Thursday, September 22, 2011

Perfect Timing

Today begins my rather lengthy and certainly wordy recap of our 2 weeks in Paris. I don't expect everyone to read every word or even every post. There will be pictures, travel advice, friendly suggestions to fellow Paris-bound travelers, and details about our days. Mostly, I'm doing this for me. Because in a way, my blog has become my journal that documents our history (this is totally legit, by the way, as I have never revealed anything too personal in my written diary either, for fear of it being found...which it was...once...and then used against a court of law).

So whether you have a printed boarding pass with "Paris" at the top, or just wish you it is: the good, the bad, the amazing, and the delicious....for several days.

I used no less than 6 blogs, a Rick Steves Paris 2011 guidebook, 2 Lonely Planet guidebooks, and a Frommer's Guide to Paris to plan this trip. Even with all of that, the itinerary was not completely filled in until 48 hours before we left. The task of planning a Parisian vacation, even a 2-week trip, seemed insurmountable. Dozens of major museums, parks, statues, castles, day trips, shopping, eating, and *gasp* relaxing. To complicate matters, some attractions are only open 6 days/week or 3 days/week and some are just swarmed on the weekends. Most museums are free the first Sunday of the month, but we missed that by 2 days so it hardly mattered. And then there's the Museum Pass. 3 days, 5 days, or 6 choose...but choose wisely because once you visit that first museum, your clock has started. I wanted to knock out most major tourist hot spots, include a few "off-the-beaten-path" walks, take 2 day trips, and still allow Neal to feel rested when he headed back to Iraq.

It was a giant, 14-day puzzle.

And I hate puzzles.

So, I scheduled the most important places first. I wanted to forever be able to say that I had been at the Louvre on my birthday and I needed a good distraction for the 2nd anniversary of Shepherd's death (Versailles, anyone?). Also, our friends, Gil & Gabrielle (not their real names...totally stolen from Midnight in Paris), were there for a week and willing to dine with us in celebration of my 33rd birthday. Piece by piece, it fell into place...exactly as it should. It was 13 days of walks, tours, sightseeing, shopping, and eating...there was no way we would get to it all. I quickly saved it to Word, emailed it to Mama Virgo and Neal and prefaced the whole thing with "don't worry...this is more than we could ever do."

And then I made some notes in case we did it all.

Timing our coinciding arrival in Paris took a bit of planning on Neal's part and a great deal of patience and flexibility on mine. We only used 10-12 of the 14 available days for our past 2 R&Rs so he was always able to meet me at baggage claim when I arrived in the country. This time, however, we were using all 14 days and he wouldn't get his plane ticket to Paris until he arrived in Kuwait. Verizon doesn't work in Paris (it's actually impossible to make a phone call once you arrive, unless you are on wi-fi and it's through Skype). The worst case scenario? I would arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport on Tuesday and he would arrive at Orly on Wednesday and I wouldn't know any of this because it would be decided while I was 30,000 feet in the air.

So we set our meeting point at the hotel....the Hilton Arc de Triomphe on rue de Courcelles.

And I booked a shuttle service to get me from the airport to the hotel because I am prone to panic attacks when forced to figure out a train system completely on my own. drivers in Paris are infamous for grossly overcharging trusting tourists. Neal, however, took the train...because he's a trailblazer like that.

Super Shuttle, which Gil & Gabrielle also used to get to the Hilton, allowed for online booking and pre-payment of services. It was not long after our friends arrived in Paris, however, that I received a Facebook post from Gabrielle..."Super Shuttle is not so super." Awesome. She gave me some very helpful tips and a word of warning about how long the entire process would take. At least my expectations were managed.

The flight over, with a hellacious tailwind, only took a little over 5 hours and since I was already on Paris time, I slept for most of it. In fact, sadly, I slept straight through dinner and the free wine they serve with it. I woke up in time for a light Delta breakfast and de-boarding. Passport control was pretty painless and retrieving my baggage also went swimmingly well. I had a slight pang of regret as I walked past all of those loved ones waiting outside security, knowing that Neal would not be among them this time. Seeing him again in the airport after many months apart has sort of become a thing for us. Not this time. I searched out a France Telecom phone and dialed the number for Super Shuttle to tell them I had landed.

A recording played. "I'm sorry. The number you are trying to reach is busy. Please try your call again later." *sigh* Fine. So I waited about 10 minutes (which in reality was closer to about 30 seconds). I tried again. Same message. Another 2 minutes passed. I tried again. Same message. My palms started to sweat, my heart began to race, my worst case scenario (stuck at the airport with no phone, no Internet, no way to contact Neal, no way to know if he was even IN Paris) ran on a continuous loop. I was trapped in that Tom Hanks movie, Terminal. I had 50 euros and an address. Now what? I tried again. Same message. I began to walk towards the RER, which I knew from Neal was the train that would take me to the Metro. I had no idea how to buy a ticket or what to do once I got to the metro...but I needed a Plan B. As I walked through Terminal 2, I stopped at every toll-free phone and called the number again, which I had memorized at this point. Same message.

Finally, at the last toll-free phone before I got to the RER, Super Shuttle picked up. I practically had to lean against the booth to keep from collapsing in relief. We set a pick-up point outside by the curb and I headed in that direction.

The shuttle itself was fine, although it is certainly not the quickest way to get from the airport to your Parisian home. I was the first of 4 pick-ups for that driver and we went to 3 different terminals for the rest of his passengers. Some of them were waiting on him, some were which case he had to go looking for them. Gil & Gabrielle said they circled Terminal 1 for about 30 minutes on their shuttle, waiting for a passenger who never showed up. But it was only about 30 euros each way so I guess the adage holds true for this one: you get what you pay for.

Three hours later, I walked into the Hilton's lobby and asked if my husband had checked in yet. She called, he answered, and he gave me his room number.

I'll not....uh...bore you with the details of the next 5 hours or so....but I will say that it included a bottle of wine that he had chilling upon my arrival, the first CNN that I had seen on an actual TV in about 9 months, and a lovely 3 hour nap. I am, however, quite adorable in the fact that I had scheduled stuff for that a Rick Steves self-guided walk down the Champs Elysees and a climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Hahahahahaha. Yes, I'm cute. Unrealistic and over-ambitious, but cute.

So, that didn't happen. But when we finally woke up, we were starving. We stumbled down the Champs Elysees to an Italian cafe with a few early diners...mostly Americans. Yes, our first meal in France was Italian. And it was divine. I had a margherita pizza and a half a bottle of wine. Neal had some sort of pasta thing with a simple, yet flavorful sauce. Then we split the absolute best tiramisu I have ever had. Very light, not too rich, and absolutely zero lady fingers involved. (When I start going through receipts, I will add the names of the cafes for future travels....right now they are in a stack on the floor next to my desk).

After dinner, it had gotten dark, but not too cold, so we walked awhile...until we turned a corner and was unexpectedly greeted by the Eiffel Tower. We stood on the bridge in front of the Trocadero, snapping pictures of a well-lit, well-known French landmark.

 Suddenly, it began to twinkle! In all of my research I had never once read that at 9 PM, the Eiffel Tower sparkles.

The crowd ooh'ed and ahh'ed for 5 minutes as the lights danced like flames. It. was. mesmerizing.

And stopped.

I turned to Neal. "I want to see it again! Do you think they'll do it again?" He consulted our trusty Rick Steves book, not yet well-thumbed or wet, and declared, "at the top of the hour!" We crossed the bridge and strolled directly under the Eiffel Tour, to the other side of the Champs de Mars. Walking the same path millions of 1889 World's Fair attendees walked as they entered the exposition between the 4 caged legs of this "Parisian eyesore," I felt nothing but delight and pure, whole, contentment.

We hopped the fence to the grassy area of the Champs de Mars and joined dozens of other couples and friends who were popping champagne corks, toasting their good fortune, and waiting for the next light show.

 At all of the major tourist destinations in Paris, there are a group of men trying to sell you Eiffel Tower replicas and a group of women trying to get you to sign their petition for....whatever. It's obnoxious but once you say no, they generally don't return. A stern "non" pretty much fixes it. And they keep to the Eiffel Tower, the Lafayette Galleries, and Notre it isn't as if they are everywhere...but they were certainly out that evening. 

At 10 PM, it began again and as Neal sat cross-legged on the grass and I laid my head in his lap, it felt like we were finally, officially, in Paris.

The sky had begun to cloud over and the winds turned chilly so we started back to the hotel, exhausted and a little giddy with anticipation of the 2 weeks ahead. It was going to be an amazing trip....


  1. Oh we had an awesome first day/night in Paris! I'm so excited for the rest. BTW, have I mentioned I love to read your blogs? You are so clever.... Much love! P.S. And, YES, you ARE cute! :)

  2. Aww. Sounds like a perfect start to your trip! I can't wait to hear about the rest of the overscheduled madness. =)

  3. Ahhhhh!! So sweet! What a wonderful beginning to your retelling. Can't wait to hear more!!!!!

  4. Can you turn this into a book? Seriously, you should. The first days sounds like perfection to me (once you got to the hotel)!

  5. Great tale, so far. Keep writing. (Glad you are home safely.) Hopefully time will go faster now.

  6. Oh mah goodness!!!
    It sounds SO romantic...


  7. Ah oui, it sounds tres romantique. I'll be looking forward to many more posts about your trip!

  8. That is so magical! I didn't know it twinkled either.

    I'm really impressed with your mad trip-planning skills.

  9. I got all teary-eyed about you putting your head in his lap. Sounds a lot like home. <3

  10. I had to read that in two parts :-) So romantic though :-) So glad you got to be with hubby...more reading tomorrow :-)


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