Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Off to France

 A few weeks ago we decided that it would be nice to spend our upcoming "big" anniversary somewhere special. We talked about Rome and we discussed London, but we decided on Paris since on the romance scale, The City of Lights is pretty much in a category of its own. Now normally we would not plan on two big trips in the first half of the year, but this one was offered at a price we could not refuse - free business class tickets - the product of all those miles racked up while I was landing those 30 entrance stamps to China. So I booked the tickets and after a lot of detective work, reserved an apartment and we put everything else in motion to make the trip a reality.

It's been more than 2 years since I last flew with my old pal United Airlines and so I had a sense of both the past and the present and we left Albuquerque yesterday morning. The flight to Dulles was uneventful and we arrive on time to a mostly empty terminal. After a quick sandwich and coffee we parked ourselves in the United Lounge and spent a few hours people watching. Not much has changed in the intervening years, the place is still full of loud talkers and hard drinkers and as the afternoon wore on, it became more and more crowded. I was glad when our departure time approached and we left, the place just becomes overbearing with each passing moment. Better of course than sitting on the concourse, but irritating in its own unique way. After quickly dealing with a gate change we lined up and got on the plane. The flight was pretty typical aside from the fact that we left 40 minutes late and arrived 30 minutes early at 6:25. An unwanted bonus in this circumstance since we really couldn't leave the airport until 8AM which would put us at our apartment at 9, the earliest official arrival time. We got a coffee - my first official restaurant order in French and sat back and waited. More people watching including a bunch of riders for the French pro cycling team, AG2R.

We left the terminal via the taxi exit passing a couple of guys who asked us if we wanted a ride to town. Now, world traveler that I am I knew that they were unofficial and so offering no price guarantee by way of a meter. As we came out the door, another guy was standing by the taxi line and waved us over. I'll admit right here that a big part of my knew it was wrong, first of all there was an official cab in the official taxi area and secondly, I've had the exact same experience in China. This time though, 20 hours of being awake and flying across the world got the better of me and we got in the car. I asked him if he was "independent" and why he lacked a meter and his answer was interesting, "Yes, I work for Taxi Blue and only the cabs in the city have meters." Even though I didn't particularly like the answer, we were stuck in traffic in the middle of nowhere and it wasn't exactly an option to get out. So I sat back and accepted that it was what it was and had a nice chat about Paris using pieces of English, Spanish and French.

The traffic was awful but he found the place and when he presented me with an eye popping invoice, I knew I'd been had. I paid up, shook his hand and sent him off. The apartment manager was waiting and I told him the story and he gasped, offering that I'd pair perhaps half-again more than I would have with a legitimate driver. Oh well.

This apartment represents the 5th time we've gone the rental route instead of using a hotel and this unit is pretty interesting - an old sort of "carriage house" at the back end of a building in St-Germain des Pres on the Left Bank. Exposed limestone blocks in the walls, a lot of old wood and much charm. Also freezing as the agent sheepishly informed us that they'd forgotten to start warming the place up a couple of days prior.

After unpacking and a short rest, we went out and started exploring, beginning with a walk to the Seine and lunch in a cool little neighborhood cafe overlooking the Notre Dame Cathedral. We stopped for groceries on the way back, unpacked them and the went back out for a walk to the Eiffel Tower. We ended up giving it short shrift because it began to rain in earnest and frankly, we were getting pretty tired of being on our feet. So back to the place and now it's just a matter of trying to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour.


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