Paris Trip Recap – Day 1

I’m writing my memoirs of the last week. More Paris talk with a few French words thrown in for good measure. Skip-a-voo if you’re not interested. That’s not French, in case you were wondering.

So, day 1 was Thursday. I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport (pronounced shawdagaw, as best I can tell) at about 9 a.m. They say Southerners run their words together. We don’t hold a candle to the French. I stood in line to go through customs and all I got was a date stamp in my passport. I thought I would get some cool looking stamp with at least the word France on it somewhere. It was a real let down. Then, I went on an expedition to find my luggage. Thankfully, the French and English languages share numbers, so I really didn’t have to know what Baggage Claim was in French, I just had to find the right number over the carousels.

I was nervous about taking the metro into the city. I had specific instructions from the manager of my rental on which exchanges to make, but not having much experience with mass transit, I was still unsure of how intimidating it would be. One of my friends offered to meet me at my first stop and help me get on the right train. Thanks Lori! It was a bit like a labyrinth in this particular station. Not all stations are so bad. We got on the right train and took the stop the manager told me. It ended up being one stop too soon, so we had quite a hike to the apartment.

I got setup at my apartment, which I found through vrbo.com. I highly recommend this service. My apartment was only slightly less expensive than a hotel but probably about 10 times the size of a typical European hotel room, plus it included a kitchen. I didn’t cook there since I was by myself. Then, Lori and I went to lunch and walked to the Tour Eiffel (translated Eiffel Tower) because I was only about 6 blocks from it. Well, two blocks over to the Champ de Mars (the big long field that runs on one side of the tower) and about 4 blocks up to the tower itself.

My first impression of the Eiffel Tower was WOW! That thing is tall. I mean really, really tall. And the base is massive. I was not prepared to be blown away by it. But it is really cool. Lori had to leave for an appointment, and since I did not have my camera with me I walked back to my apartment to get it. Then, I walked back to the tower and took pictures.

It was about mid-afternoon now, and I was not tired. I had not planned anything for the first day, not knowing how I would feel after a 12 hour plane ride and 7 hour time difference. I looked at the map of the city I had bought and thought about what else I could do. The Arc de Triomphe looked pretty close. Important note, distances on a map are deceptive. I tried to take a nearby metro, but the ticket window was closed. The ticket (billet in French) machines are in French…well you can choose English, but you have to navigate through two French screens to get to the English screen. Helpful? No. So, I decided it was a beautiful day for a walk. And didn’t I want to experience Paris up close and personal? It was a beautiful 70 degree-ish day, and the walk to the Arc was very enjoyable.

Once I got there, I wondered how in the world you actually got to the Arc. It sits in the middle of a roundabout where 12 streets converge. Another important note, pedestrians do not have the right of way in France. Crossing the street against the light is hazardous to your health. After crossing several streets, I found one of two entrances to an underground tunnel that takes you to the Arc. That thing is also very massive. History note, it was built by one of the Napoleons as a welcome home to victorious French troops after one of his many wars. Rumor has it Napoleon was short on temper, patience, and modesty. It was a theme matching his height, apparently. He was, however, brilliant, graduating from the French version of West Point in one year. You climb the Arc by a circular stairway. I didn’t count the number of stairs, but one Internet site says 284. It felt like 2,000. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t the only one wheezing and stopping to rest on the way up. I took the elevator down. At the top of the Arc, you can see for miles, the most notable site being the Eiffel Tower. There is a museum in the arch chronicling the history, but I did not pay much attention to it. I am sadly lacking in knowledge of French history, which I intend to correct if I get the opportunity to go back.

As I was getting ready to leave the Arc, they were setting up for some ceremony. Under the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The police blocked off this area and a band marched to the tomb and played a song. A group of military-looking men, like an honor guard, lined up on one side of the tomb. Then, some people were presented with wreaths at the tomb. I couldn’t see very well and there were not announcements about what they were doing, not that I could have understood any speech made, but I might have been able to get the gist of it from someone else. Anyway, it was neat to see.

Then, I started the walk back to my apartment. While I was in the Arc, someone rearranged the streets and it seemed to take twice the time to walk back. By the way, a map in Paris is an absolutle necessity. Because Paris is a very, very old city most of it is not laid out in square blocks. Many, if not most, of the streets run at an angle and intersections might consist of three, four, five or more streets. I had to stop at each intersection to check my course because it was easy to suddenly find myself several blocks away from my intended destination. A compass and a boy scout would have come in handy. About this time, my knee and my feet began hurting. This did not bode well for the rest of the trip where walking is imperative.

I stopped at a patisserie (bakery) for a sandwich and a macaroon on the way back to my apartment. I got a toasted feta fromage (cheese) and d’olive (olive) sandwich which was divine. The macaroon is a classic French filled cookie that makes the Oreo look like a pitiful imposter. In the touristy shops the macaroons are small (about the size of a half dollar) and come in various flavors, such as pistachio. The one I got, which unfortunately was the only one I had the entire trip, was chocolate, about 3 inches across, and had 2 layers of cream and a thin cookie in the middle. I ate the whole thing all by myself. Yum.

Thus ends day 1 of Paris. Stay tuned for more.

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