As promised, here comes the Euro flashback series…out of order, mind you, but better
late now than never.
Paris day 1: May 20th
Once upon a time, two girls left Madrid to play in Paris.
Ok, I’ll cut the sh!t. Laura and I said adios to Spain and the rest of our fam and headed off to enjoy some fun in France. We woke up crazy early, long before the sun was even aware of it’s being a new day. In the chaos of packing and stressing about what I was forgetting, I only managed to get a few hours of shut eye. Laura was in the same boat, though, so we were both looking like haggard train wrecks when we stumbled out of the Westin Palace heading for the Plaza de Cibeles.
[No we aren’t ballers, accommodations in Spain were on mom & dad]
Tip to future travelers: the subway in Madrid doesn’t start running until 6 am. That ruled out plan A. Plan B was taking the Atocha station airport buses. Wrong. They too begin operations at 6 am. We had to be at the airport by that time, so it was a good thing we did a little research the night before. Luckily, we discovered the Plaza de Cibeles was only a bit further of a walk; and more importantly, offered airport buses through the night and early morning.
So there we were, me with my green monster of a suitcase, and Laura with her mega backpack (I wish I had a photo because she was honestly more mule than human with that thing on her back), doing circles in the Plaza, trying to figure out which stop was the correct one. We found a nice gent to help us.
I’m pretty sure the conversation went something like this:
American idiots: Hola? Sabes donde esta el autobus de aeropuerto express?
Hombre (in spanish): Ask those guys over there. They would know, they are doctors.
Us (looking confused): Ellos? (pointing to group of men in business(ish) attire)
Homeboy (looking more annoyed now): Si.
Us: Ooookkayyyyyyy?? (exchanging skeptical looks)
We went over to the “doctors” to ask about the bus. They were very nice. They were NOT doctors. Is there some other use of the term doctors in Spain that also means transportation employees? Because that’s what they were. We think. Who knows. In any event, they pointed us to the correct area over on the side of the Plaza where a line of people with luggage was clearly formed in anticipation of the Airport bus’ arrival.
Soon enough we were onboard, headed to the airport.
If you’ve ever flown with EasyJet, you know it’s not exactly a luxury airline. It’s pretty much the Datsun of airplanes. Unless you are an exceptionally light packer or you are ok with wearing everything you own in transit, you’re likely going to end up paying extra for your baggage. My advice, travel in pairs. You get 20 kilos per person (approx. 44 lbs.) or 40 kilos between two people. My bag was 21 kilos, but Laura saved the day with her 15 kilo pack, thus bringing our collective total to well under the weight allowance. If you’re thinking that 44 pounds is a lot, you’re right. Normally I wouldn’t need so much weight, but EasyJet also allows one carry-on. Not a purse and a carry-on. ONE. SINGLE. Carry-on. So my computer, camera(s), books, mags, food, wallet, yadda yadda all needed to find a home. Some made it into my purse, but most got shoved into my suitcase for the flight. This is why my poundage caused an abnormally heavy weigh in.
Laura was kind enough to capture this delightful moment. Praise be to God we made it safe and sound to Paris. I slept through most of the flight, though I do remember Laura asking me a few questions at one point. Can’t be to sure how that conversation went. I’m sure I was a very entertaining travel buddy since I was basically sleep walking and talking from then until when we got to our hotel. Later when I asked Laura about something from the flight, she acted like I was speaking in a foreign language, so maybe she wasn’t all there either?
I do have a particularly fond memory of us buying RER tickets post-flight to take us the heart of Paris. As we deposited them into the slot in the turn-stall to get into the platform area, we passed a highly confused woman. I actually laughed out loud as she maniacally waved her old fashioned airplane ticket in front of the RER gate. Do you have a visual? Frantic woman. Train turn-stall. Airline ticket flapping in the wind. Somehow she had managed to leave the airport, but was still attempting to use her flight ticket to get somewhere. Sadly, her two teenage kids were of no help and the three of them stood there blocking everyone else from getting to the train as they continued to wave their tickets all over every part of the gate you could imagine. They may as well have been rubbing the tickets on their heads, it was about as sane of a maneuver as the one they were going with. I can pretty much guess how that turned out. I may have tried to help her, had she not been clearly speaking in tongues. But probably not. Ok, ok, truthfully I have no idea what language she was speaking. Either way, I wasn’t going to be of any help, even if I had mastered Rosetta Stone before embarking on my travels. The RER was still a mystery to me at that point.
Sooo…back to the commute. According to the transit map we had quite a few stops on the B3 route until we reached Luxembourg, the closest station to our hotel. We settled in for a long ride. I chomped on some Muesli and dreamed of French Press coffee. Next thing we knew, we were at the stop before ours. What? It couldn’t have been so quick? Had we even made any other stops yet? Were we about to launch back out of the center of Paris as quickly as we had arrived. The answer to that, is yes. Somehow we had made it onto an express train. Oops! We bolted for the doors just fast enough to escape a very timely mistake. The earlier stop added a few extra few blocks to our schlep, but eventually we found the Hotel Excelsior Latin.
It was cute, nice, inexpensive, and in the heart of the Latin Quarters. Perfect if you ask me!
This adorable little plaza was around the corner. Can you imagine anything more quintessentially Parisian? Well, maybe you can, what do I know about the city of light!?
We almost lost our lives in the elevator of death (see above left), and the felt walls were a bit…unique (see above right).
But we decided it was charming (if nothing else), and what’s not to love about that? Don’t worry, we delighted in the humor that was the contrast between this hotel and the Westin Palace.
We were in the room for fewer than 5 minutes before we were back out in search of breakfast. I had spotted the famous PAUL a block away, so that was destination number one.
Here’s where we first realized our communication shortcomings. Neither of us knew French. I mean, I knew the ridiculously basic phrases like “hello” “thank you” and “where’s the metro” as well as the ever practical “another beer, please.” But aside from that, it was not good.
I underestimated how helpful it was in Spain being able to speak Spanish.
Rather than sound like an idiot trying to invent French words, I smiled, spoke in English, and prayed they wouldn’t judge me (too much).
Laura: Tea? Breakfast?
Me: Lait? Soy?
Me: Ok. Merci.
And then I went across the street to Starbucks. Fail. Or not. Depending on how you look at it. I will admit, I’m a bit embarrassed that I went to Starbucks in the country a coffee press is named after. But I can’t tell you how many places I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a cafe americano avec soja!
People watching is almost as fun as any other tourist activity and I really do mean that. We sat at an outdoor table and waited for our drinks to cool…and after a few minutes of soaking in the street scene we headed off to conquer the city on foot.
Angel on the left, devil on the right…I think it’s supposed to be the reverse, no?
Here’s a brief look at our walking tour: St. Michel –> Notre Dame –> walk along the Seine –> Pont Neuf –> Louvre – > Tuileries –> Champs Elysees –> Pont Alexander III –> Eiffel Tower
And here it is in photos:
Once we reached the Eiffel Tower, we set out to find lunch. No longer on mom & dad’s dime, our budget was drastically different from the past weeks’. We were also both looking for dairy free options. Sans formage in France, hmmm…what to do, what to do…
Once we saw hummus and babaganoush, it was a no brainer.
We each got a baguette and piece of fruit too, then set up our little picnic on the lawn next to the Eiffel Tower.
Laura’s baguette was seedy, mine was au natural. Also, she got a Perrier whereas I gave into the seductive aspartame bubbly that is Coca Light.
Then we each shared the dip-ables.
Blini did a nice job with the houmous (aka hummus). It was super thick and had a strong tahini flavor. The moutabbal (aka babaganoush) was unlike any other baba I’ve tasted, but I liked it a lot! It was quite dense, but as soon as it warmed to room temp, the oil surfaced and it was more recognizable.
Meals like this could make me think twice about French food. Relaxing, vegan friendly, simple…but best of all, enjoyed with my sister while looking at one of the most iconic monuments in the world. Not too shabby Paris.
[To be continued…]