Since an early age, I had always wanted to tour France. Avalon Waterways had a riverboat tour of France on Saone and Rhone Rivers; I contacted my traveling friend from St. Louis, Ginni Campbell, and we decided to take an August tour plus some additional days in Paris. Jeannette and Allan, who reside in Ireland, decided to join us for the week end in Paris.
August 12: Mary and Joe picked me up this morning around 10:00 a.m. Got checked in at the airport, had lunch with the Robinsons, said “good bye” and headed thru security. Once we got to the runway, the pilot announced an hour wait since Chicago had closed down all traffic because of bad weather. Finally got the word from traffic control that we were cleared to fly; at Chicago, we waited outside the gate area for American personnel to be available to “swing” out the gate; the wait was approximately 20 minutes. Found out where Ginni’s flight was coming in and went to her gate; her flight had been delayed an hour also. Once she appeared, we headed to the Admiral’s Club were we spent time until 30 minutes before our scheduled flight to Paris at 5:50 PM. Arrived at the gate to find out that there was a delay because the plane we were to board had refrigeration problems. About every 20 – 30 minutes, another delay was announced. After an hour or so, American announced they were bringing in another plane; however, when it arrived, it was discovered a bird had gone into the engine and needed maintenance. Finally, at 11:00 p.m., they announced the flight was cancelled. Luckily, Ginni and I were standing at the front of the ticket counter so we were the first to get reservations for the next night. We were given vouchers for lodging, taxi from/to the airport, and food. They did not let us know that only certain taxis would take the vouchers so we had to wait for a taxi which would accept them. We had not eaten, believing we would eat once on the plane, and all the eating places at the airport were closed. Got to our hotel, registered, and found out there were no eating places opened where we could walk to so we called a company which delivered sandwiches to our room. By this time, it was 1:30 in the morning and both of us were exhausted!
August 13: After waking up, we placed a call to our travel agent. She had already gotten us seat assignments for the evening flight, had contacted the hotel that we would not be there this evening (we still had to pay for the night since we did not give 3-day notice), and was in the process of contacting Travel Bound, the tour agency where we had paid for a full day tour of Paris, to see if it could be moved from Thursday to Saturday plus include Allan and Jeannette. We checked out of the hotel, took a taxi back to the airport, checked in, got through security, and had lunch at Wolfgang Puck; each of us had $24 worth of vouchers from American but we still had to add some of our own money to cover the cost of lunch. Ventured to the Admiral’s Club lounge where we spent the afternoon waiting for our 5:50 flight; while waiting, I heard back from our travel agent that the tour had been moved without any additional expense and would include Jeannette and Allan. The flight was announced, we wandered down to the gate, got on board, found our seats, had a glass of champagne, and the plane took off on time. After having drinks, appetizers, and dinner the cabin lights were lowered and I went to sleep.
August 14: Woke up to the cabin crew distributing breakfast; mine consisted of fruit, yogurt, and french rolls. Landed in Paris on time, got through passport control, and picked up our luggage (no Customs to speak of); our driver was waiting for us. At this point, both of us were all smiles! Got to our hotel, Montparnasse Pullman, checked in, and then decided to take a nap before adventuring outside. After three hours of napping, we got ready to explore. From what I had read and heard, the Montparnasse Tower, provided an excellent view of Paris for a lower price and less lines than the Eiffel Tower. So we headed to the tower but, on the way, found a cafe whose special was beef burgundy…it was excellent! Got to the tower and rode it to the top. A little history about the tower: it was inaugurated in 1973 and reaches 689 ft. in the air. The lift that connects the ground floor to the 56th floor reaches it in just 38 seconds. What an amazing view! After taking in the sight on the 56th floor, I walked up to the outdoor terrace on the roof (3 more floors up). On our way back to the hotel, we found a store where I purchased socks plus both of us wine for our room. Got back to the hotel and decided to have a couple drinks in the hotel lounge which proved to be interesting. While sitting by the windows, we saw hotel security being very active outside. This went on for awhile and we finally learned that the President of Sudan was arriving. His family was dropped off at the front of the hotel but we never saw the president; guess he was taken in a “secret” door. Tomorrow we are going on a tour of Giverny and Versailles Apartments.
August 15: Had breakfast in the hotel dining room, found a taxi, and made our way to the city center where we got our tickets for the tour and boarded a bus. It was a beautiful day with sun and blue skies. We drive to the village of Giverny where we visited Monet’s home with its beautiful gardens. Monet’s house is pink and has colorful décor along with charm. The beautiful flower gardens and famous Japanese bridge spans over 2.5 acres. On our way to Versailles, we stopped at a country inn for lunch. What a beautiful setting with green countryside, an old mill, and water flowing by. And it was now time for Versailles, a reminder of the grandeur of classical French architecture. The decoration and layout of the entire site reflects the will of King Louis XIV, who was known as the Sun King. The beautifully decorated State Apartments (which contain the Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s Apartments) would have been more enjoyable if there would not of been wall-to-wall people who were rude and obnoxious! The tour guide said the sight receives 27,000 visitors per day…and I believe they were all there during my visit. When we got back to Paris and our hotel, we hooked up with Jeannette and Allan who had flown into Paris that morning. After getting a drink and toasting to Tom’s memory (he passed away 2 years ago today) we decided we wanted to find a “local” eatery for our evening meal and found it at Les Tontons; part of Montparnasse that is not touristic so it was mainly locals we saw. Good atmosphere, food, and conversation. After dinner, we decided to go into a place down from our hotel that had live jazz for a drink. Good time was had by all!
August 16: This morning we were scheduled for a full day tour of Paris and our driver, Max, appeared at the hotel right on time. Allan and Jeannette were going on the tour with us. Max took us to see major sites; Notre Dame Cathedral where we had time to walk through and around, Marais district, Louvre museum, Garnier’s Opera, Vendome Square, Concorde square, Champs-Elysées avenue, Arch of Triumph, Invalides, Montmartre and the Place du Tertre, the Sacré Coeur Basilica which is on top of a hill and provides a fantastic view of the city. After three hours of Max providing an excellent history lesson on Paris, he retrieved tickets for us to go up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower later in the day and provided us with tickets for lunch on a boat of the company “Bateaux Parisiens”. The boatfrom the River Seine gave us a completely different view of Paris; we viewed the miniature Statue of Liberty given to the French by America. There was live entertainment on board after lunch. When we docked, we proceeded to the Eiffel Tower where we got a marvelous panorama view of Paris. Then made our way back to the hotel via the subway; thank heaven Jeannette and Allan seem to know which one to take. That evening we found a seafood restaurant, Vin et Marée, for our evening meal. Everyone was quite pleased with their food except for me; I had a hard time eating fish that still had a “little” wiggle to it.
August 17: We were to meet Allan and Jeannette in the lobby at 9:00; however, neither of us woke up until 9:00 so made it to the lobby around 9:45. Off we went to the Orsay Museum which is located in the center of Paris on the banks of the Seine; the museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station and was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Ginni and I explored the second and fifth floors while Jeannette and Allan went off on their own. We saw works by Salle, Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Cachin; these are just a few of the artists displayed from collections dating 1848 to 1914. By the time we left the museum, we were hungry for lunch so we found a place across the street of the museum who made crepes. All of us were really disappointed; lesson learned is never eat at a place across the street from a museum. After lunch, we found our way to Tuileries Gardens which we walked through and had a glass of wine at a table by the pond. Then we made our way to the courtyard of Louvre. Ginni and I decided to grab a taxi while Allan and Jeannette stayed to get more pictures. We made it back in time to attend a Welcome Reception by Avalon for those passengers who had arrived in Paris; out of the 120 passengers scheduled on the cruise, 42 of us attended the reception. That evening we had dinner at the Losserand Café which had decent food and good atmosphere. However, they would not take my credit card because it does not have the international chip required by some places. Since my credit card company told me before the trip that my card did have the chip, I will have to discuss this with them when I get home.
August 18: Ginni and I decided to explore by ourselves so we headed to the shopping district of Rue Cler; once we got there, we discovered that many of the shops were closed due to the holiday. However, I did find an item for Savanna in one of the few stores opened. After walking both sides of the street, we went into a cafe to look at the map in order to determine where we would go next. The waitress could not speak English but she did send another worker over who did. He advised us to go to Rue du Commerce where there are two blocks of authentic French shopping without tourist shops. As we proceeded to walk toward the area, a gentleman stopped us and explained he was part of the local Chamber of Commerce. He asked us some questions, gave us a survey with self addressed envelope to fill out, and recommended we shop the Rue Saint Dominique street. So we went to both areas; once again, many shops were closed. It was well into the afternoon; we found a cafe where we ordered lunch and tried to figure out where we were located. Unfortunately, the waiter did not speak English so we looked at the nearest intersecting street to get our projected location. After eating a delicious lunch, we headed in the direction we thought our hotel was located. We kept looking for Montparnasse Tower to use as our guide; after walking for what seemed like many hours, we located the tower in the distance so we headed in that direction. We had walked 6.5 miles before making it back to our hotel. Allan and Jeannette joined us for dinner that evening; we went to Le France, a cafe up the street from our hotel. Another good evening which was livened up with another patron getting upset over her bill; a shouting match between her and the waiter entailed. She left the premises but came back with another gal; both of them started yelling at the waiter and the manager. Both waiter and manager kept walking away, probably to gather their composure, and would return to the women for more shouting. Finally, the waiter pulled out his wallet and gave the woman some money; both the manager and waiter walked away while leaving the two gals sitting on the stools. They wanted to argue some more but gave up and left. I don’t think I have ever heard such loud confrontation in a restaurant; all of us felt sorry for the waiter so we gave him an enormous tip. Since we were leaving Paris the next morning, we said our good byes to Allan and Jeannette and went back to the hotel for our last night’s stay there. I was glad for the time spent in Paris but, to be honest, I will be glad to leave.