Eurotrip 2011: Paris.1

Catch up! We've already spent nearly a week in England! See all of our Eurotrip tales here.

On leaving London:
Our handy iPad alarm clock app began chirping (literally) at 4:00 a.m. We had to catch a train to Paris in three and a half hours. A lot happened in those three and a half hours. But I don't want to bore you with the details. You'd have to read about things like:
  • Me being in such a rush, causing me to skip the whole makeup part of my morning routine. I never skip the makeup part of my morning routine.
  • Nelson, the now-missing snail/slug I'd seen hanging around in the flat the night before. When I told N about him, he told me about a "monster" spider than he'd seen hanging around the flat. Eek! All the more reason to hurry, I figured.
  • More issues with skeleton keys, causing us to once again be trapped in the flat, which precipitated several tense (possibly prayer-filled) moments. Spoiler alert: We made it out.
  • Running with 40-pound packs to Clapham Junction, with me wishing all the while that my backpack had been made for a 5'5" girl, not a 6'3" man. My hip bones may have endured some vacation battle wounds.
  • Purchasing the wrong tickets to London Victoria station, which didn't exactly let us through the turnstyles to the London Underground. The tube staff, however, did let us through. That's what the panic-eyes get you.
  • Arriving at St. Pancreas train station by 6:00 - over an hour early. That's what sprinting gets you.
  • Finishing my morning routine (read: makeup) in the very quiet, vacant St. Pancreas bathroom. Without a bit of rushing, I might add.
  • Giving up N's pocketknife (yes, the one we used for our pizza) at the station security checkpoint. I guess there is logic behind not allowing passengers to carry knives with locking mechanisms on a train without a baggage car, but it all felt very un-American to me. N took it well. I didn't.
The short version is that we got up at 4:00, and were on our way to Paris by 7:22. The moral of the story is, the earlier you wake up, the more things happen to you by sunrise.

Finally! On our way. Along with two creepers?!
We pulled into Paris' Gare Nord (North Station) on time, and immediately walked to the metro station. Although all we wanted to do was get to the Eiffel Tower (and our bike tour meeting point) as soon as possible, we had quite the time trying to buy metro tickets. While there may have been plenty of ticket kiosks for purchasing, all of them took €5 coins, and of course, all we had were large bills. We wandered around for probably 30 minutes, looking for a change machine, or for a shop employee who would speak English. Finally we bit the bullet and waited in the ever-so-slow-moving, I-seriously-never-do-this, wait-I-have-to-speak-to-a-human-being? customer service line. At least it got us our tickets: two 3-day unlimited rides, plus a book of 10 singles (for our two partial days.)

Finally: Arrived at our destination. Even partially-obstructed views were breathtaking.

The bike tour met at the tower's south leg, so once we established our meeting place and checked our watches, it was time for food. We walked away from the tower for a block or two, and found a cafe called Le Bailli de Suffren.

Now, I will preemptively state in this very first Paris post that most of our favorite food along the whole trip was in this wonderful city. However, despite the very pretty photos in the collage above, this over-priced lunch didn't quite meet Paris standards. To be honest, it was all perfectly fine, but over the next few days in Paris, I learned that "perfectly fine" doesn't describe normal Parisian food. Even the small cafes warrant a description much more flowery than that. I think the cafe we ate at was a bit of a tourist trap. But in any case, our chosen lunch venue solved our hunger issues, and the setting was lovely.

We still had tons of time before our bike tour started, so I settled down in the grass just across the street from the tower for a much needed break/nap. I have to admit that the scenario I just described was a surprise to me. For some reason, I pictured the Eiffel Tower in the middle of a very busy intersection in Paris, surrounded by dozens of cafes and bistros and artists... But it wasn't. It was in a very quiet section near the Champ de Mars where you could honestly relax and be still. For once, reality was better than my imagination.

Did I mention it was a gorgeous day?

More trees than cars in this neighborhood.
I'm not lying when I say that I napped/sunbathed in the Champ de Mars while N looked for an Orange store (equivalent to AT&T) to check out cell phone service. No dice though; the data service (which is all he was really interested in) required a four-day setup period. That meant we'd have to stick to the old school means of vacation communication: Post cards.

Soon enough, nap time was over, and we met our Fat Tire bike tour guide: Jeff from Dallas. We (and our backpacks) walked several blocks to the shop, where we were fitted with standard Fat Tire beach cruisers. We noticed that Fat Tire's Paris shop was much bigger than the London shop, and included lots of upbeat employees, as well as a few computers with internet access for guests. Finding free internet, we soon realized, was an important daily priority, now that N's phone was disconnected.

The tour covered many interesting landmarks in Paris, including the military school, the veterans' hospital/war museum, the Dome Church (above), the Luxor Obelisk, Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the bridge with four gold statues representing the peace treaty between France and Russia (below).

Pont Alexendre III Bridge

Jeff also educated us in regards to the various King Louis's: the XIV (the builder), the XV (the partier), and the XVI (the payer).

Wandering around Tuileries Garden. I guess the day was getting a tad warm for N.
On all the Fat Tire tours, they schedule in a stop at a nice cafe or bar or restaurant where you can find something to eat and drink, enjoy the atmosphere, and meet your fellow tour guests. On this tour, we met a very interesting, engaging couple from Australia who were on a three-month around-the-world tour. After starting their trip in Hong Kong, they worked out how to get around the globe without a single airplane flight! While their typical modes of transportation were trains, cruise ships, and freighters, on this particular day they were traveling around Paris with us via bicycle. It was lovely.

I had trouble wrapping my head around a three-month vacation. Specifically: How would one pack?! According to this couple, their bags were smaller than ours. Mind-blowing! I realize that by some standards, I over-packed. But for me, a significant part of vacation is wearing clothes I enjoy. I'll be honest: My mood can be dramatically swayed by how much I like what I have on. And when I'm on vacation, I want my mood to be positive as much as possible. Therefore, I pack accordingly. (I will now rest my case.)

Speaking of our large bags, once our bike tour finished up, it was time to pack up again and head to our hosts' house. That's right; no hotel for us. We were meeting fellow couchsurfers! You may recall that N and I had hosted three couchsurfers in our Cayman home in the preceding months; now it was our turn to be the guests. We took the metro to Porte d'Orleans in order to walk to the Malakoff neighborhood. By the time we were halfway between the metro and our hosts' house, my pace had slowed to a plod. N said I looked like an old woman, barely able to take full steps beneath my restrictive bag. You have to realize, by this time in the evening, we had sprinted to Clapham Junction, transferred to the underground, meandered around St. Pancreas, walked to Paris' metro, wandered around the station trying to sort tickets, walked to the Eiffel Tower (then to a cafe and back again), walked several blocks to the bike shop, traipsed back to the metro, switched lines in the metro (which meant a long hike in the underground corridors to do so), and were now trying to navigate off of a printed internet map through a residential part of Paris. I tried to keep a brave face, but N could tell that I was fading very quickly. He finally convinced me that he could somehow carry both bags while I navigated, using the blurry map and French road signs. He saved the day.

Near Malakoff
When we reached our destination, we were warmly greeted by P&R. They had a lovely place with two bedrooms, modern decor (P is a designer), and a rooftop patio. Enjoying the post-sunset Paris evening on their patio was both surreal and exactly what we needed. Well, so we thought. After chatting and snacking on appetizers (French cheese and cherry tomatoes) for a while, P finally decided it was time to make dinner. This was at 9:30 p.m. Oh wait; he didn't say it was time to make dinner, he said it was time to go buy the ingredients for dinner. Ahh, the French dinner hour. If only we could have guessed. P, N and I trotted down to the neighborhood supermarket to fetch our dinner food. P shopped, N paid, and I photographed. It worked.

Oh, what to choose, when there are so many divine cheeses to select from?
Our groceries included escargot, duck, a baguette, and (of course) more cheese. Our chef (P) prepared the escargot and duck along with a caramelized pear dish. The cheese and bread were served after dinner and before our pudding dessert. We got the full French dinner experience.

By midnight, dinner was gone, and so was our energy. They could have probably given us almost any surface to sleep on, and we would have crashed. After 20 hours of full-speed ahead, our first day in Paris drew to a close. I slept like a rock. I had to; tomorrow promised to be another very full day. It was about to be somebody's birthday.


  1. What a great first day in Paris!

  2. Wow - way to pack in a lot in one day! No wonder you looked like an old woman - haha. :) Great post! I'm so enjoying reading about your travels. :)