Saturday, July 18, 2009

Paris - Recap

Our TGV ride back to Paris went off without a hitch, and we took the metro back to our hotel. (The same one we stayed in earlier.) We wandered about a bit to look for Le Maison du Chocolat, a famous Chocolate shop. On the way there we went into the Bon Marche a large high end department store. After only a few minutes, we felt out of place and exited the Bon Marche. We finally found Le Maison du Chocolat and purchased a few items before starting to make our way back to the hotel. On the way, we passed Napoleon's tomb and we visited the Eiffel Tower one more time. We went to dinner for a final time and had a nice meal before taking a stroll back to the hotel.

Napoleon's tomb

Au revoir Paris

In the morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, and then headed to the airport.

Overall we had a great time on this trip. We enjoyed Paris, but it reminded me just how many people in Europe smoke. (It seemed like 80% of people over age 12 in Paris.) It has been a while since I've been to Manhattan, but Paris seemed dirtier. Most likely due to people not picking up after their dogs. (In defense of Paris, they encourage street disposal of garbage like cigarette butts into the gutter where they are washed into the sewers daily.) However the air was warm and humid and left me feeling dirty every day. It took some getting used to opening the doors yourself on the metro as well, but these are quirks that are enjoyable about traveling. At first in Paris we were very shy about talking to people and we got better throughout the trip as well. There are plenty of world class museums in Paris and lots of interesting things to do. We mostly stuck to the touristy things, but those can be fun too.

Alsace was a nice change from Paris as it was small towns and cooler temps. (At least they felt cooler.) It was fun to start sampling regional cuisine and get out on bicycles. It was a wonderful experience staying in the Medieval town and in an old building as well.

Burgundy was fun too. We were hoping to have more time, but the train mishap killed that time for us. Another bike ride to vineyards was scheduled, but we had to drop it. If we were going back to France, we'd hit the dining scene in Lyon more and give Lyon a second chance as well.

What can I say about Chamonix? I could live there. Well, except for the alpinism as fashion thing. Way too many people walking around the village in mountain boots and action pants. They aren't wearing backpacks, so theoretically they could have changed into more comfortable shoes (and pants) where they left their backpack. It is like people who leave their ski lift tickets on their jackets. That style sort of irked me, but the town is nice even with its limited options.

Provence was pretty great too. Unfortunately due to the holiday, we kept our Provencal excursions to a minimum. This meant we did not make it to the French Riviera which was on our list. I am also bummed about not getting to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. Oh well, I guess there is next time. Dining in Provence gave us more access to vegetables which seemed lacking during most of our meals farther north.

We also were unable to fit in a viewing of Le Tour. This is mostly because we planned last minute and bookings were hard to come by. But also because we planned our itinerary to be almost opposite of where the tour was. We were in Colmar a week before the tour was supposed to visit, and we really hoped to watch it on TV when we got back home, but you need cable to watch the tour. Oh well. This is one reason I would consider going back during high tourist season.

We had lots of great food on the trip as well. However, I (being from the NE USA) am not used to the slow eating. Sitting down to eat would mean at least and hour and a half of restaurant time. The only way to eat quickly, which is what Jennifer and I did was to buy a baguette and cheese and eat it in the park. It is also quite difficult for Jennifer as a vegetarian in France. Fortunately she eats fish, but there are not a whole lot of main courses that don't involve meats. Some restaurants we had to seek out because they had vegetarian options. Others had noticeable vegetarian options so we chose those. It did mean we didn't always get to eat where I would like to, but compromises need to be made. France is also great for the ability to eat outdoors. I think we ate inside only three times on the trip (not including trains.) This made for some enjoyable dining. Except for when smokers would sit at the table next to you. So if you wanted to avoid smoke it made sense to eat indoors.

Our train travels and limited French vocabulary also made the trip interesting. Although it made us discuss entering The Amazing Race a bit more every time we traveled. We had a lot of fun overcoming the adversity and it made us stronger. Neither of us ever got frustrated to the point of being un-fun. (Although I was close with the unadvertised closing of the line that went to Versailles.)

Attempting to speak French was also a funny experience too. I had a few classes about 5 years ago before moving to Seattle, Jennifer actually got to finish the class, and had previous Spanish lessons, so I thought she would be better. But she often confused Spanish words with French words, while my French made me feel like I was fluent in German. (Which I am NOT.) We got by and had some fun with most people who did not speak English.

On that note, the people were very pleasant in France. There was really only one incident that is not indicative of society that stood out. We were walking down a street and a homeless Parisian man mumbled some angry stuff at me and then spit in my general direction. I am not sure that had anything to do with me being a foreigner as he may not have know that. Many times we would order from menus or ask for tickets at a museum and get replied to in French. Although I did ask for a map at Versailles (in French) and was asked if I wanted the English version of the map. (I'm sure my pronunciation is terrible for most things.) It was nice to know we could get by with our limited language skills.

Jennifer really enjoyed the trip as it was her first time off the continent of North America. Every place we went was new and exciting to her, and she always said we should have spent more time there. She had a lot of fun and it was her first time seeing, touching, and being in human structures that were 400+ years old.

It was overall a fun trip, and one that I wouldn't mind duplicating in a different country. Although I am not a big fan of going during high season because of the crowds and the costs. There are advantages though which was more festivals, special events etc. happen during the tourist season. But in the future we will have more time to plan. For now, I am glad to be back home in the Cascades.

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