In 1996, we again went to London and while there, met a CompuServe friend, Sian Thomas. The three of us, and Sian's friend Anne, decided to take the chunnel and spend a day in Paris.
We met Sian and Anne at the train station and, after a quick breakfast in the waiting area, boarded the Eurostar for our 3 hour ride to Paris. Though I thought I might be claustrophobic going under the English Channel, I found the 22 minutes in the tunnel didn't bother me at all. Interesting when we emerged to discover that the countryside in this part of France was decidedly different from England. The church spires, for example, were quite different, with flat bits half way up and shorter spikes. We hit top speed shortly after emerging from the chunnel and it was announced that we were traveling at 186 miles per hour.
We arrived at Gare du Nord, where Sian took over and bought metro tickets for all of us and we took the metro to Rambuteau station. We walked to the Pompidou Center and took the great glass escalator to the top floor, from where we had a wonderful view of the whole city. Interesting that it has such a terrific view and yet is not really set up for people to take pictures--there is almost no place to stand and there is no unobstructed view at all. We were all crammed into a tiny platform waiting our turn to step up and shoot a couple of pictures.
Downstairs at the Pompidou Center is Cyberia, the French cyber cafe, and so we had coffee and 30 minutes on the computer (after first trying to figure out what to do with the French keyboard). Walt and I also managed, in halting French and halting English, to buy 15 French post card stamps.
We walked from the Pompidou Center to Notre Dame, which was both "under construction" and closed till 1400 hrs. Sian decided we should take a water boat down to the Eiffel Tower, but there were no boats around either and none scheduled until 1400 (guess Paris shuts down from 12-2 p.m.) so we went by metro to the Champ de Mars station and walked to the Eiffel Tower. What an emotional experience! After all those years of studying French and thinking about whether I had enough nerve to go to Paris, here I was standing under the Eiffel Tower. The line to go up was not all that long, so we got in line. Bought post cards (turned out to be pretty crappy after all) from someone selling junk to the tourists. But there were 15 of them, so we could dash off 15 PCs saying "Guess what--we're actually here!" before leaving France.
We went all the way to the top. Lucked out on a gorgeous day and clear view all over the place. Took lots of pictures. We managed to get down to the second level without much problem, but the line to get into the elevators to go to the bottom was quite long. It's a two-level elevator, so I suggested that we walk down one flight of stairs and catch it at that level instead of where the crowds were. Unfortunately Sian misunderstood me and thought I wanted to walk down to the ground so she and Anne headed off. What a trip! It went on forever. I kept teeth gritted and smile on my face because I didn't want to admit that I was not enjoying this, thinking that Sian was handling it so well. Turns out Sian wrote: We ...had to queue for the lifts down. They take you down in stages, in kind of double decker lifts and you queue on different levels for them. We got impatient cos we didn't want to waste valuable sightseeing time, and Bev suggested we walk down. Now this surprised Anne and I but we Brits are used to bizarre US tourists, so we said OK and set off. I can go downhill pretty good, so took the lead. The view down was amazing, till after a couple hundred steps I realised the people still looked like ants and we had a loooong way to go. The only consolation was we passed people climbing UP who looked a lot worse than I felt
. Anyway by the time we made it to the bottom my legs were like jelly, so I sank down onto the step and awaited Bev and Walt. When they arrived Bev said in a weak voice "I only meant we walk down one flight of steps to the lower deck lift." OoopsWhen we left there, I wondered if my knees and feet would ever recover.
But now it was way past time for lunch (nearly 4 p.m.). And prices in Paris are atrocious. But Sian knew of a street (Le Cler) where food was reputed to be cheaper, so we headed there. I really wondered if I could make it. I frankly wanted to die. Sorta. We found a bakery and all invaded it. I tried ordering a sandwich and got a flood of French back from the woman behind the counter when I asked her for a sandwich. Apparently Parisians do not eat lunch all day long, and their selection was quite limited, so no matter what I asked for on the menu board, she tried to tell me all she had was what was in the case. We finally communicated and I was even able to ask "combien pour le poulet et citron?" and understand her reply (which she then also rang up on the cash register to show me). It wasn't exactly my idea of sitting outside and sipping wine, eating a baguette and watching the passing parade, but we did get fed--and best of all, we SAT DOWN for awhile. Sian and Anne tried the bathroom, I didn't. They reported it was "fair," whatever that means (presumably that you didn't have to plant your feet and squat over a hole in the floor, as diane had warned us we might have to do). Walt and I quickly dashed off terribly curt post cards to post after we left.
But sooner or later we had to leave and, groaning, we hobbled back to the Invalides metro station and back to Notre Dame (St. Michel station). Walt and Sian were great tour guides. As Sian describes it, Walt and I were in charge of the maps and navigation. Whilst we discussed direction, height of the sun, flow of the river etc Anne and Bev stood around talking "Gilbert & Sullivan", and then when we set off would say "Are you *sure* this is the right way". Walt and I had an hilarious time map reading cos I have no sense of direction, and half the time I'd change my mind about where we were heading and forget to tell him, so he was map reading to a different place.
. Notre Dame was a surprising disappointment. It was a beautiful church, but compared to all the cathedrals we'd seen in England, it was terribly dark and dirty looking and it was so filled with people it was like rush hour on Market Street. It was difficult to really see and/or appreciate anything. There was no gift shop, just a window with a woman who would get things you pointed out to her, but the line up was 4 deep to even look at what was there. I would have liked a book about the cathedral, but couldn't get near enough to even think about it.
Back to the metro and to Monmartre. Sian's description: We ended the day up in Monmartre and at the foot of the Sacre Coeur (a beautiful church). Bev and I looked at the hundred or so steps and decided we'd sit and admire the panoramic wide angle view, whilst Anne and Walt chose to go up for the close up version
. It was just after this that Bev caused the international incidentAs for my "international incident," here's how Sian told it: , but we still made it back to the train with perfect timing.
Headlines read "US CITIZEN EXPELLED FROM PARIS BY RONALD MCDONALD"
Well it is a slight exaggeration, but only a little
. Bev got escorted from McDonald's by three burly guys, whilst the two behind the counters shouted "F**king Americans". Meanwhile Walt pretended he was English and Anne and I just pretended we weren't there . Yeah I know that's not very supportive, but we were tired and in urgent need of shakes and burgers. What did Bev do?? Well actually all she did was take a photo of us queuing cos she thought it was funny that in the self styled gastronomic capital of Europe we US & British tourists still chose McDonalds and I have no idea why they over-reacted so. Unless they thought she was a spy from Burger King or Pizza Hut!?!?!
We dragged ourselves back to Gare du Nord just as they were opening up the gates for boarding Eurostar. When we boarded in London we were on car #17, which was all the way at the end of the train and we had to practically walk to Paris. This time we were in car #2 and wouldn't you know, it, too, was at the opposite end of the train from where we entered. So close and yet so far! Sian had booked us seats that faced each other across a table so we could chat on the way home. I don't know how much chatting the other 3 did, but I passed out and slept almost all the way back to London.
We queued up for a taxi at the station, after saying goodbye to Sian and Anne. For some reason the taxis were very slow in coming and next thing we knew Sian and Anne were there in Anne's car to pick us up and drop us off at the flat. We knew they couldn't stand to be away from us!