Day 4: The Amazing Race across Europe resumed today with a trip back to Buckingham Palace in an attempt to see the changing of the guard. Attempt is the operative word because in this menagerie of people on a cold morning in January, I believe I caught a glimpse of a tall fuzzy hat and heard the faint strains of a marching band. Stephen held his phone straight up and videoed so I’ll catch that footage later. Or perhaps just YouTube it. I can’t imagine what this scene looks like on a sunny day in July, but I am sure I don’t want any part of it. Gareth/Gordon Ramsey said it’s tough to see anything at the changing of the guard if you are the size of a Hobbit and was looking right at me when he said it, so perhaps I have indeed realized the dream of living in a British production- that, or a British man just called me a troll.
We headed over to the King’s Cross train station for our departure to Paris and many in our group were thrilled to see the spot where Harry Potter was filmed. I am not a Potterphile, so…that was that. 9 and 3/4 WHATEVER. Grabbed lunch and got on board the EuroStar headed for France.
When we arrived in France it was dark but Gareth/Gordon Ramsay wanted us to hike up the steps of Montmartre to see the view of the city at night from that elevation. The views were gorgeous, the district around Montmartre- not very awesome. He later informed us this was the area where places like the Moulin Rouge were located back in the day, a bit “seedier,” so to speak. As this is our first time in Paris, it was a relief to hear that all of the city does not resemble a red light district, and as we drove out along the Seine after dinner, headed for the hotel, we could see a much prettier Paris emerging. Tomorrow will be another whirlwind, so I’m going to try and get some rest for it.
Paris from Montmartre
Day 5: Today, myself and a couple of others in our group were 5 minutes late for the bus and long story short, we ruined the risotto. Fortunately, it didn’t ruin any of our plans, and no actual F-bombs were dropped, but there was enough Hell’s Kitchen Shaming invoked in the name of punctuality that I was 10 minutes early for every other meet-up today. The good news is that Gareth is great about not holding grudges, so he stopped bringing it up by about supper time.
We began our day with a guide at Versailles named Veronique. She was everything I need a Parisian tour guide to be. Short black hair, red jacket, skinny black jeans, high heel red boots, a fabulous red and black satchel and when she wasn’t guiding us, she was chain smoking LIKE THE FREE WORLD DEPENDED ON IT. She was sympathetic to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, made enough references to the USA to tie things back to what the kids would understand, and kept us engaged and interested in an obscenely huge palace. She even started speaking German at one point because she had run a German tour the day before. She was probably long overdue for a cigarette at that point, but she pushed on and brought us around. After the tour we were free to roam the gardens which are mostly dirt and dead plants because flowers don’t bloom in January in northern France. Je suis désolée. Stephen and I headed for the Ladurée macaron shop. He wound up getting a chocolate bar because macarons are a texture problem for him and I purchased a box of 8. It turns out I like French macarons. I like them A LOT.
From Versailles we headed to the Louvre, where we grabbed some lunch. There is a food court in the Louvre and Stephen and I decided to eat from different vendors. That is to say, he got half of a roasted chicken from the restaurant I chose but he needed two slices of pizza as well. I gave him some euros and watched him go and order. He decided to have this entire exchange with the pizza guy in French and so he is haltingly speaking his limited French, and the guy is smiling at him in the way an grandparent does when indulging a child. Then he replied in perfect English and he and Stephen shared big smiles. After lunch we headed in to the actual museum and were given 2 hours to explore a museum that takes 75 days to see the entire thing. That’s not an exaggeration, either. It is insane how much is in that place. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo (unintentionally stumbled upon that one), Lady Liberty Leading the People, and various other antiquities and such. The Louvre is impressive and daunting.
Following the Louvre we walked over to Notre Dame. The Cathedral is lovely, flying buttresses as far as the eye can see. After walking inside and around it in the freezing cold, we hiked back to our coach and departed for dinner at a creperie which was amazing- ham and cheese buckwheat crepe, followed by a traditional crepe with salted caramel for dessert. After walking about 8 miles today, half of them in the freezing cold- I basically inhaled those crepes faster than Gareth Ramsey has demanded we move about anywhere on this trip, which is saying quite a bit.
From there it was on to a boat for a cruise up and down the Seine. This was an absolute delight because Paris is gorgeous at night all lit up and we could sit indoors in the heat and enjoy it. Best 14€ ever.
Tomorrow, we meet up with Veronique for a tour about Paris and we’re supposed to also have some free time to explore and buy some plastic “made in China” Eiffel Towers. Just joking! Obviously I’ll be looking for coffee, crepes, and macarons. Then we board a sleeper train for Milan, en route to Florence. More on that to follow.
I have to say that Paris has been so wonderful and today might have been my favorite day. We decided to do this trip for Stephen because he loves the French language and culture and he has wanted to travel to Europe since he was about seven years old. Travel experiences are his “thing.” Like other kids love sports, music, art, whatever- he wants to travel and learn and for whatever reason, France has piqued his interest. I don’t care what the “thing” is your kid enjoys, watching them do that “thing” is the happiest you will ever be as a parent. I watched him take a selfie of himself at Versailles (he never takes selfies). He is engaged with every guide, answering questions, asking questions, taking it all in. He speaks his limited French every chance he gets. I sent Paul a picture of him in front of the Mona Lisa and the reply was, “He looks tired and happy.” When I told Stephen what his Dad said, he agreed that summed it up. I am so grateful to be here with him.
Day 6: Today we headed back in to Paris to the Trocadero for photo ops with the Eiffel Tower. From there we drove over to the Arc di Triomphe and the Champs d’Lysse. We took so many great pictures. Then we met Veronique so she could guide us around Paris, giving us some history and orientation to where everything is located. I love Veronique. She is a chain smoking, opinionated, history loving Parisian and I am her Number One Fan. She gave us so much information and so many opinions in her Parisian accent: “I hate the Bastille Opera. Built by Mitterrand in the 1980s, you could not make an uglier building. It would be impossible. Look there is the Academie de Musique, we love it, eh? Much better!” She hates Napoleon, Macron, and everything Mitterrand built in the 1980s. Don’t even get her started on the current mayor of Paris. Charles de Gaulle was probably the last good president of France, so c’est la vie. It was all fabulous. I would love to have a glass of wine with her and listen to her talk but I think the secondary smoke inhalation would kill me. We stopped at a cafe for a break and while we all filed in to sip wonderful coffee, she chain smoked two ciggies outside, made a phone call, and was ready for Round Two of Paris.
When we finished with Veronique, we were dropped off near the Latin Quarter and given four hours free time to wander where we wished. Stephen and I looped the area and then headed for lunch. We had a meal that I enjoyed but he did not because he basically needs to eat 8 lbs of protein per meal and that’s not how the French do lunch. They also have a fondness for cheese that he does not share. Relationship status with French food = It’s Complicated. Fortunately, crepes for dessert salvaged the meal.
After lunch he suggested we try and see some of the Impressionists at the Museum D’Orsay. It was a 30 minute walk down along the Seine. Today was free admission day and the queue out front was C-R-A-Z-Y. We decided we probably didn’t have the time for it (the good news- there will have to be another to Paris!). I don’t consider this hour of walking a waste though, because even though it was cold, the Seine is beautiful and Stephen and I chatted about everything we observed along the way. We decided to try and find a cafe close to Notre-Dame, which was our rendezvous point with the group. Along the way Stephen bought a beret because of course we need a French hat in his collection of hats. We found a cute cafe for a latte and took window seats for the view. We met back up with the group and headed for the train station where we are taking a couchette or sleeper train to Milan, where we will change to a regular train to Florence.
When I saw the travel plan- this sleeper train was almost a deal breaker. Sleeping on fold out benches 6 to a cabin, sharing 2 communal toilets down the hall with 60 other passengers is not my ideal travel arrangement. It’s basically a cattle car for humans. I’m laying on my bench now and there are approximately 8 inches from my nose to the bench above me. I cannot turn to my left because the wall slants out. I’ve had more luxurious accommodations while camping in a tent on the ground. Have I mentioned that this is an alcohol free trip? Yes, well, it won’t be an alcohol free homecoming.
See you in Florence.