Friday, July 07, 2006

Paris 2002

21 Décembre, 2002 - Our trip to Paris got off to a bad start. We went to the Olive Garden for dinner last night and ate way too much again. We were up all night with indigestion. It was all we could do to drag ourselves out of bed in time to get ready. I was pretty much ready to go, but Robb had a ton of things still left to do. I finally had to call him and tell him to get back to the apartment because the taxi would be there to pick us up in fifteen minutes. I took my luggage downstairs but his wasn't closed so I thought he still had more to pack, but when he finally got home with about five minutes to spare, he said he was ready to go. Of course, he forgot to close his large suitcase and tried to pick it up. **SIGH**

We got a really nice taxi driver this time. He didn't try to rip us off and he helped with the luggage. I tipped him good.

Because we were leaving the country, we had to check our bags inside the airport, but it was no problem at all, and we found ourselves with about an hour and a half on our hands. The plane to Philadelphia (an A320 Airbus) was right on time and we got there with no incidents. Once in Philadelphia, we had over three hours until the plane boarded. We found a place that sold decent Philly Cheese Steaks and that was our breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. Even though we hadn't eaten all day, we both were still stuffed from the night before. The plane to Paris was late boarding because one or more passengers failed to show up, and with the new security measures, they will not take off until the luggage and the passengers match. We did notice, while waiting to board the plane, that most of the passengers were French people (mostly young, university students and mostly cute guys). By the time the plane finally took off, I was feeling the lack of sleep and I'm sure Robb was too, but neither of us could sleep during the six and a half hours to Paris. I tried, I really tried, but I just couldn't. C'est la vie. I did get to see "Road to Perdition" and some French cooking shows. "Road to Perdition" was pretty good, though a little gruesome. Tom Hanks is such a great actor!

22 Décembre - Even though the plane took off almost a half hour late, we arrived at Aéroport de Paris Charles de Gaulle a few minutes ahead of schedule, at 9:30 AM Paris time. It was a looooooong walk to the Immigration passport check point, but a very short wait to get through. Then we were supposed to pick up our bags and go through customs, but Robb had to stop and put his cosmetic kit back into his carry-on bag. We tried to catch up with the rest of the passengers from our flight. We came to a huge group of people standing in a rather ill-defined line and joined them. It was several minutes before we realized that they were passengers waiting for a plane to Isreal. We finally made our way to the baggage claim area, got our bags and took off for the customs inspectors. We could have been carrying bags full of drugs and no one would have been the wiser, because we simply walked through an area under a sign stating "Nothing to Declare", and we were in the airport public lobby area.

As we always do, we found an ATM machine and each got a couple hundred euros. It is very pretty money. As pretty, if not more so, than the former French francs. While we were getting money from the ATM, a woman approached us and asked how to say, in French, that she wanted to make a collect telephone call. I consulted my handy-dandy-ready-for any-situation-book-of-French phrases and supplied her answer. I admit I was surprised that Robb didn't know right off the top of his head. Then it was off to get a taxi into the city. If you read my entry about our last trip to Paris, you know that we got ripped by the taxi driver that time. It was a totally different story this time. Evidently, the Parisian authorities have clamped down on the taxi rip-off artists, because when we overtly tried to hire a guy to take us to Paris, he replied that he could not because each driver had to be authorized to drive into Paris and if they were not, they would be fined and/or jailed. We went to the legal taxi stand and asked what it would cost to get to our apartment and the driver gave us an excellent price (about 40�). He was from Martinique in the Caribbean. Before we were inside the city, I readily recognized landmarks all around us and I felt like I had come home.

After getting settled into our apartment, we walked to Monoprix to get some toilet articles and an umbrella for Robb. It was raining when we went out and, once we turned the corner to Monoprix, it was very windy, driving the rain into us. It was freezing! By the time we got out of the store, the rain had stopped. We got back to the apartment, deposited our purchases (wine and cheese and pâte) in the fridge, and went out for a walk, since the sun had made an appearance and the sky was clear. We took our umbrellas just in case, but didn't need them. We went to Italie2, a shopping mall near Place d'Italie. It was almost wall to wall people. People everywhere, spending money like it was going out of style. I was in heaven! Then it was back to the apartment and I had to crash.....I was exhausted. We had now been up for two days with very little sleep. In spite of that, I slept fitfully for only a couple hours. Robb had no problem and fell asleep easily.

Around 8 PM, we dressed and headed out for a walk and to see if I could find a restaurant (La Touraine) that I knew to be in the neighborhood. According to the internet, the address was 30 rue de Croulebarbe. Throughout the city, there are local area maps called "plan de quartier". The 13th Arrondisement is no different, so I consulted the map and took off to find the restaurant. We walked and walked and walked, but we could not find the street, nor the restaurant. We passed a group of policemen just going on duty, so we asked them, but when we tried the directions they gave us, we still did not come to the right street. At last, I decided to go back for one more consultation with the "plan de quartier" and, with the map's help, we found the street, but the address was non-existent. It was getting late, and we found that we were hungry after all that walking around. We were in the area of Leon de Bruxelles, where we had had our first taste of "moules" (mussels), so we went there for dinner. It was now about 10 PM. We couldn't remember the name of the dish we had last time, so we ordered "Moules a la Provençale" and two small bottles of white wine. Excellent!

We walked back to the apartment and, after watching a little French TV, went to bed. I should mention that even though it had been freezing earlier when it was windy and raining, when we went out looking for La Touraine, it was very comfortable. Not warm by any stretch of the imagination, but not really cold, either.

23 Décembre - We awoke just in time for the delivery of our breakfast (coffee, orange juice, croissants, baguettes, butter, jam and cheese) at 10 AM. We did not hurry through breakfast and the "femme de chambre" (maid) showed up to do our room before we were ready for her. Robb was in the shower and I still had to do my toilet things, so we asked her to come back later. We were both still very tired and if I had not made that plan to be on the webcam, I don't think I would have gone out at all. As it was, we left for Cour St. Emillion later than I had originally planned, and then I forgot that we should have gotten the métro at Place d'Italie and we boarded at Tolbiac, which meant we had to go to Châtelet and transfer to the train to Cour St. Emillion, instead of going to Bercy and then to Cour St. Emillion, which is a little shorter. We got off the métro having about a half hour to find the appointed place for our appearance in an area to which we had not yet been. Luckily for us, the métro lets out right in front of the place and we were in front of the camera with time to spare. Okay.....a show of hands, how many actually looked in to see us? Come on, be honest.

After the webcam thing, we spent a couple hours wandering around the various shops. Prices were surprisingly low for what is basically a tourist attraction, though I did notice that a lot of the visitors were French speakers. Robb and I decided that most of them were from other areas of France and were tourists just like us. Around 4:30, we stopped at a restaurant named Chai33. I wasn't really hungry and ordered the cheese plate and a cappucino. Robb had the same. To my surprise, it came with a salad. Given the choice, I would not have ordered the salad, but it turned out to be the best salad I have ever had. Even Robb, the salad connoisseur, was impressed. The cheese (there were four varieties) and the bread was wonderful. We ordered a glass of wine when we had finished our cappucino, and that too, was great. I mean, after all, we are in Paris, why wouldn't it be?

We caught the métro back to Place d'Italie and strolled leisurely from there back to our apartment, stopping at a pharmacie for toothpaste that Robb insisted he had to have, and then grocery shopping at Monoprix.....again. More wine, some nice cheese and a few other odds and ends. It was late when we returned to the apartment and I remembered that I had three days of travel to put into words, so while Robb prepared a light dinner of cheese, pâte, bread and wine, I began writing this. Time flew by while I was writing and soon it was 11 PM. I had, earlier in the day, called Altitude 95 at la Tour Eiffel to confirm our reservation and they had insisted I tell them whether we would be two or three for dinner. Geoff had advised us that he might not be able to get a trip on the 25th and it seemed no one else was going to join us either, so I made the reservation for just the two of us. A little after 11, I called Geoff at home and he told me that he was now certain that he wouldn't be able to make it.

24 Décembre - We were late arising. Still tired and no relief in sight. The overeating on Friday night has proved to be our undoing and will probably result in us doing a lot less this time than ever before. We just can't seem to overcome the tiredness. Whatever.

We putzed around for a couple hours, showering and all that, and then we went to the Banque Populaire to exchange 300 francs for Euros. To get into the bank, you have to push a buzzer and wait until the door is opened. To get out of the bank, you stand at the other side of the door and wait until it is opened electronically. The bank teller informed Robb that to exchange the francs, we must go to the Banque de France and supplied the address. We caught a taxi and took off on what turned out to be a really great, though short, tour of the city. We drove north to the Seine and followed the quai to "le Pont du Carrousel" to cross the river and that took us through the Louvre right past the Pyramide. The Banque de France is located very near the Opéra area. It is quite a large, open space inside and there were no more than six or seven people doing business there, including Robb and me. The banque process is; you take a number and watch the display until it shows your number and the number of the teller who will see you. Our business concluded, we asked directions to the nearest "plan de quartier", which was located on the corner about a half block away since the bank takes up almost the entire thing.

We went to the "plan de quartier" and I got my bearings and we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe which is at 14 Blvd Montmartre, passing in front of "le Bourse", the French stock exchange. We almost got there, but Robb spotted a men's store, and we spent about an hour or so, there. He bought a pair of jeans. I almost bought a leather jacket, but as I was standing on line to pay, I noticed that it was messed up on the back. Then it was off to the Hard Rock right across the street. I bought a bunch of pins for my niece and we left, heading in the direction of les Galeries Lafayette. Starting about a half a block away, it was wall-to-wall people until we got inside the store, where there were even more people. It was the main store, so we had to leave and go to the men's store, across the street. I bought a hat for which I paid way too much, but it is neat and my head was cold. By the time we came out of the store, it had started raining. A very light rain, but we decided to take a taxi back to the apartment instead of the the métro. Once again, it was a great sight-seeing experience.

We had a light snack of sliced apples and rested for a while. Then we walked up to Monoprix so Robb could get some mousse for his hair.

When we got back to the apartment, I found a telephone book and looked up La Touraine. The address in the book was 39.....not 30 as on the internet.

We rested until around 9 PM and started out to find the Café de France. It was closed. Not surprising, after all, it is Christmas Eve. But there are a lot of oriental restaurants near the apartment, so we went back and entered one in which we had eaten on our last trip. I had fish in a sweet and sour sauce, Robb had some kind of scallop dish. For desert, which we usually pass, we had Parfait Café. It was sooooo good! During dinner, we noticed an oriental couple (straight) at the next table who were speaking English, so I asked them what country they lived in and they answered that they were from Malaysia. They were staying in the République area where we had stayed on our first trip to Paris. They were a cute couple.

After dinner, we walked down rue de Tolbiac looking for L'Artishow, a "Cage aux Folles" kind of drag bar. I couldn't remember exactly where it was, and we didn't find it though we walked for five or six blocks in the attempt. So it was back to the apartment and some TV, during which we both fell asleep on the couch. We transferred from the couch to bed around 1 AM.

25 Décembre - The incessant knocking on our door awakened us a little after 10 AM. We had awakened sometime during the night and one thing led to another and.....well, you know what I mean. Afterwards, we fell into the best sleep we've had since we got here. Every morning at 10 AM, we have our breakfast delivered to our apartment. I do not normally eat breakfast and it was all I could do to drink my coffee. Robb gobbled down a croissant with his coffee. Then it was off to Banque Populaire to reline my pockets with cash. From there we caught the métro to Gare de l'Est to get our tickets to Frankfurt. That was accomplished with ease and we decided to walk to the neighborhood near the Place de la République where we had stayed on our very first trip to Paris.

Once in that neighborhood, we passed Bistro Ma Tante, where we had had the best boeuf bourguignon we have ever had and discussed the possibility of returning there for more of the same. Having made that decision, we decided to walk to Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall) to watch the ice skaters. We got within a few blocks but it was getting late and we had a dinner reservation at la Tour Eiffel at 7 PM, so we grabbed a taxi back to the apartment to get ready. We were feeling the need for something to eat, so we had a light snack of dark bread with cheese and tea. Then we walked up to Avenue d'Italie and caught a taxi to la Tour Eiffel.

It wasn't until we were there that I remembered the girl on the phone had said something about getting tickets for the lift, but I could not remember what it was that she had told me, so we just got in line with the rest of the tourists and bought our lift tickets the same as them. Standing in a line waiting for anything in Paris is an interesting situation, because invariably there are people from all over the globe, speaking in their own language and with whom you can exchange pleasantries as you move toward your destination. When we got into the restaurant, we had to wait to be seated and we saw a table for two at the window, so when the host attempted to seat us, we asked to have that table, but he insisted we follow him and we did. Well, boys and girls, the table at which he sat us, had the most spectacular view of the Trocadero and western Paris for which anyone could ask. We were very happy campers.

We checked out the menu and decided on the special "Menu de Noël" which consisted of five courses, including desert and coffee, the wine we ordered was extra. I'm sorry to report that I can't remember the names of the courses, but I'll try to describe them as best I can. The first course appeared to be Salmon Tartare and when I saw it, I sort of cringed because I'm really not fond of raw fish, but I figured what the hell, I'll give it a shot, and it was delicious. So I learned a lesson. When served something in Paris, don't question, just eat and it will be great! The second course was duck on potatoes. Not your ordinary roasted duck and not regular mashed potatoes, they were kind of purplish. Excellent. The third course was the cheese course and it was two kinds of white cheese (fromage blanc) with a side salad. Wonderful. The fourth course (desert) was a kind of chocolate mousse cake with vanilla sauce. If you like chocolate you would have thought you had died and gone to heaven. Last, but by no means least, was the coffee. I had a cappucino and Robb had café (the French way of saying espresso). We were supposed to be out by 9 PM because the second seating was due to arrive, but it was 9:30/:45 before we left and there were still others who had come at the same time as we, who were lingering over coffee or after-dinner drinks. Of course, no one made any attempt to get us or the others out, and that's another thing I love about Paris.

We caught the lift to the ground where we ran into the many vendors hawking their wares. One guy approached me selling scarves for €8, I offered him €5. He said 'non'. and I started to walk away. He ran after us, saying, "Cinq, monsieur, cinq." So I bought four because I had intended to buy them anyway and I was expecting to pay about €15 to €20. We caught a taxi back to our apartment.

I got out my laptop and started writing today's events. Then we decided that we should go to L'Artishow, so I consulted my ever-ready 'plan de Paris' and discovered that it was only a few blocks from the apartment. We bundled up and set out. But we only got a couple blocks when it started to rain, so we decided to call it a night and returned to the apartment.

26 Décembre - We got up a little before 10 AM after a pretty good night's sleep. I slept nude this time, as I usually do at home, and I got the best sleep I've had since we arrived. Robb jumped into the shower and I awaited the arrival of our breakfast. I guess I should mention that in our apartment, we have a small bistro-type table with three chairs, a couch, a double bed, a TV, several lamps, a small kitchenette with a tiny fridge, a two-burner stove, a toaster oven and a sink over which there is a counter to store things. There is a cabinet under the sink where the dishes and stuff are stored and where some non-fridge food can be stored. There are dishes, cups and saucers, a couple glasses and a couple pots and dinnerware. The bathroom includes the usual sink and tub with shower, as well as a hair dryer, and the potty, of course.

On the TV we get stations in French, English and German. I just noticed today that German is easier to understand than French because a LOT of the German words sound like English. In French, even the words that are spelled the same, are pronounced differently.

After breakfast, we thought we would walk down to L'Artishow so we would know where it is and how to get to it without a lot of problems. I had gotten the address from their website but when we got to the corner where it was supposed to be, it was not there. That makes two internet addresses that turned out to be wrong. But all was not lost, because on the walk we discovered the most magnificent church on the corner of rue de Tolbiac and rue Bobillot.....Sainte-Anne de la Butte-aux-Cailles. We went inside and looked around and it was beautiful. We also discovered a store that sells cheese. Any kind of cheese you would want. There are a lot of stores like that in Paris, but that was the first we had found in 'our' neighborhood. We had a wonderful time just walking around a new area of 'our' neighborhood!

Then we decided to catch "l'autobus" to the Châtelet area where Hôtel de Ville (city hall) and BHV (Bazaar de la Hôtel de Ville) are located. Robb wanted to buy an electric razor. Well, actually, I suggested that since we were going to be spending a lot of time in Europe, it only made sense to buy appliances that we could use that didn't require a special electricity converter (those damned things are heavy!). We caught the #27 bus at Place d'Italie. Let me just say that if you ever come to Paris, you must ride the bus at least once. They accept the same ticket that you use for the métro and you get to see so much more than you can see any other way.....including walking. On our short bus ride, we got to see the Panthéon, the Curie Institute, the Luxembourg Gardens and Notre Dame. We got off at Saint Michel and walked across the Seine to rue de Rivoli, passing the Palais de Justice, Sainte Chappelle, and Hôtel de Ville with the outdoor ice skating rink. There must have been hundreds of happy Parisians of all ages skating. The city had even supplied music for the skaters. There was a place at the north end of the rink where skates could be rented. I didn't check the cost. We stopped to watch for a few minutes and then continued on to BHV, which is right across the street.

In BHV, Robb bought some kind of body lotion for one of the girls with whom he works, an electric toothbrush, an electric razor, two sweaters and a corduroy jacket. We left BHV and Robb bought a nice watch from one of the vendors outside the store.

Then we walked down the street and across the Seine to the Notre Dame area, where we both bought some postcards, I bought some more scarves, and Robb bought a neat fur hat (think Russian Cossack). We crossed the river again and continued down the quai to the Latin Quarter. We had never really spent much time in the LQ before, but tonight it afforded a unique experience. I had discovered a website named "Anthony's Home Page" in which Anthony presented a lot of beautiful pictures of Paris and a good bit of Parisian history and insight into various quarters of the city. He mentioned that the LQ was an area where one could get super inexpensive meals (because most of the students of the Sorbonne eat there), naming, in particular, rue de la Huchette and rue de la Harpe. We walked down both of those streets and let me tell you, you will be hard pressed to find a place where you can dine so magnificently, so inexpensively. We're talking full meals from 7.50€ to 15€! And the restaurants! You name it and it was there.....French, Latin, Greek, Vietnamese, Tunisian, Indian, Italian, et al. And they all looked and smelled sooooooo good. There was jazz coming from a few and I remembered reading that there are a lot of jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter.

We caught the #10 métro to the Jussieu station where we transferred to the #7 which took us to the Tolbiac station and home. We stopped at the pharmacie on rue de Tolbiac because Robb needed a pre-shave for his new electric razor, but they didn't have it. We had also checked when we were at Monoprix, but they didn't have any either. We're thinking it may be an item they don't sell in Paris.

Once we got to the apartment, Robb tried on all his new clothes while I opened our last bottle of wine. As soon as we realized it was the last bottle, we bundled up and headed for Monoprix to get a couple more bottles. After we got back, Robb prepared our dinner.....frozen pizza. It was great! I've never tasted frozen pizza that was so good. We followed the pizza with slices of apple and a glass of wine.

A little TV and it was time for bed.

27 Décembre - We awoke a bit before 10AM. Our breakfast arrived and we ate. Robb wasn't feeling good and I was still tired, so we just hung about the apartment for a couple hours. But we couldn't stay in bed all day (although I was ready for that) because we had to go across town to pick up Robb's jeans and I needed to go back to the Hard Rock to get the T-shirts I had promised my co-workers but had forgotten when we were there the other day. It was raining. But I've noticed that raining in Paris usually means just a light drizzle. It seldom pours like it does in Fort Lauderdale. After getting the jeans and T-shirts, we caught the métro back to Place d'Italie and went into Italie2. Robb wanted to go to Armand Thierry (a clothing store) to buy more pants. He bought a pair of black brushed-denim jeans and a pair of brown cords.

Then it was back to the apartment and much needed rest. We watched the French version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". The show originated in France and then spread to other countries. We slept off and on for a few hours and then went out to eat.

We decided to give Café de France one more chance and walked up to Place d'Italie, where it is located (12, Place d'Italie, 75013 Paris, France (+33 1 43 31 19 86)). It was smaller than it appears from the outside. but warm and cozy and it had that neighborhood friendliness that is prevalent in so many French restaurants. As usual, I was not hungry. I had the "plat du jour", filet de Persche. Robb had a "salade de coeur de l'artichoke" (heart of artichoke salad) and the same fish 'plat' as me. We ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The perch came with a side order of vegetables which was delicious. Then Robb had a desert of "fromage blanc avec sauce de fraise" (white cheese with strawberry sauce). I forced myself to help him eat it. After desert, we both had café.

After dinner, we strolled around the area on a street we had not taken before. I like to do that because you get to know the area better and you sometimes come upon things that are really neat. There was to be no really neat things this evening, but it was still a lovely walk.

Then it was back to the apartment to get our suitcase ready for the trip to Frankfurt tomorrow afternoon.

28 Décembre - We barely got out of bed by 9 AM as we had planned. We got ourselves ready and trekked up to the métro that would take us to Gare de l'Est (the train station). We got there with not quite a half hour to spare, found our rail car and our seats (92 & 98 - yes, they were together, but don't ask me why - something about the French/European numbering system). Unfortunately, we had seats in a smoking car since the train was very nearly sold out when we bought our tickets. The train was scheduled to leave at 12:46 PM and left on the dot. Three hours later we had made only four of eleven stops and I was convinced that we would be late getting into Frankfurt

, but at 7:14 PM, as scheduled, the train pulled into the Hauptbahnhof in Frankfurt. So here's some advice if you ever plan to travel by train in Europe. If the schedule indicates 7AM, do not arrive at will have missed the train! It was raining and cold as we walked out to go to the hotel, so we decided on a taxi, even though it was only about five or six blocks from the station. We checked into the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof, got our key and went up to our room (258). You don't get a room key anymore, you get a plastic card that works electronically. Mine didn't work. The Frankfurter Hof is a world class hotel and as soon as you enter the room, you understand why. The appointments were top of the line. We had a king-sized bed with separate mattresses (under one sheet) and separate duvet covers, which was great for me since Robb has a tendency to end up with all the covers on his side of the bed. We also had a TV, mini-bar (fully stocked with juice, water, soda, whiskey, wine and champagne), and desk with fax and high-speed internet connection (damn, I didn't bring my laptop). If you weren't convinced by the room itself, you would have been by the bathroom which had white marble walls, black marble floors and a separate compartment for the toilet and bidet.

Robb called down to make a dinner reservation but immediately forgot at which restaurant and there are five in the hotel. We went down to the front desk, got our new 'keys' and found we had a reservation at 'Oscar's'. It turned out to be one of those places in which you feel immediately comfortable and welcome. Our waitress was Caroline. She was charming, funny, cute and quite attentive. We both had the fish (filet de Loup de mer - don't ask about the French name in a German restaurant, I have no clue). After dinner, we went back upstairs to try our new keys (evidently when someone loses a key or whatever, they change the locks and issue a new key) and get our coats. We went out (in the rain) and took a short walk of six or seven blocks, which re-confirmed our original impression when we first walked out of the bahnhof, that Frankfurt had changed a LOT since we were here last (though each at different times). We got to bed around 1 AM. Oh, that bed!!

29 Décembre - When I woke up, I checked the clock and was somewhat shocked to see that it was past noon. I had a sore throat and figured it was from sitting six and a half hours in the smoking car of the train. I checked the weather outside and it was still raining. Damned rain! We went down to the lounge and had breakfast of cappucino and an assortment of rolls. What a lovely way to start a day. The lounge is so luxuriously appointed and there was beautiful classical music playing softly in the background. We sat in wing-back chairs at a small brass and glass table in a corner of the room, surrounded by books and lovely art and sculptures. It was like breakfasting in a rich man's private library.

Afterwards, we walked down Kaiserstrasse to the Hauptbahnhof, just to be sure we were correct in our judgement of where we were located. We noted, with amusement, that Kaiserstrasse is now the center of the red-light district. While at the bahnhof, we checked out the underground mall and, finally, after all those years of yearning, I had a real German bratwurst! It was a bit smaller than I remembered, but it was every bit as good. When he saw how much I was enjoying mine, Robb got one also. We walked back to the hotel and just hung out and rested for a while and then we caught a taxi to the Hard Rock Cafe. I wasn't certain, but I felt it was relatively close to the hotel and it turned out that I was right. In our walk the night before, we had almost walked to it, missing it by only about a block or so. But at the time we weren't sure. I bought some more guitar pins for my niece and we walked back to the hotel to rest before dinner, again at Oscar's. By the way, don't plan on doing much in Germany on a Sunday, just about everything is closed. We had dinner at 10 PM and then retired to the main lounge to just sit and watch the rain for a while. We went back to our room, watched Cabaret (in German) and then to bed.

30 Décembre - I had set the clock for 9 AM but when it went off, there was no way either of us was getting out of bed. Aside from the fact that we had stayed up a little late to watch the movie, we had another of those middle-of-the-night 'things' we do every once in a while. Besides which, it was still raining and my sore throat had turned into a bona fide cold. In fact, it never stopped raining for the entire time we were in Frankfurt and I made the observation to Robb that in Paris, it may rain often, but it always lasts only a short while and then it clears up. It isn't a constant thing like it was in Frankfurt. I would definitely like to return to Frankfurt in the future, because it's a lot better than I remembered it, but I would never do it again in the wintertime.

Since it was so miserable, we decided to collect our things and go to the Hauptbahnhof, even though we had a couple hours until our train left. We spent the time wandering around the underground mall. We came up about twenty minutes before departure time and determined on which track our train would be. We walked to the track and the train was already sitting in the station, so we figured we might as well get on and get settled in for the six and a half hour trip back to Paris.

Well, silly me. I had forgotten the rule about trains in Europe. Just as you cannot be late, neither can you be too early. We had boarded the wrong train. Our only consolation was in the fact that we were not the only people to have done so. There was a German couple who adamnantly refused to believe that they were on the wrong train. Finally, the female conductor told them, "Trains don't make mistakes, only people make mistakes." Still they were not convinced and were complaining bitterly when we got off at the first stop, Friedberg, where the ticket agent was nice enough to prepare a new itinerary for us.

We had to catch a train from Friedberg back to Frankfurt. Then we would take a train to Saarbrucken where would board another for Metz. At Metz we would get the train that would finally take us to Paris. Everything ran quite smoothly until we got to Metz, because they didn't include the track number for the train to Paris and we only had eight minutes from the time we got there until we had to be on the train to Paris. To make matters worse, the train from Saarbrucken was (GASP!!) late! But we got lucky. The conductor got the track information for us and it turned out to be the next track over. We were barely on the train to Paris, when it pulled out of the station.....right on time. Except for our light breakfast, we hadn't eaten all day, so we bought a ham sandwich and coffee on the train. The trains have these guys who pull a cart down the aisle from which you can choose various things to eat and drink (and yes, that does include wine and alcoholic drinks). We did notice that most people brought their own picnic-type lunch.

Even with all that, we got to Paris (around twenty after ten) only about forty-five minutes later than we were originally scheduled to arrive, after a much more interesting trip than we had been expecting. We caught the métro and rode to the Tolbiac station. When we came out of the métro we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was cold.....but dry! We walked to our apartment and put everything away and had a light dinner of tea and cheese, with an apple for desert. We watched a little TV and went to bed.

31 Décembre - We got out of bed around 10 AM, had breakfast, did all the toilet things and walked up to Italie2 so Robb could pick up his pants, stopping at the pharmacie so I could buy some cold medicine and vitamin C for the cold I managed to pick up in Frankfurt. Then he decided to look for a peignoir for his mother, so we went to Au Printemps, but couldn't find anything in her size (she's very tiny). The saleslady suggested that we could try a place called Etam (a ladies lingerie store), so off we went. He found one that was just the right size in just the right color and just the right fabric. We spent another hour or so wandering around the mall checking things out (you know what I mean), and then went back to the apartment to drop off our packages and rest for a few minutes. Between the lack of sleep and now, the cold, I was feeling a little less than wonderful.

Robb wanted to buy yet another sweater, so we hopped on the métro and headed for the Madeleine area to a store named Springfield, in which I had bought a nice black, zip-up, turtle-neck sweater the last time we were here. He found one similar to the one I have and bought it. We left Springfield's intending to return to the apartment, but instead spent another hour or two walking around the area. I spotted Fauchon's (a famous chocolatier) and we went there so I could buy some chocolate for one of the ladies at work who had asked me to get some for her. We left Fauchon's and walked a little further where we came upon a Nicolas wine store. Nicolas is a large chain and there are stores on just about every street in Paris, or so it seems since we were constantly coming across them in our travels. I bought a small bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne to take to la Tour Eiffel tonight for the event of the arrival of the year 2003. Then we checked out Hediard's, another famous Paris store that sells fruit and spices and chocolates and wine. Surprisingly, we bought nothing and left somewhat hurriedly because we were beginning to feel a time crunch. We still had to return to the apartment, drop off our stuff and get some rest before we went out to eat.

We went to Au Village de Chinois for dinner after deciding against walking all the way to Café de France because we both felt it would be closed anyway, as it was on Christmas eve. We had eaten at the Au Village before and it was very good. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were not the only gay couple there, although it's sometimes hard to tell if a male couple is gay, or just friends, over here. But soon the clues were overwhelming. Changing our usual eating habit, we both had a bowl of soup before the main course. I had 'chicken with noodles' soup (definitely not Campbell's) and Robb had the wonton soup. I forgot the golden rule of eating fish in France.....if it doesn't indicate 'filet', it's a whole fish. And that's what we had. A whole fish with vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce over rice. We ordered a bottle of Saint Tropez rosé wine. We usually don't drink rosé, but the group at the next table was having it so we figured, why not? It wasn't bad and went well with the fish. We passed on desert and finished our meal with a café. We were cutting it close on our time and rushed back to the apartment to get the champagne and head for la Tour Eiffel and the New Year's celebration.

As we were leaving the apartment building, checking our métro tickets, a woman reminded us that the métro was free all evening. What a happy circumstance, and how very insightful of the Parisian authorities to make transportation available to everyone for free on a notorious night of drunken debauchery. We got the #6 métro at Place d'Italie, which took us all the way to the tower. Holy Humanity, Batman! The train was standing room only when we got on and more people squeezed in at every stop, to the obvious delight of the passengers who let out with a whoop-whoop kind of sound each time. After the third stop, there simply was no more room. We were squashed together like sardines in a can. However, Robb managed to get propositioned by a cute young guy who wanted to fix him up with his friend, who I guess was too shy to ask. Robb turned to me and asked me to say something to the propositioner. I said, "Il est mon amour." That took care of the fixing up, but we still had a nice conversation until they got off at Bir Hakeim, the Tour Eiffel métro stop.

I thought we could outsmart the crowd and get off at the Trocadéro. Wrong! There weren't that many getting off there, but once we got outside, it was again wall-to-wall people and all seemed to be trying to go in different directions at the same time. It was lots of fun.

Oh yeah....we were still on the metro at midnight. It was disappointing but c'est la vie. We ended up behind the Palais de Chaillot and I thought we could just walk through it to the front that faces the tower. Wrong again! They had the back entrance closed, so to get around, we had to walk around the entire building, being pushed and shoved and groped the whole way. There was a major traffic crunch at the stairs that led down to the sidewalk along the front of the palais, and it took well over fifteen minutes just to descend about twenty steps. In the meanwhile, a couple of guys appeared on the second or third floor balcony of the building next door with guitars on which they proceeded to play (quite loudly) to the great enjoyment of the crowd. Everybody cheered and applauded and the more they cheered, the louder the music became. It was great! I have no idea what they were playing, but they were pretty good....okay, at least they were loud and in keeping with the mood of the moment. We finally got down the steps to the sidewalk and I popped open the champagne. So we walked around drinking champagne and shouting "bonne année" like everyone else. There were broken champagne bottles everywhere. It seemed to be some kind of tradition to break your bottle once you had finished the we did also. I wouldn't want to be the guys that have to clean up that mess.

We crossed the Seine to la Tour Eiffel and hung out there for a while, but the crowd was starting to get a bit rowdy and some were throwing firecrackers into the midst of crowds of people, so we figured it was time to be somewhere else. We thought we would get a little out of the area and catch a taxi. Wrong! We only saw a couple and they were already taken. We ended up walking all the way to the Tour Montparnasse (several miles in the cold night air) to get the métro which the Parisian authorities had the good sense to keep running all night. As on the ride to la Tour Eiffel, the métro was jammed with people but no one seemed to care.....they were either too drunk or too happy to let it bother them. It was after 4 AM when we got back to the apartment.....cold, tired and happy to have been a part of the celebration of the New Year in Paris.

1 Janvier, 2003 - HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Although we had a great time last night and I would do it again in a New York second, spending that much time in the cold night air did nothing but aggravate my cold. Poor Robb, he can't find his way around the city by himself, and I spent nearly the entire day in bed. I finally got up, ate my croissant, drank some coffee, and did my toilet things. We both agreed that I should not go out into the cold air today so, as much as I dislike the idea, today is just a throw away day. I got out the laptop and proceeded to write about the events of yesterday. But tomorrow, we will definitely be out doing something because we still have things to see and do and our time is quickly running short.

2 Janvier - I got up just before 11 AM, feeling a lot less than great. I forced myself to eat a croissant and drink some OJ and coffee. We had seen an advertisement in the métro stations for an exhibit at Musée de l'Institut du Monde Arabe and Robb was so looking forward to seeing it, that I was determined to get us there regardless of how poorly I felt. From my 'plan de Paris', I knew approximately where it was but I wasn't sure which métro stop to use, so I went down to the desk in the lobby to see if Madeleine could help me figure it out. While we were trying to determine which stop would be best, a cute oriental guy offered to go up and return with a métro.....which he did. We decided the best stop would be Jussieu and I went back upstairs to collect Robb and get under way.

When we got off the métro at Jussieu, it seemed colder than ever, but I'm sure it was just because I was sick. We weren't exactly sure where Musée de l'Institut du Monde Arabe was located and we ended up walking through something that apparently was a school of some sort (we have since learned that it was Université Denis Diderot, a campus of l'université de Paris) and the wind was ripping through the courtyard at about a thousand miles an hour. It was all we could do to stand upright. After determining that we were in the wrong place, we left and managed to find our way to the exhibition.....Chevaux et Cavaliers Arabes. It was an interesting building without the exhibit, but the exhibit was quite interesting.....being a mix of video, paintings, drawings, sculptures and artifacts from very early periods in Arabian history. The most interesting to me were the actual things from the period, like the full-body armor for the horses and the chain-mail and swords for the riders.

After viewing the exhibit, we left and walked down the quai in the direction of Notre Dame. I decided to be adventurous and we left the quai to wander down a side street. I knew that we were in a primarily tourist area, but there were still some interesting, inexpensive shops and bistros to be found amongst the glitz. We were in the St. Germain des Prés area. We had walked for several blocks when it started to rain lightly, so we walked to Boulevard St. Germain and stopped at a brasserie for coffee and cake, but mostly to get out of the rain. I had a café crème and an apple tart, while Robb had a café noir and a fromage blanc. By the time we had finished our coffee, the rain had stopped and we walked down the boulevard a bit further. There were so many beautiful things to see, and some of the shops were nice, too! But it started raining again and we (Robb) decided that we should get back to the apartment, so we entered the next métro station.

Back at the apartment, Robb prepared another of those delightful light meals of cheese, pâte, bread and wine. We supped while watching a French TV show....the Magnificent Seven with Yul Brenner.

3 Janvier - Our last full day in Paris and I was not in a state of physical wellness! How depressing. Quel dommage! I never left the apartment, even though it was the most beautiful, sunny day we had experienced since arriving two weeks ago. Robb was determined to go shopping for gifts for some of his co-workers, so I gave him directions to a local parfumerie and he took off in a grand gesture of self-confidence. Yes, of course.....he got lost. But at least, this time I had made him memorize the address, so he had no trouble getting people to help him find his way back.....the whole three blocks.

Even though I thought it best to remain in the apartment all day, I was not about to eat my last meal in Paris there, so we got ready and made our way to Le Canon de Tolbiac, a nice local little bistro, in which we were the only non-Parisians. We had boeuf bourguignon with bread and wine, followed by mousse chocolat, and then café.

We went back to the apartment and, sadly, packed our bags.

4 Janvier - We got up around 9 AM because we had to be at the airport by eleven. The taxi picked us up at 10:30 and by the time we got to the airport, there was a noticeable drop in the temperature. We both planned to do a little more gift shopping at the airport, but as it turned out that was not to happen. We had to go immediately to the gate and check our bags and wait to board the plane. While we were waiting, it began to snow. Make that, SNOW! We boarded the plane at 12:30 PM, but we didn't take off until after 7:30 PM. That, of course, meant that we had already missed our connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. Please understand that it was not the fault of the airline, but the Charles de Gaulle Aeroport ground crew. They procrastinated getting out the plows and clearing the runway and the tower would not give the pilot permission to go until that was done. Then when they finally got around to clearing the runway, we had to stop to have the plane de-iced. But we finally took off and the trip to Philadelphia was uneventful, except that I did get to see three movies that I might otherwise not have seen.....Sweet Home Alabama, The Bourne Identity, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

We got to Philadelphia around 9:30 PM (Philadelphia time, 3:30 AM Paris time), had to collect our bags and go through customs, although that turned out to be a joke since they just waved us through. Then we had to go to the US Airways counter and make arrangements for a hotel for the night and a flight to Fort Lauderdale the next day. The airline put us up at the Sheraton Suites and the first flight in the morning. We got to the hotel at 12:30 PM but we had to be up at 4:30 AM to go back to the airport.

With very little sleep, we made the plane on Sunday morning and arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 10:30 AM. We collected our bags, caught a taxi and were finally home around eleven.

I already miss Paris!

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