Saturday, June 9, 2007

From Gondoliers to Segways: Last Stop Paris

Paris and Back to Reality

The underlying theme of any vacation that has you moving from place to place is transportation.

Cars, Taxis, Gondoliers, Vaporettos (pubic water busses), Tender Ships, Buses, Cruise Ships, Trains, Subways, Shuttle Vans, Eurostar, Big Planes, Smaller Planes and finally a Segway.

The only modes I think we missed were prop plane and broom.

Paris was a pleasant surprise. My fear of the French had driven me to attempt to research as much of the culture as time would permit. Alex and I took 20 hours of French language classes as well. Many thanks to our great French teacher, Benedicte!!!!

Here's the link to the Alliance Francaise du Nord du Texas who put us in touch with Benedicte:

Either this research and study made the go trip smoother, or the reports of French terrorizing Americans is highly overrated. We found everyone we met to be extremely kind and more than willing to help. Perhaps the effort to communicate in French first made the difference. Most conversations would begin in French, but in most cases by the time we'd exchanged our 2nd set of sentences, the response back to us would be in English and we’d complete the conversation in English. At least their question wasn't in English, "what do you mean?", everyone appeared to understand me. I did find it especially gratifying when I could buy train tickets or breakfast all in French. Our trip in on the Eurostar was fairly uneventful. Given we left at night, and the darkness fell quickly, we might have missed the 20 minute trip through the chunnel if it wasn’t announced. The trip was fast and smooth. Security measures require much of the same check in procedures as on a plane (X-ray and metal detectors), but the process still seemed a bit more civilized then at the airport. This is the way to go from London to Paris. The beauty being that you go from the center of London to the center of Paris. We prearranged a taxi at Gard du Nord given that we were arriving close to midnight and we weren’t sure what to expect. We overpaid for the privilege and next time we’d just hit the taxi stand and save $50 Euros. A short trip to the Hilton welcomed us with an upgrade to a “relaxation” room. I few jets in the tub and a couple of bottles of salts and creams count as “relaxation”, but the room was nice.

The next morning we walked to the La Defense station right outside our hotel. The morning began with Alex making a discovery. Even tough there was a McDonald’s they had no hash browns…but he found a new love. Pain au Chocolat. Basically a chocolate croissant, but he was very gratified to find he liked a local food. He even brought 3 of them with him for the trip home. The metro system is as easy to use as advertised. There are many stops, so you are never far from where you’d like to go. Our first stop was the Musee D’Armee (Army Museum). Alex was in history heaven. The museum has a very large collection of weaponry dating from the 10th century forward. They had several rooms dedicated to WWII with lots of uniforms and artifacts on display. We took the tour of Napoleon’s tomb. This is a little guy with a big ego. His instructions for burial were executed several years after his death, but he got his way. His tomb is made of the same royal red marble of the Roman Emperors and family we saw at the Vatican and is placed in the room, so that you must lean over the railing and “bow” to him to see his tomb from the 2nd floor and look up to see it if you are the first floor. His tomb is in a beautiful church, originally the reserved only for personal mass of the French monarchy.

The next stop was the one I was most looking forward to on the trip. The Musee D’Orsay. Another opportunity to view in person the hand of Van Gogh. This visit did not disappoint. Several stunning examples of the mad genius at work; vibrant and beautiful as always. The museum itself wasn’t very crowded (based on the horror stories we had read about), but were happy to have our Paris Museum passes ahead of time and skip the very long line for tickets. A quick lunch at the museum café was just what we needed to recharge our batteries. Even this little cafe had fantasic food. After a stop back at the hotel to change, we made our way to the south leg of the Eiffel Tower to meet up with our Segway guide. After quite a long walk to their shop (next time we’ll ask to meet them at the shop directly) we took our short Segway class. They were a big scary at first, as it is a bit like balancing on a log, but within 5 minutes you are zooming around like you have been doing it all your life. We had a great 5 hour tour all around Paris with a stop at a café for the obligatory Croque Monsieur (basically a grilled ham and cheese, apparently a French delicacy, but yummy none the less). It was quite surreal to be doing Segway doughnuts in front of the Louvre, but we have the video to prove it. We ended the night watching the hourly twinkling of the lights on the Eiffel Tower. The monument is much more beautiful at night. The next morning we started the day with a visit to the Opera Garnier. My son was quite surprised to find inside the grand staircase from Phantom of the Opera. He walked up and down singing “What a way to run a business”. I love my kid! He had to go find the "Phantom's Box" and have his picture taken in front. The highlight of the visit was the view of the Chagall ceiling. Unexpected and beautiful against the neo-baroque architecture of the building.

The rest of the day was spent hitting the highlights, Notre Dame, a quick boat ride down the Seine and walk down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. We made long walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We had planned to take the elevator to the top for the view, but we found after arriving that the monument was closed for a ceremony for Vietnam (or as they called it Indochina) War. We had hoped to stay for the ceremony but it was going to be too late for us to get back to catch our Eurostar train back to London.

Paris was very beautiful, but after several days of walking the city streets, it almost seemed too beautiful. The continuity of style created by Haussmann, under the direction of Napoleon III, creates one beautiful vista after another. It needs a bit of "character", a bump in the nose or a crooked grin. I think you must live in the city for a few weeks to really uncover the true gems.

The only city in the US that I can even compare it to would be Washington, DC. Given the time the founding fathers, especially Jefferson spent in Paris, you can see the influence when it came time to create our Captitol. Also, let's not forget the original architect of DC was Pierre L'Enfant, a frenchman.

We arrived into London quite late again, and had an enjoyable visit with our London driver to the spartan but servicible Travelodge outside of Gatwick.

Luckily we arrived early to the airport, as the baggage belts were all down at the check in counters. We were trapped in a sea of baggage and people as they brought luggage cages on trolleys to deal with the mounting piles of checked baggage. We actually ended up waiting on the ground in the plane an additional 2 hours while they made sure all the bags caught the plane. After the long flight home, we were quite happy to be home. Our house seemed mansion like after spending so much time in fairly cramped quarters. We ran out for Mexican Food and marveled at the wide open spaces and huge vehicles in our parking lots. Yup, everything is bigger in Texas. I’m sure Dallas would be just as interesting and foreign to the people we met in Europe.

Sitting back it’s hard to take in all we have seen. This cruise really gives you the highlights of the history of the western world. It was a perfect vacation; giving us both a great appreciation of the beauty of the rest of the world, while at the same time making us fully appreciative of the blessings of our home. God bless Texas!

That’s all for now!

Mickie, Frederick & Alex


Frederick and Alex on Segways in front of the Louvre

A Texas Alex in Paris...

Alex Paris

No comments: