Day Three: Does This Bus Go to the Cemetery?

Have I mentioned my husband planned our trip and each day before we left the hotel, in addition to patching my heels with moleskin, I was asked, “Do you have the itinerary?”

Today’s itinerary would take us on the ten cent tour of Paris via bus 69. Bus 69 has no A/C and we still opted to take it, because Rick Steves said it’s an inexpensive way to see a lot of tourist destinations without taking cabs or the metro. Rick is made of sterner stuff than I, that’s for sure.

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I was seriously miserable and frantically fanning myself with the itinerary. (What do ya’ know? It IS totally useful!)  We’d almost get moving fast enough to feel a breeze through the barely open windows when the bus stopped again to do what buses do – let people off and on.

I will admit, driving through the narrow streets of the little neighborhoods was a different perspective than I’d experienced in the past via cabs. Unfortunately, I think our tour was less successful than Rick’s because we didn’t know where we were exactly and were having to refer to the book (via smart phone) to determine if we were passing anything of interest or not.

Robert took pity on me in the early afternoon and we hopped off to eat at a cafe on a busy street. When is doubt – feed and drink Ann. That’s our motto. Cafe D’arsenal was exactly what I needed. We took our time, ate croque monsieur and had a glass of rosé while watching the world go by on a lazy Friday.

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Oops. Wait. Remember the yellow jacket from Day One?  It found me again. Landing all over my plate and wine glass. Lazy time = over. We jumped back on the bus to reach our destination – Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

We fumbled with the trusty (cough)  Rick Steves app after entering the cemetery. Quite a few other people were there obviously looking for Jim Morrison. I was so distracted by everything else I saw, namely tombs, open tombs, collapsed tombs, tombs with opens doors, tomb doors with so many cobwebs I didn’t stop having invisible spider heeby-jeebies for the next 6 hours – I didn’t care if we found Jim or not. I was more concerned about what might find us.  Why were all these open? Had the inhabitants flown the coop? Robert and I couldn’t resist edging close to a large crack in one concrete structure and peering into it to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. Probably all for the best, as I would definitely not have been able to outrun anyone that day.

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(Jim Morrison)

We made our way over to say hello to Oscar Wilde. I was sad to see they’d enclosed his tomb and cleaned the lipstick kisses off of it.  (Although I’m sure the family having to pay to have it cleaned all the time was probably a pain.)

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Back on the bus – and to our new favorite cafe – D’aresenal. It was nearly 5:00 on Friday evening so we made ourselves comfortable and had another glass of rosé. Or two. Then, for some reason, possibly because we scrunched together to open up an additional table for the host, he brought us our check and another glass each. Hiccup.

At this point we decided we were too worn out to go to the Louvre (which was open until 9:45 that night and the next item on the itinerary) and decided we’d better  just get some dinner. We entered Chez Denise – a loud, crowded restaurant and bar and were squeezed in at the end of a long table. Here we experienced our first truly French waiter. We also learned that, unlike in the states, the customer DOES NOT always know best. Robert ordered beef jowl and I ordered cod. I took one bite of that cod and pushed the plate away. It was what I technically call, “Icky.” When the waiter eventually ran out of other people to serve, he returned and looked at my full plate with one raised eyebrow. Robert told him it wasn’t fresh.

The waiter said, “Yes. It’s fresh.”

“No. It is not,” Robert chuckled a bit.

“Yes it is,” Monsieur Waiter snapped. “Where are you from?”

“Texas,” Robert responded. I knew we’d just lost.

“Texas. Harrumph.”

Told you.

He whisked the plated fish away, still proclaiming its freshness. When our l’addition arrived the full price of the week-old cod was proudly displayed. He’s lucky I’d had those three glasses of relaxing, mellow rosé before coming to dinner. And those two glasses with dinner. I’m surprised I didn’t hug him. That would’ve been the final insult, I’m sure.

Day 4 (when Amy (the Countess Magnificent-Joy) & Dave join us for fun and games) AND possibly Day 5 up next!

 

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN FRANCE AGAIN. FINALLY.

I’m going to try to blog each day of the trip to Paris and Versailles for my own sake as much as hopefully someone’s reading pleasure or at the very least, travel-tip assist. Let’s see if I can remember each day over the next week or two it will take me to think back and record. Ha! This should be interesting.

After planning for months and months (and years) by my husband Robert, we set out for our second trip to Paris and Versailles. The first leg was a flight from DFW to Chicago; the second, Chicago to Paris. Unlike our first trip four years ago, I found I had no time on the plane for blogging or reading. I have no idea what I did to take up all that time – unless it was eating. And drinking. And that five hour nap. Next thing I knew I was awakened by an announcement that we were less than 90 minutes away from landing. I quickly assessed my priorities and decided watching Pride & Prejudice and Zombies was numero uno.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t made it through more than maybe 45 minutes before I had to shut down and start actually trying to refresh myself in the horrible airplane bathroom. Side note: On the way home I’ve decided I’ll use bottled water to put my contacts in and will brush my teeth at my seat rather than enter that domain again. Seriously. Can a flight attendant put on a plastic glove and maybe just shove all the paper towels that are pouring out of the swinging trash door down into the trash for us all? Take a stick to it, I don’t care. I just know I’m not touching any of it. But I’m not being paid to ensure people’s comfort and well-being like a flight attendant might be. With regard to the lavatories, they’re more bystander than attendant.

Anywho…

From Charles de Gualle Airport we cabbed it to the Renaissance Arc de Triomphe Hotel. Our home for the next 5 nights. The lobby was too trendy for words, with uncomfortable looking chairs made from grocery carts. Or made to look like grocery carts. Because (Heads up!) grocery carts are totally hip. You heard it here first.

The equally trendy and attractive staff was friendly and polite, speaking enough English and us enough French to get by nicely. That means they were fluent and we were capable of saying yes, no and thank you, all with equal enthusiasm. We also seemed to acquire French accents when speaking English. “A” for effort, I suppose. By the end of the trip we were holding conversations with wait staff and salespeople in which we slipped in and out of saying “oui” and “yes” as though we were so bi-lingual we just never knew what language we might speak in. When all else failed, the poorly performed French accent, like Inspector Clouseau, served just as well. (We’re delusional.)
When the room was ready we put a few things up and walked down the Champs Elysees to Tuileries Garden. By the time we got there I had a blister on the back of each heel. So much for the walking boots. We made the decision I needed enough wine Now I know why I’ve worn the brown boots, not the black boots around Cardiff, London, Paris and Versailles over the past 5 years. Madden Girl boots. They were my best travel purchase ever.

We decided to try to numb my heel, or my self pity with wine and cheese so we sat in the garden and ate charcuterie at Cafe des Marronniers until we were delirious. Here began my ongoing relationship with a yellow jacket that stalked me the rest of our time in Paris and on to Versailles. But that’s another story.

As my heel was feeling a tad better and the yellow jacket was becoming more aggressive, we shuffled on to Musee de l’Orangerie because – Monet. The moment I walked into the first cycle of Water Lilies, I welled up. Like four years ago, I tried to get as close as my father would to examine every stroke. Which is why I was reprimanded by the guard. I responded with an enthusiastic, “Merci!”

 

After cabbing it back to the hotel, Robert went to Nicolas (the nearby wine store) while I put my feet up. We had dinner on the balcony looking at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc. (We’re on a first name basis now, the Arc de Triomphe and I.)

Robert can book an amazing hotel room. It’s his super power.

We toasted the first day of our vacation and then…

We slept. Soundly. After all, tomorrow’s itinerary was waiting.  The Eiffel Tower and Le Jules Verne for lunch…

FRANCE FINIS

We made it through Versailles on the morning of Day 9. The crowds were little better. This time we did find a much shorter audio guide line, so grabbed the little phone-type device and headed into the clump of people in the history of Versailles rooms. We quickly figured out that if you waited until the audio device recording for each room stopped and you let the crowd move on en masse, you could time your viewings of each room between the group ahead and the group behind, thus minimizing the “herd” sensation. This time I took only a couple of photos and concentrated on the history.

Somehow, almost as we were exiting, we came upon another area of rooms we had not viewed before. They seemed to be a bit off the main path and not clearly marked, so they were much less crowded. We still are unable to get past the size of the palace, and can’t keep from wondering what people DID there all day. Roam around the hundreds of rooms? Stroll the gardens? Write letters? Eat? I would have put on roller skates and gone sailing down the vast corridors, around and around until I was hopelessly lost.

With a final goodbye to the palace, we tripped down the hill and back to the hotel to collect our luggage and check out. At this point, we were headed back to Paris, to Charles Gaulles Airport where we were booked at a hotel for the evening, in hopes of boarding our 8:00 a.m. flight to Frankfurt, then home. We were a little concerned because Lufthansa had already held two days of strikes, and was planning a third for Friday. Our departure was set for Thursday, and Robert prepared me for a potential “surprise” strike day that might mean we were trapped in Paris or Frankfurt. Plus, we were using “miles” for our business class seating which meant we could be bumped to make room for someone else if they decided to evacuate before the planned strike occurred the following day.

Luck was with us, and our flight crew had a good laugh at us when Robert greeted them with a relieved, “Boy, are we glad to see you.”

“You were expecting someone else?” the male flight attendant asked.

We explained our concern and they were all too happy to assure us we would make it home today. They were going from Frankfurt on to Latvia and had plans to spend the next 24 hours there. 

Without incident, we made our way through “customs” at Frankfurt and on to our D/FW flight. Lufthansa flight attendants are the absolute best. They were friendly, helpful, friendly… they seemed to enjoy their work and took pains to make us comfortable. At one point I was feeling a bit blue, as you tend to at the end of a vacation when returning to the real world. On one hand you miss home and your family and friends, but on the other, you have had a wonderful experience and are sad to have it end.

Plus, the white wines I had been offered with my in flight “lunch” were AWFUL. I was sinking into  a pit of despair, knowing I was at the tail end of my French adventure and was now trapped for my 10 final hours with mediocre to poor wine (as far as my taste buds ran) when the flight attendant told me he happened to have a bottle of something different. (They were transitioning and often change the white wines out after a few flights, I suppose.) He poured me a glass of Chateau de Rully Premier Cru, 2007. As he passed it by Robert, my nose began a happy dance. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. Creamy, smooth, vanilla and toast… Heaven.  I must have looked absolutely transported, because when next the flight attendant passed, Robert’s overhead bag was open on the seat and my new best friend slipped a bottle into it and winked at us.

As Robert drifted in and out of sleep and I watched Hysteria, Big Bang Theory, Sex and the City,  some terrible show called Enlightened, and The Avengers, we would chat a bit about the trip. Some thoughts on France:

1. We both agreed, when sitting in the crowded brasseries or restaurants, you are in such close proximity to your table-neighbors that you can hear every word of their conversations. Sitting between two such tables of people rattling on in French gives you the feeling you’ve just been dropped into the middle of a foreign film. I kept looking for subtitles to go along with the drama or laughter I heard on either side. Whether they left first, or we did, it felt as though we were walking out in the middle of a movie, or it was walking out on us – and we would never know how it turned out.   

2. France (Paris and Versailles, at least, in my experience) is no place to be physically challenged. We stumbled up and down cobblestone hills, dusty streets with steep curbs, construction zones, narrow walkways wide enough for only single file, metro stations with stairs that I swear were put there for no reason whatsoever. We climbed monuments and up and down steps at museums. Some of these places had elevators – most of which were out-of-order. At one point I turned to Robert and said, I’m glad we did this now, because I don’t see me surviving all this if we’d waited another 10 – 15 years. If I did make it through the trip at that point, once home, I’d be bed ridden for two weeks.

3. No offense, but the wayfinding signage in France is a disaster. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say there is no reason why two adults who are somewhat intelligent cannot find their way to an airport gate or out of a metro station. An arrow pointing diagonally upward and to the right should mean you veer to the right or that you go upstairs and to the right. Such is not the case. An arrow pointing to the right at a 45 degree angle should mean turn right, not “go upstairs here.”  I felt like a mouse in a maze.

4. The euro is pretty money.

5. We debated for about five days whether we loved the European license plates or thought they were silly. We settled on silly. (We were fooled briefly because they were European, which made us assume they were cool.)  

6. I don’t understand how they can wedge their tiny cars into tinier parking spots (and I heard more than a few crunches as people’s bumpers met with others’) and yet have no dents in their vehicles. I swear there is no way you could get a car out of a space without hitting the cars both in front and in back of you. All I could picture was the scene from the  Austin Powers movie when he’s trying to turn the golf cart around.  Yet, when standing at the traffic circles, I never saw a single dented car. I see them everywhere here. Maybe there’s a government program in France that fixes dents?

I think that’s about it for the France diaries. We got home safely to a very happy dog, did laundry for three days and have since satisfied our cravings for hamburgers, Mexican food and Chinese food.  I miss my morning croissant and cheese, and have returned to being a coffee drinker, rather than enjoying a less aggressive English Breakfast tea.

Au revoir, Paris and Versailles! We’ll always have these memories. And photos.

AU CHAT AND THE CHATEAU (VERSAILLES, DAY EIGHT)

Today was the much-anticipated visit to the Château de Versailles. We had been forewarned by Rick Steves that Versailles is a zoo on Sundays and Tuesdays, but somehow ignored him and planned for Tuesday. Rick Steves was not kidding around. I am not a big fan of the crowded tourist destination. In fact, it made me long for the abandoned castles of Wales, where photos don’t contain strange people who make me want to punch them in the face.

The hall of mirrors was elbow to elbow.

We did not take the audio tour at this point, because the line to GET an audio device was about a mile long. You’d think they were free or something.  Oh, that’s right. Audio tours ARE free.

The lack of audio led to the challenge of fighting our way through the hordes of humanity to get to the sign in each room that identifies exactly what you are looking at and why. Hopefully. Meanwhile, you are hearing the multiple languages spewing from audio devices all around you. You are also getting really annoyed and trying to determine which country has the most obnoxious tourists. I think I’ve narrowed it down to Japan and Germany. I’ll throw the U.S. in just for the sake of argument. Robert actually had to body-block one guy who was trying to cut in front of us for yet a third time. I started taking pictures with my arms extended over my head – so now I have shots of the tops of people’s heads or strange photos showing a part of a room.

As we exited the Chateau we noticed the crowd had thinned considerably in line and realized perhaps afternoon was a better time to visit the palace. We decided to give it another try tomorrow and went on to lunch. This was probably wise, as my patience was at an end. I was grumbling at people and riding an emotional roller coaster between “Oh. My. Lord. I can’t believe how beautiful this is – what is it?! When was it?! Who was here?! Wow wow wow!!! Hey! Get out of my way! I wasn’t finished! Stop shoving me or I will punch you in the face! You cannot possibly be as interested in this as I am. Who invited you anyway? Off with your head. Grrrr.”

At times like that, it’s really best to just take me somewhere and feed me and hand me a glass of wine. Or two. Which is what Robert did. Smart man. We found a brasserie right by the market called Au Chat Qui Prise where we ordered ham and cheese with cheese topping and a side of fries. This was possibly the best meal we had in France. (Okay, Jules Verne was good too.) But it was CHEESE. Robert added an egg to the top of his ham and cheese with cheese.

Feeling much more the thing, we returned to the hotel where I sat on the terrace reading Marie-Antoinette and communing with the sheep while Robert soaked in the giant tub and looked out over his kingdom. (He has composed a blog post himself about this day, which I will be including following this.)

Our dinner was scheduled at Gordon Ramsay, which was conveniently located in our hotel, so we didn’t have far to go. This was another of those restaurants Robert was looking forward to like a kid at Christmas. We were seated by the large terrace doors which were cracked open, letting in a cool breeze. The table overlooked the King’s garden, so our friends the sheep and goats were there, and from this level I was able to see horses in the pasture just beyond. We had another of those moments where we looked at each other and giggled like kids over how perfect the setting was.

We ordered aperitifs and were presented with an amuse bouche. The first round of these was divine. Some sort of cones made from squid ink (what?!) and tuna. Even the “plates” were intimidating. A second round of “amuse” arrived. Even after the waiter explained to Robert what his was (mine was a soft-boiled egg in a container that looked like a medieval mace) we still didn’t know how he was supposed to eat it. That’s what we get for just nodding at the waiter as he speaks to us in thickly accented French. It had a side shot of liquid, was in a soup bowl, and had a covering made of something edible that looked like wax paper.

The appetizer Robert ordered was undercooked. It was lobster, and he couldn’t even cut it with the steak knife he’d been given. The waiter was kind enough to delete it from the bill. I know the steak temperatures are different in France than the U.S. Perhaps that was the state in which they wanted the lobster to be?  Thus, the steak knife? Not sure, but it just didn’t seem right and was certainly not what we are used to. (Like we eat lobster on a regular basis. Ha.)

The main course was very good, but still not as mind-blowing as we expected – especially for the price. The service was impeccable though, and the view divine, so we sat back and enjoyed.

I think we broke the waiter’s heart when we turned down dessert. It was probably a slap in the face, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat another bite.

Our plan for the following day (our last in Versailles) was to return to the Chateau at a time that might allow us to avoid the crowds, then head back to Paris where we would stay at a hotel by the airport in order to decamp by 8:00 a.m. We’ll see how that goes.

A BIRTHDAY FIT FOR A KING (VERSAILLES, DAY FIVE)

Day five in Paris was Robert’s birthday, so we decided to do everything possible in one day. Not sure how this came about, but it did. We were to move on to Versailles for a late check-in, so the pressure was on to wrap up what we could.

Day five can also be referred to as crime day.

We began at the Arc de Triomphe, which we had been eyeing for days. It was right by our metro station. We passed under the street to get there and found quite the underworld. Somewhere, a man was playing “The Anniversary Song.” Ahead of us, a man was sitting on the floor, obviously handicapped, with a cup in front of him for donations. At just the right moment he would move the cup out into someone’s path and SMASH, a tourist trips, the cup goes spinning, sending change all over the ground. The embarrassed tourist begins to scramble around to pick up the change and I assume, henchmen move in to pick the poor guy’s pockets (or backpack) as he is distracted and embarrassed. Police also moved in.  

Now, I could have SWORN Robert had declared an end to stairs, but somehow he got away from me and before I knew it he had launched himself into the stairwell to climb to the top of the Arc. I stupidly followed. About six steps up, I think he realized what he had done, but there was no turning back. 286 (or 280 to be exact) steps later, after passing a few little nooks where you could step aside to catch your breath and let others pass (which all happened to be occupied) we reached the top. I panted awhile, felt every muscle in my legs seize up, then took some photos.

Let me just say, going DOWN 286 spiral steps is not an easy feat either. Dizziness sets in. Big time.

Back through the underground: cue The Anniversary Song and SMASH another cup goes sailing and I watch as a shame-faced Japanese tourist begins digging out his wallet to try to make amends for spilling the poor guys cup o’ change. No police in sight. I will never  hear that song again without listening for SMASH and the sound of change scattering.

The next stop is a bit fuzzy. I think it was the Grand Palais, which is now a museum. Inside we found to our amazement a portrait of Krysten Ritter, Chloe from the TV sitcom “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”

I think ABC is getting a little shameless promotion-wise.

As we hit the street to head for the Musee de l’Orangerie, we were approached by a criminal! Yea! Our second criminal in Paris in one day! He strolled up beside Robert as we walked and suddenly we heard a metallic sound and he swooped to pick up a shiny gold ring from the concrete. (One that he had just dropped in front of us inconspicuously, or so he thought.) He tried to get us to stop walking and examine it with him, but Robert and I continued moving. From the corner of my eye I saw his accomplice approaching. Crook #1 tried again to stop us, but Robert waved him off and turned to me laughing, “Please! I’ve seen that one on the Andy Griffith Show! You’ll have to do better than that!”

We zipped through line at the next musem with our trusty passes and entered l’Orangerie. Not sure how to describe this except you begin in a blank white-walled room, then move through a doorway into a giant oval room containing Monet’s Water Lilies. I have never been brought to tears before in a museum, but it was really, really close here. One, they are simply beautiful, and two, my father was obsessed with Monet’s work and recreated Water Lilies on canvases and on cubes that I have displayed at home. I moved as close as possible to the paintings and examined every brush stroke, then moved to the doorway where I could align my eye with the canvas and see the texture of the paint. Dad would have LOVED it.

Practically speechless from over-consumption of artwork, we returned to the hotel, packed and headed for Versailles. Somehow, through the genius of birthday boy, we wound up with a three room suite at the Waldorf Astoria for the entirety of our stay.

Our view of the King’s Garden, complete with sheep, goats and horses.

The salon. Yes, the lower right hand picture is crooked. It is stuck that way. We tried to fix it.

The boudoir.

The bath.

After the shock of the room had receded and I could stop jumping up and down, I started unpacking, only to realize I had left several pair of pants and ALL my “unmentionables” in a drawer at the hotel in Paris. Near tears, I called the hotel and FINALLY managed to get them to be a little concerned for my mental health. Arrangements were made and my clothes were sent via taxi to our concierge at the hotel. (We were leaving for dinner and the Versailles Night Fountains Spectacle.) Yes. My clothes enjoyed a taxi ride from Paris to Versailles. I’m not proud of it, but it happened. This is what comes of too much walking and not enough sitting and drinking… I mean thinking.

We had dinner on the way to the Château de Versailles, then climbed the hill to the grounds where we searched for the right spot to watch the show. We were way off base on this, as the fountain and light show takes place all over the grounds during a two-hour time span. Once we sorted that out, we began strolling and came to a swift conclusion: The sound of dozens of fountains makes a person have to pee.

Unable to locate any sort of conveniences in the darkness, Robert opted to do what I suppose many men would: dive into the carefully sculpted bushes. Yes. He did.

While he was busy potentially breaking some law or another, I busied myself videotaping. Here is a brief clip of one portion of the fountain show. I apologize in advance for shaky cam. It was getting cold.  Versailles Fountains 

Then we came across the laser light display. Laser Lights at Versailles

At the end of the two hours they summon everyone to the Grand View where we watch the finale firework show. The biggest disappointment of the evening was discovering we could have brought champagne in to toast Robert’s birthday, but it was pretty spectacular without the champagne. In fact, champagne might have been gilding the lily.

If you want to see a better video of the fountains and lights – and fire, here’s a professional link. Versailles Spectacle

ARTS AND CRAFTINESS (PARIS, DAY FOUR)

Day four was on the itinerary as Museum Day. However, due to a little over-imbibing, we cut ourselves a break and did not set the alarm for quite as early as we’d originally intended. Sore from walking on cobblestones and up and down spiral staircases, tired and hungry, we grabbed a croissant each from the “courtesy lounge” and slowly made our way to the metro so we could be rejected by the turnstile once again.

I am making an effort today to SPEAK UP, as I have been informed that I have been whispering since we arrived in Paris. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t want to be instantly recognized as a tourist, because I feel as though I’m in a museum even though I’m outside walking around city streets, or because the rhythm of the voices around me is so beautiful I feel as though I’d instantly ruin everything. Like a banjo suddenly taking part in a symphony.

First stop for today, the Louvre.

We stood in the plaza admiring the fountains and the glass pyramid; the building itself was enough to make me giddy. I had somehow forgotten that the Louvre was originally the palace until Louis XIV moved the royal residence to Versailles.

Amazingly, thanks in part to the museum passes, entrance was a breeze. So much so that we found ourselves in the Richelieu section (the French collections) without so much as a map. Retracing our steps, a map was acquired and we began again. 

I had very definite plans for the works I wanted to see. The Richelieu wing was not a priority. However, every time we turned a corner there was something else I couldn’t resist examining. I suddenly understood why people can spend DAYS here. Robert was in heaven.

I was on a mission to see the Denon and Sully wings containing Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities. We found Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa. Winged Victory was particularly poignant because (don’t laugh) I LOVE the scene in Funny Face when Audrey Hepburn is modeling a gown and comes floating down the steps with the statue in the background. As I stood at the bottom of the steps looking upward at Winged Victory, all I could hear was Audrey saying, “Take the picture! Take the picture!”

It was even more interesting to me because I had recently learned the statue had been missing part of one wing and ALL of the other. They made a cast of the existing wing and added it. You could see this clearly from the back of the statue, which I studied in detail, partially because it’s interesting, and partially to mess with people trying to photograph the statue by being the one weird person standing BEHIND it. A lot of people went home that day with me behind Winged Victory. Score. However, I was too distracted by my mischievous intentions to actually photograph the “patch job.” Sorry!

After four hours of wandering about – and getting somehow trapped in the medieval portion of the Louvre in the basement, we made our way to the Musee d’Orsay.

The d’Orsay is housed in a former railway station, the Gare d’Orsay. I LOVED this building. Who wouldn’t love being surrounded by some of the greatest examples of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings? It was virtually every work I had studied in Art History, only much more interesting without the constant droning of the professor as he clicked through each slide. DaVinci? Check. Lautrec? Check. Monet? Manet? Renoir? Check, check and check. 

Basically what I call a successful outing. Afterwards, we crossed the Seine hoping to locate the ever elusive, yet highly desirable metro station that simply HAD to exist somewhere at the Plaza de la Concorde. Crossing the bridge, we noted padlocks all up and down the railings. A couple sat huddled together on a bench, writing something on a newly purchased lock. Apparently, couples are encouraged (not by the Parisians, who are highly annoyed by this practice, but by the padlock vendors who line the bridge) to write their initials on the padlock, attach it to the bridge, then throw the key into the Seine to “lock up their love forever.”  How romantic. What says “I love you” more than a padlock without a key?

Anyway, we found the super secret entry to the metro at Concorde, returned to the hotel, took a hot bath and went out for pizza. Yes, pizza. I can’t really exist without it for more than a week. What I don’t understand is how someone can consider egg an appropriate topping.

DINING AND BOATS (PARIS, DAY THREE)

Day three found us preparing for our much-anticipated lunch at the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel). Robert made reservations in advance for Le Jules Verne restaurant, which sits 125 meters high in the Tower – or about a third of the way up. Several benefits here. One, it’s a Michelin 2 star rated restaurant. Two, lunch is less expensive than dinner, and three, you can enjoy the view without waiting in line for hours, or paying the extra ticket fee.

The restaurant entrance is to one side, and private. You are escorted up the elevator by an attendant who deposits you in the lap of luxury. We were one of the first seated, and as we made our way down the line of wait staff, we were greeted by neatly dressed men and women who welcomed us with “Bon jour madame, monsieur.” I felt as though I were in a receiving line to meet the Queen. Once in the dining area we tried in vain to resist the urge to gape.

We maintained our dignity just long enough to agree to an aperitif when we couldn’t stand it a moment longer. I wanted to photograph everything. The tables, the place settings, the view… it was ridiculous. With champagne in hand I looked across the table at Robert and saw a look on his face I don’t know that I have ever seen. For a moment I thought he might well up with tears. Which of course made me well up with tears. (Perhaps we are way too affected by dining experiences and amazing views.) I think day three, at such a location, jolted us into the reality that we were in Paris. France. Finally. Again I wondered how I would ever convince Robert to return home.

Of course, we were not too intimidated by the surroundings to include the lovely Flat Marketing team.

At which point we became the giddy American tourists again.

We selected from a prix fixe menu, and each item arriving at the table was more creatively arranged than the last. It was almost a crime to destroy them by taking a bite.

This was even prettier but I had to re-create it when Robert nearly throttled me for removing a piece of the “country toast” before snapping a photo.

Afterward, we stepped out to the second level viewing area. It was getting cooler and the wind was whipping up. Security was watching so closely one came up and told me to close the flap of my purse, which I had open right in front of me (between myself and the railing) while I snapped a picture. I became instantly paranoid, which is probably a good thing.

To walk off the rich lunch, we strolled along the Seine until it began to rain and we had to seek shelter next to a food vendor’s shop. Although it didn’t last long, we were now damp and cold, so we made our way back to the metro (which was still giving us fits with the passes) and returned to the hotel to get ready for our dinner cruise with Bateaux Parisiens. This trip is all about the food, apparently.

We splurged because I was wearing ridiculously high heels and took a cab directly to the river to board the boat for an 8:00 departure. What ensued can only be described as a romantic food and drink fest. I think we had two bottles of wine. (Hey, they came with the dinner, basically. One red and one white. Plus an aperitif to start.) Champagne, anyone? Why yes, thank you.

If you go to Paris, you MUST do this cruise. The food was excellent (from what I remember), and you see beautiful sites, all lit up along the river. People dancing on the banks, other boats passing by… it was an event to remember. Unfortunately, I did have one of those directionally challenged moments while on board. If Robert had his own blog, it would no doubt focus on, nay, LAMENT my total inability to recognize anywhere I am or from where I’ve come. Seriously. Every day we took the same route to the metro, and every day on the way back to the hotel I would have SWORN we had taken a wrong turn. Nothing looked familiar.

Anyway, at one point, I excused myself to powder my nose, which involved going below deck. Upon resurfacing, I headed toward the left (port) side of the boat and got to the very bow without having seen our table, or my husband. I circled back on the starboard side, by which time, considering the small size of the boat, I had drawn attention from the wait staff. I informed the only one brave enough to ask that I had lost my husband. I am also ashamed to say I asked if there was another level to the boat, which is really sad because I had been sitting under the lovely glass top looking out all evening.

The waiter asked what side of the boat I’d been sitting on. I told him the left. He pointed and sent me on my way. Lo and behold, there was Robert sitting at a table wondering what had happened to me. I swear he ducked under the table when I passed just to mess with my head.

Regardless of my lack of an internal compass, we had a lovely evening and returned via cab to the hotel with only one near altercation. There was quite a bit of taxi cab line-crashing going on that evening and I may or may not have been quietly threatening to punch someone in the face if they stole my cab one more time when out of the blue came what appeared to be a homeless, drunk, French Santa Claus. He and Robert immediately took charge of the situation, bringing order to the chaos. Another international incident was averted, and Homeless Santa was tipped a euro as he opened the door to our chariot.

DEATH AND THE METRO (PARIS, DAY TWO)

Day two began a bit late. We had reservations at Cafe Le Procope, in the 6th arrondissement, the oldest restaurant of Paris in continuous operation. It opened in 1686 and has served the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Sand, Victor Hugo, and Oscar Wilde.

Robert was adventurous and ordered ox cheek. I had chicken, which is what I am when it comes to eating anything referred to as “cheek.”

To get there, we used our five-day metro passes for the first time. We were a little navigationally challenged, but arrived within ten minutes of our reservation, so chalked it up as a success. Afterword, we returned to the metro to make our way to the catacombs for the afternoon tour. Here, we hit a slight snag. The passes would not work. This was realized as I hit the turnstile at full gait only to be clipped in the hips and knocked backward. After multiple attempts, and getting pushed aside by a dozen other passengers who had no problem with the turnstile (and who did not offer to help the very confused and increasingly agitated Americans), we took desperate measures. We jumped.

I am not as spry as I once was, but managed to clamor over the turnstile only to come up short against the gate. I stood in the small space between the two, realizing there was no way I would be able to launch myself over it, and dreading the arrival of a new group of Parisians who would no doubt roll their eyes heavenward at the ridiculous American. I inhaled and forced my way between the gate and railing, just barely squeezing through.

Meanwhile, Robert took to climbing the turnstile AND the gate, which put him about five feet in the air. (He’s pretty darn limber, and ticked off at this point.) He landed remarkably well – after a slight smash against the low ceiling. With much grumbling, we boarded and I began a tirade in my head against the people who sold us the passes, the lack of assistance available, and the French in general. As we passed the Franklin D. Roosevelt stop I glared at everyone around me and fought the urge to shout, “That’s right. Franklin D. Roosevelt, people. You’re welcome.” (Jet lag does not do nice things to me.)

We made our way to the catacombs without my causing an international incident and waited an hour in line. Two words for the catacombs. Creepy. Amazing.

Somehow unexpected were the 132-spiral stairs leading to our destination. I couldn’t resist taking a shot of the exit or “sortie” sign, because it looks like someone running away. Considering our spooky location, it seemed appropriate.

I’m including a couple of images from the ossuary, although somewhat dark. Robert had a small flashlight with him, because he still had a brain, unlike me, so the illumination helped.

I had one creepy experience as we approached the stairs to climb back up to street level. They say when something supernatural touches you it can feel like a cobweb on your skin. After following what had to be hundreds of people through the catacombs that day, I felt a cobweb brush across my cheek. I stopped and looked up to see if water was dripping from the ceiling, or if there actually WAS a cobweb. Robert used his flashlight and inspected the ceiling but we saw nothing. Moving on, I experienced the sensation of my hair being touched. Could just be my overactive imagination, but I prefer to think someone was telling me goodbye.

We fought with the metro a bit more and eventually arrived at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Tourist mecca.

We decided to pass on battling the throngs (I know. I know. Unbelievable, right?) and instead admired it from afar and drifted over to Shakespeare and Company so I could purchase a book and get the inside page stamped.

(I was actually happier than I look. The crowds were getting to me.)

We moved through the square and on to Sainte-Chapelle. Here we learned our 6-day museum passes were actually 2-day museum passes. The kind man taking tickets took pity when he saw my devastated expression and motioned us on, without charging. (Once you use the ticket, the clock starts, as it were. Since it was the end of the day and we needed to exchange the passes for the correct ones, this was most generous.) We walked into the lower chapel prepared to be awed. I thought Robert was going to curse. It was less than we had expected from all the hype. Puzzled, we made our way toward the exit, only to find the stairwell that led us up to the royal chapel, where we were appropriately struck dumb.

Some portions are being restored, and were covered, but for the rest, I can see why it’s considered one of the most extensive collections of 13th century stained glass in the world.

Suitably impressed and exhausted, we returned to the hotel, ordered room service and collapsed. Tomorrow, the Eiffel Tower!

BON JOUR-NEY (PARIS, DAY ONE)

First, I better find a job that pays more or win the lottery because I will never be squished into a seat again that doesn’t have at least this much leg room. Especially for an almost 10 hour flight.

The problem with purchasing from Duty Free at your airport of departure is that they deliver it to you on the plane, therefore you haven’t been lugging it around, growing accustomed to the weight. We bought a bottle of Absolut and two bottles of Sonoma Cutrer to keep in our hotel room refrigerator. That way, we wouldn’t have to spend 15 euros per glass if we wanted a night-cap. Great plan. Bad follow through. Had we been lugging it around, we’d have noticed leaving the plane that we felt lighter, but such was not the case. We were making our way toward the Customs desk in Frankfurt (our layover stop) when I asked Robert, “Do you have the wine?”

He froze. “No.”

“You’re joking, right?” I said.

“No.”

When asked about retrieving it, we were told we’d have to leave the security area and speak to someone about it. We decided to send a nice email upon our arrival in Paris and try to forget it.

We moved dejectedly on to the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, which we noted was possibly the least attractive airport ever. I apologize, but seriously. The overhead lighting looked like something the Gestapo used when pursuing the Von Trapp family. We couldn’t decide if it was industrialist, under construction, or just horrible.

We boarded our flight to Paris an hour later. I had three goals in mind for this short, one hour flight:

Have a glass of champagne, finish reading, Shadow of Night, and DON’T FORGET THE BOTTLE OF VODKA UPON EXITING. Yes, we bought another bottle from Duty Free. Call us hopeless optimists.

We checked into the hotel and went to our room, which had a view from the terrace of the Eiffel Tower.

Robert (Drill Sargeant Franks) decided we should take a walk to get our bearings, so he marched me out the door, down the Champs-Élysées all the way to the Tuileries Garden and Place de la Concorde.

That evening we had reservations at Robert’s restaurant of choice – Robert et Louise in the 3rd arrondissement. If you look up “hole in the wall” in the dictionary, this place is what you’ll find pictured. He’d seen it on Anthony Bourdain’s show and HAD to go. Getting there was an eye-opening experience. I have never seen traffic like in Paris. It makes New York City taxi drivers look like a bunch of little old ladies out for a Sunday cruise. Motor scooters create their own lanes, weaving in and out of cars, cutting it so close I shut my eyes several times in anticipation of the impending “thump-thump” as we ran one over. We are talking mere inches between human beings and vehicles.

We were greeted warmly by Robert, then led down a tiny, narrow flight of stairs to the lowest floor, where small tables and a bar were crowded into the space. We shared a rib eye for two, not realizing that medium rare would be rare in French cuisine. I think I’d heard before that our medium is their rare, but forgot. The meat was still cooked fine for me, but my Robert prefers the cow on his plate to not still be “mooing.”  And when I say plate, what I really mean is a wooden cutting board that would NEVER in a million years pass health department inspection in the US. I had to concentrate really hard on not thinking about the potential germs and bacteria on that piece of wood that looked as old as the building itself. The rib eye was incredible.

(My Robert.)

We asked our host where to find a cab back to the hotel and he happily pointed us up the road saying, “Walk five minutes that way. If you don’t see a cab, turn left and walk five minutes that way. If you don’t see a cab, turn right and walk another five minutes that way…”

Sighing, I looked down at my heels, then at my husband, then at the cobble stone street that awaited. We eventually did find a cab – somewhere past that last 5 minute stroll. In the middle we passed a number of restaurants or clubs, with people pouring out into the streets laughing and drinking and smoking.

A chorus of French accents washed over us as we held hands and tried to not gawk at each passing scene. Our ears were just beginning to acclimate to the rhythms of the conversations we’d be hearing for the next 9 days. My Robert’s grin told me I’d be lucky to pry him out of France at the end of that time.

Back at the hotel, we (of course) had some vodka on our terrace and discovered this projected video show in the hotel courtyard. Pretty impressive, and it drove home the realization we were going to be discovering all kinds of unexpected visual delights throughout our stay.

GONE FISHING

Due to the hotels in France being a little pickier than Wales about who gets free wifi access and who gets charged, I have been on a real vacation – with no blog diaries of our adventures. Probably works out for the best as I have no idea what I’m saying half the time here anyway.  My instinct says “translate english to french,” my brain responds, “What? Since when do we speak french. Have we met??”  My mouth opens and “Uuuhhhhhh…” comes out, followed by a spontaneous and somewhat frightening “Bon jour!” After that I’ve forgotten what I wanted to ask anyway.

I am currently waiting on delivery of a bucket of ice, as the hotel doesn’t let you fetch your own. Royalty. It’s a tough life. 

Anyway, I’m keeping notes on my apparently very expensive and data draining cell phone, and will hope to upload photos of the sites and a few traveler’s tales ASAP.

A few teasers:

1. I lose Robert on a boat that is probably 20 feet across and one deck.

2. A pickpocket approaches.

3. My clothing gets a cab ride.

4. Robert does on the grounds at Versailles what many have probably wanted to do.