Tuesday, 25 October 2011 – Part II
Okay, deep breath, now it’s time to check in, but at least I’m here and have a room and am really, REALLY close to getting settled and then out for a look around. I had reserved the cheapest single room (and believe me, that means a VERY small room); the kind and professional fellow (now back behind the desk and treating me as if nothing had ever happened, in no way a “rude Frenchman” or obvious “American hater” as we so often hear) offered me a special deal on an upgrade that would have a double bed, little bigger room, balcony and would include breakfast, all for 20 euro extra. I couldn’t say no after what I put him through and I was anxious to see the Tour Eiffel (plus at this point, included breakfast was sounding pretty handy and convenient).
So, now I’m off to find my room. I take the teeny tiny elevator up several floors, and the doors open onto a pitch-black hallway; I have to use my phone for light just to find the way. OK, this is creepy. It took a day or so to figure out there were pads on the walls you could press to turn on the lights, and a while longer to realize this is the norm all around western Europe at least. About the time I figured it out, it was time to come home. (This is just one of many resource-conserving, cost-saving techniques used there that make sense to me compared to our more resource-abusive facilities in the States.)
The room was fine, if small by our standards, and the balcony was only about 1 foot by 3 feet at best. Just enough to step out and stand against the building (but it had a view of the Tour Eiffel in the distance and offered a place for a quick smoke in the middle of the night, if need be). I organized my things, freshened up a bit and headed out for a walk. When I left my room, I passed right by the elevator in the dark without realizing it until a woman with children pointed at it figuring that’s where I was headed. I left my key at the front desk as required when leaving the building and started out on my first big adventure in Paris.
I started out walking through the city area, through several blocks of shops and cafes, meandering in the general direction of the Tour Eiffel. It was SO cool to see all the separate shops for cheese, fish, meat, and bread. I started to suspect perhaps the hotel breakfast package was NOT the way to go, but it still was a convenient way to get the day started with a full belly (which is not my norm). If I didn’t get the package, I probably would have just started roaming and, after hours without food, been too famished for anything to sound good. Hunger seems, with me, not to strike often, but, when it does, strikes sudden and urgent. I finally hit the Champ de Mars Park, wending my way through all the other pedestrians and foreign vendors of cheesy knick-knacks.
The really disconcerting thing, beyond the aggressive vendors, was the military-type patrols. Normal “flics” (police) are not particularly scary, but these were more like a paramilitary with assault weapons. I passed a group of 3 hommes (men) — two dark-skinned men who seemed to be flaunting their weapons with accompanying scowls (like something you see in a movie) and a light-skinned one who seemed almost trying to mask or at least minimize the prominence of his weapon (must’ve been the “new guy” J). I felt like I was in a scene from a movie based in the “Third World” rather than 100 yards from the Tour Eiffel. Not exactly what I expected from the City of Lights and Love! A bit unnerving at the time… (was later wishing there were some on the Right Bank once I encountered the gypsies – more on that later).
While the Tour Eiffel seemed rather unimpressive at a distance from my hotel, it was “incroyable” (AMAZING!) to experience up close and personal. In the plaza and surrounding area, there was a large assortment of dog-walkers, romantic couples, families pushing strollers (a few too many of these for my taste – another reminder to check on school schedules before traveling, as if the trouble getting train tickets wasn’t reminder enough), plus vendors and merry-go-rounds. The lines to go up the tower were outrageous, even the one for people with reservations. Good thing that wasn’t on my agenda anyway…
I got emotional more than once, as I took in the scene (and many times since). “I can’t believe I’m really here – I’ve really finally done it.” As I was journaling that night at a café, I wrote: “OOPS! There I go again!!” just thinking about it. And apparently, over a year later, it still has the same impact (she says as she brushes yet another tear from her eye).
I strolled across the Seine (well, across the bridge – I am good, but I cannot walk on water) and took pictures of the bridges and boats as dusk came over the city. The Tour Eiffel lights came on, so I tried taking some photos from the bridge using different settings on my camera (candle, night portrait, etc.). So proud of myself giving that camera a work-out! Just as I walked back across and was about to go under the tower, the white lights lining it started flashing and running (so I had to try the fireworks effect on the camera). It was really quite spectacular and such a wild surprise, like it was celebrating with me as I reached it for the first time at night!
I walked back through the Champ de Mars, with joggers now added to the mix of families, couples and dog walkers, all the way to the opposite end facing Ecole Militaire, where the Monument to Peace stands. (Built in 2000, this ultra-modern memorial consists of 32 columns and two glass structures with the word “peace” written on them in 32 languages and 18 alphabets – if only I had realized that at the time!) As I was walking away from the memorial toward the hotel, there was an Asian woman walking a tan cocker spaniel who looked just like my favorite childhood pet, Princess. The dog scurried right over to me and stood there waiting to be petted (and I, of course, promptly complied). So now I know my “animal attraction” isn’t limited to the States! (And, unlike in the States, at least the gal didn’t chastise her dog for the diversion…)
I slowly made my way back to the area of shops and cafes (slowly because I kept getting stuck behind families with four kids and two strollers) in search of a place to eat. I saw more specialty shops with sandwiches/quiches that looked “tres bon” but I had my heart set on a place with a patio so I could sit outside and people watch. I finally settled on the Café des Officiers right across from my hotel.
Decided to start with a (much needed) merlot. It didn’t take long to realize (again) I probably should have spent more time refreshing my French before this trip instead of simply focusing on Italian (which I considered far weaker and I was, admittedly, grateful for the review once I got to Italy). I just couldn’t understand a word these French people were saying (could it have anything to do with being taught by Americans?). Not sure why, but I have an easier time with Swiss French and Quebecois. (“This doesn’t even sound like French,” she thinks at the street-side café in Paris. “What the hell is wrong with me???”) It’s awfully hard to practice when everyone sounds different and talks so damned fast!
From my observation, it seems to be the nature of the French to be very efficient and terse when working, so you don’t get the relaxed casual interaction common in hospitality in the States. I am always interested in analyzing cultural similarities and differences, and I can see the dichotomy between the “work approach” at the café/hotel and the casual relaxed approach I see in the people strolling by or sharing a meal. Maybe I’m more French than I realized because I show the same tendencies – all business or all chill – so much so that, at times, it throws off people from one environment that see me in the other. But hey! When there is work to be done, I am focused and all over it.
Anyway, back to the merlot – YUM – served with some nuts that were a lot like me…a little on the SPICY side! Time to relax and reflect on my day. Now that I’m winding down, it seems to make sense to just dine on fermented grapes tonight and save myself for breakfast since I’m right by the hotel. I know, at this point, I don’t care how much this wine costs (and I thought I didn’t like merlot – HAH!). It’s better (and probably cheaper) than food anyway. (Speaking of which, I realized the hotel is cheaper because it is “a la carte” like the regional airlines – you pay as you go for every little thing from a lock for the in-room safe to a steep daily wi-fi fee – 5 euro for 3 hours of very sketchy service.)
This town, though, is SO alive; it makes Vegas look like the town of the living dead (of course, it IS, compared to this – you can just feel the vibe all around you – and this from someone who really loves Vegas!). Holy crap! A chick just walked by that looked and walked just like a bartender I know in Vegas (Erica, for those of you in the know). Anyway, back to the town…
Motorbikes everywhere (but no Harleys that I’ve seen). Couples strolling along arm in arm. Men on a mission carrying flowers and/or a bottle of wine as they make their way to the “next stop.” So much different in so many ways, yet people are so much the same…on phones or texting all the time, kids running off, etc. yet the families really seem solid here in Europe (well, other than that woman with the little girls and the dog outside St. Pancras on the way to Paris). From the German family crammed in around Chris and I in the London Metro to the families visiting the Tour Eiffel, they really seem like cohesive units.
Anyway, signing off for now to fully appreciate my merlot and my surroundings. Strangely enough, the only conversation I can even try to eavesdrop on are a couple of American women about my age who just sat down behind me, dammit. Are you kidding me?? (CURRENT NOTE: Noticed on Google recently that I was in the area not only of UNESCO but also the American University in Paris, the American Library, etc. – That COULD explain why I kept hearing so much American…) At least there are a lot of singles (as in solo) here so I don’t feel too strange – must be the place to hang for solos since the other patios all seemed paired up, just like all the people walking by. Wonder if my hotel is ever used for trysts, given its proximity…HAH!
After two glasses of wine, I paid my tab (just over 10 euro, or roughly $13, much less than the $20+ it would cost me at a Vegas casino with the much higher tipping standard) and crossed the street to the hotel. There was an elderly man working the desk and he paid my Franglais no mind when I gave my room number for the key. He simply got it from behind the desk and handed it to me, without saying a word. Interesting security. Guess I could’ve walked in and said any number and ended up with a key if it was there! Up to the dark hall and into my room to get a good night’s sleep so I’m ready for my breakfast in the morning and a full day of sightseeing on the Right Bank. Here’s to visions of the L’Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees dancing in my head!