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Off to France with granddaughter
Tuesday, July 5– Wednesday, July 6, 2022Our Daughter Jenny gave the three of us a ride to the Airport. Sara, our Granddaughter, was so excited to be accompanying us to France. We had cut our Italian trip short in May so we could attend her Henry Clay High School graduation at Rupp Arena here in Lexington. So now, as a graduation present we were going to introduce her to the thrill and challenge of travel in Europe. Sara’s baby brother, Willis, slept in his car seat all the way to the airport. We arrived about 3pm for our 5:10 flight.
It took a while filling out an online form for the French Government to help them track us while in France. I think it’s intended to help with their Covid prevention program. Probably to help trace infections.
The flight from LEX to ATL and the flight from ATL to CDG (Charles DeGaulle Paris) were both uneventful. Sara managed to sleep on both flights but Georgia and I were sleepless—as always. On the flight to Paris I watched the whimsical French film, Amelie again. With all the Duolingo I’ve been doing I was able to understand a bit more of the dialogue. With the unbelievably uncomfortable plane seats I also watched “Big Bang Theory” and “Friends.” Didn’t learn anything from them.
Reminder to self: Charles DeGaulle Airport is not user-friendly. We walked miles and climbed up and down stairs for 30-45 minutes to get to the international terminal. I hope they can figure a better system for the Olympics, coming up in 2024. Atlanta’s commuter train between terminals might be a good example to copy. But passport control was fast and smooth. Much better than our slog through Rome or Milan.
The train/metro ride from the airport to our hotel would have been confusing if we hadn’t made similar trips all over the world. CDG is pretty far outside Paris, which means a train connecting to the metro system.
Our awkwardly named hotel, Europe Hotel Paris Eiffel is located on the Blvd de Grenelle in the 15th Arrondissement, just a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower in the 7th Arrondissement. Our room was on the 5th floor, which is actually on the 6th floor of the French numbering system. The ground floor is the ground floor, the next floor up is the 1st floor, etc. Anyway, I just needed to rest my eyes for a minute . . . and poof, I was asleep.
After those 40 winks the first thing to do, of course, was scope out the Eiffel Tower. Sara and I had a nice walk along French streets, under French skies, past a French patisserie (we promised to visit in the morning) and skirting the quintessential French park: Champ de Mars. The tower itself was just as amazing as ever, but much less accessible than it was in 2012. I don’t know if that’s because of Covid or terrorist concerns, but after a two year lockdown the number of people itching to visit the site was staggering. In today’s world, we will have to find a tourist office to book a visit. In 2012 we just walked up.
Then back to the room to gather up Georgia, then we went out for an ice-cream dessert and pizza at Amalfi, a pizza restaurant in the neighborhood. Then we visited Monoprix Grocery to buy snacky-sorts of stuff for the room, then toddled back to the room for a much-needed full night’s sleep. This Grenelle neighborhood looks to have everything we could want—and it’s a real neighborhood—not a tourist neighborhood.
Thursday, July 7
Those lonnnnng 2-day travel-days are just killers.
Georgia and I were up for coffee and pastry at Boulangerie Dupleix, where I could practice my halting French. Sara wanted a bit more sleep instead.
First order of business was finding the Hotel de Ville, the city hall in Paris, where the main tourist office was located. There we bought some souvenirs and made reservations for various must-see museums and attractions. The lady in there was wonderful, helping us make reservations for Versailles, Sainte Chapelle, The Louvre, and L’Orangerie. Then we hurried back to the hotel to gather up sleeping beauty and head off for our first reservation at Sainte Chapelle. It was amazing as always—like being inside a precious jewel box. With Sara there it was almost like seeing it again for the first time, though she was more interested in the souvenirs than the astounding glass. I remember my philosophy professor, Tony Nemetz describing his first visit to Yellowstone Park. His response surprised him. It was all too big for him. He had to buy a postcard to give the experience its proper human scale so he could appreciate it.
We left the chapel with more souvenirs, of course, and dozens of photos. Then walked along the River Seine towards Notre Dame. We couldn’t go in because of the reconstruction, of course, but there were still crowds outside and we all tried to study the pictures and diagrams attached to the walls around the construction area. I remember crying while watching the live TV broadcast as it burned. Our clerk at the Hotel de Ville told us she cried and watched it burn from an apartment window near the site. Such a heartbreaking tragedy. Not just for France, but for the whole world.
We tried valiantly to find a glass-blower’s shop on the outskirts of Paris. After several bus trips we found the address, but not the shop. It must be located in someone’s house or apartment. But we found another nice coffee shop and admired the dogs therein. The French do pamper their dogs at least as much as Americans.
As we walked down the hill toward our bus stop we stopped in to see Notre Dame de Sainte Croix, a lovely old stone church. We just sat and rested a while. Sara watched the people praying and lighting candles. I told her they were offering prayers for someone—perhaps someone alive, but also, perhaps for someone who had died. Her eyes misted up and she went to light a candle for her Father, who had died in May—just a few days before her graduation. He had been so invested in her schooling. I know it hurt her for him to miss her graduation. She knew he would be so proud. It is hard for modern people to believe that the living can have any impact on the dead, or vice versa. I tried to explain the communion of the saints, but I doubt it meant anything to her. She has visited churches occasionally, but her mother, my Jenny, told me quite honestly that all forms of religion—and especially Christianity’s idea of a living God/Man is pure nonsense. By raising Sara apart from the church, she thought, that she was freeing her from superstitious chains. I’m afraid that she was actually crippling her with an empty, sterile, cold world-view. A world where, instead of Faith, Hope, and Charity, there is only habit, wishful thinking, and (at best) desire. Instead of a world permeated by the Love of the Holy Spirit, there are just hormones.
Riding back to our hotel on a bus we got off early and left Georgia to ride on to our neighborhood because Sara persuaded me that walking in from this out-of-the way bus stop to the Eiffel tower was no more strenuous than walking up the Eiffel Tower. She needed to reach her 20,000 steps each day, she said, and horizontal would be more pleasant than vertical. And this was a walk along a Paris street, doncha know?
And it was a very pleasant walk along a tree-lined boulevard that took us past charming neighborhood parks and comfortable-looking apartment buildings, eventually bringing us to the corner of the huge Parc du Bois, with its small amusement center, Jardin d’acclimation. That was closed but the park itself was full of quiet woods and huge trees and shady paths well traveled by joggers and dog-walkers. There were little streams as well, both natural and man-made. Sara needed bazillions of pictures of herself and this bucolic setting to show the friends back home.
We wandered in the park for miles. Someone had suggested “Oooh, let’s walk all the way around the perimeter!” where we eventually arrived at the Jardin du Trocadero, the famous Eiffel Tower lookout where everyone jockeyed for a forced perspective photograph of themselves holding the Eiffel Tower in the palm of their hand, or on their head, or pinched between their fingertips. We got some pictures, but couldn’t get close to the optimum view point because of the crush of tourists and the construction walls put up in anticipation of the 2024 Olympics. In fact, the whole city, including the Isle de France, with its ambitious landscaping plans seems to be one big construction site.
We crossed the river, and one of us needed to look at, and finger, all the tourist-enticing necklaces and souvenirs on the bridge before we arrived at the base of the tower. As the sun approached the horizon the tower turned gold—from the bottom, up, as if the gold was wicking up from the very ground along the Seine. Lovely.
And right at the base we found an unsupervised gate and walked through as though we knew what we were doing. A handsome young security guard eventually scolded us, but smitten with Sara he sent us off toward a little nearby mobile-trailer “office” to get our tickets (without a reservation!) Whoohoo, we were off—up, up, up, and away! One of us was bouncing up the stairs to the second level like a squirrel, and one of us was gasping for breath and probably would never breathe normally again.
At the second level, some 400 steps or so up, we joined a looooong queue snaking back and forth and around corners toward the elevators. You couldn’t just walk to the top any more, and as I said, there were a lot of people glad to be out of quarantine and anxious to get back to seeing and d0ing things—and seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower was one of the very best things to do.
We probably had to wait in the line for 30 minutes or so, then crushed into the elevator and whooshed to the top of the tower where we were in a crush again. Trying to find a spot at the rail was much like trying to find a spot at the finish line at Keeneland during the Fall Meet. If you managed to find one you didn’t dare give it up. And so we waited and waited for sunset then the lightshow where the tower sparkled with thousands of lights. We could hear the crowd down below gasp as the twinkling began, but it never occurred to me that being on the tower we wouldn’t be able to see the tower twinkle. Duh. So we had to content ourselves with vicariously enjoying the crowd’s oohs and ahhhs.
And also content ourselves with the magical views of Paris from this ideal vantage point. The lights along the streets followed the twisting route of the river. And the sun sets so slowly in these northern latitudes. The tower turned gold about 9:30, the horizon went gold about 10:30 and darkness completely fell about 11:30.
And then another long line snaking back and forth and around corners to the elevator, then crushed in the whooshing elevator, then walking down 400 steps or so with my poor shaking legs, then a long walk back to the hotel. I was completely knackered. Sara bounded along to hit 26,000 steps. Piece of cake.
Friday, July 8
Someone wanted to sleep in again today. So Georgia and I went to get our café au lait and pain au raisin then back to gather up the sleeper then she needed her café au lair and pain au raisin so back to the patisserie where she ordered her own food in quite-passable french. I think her pronunciation is better than mine.
Then we headed for the L’Orangerie where we had tickets. We got there a little early so sat outside and just drank in the atmosphere. Inside we drank in the vision of Monet’s painting of the pond at Giverney. It is huge, running around the walls of an oval room to give the illusion you are sitting on a rowboat out in the middle of the pond.
That was not, of course, the only treasure there. There were all the usual suspects, among whom I adored the massive portrait Grand Beigneuse by Picasso and a glorious series of Modigliani’s but I was introduced to a new favorite, Chaim Soutine, from Belarus who had a large impact on the expressionist movement in Paris. I love his wonky portraits and bright colors. Born in 1893, he died of a perforated ulcer in 1943. He had the terrible misfortune of being a Jew trying to live, work, and hide in Paris during the German occupation.
After L’Orangerie we headed to a café in the Tuilieries gardens to decompress. Sitting at the table I felt like we were caught in Seurat’s painting in the park. There we had nice drink and a rest and a deliciously haughty young waiter who ignored our attempted French.
Then we caught our bus to the Rodin Museum.
To be continued
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