And we’re off…

Prepping for a two week European vacation is a lot more work than it sounds. Clothes have been laid out on the guest room bed for the last few weeks, as the weather forecast has not decided to make up its mind on being seasonably cool/cold, or beating heat records.  Heavy sweaters, coat, scarfs…  Thin sweaters, light jacket…  Short sleeves, skirts?  What can one do but bring a little of everything. They say to pack like you normally would, then take out half.  I buy into that philosophy, knowing that we tend to wear the same things over and over on vacation.  But, this is Paris!  You have to look sharp in Paris, right?  Ok, then.  A little of everything.

After a relatively uneventful, but long, overnight flight from Miami, we arrived in Paris around 10 am – slightly delayed.  The plane parked on the tarmac at Charles De Gaulle, where we strangely deplaned not directly into the terminal, but onto an awaiting airport bus, which brought us to customs.  The quiet lines of people, categorized by citizenship, moved quickly.  The masses of people have a calmness about them, no one complaining or shoving – simply waiting.  On the other side of the checkpoint was the baggage carousel, followed by a final checkpoint through to the exit.  Pretty thorough process.  Now my job as tour guide begins…find the RER train.  Thankfully I’ve prepared (duh!).  The website www.Parisbytrain.com has all the details you need to know for getting from the airport to town – including pictures.  Following the signs to RER-B Train, it was a very long walk through the terminal and into the station.  Tickets are €8,40 to the center of Paris.  American credit cards don’t work in the self-service machine, so we must wait in line for an agent.  The line was so long, and it took at least ½ hour to get tickets.  Okay, focus.  “Bonjour – trois billets aller-simple, s’il vous plait.”  Somehow I actually conversed with this person, and determined that the train platform was downstairs. Per my research, I knew there are Express trains that go direct and regular trains that make stops along the way.  Closely regarding the signs, we hopped onto the Express train…and we’re on our way.

Our hotel, Grand Hotel de Champaigne, was centrally located at Metro Chatelet – just east of the Louvre and two blocks from the river.  We took the RER to Chatelet Les Halles, a massive underground station – and watched signs carefully for the direction to exit.  The underground is a series of multi-leveled complex passageways, with lots of stairs and not very easy to navigate with suitcases.  There are some obvious design flaws, such as stairs going up and escalators coming down, as well as narrow ticket gates to drag a suitcase through.  After much effort, sweat, and muscle – following signs to Rue de Rivoli – we emerged above ground for the first time.

The air, the old buildings, the beauty – I’ve waited for this moment to be back in my beautiful city – it was surreal.  The……McDonald’s?  Before I could get my bearings, Dad was already making a beeline for the entrance.  Granted, we were starving.  It had been a long flight, a long trek from the airport, and it was lunchtime.  This was a beautiful, modern, two-story McDonald’s overlooking the shopping district of Rue de Rivoli housed in old historic buildings.  Hanging from the exterior of the building across was a typically French protest banner.  Inside the restaurant were two main counters, for pastries and regular food, a set of touch-screen kiosks offering orders in multiple languages, and a glass elevator to the 2nd level.  What struck me is how stylish the space was, and how clean.  So, we ordered “le Big Mac” and a few other tasty bites to get us through the day – man did it hit the spot.

Just one street away, between Metro Chatelet on Rue de Rivoli and the Seine, was our hotel on Rue Jean Lantier.  Counting on the good reviews from Trip Advisor and Booking.com, I still wasn’t sure what I was in for – just crossing my fingers that “my pick” on hotel #1 was going to be decent.  This one was in the moderate range for Paris…practically the cheapest I could find without the fear of being a bit sketchy.  The front desk staff could not have been friendlier, and were English-speaking.  The hotel is decorated in a sort of medieval Henri VIII style with stone walls and wood beams.  The tiny elevator took us to the top (6th) floor.  It was perfect, less gaudy in real life than you assume from the pictures (and the staff even turned down the sheets later that evening while we were out).

Exiting the hotel, only one block away was the Seine.  It was magical to come out of the narrow alleyway and into the vastness of central Paris.

Walking towards the bridge that crosses into Ile de la Cite, there are crowds of people in the streets.  Is this normal?  Getting closer to Notre-Dame, it is literally a sea of people.  Then I remember…it’s Easter weekend. I listen closely to the sounds around me.  Yep, English.  As I’m walking down the sidewalk, someone bumps me – “oh, excuse me” they say.  Huh?  The closer I listen, the more I detect British accents.  Easy hop, skip, and a jump from England, it makes sense to see a ton of Brits here.

At the end of the Notre-Dame gardens, we pause by the bridge to Ile St. Louis.  What a gorgeous vista.  The weather couldn’t be more perfect – sunny, warm, bright blue skies – actually, it was nearly 80 degrees.

We turned back, walking along the Left Bank of St. Germain and the famous book stalls to the Metro St. Michel station.  At the ticket window, we purchased “un carnet” or book of 10 tickets.  The RER C line would take us directly to the Eiffel Tower (Champs de Mars).  Making our way through the residential streets at the metro exit, we came upon a small street where, bam – there it is.

The Eiffel Tower is an imposing structure that seems to come out of nowhere, like suddenly, there it is.  As we rounded a corner to the main road, once again, there were masses and masses of people.  Some were queued up for the ride to the top, some were just taking it all in.  The weather had become so hot mid-afternoon that stands selling water (€3) and ice cream had huge lines.  Security was on high alert, with threats to the tower over the last several months.  The military, with guns, were making the rounds.  Each of the four legs of the tower has an elevator going up to the next level.  Two of the four “pilier’s” were closed due to heavy volume.  The two remaining were like lines at Disney World.  No go on the tower climb for today.

From here, we walked uphill to the Trocadero with a view overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the city.  At the top, Metro Trocadero took us back down, just a little past the hotel, to Hotel de Ville.  From here, we crossed the bridge to Ile St. Louis, a quaint, exclusive residential island in the middle of the Seine.

There is basically one tiny street in the middle with shops and restaurants.  Here you will find anything from creperies to modest dining to expensive dining, along with nice shops and groceries.  We found Sorza here, a small 10-table Italian restaurant with a €16,50 prix fixe menu until 7 pm.  Watching the appetizers come out, we were sold.  Appetizer choices included cherry tomato, fresh mozzarella, & arugala salad, or parmesan soufflé with arugala salad.  Entrées included parmesan risotto, penne carbonara, and spaghetti Bolognese.  Yum!

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