Paris – Day 7

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The night before we were set to leave Paris was filled with giddy excitement, that for better or worse, we’d be back on our home turf in less than 24 hours. Reality begins to set in, and the final hours of our trip are in reflection of the fun we had and the bullshit we experienced, and in the final measure, determine if the trip was a success.

We kick into “Go” mode and start planning out all the things that can become complicated, the things within the sphere of our control before being rocketed across the Atlantic. The checkout sheet given to us by the travel team was needlessly complicated. Leave the bags inside the door, beginning at 6:00 where the bellhop will come to retrieve them, take them down to the first floor, where we must claim them again and check out. Then meet the bus to the airport by 7:15.

We wondered why we’d need to do all those things when we were perfectly capable of moving our own luggage, which we did. Eliminating the last minute possibility of something going missing, we approached the checkout desk ready to GTFO!

We chatted up a lovely group of Australians who had just checked in for their month long tour of Europe. After just a week away, the idea seemed just as foreign to me as their delightful accents. Soon our bus arrived and we piled in with the other weary travellers, a collective yearning for home hanging heavily in the air.

The bus dropped us off at a ground floor terminal, along with another group from our trip. Another bus emptied into the lot next to us and more tourists poured out. Our bus had been given information on where to go next, but the other bus clearly hadn’t gotten the same. By the time we all met up at the terminal, there had been some major mixups about where to go, leaving the already weary crowd that much more irritated.

We had some time to kill before our flight, so we wandered the airport, milling around the duty free shops. I managed to score some German chocolate eggs, which used to be banned in the United States because they were deemed a choking hazard. Inside each egg was a small toy to be assembled, and although precautions were made to ensure that you couldn’t just bite down and choke, the toys were clearly not intended for very small children. The packaging does reflect this, but until very recently, it was still verboten in the U.S.

Our flight was delayed departing due to some issues with the air conditioner. The growing crowd around the terminal seemed ready to go hostile as announcement after announcement played out in a distant muffled speaker. No one knew why the plane wasn’t boarding, and the mood was growing ever more sour.

Colleagues of my husband milled about, muttering how it shouldn’t be like this, how the travel department failed them somehow, and how someone, somewhere was going to hear about it. There was only futility in posturing like that. Strutting about like an angry peacock doesn’t not make the plane load any faster, nor does it help anyone’s mood.

Finally, we boarded, and settled in. A few rows back, there was some fracas from a passenger unhappy with his seat. Perhaps he wanted a row, or didn’t care for the old woman coughing nearby, but the flight attendant put him promptly in his place. There were simply no other seats on the plane, that making a scene would get him taken off the plane, and if he could not accept his fate, he would be welcome to come back tomorrow to get another seat. From what I could overhear, it was difficult to hear if the words actually reached the complainer.

A woman who was talking to her husband in another row, offered up her seat in a different part of the plan just to shut the guy up. He took them and left, and the crisis seemed averted for now. The delay behind us, we left about 30 minutes later than originally anticipated, time that could have been made up in the air, and was, from what I can tell.

The flight went faster than I had expected. The on-board entertainment helped tremendously. In as quickly as three movies, I was on the ground in Philly, interrupted by terrible meals that somehow airlines are still compelled to provide. The flight would have been easier, if someone hadn’t actually eaten the food because there was some serious crop dusting happening the whole time. By the time we got on the ground, I was ready to murder whoever was responsible. And I probably would have, if the flight in wasn’t so horribly bumpy. I’ve had some rough landings in Philadelphia, but I’ve never thought I might actually throw up on a plane before.

On the ground, safe, tired, dirty and cranky, we cleared customs, waited for our luggage, then our car, still coming to terms with the fact that we were home. Less than an hour and we’d be holding our son again, jumping back into the craziness of our real lives again.

We arrived home to find our little man watching television. His face lit up when he saw us, and the overwhelming joy washed over us all as we grabbed him up into a big group hug. The trip had taken its toll on him as well, as we would imagine. His self awareness, dependence on a routine, and our involvement in his day-to-day made this trip more difficult to endure than the one we took the year before. It gave me pause, when considering the next trip to convention in Las Vegas would take place in less than two months. The dread of going through this all over again tugged at my heart. I was happiest here at home with my family.

 

Foto Friday – Storm Clouds

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Happy Foto Friday, everyone! Today we continue our cloud series. The very first thing that I began to photograph obsessively when I first got into photography was the sky. I was obsessed. After a while, though, I branched out into other things. But recently, a summer storm whipped through and in the early evening the sun was setting as the sky cleared. I stood out on my deck and shot these as the sky lit up like fire. Enjoy!

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Paris – Day 6

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This far into the trip, my sleep schedule has gone completely off the rails. With the time shift, the light blocking curtains and downtime from illness have rendered my body completely incapable of telling whether it’s day or night. I’ve entered a not-unfamiliar dreamlike state of semi consciousness. At times, I’ve wondered if I’ve gone completely insane, I can barely navigate this city of foreign language, smells and tastes. Its impossibly beautiful people seem to navigate with smug ease that triggers off every inferior nerve in my body. Parisians are not to be fucked with, and I’m just a kid in knockoff clothes trying to blend, poorly. The disparity is real.

My body senses this in a very real way and has psychosomatically freaked the fuck out. I’m still sick, still in and out of the bathroom every 20 minutes, not able to really eat or function, or do anything other than dick around on tumblr endlessly using the slowest internet on planet Earth. But, with our last day less than 48 hours away, I feel compelled to give the city one last shake before heading home. I choke down the last of the medicine we brought with us, and hope for the best.

Note to self for any future trip: Either pack two pairs of jeans or none (and that means no wearing them on the plane). Denim, in my opinion is pound for pound one of the worst fabrics for travel. For me, my jeans always pick up the most funk just by virtue of all the surfaces you encounter while travelling. They just soak everything up, and either need to be laundered or not worn again. So, if I want to wear them home and not smell like a hobo, I bring these travel Tide packets to do small loads of laundry while you’re on the road. They work great for delicates and what not, but I get the crazy idea to wash both of our pairs of jeans during my zero day. (Because what else is there to do, really?)

Well, the other lovely thing about denim, is that it takes for fucking ever to dry when hung up. At that point, you begin to enter into the realm of diminishing returns for your efforts. I’d rather smell like a stinky airplane than the musty second-day laundry stank. So, to mitigate this new development, I decide to hit must with heat and iron the rest of the moisture out. And, while this technically worked, may I just say it took forever and was a huge pain in the ass. I also had trouble “drying” any surface of the jeans that had doubled over fabric, like along every pocket and down the seams.

So, in the future, I’ll just bring multiple pairs of jeans or none, because the temptation to wash the single pair I have to wear a more comfortable staple in my wardrobe is not cost effective when you consider the limited amount of time for the trip. I think a huge part of my issue with travelling is feeling comfortable in the outfits I pack, which is sort of my anxiety shield when I’m in a new environment. Clothing has a huge impact on the way I feel about myself. As part of my social anxiety, the more “put together” I feel on the outside, the calmer I can be on the inside. In the day to day, this is part of my approach to most days, but when travelling it’s so much more important. Venturing out into the unknown has certain triggers, and the more confident I feel, the better our chances at success.

Eventually, we got the jeans to a workable compromise, and I was able to walk around without doubling over with pain in my guts, so we decided to hit the town. The sky was dark and overcast, the threat of impending rain nagging after us all the way to the metro station. By now, we were pros at the station, we moved wordlessly like navy seals through the throngs of people, having already discussed our plans before arrival. The train was less busy at that hour as we took standing positions near the door, heading for Monmartre.

The sky opened up ahead of us, greeting us at the station with groups of people huddling under the awning just below the stairs. Enterprising folks sold ponchos, bottles of water and umbrellas for a huge markup just outside the opening. More people crowded together under the converted garbage bags they’d just shelled out $15 for.

Rain doesn’t really bother me. It’s a part of life, and I’d rather just walk through it without hunching or cowering under an umbrella if I can get away with it. Typically, unless it’s a huge downpour, I don’t even bother. I think that carries over from my days at the brewery, where you learn to desensitize yourself against it because it was so integral to the job. I learned to steel myself in the face of a lot of flinch-worth encounters in that job, but that’s a story for another day.

But because it looks bad for a man to be walking under an umbrella while his lady friend walks without one, for the sake of appeasing social convention, we huddled together nonetheless. This just meant that his shirt would become completely soaked since there wasn’t really room for two. We carefully traversed the slick uphill cobblestone streets, taking our time to take in the buildings as we passed. I wandered away to snap photos and soon the rain began to lighten up.

At the top of the hill, there was a huge cathedral and throngs of shops and restaurants, an absolute swarm of people milling around while the occasional car tried desperately to navigate through. A small train carrying tourists made loop through the area, dinging its bell to announce their passing. We followed the crowd to the giant cathedral, hoping to get some pictures, but as we entered we were inundated by signs forbidding any photography. There was a security guard to inform us of the same, so we stowed our cameras and entered the church.

It was lovely, extremely quiet in respect to the many signs asking for it. People did pretty much that. Anything spoken was done in hushed murmurs. We made it about halfway through before finding a few chairs open to sit and check the map for our next destination. Ahead of us, a man lifted his camera and snapped a photo, the unmistakable sound of the shutter closing set off an immediate reaction by a man in the church.

He came rushing over, addressing the man in English, because of course it would be an asshole American who would be do disrespectful.

“Sir, Why? Why would you take a picture? Did you not see any of the signage? We ask you not to take a picture! Why?”

He spoke in the only terse words through a thick French accent, as it was all he could think of without outright calling the man a fucking idiot. But, with the phrasing, he gave the man the opportunity to explain himself, for being a fucking idiot, and to apologize. He didn’t. Instead, another man from the American group had the fucking balls to turn to this guy from the row ahead and shush him, smirking arrogantly at his friend who was being chastised. He fucking shushed the church guy!

In one moment, I saw why we’re perceived so poorly in the rest of the world. If this is how we behave, even if it’s not all of us, even it’s just some of us, people remember. We have a bad reputation, and now I see why. If people came here and acted like that in our backyard, we’d hate the fuck out of them too.

The church guy switched to tell off both of them in turn. But by then, I wanted nothing to do with them, so we left. The stern lecture still going on behind us. I felt so embarrassed on behalf of my countrymen, and promised to do better as my contribution to damage control for our bad reputation.

Outside the church, the weather finally broke and the sun was shining brightly. The vista from the top of the church steps was clear skies and you could see for miles, a perfect perspective of the giant city below. We wanted to see the Salvador Dali museum, so we wandered around to find the street. The line wasn’t very long, and we got in quickly.

Inside were sculptures, prints and mixed media pieces. It was a neat experience, but I think without a guide (there was an audio one I probably could have downloaded prior to going, but didn’t). I took a lot of pictures before we decided to grab something to eat. As we rounded a corner to enter the artists quarter, a group of young people stood with clipboards looking for signatures. It was the first time we’d seen this in action, but not long after did two police officers roll up on bicycles and chase them away. Apparently this was one of the pickpocketing scams that you see. They distract you while you’re signing their “petition” and then their confederate steals your shit.

If I had more time and patience I would definitely have stayed in the artists area and had my portrait drawn. The booths were all stacked against each other, each one with a client sitting on a stool as still as they can, while the artist furiously sketches them out. The work was beautiful, and if I ever found myself in such a position again, something that looks like it would be worth doing.

We found a pizza place and grabbed a quick lunch. It was by far the most crowded restaurant we’d been in yet. Real estate in this area was tight. We had barely enough room to move, the tables were like children’s furniture and all on top of one another. My stomach still unnerved, I order a green salad and lasagna, figuring that might be substantial enough to hold me over. At another table nearby, two of the four chairs were occupied with a mother and daughter, before the second half of the table was given to a single japanese tourist. I’d heard of this being done in restaurants in Europe, but never actually saw it in practice, outside of a very crowded Korean restaurant I used to love going to.

The japanese tourist ordered escargot, and for the first time I got to see what it looks like in real life. Still not tempting enough to eat, but I was curious to see someone more adventurous than me do it. It came with it’s own set of tools, specially designed to hold the shell still, I guess, and another to root out the little bugger. They were bigger than I imagined they would be for snails. But decidedly, not something I’d want to eat.

A piano was crammed in the already impossibly small bar area, pounding out ragtime interpretations of familiar music. We finished our lunch and tipped the player a few euro on our way out. We found our way back down the hill to the nearest metro station and headed back to the hotel.

We began our preliminary packing and trying to inventory all the stuff we brought with us. I always end up lamenting how much I bring that I don’t wear and how I never bring the stuff I end up needing. This is what we call the “Hindsight Haze” which involves long sighs, and waxing poetic about “the next time we go away” plan to finally pare down my luggage and thereby, my soul.

For dinner, we decided to find the nearest Indiana Grill. We wandered back down the same street to trace our steps to the way we’d found it. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky, and long shadows cast down the treelined, nearly vacant street. This was the Paris I didn’t mind so much. It would be incredibly peaceful and quiet, far away from the restaurants and tourist areas where people just simply lived. That moment where the highest and simplest form of your humanity honors theirs, and the namaste moment is yours.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled posts to bring you this rant

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Although I normally can use the WordPress mobile app without issue, this is the third time in my trip that an entire post has been lost. It’s difficult enough to find time while traveling to write posts, but when the damn app doesn’t save changes (even locally), it’s all I can do not to go on a murderous rage.

So, imagine please, if you will, that these travel posts are wittier than they seem. I tend to write in the moment, and recreating a post from memory is difficult. Also please forgive me if I repeat myself, because although I fully intend to review these before they go live, I’m so very tired and some errors may get through.

And to the fucking asshats who are responsible for my lost brilliance, I hope that you get a particularly nasty paper cut. That way the irony of the dying medium won’t be lost on you.

Foto Friday – Storm Clouds

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Happy Foto Friday, everyone! Today we continue our cloud series. The very first thing that I began to photograph obsessively when I first got into photography was the sky. I was obsessed. After a while, though, I branched out into other things. But recently, a summer storm whipped through and in the early evening the sun was setting as the sky cleared. I stood out on my deck and shot these as the sky lit up like fire. Enjoy!

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Paris – Day 5

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With all the group activities, tours and social obligations behind us, I decided preemptively to sleep in. It’s a good thing, because I woke up feeling feverish and nauseated and still completely exhausted in spite of a full night’s sleep.

I laid in bed until noon, playing the mental game of hangover or cold, deciding on the latter. It was raining lightly outside, so there’s not much you can do without being completely overrun with crowds, the exact opposite of what I’d want right now.

I officially called it a zero day and went back to bed, but wasn’t able to get much sleep. So instead, I dicked around on tumblr, and contemplated the universe. I came to the following conclusions about Paris:

1) Paris is undeniably a beautiful and historic city. It’s architecture, museums and monuments are worth the trip alone.

2) Paris is a crazy city. The traffic pattern alone around the Arc de Triumph is mind boggling, a roundabout with no lines, lights or reason. Somehow people manage to navigate it without incident. I believe this is due to a gps chip implanted in all Parisians at birth.

3) The Parisians themselves are ludicrously beautiful. Their sense of pristine, flawless and effortless style is both mind-boggling and intimidating. Although the guidebook indicated not to “dress like an American tourist,” it’s impossible to truly blend, especially after four straight days of walking.

4) Paris is a tough city. Although some people rag on the French, I dare you to try it to one of their faces. Better yet, do it on the metro, during rush hour in the dank, human waste stench in your Dallas Cowboys teeshirt. The homeless population in this city is as big a problem as anywhere in the world. But I’ve yet to encounter another city where a homeless person will just up and change their clothes right in the middle of the street, underwear be damned.

5) Even if you don’t speak French, try. Learn the few key phrases, hello, goodbye and please. A lot of French people do know English, but find it rude if you begin a conversation without any effort.

Paris – Day 4

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Although we had been advised by a previous travel session’s attendee to skip our scheduled tour of Versailles, we decided to suck it up and go anyway. How bad could it be, we wondered. The tour was only scheduled for a half day, so even if it sucked, we’d be back by lunch time.

When we arrived, the parking lot was filling up with tour buses and the lines to get in were what could only be described as ludicrous. The palace exterior was beautifully appointed with gold leaf and elaborate scrollwork and statues. To say the place was huge was an understatement.

Since we were part of a tour group and our tickets were already purchased, we were able to bypass the lines and enter the gardens. I will say that I wish we had more time to explore them, since they go on for miles (literally) and we had only 30 minutes. To be honest, the gilded lily of the palace itself wore my patience thin rather quickly, and given the chance, I’d have just stayed there all day.

But, we had to meet the guide, so off we rushed, covering much more distance than we wanted to in such a short amount of time. Inside the palace, we were given earpieces and radios to hear the tour guide. We quickly realized why this was necessary.

The rooms were positively jammed with people, and sure the place was lovely, if you’re into that kind of thing. For me, the lavish, over-the-top decor was kind of an eyesore, and honestly made me want to join whatever mob of peasants that stormed the castle demanding bread back in the day.

If you can get past the nut-flexing ego of the “sun king,” you’ll definitely need to check any personal space issues at the door. People were downright rude, bumping into us more than even I would have thought necessary. Finally, I began to cry out each time some jerk railed into me, finally eliciting a useless apology from a few.

I wasn’t the only one who had this issue. A man on our tour had a lady lean on his back to take a picture like he was a freaking tripod. We began to notice it together. Complaining didn’t make it stop, but the sense that we weren’t the only ones annoyed by it did help. All that personal space invasion aside, I did get some awesome pictures, but I’m sure they’re nothing that I couldn’t have found on Google image search.

Departing from Versailles was also tricky. The souvenir guys were out in full force, offering a variety items from key chains to designer knock off purses and watches. Since there was only one way out of the lot, the buses all began jockeying for position, an exercise in true grit and determination. Tourists dashed between the buses, nearly getting clipped, as the elephant ballet began. Eventually, we were free of the chaos and back on our way to the hotel.

We decided to hit the grocery store to find it consumed by the Parisian lunch rush. The line to check out wrapped all the way around the store. Parisians were grabbing quick lunches before heading back to work, so we lingered a bit to give those who needed to clear out before us an opportunity to do so. The cashiers were well skilled at handling the deluge, moving deftly with the same precision any craftsman could be proud of.

We left our things at the room and decided to head back out. We set off to walk around, finding a reasonably priced pizza shop not far from the hotel. I ordered a mushroom risotto which easily defined the term “rich.” A few glasses of beer later, stomachs full, we set back out, trying to find our way back to the hotel. We weren’t 100% sure of our surroundings! but thought we could navigate based on the few landmarks we recognized.

The next hour would be an exercise of almost being where we needed to be, but not quite, and our full stomachs and bladders quickly took hold of an emotionally tenuous situation at best. Our crankiness persevered even after figuring out where we were, and for the first (and thankfully only) time on our trip, we needed a brief time out from each other.

Later that evening, we got over the afternoon’s unpleasantness and rallied for the group dinner. I put extra effort into readying myself for the evening, knowing that the endless parade of glad-handing and trophy wives awaited us. There is a certain confidence one gets from properly applied mascara after all.

The buses filled with people I didn’t know, and we rode to the venue quietly. Ahead of me, two teenage boys were making each other’s aquaintence, in what can only be described as one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’d ever been forced to bear witness. One boy talked the whole time, about himself, in what seemed to be a well-rehearsed script about his likes, dislikes and hobbies. The other seemed to be paying the bare minimum amount of attention, nodding occasionally. The first boy was oblivious of course, but soon ran out of things to say, and resorted to asking questions of the other. He gave cursory answers, seeming to sense the kid didn’t are about what he had to say. True enough, these responses only prompted him to talk more about himself, until finally, gratefully, we reached our destination.

We stepped off the bus before this huge red theatre. There were clowns on stilts mugging for pictures with the arriving guests, and more carrying feather dusters, frozen in place until someone walked in between them. At that point, they would spring to life and “dust” the guests. I avoided both since clowns freak me out. A group of musicians paraded around with lively brass tunes.

The building had once been stables for horses, two long red wooden buildings, with a cobblestone courtyard in between them. Women in costumes came by with trays of French fries in cups, adding ketchup with a squeeze bottle, if you please. They were incredibly popular.

Along the insides of each building were liquor tables, all sorts of carnival games, buffets and a carousel. It was incredible. They clearly spared no expense.

It was go time, though. I had to remember people’s names, positions, territory and hierarchical structure. We’d run into people I’d met before, of whose names I could absolutely keep straight. It was the same ritual over and over again, glad handing a stranger, the stranger’s wife, child, grandma or what have you. Smiles all around, posturing and schmoozing.

We made our rounds, decided our feet hurt and called it a night. The bus filled quickly with like minded people and we took off quickly. We passed through sections of Paris I’d never seen, more restaurants, the opera house, I think. Then we saw the plaza where the homeless were being fed. There must have easily been a hundred people, huddled together along long tables set up, workers sending out plate after plate for them.

The image kept with me as we arrived at our gorgeously appointed hotel, as I laid in the warm, clean bed, I couldn’t help but feel the disparity. In a single night, I got a tiny taste of unimaginable luxury, abject poverty and am hovering somewhere in the middle

Foto Friday – Storm Clouds

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Happy Foto Friday, everyone! Today we begin a new series! The very first thing that I began to photograph obsessively when I first got into photography was the sky. I was obsessed. After a while, though, I branched out into other things. But recently, a summer storm whipped through and in the early evening the sun was setting as the sky cleared. I stood out on my deck and shot these as the sky lit up like fire. Enjoy!

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Paris – Day 3

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With nothing on the agenda, we decided to sleep in. The light blocking drapes help fuel the hangover slaking, jet lag induced hibernation. It wasn’t until about lunch time that we finally got up and dressed.

The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot. So, we made our way back to the metro to head towards some of the more touristy sights. The metro had a much different feel during the day, much more crowded and the people were more likely to be workers on their lunch break than tourists.

At our stop, we found a carnival set up along the edge of the park. Food stands, games and rides lined up along the park near the Louvre. We wandered a bit, taking loads of pictures. Eventually we found our way to the Seine, and our feet were tired. So we decided to rest a bit at an outdoor cafe.

We ordered a glass of rosé wine and French fries. Though the fries weren’t on the menu as an individual item, the waitress was kind and accommodating. The portion was huge and reasonable (only €5). We stayed a bit, watching people walk by and sizing up the river cruises.

After lunch, we found a “hop on, hop off” river cruise and took the ride down the full length of the route. We were able to get a better understanding of where the landmarks were and decided to check out Notre Dame. There was a summer event taking place called the “Paris Pleges” where they turn the streets near the Seine into manmade beaches.

After that, we headed over to Notre Dame, but the lines were just insane. We took a few photos, and then left, realizing we were back at the Latin quarter. Since we had such good luck there the night before, we decided to wander around to see what we could find. A tiny tiger cat ran across our path near a pizza shop, so we took that as an omen to eat.

The pizza was reasonable, with booths to sit. The food was pretty good, and although you needed tokens to use the pay bathroom, it was clean. We left the pizza place to find ourselves quite close to the Frog Burger from the night before, so we chose to stop in for a beer.

The waitress recognized us from the night before. Although we had already eaten, and weren’t hungry, she brought us an order of sweet potato fries on the house. (Apparently you can’t just order just drinks there, some kind of law.)

We had the place to ourselves for a while, but more Americans came in shortly thereafter. I know this because one of them addressed the waiter with “How’s your English?” before even saying hello. He didn’t wait for an answer and left to use the restroom without even ordering anything. The rest were well behaved, but the asshat from Chicago who couldn’t be bothered to lower his voice proved the very reason the rest of the world dislikes Americans. I don’t know if he behaved like this back home or not, but my experience has been that a majority of us simply forget our manners when we travel.

We left shortly thereafter, mouthing quiet apologies to the kind waitstaff. After a quick ride back, we bumped into some of my husband’s colleagues on the street, and we stopped in a brasserie for a beer. We traded stories about the trip so far before retiring to our hotel for the night. My feet were killing me, so I drew a hot bath to soak and poured a ruby leffe to quaff before bed.

Paris – Day 2

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We had a full day tour scheduled for the champagne region, so we dressed and met the tour group in the lobby. The day would be a long one, so we loaded up at the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. The bus wound through the city, as the tour guide called out the various sights we passed.

The bus ride would be about 1 1/2 hours to the first vineyard, a drive that took us first through the city, but quickly devolved into the similar looking landscapes we were used to seeing in the east coast of the United States. We passed lovely farm regions and small villages that, but for the distinctive stamp of French culture, could easily have been from the area where I grew up.

Along the way, one of the necessary streets was closed for some kind of event, so the tour took a slightly panicked detour until finally stopping to ask some random person for directions. As we arrived to find other tour groups waiting, it became obvious to the tour guide’s angst about arriving on time. We managed to get in, though, and the group began its slow descent into the wine cellars.

The tour guide gave a wonderful presentation of the champagne production process. The caves had been hand carved from old chalk mines, still soft to the touch. There were beautifully restored wooden doors and statues honoring Saint John the Baptist (who is apparently the patron saint of cellar workers). We finished our tour with a video and finally some actual champagne.

After the wine cellar, we had a brief tour of the city of Reims, mostly focusing on the cathedral. The word immense is a staggering understatement for this behemoth of stone and cut stained glass. Although heavily shelled in the world wars, the structure still stood. Some of the windows were blown out by the attacks, but were restored with less elaborate patterns in the reconstruction.

The guide informed us that several French kings had been crowned there, which seemed curious to me. One would think that they would hold such grand events in the capital. I’ll have to do more research on that to get a better understanding.

After the tour, we broke for lunch. We found an area full of cafés but chose poorly. Our orders were wrong, my husband’s lunch inedible as his burger was totally raw. Not having much time, we just paid the bill and left. I did find a chocolatier and bought a large chocolate macaron for each of us for €3,50 each. They were heavenly!

As we waited for the rest of our group, I made light conversation with one if the pretty trophy wives, who was exquisitely nice to me. We were soon joined by some of her friends who consoled me about missing my son, the pitfalls of having daughters over sons and we glanced wistfully at the gorgeous French clothiers which were sadly closed on Sunday. It was uplifting to be accepted, even for a moment, by such a posh group.

We had another vineyard to visit, and the drive there was even more gorgeous than before. The bus wound its way through lush, green countryside with quaint villages nestled in like content doves. We arrived at our destination, a beautiful town of Eperney, where another champagne vineyard awaited us.

This tour was fully automated, with a video presentation, a “panoramic lift” and finally a small train tour through the underground caves. The video was interesting, highlighting the family vineyard’s origin and history of somewhat exotic self promotion, but without audio, the group quickly devolved into lesser maturity levels, giggling and making comments to fill the silence.

The panoramic lift was an exercise in claustrophobia, again without audio, slowly descending to the bottom of the cellars where the train awaited us. Here we were given audio devices with the remainder of the tour already preprogrammed. Once the train finished the tour, we were finally given some champagne. It was nice enough, but too pricey to justifying the purchase. We snapped a few more photos and hopped back on the bus back.

Once we returned to Paris, we decided to head to the Latin quarter for dinner. We had to take the metro, connecting at another station before reaching our destination. The concierge was kind enough to map out directions, which seemed pretty straightforward.

The subway system, regardless of city always weirds me out. There’s almost always some vagrant or panhandler mucking about, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Mostly because I truly want to help the less fortunate, but don’t want to be victimized myself.

At the first station, a young man and his lady companion got on the same train as we did. He kept turning around to stare at me, following us at our connecting station. I let them pass ahead of us, even giving them a long head start to wherever they were going. Still, the guy kept turning around to look at me. At our next stop, I paused when the train cames, opting to simply wait for the next one. He and his friend took the train and sped off into the night, but not before one parting glare as we remained behind at the station.

We breathed a sigh of relief, as we waited for the next train. For a moment, I felt foolish, but I’ve always tried to listen to my gut when something didn’t feel right. Maybe he was harmless, maybe not. But I’m alive and that’s all that mattered.

We arrived at the Latin quarter and found it hopping with activity. The shops and restaurants were piled on top of each other, but eventually we found our destination: a British chain called Frog Burger. The food and house-made ales were both delicious and reasonable, the staff accommodating and friendly. We stayed late, chatting with the waitresses who could not have been nicer. After a lovely meal, we finally returned to the hotel for the night.

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