Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trip to France Day 1: To Paris

Hotel Brighton view Before I plunge into telling you all about our driving tour of France, I’d like to point out that neither of us are overseas novices.

I spent my junior year of college in England and did a pretty good job traveling around the British Isles. During that time I was able to do a weekend in Paris.

Hubby spent a month in Japan on a Japan Fulbright Memorial Scholarship, a month in Poland finishing his second MA, and a week in Paris on a professional development program the week before I arrived.

Also, a driving trip is not unusual for us. For our honeymoon we took two and a half weeks to drive from San Francisco, Calif., up to Astoria, Ore., and back to San Fran through Lake Tahoe. Then, while we were living in New Hampshire, we took a week to drive through Maine from Portland up to Moosehead Lake.

So we’ve been around.

Off I Go
Ok, I had an 11:30 pm Air France flight out of JFK on Saturday, July 18, direct to Charles De Gaulle landing at noon Sunday, July 19.

The flight was fine. I managed to sleep a bit. We had beef burgundy with mashed potatoes for dinner, and bread and yogurt for breakfast.

Hubby was waiting for me beyond security after I came stumbling out with my luggage and we took the train into Paris proper. We were pleased we were able to hook up so easily, despite not having cell phones. Hubby saw many aggressive beggars during his week, and he met an experienced traveler who was pick-pocketed on the train to the airport, so he was insistent on coming to meet me. He was worried because I’m a small, young looking woman and the bad people might target me. I was talking all big about how I’d been to Paris before, but really it was nice to see him that much sooner. And, when we get down to it, I’m really a country mouse (or at least a suburban one) and prefer an escort anyway. Shoot, I try not to go into NYC alone, why should I act differently in a foreign country where I don't speak the language?

The first night we were in the Hotel Brighton. The room was a little stark, decoration wise, but nice. The bathroom had a nice deep soaking tub. Actually, most of the tubs in France were nice and big. Really, the room was all about the view. Our room looked out over the Tuileries Garden. We could see the Louvre on the left, the Eiffel Tower on the right, and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. And there were carnival rides set up right inside the Tuileries gates. It was all very exciting.

We spent some time relaxing in the room. Then we hit the town. We wandered through the Garden and Hubby explained the historical significance of the palace, garden, and area.

Then we walked down to the Place de Concorde where the Egyptian Obelisk is. Hubby said it is the plaza where the guillotine was during the Terror. He said originally the area wasn’t marked, but when they received the Obelisk the plaza was the best place to put it. Sadly, there was construction going on around the Obelisk, so we couldn’t walk right up to it. But Hubby managed to take a pretty good picture.

We walked across the Alexander III Bridge and waved to the people on the tour boats. There were boats docked on the side of the river that looked for all the world like houseboats. I do wonder what they were all about, but I’m not sure how to find out.

Then we went to Les Invalides, which used to be a military hospital and is connected to the chapel where Napoleon’s sarcophagus is. Hubby had gone there with his program, but he was having trouble with the camera the first few days and didn’t get any pictures inside. It was quite an impressive site. This huge, shiny, red box in a two story deep marble well. You could see it from above and also go downstairs to see it from the side. There were a number of other Crucifix in Les Invaldismemorials as well.

And there was an impressive crucifix on the ground floor. We were entranced by the sunlight shining on it lighting up all the gold leaf and black marble. We thought it was the setting sun, and then I realized the windows were yellow. Still, Hubby said it didn’t look like that when he was there before.

We continued on to the Eiffel Tower. On the walk up to the Tower a couple from Virginia asked us to take their picture. We had them return the favor.

We didn’t go up. The lines were long, the pricing for the elevators is steep, and doing the steps was impractical. I said I did the steps back in college and it almost killed me, so I wasn’t interested in doing them again. Oh, and a stiff wind had kicked up, adding to the generally foreboding weather.

Hubby contented himself with a few pictures from the ground. And we bought a tower keychain from one of the hustlers wandering around. It was hard to shake him off after we bought it.

By then it was staring to get late and we were ready for dinner. We headed back the way we came and went into a random café we had seen that had an interesting menu.

I’ll Never Eat Quiche Again
Hubby ordered onion soup for his starter (we had an amusing discussion about how it was just “onion soup” and not “French onion soup,” but maybe we are easily amused). He ordered a “filet” for his main course. There was quite a discussion with the waiter about what cut of meat it was and whether or not it was filet mignon (it wasn’t). The waiter also said the French don’t do gradations of “medium” like we do. That is, there is no medium-rare, medium, medium-well. It’s all either medium or well done. Hubby thought he had managed to order it medium-rare, but it came out pretty much on the well-done side.

I ordered a rabbit terrine for my starter. I admit I had no idea what a terrine was. For no reason at all, I assumed it would involve puff pastry and a brown sauce. It did not. It was slices of a loaf that reminded me of head-cheese, without the gelatin. It was rounds of rabbit, with a spicy filling, all wrapped in a slice of bacon. Frankly, it scared me. At the same moment, my jetlag suddenly kicked in, and all I wanted to do was go back to the room.

For my entrée I had gone with Quiche Lorraine as it sounded light and approachable. After picking at my rabbit, I was able to manage a nibble of the quiche before I gave up. Poor Hubby had to wolf down his steak and fries in order to get me out of there. (For the record, he did not realize it came with fries and didn't order fries on purpose. But they were tasty and crispy.) Then we threw the poor waiter for a loop by asking if there was any way we could take my slice of quiche to go.

Apparently the French, and most of Europe for that matter, don’t do doggy bags. He was like, “Whaaa?” But came through admirably by wrapping it in tin foil for me.

After sprawling across the bed for a little while, I decided I should force myself to eat something. OMG, it was the best quiche ever. While the quiche I’ve had in the past had a texture like a soufflé or puffy omelet, this one was more like custard. It was so rich, creamy, and flavorful—I wolfed most of it down.

By then it was after 10 pm. Hubby said I should try to stay up as late as I could to reset myself and help battle jetlag. But I couldn’t take it any more and passed out.

The room had air conditioning, but we couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. Hubby had the window open to cool the room off. He said it was amazing that I was able to sleep through the racket with people screaming on the rides, motorcycles and cars zooming by, and the random police siren. He said I was dead to the world. That is, until he got online to watch the highlights from the Yankees game, then I started squirming.

1 comment:

  1. I've been waiting for your post!! Yay! Day by day, play by play! Seems like your first day went really well, except for the gross rabbit! Quiche - YUM!

    Oh - and I definitely wouldn't have climbed up those steps either!!!