Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Honeymoon Days 17 - 19

Day 17

Dan left the hotel bright and early to get to Westinghouse while I took my time heading into Paris. Our hotel had a little breakfast bar, but not with anything that seemed worth eating in my opinion. It was about a mile walk for me to get to the train station, but it wasn’t too hot at the point in the day so the walk seemed nice.
From the station in Orsay to Notre Dame was a 25 minute ride. I wasn’t able to get a seat, but from all of our experiences on trains at this point in the trip, I knew to stand close to the doors where I would at least get a breeze every now and then. Once I got off the train and stood on the street in front of the world’s most famous Cathedral, I was instantly brought back to our 2009 trip and suddenly very sad that Dan wasn’t with me. Yes, we were cranky at this point in the trip and yes; he eats pizza constantly, but at least he would have laughed when I made fun of French people.

After taking a few minutes to talk to a tourist wrangler at an information booth, I bought a ticket to board one of those hop on, hop off tour buses where I plugged my headphones in and listened to the same 10 songs play intermittently with facts about stops we were making or sites we were passing. The tour cost 30 euros, and I think that it was kind of a waste. I would recommend it to people who are traveling alone and don’t like to walk or take local transportation. The facts were very sparse and weren’t anything that I didn’t already know. I did get to see many parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before, but overall it was not a good value.

The most interesting stop I made on the tour bus was in the Sex district… yes, the sex district. I decided to call it that because every other building is a cabaret or strip club. The other half of the buildings are sex toy shops. One was even called the “sexodrome”. I am sorry to report to you that I did not go in any – being American apparently makes you a bit prude, somewhat puritan and awfully embarrassed when confronted with a shop full of pornography. At least that was how I felt when Dan and I walked into “The Love Shop” in Barcelona – also a porn store. But anyway, just up the hill a few blocks was the Sacre Coeur, which seemed ironic to me; a church overlooking the Montmartre porn district, but I guess that’s how they do things in France.

The Sacre Coeur is 404 steps from the street – I know this because I counted. It was hard to count because every 30 steps or so, some beggar or knock-off purse salesman or bracelet maker or girl with a clipboard (I still don’t know who these people are, but they always run from the police so I assume it’s not good) would be grabbing my arm. I mean literally grabbing my arm! I didn’t tell Dan this because I was afraid that he would say I couldn’t go out by myself the next day. Anyway, I got to the top and the church was very nice – but you couldn’t take pictures. Go Figure. The real reason why tourists climb the 404 steps is to see the views of the city, which were fantastic.

Back down at street level, I wandered through the garment district where I was thrilled to find all kinds of fabric and buttons and trims. They also did not want you taking pictures in their stores. Luckily after the letdown of not being able to shoot photos anywhere, I found the cheap shoe area and bought another pair. They are exceptionally cute and a size too small, but I couldn’t help myself.

After walking into many shoe shops only to learn that they didn’t have anything cute in a size 40, I decided to give up and go back to the hotel. The train back was a much longer and hotter ride, but I had managed to grab a seat this time around and amused myself by looking at the pictures from Maine that were on my small digital camera.

Dan finally waltzed in at around 7 and told me to hurry up and get ready so we could go out to dinner with his co-workers. We met up with them at their hotel and had a few drinks before heading out to a quaint little French restaurant. It was in this place that we had our most tasty and expensive meal of our entire honeymoon, so thanks Westinghouse for paying for that one. Though I must admit what a trying and nerve wracking experience this was for me – I really hate to look like I don’t know what I am doing, especially in front of French people. But I didn’t know what I was doing since the menu was in French, and the waiter was speaking in French to the other French people. So then, I didn’t realize that we had to order courses, and that a bottle of wine was already purchased for the entire table. Also – it’s worth noting that I am a very picky eater, and some of the options were really out of my comfort zone. When I picked the goat cheese, chorizo and arugula starter, I was very nervous about how it might taste. Luckily, it was excellent and so was my entrĂ©e and dessert.

After our delicious dinner, we headed back to the hotel and packed up all of our stuff. Dan was taking the rental car to work and would meet me in Paris at the airport hotel we had booked for the last night of our trip.

Day 18

Dan insisted that we leave the window open on night 17, and so we both woke up fairly early due to the noise of the birds and excess sunlight. We packed up the car with our luggage and I decided to travel light – just my little bitty purse and tiny digital camera. Dan had everything else, including my phone so that he could guide himself back into Pairs at the end of the day.

We ate breakfast in our hotel that morning, which was not that good, but I was glad we did when our bill showed that they charged us for it both days whether we ate it or not. Dan dropped me at the train station and then headed to Westinghouse. It was about 8 a.m. I’d say, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what our life would be like if we lived in France.

In Paris outside Notre Dame I realized that I had left all of my maps in my big purse in the car, and so I waited for the tourist booth that I had visited the day before to open. At 9 they were closed. At 9:30 they were still closed. When 10 a.m. rolled around and they hadn’t opened yet, I decided to just get walking to the Louvre and see if maybe they had a tourist booth that would be open at 10 am on a Friday morning.

They didn’t… so I kept walking.

I’d say it was about 11 a.m. when I stumbled into a shop called “Bathroom Graffiti” that had an American flag in the window with a bust of President Obama. I laughed out loud to myself about that one – Obama as bathroom graffiti. Anyway the shop was pretty cool and had some unique items. One of which was a coffee table sized ping pong game.

“This is perfect!” I thought to myself, and so I purchased Joey his very belated Birthday present. What I did not consider however, was how much of a pain in the ass it would be to lug that around with me all day. But I also still thought that if I walked to the Hotel des Invalides, I would find an info booth that would provide me with a map so that I could find a street market to buy some wines and cheeses to bring home.

But the Hotel des Invalids did not have an info booth. Also, it wasn’t anywhere near where I thought it was, so I had done some excess walking to find it. On the way, I found a wine shop where the merchant spoke English, so I bought a bottle of a local red and added it to the extra weight I was trekking all over Paris. When I finally arrived at the Hotel des Invalides, I was starving so I ventured into the little cafeteria and got “toast”. Don’t be fooled, this was not anything like toast. In fact, it was a mushroom, ham and cheese sandwich that was engulfed by another piece of cheese that had melted onto everything. Then it was baked and somehow in the process, became exceedingly soggy. Don’t give me a soggy sandwich and call it “toast”. That’s just not right. I ate the corners (which were a little bit crispy) and couldn’t stomach the rest. What an excellent waste of 10 euros? And, not like I have to say this (because at this point, you should already know) but the water I got to drink was terrible and not cold.

By 1:00, I still had no map and no way of finding the street market. So I decided that there would definitely be an info booth at the Eiffel Tower, right?


Now it was 2:30 and I was really sick of walking. Supposedly in Paris, a metro stop is never more than 500 meters away. I must have been walking a path that was exactly 500 meters away from every damn metro stop in Paris because the harder I looked; the more impossible it was to spot any kind of public transportation. During this search I was able to find a cheese shop however, so I went in and asked for anything that could be left out of the fridge for more than 24 hours. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t buying it outside at a “market” but that’s when I walked out of the shop and turned the corner to find the Rue Cler – the Street Market I had been looking for all damn day!

So I didn’t get my cheese or wine outside, but I did buy some baguettes and sit down to revel in the scene. That is what I think of when I think of Paris, the stalls of flowers and breads and fruits and wine, not the Eiffel Tower. It was 3:15 when I headed toward the metro (amazing how when you find the one thing you have been looking for all day, the other important things are right there). I had to buy a series of tickets to get to the airport and I’m fairly certain I was overcharged, but I didn’t care: I could finally stop walking, and I wanted to spend all of my euros anyway.

Following a series of metro and train rides, I arrived at the hotel anxious to get into our room and wash my feet, then prop them up and watch TV until Dan arrived - it was right around 4:30 and I had walked all over Paris in zigzags. Go ahead and look at a map of Paris and search for those landmarks I mentioned, they are nowhere near each other! But guess what… they wouldn’t let me check into “Mr. Sadlon’s room” even though I had specifically heard him say, “my wife will be check in before me, is that all right?”

So it was 4:30, and I had no phone, no computer - and the hotel’s computer was on a “pay per minute” basis - and no way to get into our room. At the Hotel bar, sodas and water and beer were all the same price. What would you buy?

When Dan arrived at 7:45, I was pretty happy to see him. I was also starving and sick of carrying around all of the stuff that I bought. After they let him into our room, we decided to return the rental car quickly and then come back to the hotel and have dinner. Obviously, since we were in France, there was nothing “quick” about it. Once we found out how to get to the rental return area, I waited for a solid 20 minutes for them to process the paperwork. Then we had to take the airport train back to our hotel – sounds way more simple than it actually was. Again, you have to remember that everything is in French so you can’t just read a sign and know what is going on. Then, to make things interesting, this atrociously smelly man kept asking Dan how to get to the train, and he kinda followed us onto an elevator, then onto the crowded train. It’s France though so keep in mind there is no air conditioning to keep the stanky air away from my nostrils. It wasn’t the worst train ride of the trip, but it was absolutely the least sanitary.

Once we were back at the hotel, we shared a club sandwich and some fries and finally were able to get into bed. It was 12:00.

Day 19

I don’t think that words were able to express my excitement when we woke up at 7:00 a.m. (1:00 a.m. EST) on Day 19 – we were finally going home! Note to self: 10 days is the longest trip you should ever take.
So then we boarded the train to the airport and started what seemed like a never-ending day of standing in line. It started at baggage claim as we waited for a solid 10 minutes to drop our bags… and then we got some real interesting news: Our journey home was broken up into 3 legs: France to Dublin, Dublin to Chicago and Chicago to “Hartford”. The first 2 legs were with Aer Lingus, the last leg with United. Since those are separate airlines, Aer Lingus kept informing us that our journey ended in Chicago. You can probably imagine that this was not comforting news… so we pulled up the info on my phone to prove that we indeed were going to Connecticut. Aer Lingus (France) didn’t really care, they said to bring it up with the Irish when we got to Dublin.

We went through customs as we left France, and then went through the world’s most ridiculous security – they examined all of my camera gear for a solid 15 minutes. I’m not kidding, they made me take each and every piece out of the bag and explain what it was. Imagine you’re a French security guard at the airport and you start slowly examining an American’s camera gear. She pulls out a polarized filter and then says, “It’s a polarized filter.” Your English isn’t that great, and even if it was, do you know what a polarized filter is? So why bother asking? Anyway we sit at the gate and keep our eyes peeled because the airline changes our gate 3 separate times without making an announcement. Then, at 10:30 we flew to Dublin, Ireland.

Down in Dublin we went through security to get from one part of the airport to another. Then we tried talking to the official Aer Lingus folks – they also said there was no way for our bags to get from Chicago to Connecticut because as far as they could tell, our final destination was Chitown. So Dan and I had to strategize: once we landed in the states we would need to go down to baggage claim, grab all of the bags and then get through customs, go back in to the airport and check the bags (this time we assumed, having to pay for them) go through security, get to the gate for our United flight and check in… all within the course of 1 hour and 50 minutes. It seemed we were screwed. Dan thought that if worse came to worse, he would stay with the bags (thus surely missing our flight home) and have his work pay for another ticket, while I ran to catch the flight.

But we were still in Dublin, so we had to get through another security check, and then go to pre-customs. It’s a new thing apparently, where you go through American customs before you touch American soil. Makes sense if you ask me. At least this way if you end up being unable to enter for whatever reason, you don’t have to endure a 9 hour flight there and a 9 hour flight back.

Speaking of 9 hour flights, ours was not terrible. We had the OnDemand screens in each of our seats, so Dan and I were able to each watch 3.5 movies… separately. The very unfortunate thing was that the couple in front of us had 2 small children who cried hysterically (not sobs, more like screams) for about 80% of the flight. Ask Dan, I am not exaggerating. We can go back and forth on how annoying this was, and how those parents should have drugged their children (hello friendly little pink pill) but the point is: the parents did nothing to stop the crying… they didn’t walk the kids around, they didn’t force feed them, they just didn’t give a shit that their kids were ruining this exceptionally long flight. If we didn’t have the headphones and movies, I may have gotten irate and been rude and caused a scene. Like I mentioned, luckily we had the videos to drown out the screams.

When we finally did get back onto U.S. soil, Dan spoke to an Aer Lingus rep while I used the bathroom. “They will transfer our bags” he said. But I didn’t know if I could believe him or not, and he must have told the rep this because when we walked back over there together, she looked at me and said, “don’t worry about it, we will check them on United to Bradley for you.”

I was too tired to argue, and I didn’t really want to carry my bags. We made sure that we kept the little sticker tags that give your baggage number, just in case. But I have to admit that I did feel pretty good about it, because when they scanned our passports in Dublin, pictures of all of our bags came up on the screen. So at the very worst, we would have to wait a few days to get our stuff. I was too happy to be back in the states to care. For the first time that day, we were at our gate early enough to sit down, eat something and wait for our plane. I drank Poland Springs. It was the best.

Our flight landed in “Hartford” at 8:05, right on time… back in France it was 2:00 a.m. on Sunday. My parents were waiting in a nearby lot to pick us up, and I told them to wait til I called them with our bags to drive up. Dan took a bathroom break as I sat at the baggage claim thinking I might be there all night. But, much to my surprise (I think that I actually laughed out loud and then said “I can’t believe it!” to another passenger) our bags came out on the belt before Dan even got back! I could tell by the smile on his face that he was just as shocked as I was.

So we piled all 6 bags into the back of my Dad’s truck and headed back home, talking incessantly about how surprised we were to see our bags, and how nice it was to be home. The trip was completed when we unloaded our luggage and finally got to say hi to Aero and Bruno. I promised them that I would never leave them for that long again, but I think we all know that was more of a reassurance to me than to them… they don’t care.

We stayed up sharing our French cheese, bread and wine with my parents and talked about all of the things we did, and all of the reasons why European people are terrible.  I think we finally went to bed at 11:00 p.m. - meanwhile in France it was 5:00 a.m., and we had been awake for nearly 24 hours. We would only be home for a week before we had to go away again (back to Maine of course), but it was a wonderful feeling.

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