On the train from Paris to the airport, Tenille and I reflected on our successful trip. We had just turned down an offer by our taxi driver to take us to the airport for 20 more Euros. We thought we were being frugal by taking the train, but ended up paying 17 Euros for the train. Ends up we were just being dumb to be taking a hot, non-A/C train dragging all of our luggage around for the same price as we could have had for an air conditioned taxi ride right to our gate. Furthermore, we were running a bit late because we had just spent the morning walking around in the rue Cler neighborhood buying gifts. We got some olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a thank you gift for our parents for watching Caleb.
Thinking about our poor choice in transportation, Tenille consoled, “At least nothing has gone majorly wrong with our trip. I’ve heard that some people missed their train and/or flights and their trip gets screwed up for days.” I reminded Tenille that you’re not really supposed to say things like that until we’re safely home eating dinner. “What could possibly happen at this point?”
We arrived at the airport with about 45 minutes to spare. We were not accustomed to the level of service at the French airport which was magnified by the fact that we were running late. On several occasions, we had to interrupt customer service agent’s valuable flirting time so that we could check in. Tenille made an interesting note that in Europe, there are posters that list the rights of the employees of the airport. In the US, there are posters of the rights of the traveler.
We managed to fumble through the airport and get on our plane. We got to London an hour and a half late. The whole flight is only an hour and a half, so I’m not quite sure what happened to make the flight double in duration. Needless to say, many passengers were in a panic about their connecting flight. The British Airway stewardesses were feelingless. They were cold statues that have likely experienced this on a daily basis, and had run out of any sympathy. They coldly told passengers that this happens all the time, and someone from BA will take care of them. We were feeling ok, because we still had an hour to our flight. Little did we know, that we had to check in through Passport control, Baggage claim, then customs, before we could check in to our next flight. At the Passport control, we told one of the service agents our dilemma. He asked why we didn’t check our bags in so they went straight through? “We didn’t know you could do that” we replied. It was tough enough just get our bags checked. He chuckled and sympathized, making a comment about the lack of helpfulness often experienced in France. By the time we made it to check in, we had 41 minutes to the flight. A customer service agent asked us which flight we were on. We told her, and she took us out of line and to her special terminal. She started typing away, then told us that we missed the cut off. We had to check in 45 minutes before the flight. She pointed us to a customer service agent, and we unhappily resigned to our fate and prepared to find another flight home. As we were explaining our situation, we noticed that there were many others in the same predicament as us. Most of them very angry. We were fortunate enough to have a helpful agent find us flight to Vancouver Canada, otherwise we would have to go on standby the next day. We opted for Canada. Worst case, we could take a bus down to Seattle. At least we’d be in the right continent and within driving distance. When we got to the gate an hour later, the direct flight to Seattle (that we apparently missed) was still at the gate next to our gate. The passengers to the Seattle flight did not take off for another hour after we got there. We asked the gate attendant if we could get on that flight. One would think that would be a reasonable request. One would be wrong. We had to painfully watch the passengers board the plane that was supposed to take us directly home while we waited for a plane to Canada.
Our flight to Canada was uneventful, but again late. We ran to the gate of our connecting flight this time, thinking we’re not going to miss another flight. But, we were not even close. The plane had taken off long ago. It was now quite late. We sulked back to the main terminal to find a British Airways agent to find another way back down to Seattle. After a few laps around the terminal, we were not able to find a BA agent. We looked quite thoroughly. In fact, we found several other people who needed to make the same Seattle connection, but also missed the flight. After about half an hour of walking back and forth and asking several people, we found the BA lady. She gave us a choice of either taking a flight the next day, or going home by limo. I was 100% for finishing this trip today and opted for the limo. The other 3 passengers also opted for the limo. The BA Lady cut us some vouchers and asked us to go stand outside at the limo stand. When a limo pulls up, we give our voucher, and they’ll take us to Sea Tac. All of us were relieved that there was a solid plan for getting home. We all made our respective calls to our family members and let them know that this horrible day of traveling was soon about to come to a close. After about 15 minutes of waiting, a lady came up to us, and asked, “You guys aren’t waiting for a limo are you? They’re all on strike!”… Some of us laughed in true disbelief. Honestly, we thought it was a joke… but the lady messenger of doom did not laugh, and our countenance also shifted. It was indeed a cosmic joke. We sent a messenger back to the BA lady to tell her that we need an alternate plan. The BA Lady gave us vouchers for a nearby hotel, and cut us tickets on the commuter plane the following morning. That evening, we went to the hotel. One of the ladies that was waiting with us, gave us her food voucher. We went to town on the room service. We figured, we might as well make the best of it. We got just about every other appetizer they had, order several entrees. Tenille ordered a cheesecake and nachos to top it all off… When the food arrived, we were a bit embarrassed that we had ordered so much food. But, the embarrassment didn’t last long, and we gorged, courtesy of BA.
We woke up to our last full day in Paris and opted to skip the hotel breakfast since we had found out the night before that the 14 Euros per person charge was not included in our lodging. The breakfast definitely outdid our free Rome breakfast of orange juice, crispy toast w/jelly, and croissants, but not enough to pay $35 for the two of us. We made our way towards the Eiffel Tower and found a pastry shop and grocery store along the way. Don bought a croissant, while I opted for donuts, a yogurt, and a banana. We ate our breakfast on the way to the Tower and while we were standing in line.
There were two lines to buy elevator tickets, so we opted for the line that was in the shade. We waited there for two hours!!! Just as it was about our turn to take the elevator up, it appeared that the elevator was no longer running up that leg of the tower, so we were escorted to the opposite leg of the tower which was pretty far away. Standing in line for two hours does not bring out the best in people, and by this time people were shoving and trying to get ahead of each other. It was really ridiculous! We ended up at the end of an even longer line that wasn’t moving. Don and I were so tired of waiting at this point, that we began contemplating returning later since we already had our tickets. After realizing that we probably wouldn’t have time to make it back, we decided rather to see if we could climb to the first floor and take the elevator to the second. Thankfully the guy at the stairs leg let us go ahead. It really wasn’t that far up, and we wished that we would have done that in the first place.
I had bought a postcard to send to Caleb because there is a post office on the first floor of the Tower, and I thought it would be cool to have a postcard of the Eiffel Tower sent directly from the Tower. Don thought it was a bit ridiculous, but was fine with it since we didn’t have to wait in a line. We had no problems taking the elevator up to the second floor. After taking in the views, we took the elevator back down. I think Don would agree that considering the time and effort (and shoving of impatient people), the Eiffel Tower was the biggest disappointment of our trip. We would both be fine never going up it again.
We found the nearest metro station and made our way to the Sacre-Couer (Sacred Heart Church). While riding in the train, two punk kids turned up their radio and started rapping and dancing. It was a bit awkward because these teenage kids would lift up their shirt and start shaking their belly in front of an old man’s face who clearly had no interest in admiring their dance or rap. There was another couple who were filming the whole disturbance, and we figured that they must have been making a music video of sorts. They actually did a pretty good job, and later Don said that he was tempted to throw some money in their tin.
After emerging from the station, we grabbed lunch at a gyro joint near the bottom of the hill that leads to the white church. There was a tram that took people to the top, but we opted to make the climb rather than wait in another line. It was quite a climb! Once we got to the base of the church, we saw the same two rappers with an even more extensive camera crew. They weren’t rapping, but rather it looked like they were taking a break. Who knows, we may have stumbled upon some famous French rappers. We’ll never know.
We went inside the church and started making our way around the walls.
We hustled back to the river to hit the gospel choir concert. We were there a few hours early because we were not sure how the ticketing worked. While Don was looking around, a man walked out of the American cathedral and let me know that we can just buy tickets here when the show starts. He assured us that the entry fee would be nominal. We grabbed a nice dinner and spent some time walking up and down the river. When we got back to the cathedral, there was a long line. Don was able to get to the ticketing line and buy tickets. Obviously, nominal in France does not mean cheap… It was $50 for the both of us. We were ushered into the magnificent cathedral, and a choir of about 8 men and women came out. It was a bit of a strange experience. It seemed like a black French choir singing American Gospel music to mostly French people. Their English often had French and a slight British accent, which is a bit weird in the context of gospel. Also, it seemed like the choir was trying to get the audience to “get in the spirit” by hollering, but it seemed that was a bit beyond the sensibilities of this mostly French audience. About halfway through, the choir was joined by another choir of about 20 men and women. It suddenly became quite powerful. They sang a song named “Joy!” and the audience was suddenly compelled to stand. Some seemed overtaken by the music, and you could hear “Hallelujah” being shouted out from the back. It was definitely an odd out of place experience, but a welcome spiritual lift.
When the choir was done singing, we took the subway back to our hotel. We were pooped for the evening and konked out quickly.
We originally thought that we would head out early, but decided to sleep in a little this morning since we were so tired yesterday. We left our hotel around 9:30 after eating breakfast and made our way to the RER station, Pont D’ Alma. We used a regular metro ticket, and grabbed the train to Versailles. It was about a 30 minute trek. When we arrived, we couldn’t get past the turnstiles to get out of the station. We found out later that we were supposed to buy a special ticket to Versailles. There were a bunch of us, in fact, that apparently made the same mistake. We eventually found a way around the turnstiles and were on our way to Versailles. We had to walk about a mile to get there. It was quite a sight to see! The palace is enormous! Unfortunately they are in the middle of reconstructing the palace, so there was a lot of construction equipment all over the grounds, but it was still impressive. Fortunately we were able to bypass the long line to buy tickets since we had our Museum Pass. We had originally planned to do a live guided tour, but after finding out that we would have to walk a ways to the ticket office, we opted for the audioguides instead. The audioguides led us through the different parts of the palace and gave interesting facts about each room. It was pretty good. After the tour, we headed out to the gardens. It was extremely hot, so we decided to be lazy and take the tram out to the gardens. We thought that the tram took us through the gardens, but we were mistaken. Instead, we went along a dirt road passing by cattle and horses in fields with no views of the garden. The roundtrip took 45 minutes. We (more I, Tenille) were so disappointed! We walked out to the top of the garden and found out that it wasn’t that far of a walk, and we could have skipped the tram ride altogether. Oh well. We took in our last views of Versailles and made our way back to the train station. We had lunch at a Spanish Tapas restaurant and grabbed a blizzard at McDonalds before boarding the train. This time we figured out getting the right ticket.
I wanted to get the most out of our Museum Pass, so Don agreed grudgingly to go with me to the Orsay Museum and Napolean’s Tomb. We had to hurry because of their closing times. The RER train stopped one stop short of the Orsay Musem stop (because of construction we guessed), so we finally found a lady who told us to go outside and follow the signs to a bus. We made it to the museum and went straight to the Impressionist floor. I wanted to see the Monet paintings. They were so beautiful! I took pictures of all the artworks I liked so that I could get prints of them. I really enjoyed our short stay! We had to leave earlier than I would have liked in order to make it to Napolean’s Tomb before closing. We decided to walk rather than chance a bus. It started raining on the way, so we arrived a bit wet. The rain felt good at first, but it didn’t really cool the heat of the air, so rather than being hot and sweaty, we were hot and soaked. Oh well.
We arrived at Napolean’s Tomb to find that it closed 45 minutes later than we thought, so we could have stayed at the Orsay longer. Darn. Anyway, we saw Napolean’s gigantic tomb made of red marble. It is quite a sight to see. It is placed under the dome of the Invalides Building surrounded by wall carvings of his battles. The actual tomb that you see holds multiple other tombs stacked inside one another until you reach Napolean’s corpse. Crazy! I have never seen a “casket’ like it before in my life!
It had stopped raining by the time we left the building. Don wanted to go check out the jazz scene, so we headed that way. We found a couple of clubs, but we had a hard time figuring out who was playing and what time. And, there wasn’t really anyone to ask. I had to go to the bathroom, so we spent about 30 minutes trying to find one. Finally I went inside a restaurant and helped myself. They were all pay toilets except for one, so I opened the door and found not a toilet, but a floor bin that you squat over. I recalled discovering these same “toilets” in Korea where I opted to hold it. Unfortunately holding it was not an option this time, so I went for it. As I was “going” the light turned off on me, so I had to finish in the dark. It was quite an experience….one I will undoubtedly never forget.
Don and I walked back to the jazz scene along the same streets we had walked up and down looking for a bathroom. We stopped in to get a gelato because my blood sugar was low. Finally we found a club that was playing jazz music, but when we peered in we saw that it was standing room only. We decided to pass on the jazz and head home early. We were both very tired and ready for some sleep.
We headed out early this morning as we had a busy day ahead of us. Our plan was to get a 2-day Museum Pass which covers many of the sites and museums, so we (okay, mostly I, Tenille) wanted to make sure we saw all the things it covered that we wanted to see. We made our way down to the Champ de Mars park right in front of the Eiffel Tower to take in the view and snap some pictures before hopping on the bus that would take us on a bit of a tour around the city and on to where we would begin our Historic Walk of Paris tour from Rick Steves’ travel book.
Unfortunately, we got off the bus a bit early and started where the walk ended, so we basically ended up doing the walk twice. I had downloaded an audioguide of the tour to my phone, so we listened as we walked. The tour began with Notre Dame, which is magnificent. The gothic church is enormous! We admired the facade with its statues and gargoyles peering down on the crowds of people. The inside of the church was adorned with stunning stained glass panels and statues of significant people such as Joan of Arc. The ceilings criss-crossed in the typical gothic manner, and we admired the grandeur of the building. We moved along quickly following the audioguide, and subsequently completely missed our chance to climb the steps. I had forgotten that we could ascend the 400 steps to the top to take in the views (which I didn’t remember until we were done with the walk a few hours later), and instead we hurried along the side of the church to view the exterior. The side of the church showed the many buttresses and green statues of the apostles who are said to guard the church along with the gargoyles. Some of the gargoyles serve two purposes – guardians and rainwater spouts. When it rains they spit the water out their mouths. What a neat sight that would be!
We then moved on to the Deportation Memorial, which happened to be closed. On our way to the next big sight, which was St. Chapelle church, we ate gyro plates at a Greek restaurant. The had a huge skewer of lamb roasting from whence they scraped off the meat to be served. It was so good! I’ve never been a fan of gyros or Greek food, but this proved to be yet another change in my taste-buds on this trip. It made Don happy to see that I was enjoying many of the foods that I refused to eat at home, so he’s hoping that I’ll be more open-minded when we get back home. We’ll see.
St. Chapelle, a gothic-style church, is the best example we have seen so far of stained glass. Although Notre Dame had many stained glass panels, it was outdone by St. Chapelle’s immaculate collection of stained glass windows. The entire chapel was adorned with the colorful glass, and each glass panel told a story related to the bible as well as Christ’s life. We tried to decipher each of the panels. At the back of the church we found carved panels of the creation, Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham & Isaac, and many others. I liked them so much that I took pictures of most, if not all, of them.
After St. Chapelle we moved on to the Conciergerie where many people were held captive and eventually beheaded guillotine-style. These included King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette basically because they were royalty. This was during the French Revolution when the middle class rose up and wanted to do away with kings and queens.
We walked through the rest of the Latin Quarter and on to St. Michele, a busy square with a fountain and statue. We decided at this point to bag the rest of the audio tour and head to the Louvre in order to go on a live guided tour. We walked quickly to make it there just in time. The tour lady wouldn’t even wait while I ran to the restrooms to fill up my water bottle. The 90-minute tour was interesting. We were lead to the most popular pieces in the museum including, “Winged Victory” and “The Mona Lisa”, which I must admit was a bit of a disappointment since it was much smaller than you would imagine….probably a 16×20 frame size. We were warned that it would be, so it wasn’t such a big deal. Don didn’t even fight the crowds to get a closer look. We saw some beautiful statues as well. When our tour finished Don and I opted to go see Venus De Milo, which our tour guide said we would skip because there is always too many people, as well as the other Da Vinci paintings. We were fine not seeing much of the Louvre Museum as we were pretty tired and felt we had seen enough of the Louvre.
I really wanted to still climb Notre Dame, but we realized that we wouldn’t make it in time, which I was really bummed about. Instead we decided to get some dinner back in the Latin Quarter. We found a suitable menu and experienced our first French meal. For starters I had French Onion Soup, which was good, but on the peppery side while Don had mussels (which he really liked). We quickly realized that in France many dishes are served with French Fries. So, I had a pork chop (which was not very good) with French Fries, and Don leg of lamb (which was really good) with French Fries. We thought it was kind of funny because in the States, you would rarely get French Fries with a nice dinner. For dessert I had Crème Brule (yum) while Don opted for the cheese plate.
After dinner we decided to take a boat tour from Pont Neuf that made a round-trip from Ile De La Cite, the island upon which Notre Dame stands, down to the Eiffel Tower and back. Many of the famous sites in Paris are along the River Seine, so we were able to see the different buildings. A lady pointed out the different sites in English and French, but we could barely understand what she was saying. We arrived at the Eiffel Tower just in time to see the sparkling show at 11PM that the Eiffel Tower performs every hour for 10 minutes at night. It is a spectacular sight to see! We arrived back at Pont Neuf just in time to catch the metro back to our hotel as the metro stops running at 12:30AM. It was a very busy but very fun day!
The day started off on the wrong foot. We woke up a bit late, and rushed out the door. While we were heading out, the B&B lady came running out to get us. She treated us like we were crazy. She asked why we were leaving with the key when this is the last day? Did we not understand the bargain we made the day before? Our room must be clear and the key must be turned in by 11am. This is how all hotels work, she reminded us.
Although there was a small defensive side of me that wanted to point out that hotels generally have a place to keep luggage at the concierge (and AC that works), clearly we were the guests (to the country and this B&B) and needed to play the part of the guest. We apologized and clarified that she would keep our valuables in her room, and our other bags in the hall way until we return. Although the episode ended well, Tenille and I were both a bit affected by the contention. We were glad to leave the B&B and start off our day. We wanted to see an ancient Christian crypt and spend some time in Trastavere which lies on the other side of the river.
We got to the bus stop, and realized that our 3 day pass had run out. During our stay here, it appeared as if nobody had tickets and people just rode the bus freely. I convinced Tenille that we are foreigners here, and although it may seem as if nobody has tickets, we should try to abide by the rules. We went into a Tobacco shop (where bus tickets are sold). An American woman came in and spoke English to the old Italian shopkeeper asking for bus tickets. She was getting more frustrated because of the language barrier. The shopkeeper pointed us to a deli next door. We followed the lady to the deli, and the lady unleashed on the workers there and screamed, “Why doesn’t anyone speak @#$@$ English?” along with other choice words. This is where we parted company, and I felt embarrassed by her. She stormed off, and Tenille and I opted to walk in the opposite direction. We walked for about a half an hour looking for another place to purchase tickets, but no luck. We debated whether or not we should just take the bus without tickets. After waiting at a bus stop for another 15 minutes, we decided to just take a cab. We finally got to the Catacombs of Priscilla at 11:45am. We saw in the book, that they close from 12pm until 3pm, so we were cutting it close.
A nun inside greeted us. She looked at the clock and seemed a bit irritated. She said a lot of things in Italian as she pointed to the clock. She started to cut us two tickets and asked for 10 Euros. Tenille handed her a 50 Euro bill, and she shook her head indicating that she had no change. We dug through all our pockets and were able to get 9 Euros. She shook her head, and started to put the tickets away. I could feel Tenille almost about to explode. It took us several hours to get here (not to mention 20-30 Euros for the round trip cab fare), and there’s no way we can stay until 3pm to take the tour. I gave the nun the most pathetic look I could hoping that it’d be worth 1 euro. She muttered something in Italian and pointed at the clock. I told Tenille that she should go see it and tell me all about it.
Just then, an old Italian man came running through the door. He asked the nun for a tour, and the nun continued her tirade about the time. The man was clearly persuasive as he folded his hands and begged the nun. She acquiesced. He paid with a ten, and that was enough to give us change for a fifty. What a miracle! This angel just came into the door and gave us a chance to see these catacombs. So I thought, until I saw that the nun had enough change to begin with. What might have been a fun miracle story turned into a disgruntled nun story.
We were led to a big metal door. She unlocked it and motioned impatiently for us to enter. We went inside, and heard a slam of the door behind us. It was a bit unnerving, but a group of tourists greeted us from below as they finished their tour. They told us to follow the lights down. Another nun met us at the bottom of the catacombs and gave us a personal tour in mumbling English. It was extremely cold. It was probably over 90 degrees outside, but in the catacombs, I could see my breath. The catacomb was a dark narrow dirt tunnel with bins up and down the sides of the wall where they laid people. There was an area where you could look up and see sunlight (like a sunlight), and you could also see a hole that showed 3 more levels of catacombs below. We saw early Christian paintings dating back to the 2nd century. We saw signs of the fish (which is a Greek Acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God) We saw peacocks which represented incorruptible flesh. We saw scenes of Moses hitting a rock. On our tour, we befriended some people from Connecticut. When we were done, our friends gave us a ride to the nearest bus stop (about a mile away), for which we were very thankful. After grabbing some lunch, we decided to cancel the trip to Trastavere and check out the Train station, so we could figure out how to get to the airport. Tenille had booked an inexpensive flight from Rome to Paris. The catch is that we have to take off from Ciampino, an airport that’s a bit more difficult to get to.
At the train station, Tenille had to use the bathroom. It cost 70 cents. You had to put coins into a machine that looked like a turnstyle at a subway stop, and it let you through. While I was waiting, a woman approached me and asked me in broken English how to get through. I told her where to put the change in, and she asked me to do it for her pushing her hand full of coins toward me. This was a bit weird. I pointed again at the coin hole and told her that’s where the money goes, but did not take her money, as I suspected a scam.
I thought that it was too bad, that I’m afraid to help this lady because I’m on hyper-guard. All the books and signs warn of scams and fraud against tourists. Our Rick Steve book even tell us that some people will throw a baby at you so, you’ll catch it, and they’ll go through your pockets. This is sad. It makes tourists suspect other tourists. And I feel as if it has made me into a person I would be absolutely ashamed to be, if I were at home and not so tensely on guard. Looking back, I think it may have been better to be had by a scam than the poor behavior caused by the caution.
Tenille came out of the bathroom. We walked for a while trying to find an information booth to see how we can get to the airport. She found a booth, and stood in line for the booth. When she asked how to get to Ciampino, the lady in the booth told her to get a bus on some street. When she asked what times the buses run, she told her to go to the street. When she asked if there was a train, the lady repeated herself and told her to get a bus on the street, but this time it was not so friendly and in a raised tone. It was clear to me that our welcome in Rome had run out by this point. On our way out, we found the bus which ran hourly. My goal at this point was to get out of Rome without another person yelling at us.
We got back to our hotel and got our bags without incident. In fact, we exchanged some nice words with the hotel lady and said our good-byes. I tried to convince Tenille to take a cab to the train station, but she hurried on to a bus. The bus was massively crowded and we were squished on all sides holding our two big luggage bags. Once at the airport, we caught our bus and got to the airport without incident. We were a bit concerned about taking such a “budget” airline, but it was just like taking a Southwest flight. Once we got to France, we took a bus on an hour long trip to Paris. In Paris, we dragged our luggage around several metro (subway) stops, and several blocks to our Hotel. On our walk, we saw that the Eiffel Tower was ablaze like a thousand cameras going off. At last, we arrived at our hotel. The room has A/C. It’s pretty small, but we’ll just be sleeping here. We even found English CNN on TV. Ahhhh… kicked out of one country, but feeling at home in another. We’re a bit concerned about the language barrier in Paris. We’ll see how much of an issue this will be.