Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adventures in London and Paris, Days 8-10: Our Whirlwind Spins to an End

When you last saw your hero and heroine, they were celebrating the close of an exceptional day in London.

The next day, I woke up with a slightly worse cold, and we didn't have anywhere to be, so we bummed around the hotel until lunch/checkout time - Husband LITERALLY made me a spot of tea to help my sinuses! - and then trotted over to St. Pancras station to catch the Eurostar back to Paris.  It was an uneventful trip, except for the sad fact that Husband and I had not gotten seats together and were forced to ride back in separate cars.

But we reunited in Paris!  And then we got to our hotel.

I have to confess something here.  I referred to our previous hotel room in Paris as the World's Smallest Hotel Room.  I know now that was not accurate.  #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement

I know this because our final hotel room had it beat by a few cubic yards:

Oh!  Also, here's something - there's no bathroom in there.  Part of the benefit of our no-frills, extremely affordable, and well-located hotel was the very European experience of a shared "water closet" down the hall, (and a coin-operated shower that we didn't even bother trying to find).

But the view was worth it:

Here's something else - at sunset, the Eiffel Tower GLITTERS!!!!!!!

We trotted out to a neighborhood cafe for some dinner -- which for me has now come to be defined as chocolate mousse, red wine, and some other stuff -- and settled in for a good night's sleep before our last day in Paris.

The next morning dawned sunny and warm, perfect for sightseeing.  After a simple breakfast of baguettes, confits (jams), and cafes served to our room, we meandered in the direction of the Paris Opera House, the only biggie on our still-to-see list.  It was scheduled to be open until 4:30pm, so we figured we had plenty of time.  Husband and I did some light shopping, particularly in a game and puzzle store, and made it to the opera just before noon.

Isn't it beautiful from the outside?!  Wouldn't it be great to go inside and see all the marvelous sights in there?!



I know what you're thinking.  You're expecting another of those semi-tragic photos of the Husband next to a "closed" sign, right?


We waited patiently in a long, slow line, and at one point an official-looking fellow passed us.  I didn't really notice, but Husband looked over my shoulder a couple minutes later.

The rest of the line behind us was gone.

When we made it to the front of the line, a sign informed us that the last admission for the day had been bumped up to 12:30, because of afternoon rehearsals!  WHEW!  By the skin of our teeth, we had made it in!  I consider it karma for all of the closed sites we encountered earlier on the trip.

But seriously?  WORTH IT.

This place took us completely by surprise.  It's GORGEOUS!  The sheer opulence makes your eyes feel like they're not big enough to see it all.  And yes, if that chandelier with the round bulbs looks familiar... it is the original, the inspiration for the one designed for Phantom of the Opera, after Gaston Leroux's famous novel.  I kept an eye out for the Opera Ghost while we were there, but no such luck (who knows, maybe he was vacationing in Pittsburgh).

With the last big to-do crossed happily off our list, we wandered back to our hotel's neck of the woods.  On the way, we got another glimpse of that beautiful basilica.

Husband and I found the church of St. Eustache (over a week later I STILL want to call it St. Mustache), a very very old church right next to the Forum des Halles, Paris' ancient marketplace, now a large and mostly subterranean shopping mall.

Ready for a couple more shots inside a really old European church?  Here we go!

The biggest claim to fame of St. Eustache's church is probably that it is where Louis XIV received his first communion.  The Louis who built Versailles.  That Louis.

Outside the church were some beautiful gardens...

And a street band!

And also an adorable boy who wanted to dance to the music.  He even got some friends to boogie down with him!

It was a great cap on the afternoon, a little uniting reminder that kids are pretty much the same in every country, and that people can come together and enjoy a bit of good music, no matter where you are.

Husband also reminded me that people in every country are probably irked by strangers photographing their kids, so I put the camera away and stopped documenting the rugrat dance troupe like a Yankee Doodle creeper.  They were pretty darn good, though!

After one more tasty French dinner and some strategic baggage-packing, Husband and I bid the Eiffel Tower a good night.  The next morning, we got up bright and early to make our way to the airport.

Here's where it got a little funky.

We left our hotel a little before 8am, planning to get to the airport about 9am.  Plenty of time for a flight leaving after 11, right?


Husband and I stopped first at the Gare du Nord train station to retrieve the heavy bag of things-we-didn't-need-to-drag-to-London that we had left in a locker. Travel count: 1 train.

From the Gare du Nord, we hopped onto the Paris regional train to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. Travel count: 2 trains.

At the airport, we got off the train, went up an escalator, and got on an intra-airport train to get us to the check-in.  A couple more escalators and moving sidewalks got us to check-in.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks.

At the Delta check-in, we tried two different kiosks that wouldn't allow us to check in for our particular flight, so we finally got in a line that looked like it would take about fifteen minutes.

AN HOUR AND TEN MINUTES LATER, we got to the front of the line, frantic that we were going to miss our flight that left in just over thirty-five minutes - we still had to get through the long lines of border control and security.  I cannot explain how slowly this line was moving.  It was like Delta's computers were operated by doped-up, unionized snails.  Every five minutes one of the three people working the counters would take a break, and in between that they would triage to the next departing flight.
"Anyone flying to Salt Lake City?"
All the panicky Salt Lakers would get out of line and get checked in, while the rest of us checked our watches and raised our blood pressures.  Finally, though, it was our turn.  We checked our bags, snagged our boarding passes, and sprinted to border control.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 1 ridiculous line.

Border control and security were relatively quick and painless, owing to another triage line for all the passengers who had aged significantly during check-in.  Still, though, I was having waking nightmares that we were going to make a mad dash to our gate and be told that the plane taking off in the distance was ours.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 3 ridiculous lines.

Following said mad dash to the gate, we discovered that the flight was slightly delayed.  *shakes head.*  After about twenty minutes, at which time the plane was supposed to be boarded and departing, we got into the line to board.  And then another security check line.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 5 ridiculous lines.

Only it WASN'T the line to board the plane!  It was the line to board one of two cramped shuttle buses to drive us across a mile of tarmac TO the plane!  We packed ourselves in like sardines and rattled to the plane, where we had to wait for the pilot to be born, raised, and trained as a pilot before we could get off the bus and into the actual boarding line for the plane.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 6 ridiculous lines, 1 sardine bus, 1 airplane.

After that, though, the plane ride was a cake walk.  Husband watched Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I watched Water for Elephants and played "Bookworm," and before we knew it, we were back on American soil!  Mission accomplished!

As epic and fun as this whole trip was, I have to say that my heart was as full upon our return to our house as it was when I saw Charles Dickens' house.  The salons of Versailles just couldn't compare to curling up in our own family room.  And all the amusing birds in the world could not hold a candle to this furry friend of ours.

Riley was such a good boy while we were away!  I missed those big blue eyes every single day, and coming home to our faithful sentry was the best welcome back we could have asked for.

There's a poem that I read after my first month-long trip to France nine years ago, and I had it in my head again as we flew home on Sunday.

America for Me, by Henry Van Dyke

'Tis fine to see the Old World and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues and kings
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.

So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Oh, London is a man's town, there's power in the air;
And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;
And it's sweet to dream in Venice, and it's great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her sway!

I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack!
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free--
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

Oh, it's home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that's westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the blessed Land of Room Enough, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars. 

"When it comes to living, there is no place like home."

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