There is something I find very exciting about having new stamps on my passport. It's an official confirmation that I have been somewhere. It's an official record of both a place and time.
My first passport only had two stamps on it: the trip out of the U.S. and the return. It expired before I ever used it again.
My current passport has been stamped a few times, although those stamps come more from business than from pleasure. Still, it's fun to see places I have been confirmed. Sometimes after I go through customs on a trip I will stop and look at my new stamp.
I have decided to break the blog up into manageable bits so readers don't have to go through an interminable amount of dull travelogue. I'm covering two days at a time, starting with the day we arrived.
Day 1 - We left Saturday night for a redeye flight. We were fortunate that everything went smoothly. Our flight was on time and we managed to even snatch a few winks of sleep. As our plane landed I had to wrap my brain around the idea that it was France down there. After a year of planning and waiting, we had arrived.
We were not so lucky once we arrived at Charles DeGaulle. We had gone through customs and were ready to go out and meet our shuttle, but we found ourselves corralled and held in the baggage claim area. Every passenger from the last two flights had to line up and have security search their bags (or at least look at the bags and decide if they want to search or not). It took a good hour to get out of there. We had called our shuttle to let him know we would be late. Once we were able to leave, we were told to meet him at Gate 8.
We went out to Gate 8 and were chased away by a soldier who said we weren't allowed to stand there. We couldn't argue with a guy carrying a large firearm, so we tried to watch for the van inside the door. We were told a "blue van", would be picking us up, but we saw plenty of blue vans and weren't sure how to identify our shuttle. We called and asked for more info, but were just told it was a "blue van" again and that the guy had a lot of pickups that day and would get around to us. At least the soldiers went away and people started standing outside, so we did too.
Finally the shuttle came. It advertises a company called "Bluvan", so that's what the dispatcher meant! It was nice of him to explain that! We were on our way.
I couldn't wait to really see Paris, but leaving the airport was disappointing at first. When the plane landed, I saw fields and clumps of buildings. From the air all airports tend to look alike. I could have been landing in the Midwest. On the ground it didn't look too different. I saw highways and city buildings. It could have been NY. It even had the same impatient and crazy drivers (although there was a refreshing lack of SUVs). I finally just gave way to jet lag and nodded off.
When I awoke after my brief nap I looked into the distance and saw Sacre Couer (it's visible from just about everywhere). That had me feeling more excited. Within a few minutes I saw the Seine. Then I looked east and suddenly there it was in front of me - Notre Dame. "There it is," I managed to whisper. Our driver took us right into the heart of the city and I was finally in the Paris that has been in my head all of these years.
The driver took us through the Latin Quarter to drive us to everyone's various hotels. I wondered how I would ever find my way around. We finally made it to our hotel, Les Rives De Notre Dame.
This hotel is 16th century and quite charming. Great lobby.
We were greeted warmly at the front desk, who also served as concierge
We were shown to our room. Kevin's luggage had to come up separately since the elevator was tiny.
Our room was a pretty good size by Paris standards, although small by US ones. We did have ample space for storing our stuff with plenty of room to sit and read or work on our computers. The hotel despite its age had plenty of modern upgrades such as Wi Fi and a flat screen TV. Our bathroom was decent sized and included an actual stand-up shower (I hear those aren't always in every Parisian bathroom) and a heated towel rack. The towels themselves were a bit skimpy, but they did provide nice thick bathrobes along with them. The decor looked a bit worn and there was sometimes a musty smell about the place, but that is to be expected in an old building on a river.
We could also see Notre Dame from our window.
The only problem with the room was our door. It was impossible to open. It had no outside doorknob and you had to work the key just right to get the lock to give way and the door to swing inward. It often took a few minutes of jiggling the key. After a week at this hotel, we never learned the "trick".
The hotel also had a wonderful staff. Everyone was pleasant and helpful.
Once we were unpacked we headed into the heart of the Latin Quarter (just around the corner) for lunch.
After lunch we didn't have much afternoon left. The long wait in the airport security line plus the long wait for our shuttle left us with little time to carry out our plans to visit Notre Dame that afternoon. Rather than wait on the long line for the tower or the long line for the sanctuary, we decided to just walk around the outside and take photos. Then we took a stroll up the Seine for a little ways. I saw my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
We also found a store that sold the museum pass. We really didn't want to visit any sights until we had one. They can reduce waiting time by quite a bit.
We had dinner at a restaurant on the Ile St. Louis that my father had recommended. The wine at this place was unlimited, so we ended up drinking nearly a bottle each. We made it to bed at a reasonable hour with anticipation of visiting both Notre Dame and the Louvre the next day.
Day 2 - Due to the bounceback effect of the wine along with jet lag, I didn't sleep well for much of the night. I was up at 3AM as I always am when I drink wine with dinner. I struggled to fall back asleep and finally did towards morning. We had our heavy curtains drawn so no light was coming in, and we had not thought to ask for a wakeup call. When I finally woke up after sleeping as long as I thought I needed to, I discovered it was almost 11:30! We had wasted nearly half the day sleeping!
Our first order of the day was to hit Notre Dame since it was right across the Seine. We wanted to start with queuing up for the towers and then go inside the sanctuary. With so much of the day wasted, we were afraid the line to go into the towers would already be around the block.
When we arrived there, we had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that the towers were closed for security reasons from 12-1. The good news was that no one was waiting on line to get in at that point, so we were among the first to enter after they opened. While we waited, the line behind us became very long.
Did I mention it was raining? This was a theme for much of the week. For our first three days we had to deal with cloudy days and intermittent spitting rain.
The tower finally opened and we were allowed in. Our museum pass meant we didn't have to buy a ticket, but we still had to wait in the same line as those who were waiting to buy tickets unfortunately. We went up one set of stairs and were corralled into a gift shop before we could go up again. Oh well. Everyone needs money, right?
We then had to go up hundreds of tight, windy, stairs to get to the top of the towers.
Once we made it to the top, we were treated to breathtaking views of the city as well as close ups of many of the famous gargoyles.
We even took an even tighter and windier staircase up to the very top of the tower as well as a look at the main bell.
After leaving the tower, we went into the main sanctuary. There was a line, but it was constantly moving. The inside of the church is also free, which is a plus.
We wisely bought an audiotour to help us navigate through all of this.
We also decided to buy tickets to go into the Treasury. There were some interesting church artifacts there. I think what stuck with me the most were the old reliquaries. I could see the bone remnants in some of them. I wondered what saints they belonged to and if anyone ever still acknowledged those saints. Are these relics ever still associated with performing miracles? If they don't, does the saint still get credit for being a saint? If science explains away prior miracles, can a saint be decanonized?
After leaving Notre Dame we had lunch and then returned to the Ile De Cite` for more church-peeping. This time it was Saint Chappelle. It was late in the day at this point and we almost missed being allowed in, but I guess the security guard took pity on us.
The chapel on the lower floor is lovely with old relics and statues and some intensely colored stained glass.
Then you go to the upper chapel and are totally blown away by the splendor of it all. This has to be one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen.
We had managed to cram a lot of stuff into one short day. Satisfied that we had seen everything we possibly could given the time limits, we returned to our hotel and had dinner. We arranged for a wakeup call for the next morning and planned our day.