Paris, Day 2 (Part 2)

Okay . . . so we walked around Versailles for about four hours? It was a long time. I can see why some people buy the two-day pass. Though I wish I had more energy (and less pained feet) to see the Petite Trianon farther out on the estate, I had to remember that this was Thing 1’s vacation, too, and he declared he was fine if he didn’t see it. I honored that. I adjusted my shoes a bit so I couldn’t feel the blister, and we set off leaving the palace’s grounds to head back toward the train station and the McDonald’s across the street.

Thing 1 and I have been careful to avoid (for the most part) American restaurants, because we want the “full experience” of being in this other country. Why eat at a McDonald’s here when one could so easily eat at a McDonald’s in the U. S.? Where’s the new experience? Nevertheless, sometimes it cannot be avoided, or it leads us to feeling just a little bit closer to home; there’s some comfort to kinda knowing what you’re going to find. Except . . . the menu isn’t exactly the same. And, we discovered, there are some delightful additions to a McDonald’s in Paris (or Versailles, just outside of Paris), that an American McDonald’s just doesn’t have. An American McDonald’s has a plastic or acrylic boxed container sitting on the counter with stale, old tarts or cookies inside. The Versailles McDonald’s has this:

The Versailles McDonald's treat case!
The Versailles McDonald’s treat case!

It was pretty amazing. How does one choose when tempted with all of that delicious goodness? Interestingly, they also had kiosks set up through which you could place your order, pay by credit or ATM, and then pick it up at a special line. This wouldn’t work for us, of course, because I don’t have that credit card with the chip in it like most of Europe has, so we had to wait in a regular line. In the end, Thing 1 got his ice cream and we left to board the train. This time it was easy to figure out what train to get on because we were at the end of the line. There was only one way to go. No RER problems to face!

Our next stop was going to be the Arc de Triomphe. Originally, I had planned (since it is open until midnight) to visit it once we arrived in Paris after we dropped our stuff off at the hotel. But, we were exhausted (and dripping in sweat), so we let it go. But it was necessary to visit it before we left, so we decided to squeeze it in between the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre. It is possible to ascend the Arc de Triomphe; there are stairs inside and a viewing deck at the top, but Thing 1 said he “passed” on going up the steps (as our feet were really tired by this point). There was no elevator. So we contented ourselves with simply walking around it and sitting for a while to view the traffic as it circled the Arc. That was entertaining beyond belief!

The Arc de Triomphe . . . commissioned by Napoleon.
The Arc de Triomphe . . . commissioned by Napoleon.

There are NO marked traffic lanes within the traffic circle that surrounds the Arc. Cars, trucks, taxis, and scooters may enter the circle from the Champs-Elysées and no less than eleven other avenues, and there are no traffic signals to indicate when to enter or not. There are only signals at the beginnings of avenues leading out of the circle, and if one of them is red, and cars want to enter, they must wait, backing up all the other cars in the circle. But no one wants to stop, and some want to veer to the right to make sure they get their opportunity to exit the circle at their desired avenue, so they  keep pushing in and driving forward, cutting off other drivers, nearly causing accidents in their quest to get to the avenue they want. There is a tremendous amount of honking and gesturing. The scooter drivers complicate things as they zip in and out of traffic. I regretted that I didn’t have the stop-motion camera app installed on the iPad I was carrying around, because that would have made for some interesting viewing. (I resolved to install it when I got back to the hotel so I could film Trafalgar Square in London in the same manner.) Thing 1 and I viewed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from France during World War I), and viewed the reliefs along the side of the Arc.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I under the Arc de Triomphe ("Triumphal Arch")
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I under the Arc de Triomphe (“Triumphal Arch”)

There was a wonderful breeze there that helped cool us off and refresh us a bit before our trip the the Louvre.

Feet hurting, we got back on the Métro to make our way to the Louvre. It was open late on Fridays, so even though it was now about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, it would still be open until nearly 10 p.m. that night. The plaza outside the Louvre was wildly busy with tourists, even this late in the afternoon.

Thing 1 at the famous "pyramid" entrance to the Louvre.
Thing 1 at the famous “pyramid” entrance to the Louvre.
A panorama of the plaza outside the Louvre complex . . . it is HUGE.
A panorama of the plaza outside the Louvre complex . . . it is HUGE.

We made our way to the “fast track” line since I had the Paris Museum Pass, had our backpack x-rayed, and made our way into museum. (Did I mention that Thing 1 had free admission to every museum we visited? In France, anyone under 18 years old gets free admission to museums. Also, if one is an EU citizen, under age 26, one gets in free or a significant discount. Also, anyone who is unemployed gets in free.)

We made a beeline for the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the museum. We went up stairs, then up more stairs, took a right, then maybe a left . . . it was deep inside the museum, which was HUGE. It used to be a palace. There was no air conditioning, and the place was filled with people. There were no elevators, or lifts. Thank goodness they had some photocopied signs that directed us to her. It was very hard to find one’s way around this museum! We entered a huge room with high ceilings, filled with Italian art. And there she was.

She was on a wall all by herself a little bit past the middle of the room, behind a piece of glass. Viewers were held back from her a bit by a semi-circular line of barriers, to give everyone a better chance of seeing her. At that, people were still six and seven deep, so Thing 1 and I waited our turn to push our way into the group as people at the front pushed their way back out. It is wonderfully satisfying to finally see something in person that one has only looked at in books, and I was very happy to gaze at her a bit and take it all in. She wasn’t was small as I expected her to be; people have mentioned she isn’t as large as one would expect, so I was thinking she was much smaller than she was. But, I do have to say that, compared to some of the amazingly large paintings in the room that she is in, she is quite small. Thing 1 and I gazed upon paintings that took up entire walls they were so large.

Well, having seen our prize, Thing 1 was anxious to leave. No art lover is he. I was also feeling weary, but we were at the Louvre(!) so I felt some obligation to look around a bit longer. I saw paintings by other Italian masters, as well as some by Albrecht Dürer and Pieter Brueghel, both of whom I also discuss a bit when we get to the Renaissance in history. Did I mention that it was hot – stale air, really, and that there were a lot of stairs and this place was hard to navigate? I know I did, and after a while, that’s all that Thing 1 and I could concentrate on. Somewhat miserable because of all of that, and tired, we decided to leave and make our way back to the hotel. (It is hard to really concentrate on the beautiful art when sweat is dripping down one’s back and one hates to sweat!) The Métro, and the train car we got on, were just as sweaty and stale — and we were crammed into that like sardines — that making it to our hotel was a relief! We turned up the air conditioning, took showers, and fell into bed. I read up on our sites for the next day, falling dead asleep. Thing 1 obviously turned off all the lights at some point and put himself to bed (good boy!) because when I woke up in the night, he was sleeping soundly and all was well.

Tomorrow would be our last day in Paris; we were leaving in the late afternoon on the Chunnel train to get to London. We were both looking forward to it, as at least we would be in a country where we could speak the same language! There is something immensely comforting about that. But before we left, we would be visiting Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, and the Sainte Chapelle. Still a full morning! I pulled my blanket up, turned over, and went back to sleep.

Paris, Day 2 (Part 1)

Our second full day in Paris happened to be the Fourth of July, so in honor of the occasion I wore white shorts, a red t-shirt, and I carried my blue sweater with me.

Happy Fourth of July in France! (If it weren't for the French and their help during the Revolutionary War, we'd never have won!)
Happy Fourth of July in France! (If it weren’t for the French and their help during the Revolutionary War, we’d never have won!)

(It had rained by the time we woke up and it was a much cooler day. I looked forward to not sweating as much!)

I was happy to be in France on the 4th because, after all, if it were not for the French helping us out during the Revolutionary War, we would have lost. Ironically, the first stop on our itinerary for this day was a visit to the Palace of Versailles, home of the last French king, Louis XVI. He, of course, lost his head during the French Revolution (which started shortly after we were finalizing the writing of our U. S. Constitution).

Unfortunately, to get there we had to get on that blasted RER C line again. And, because it was “out of the zone” covered by our Paris Visite pass, we had to pay for our tickets both there and back, which cost a total of €16. Feeling apprehensive, Thing 1 and I went to the usual Métro stop and prepared to transfer to the RER C line. We got on going the correct direction, and we were congratulating ourselves, thinking we finally got it. But after the Eiffel Tower stop, instead of going to the direction of “Javel” it went a different direction entirely (Avenue of President Kennedy)! So . . . frustrated again, Thing 1 and I got off of the train, exited through the “sortie” and made our way to the other side of the platform to make our way back to the Eiffel Tower stop. We inserted our tickets into the turnstile . . . only to find they didn’t work anymore! To the Paris Métro system, our journey had come to an end (even if we didn’t go to Versailles); now that we were headed back in the opposite direction (to fix our mistake), it meant the tickets were not valid. So . . . Thing 1 and I made our way to a kiosk at the President Kennedy station to buy new tickets. As before, on the day of our arrival, when I couldn’t get my credit card to work in the kiosk, it wouldn’t work  this day either. It turns out that, unless you have a “chip” credit card, which most Americans don’t, it is not possible to purchase tickets at a self-serve kiosk . . . and of course there was no attendant on duty at the station. We were stuck! That is, we were . . . until the brilliant Thing 1 said, “Wait! Can’t we use our other Paris Visite tickets to get back in the station and get back to the Eiffel Tower stop at least?”

Yes! Yes, we could! So we did. Since the Eiffel Tower station was a much bigger “touristy” station, there was an attendant there who explained how to get on the right train to Versailles and sold us new tickets. It turns out that there are essentially two RER C trains sharing the same track. Thing 1 and I did have the right idea to start off. What we did wrong is that we didn’t get off at Eiffel Tower and wait at the platform for another train coming on the same track that would veer off into the direction of Versailles. It turns out that with this RER line, going in the correct direction is sometimes not enough. It is necessary to get off, wait at the platform, and then get back on another train. Confusing! I got it finally, but it was in vain because after our trip to Versailles, we wouldn’t be needing to travel anywhere anymore on an RER line. All of our other sites we were going to visit were accessible by Métro.

So we got to Versailles after that with no incidents. Immediately upon disembarking from the train and exiting the station, Thing 1 spotted a McDonald’s. I told him that when we were done with Versailles, I would get him an ice cream. Don’t think he would let me forget it! We approached the gate, accented with gold.

Outside the gold-embellished gate of Versailles . . .
Outside the gold-embellished gate of Versailles . . .

Versailles is immense and impressive. Thanks to my Paris Museum Pass, I didn’t need to wait in line to purchase a ticket; I simply walked right up to the line ready to enter the palace.

Just a TINY section of the front facade of the palace . . . the gardens are on the opposite side.
Just a TINY section of the front facade of the palace . . . the gardens are on the opposite side.

It did not cost a bit for Thing 1 to enter. In fact, every museum we went to was “no charge” for anyone under 18 years old! The tour started off with a description of how Versailles had changed over the years from a “hunting lodge” into the complex it is today. It explained what happened to the palace after the fall of the monarchy. Then the tour showed the king’s rooms, the queen’s rooms, and the famous “Hall of Mirrors.”

The "Sun King" motif was everywhere; Louis XIV, the Sun King, started the expansion of Versailles from "hunting lodge" to the palace we know today.
The “Sun King” motif was everywhere; Louis XIV, the Sun King, started the expansion of Versailles from “hunting lodge” to the palace we know today.
The chapel at Versailles, because all were deeply religious and attended church regularly.
The chapel at Versailles, because all were deeply religious and attended church regularly.
An ornate corner in the ceiling, decorated with the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of French royalty.
An ornate corner in the ceiling, decorated with the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of French royalty.
The archway leading into the famous Hall of Mirrors.
The archway leading into the famous Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, famous for many reasons, one of them being the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, famous for many reasons, one of them being the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.
The Queen's bedroom (with summer decorations); decorations (bed coverings, draperies) were changed seasonally.
The Queen’s bedroom (with summer decorations); decorations (bed coverings, draperies) were changed seasonally.

It is hard to describe the opulence of the king’s rooms: the ceilings were painted by French masters, with scenes that symbolized the king’s great power and majesty. There were works of art on the wall, marble floors and accents, crystal lighting fixtures, statuary, and views out on to the gardens below.

We broke for a bit and had lunch at a restaurant there called Angelina. They have a few locations around Paris, including at Versailles. I ordered quiche Lorraine, some French onion soup — though to them, I guess it is just onion soup — and a chocolate eclair. Lunch was delicious and I was proud of Thing 1 for going out of his “comfort zone” to try a bit of my quiche and the soup.

Our lunch of quiche, onion soup, salad, and bread.
Our lunch of quiche, onion soup, salad, and bread.
Thing 1's éclair for dessert!
Thing 1’s éclair for dessert!
Look at that chocolatey goodness inside!
Look at that chocolatey goodness inside!

That, and he was being such a team player as we walked around Versailles for hours, he definitely earned that ice cream at McDonald’s! After lunch, we had a quick tour of some of the rooms set aside for the king and queen’s children. As we were walking through one of the rooms, on the velvet wall coverings, someone had rubbed in “USA!” (because you know velvet is like that). It afforded me another opportunity to remind Noah of how important it is to be good examples of Americans rather than the crummy example of whomever had done that. From the children’s rooms, we headed out to the gardens. They stretch out as far as the eye can see.

A view of the gardens from a bedroom at Versailles.
A view of the gardens from a bedroom at Versailles.
The gardens . . . the ones that were close up!
The gardens . . . the ones that were close up!
More of the gardens, as seen from the back of the house.
More of the gardens, as seen from the back of the house.
The back of the palace as seen from the gardens.
The back of the palace as seen from the gardens.

There was NO WAY Thing 1 and I were going to walk them in their entirety. Our feet were hurting, and I already had a blister, so we did not even make it out to see Marie Antoinette’s “Petite Trianon” or the other chateau on the property set aside for the king’s mistress. We turned in our audio guides and headed back to the train station, and Noah’s well-deserved ice cream.

More about the McDonald’s we visited, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre in the next post!

Paris, Day 1 (Part 2)

So after our trip to the Eiffel Tower, Thing 1 and I tried to find the “Love Bridge” to visit. This is the bridge that has become famous because lovers who come to Paris attach a lock (with their names on it) to the bridge and then throw away the key into the Seine, symbolizing their everlasting love and commitment to each other. I mistakenly thought that the name of the bridge was the Pont de l’Alma. (A “pont” is a bridge.) Hence, Noah and I headed to the Pont de l’Alma, which was not too far of a walk from the Eiffel Tower. However, once we reached the bridge, it was obvious that this was not the bridge we were looking for, and I resigned myself to coming home without a picture of it for my dad, who had also read about it.

So continuing on, we ambled toward our next stop: the Musée de l’Armée. We had lunch before we actually went into the museum. We shared a chicken, cheese, tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, on a baguette, with some salad. (Thing 1 did not eat the salad of course, but he loved the sandwich!)

Our lunch at the Musée de l'Armée café.
Our lunch at the Musée de l’Armée café.

The Musée de l’Armée is an interesting building that contains a chapel as well as the main museum buildings. At one point, its primary purpose was for veterans. There we saw medieval (and later) suits of armor, weapons, and more. Weapons we saw ranged from daggers, to halberds, to swords, pistols, muskets, and cannon. There were even pieces of armor for horses and the young kings of France.

Medieval armor at the Musée de l'Armée
Medieval armor at the Musée de l’Armée

 

Daggers!
Daggers!
Swords!
Swords!
Don't forget to outfit the horse!
Don’t forget to outfit the horse!
Pistols!
Pistols!
Cannon!
Cannon!

DSCN2876

Closer detail of one of the many cannon.
Closer detail of one of the many cannon.
Detail of the back of the cannon (one of the many there!)
Detail of the back of the cannon (one of the many there!)

After looking at all of the military realia, we proceeded to the chapel. The chapel is actually divided into two parts: one side was for the veterans and any other non-royals, and the other side was for the royals. The altar, especially on the kingly side, was ornate and gilded. Thing 1 lit a candle in the chapel, which is still used to this day. Then, we went to the other side of the chapel, the royal side, which today is mostly noteworthy because it contains the tomb of Napoléon, revered figure to the French. This is some tomb. His tomb is lower than the entry ground level of the church in a large, circular space. So, one walks into the chapel, and then is able to gaze down upon a massive sarcophagus in the center of the space. It is possible to descend down into that space through steps that are behind the altar and crucifix in the chapel.

The huge chapel in which Napoleon rests, originally the church attached to the former home for veterans which is now the Musée de l'Armée.
The huge chapel in which Napoleon rests, originally the church attached to the former home for veterans which is now the Musée de l’Armée.

Napoléon, like many Egyptian pharoahs were, is actually contained within succesive coffins which were then all placed into the sarcophagus. It is massive. It is not possible to touch it because of a marble balustrade that keeps visitors from approaching too closely. Lining the walls of the space are twelve different sculpted reliefs, each depicting Napoléon at the center and illustrating the great things that he accomplished during his reign (reform of laws, etc.). Directly opposite the altar, within the space is a chaplet or niche, containing a huge statue of Napoléon, accented with gold leaf.

The statue of Napoleon in a chaplet or niche directly opposite (and in a straight line with) the altar and his sarcophagus.
The statue of Napoleon in a chaplet or niche directly opposite (and in a straight line with) the altar and his sarcophagus.

The statue in the niche, and his tomb are directly centered in the chapel and are in a straight line with the altar with Jesus on it,

The altar seen behind Napoleon's sarcophagus, from the niche where his statue stands.
The altar seen behind Napoleon’s sarcophagus, from the niche where his statue stands.

showing all the importance of Napoléon to France. His sarcophagus is also located directly under the embellished dome of the church,

The dome of the chapel at the Musée de l'Armée.
The dome of the chapel at the Musée de l’Armée.
The dome under which Napoleon rests.
The dome under which Napoleon rests.

the roof of which is covered in gold leaf and conspicuously visible from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The church also contains the tombs of other great military figures in French history.

Napoleon's Sarcophagus
Napoleon’s Sarcophagus

Thing 1 and I were tired, though, from walking around, so we made our way back to the hotel. We planned to take a nap before heading to the Musée d’Orsay, which was open late on Thursday nights until 9:45. Even though Thing 1 wanted to play games on his iPad, I made him take a nap; we both fell deeply asleep and were completely surprised when the alarm went off an hour and a half later. Thing 1 woke up grumpy. I bribed him a bit — because let’s be honest, he wasn’t exactly looking forward to looking at art all evening — by telling him I’d take him to a KFC up the street from our hotel. That got him out of bed and moving and off we went.

When we arrived at the museum, I was surprised to see how many people were there at nearly 8 p.m. at night. The museum is located in a converted train station, and has a very light, open feel to it. Thing 1 and I saw works by Seurat, one of my favorites. We sat and people-watched for a bit, too. I could tell Thing 1 wasn’t into it as much, though, so we set off to come home. That’s when we ran into trouble again on the RER C line. Ugh! (Thing 1 and I came to hate that line.) So we made our way down to the train, only to discover that none of the trains were running. There was something wrong. We waited about 5 minutes to see if they started up again, but it was kinda miserable waiting. It was so hot, and we were starting to sweat. Finally, we decided to give up, find a Métro line nearby, and work our way back to our hotel avoiding any RER lines. I wanted to get back to the hotel before dark (which is nearly 10 p.m. in Paris). We finally made it. Bedtime for us — it had been an eventful, but fun day!

Paris, Day 1 (Part 1)

Our first “real” day in Paris started out very inauspiciously when I woke up and started trying to blow dry my hair. Our hotel (which has an elevator sooooooo small it is almost not to be believed) actually had a hair dryer in the bathroom. I was not counting on this, and so I brought my own. But, as there is a dearth of plugs in this room, I figured I’d use theirs even though I usually hate hotel hair dryers. So, I began blow drying my hair, and after about two minutes, the dryer completely stopped working. Hmm. This develoment was decidedly NOT good, for I only had not even one-half of my hair dried, and Thing 1 and I had vacation pictures to take! I could not go out with only a fraction of my hair looking decent. So, I got out my own blow dryer and my plug adaptor (because electrical outlets are different here), plugged in my dryer, and began to dry my hair.

Once again, after about two minutes, there were problems. This time, whatever was happening with my blow dryer and adaptor actually tripped a circuit breaker with a POP, and plunged our room into darkness. All electricity was off. “Oh great,” I thought, “I caused our hotel to lose electricity!” I imagined someone coming to our room, kinda accusatory, like, “Ugh, what did the Americans do NOW? Silly Americans.” But no one did, so I went downstairs and told the concierge that my room had no electricity. He went right to the “cabinet”SSSSS to flipped the switch, and put us back in action. He was very gracious, enough so that I assumed that I was not the first foreigner to have something like this happen. But, my problem was only half-way to being solved. I still had wet hair and was understandably loathe to use my own dryer again. But, the one in the bathroom wasn’t working either, or so I thought. Upon picking it up again, I found it had resurrected itself and was ready to work for me . . . for two more minutes. Finally, I figured out that the thing shut off when it got too hot, cooled off, and was ready to work again. I switched to a cooler, slower setting to dry my hair. Finally successful, Thing 1 and I grabbed our things and went downstairs to breakfast.

Thing 1 is a very picky eater, so I think he was very underwhelmed by their spread. They did have small baguettes, some cold cuts, some plain yogurt, fruit salad, apple sauce, juice, corn flake-looking cereal, hard boiled eggs. I think he was expecting American-style waffles or French toast. So he settled in with his baguette which, make no mistake, made him happy. He is a total bread eater, so that was right up his alley.

After a quick breakfast, we stopped by an ATM to get some more Euros, and headed off to the Métro station. To make traveling easier we needed to purchase the “Paris Visite” pass, which allowed for unlimited travel on Métro lines, RER lines, busses, etc. No more calculating fares and buying things ticket at a time — only to cause problems for us later! That purchased, we headed off to figure out how to get to the Eiffel Tower, our first stop. I wanted to be there nice and early because I didn’t pre-book tickets for that, and I didn’t want to wait hours in line. (I had read about the lines being crazy insane during the tourist season.) Thing 1 and I have had no problems navigating the Métro lines — those are easy. The RER lines are a different story. It isn’t as clear-cut (or at least it wasn’t to us) what platform to go to in order to ensure we were going the correct location. And as we finally figured out (but not until the next day on the way to Versailles), just because a train pulls into the station, doesn’t mean that that’s the train you want! Sometimes four trains may pass before the one you need pulls in. It was a mystery to us, and made us groan when we saw we needed to board one at some point.

But, we made it to the Eiffel Tower, which was amazing to see.

Still some distance away from the tower — it's huge!
Still some distance away from the tower — it’s huge!

 

The Eiffel Tower up closer, from the Seine.
The Eiffel Tower up closer, from the Seine.

Thing 1 and I walked along the Seine and approached it gradually. It is breathtaking in its size. We got in line, which was long but moved quickly; we got there just as it opened for the day. Thing 1 pleaded for me not to buy the tickets that took us to the summit, but I did anyway. How could I not? We were PACKED and squished into the elevator that took us up to the first observation deck. It was a hot and un-air conditioned elevator, filled with people of all nationalities. Thing 1 and I emerged onto the deck and took in the view. We visited all four sides to see in all directions and I took a few panoramic shots.

The Arc de Triomphe, as seen from the first observation point of the Eiffel Tower.
The Arc de Triomphe, as seen from the first observation point of the Eiffel Tower.
The Seine and another view of Paris from the first observation point of the Eiffel Tower.
The Seine and another view of Paris from the first observation point of the Eiffel Tower.

We took two “selfies” of ourselves, and then got in the line to get to the summit.

Our "selfie" on the Eiffel Tower
Our “selfie” on the Eiffel Tower

Behind us in line were two fifteen year old girls (guessing at age), who were loudly talking and generally being obnoxious. I whispered in Thing 1’s ear that they were perpetuating the stereotype of Americans being thought of as rude, and reminded him that we were to always be the best model for proper American behavior that we could be. The view from the summit was even more amazing. Thing 1 was happy that the observation deck was enclosed; he opted not to go out onto the open one. 🙂

More about our day in another post!

Getting to Paris, Part 2

Installment 2

So it is 3 a.m. in the morning here in Paris, and I’ve been awake since about 1 a.m. In California, it is only about 6 p.m., so maybe (after a nap) that’s why I am wide awake. Or maybe I’m still thrilled and excited to be here and can’t wait to get started on my day. I did make a good effort to lie still and try to go back to sleep, but I finally gave up.(Thing 1 is sleeping soundly, though.) I was going to try to read up on some of the locations we were going to visit today, but the wifi here is spotty, and my iPad mini doesn’t seem to want to “join” it as easily as my iPhone, but I don’t want to read on my iPhone. (sigh) First World Problems, I know. Hence, I am catching up on my writing.

Anyway, getting to our connecting flight and going through that security checkpoint at Heathrow once we landed was very easy. Once we were through the checkpoint, we had a bit of time to kill before the flight information for our flight to Paris was put on the board. I got Thing 1 and I sandwiches at Starbucks, some water, and a hot chocolate for Thing 1. We leisurely ate it and people watched.

Our flight to Paris was noneventful, thank God! We got to see the northern coast of France and the countryside outside of Paris before we landed.

The English coastline from our plane window
The English coastline from our plane window
The French coastline from our plane window
The French coastline from our plane window

As we landed, we got to see the Eiffel Tower! It is so amazing to see it in person after seeing pictures of it my entire life. Likewise, the same was true when we were landing in London. We flew in over London from the east, so we could see the Thames, as it wound it’s way through the city. From above, we could see major sights like Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. We will be staying very close to that when we make our way back to London on Saturday evening.

So, once we landed, the next milestone to encounter was to discover whether or not our luggage actually made it all the way from home. And . . . it did! We grabbed it, proceeded to get our passports stamped (woo hoo!), and then continued from there on to customs. I was very disappointed (I guess?) to find there was no one present to rifle through my luggage and ask me questions. I’ve read about this happening and taking hours, but no one even checked our luggage tags. Oh well! I know we’re lucky not to have had to be put through the trouble, but I feel somewhat deprived of a “traditional” touristy experience.

Our next stop at the airport was a tourist desk. It was manned by a gentleman named Laurent who spoke English and was very helpful to me in procuring my Paris Museum Pass, and tickets on the train & Métro to the area of Paris in which our hotel is located. Most everyone took the same route we did into Paris. I was worried that we would be bugging other riders lugging around our suitcases, but so many other riders had them, too, that I felt at ease where that was concerned. We did have trouble, though, once we had to change lines. We needed to transfer on to the RER B line, and we needed to proceed through a “sortie” with our ticket and luggage. Thing 1 put his ticket through, it popped up validated, and he went through the turnstile with his suitcase. I tried the same thing, and . . . it wouldn’t let me pass! I got panicked knowing that Thing 1 was on one side of the turnstile, and I was on another. I frantically looked around, and found another kiosk to possibly purchase another ticket and try to get through the turnstile again. I tried initiating a purchase of another ticket, but even though I chose for the machine to assist me in English, the keypad instructions to complete the purchase were in French. I tried to reason out what the instructions were saying, but each time it denied my purchase attempt. I tried three times, each time with a different credit card for the purchase. I don’t know if it denied my purchase attempts because my credit cards prevented the purchase, thinking it was a fraud attempt (even though I notified them before I left that I would be traveling), or if my U. S. credit card was incompatible with the more sophisticated European systems. Probably it was the latter.

Anyway, I started to get anxious knowing Thing 1 was waiting for me. Looking around, I also saw no one manning the station who could assist me! I could have purchased tickets using Euros, which I did have in my wallet, but the kiosk wanted coin Euros and I only had paper Euros. I started sweating and growing a little more panicked, when finally an attendant (who spoke English) showed up who helped me. Yes! Thing 1 and I proceeded to transfer to the next line. It was VERY crowded and NOT air conditioned. And not everyone wore deodorant, and so I contined to sweat, packed in like a sardine with Thing 1 on our Métro train. We traveled a ways down the line closer to the heart of the city. It got a little less crowded as we got closer to the stop we needed. We got off and needed to transfer to one more line. This meant passing through another “sortie” and instantly I grew nervous again. Just like last time, Thing 1 got through with no issues and I was stranded on the other side feeling chagrined and frustrated. I insterted my ticket through the kiosk twice before it inexplicably opened up. Thing 1 yelled at me to go through, so I did, but then we were able to get help at a manned desk on the other side as this station was a huge hub. I did NOT want that to happen again! (We were still dripping in sweat, too.)

Finally, we reached our last stop, the one near our hotel. There were no escalators at this stop so we had to lug our luggage upstairs, causing us to sweat even more. We managed to get to the street, orient ourselves, and walk about a quarter of a mile to our hotel. Check in was swift! We got in the TINY elevator, made it to our room, connected with wifi to let our loved ones know we were settled, and then proceeded to take showers to wash the sweat away. Despite it being nearly 9:45 p.m., it was only JUST beginning to get dark. We knew we needed to get to bed, though, so we enjoyed the view outside our room for just a bit before getting into bed for the night.

A panoramic photo of the view outside our hotel room window. There was a nice park down below!
A panoramic photo of the view outside our hotel room window. There was a nice park down below!

We needed to be up bright and early to visit the Eiffel Tower in the morning. Also on tap for Thursday included getting a “Paris Visitte” Métro pass to make traveling a lot less frustrating, the Musée de l’Armée (including the tomb of Napoleon), the Musée d’Orsay, and (possibly) the Arc de Triomphe. I had originally hoped to vist the Arc de Triomphe once we got settled at our hotel, since it stays open until 11 p.m., but we were just too sweaty and feeling gross to make it happen. So, we’ll get to it soon.

Nevertheless, we are thrilled to be here! I’ll check back in soon!

Getting to Paris, Part 1

Well, this has been a freakin’ long flight. We’ve got just under two hours to go, and I am getting antsy to land. Currently, Thing 1 and I are flying over the North Atlantic, due south of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Our flight trajectory
Our flight trajectory

Our flight path has taken us northeast from LAX, past Las Vegas and Denver, up through the eastern coast of Canada. Then, we contined northeast until we were roughly even with the southern tip of Greenland, before veering slightly to the southeast toward Ireland and, eventually, London. We hit uncomfortable turbulance over the Rockies . . . well, uncomfortable for me. I prefer none! Then, Thing 1 and I managed to sleep a bit until we found ourselves over Canada. (And there again, some even worse turbulance, at least to me.) Since then, we’ve been awake most of the flight. He and I have never been very good car sleepers, unlike Mr. Rovira and Thing 2, so we’ve not had an easy time of catching some ZZZs. The shades are all drawn on the airplane, even though it is currently bright, bright daylight outside. (As I started this, it was only a quarter to four Los Angeles time, so I think they’re trying to give people as much time to sleep as possible before we go shades up again.)

Thing 1 has enjoyed the first plane ride (that he can remember) so far. He loaded up a bunch of movies onto his iPad before we left, so he’s been keeping himself occupied with watching those, plus playing games. There’s a plug right at each seat, so he’s been able to play to his heart’s content without having to worry about trying to conserve his battery.

Thing 1 and his iPad
Thing 1 and his iPad

We were served a meal soon after lift-off, which he enjoyed. I booked us a window seat when we checked in, so he was able to watch the land disappear below us as we took off, watching things become smaller and smaller. He enjoyed the feeling of extreme speed as we tore off down the run way and eventually became aloft. I was having so much fun observing HIS observations, that I forgot to really be nervous myself, which I usually am at lift-off.

Getting some currency for our trip!
Getting some currency for our trip!
Arrival at LAX for our travel!
Arrival at LAX for our travel!
Waiting to board at LAX
Waiting to board at LAX

Getting through security and eventually boarding the plane was surprisingly hassle free. Thing 1 was a bit bewildered by having to take off his shoes in the security check, saying, “It’s not like I have a gun in my shoe!” I had to tell him that: (1) He shouldn’t even utter such things audibly in an airport, and (2) That, even though I knew HE didn’t have such a thing, someone DID once, and that’s why we’ve taken shoes off ever since at security checkpoints. (I wore my Dansko clogs specifically for that reason on this flight, aside from the fact that they are comfy and I can stand in them all day at school and feel great.) The only unusual thing is that they are doing construction at LAX on a new terminal (who knew? not us!), so after we reached our gate, we had to be shuttled to a remote gate to actually get on our plane. We had to show our passports every step of the way, which is cool for a new passport holder like me. I had no idea that they had as much land as they did at LAX to develop into more terminals and runway space. Suffice to say, I saw parts of LAX that I didn’t know existed.

So, in about one hour and twenty-eight minutes, when we pull into our gate at Heathrow, we’ll have a chance to get off and walk a bit to stretch our legs. Since we are actually heading to Paris before coming back to London, we need to make our way from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 to catch the next flight. That flight is a quick British Airways hop over to Paris. It is slotted to be about one hour, fifteen minutes, but that includes time pushing back and pulling into gates, so the airtime will be less. I imagine it will be somewhat like what a flight to Las Vegas is for Southern Californians. We’ll be landing at the smaller of the two airports that service Paris, Orly. Then, it’s get a Paris Museum Pass in the terminal, get through customs, ride the Métro to our hotel, and get settled. When all is said and done, that might be 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. Paris time, which is about 11 or 11:30 a.m. Los Angeles time. Since it will be close to bedtime in Paris, Thing 1 and I can simply hit the sack to catch up on the sleep we didn’t get on the way over and fight jet lag. IF, however, the excitement of being here is strong enough, we might fit in a trip to the Arc de Triomphe at nightfall before bed. (Sunset is much later here because we are at a higher latitude than Fullerton.)

Keep reading and I’ll let you know how getting through customas was, and what we decided to do upon our arrival!

What have YOU been doing with your time this summer?

I’ve been doing lots of things!

First, I gave up Diet Coke. Former students, you know there was the Big Gulp full of Diet Coke sitting on my desk in the morning . . . for the first week of summer, when I was out and about doing errands, I would stop in a get a fill-up. But then after one week . . . starting the second full week of summer vacation, I haven’t had a drop to drink. So for three full weeks I’ve been drinking water. water. water. Oh, and more water.

It is good that I am drinking all this water because I’ve started jogging again after ten years. Last week I jogged 15 miles on the trails around my house. The week before that I jogged 12 miles. Mrs. Olivolo is my running partner and “coach” and I couldn’t ask for a better person to help me get back into running. She’s enthusiastic and pushes me when I want to stop and walk. She commends me when I go farther than I’ve gone before. We tried to run today, but my leg cramped up WAY painfully, so I’ve been icing it and stretching it today. Tomorrow I’ll do a better warm-up, and then we’ll try for our usual three miles.

I’ve read some books, and taken lots of naps. 🙂

Also, we are having a new driveway put in at our house.

This is the "footprint" of where our new driveway will go.
This is the “footprint” of where our new driveway will go.

As many of you know, I am off to Paris and London this summer, and I have spent many hours at the computer planning my itinerary for my vacation. I am SO EXCITED, as I am ashamed to say I have never been out of the country before. Today, Thing 1 and I went to exchange some of his money he’s been saving for some Euros and British Pounds. He’s known for a year that I am taking him, so he’s been recycling bottles and cans. He managed to earn about $300 from doing that, so he changed all of it in today to currency he can use while we are overseas.

Euros and British Pounds and our passports are ready!
Euros and British Pounds and our passports are ready!

Being the Type A person that I am, I meticulously plotted the locations we’re going to visit onto an iCal calendar that I shared with Thing 1. When creating an event, it is possible to also link URLs, attachments, and other notes to the event. So, for each of our stops, I linked the website to the event, input the address of the location, and added other notes (like best Tube or Metro stop to use to get there). This way, Thing 1 could read about all of the sites we’re going to visit. (This is in addition to what I’ve already told him, of course.) Here’s where were going to go:

  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Musée de l’Armée (which contains Napoleon’s tomb)
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Palace of Versailles
  • Musée de Louvre (where the Mona Lisa is!)
  • Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
  • Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle
  • Sacre Coeur
  • A Chunnel Trip!
  • The Royal Observatory at Greenwich (to see the Prime Meridian line!)
  • Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
  • The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge
  • HMS Belfast & Churchill War Rooms
  • Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, and Hyde Park
  • The George Inn (which is in Southwark, close to where Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral set out upon the journey)
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • The British Library (to see a Gutenberg Bible! the Magna Carta! and more!) and The British Museum (the Rosetta Stone!)
  • Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace (and Big Ben)
  • The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square
  • Stonehenge
  • The Harry Pottery Studio Tour (especially for Thing 1)

Phew! We’ll be busy! I’ll be posting pics and wrap ups of the places we’ve visited while we’re away. Keep checking back to vicariously travel along with us!

Hope you are having a wonderful summer — I am!
Mrs Rovira