The last several days have been a whirlwind of activity. I arrived in Paris Friday evening at 10:30. I had originally planned to take public transportation, but after looking at the transit app and determining I would need to take a bus and 3 different metro lines consuming nearly an hour, I opted for the quicker, albeit more expensive alternative of a cab.
Fortunately the cab wasn’t nearly expensive as I had feared, and within 25 minutes I was at my hotel. I used some of Brian’s Marriott miles to book the Marriott Opera Ambassador hotel. Considering hotels in Paris are expensive to begin with, and then throw in the fact the hotel was 2 blocks from the Paris Opera House, the accumulated rewards points were well spent.
On my way up to the room on the 5th floor, I took a ride in one of the smallest elevators I have ever been in. Maximum capacity was a grand total of 4 people. The room was cozy, but nicely appointed. To say I was exhausted was is an understatement. I texted Brian and Austin to let them know I had checked in and was in for the night. This was only a half truth. Upon unpacking my luggage, I realized it had been a number of hours since I had last eaten. Having seen a very popular American fast food restaurant two blocks from the hotel, I hoofed it over for a bite to eat. Ill spare those whom would rather I rot in hell than eat at a fast food chain in Paris, the name of the establishment. I will say, Samuel L Jackson was right. It is in fact called a Royal with Cheese in Paris.
I scarfed down my food as if I were a stray dog who hadn’t seen food in a week. I don’t regret it. It hit the spot.
As I mozied (yes I mozied) back to my hotel, ashamed at my choice but oh so grateful to have eaten, it began to sprinkle. Something about a light rain in Paris makes the city that much more endearing.
Sleep came with little effort with the help of Ambien in spite of my internal clock telling me it was midday. That is until about 330 in the morning. Having only slept for less than 4 hours, there was no reason on this earth I should have been awake. But there I was, staring at the ceiling. I played cat and mouse game with sleep for roughly 90 minutes before the sand man came a calling for the second time.
I set an alarm for 8 am, as I wanted to take in the Louvre first thing. Based on my previous experience in Paris, I knew the admissions line being unbearably long by mid morning. Frankly, the Louvre could be filled with beautiful scantily clad Adonis types frolicking about, and I wouldn’t wait in a 3 hour line. As my alarm sounded, in a sleep induced fog, I inadvertently shut the alarm off when it sounded, as opposed to hitting snooze.
At 945 I woke up, still groggy and jet lagged, I drug myself out of bed. I showered and headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was the typical breakfast buffet, filled with an array of breads, rolls, cold cuts, and soupy eggs. Hardly the french cuisine one might expect.
After eating breakfast I hit the streets to make my way over to the Louvre. By this time the Louvre had its usual queue of museum spectator hopefuls. I decided to pass and went on a walking tour of the city. I walked from the Louvre through the gardens to the Champs Elysees. On my way back I took in one of the Locks of Love bridges (there are many). It was a heart warming experience to watch several couples of varying ages and demographics attach a lock to the bridge and toss the key in the river as a sign of their unending love for one another. Fortunately, I took pictures. As it turns out Paris has decided to remove the many millions of locks from the various bridges as there are concerns of the accumulated weight and the structure integrity of the bridges. The city is going so far as to put up glass panels on all the bridges to make it nearly impossible for people to repeat the act in the future. Removal began on Monday. It was a rather sad sight to behold a city undoing in mere days, what has taken nearly a decade and a half to create.
From the bridge, I wandered into the Le Marais area to revisit a few places I had experienced during my last trip. I called it an early evening as I was still exhausted from the travel and my accumulated 16 miles of walking on Saturday.
Sunday morning I was determined to make it to the Louvre. I set my alarm for 8 once again, and crawled out of bed by 8:15. I was on the street by 8:20 and made haste toward the museum. I was in a line only 25 people deep by 8:40. The museum opened promptly at 9. After purchasing an admission, I made my way to the Mona Lisa. So acclaimed this painting, I have to say, while an interesting piece, it is rather disappointing. You aren’t allowed to get any closer than 12 feel, its dimly lit as not to fade the centuries old colors, and of course, its behind substantial glass. All and all, it’s simply a painting. But, I have never claimed to be an art aficionado.
I wandered around the Louvre for a few hours, viewing many exhibits. I am certain I would have found things much more interesting had I researched much of the art prior to going. As one friend, who shall remain nameless, said, “Yeah, it’s just a bunch of old stuff that someone has deemed important.”
I wrapped up my tour of the Louvre and hopped the subway to the Eiffel Tower. It’s a grand, stunning structure. Within a few minutes of arriving at the base of the tower, it began to rain heavily. Having not planned for rain, I quickly purchased an umbrella. It was of little use, as it was rather windy. I ended up wet within a few minutes. I abandoned my plan of hanging out at the tower for a few hours and headed back to the subway.
I made my way back to the Le Marias and had lunch at my favorite cafe, aptly named “Le Favorite”. I had a delicious lunch of Creamy Risotto with Chicken, and a half bottle of red wine. Nearly drunk and with the weather not cooperating, I made my way to the hotel. Next thing I know, I awaken nearly two hours later, having just shut my eyes “for a minute or two”
The weather stayed undesirable the rest of the day. I called it an early night as I was expecting my friends Tony and Molli to arrive the next day, and I had planned on taking them on a whirlwind tour of the city. Having never been to Paris, when they made their travel plans to hike the Camino, though their flight was routed to Paris, they only planned to stay in Paris overnight. Myself and many of their friends gave them a quizzical look when we learned of their plans to stay in paris only a dozen hours.
Sleep was fitful Sunday night. I once again slept for 4 hours and woke at 3:00 am. This time however, I was awake for a full 3 hours before I managed to get back to sleep. Having no intention of wandering the city, I slept in until 9:30. Even with the additional sleep I was running a rather large sleep deficit.
I had breakfast and waited for their confirmation they had arrived. Close to 330, I received I text from Molli. They had arrived. I love the subways in Paris. They are extremely convenient and you can navigate the majority of the city with them. Within 30 minutes, I was waiting outside what was to be their hotel.
Within 30 minutes of their arrivals, we were out and about. Thinking I had a pretty good understanding of the Metro I took the lead. Without going through the pain staking detail of the ordeal, suffice to stay, we ended up stuck in the metro station. We couldn’t go where we needed to go, because I had developed the terribly habit of throwing away my used metro tickets immediately after entering the gate. This habit stemmed from inadvertently mixing up used and unused metro tickets the day before.
In this particular station, you had to use the same ticket twice, as it was a hub for both buses and subway trains. We asked an attendant who turned out to be extremely nice, if she would let us out. Im certain she thought we were idiots, but was one of the nicest Parisians we came in contact with. After a 15 minute debacle and the acquisition of a second metro ticket we were on our way. We did a whirl wind tour of Notre Dame, walked along the seine river, walked by the Louvre, through the gardens, down the Champs Elysees, to the Arch. From there we made our way to the Eiffel tower. More than a dozen times, both Tony and Molli said, “Wow, we had NO IDEA what we were missing.” Needless to say, there were jokes about hiking the Camino in half the time normally required, so we could spend two weeks in Paris.
On top of their grueling travel schedule, they had booked a dinner cruise on the Seine river. The problem was, the cruise last 2 hours, and they wouldn’t be off the boat until 11pm. Which meant they wouldn’t be back to their hotel until close to midnight. Considering our flight out of Paris left at 7:10 AM, they would get 4 hours sleep at MOST. This on the tail of already a 30 hour day with little sleep. Tiredness got the best of them, and they decided not to go on the cruise. We were already at the boat terminal, so they let the tour operator know they wouldn’t be attending.
The best part is, Tony and Molli basically gifted their tickets to another individual. The tour operator let them know they would be happy to give the tickets away. Within a minute of the offer, a nice young woman was the recipient of their tickets. She beamed from ear to ear. She couldn’t have been more grateful.
From there we made our way to dinner at La Favorite. We had a blast drinking beer, eating snails, and noshing on a very flavorful piece of steak. Within a few minutes of finishing dinner, food coma set in. Within 30 minutes, we were all back at our respective hotels with agreement I would meet them outside their hotel at 5am in a taxi. I arrived back at my hotel at 11:00pm.
When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the front desk if it was difficult to get a back at 4:45 in the morning. He audibly laughed and said, “Yes, it will be very difficult, but I will be happy to order one for you.”
He took down the pertinent information and bid me a good night. I would like to say because of the reduced sleep schedule, 35 miles of walking in Paris and overall jet lag, sleep came easily. It didn’t. My mind raced with thoughts of our upcoming adventure. My mind also raced with memories, of which, many had not crossed my mind in decades. I replayed memories of where I grew up, memories of my first real job out of college, of moving to San Diego. All there plane as day, and as vivid as the day the memory was made. Very strange indeed.
I set 3 alarms on my phone, and asked Brian to call me at 4am Paris time to ensure that I woke up. I certainly didn’t want to miss my flight. Even with such precautions, sleep was interrupted. When my alarm sounded and phone rang at 4 am, I had garnered a measly 3 hours of unrestful sleep.
I collected myself and showered. I checked out of the hotel and made my way to an awaiting cab. After a 15 minute drive to collect Tony and Molli we were off to the airport.
It’s no secret, I don’t speak french. Orly airport was extremely confusing. After being bounced around from different check in agents and different security lines we finally made it into the terminal. Famished, Tony and I see a small cafe in the airport and make efforts to buy food. We were met with resistance in the form of a large french woman screaming and waving her arms. We learned by here unrelenting gestures the cafe didn’t open until 6am.
Embarrassed and punchy from sleep deprivation we retreated to where Molli was finishing her blog entry. Tony and I made jokes about this being how Americans get a bad rap of being rude. We didn’t know the cafe was closed, and it certainly appeared to be open, and she comes at us like we are common criminals. One thing you don’t do to hungry Americans, deny us food, and embarrass us in the process. LOL.
About 6:05, a line started to form so we decided it was safe to return to the cafe we were earlier scorned from. Had their been another option for food in the terminal we most certainly would have taken it, but alas we were hostage to the overzealous clerk. We stood in line for 5 minutes with no forward progress. Threw a series of deductions, we concluded the computer wasn’t working. At this point our flight boarded in about 20 minutes. At that rate, we might end up standing in line while our flight left. After much adieu and an act of the french government the registers spring to life. All pandemonium ensues and in 10 minutes we make our way out of the cafe with food.
Our flight left on time and arrive in Biarritz. From the airport we are informed we must take a bus to Bayonne, some 20 “minutes” away. We can only assume the individual that indicated the town was 20 minutes away had never undertaken the journey by bus. 45 minutes later we arrive in Bayonne.
Prior to our departure, I had purchased what I believed were train tickets to the town of St Jean. I was mistaken. When we arrive at the train station, we go inside to retrieve our tickets, only to discover, we will be riding a bus. Fortunately, the train station was also the bus terminal.
Having slightly over an hour to kill we made our way to a local cafe. Hungry again, the cafe had a handwritten sign indicating a breakfast combo or sorts. OJ, Croissant, frommage and another item we can quite decipher. Having made ourselves comfortable at a table, from the bar, the server asks if we want anything. First in french, then in reluctant english. We say we would like 3 of the breakfast combo. She waves her arms and says, “No, no breakfast.”
When then say, “Okay, just three croissants.”
Her reply?, “No, out. You can have bread”
Okay then, three breads. We also order a coffee and two orange juices. The whole experience leaves us giggling. This seems to be right on track with our luck through the morning.
We finish our prison rations and head back to the bus terminal. We see more and more pilgrims arriving. True to Tony’s nature, he sets about meeting people. One individual in particular seems to take an interest in us. Adam from Hungary. He’s traveled extensively. His english is almost completely lacking an accent and is better than many Americans I know. We all chat for the remainder of our time at the station.
The bus soon boards and we are off to St Jean. The road is exceedingly windy and on numerous occasions I can’t comprehend how we make some of the turns without taking out road signs or oncoming cars. The scenery is breath taking. Everything you might have heard about the “south of France” is true. Beautiful farm land, vineyards and chateaus abound. It really felt like we were driving into a movie.
After an hour of twists and turns and winding climbs and descents, we arrive in St Jean. It’s a postcard old french fort. The old downtown is behind the fort walls. Little has changed in the hundreds of years since the fort was built. The streets are tiny and made of individually cut stones. Charming is a word lacking the depth necessary to describe the mystic of this town.
Exhausted we set about having lunch and preparing for the start of our pilgrimage. The town is loaded with pilgrims soon to be embarking on their journey.
To this point we have already had a grand adventure beyond what we had imagined, and our adventure has just begun.