June 30th – our first full day in Paris! The kids slept, I planned the day, and Michael ventured out for essentials. He returned with supermarket bread, jam and wine. To express our gratitude we whined – where was the bread from a boulanger, and what about butter and milk, and you call wine an essential? – but that didn’t stop us from partaking of all of it. Well, only Michael had the wine; he has been known to drink alcohol for breakfast, but only on vacations. We opened the windows, more for the breeze than a view, which was pleasant but not the reason we rented this spot.
The reason was the real estate mantra: location, location, location!
I am typically a sightseeing nazi and insist on early rising to cram in every last minute. In Hawaii, it was out the door by 7 am or we’d miss the calmer waters for snorkeling. But I’d gone soft after our long travel days and had let the kids sleep in. By now it was after noon.
We headed to the river, laminated street map open to guide us. A French woman asked if we needed directions. Parisians were nothing but warm and friendly and helpful everywhere we went. She confirmed our route, and then there it was – the Seine – open, high, swift.
Just a few weeks before, Paris had experienced extreme flooding so that even the Louvre had been closed as artwork was moved to higher floors. Once again, we were grateful for our timing such that we did not suffer the effects. We saw the 2016 high water mark added to a wall on the street and couldn’t imagine the river would have been over our heads on the street earlier in the month! OK, over my head might not be impressive, but even over Michael’s, though not topping Guerschon Yabusele, the French basketball player just drafted by the Celtics, who Freeman kept hoping we’d run into.
I found a souvenir stand with adorable magnets and chose a perfect one: we always get a refrigerator magnet on our vacations and now I wouldn’t have to spend anymore time looking! My goal in life is to need a second refrigerator.
We crossed the Pont des Arts bridge, famous for the 45 TONS of love locks that were removed from it last year because they threatened to damage or even collapse the bridge. That’s alotta love! People were still putting locks anywhere they could throughout the city. On the bright side, that’s tons of love going around this romantic city, even if it wasn’t up to the aesthetic norms of Paris.
Our destination was Notre Dame.
We were met by a seemingly long wait to enter and we used the time to admire the magnificent outside architecture. An old, countrified woman who looked like a hardened version of my great-grandmother walked the line asking for money. It was one of the few instances of begging we encountered on our trip.
Soon we were inside, gawking at the unfathomable number of nooks, paintings and statues of saints, and holy, gold thing-a-ma-bobs. Unlike in the States, there were very few rules and announcements in most of the tourist spots in Paris yet people were generally well behaved. Visitors didn’t have to be told not to touch the artwork – they just didn’t. In Notre Dame, there was one announcement and it needed no translation: a loud and long Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh echoed ironically through the cathedral. Our main experience of boorish behavior was the nonstop photography. Having said that, we did snap the obligatory picture of the glorious stained glass window. You just can’t get how enormous it is though, unless you are there.
How do you get your kids to spend hours visiting historic and cultural sites and not be accused of child abuse? Find kid humor where possible. Kamala is still fond of the potty variety so was excited to learn about a Notre Dame architectural element, the flying “butt”ress.
Bathroom humor to keep your young ones entertained can be found anywhere.
Paris venues had plenty of indoor toilettes but not many outdoor restrooms, hence the sign. Though parks lacked relief facilities, they did offer free WiFi. Next to Notre Dame was a park on the island and we used the WiFi there to get directions to a restaurant, while Kamala found another amusement.
We wandered off the island towards the restaurant and bumped into a Holocaust museum. Paris is just full of unexpected wonders at every turn. The indoor portion was closed for flood clean up still underway but we were able to walk around outside, which portrayed a an appropriate, disturbing sense of confinement.
Our friends, Bill and Terry, who are aiming for a gold medal for frequent traveling, recommended a Latin Quarter restaurant. On the way there, we happened to pass the Hotel Notre Dame, the place I’d stayed many moons ago on my first trip to the city. Unfortunately the restaurant we were looking for had gone out of business within the last few months. Freeman chose a corner café that passed muster, meaning it had pasta with butter for Kamala and steak or a burger for him. This cafe served cheese fondue, one of the few foods we all liked and could share. Michael tried the frog legs though found them only passable, but he thoroughly enjoyed the duck. The French palate is remarkably more expansive than the American one. My dinner was a fine steak au poivre, while Freeeman had a filet with an inadequate Bernaise sauce. Kamala’s pasta was fine and the restaurant was kind enough not to charge us for it. The wine was delicious but I don’t even need to say that because all the wine in Paris is.
My daughter’s number one choice of activity on the entire trip, in fact the reason she wanted to go to Paris, was the Eiffel Tower. So that was our next stop because the weather would allow for perfect views and who knew if it would last? Our intention was to arrive just before dusk so we could have both the daylight and nighttime experience for one low price. That meant we had hours to wend our way there and planned our route to take us via the Arc de Triomphe.
First, we stopped at the expansive plaza outside the Louvre and then promenaded up the Champs Elysees for a stretch. As it neared 7 pm, we thought we had to skip the Arc in order to get to the Tower during daylight so headed directly there. The trek was easy on the eyes, if not the feet, with so very many old, graceful buildings, soothing greenways, countless classic statues of famous heroes I’d never heard of (Paris can leave you feeling woefully undereducated), and the more everyday things to notice that are different from your own town.
There were motorcycles with twin touching front wheels, electric scooters everywhere, five main car makes, bicyclists galore, and almost no one running for exercise. No one was overweight. Men were extremely well coiffed and wore fitted slacks or jeans and print or colorful shirts. And the man bun was IN. Surprisingly, the women seemed rather bland, with plain hairstyles, and loose fitting, dull clothing. The one exception was shoes, with smart styles but ridiculous heels.
It was easy to get to the tower: just look up and head in that direction. Once we arrived, the line to go through security was extensive. I recalled how the Istanbul airport had been targeted in just that way: people jammed up waiting to get through screening made a super soft target. At the tower, many armed soldiers were in view, as they had been throughout the city. We not only had to dispose of our water as we had before going through airport screeners but here, we even had to toss the empty bottles. Waiting was never annoying because there was so much to see while on line. That stunning structure was as impressive now as it had been when first built over 125 years ago! The Eiffel Tower definitely deserves the bible’s ranking as the #1 tourist attraction in Paris.
The elevator ride did quease out my stomach a bit but I put my calming yoga breathing practice to good use. We stopped at the second tier and indulged in the views. You can see the entire, massive city from there. Paris is very spread out. All the tall business buildings are together and a ways off so they don’t block the views, as happens in Boston and New York.
From the top it was also spectacular but different. The Sacre Coeur, which appeared to be on a large hill from the second tier was now barely noticeable and there was no sign of a rise in elevation. Just below us was a large park with the back of a giant screen labeled “Euro 2016.” People were gathering to watch a soccer game being broadcast live; the game itself was being played in Marsailles. Once the event began, we could almost guess what was happening from the roars and boos that wafted upward, even though the screen faced away from us. Our sense was one goal had occurred while we were there. The “Eiffel Tower Fan Zone” set up for the soccer championships that summer could hold up to 90,000 people and it looked to be about over 3/4ths full.
After hanging out for about an hour, we realized sunset was not coming anytime soon. I didn’t think to check: Paris is at a much higher latitude than where we live and sunset was about 10:30 pm, not the 9:00ish time I’d assumed. Off we went, passing up our chance for the view of the lights from above. We walked down the steps from the first tier, checking out the giant soccer ball hung inside the tower to mark the games.
We then decided to go and see the game, but security meant limited entrances and a long walk to get in. By then our feet were so numb, what did another half mile matter? Security for the fan zone was the most intense we’d encounter on the whole trip. Once inside, we were treated to local loyals with painted faces and trailing flag capes trading unified chants of “Por-Tu-Gal” : “Pol-Ska”. At that point, the score was 1-0, and we got to witness fans exuberantly celebrating when another goal was scored. The screen was the largest I’d ever seen (maybe 110 ft x 40 ft) and so clear you saw every wrinkle in Renaldo’s wincing face as he flopped, I mean, fell, on that giant sea of green.
Not wanting to be stuck in the crowd at the game’s end, especially if things got rowdy, we left early and hobbled back to our apartment. We’d done about 10 miles of damage to our feet that day and were ever so relieved to sit back, check out the final score (1-1, Portugal) and sip some wine, adjectives superfluous.