Parlez-vous Francais? An Adventure in Paris – Part 1

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Traveling to Paris

My money clip stolen, a sprained ankle, and Petey going to doggie heaven all in a month…that was enough for a spur of a moment trip to France!  I joined some friends for drinks during the floods in Colorado when I found out one was visiting France and Spain in just six days.

I nonchalantly chimed, “I want to go.”

She replied, “Come.”

So that’s where my journey began.  Six days before takeoff, Theresa didn’t have a plan or any reservations…only her plane ticket, and aside from picking hotels four days before we boarded the plane, that’s the way our trip remained.  We took recommendations from friends and obviously focused on the tourist highlights and began our adventure to France…our first stop Paris!

To get a ticket on Theresa’s plane connecting through Chicago was going to costs $5,000, so I flew with a longer flight time but for SUBSTANTIALLY less money, and we met up at Charles De Gaulle.  I was to land 30 minutes after Theresa, but after her delays I cooled my heals by the bathroom outside customs waiting on her.  That was our only plan so far.

I was very fortunate to sit next to a woman on the plane who was very familiar with Paris.  I learned that “gare” means train which was about the third word added to my French vocabulary (I studied Spanish in school).  I also learned I should buy a 3 day metro pass.  These two tidbits of information were quite helpful as we were able to take the RER (train) from the airport and transfer to the metro to arrive at our hotel for a fraction of the price of a taxi.

We stayed at the Mercure near the St. Lazare Station away from the tourist area and perfectly situated to ride the metro to all the attractions we ended up visiting.  Eventhough we rode the metro, we still managed to walk about 12 miles a day…I’ve heard Paris was a walking city.

By the time we dropped our bags and freshened up, it was time for lunch.  We wandered around aimlessly looking for a recommended restaurant nearby, but we found it was in a mall, so after a loop around the block, we ended up at a café across from our hotel.  Much to our dismay, the menu was in French which was not what we had heard from our friends…we thought English would be included too!  So we sat outside, enjoyed the crisp air, and looked at the meals on other tables.  We settled with a hamburger patty topped with an egg and fries!  Also, to our surprise, our waitress was friendly and spoke to us in English while we opened our French/English dictionary.  “Je ne comprends pas” should come in handy…”I don’t understand”.

Montemartre’s Tourist Attractions

After lunch we hopped the metro and headed north toward Montmartre, strolled past an art festival, and visited our first attraction, Sacre-Couer, a basilica that sits atop a hill offering stunning views of the city.  Construction on Sacre-Couer began in 1875 but wasn’t finished until 1914.  The Romanesque-Byzantine edifice was built in memory of the 58,000 dead from the Franco-Prussian War. The square bell-tower houses one of the heaviest bells in the world, which weighs 19 tons!  The area surrounding the basilica was buzzing with activity.  One young man juggled a soccer ball while standing on a column.  He had fantastic foot skills.  Tourists rested on the stairs while watching other street performers and of course trinkets were available for purchase everywhere.  We followed the stairs down to the green lawn where we were close to accosted by islander types that wanted to make yarn bracelets for us.  As we tried to go around, they blocked our path, so we let them tie a bracelet on our arms while we covered our purses.  Then of course they wanted money…I told them to cut my bracelet off!  I had already told them I didn’t want one, but they wouldn’t let us go by!  Finally they let us pass.

From the basilica we walked to the Cimetiere de Montmarte where the famous painter Degas is buried.  We found some other interesting graves, including one with a soccer ball which of course was my favorite.  We were at the cemetery until closing at 6 and decided it was time for wine, cheese, and caffeine!  We stopped for our treat at Le Chinon, which was one of many cafes that lined the busy street.  I wanted a latte versus an expresso, and was looking for a Café a Lait on the menu which I couldn’t find, but Lait Chaud was on the menu.  I thought that might be a latte…nope…hot milk!  That was really going to wake me up…haha.  I’m learning French fast though.

After a brief stop back at the hotel, we took to the metro, steets, and metro again.  This time, we headed toward the attractions along the Seine.  We really didn’t know what any of the buildings were in the dark, but just wanted to walk around and get the lay of the land.  What we thought was an old train station, was the Louvre.  We crossed the Love Lock bridge and passed by the Musee d’Orsay when we decided to take the metro to the Eiffel Tower.

We took in magnificent views of the Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot terraces and watched the light show before going in search for a water closet.  This proved to be a difficult feat…they closed at 10:30…we arrived at 10:31.  We had heard the lines to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower could be hours long and to purchase tickets in advance.  Tickets were sold out before we left the US, but we noticed the line was short at best tonight.  We were up at the top in no time…in fact it took us longer to get down.  The views from all the levels were lovely, and we made it to each level just before they closed, by sheer luck!  And at the end of our tour, we actually found a water closet in the tower!  I was surprised at how spectacular the Eiffel Tower looked at night.  I’ve always heard about it, but I couldn’t imagine an iron structure being so magnificent.  The tower, built in two years for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, definitely is a Gustave Eiffel marvel.

It seemed like a good idea to enjoy a midnight snack on the way back to the hotel for the evening…the corner food stand was out of bananas so we ended up with nutella and coconut crepes…YUM!  A long, entertaining first day in Paris. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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