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Paris


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We made a couple to trips to the City of Lights, the most focused one being a long weekend trup we took in August 1992 with some friends visiting from the States (others being field trips as part of the International School of Stuttgart curriculum). The Thursday after we got back from our summer vacation in Austria, Lynn picked up Howie, Paula, and their sons John and Joey at the Stuttgart airport, and Friday night we all piled on a sleeper train bound for....(Tuttt-tuh-duh-dahhhh!) Paris!

We got a great deal on the tickets (DM 142,50 round trip for adults, and DM 72,50 round trip for children, including couchette [sleeping berth] reservations out, and seat reservations back). In Europe, they divide train tickets into two parts, the ticket (at face value), and the seat reservation (at DM 6 extra). You can buy a ticket and reserve a seat up to 24 hours in advance, or you can just have a ticket and get on any train going to your destination, and hope you can find a seat. If you do find a seat, you have to pay your DM 6 to the conductor, so you don't save any money, but the tickets are good for a month after their issue date, so you could use it any time. I've often taken the train to business meetings, and had to stay later than anticipated (or once even finished early and got to come home earlier than anticipated). My ticket and my seat reservation were different animals, so I could just hop the next available train and hope for a seat. I've even hopped trains with no tickets and paid for everything right with the conductor. Very convenient!

Anyway, we all boarded train #260 for Paris at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (haupt = main or big; bahn = train; hof = house; hauptbahnhof = main-train-house) at 11:34PM on Friday night. It took a while for everyone to settle in. Lynn, Paula, and the four kids were in a 6-bed compartment by themselves, and Howie and I were in the next compartment with 4 other people (three of them female!!). Some (like me) slept pretty well. Some (like Paula) didn't sleep a wink. There is a rocking motion and a steady stream of low level noise, and the train does stop, especially at the border to switch engines and pass customs, but all in all, it seems to be a great way to travel if you're not a light sleeper. We gave our passports and tickets to the conductor before going to bed, and he woke us at 6:50AM, about a half hour before we got into Paris, and returned our passports and tickets. Painless. If I hadn't woken up a bit during the border stop, I never would've noticed.

In Paris Saturday morning, we all climbed aboard a city bus for the ride to the northwest part of the city called Passy, where our hotel was (not far from the Eiffel Tower!). The bus trip was great, because it passed a lot of classic monuments along the way, and even crossed the Champs Elysees. We had to walk a block or two from the bus stop, but we found the hotel easily. We must have been a sight, though, eight pack mules in a range of sizes, loaded down with luggage and trudging through the streets of Paris at 8:00 o'clock in the morning!

Breakfast in a sidewalk cafe
Sunset along the Seine

We stashed our bags at the hotel, hit a sidewalk cafe for coffee, hot chocolate, and croissants, and then we were off to the Eiffel Tower! Built by Gustave Eiffel in the 1880's, it is 330 meters (1072 feet) high. After futzing around a bit (getting eight people to agree on a method of ascent is not easy), we decided that it was too hot to climb stairs, so we paid our FF 51 (~$11) for the elevator and rode to the top! I'm not so sure it didn't cost the same to walk up, so I'm glad we took the elevator. It was hazy, but the view was impressive. We could see the Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, the Cathedral de Notre Dame, and the meandering stretch of the River Seine.

After Le Tour Eiffel, we all hiked back to the hotel, where our rooms were ready. Some took cold showers to cool off and clean up from the train trip, while others bought lunch (quiche, bread, fruit) and brought it back to the hotel. After lunch and more cooling showers (by now it was well into the hottest day Paris had seen all year), we took a few hours to rest before heading down to the little island in the Seine next to Notre Dame, Ile de St. Louis, where we had reservations at an 18th century style French restaurant called La Taverne du Sergent Recruter (The Tavern of the Recruiting Sergeant). The name comes from the 18th century recruiting practice where the Recruiting Sergeant would get men to enlist in the army by stuffing them with food and drink until they were so drunk they signed the enlistment papers! It was great! Stone walls, beamed ceilings, and only candles for light set the tone. When we got there we found two huge baskets on the table; one filled to the brim with whole garden-fresh vegetables, and the other filled to the brim with hard meats and sausages of all kinds. These and two bowls of rice and lentil salad were the appetizers. The kids sat next to the vegetables, and they devoured them! The waitress was amazed! Then we had our main meal, choice of Beef bourgignon, roast duck, steak, or salmon. Then we got a huge tray of all kinds of cheeses; brie, camembert, and others I didn't know, but they were all good, and I usually don't like the squishy cheeses! Then came the chocolate mousse, and was it rich! We also got all the wine we could drink for the adults, and all the soda we could drink for the kids. A great meal, especially with kids. We all were stuffed, and all for about $18 per person! We enlisted that night!!

Lynn's head had been pounding during the dinner, so I took her back to the hotel in a taxi, while Howie and Paula took all the kids back to the Eiffel Tower to see it at night, and to ride the carousals that are scattered around near there. They had a great time.

Sunday, Lynn was feeling better so we headed off to The Cathedral of Notre Dame. This great Gothic structure was begun in 1163, and completed in 1250, employing an army of stonemasons and sculptors for almost a century. Lynn, Howie and Paula stayed for the service, while I took the kids to the souvenir vendors around the cathedral. We tried going to the Crypts under the plaza and the church, but the tour took over an hour, and we didn't have enough time. We all got a glimpse inside the church just before the service started, though; WOW! Very old, and very majestic. Music sounds great in there!

After Notre Dame, we headed for "Museum Row." Howie, Paula, and John wanted to go to the Musée D'Orsay, the Impressionist Museum where they have Monet, Manet, and other stuff. The Musée D'Orsay was opened in 1987 to hold art from the Impressionist era (1848-1914). It was originally a train station (Gare D'Orsay), and was converted to a museum when the newer electrified trains would not fit in the station confines anymore. Lynn, Gene, Megan, Audrey, and Joey wanted to go to the grand-daddy museum of them all, the Musée du Grande Louvre. The Louvre, originally built in the 13th century, was first a fortress, then a palace before becoming a museum. So, the two families split up for a few hours. We made our list of must-see things, and once we got in to the Louvre, we made a bee-line (as best we could without knowing our way around) for the Mona Lisa. We found it! So we got to gaze serenely at it, squashed in with 200-300 total strangers around the case that holds the tiny (less than 2ft x 3ft) painting. It was a packed house, and boiling hot in the un-air-conditioned 17th century room. But we saw it. Even got a few pictures of it! Then we made a bee-line (as best we could) for the Venus di Milo (poor little armless lady). That wasn't nearly as crowded. Then we headed for the Egyptian exhibit, because Megan really wanted to see if this was the museum with the Rosetta stone (turns out its kept in the British Museum in London). Along the way we saw all sorts of paintings and sculptures, easily a week's worth of appreciation for those with the time and inclination. But it was much too hot and crowded to dawdle in any one place. We finished our two-hour whirlwind tour of the Louvre at the gift shop, where we bought posters and reproductions and postcards to save and share, then we hit the cafeteria for something to quench our parched throats!

A famous landmark in the background
A quiet afternoon at the Louvre(?)

From the Louvre we headed back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner. That evening we strolled the Champs Elysees and ate at what seemed like the French equivalent of a fancy Ground Round, called the Hippo. Its a chain, and this outlet had a car theme, so they had Citroens parked in the lobby. An interesting place. Lots of chrome, flashing lights, neon, flying hippos motif. The kids loved that restaurant, too. From there we finished our stroll up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe at the crest of the hill. Commissioned by Napoleon himself in 1806 to commemorate his battle victories, and completed in 1836, it is now a war memorial with an eternal flame for an unknown soldier, and is very moving to experience. My electronic computer encyclopedia description of it is pretty accurate:

The Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile (the Star), the world's largest triumphal arch, forms the backdrop for an impressive urban ensemble in Paris. The monument surmounts the hill of Chaillot at the center of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues. It is the climax of a vista seen the length of the Champs Elysees from the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

It was night time, and it was all lit up, and it was quite a sight. From there we headed back to our hotel for the night. Our hotel, by the way, was pretty neat. It was tucked away in a pedestrian courtyard, off the street (no street noise AT ALL), very convenient to shops and stuff, and handy to two subway stops. The price was quite reasonable, too. Its only problem is that the rooms only go up to triple (and only three of those). No rooms that sleep four. That presented a challenge for us with eight, so we improvised. Howie & Paula took a double, Lynn slept with the girls in one triple, and Gene slept with the boys in another triple.

The hotel was great, but it didn't have air conditioning, or even fans. Lynn's headache problem was mostly heat-induced I'm sure, so I went out the first day and brought a floorstanding fan, knowing full well that there was no way I could bring it back with us on the train. It was worth it for medicinal purposes. We gave the fan to the British girl working the desk at the hotel who was so nice and helpful when we were trying to find things and make reservations for dinner. She really earned it!

Monday was freeform day. Our train left at 1:30PM, so we all did different things in the morning. Lynn slept in a bit, Paula went shopping, and I found some classical music CDs for FF 12 each (~$2.40)! I bought four of them. After that, we gathered in the hotel lobby, and made like pack mules on the subway back to the train station for the long ride home. Although we were six hours on the train, the time passed quickly. We dozed, and read, and played cards, and took strolls to the dining car for coffee and cakes. The kids played chess and Game-Boy games (three out of four owned them, so they swapped around the cartridges and units and it worked out well). It was an easy ride home. Back into Stuttgart by 7:30PM, we were at the house by 8:00PM and at the local WienerWald restaurant for dinner by 8:30PM. A very successful trip!

 

 

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