation via email, I spent some time researching hotels that offer my firm a corporate discount.  I asked one of my colleagues in our Paris office for her thoughts and she told me to check out the Splendid Etoile Hotel near the Arc de Triomphe for 230 Euro/night.  The price seemed much more reasonable and we really liked the location.  So I canceled the first reservation and made a new one.

Now those of you who know me well know that I am a major point freak.  I do everything I can to amass frequent flyer/traveler points to use on our journeys around the world.  If there is one thing that I have learned it is that loyalty gets your perks. I travel to Los Angeles once a week, and usually am there for one or two nights at a time -- sometimes three.  I negotiated a very good rate for myself at the Hilton Checkers, which is only a five minute walk from my Los Angeles office.  As a Hilton Honors member, I quickly racked up a lot of points and before I knew it I was a Diamond member -- Hilton's highest elite offering.  Diamond status gets me a bunch of freebies, including automatic room upgrades, free breakfast and free internet access.  In June, I decided that it would be a shame not to take advantage of my status while in Paris.  So once again I made a change.  Now I know that some of you are thinking that staying at a Hilton in Paris is the equivalent of eating at McDonalds.  Well for just over 300 Euros/night we are getting a deluxe room (before the upgrade -- crossing my fingers) and free full daily breakfast.  Moreover, I will get 8 more nights toward my 2011 Diamond status and a boatload of points for a future stay at a Hilton property.

Jim and I did a few other things in preparation for our Parisian holiday.  We booked a couple of tours with Viator.  The first is a full day guided tour to Normandy.  Jim's father was part of the D-Day landing, so it was high on our list of sites to see.  The trip ($215/pp) includes roundtrip transportation to Normandy, all entrance fees, a professional guide and lunch.  The second is an independent day trip ($65/pp) to Versailles, which includes roundtrip transportation, all entrance fees and lunch.  We get all day to explore Versailles on our own.

Because there is so much to see and do in Paris, we wanted to make sure that we made the best use of our time.  We have six days in the city to see as much as we can.  We bought Rick Steves' guide to Paris, which is full of useful and practical information.  We are both very excited about spending time at the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay.  We are setting aside two days just for the museums.  Having been to the Louvre once before, I know that it can be overwhelming.  We want to make sure that our experience is meaningful and that we do not rush through the exhibits.  We found out that Rick Steve has a number of Parisian audio tours available for free on iTunes, so we loaded on to our iPods his walking tours of the museums and of the Ile de la Cite.   We'll see how it goes.

Finally, we decided to finally purchase a good camera.  We did a little bit of research on the Internet and settled on a Nikon D3000.  Best Buy was offering a package sale for the camera itself, camera bag and telephoto lens.  We spent last weekend teaching ourselves how to use it.  We hope to share with everyone some great photos from France.
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