29 March 2004

Hey, we're in France, speeding through the sunny countryside in the Eurostar.

Looks a lot like England so far - green fields and small towns with churches. More red roofs, though. Earlier, we caught the train from Greenwich to Waterloo East and easily found our way through the main terminal to the International side. (note - our tickets were only $45 each, one way - reservations made early, as they go fast) One word of advice - no, make that two. First, most people had tickets printed on cardstock, which slipped into the automated boarding gate. Ours, however, were flimsy paper. We should have found the gate with a human attendant to check our ticket manually. Do not stand in the 'buy your ticket' line... And the second thing - listen to your wise wife when she says 'ooh, I wouldn't take that knife with you...' But here, let's let Gil tell his tale of woe:

Gil here… Ok just let's make this perfectly clear..."I AM MOST CERTAINLY NOT A TERRORIST!"...but I do (er, did) happen to own a pocketknife that I took on this trip. It was a lovely knife. It suited me. It was a "Buck Knife" actually, with a wickedly sharp single blade that was about an inch and a half long...perfect for cutting the occasional piece of twine, slice o' cheese, or perhaps an interesting newspaper article and I loved it. I had dutifully put it into my check-in baggage when I left the US because I knew that anything sharp during these tenuous times makes those airline security people extremely nervous...and we don't want that! I had no problems entering Britain with it and frankly I never really gave it another thought. So when leaving England for France (on a train) I simply decided to leave it in my jeans pocket, where it normally resides, figuring, "who could possibly care, I'm on a train...no one but the insane are going to worry about some middle-aged, white guy hijacking a train with some kind of mini-knife." Wrong...boy was I wrong! The first level of English "SECURITY" guys opened it and then had trouble releasing the locking blade. Naturally I good naturedly showed him how it worked. He was then unsure how he should proceed being torn between it being a "KNIFE WITH A LOCKING BLADE" but also being somewhat reassured by its small size and my somewhat affable demenor. So he took it to his supervisor who decided that neither it nor I posed any real threat to the "Free-World." He casually tossed it into the basket containing my coat, coinage and other items destined for the security x-ray machine. As they emerged I grabbed my coat out of the basket and by happenstance sent the knife flying to the floor. I retrieved it and put it and of course naturally put it into my pants pocket where it belonged...simply habit...but just in time for the security people to go into "RED-ALERT-MODE!" They immediatly confronted me wanting to know what happened to the "knife-profile" that I had in my pack...they were sure that I had pulled some nefarious trick on them and hidden it from them!. I tried to explain to the "HEAD-OF-ALL-SECURITY-WHO-PROBABLY-REPORTS-ONLY-TO-JOHN-ASHCROFT" but to no avail. He seemed fixated on the fact that my knife "had locking blade!" I tried to defuse the (what was quickly becoming a) situtation by explaining how there had really been no problem bringing it in to their country and then tried to rationally explain how back in the "civilized-free world," back in the good old U.S. of fricken' A, buster, a "locking blade" is considered a safety feature and how one that doesn't lock and can accidentally close and cut your fingers and he...in an eerily calm voice tells me..."there are two ways we can go from here, the easy way, or the hard way and either way I lose my knife" and I quickly opt for the easy way (momma didn't raise no fools)... Meanwhile I notice Becky has been moving further and further away from me and this "situation" as I am being led off by these armed goons to sign some reports/profiles that are being filled out on me (and which I am sure, are on John Ashcroft's, if not G.W."God-Almighty" Bush's desk by now). Bottom line; I hereby promise to be a good boy forevermore and that I've learned not to travel with ANY knife or sharp instrument in my pocket. I'm sorry to say I've lost a really good knife and am resigned to the fact that I'm probably on "The Big-Bad-Possible-Terrorist List" and I am probably doomed to be stopped and frisked at every airport that I ever travel through throughout eternity and that my beloved Becky will probably be giving me wider and wider berth at each and every security point we cross here after.

Back to sensible Becky... Once we climb on board our Eurostar coach, our 2 1/2 hour journey commences without incident.

When we arrive at Gare de Nord, I realize I've got a migraine coming on, drat. (Surprisingly, there is no immigration control - our brief showing of our passports back at Waterloo was all.)

At the station, I manage to order un café - my first French transaction. (Sometimes caffeine helps the migraine situation.) We next try to find a machine to give us euros. We discover that an automatic train ticket machine is not a good source. Where are the 'distributeurs de billets' per Rick Steves? Gil confuses an American Express agent, but manages to get some cash using his bank debit card and filling out any number of forms and registering his passport. I decline this ordeal. Help, we're in a foreign country; I can't see properly and we don't know what we're doing! We need lunch! Still at the station, we sit down at a brasserie and order our first French meal: somewhat unexpectedly,Gil gets hot dogs (no buns or condiments) and French fries. It's quiche and salad for me with two cokes that are served with lemon slices and short spoons. Oh, and Gil gets bread, perhaps by accident, after a short and mostly unintelligible conversation with our well-meaning waitress.

We easily find the well-marked taxi stand. The ride to the Rue Cler neighborhood is amazing. Our driver smoothly steers down tight roadways and slips right between a bus and car with no inches to spare. We make tiny 'omigosh' and 'wow' noises from the back seat causing our driver to shrug and chuckle 'Paris - c'est la vie.' Including tip, our taxi ride costs us $14. So far, Paris is much cheaper than London.

The Hotel Champs de Mars is a treasure. Our room is small but charming. It's number 5, just past the main desk. A window opens onto a tiny-shared courtyard. Our room is decorated quite nicely in yellows and blue, and has a lovely bathroom with a mixer faucet. While small, there are cupboards and tables to store our belongings, so we're soon settled in.

We walk just a few blocks to find ourselves looking at the Eiffel Tower. Golly - we're in Paris! We buy 2-day Red Bus tickets and climb onto the top level for a sunny, but slightly chilly ride around Paris. What a city! How grand! How over the top!

After a two hour tour, we're temporarily done with sightseeing, so we alight at le Tour Eiffel and meander home. We stop at a small supermarket where Gil nearly (very kindly) pays for another lady's groceries. We buy sandwiches at a bakery, and return home to watch TV - about a dozen channels, including several in English.

30 March 2004

Gil here...It's morning and there is no coffee in this fricken' hotel! This is bad. Very bad...I...must...have...coffee! I grabbed our French/English/English/French book and quickly memorized what "must have coffee!" is in French and hit the streets. 1/2 hour later the best I could do was to get a newspaper and a teeny-tiny cup of espresso in a plastic cup for 4 1/2 Euros. I'm getting that sinking feeling and deeply (from a survival standpoint) in trouble. I'm considering the possible ramifications of switching from my current vices of coffee, whiskey and cigars (all hard to find here) to French (nay, "Freedom" wine and some of those nasty, little cigarettes everyone seems to be smoking (both tres easy to find). Bonne chance mon amis! Still there is hope, perhaps I will have better luck today...meanwhile Becky seems to be adapting easily and seems completely at home here...I am beginning to resent her "inner-joi" of hers (but perhaps a the caffene will kick in soon and everything will seem better)

Becky back. We end up having petite dejeuner outdoors at a café on our own Rue Cler. It's croissants and baguette with butter and jam, with orange juice and café au lait (for me) and another strong café for Gil. We end up having café several more times during the day. I find my cafe au lait quite delicious. (Gil here again...see what I mean about that "inner-joi" thing...grrr)

We explore our street and I successfully purchase postcard stamps en Francais at the nearby post office. We decide to walk to the river and take the tour of the Paris sewers.

I just had to include this photo...I don't believe a cigarette has ever touched my sweet Rebecca's lips before, but now under the pressure of trying to "fit in" she has been totally corrupted...bwahahaha! She drew the line however at actually lighting the nasty thing.

It's fun and informative and - yes - a little stinky. We walk on gratings over open sewage tunnels and storm drain runoff. We are most intrigued with the round balls, made of wood or metal, that are custom made to fit the various tunnels and scour them out periodically.

We watched a short film, watching the "boules" heaved into the water with a mighty splash. They even sell floaty pens with the boules moving to and fro, pushing the 'sediment.' We got one for Daniel. Passed, however, on the cuddly stuffed rat.

Me, I'm amused by the concept of "toilets" in the sewer system...but hey, that's me!

Now we walk across the river and head towards the Louvre. Miles of parks (including a lovely sunken grotto), galettes avec jambon et fromage, feeding sparrows from my hand,

looking for les toilettes. Gil decides he needs a picture of some Gendarmes. Unfortunately the one he chooses is in front of the "Ministry of Justice" which is currently undergoing some sort of security paranoia and immediately seizes Gil's camera and demands he erase the picture, which Gil pretends to do. (why do these things always seem to happen to me...perhaps if you could direct me to a cup of coffee we could work this all out) Perhaps a bit embarrassed by their Gestapo ('VER ARE YOUR PAPERS?) tactics he asks Gil, gesturing at me, "Is this your wife?" "Then take a picture" he barks at me. So I do, maintenant.

We see a herd of Americans on Segway scooters - a special tour.

We walk along the Seine and I buy an original india ink and water color picture of a Paris street near the Isle de la Citie.

On to Notre Dame - we go inside briefly.

Tired, we catch our red bus back to the Tour Eiffel.

We buy tickets to le summet, but decide - based on the line at the second level - to go no higher. What a view we have!

We walk back to our rue and are so pleased with ourselves for successfully negotiating our entire picnic dinner. Rotisserie chicken, fine chocolate, strawberries (Francais? Oui!), still warm crusty baguette. Gil buys a bottle of Scotch Islay whiskey. Ooh la la, our picnic is delicious.

Quel surprise! We decide to venture out again to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. We arrive at the Park via Rue de Belgradeand and find ourselves confronting a most intriguing monument. Vaguely Egyptian in theme, but covered with symbols - triangles, 3 sealed urns, an inscription commemorating 1789 - 1879 brotherhood of man. Must look up on Internet. [no luck - any ideas? It's near Rue de Belgrade.]

The Tour Eiffel is already lit up with gold lights. We take photos for other Americans, including a lovely couple from Sacramento. They tell us we must wait until 9:00 to see the special sparkly lights that come on at the top of each hour. Well worth the wait! Download my little movie...HERE!

31 March 2004

We eat breakfast on the Rue Cler at a restaurant which serves not only my French style (croissant and wonderful hot chocolate) petite dejeuner but also American style for Gil. Two sunny-side up fried eggs and jambon and bread with coffee.

We decide to walk to l'Hotel des Invalides to see Napoleon's tomb. Both Gil and I have been there before but many years ago. On the way, we discover a handy taxi stand just a couple of blocks from our hotel. We'll use it later to catch our cab to le Gare du Nord.

Napoleon's tomb celebrates, in that peculiarly grandiose fashion of the French, not only his military campaigns, but his considerable improvements to the French legal, commercial and administrative systems. After paying our respects, we walk through the galleries of the Musee de l'armee until we've seen just about all the swords, boots and saddles we can handle.

Highlights: Napoleon's white Arabian Le Vizier and locks of Napoleon's hair and his death mask.

Time to fetch our luggage from the hotel and be on our way. Then it's off for another wild ride through Paris. Again we are impressed with the driving skills as our handsome driver smoothly threads his way through traffic. Upon arrival at the station, we enjoy dejeuner before boarding our Eurostar back to London.

Please click HERE to continue our tale wherein we return to London and then go home

(Return to Gil & Becky's homepage by clicking HERE)