DAYS 3 & 4 – June 15/16 – PARIS from the continuing story of
How I spent My Summer Vacation of 2013
Day three actually began in London where we – and our rolling luggage – walked across the street from our fabulous hotel into St. Pancras International Train Station (www.stpancras.com) which appeared to be a whole city unto itself full of international boutiques, colorful vendors, intriguing food markets, and lots of bistros, pubs and, by gosh, was that a brewery we just whizzed by? Guess I won’t be able to find out on this trip because unfortunately for me, we didn’t get to leisurely mosey along since we were only passing through in order to board our high speed train for the two hour [+-] journey to P-P-P-Paris!
But, once we passed through security and located our departure platform we did enjoy the comforts of the urbane, stately but modern lounge area along with a whole lot of intriguing people-watching. For some reason I found it quite fascinating to wonder what had brought all these other people to this very same platform on this fine Saturday in order to travel to Paris, as in Paris, France, right along with me. I have similar thoughts at most every airport, too, but the stories you imagine when waiting for a high speed train that is taking you from London to Paris seem so much more intéressant, oui?
So, once your train arrives on the designated platform at St. Pancras station you have 20 minutes to board, and even though we were ready and waiting, we took all of those twenty minutes to find our assigned car, toss the luggage on board and stow it all, and then get ourselves settled, literally falling into our seats moments before departure. The good news was that with Business Premier Class (did you expect us to travel in anything less?) our train car was at the front of the train, with the bad news being it was located at the farthest point from where we began on the platform meaning it was quite a hike to get there. And as you can imagine, even though there are multiple trains making this same trip every day (almost hourly on this date) ours was full, so it was body to body, suitcase to rolling suitcase as we all scurried during our twenty minutes to board the correct train car and find our seats.
But, once we were settled, it was full speed ahead, and I do mean that literally as this train can reach speeds of up to 186MPH ( http://www.raileurope.com/). I would tell you that the high point of the journey is actually going through the tunnel portion, aka The Chunnel, which in itself is an engineering marvel, but to be honest, you don’t actually know exactly when that point occurs. I don’t know why but for some reason I expected some big French announcement to tell us, “Attention Madames et Monsieurs! Nous approchons le chunnel, donc vous pouvez rester éveillé pour cela! (Attention! We are approaching The Chunnel, so you may want to stay awake for this!). But of course that never happened because apparently it’s de rigueur for everyone else but us foreigners. Further, just to complicate the arrival at this milestone, you actually go through several other tunnels on this passage, so really, how can you tell when you are in ‘the real’ one? Well, I guess you just have a sense, because you start the downward approach at some point, and then you can feel the decline further, and further, and then it gets really dark, et voilà! Your ears might be popping (due to being 150 feet or so under the seabed of the English Channel), so apparently at that point it’s a safe bet that you are, indeed, underwater. At least that’s the way we saw things. And even though this part is 31 miles long, of which about 23 are under water, it actually only takes about 20 minutes to pass through The Chunnel. And again, voilà! Vous etes en France!
And so to finish up with the train portion of this story, the only other thing I specifically want to mention about this train ride was a sign I saw posted that made me laugh. It read “breakfast at 186MPH is still not fast food”, and of course it was referring to the exceptional food selection on board le train. That made me chuckle as I bit into my buttery rich warm croissant. Hello, now welcoming all French calories!
And at this moment in the story, I’m reminded of a quote from Audrey Hepburn, “Paris is always a good idea.”
So as the train begins to slow during the approach into Gare du Nord, Paris (www.parisbytrain.com ), husband says, “Let’s be adventurous and take the metro. There’s a direct line to where we need to go right by our hotel.”
“Schlepping all our stuff?”
“Oui. Let’s do it.”
So, picture what we looked like with three large rolling suitcases, two decent size carry-ons, plus my oversized handbag. Are you with me now? Yes, we were definitely les touristes, but to be honest, we certainly were not the only people attempting same. We just happened to be the only people we knew that were doing this, plus it was un peu difficile to establish which was the correct route for accomplishing this task. First I would get the instructions in French, then husband wouldn’t trust that I understood so he’d insist that we also get them in English. Then we realized that even in English we still weren’t confident about which Metro track provided the direct route we needed. I was laughing (I tend to find humor in situations like this); him, not so much. And everything you’ve heard about the Paris Metro is true, that is to say it’s quite easy to navigate – once you figure it out! We went down staircases and up escalators (some that weren’t even working so it was the equivalent of stairs again), crossed over tracks only to discover we needed to go down hallways, up more stairs, and then another escalator or two, or three. Tout avec les baggages! Finally a wonderfully kind French soul (who says there are none?) took us under her wings and said, “follow me, you’re almost there!” (in a language that we understood) and voilà! One short, direct Metro ride later we were where we would have been about 30 minutes earlier had we taken a cab. But, we wouldn’t have had this great little side story to tell, oui? Plus, we now knew le Metro and felt confident we could conquer the world. Or, at least Paris, one Metro stop at a time.
By now you’re probably wondering why this section is titled, “All Roads Lead to Baseball”, oui? Well, the rest of our Paris story is worth breaking into two parts – one that includes the words ‘baseball’ and ‘Paris’, which I personally never thought I would use together, and part deux, Paris without Baseball.
Part Un: The Paris Story That Has Baseball Ties.
As a preface to this you should know that husband is a baseball coach and former player, an associate MLB scout, and an all-round Mr. Baseball kinda guy. We have two kids, one of which (the male) played baseball from age 4 to 24, meaning through college grad school. That meant one half of this family is immersed in baseball, we’ve spent a lot of time in and around fields, games, and tournaments; and we’ve also done a large amount of family travel, both domestic and international, for the love of the game. That said, this particular trip was to be without baseball, but exceptions are always made, and this one was done so quite willingly.
You see, a young boy whose father was born and raised in Paris had just started lessons at husband’s Florida baseball training center so voilà, a connection was made between baseball and Paris. Oh, did I forget to mention the part where said Parisian father would actually be in Paris with his wife visiting his family at exactly the same time husband and I would be in Paris? Well, now you know. And it was our great fortune to have been invited into the father’s home for a ‘casual Saturday party’ to which we replied, OUI! So after surviving our Metro trip and checking into our Paris hotel on Saturday afternoon, the next item on the agenda was getting ready for le soirée ce soir.
And, there aren’t really enough adjectives to describe how wonderful this ‘little party’ was, but I will try to put it into simple terms. French appartement in the Latin Quarter? Tres Chic. Our hosts, Madame et Monsieur LaRue? Parfait! The wine and the food and the wine [oh my!]? Excellente, bien sur! And the guest list was a charming mix of their friends and relatives, all excellent conversationalists that obviously enjoyed their food and wine, meaning my kind of people. We were even treated to some special entertainment from a family member who ‘just happens to own’ a circus training school where many international performers, including some from Cirque du Soleil, learned their magical crafts. It was non-stop drink, talk, drink, eat, drink repeat for the better part of four hours making the entire evening one big partie spectaculaire. In retrospect, for these two Americans, it was almost dreamlike, as if at any minute Gertrude Stein would show up, or maybe even Hemingway himself; yes, that’s how dazzling it was for us. Husband and I still refer to this night as one of the highlights of our entire trip, and don’t think for one minute that he ever lets me forget it was all because of baseball. Go figure.
Paris, Part Deux: The Story That Has No Baseball Ties.
So, how do you follow up a Saturday night like that in Paris? Well, sometimes the best plan for enjoying the journey is to travel with no plan at all, and that’s pretty much how we spent the rest of our time in Paris. Feeling the full force of transoceanic jet lag (plus another time change going from London to Paris) as well as the ‘free pouring’ of wine on the prior night (I’m pretty sure I said ‘just one more’ a feeeew tooooo many times), we slept like drunken tourists (oops!) and didn’t even leave the hotel until noonish. Even then our game plan was quite, well, spur of the moment. We took the Metro to the Louvre, and then being that I was traveling with a site skipper, walked right past the most famous art museum in the world and went directly for lunch at, Angelina’s, one of my favorite spots in Paris. And yes, it is a bit touristy, but every time I go I picture Coco Chanel, who was a regular here during her time, sitting across the room from me. And, well, in this dream I’m actually wearing one of her famous pantsuits and conversing in perfect French (come to think of it, I believe even my hair is well coiffed in this dream), so that when she approaches me to tell me how stunning I look in her designer tailleur I can reply, “A mille merci, Mme. Chanel!” so that it actually comes out convincing her (and all who hear us) that I speak French just as they do! I also like Angelina’s because of the patisseries et chocolates, and oh yes, this happens to be the namesake of our daughter so a photo opp in front of the place is always in order. This time it was husband who posed in less than ten seconds so he wouldn’t have to take his eyes off the Aston Martin parked in front for very long and yes, we were touristy enough to get a picture of that car, too. And as always, I did eat the Croque Madame along with a glass of Rosé, which is trés French and exactly what Mme. Chanel would also have eaten, oui?
After that we took a leisurely stroll up the Champs Elysée going underground at the Arc de Triumph, then backtracked on our walk over to le tour Eiffel. Initially, husband actually stood in line at the landmark in hopes of taking the ride up, but the line-standing only lasted about four minutes before the following conversation took place:
Me. “You want to bypass this one and get on a boat?”
And that is just how easy it is to understand one another after 35 years of marriage.
On to the bateau mouche where there was no wait (yeah!) and down the river Seine we went on our traditional Parisian boat tour. I would tell you about all the memorable things we passed along the way, but in reality, one of the things we remembered most were the ballroom dancers; one group doing regular ballroom style en masse by the side of the river, and another group concentrating on Argentine Tangos. It was just so joyous and well, European if not downright Parisian, and we wished the boat would slow down so we could enjoy the spontaneous passing entertainment longer because even without going to the top of the Eifel Tower and with walking right by the Louvre and by-passing all those other incroyable sights in Paris we still cherished seeing the unique street scenes like this surprising one at every turn.
After the boat tour we took Le Metro once again (we were pros at it now) and the short funicular to the top of Mont Martre where I had to admit the full on 360 view of Paris in all her glory at sunset was even better than what we would have seen from the Eiffel Tower. Because at Mont Martre you have the added benefit of all the eclectic street performers as well as all the entangled lovers sitting on the historic steps, oblivious to the constant foot traffic around them. It was another picture perfect scene that is best experienced in person because this area in particular is what visitors think all of Paris is like. We followed up the heart stopping panoramic visit at the base of the famous Sacre Couer by dinner at a very Parisian outdoor café located in the center of all the working artists that make Mont Martre one of my most beloved spots in all of Paris. Wine, paté , street buskers and musicians, artists creating simple masterworks in the time it takes to say “More wine, síl vous plait!” – it’s all a Parisian sensory overload, and it’s why I’m drawn to this particular locality on every trip to the glorious and eternal city of lights.
So in the end, our 48 hours in Paris was just right. Never mind that we missed the Mona Lisa as well as the view from the Eiffel Tower. For us it was more like a sampling of a fine wine, each activity bursting with its own layer of flavors and settling oh-so-nicely on the palate, leaving an after-glow that begged for more tastings.