Can you fall in love with a city in 30 hours?
10.04.2010 - 11.04.2010 65 °F
The short answer is emphatically.....YES.
Rarely in life do things that are constantly "over-romanticized" ever really live up to expectations. With all of the pop culture references to Paris, I assumed that the sight seeing would be good and I would see a lot of tourist sites. But from the time I popped out of the subway tunnel, I had a feeling it was going to be a special weekend.
Starting from the beginning, I decided to take the train to Paris because even though it was only a 40 minute flight, it was quite expensive. The Thalys train from Cologne was only a 3 hour and 15 minute trip. (The train travels at a peak speed of 186 mph) While it wasn't much cheaper than a flight, it was well worth the experience and total travel time ends up only a little longer. The train was a beautiful red inside and out. Once I figured out the assigned seating, all was well.
I was meeting in Paris with a former co-worker from my AT&T days who happened to be in Europe on business. We decided to meet up for some sight seeing and good meals. Little did we know that because of the volcano we would end up seeing each other again before he was able to escape Europe. (details to follow in another blog)
So I arrive in Paris and catch a very crowded subway and end next to two different groups of Americans. Truthfully it was good to hear people in public speaking English. I spend much of my day in Germany tuning out conversations that I don't understand. I decided to engage the two groups in a chat. Both were groups of college age kids studying in Europe, who were on break from college for a month and traveling around. Sounded like a pretty good deal to me. It only took me about 20 extra years to find a way to stay in Europe and travel around.....a little later, but still pretty cool.
Once I got off the subway and popped up on the street, I was treated to a 3 man street band singing a wonderful tune in French. On my left was a mobile crepe' stand, and on my right a big outdoor florist with amazing fresh flowers. I found my travel companion Bill Brooks across the street sitting outdoors at a very hip French cafe. The weather was perfect for early April. The sun was very bright and it seemed that everyone was getting their first real time outside after a long winter. We had an opportunity to catch up over cappuccinos and couple of croque monsieur (very fancy toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Very popular in Paris cafes)
After lunch we headed to the hotel to drop off our bags. I had heard a bit about how small the hotels were in Paris and I was not disappointed. I had a full size bed, with a nicely appointed room wrapped around it....tightly. The hotel had been renovated recently, so things were nice, but I am pretty sure I could open the door, the window, and flush the toilet without getting off the bed.
Luckily for me, Bill had been to Paris before and had a good concept of the layout of the city. We agreed to be total tourists and see as much as we could in the following 30 hours....and boy did we. Since we were close, we headed across the Seine to the Louvre. (As a side note, and a very sad blow to my masculinity we were on the bridge crossing the river and I almost immediately recognized it as the bridge in the final scene of the Sex and the City series where Carrie meets Mr. Big. Don't know why I recognized it, but I did.) As we approached the Louvre, I could not believe the size of the buildings. I don't know all of the statistics, but it looked like the side facing the river ran for nearly 6 city blocks. When we got into the center I realized that the building formed a big U shape and basically doubled the size of what I expected. What an incredible place! I saw the glass pyramid in the center and all I could think about was the movie The Da Vinci Code. Based on the amount of time we had in town, we decided to tour the grounds and not go inside. I think you could spend 3-4 days in that building alone.
After we got done roaming the grounds of the Louvre, we headed for Notre Dame de Paris. Another amazing experience. I am constantly amazed by the history surrounding the entire city. We took a quick tour inside and soaked up some of the amazing architecture.
From Notre Dame we headed back towards the Champs Elysees. On our way there we made our way past the Grand Palais. Unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we got to peek inside through the gates and I was able to snap a few pics.
As we left the Grand Palais and headed for Champs Elysees, we noticed something very strange that there was little or no traffic heading down this very famous street. Everything I had heard, was that this was a bustling area with lots of traffic and cars. Well it turns out that the Paris marathon was that day and they still had the streets blocked off for part of the race. So we were able to stroll right down the middle of the Champs Elsees and take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe with very little interruption. The whole scene was a little surreal.
Once we got to the Arc we checked out the finish area of the marathon and then made our way towards the Eiffel Tower area. Along the way we stopped for some fantastic French pastries to save for later in the day. As we entered the area right before the Eiffel Tower area we found an amazing cafe with outdoor seating to have some lunch and enjoy the sunshine while gazing at the tower. We sat there for about an hour soaking up the sun and atmosphere. Since I have been in Seattle all winter, I managed to quickly get a burn on my nose and cheeks. But it was totally worth it to feel the sun for a change.
Part of the biggest entertainment besides seeing the tower, was the constant parade of high end cars driving around the traffic circle we were near. I don't know that I have seen so many exotic cars in one place. We saw Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, etc. One might think it was a parade of some sort, but I think it was just the first really nice day in Paris for the year and everyone wants to get out their pride an joy to show off.
Once we pried ourselves from our seats, we headed to the ridge overlooking the Eiffel Tower. I am not sure what I was expecting. I know I have seen millions of pictures of it before, but it was more impressive than I even imagined. The park surrounding the tower was absolutely stunning. I could stand on the piazza above the park and watch the people go by for hours. I guess it I should have realized it was so famous for a reason, but I have to say I was very impressed with the whole scene.
As we wandered towards the crowds of people near the tower we noticed a number of heavily armed military men patrolling the area. It seemed a bit out of place, but made sense to have a presence there to deter any evil activities.
We did not make our way up the tower, the line looked like there may be a 2-3 hour wait. I knew I would be back, so there was no need to spend our limited time waiting in line. We ended up taking the obligatory 100 pictures below and around the tower. I enjoyed the scene of the dozens of illegal street vendors running in mass away from the bicycle police, all of them with there Eiffel Tower replicas clanging as they ran.
As we headed back towards where we started the day we ended up in the embassy area of the city and stumbled upon the Polish Embassy and this was the day after the plane crash that killed their President. There was a giant pile of flowers and candles placed up against the gate and there were a steady stream of dignitaries coming to the embassy to pay their respects. It was an impressive sight and something I will not forget. It was a terrible tragedy and a very powerful scene.
Afterwards we made our way back towards the hotel for a quick rest, then off to dinner. We headed towards the Latin Quarter and found a very cool cafe in a side alley. The food was great, but as the sun went down it got a little chilly and windy in the area. So we finished up our meal and the carafe of wine that Bill had ordered ;-) and headed out for a night cap. Bill was living on borrowed time already based on his jet lag (flew red-eye and didn't get much sleep) so I knew it was going to be an early evening. So we stopped at a pub and enjoyed a drink and some quick conversation and called it a night.
We were up at a decent time the next day and had a great breakfast and caught a few more sights before making our way to the train station for the trip back. Bill hopped off the train in Brussels for his week of work in the home office and I made it back to Bonn with little trouble. Little did we know at the time that we would spend more quality time together thanks to the volcano.
The trip to Paris was so amazing that Mary and I changed our itinerary for her trip over in June to allow us the chance to spend 3 days exploring Paris together. I am really looking forward to returning and getting to know the city even better. If it is possible to fall in love with a city....then I am in love with Paris.