We arrived in Paris utterly exhausted from our late night and very little sleep on the plane. We located our 12 bags at the baggage claim (it took us an hour to find the correct baggage claim, because no one seemed to understand (or want to understand) our questions in English). Dawn remembered that while traveling in the Far East 20-some years ago, it was so quick and convenient to check in my luggage at the airport’s “Held Luggage” counter for a nominal fee while I carried only my backpack around for the day or two I was in each city.
Finally, I found an airport clerk who would speak English, and she told me that it would cost at least $20 for each bag to be held for one day. Oh my! I guess we’ll be taking our 12 suitcases, and 5 carry-on bags around Paris with us!
So, we came up with this system for getting around the airport. We loaded up our 12 bags (plus carry-ons) onto 3 luggage carts. Byron pushed one, Dawn pushed another, and Erin pushed another. Lily pushed Heidi in the stroller. It was all going along fine until the girls spotted the moving sidewalk, and wanted to go on it because it “looks fun!”
Lily and Heidi went in front. Byron pushed his luggage cart onto the moving sidewalk next, then Erin came along with her luggage cart, and Dawn and her luggage cart brought up the rear. I was unaware of the hazards of pushing heavy loads on and off these moving sidewalks, and getting off the sidewalk proved our undoing. Byron got off okay, but there’s a little lip at the sidewalk’s end that requires a hard push to get your cart up and over.
Erin, who couldn’t even see over the luggage piled on top of her cart, didn’t have the strength to push this heavy cart over the lip and off the sidewalk, so she and her cart came to a standstill. The moving sidewalk, however, continued to move, and soon I found my luggage cart slamming into Erin and squishing her between two heavily-loaded carts! I was in a panic. It was a pile-up, with Erin in the middle!
Byron walked on, unaware of the plight taking place behind him. I tried to reach Erin, but couldn’t. I tried to climb onto and over my luggage and cart to get to her, but couldn’t, and finally two gentlemen walking by noticed our trouble and rushed over to pull Erin’s cart off the sidewalk, with my cart close behind. Erin seemed unscathed by the incident, but I had a nasty bruise and cut on my ankle from my endeavors to climb my luggage cart. So much for moving sidewalks and luggage carts.
The Burkes and their luggage meandered around the airport another half hour, looking for someone who could tell us where we could catch the correct shuttle-bus to our hotel. After waiting another 40 minutes for the shuttle to show up, we spent 10 minutes frantically loading up all the suitcases, the stroller and the kids while several Parisians looked on. We told the driver which hotel we needed, and he nodded as if he understood.
About 20 minutes later he indicated that we were to get off, as this was our hotel, the Hotel Roissy. I jumped off and got the girls off, then helped Byron who was unloading bags from the back of the shuttle-bus. Byron unloaded the last bag, and I counted, but there were only eight bags. I started yelping, “There are only eight bags here! Four bags are missing! Hello? Hello!” Panic ensued, until Byron found the other four bags tucked away on another part of the bus.
We took stock of all our bags and kids, sat down for a minute and had a drink of water, listened to the kids say, “I’m tired. I’m hungry! I’m hot!” and then rallied ourselves up on our feet to check in to the hotel. It turned out that the bus had dropped us off at a hotel that was across the street and around the corner from our actual hotel, so we borrowed a couple of luggage carts from the hotel we were standing in front of, loaded up our gear, and started off. It was more of an adventure than we expected getting across the street and around the corner with a hotel luggage carts (with one suitcase flying and Lily losing control of the stroller momentarily), but we managed to finally limp into the hotel lobby with our carts, kids and luggage.
The two clerks sitting behind the hotel front desk just stared at us. Byron went up confidently and told them our name and said we had a reservation for the night. They looked, and looked again on their computer. Our name wasn’t showing up. They asked us if all that luggage was ours. Yes, yes, it is, we said, and why aren’t we in your computer? After several minutes of discussion, we discovered that the Hotel Roissy has an Hotel Roissy Inn sister-hotel, which was about 6 blocks away, and that must be what we had made reservations for. Deep, resigned sighs emitted from Byron and I, as we said, “Okay, girls, everyone up! We have to get back on the shuttle bus.”
Around the corner and across the street to return the luggage carts to the first hotel, then wait for the shuttle bus to return. The shuttle bus driver (a different one) gave us another shocked look when he saw one family with all the luggage (What ARE we supposed to do--wear signs on our heads that say, “Yes, this is our luggage, and we just spent 2 months in India, and we don’t pack light anyhow!”), and nodded when we asked if he could drop us off at the Hotel Roissy Inn.
The only other people on this shuttle were a French couple, and the man very nicely came off the shuttle to help Byron load up the luggage, while the lady offered to help me with the kids. How lovely to find some friendly faces in Paris!
Finally, the Hotel Roissy Inn appeared, and we lugged everything into the lobby. I was so tired I thought I was going to pass out, and the concierge told us that it would be about 30 minutes before our rooms would be ready for us. Happily, I sunk into a chair in the lobby and immediately fell asleep. We noticed that all the housekeepers in this hotel seemed to be foreigners themselves, perhaps from someplace in Africa, as they wore prominent, colorful headscarves all piled up on their heads.
When our rooms were ready, we discovered that there is such a thing as a hotel room that can fit into 10 x 12 square feet, with a bathroom included. A double-bed, very skinny table, and a bathroom that was angled to take up one corner of the room were all that there was room for. We piled up the luggage in the one space available beside the bed, and made huge twin towers of suitcases that looked rather comical. We had rented two rooms, which seems necessary in Paris for a five-member family on a budget (since two tiny rooms were more economical than one room that would sleep 5 people).
Then, we decided to take a nap before we headed off to see Paris.
Erin and Dawn fell asleep within minutes. We slept so hard that Byron had quite a time waking us up. We ate some chapatis (thank you Sahji!) and granola bars, then packed waterbottles and snacks, and we were off.
The one concierge at the front desk was still on the phone from when we’d left him an hour ago. Another concierge stood next to him, and quietly listened when I asked, “Could you tell me the best way to get to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower from here?” Then he blinked, said, “No speak English,” and pointed to the concierge who was on the phone, saying, “He speak English.” I waited, and waited, while making meaningful expressions at the phone-concierge, but after 20 minutes, he never did stop talking on the phone. It became apparent that he was not there to help us, so we decided to embark on our own.
We waited for the shuttle to return to the hotel and take us into the train station, which was connected to the Paris airport.
We soon found that maneuvering around Paris was the most difficult thing we’d encountered the entire trip. Signs are NOT always in English, natives are not eager to help tourists, and shuttle drivers and train station personnel DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH, which should be a rather fundamental requirement for that sort of job where they most certainly have daily contact with foreigners, shouldn’t it?
We weren’t sure when to get off the bus, because though we knew the train station was in the airport, we weren’t sure which airport stop would take us closest to the train. The bus driver didn’t speak enough English to know what we were asking, but a nice Parisian man on the bus seemed to understand, and said in broken English that he would tell us when to get off.
Another 30 minutes, and we were standing in the airport near a train station. It’s already 1:00 in the afternoon, and we haven’t seen Paris yet! (Deju-vu to our day in Delhi).
We had a really hard time finding out which train would get us to Notre Dame, or even finding out if a train went to Notre Dame Cathedral. Finally, we decided we would ask the ticket agent and see if he could help us, and found a long, long line in front of the ticket window. This line was probably 70 people deep.
After standing there for 10 minutes and not moving forward even one person’s worth of space, we heard someone talking ahead of us in British-accented English about some kind of train strike occurring that day in Paris. I asked the couple if they could fill me in, and they said that only a few trains were running, and those were running late, and it was a nightmare trying to get into Paris that day.
Byron decided to go find a railway official and see if he could help us, as we didn’t want to stand in line for an hour just to find out no trains were running to Notre Dame. The officials were easy to spot—they wore red caps. Byron found one, and returned to report, “The red cap official said we can just get onto the train without a ticket, and that’s the train we get on,” as he pointed. Byron added, “I think he liked it when I talked to him in French.”
“You talked to him in French?” I questioned, wondering when Byron had picked up the language.
“Well, I told him, ‘Bone-joor,’ and also ‘mercy.’” We laughed at Byron’s pronunciation, but apparently it made the railway official feel like being more helpful. . . .we think.
So, we just ducked under the turnstiles and didn’t pay for our train tickets, feeling terribly guilty but not knowing what else to do and acting on the advice of a railway official, and boarded a train, hoping it would take us to Notre Dame.
We did have a map of Paris’s transit system, but it was very confusing. I have never been good at reading maps, so was frustrated beyond belief that I couldn’t figure out where this train was going.
After about 12 stops, the train stopped and stayed put for a while even though the map in the book (and in the train car) said it would go on to where we wanted to get off. An African-looking lady with a colorful head scarf (like the housekeepers in our hotel wore) who had been on the train with us came over to us and gestured that we should get off. Confused, we shook our heads at her, as we didn’t know what was happening. Most other people who were on the train got off at this stop, with only a handful of us remaining.
Soon, the train started up again, but now it was going the other direction—taking us BACK to where we’d just come from! No wonder the lady had told us to get off! Argh!
We scrambled off the train at the next stop, totally confused about how we were to make a connection to the train that would take us to Notre Dame (walking around in a state of exhaustion wasn’t helping things).
Somehow we found how to get across to the train going back to the stop where we should have gotten off, and found that stop to be a busy metro station where the train and the subway (metro) all meet.
Completely confused, we wandered around the station, wondering whether to find a train or a metro to get us to Notre Dame. It was now 2:30, and we hadn’t seen anything in Paris. The pressure is on.
Byron tried desperately to read the map, and to read the signs, but we weren’t making any headway until Dawn heard someone say in fluent English, “You’ll need to get off at the stop just after Notre Dame. What you need is a subway map, follow me and I’ll show you where to get one!”
“Quick!” I told Byron, “let’s follow that guy!” We hustled after a young businessman who was chatting with couple of backpackers. I caught up to them and said, “Can we tag along? We’re completely confused and we want to go to Notre Dame, too.” The couple was very friendly and said they were from Australia. Our businessman said he was trying to get to work with the train strike, and figured that stopping to help someone for a few minutes wasn’t going to make him any later than he already was. He was very, very nice, which made me think he wasn’t from Paris.
He got us maps, showed us where to purchase metro tickets, showed us on the map where our connections were, and pointed us in the right direction to catch our trains. I was almost in tears, I was so grateful.
Now, we felt confident, and boarded a metro. The Austrlian couple were going to get off a couple of stops after us, as they were meeting some friends. They told us that they’d done the same thing we’d done—ducked under quite a few train turnstiles because there weren’t any ticket counters open to sell tickets, and no train officials standing around to take tickets. They said they thought they’d saved about $50 that day so far on train fees alone. I thought that was a positive spin on things.
I’ve always appreciated the straightforward method of traveling on a subway—the stops are all clearly marked, and there are maps in every car. Even someone with almost zero sense of direction can function on a subway, so I was happy.
We emerged from the subway at the Notre Dame stop, and walked up into the hot sunshine. We looked around, and things looked familiar from 19 years ago when I was last in Paris, but I couldn’t find Notre Dame. We walked around looking, and just couldn’t find it. Finally, I asked an elderly British couple nearby if they knew where Notre Dame was. The old man looked at me, and said, “Why, it’s over there!” seemingly in shock that I would ask such a silly question. We found out we needed to walk around the corner of a nearby café in order to see it.
We walked along the sidewalk getting nearer to the cathedral, but Dawn and the girls were quite distracted by the shops along the way, featuring lots of postcards and other interesting souvenirs. We even saw what looked like the Hindu elephant god, Ganeesh, and wanted to go in that store and look around (we’ve been away from India for 24 hours and we miss it!). We ended up making plans to visit that shop after we saw Notre Dame.
We pressed onward, finally crossing the street to peer over the bridge into the Seine River (wishing we could get close enough to the river to dip in our toes and declare, ”Look! I’m in Seine! (pronounced ‘insane’) Ba ha!”).
Finally, we approached the large courtyard in front of the cathedral. Notre Dame is really awe-inspiring and beautiful. We took a few pictures, then decided to go in. A really long line stretched from the entrance of the cathedral clear out into the courtyard, about 100-people deep. We stood in the line, and after about 15 minutes noticed it hadn’t moved and that it was gettting longer and longer.
We heard some mutterings in English here and there about a bomb scare. What? More and more people were saying, “No one can go in. There’s a bomb scare.” And after awhile some police men came and shooed us all behind a line of police-tape barricade about 50 yards away from the cathedral. A policeman with a police dog walked into the cathedral, and a TV camera filmed the crowds waiting around.
I heard someone speaking American English (amazing how sweet that sounds when you’re not home), and found a family of 4 who seemed to be in the know. They said they’d heard that someone had called in a bomb scare, and so we all had to wait until the policemen checked it out. I told them, “I can’t believe this. We just had a bomb scare in Delhi a couple of weeks ago, and now another one in Paris.” The family said that was rather remarkable. It does give one pause.
Well, since we couldn’t get into the cathedral, we decided to go find lunch someplace and come back later. We made our way down the far side of the cathedral, walking down some charming meandering sidewalks with apartments featuring flowerboxes at each patio overflowing with beautiful foliage. It was so “Old World,” and just like the pictures you see of Europe.
We found a sidewalk café, and elected to eat indoors to get out of the blazing sun. We couldn’t really read the menu, but figured we would order cheese, tomato, and lettuce sandwiches and some French fries (we were in France, after all!).
Oh, how lovely the meal was. So much more western than anything we’ve eaten for 2 months—an actual hot sandwich stuffed with lovely shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheese—something we hadn’t had for weeks. We sipped our Perrier Water, savored our French fries, and wondered if we should indulge in dessert (a man at a dessert cart just outside the café was selling some luscious looking chocolate crepes that he made fresh on the grill). After discovering that our meal had just cost about $50 (some sandwiches and fries!), we decided we didn’t really need dessert, and it was fun enough just to watch the man make the crepes.
The girls and I ventured off to find a bathroom, while Byron paid the bill, and we were rather surprised to find that the bathroom was co-ed. We got quite a start when a man came sauntering in to use the facilities. But no one except the Burkes seemed to think this was at all unusual.
Rejuvenated by our meal, we sauntered back to Notre Dame, around the other way so that by the time we got to the front, we had completely encircled it. Lily discovered great joy in chasing pigeons, and chased and chased to her heart’s content, as the area around Notre Dame contains hundreds of pigeons who seemed rather accustomed to being chased.
We tried to spot gargoyles, and wished we had binoculars along. We saw several ‘way up high. We walked along the Seine and saw large tourist bus-boats going up and down the river.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Paris was the number of couples we saw, either wrapped in each other’s embrace or gazing into each other’s eyes. I mean, couples were EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t toss a pebble without hitting a couple, and they were so entranced with each other they probably wouldn’t even notice. I suppose it isn’t called the “City of Love” for nothing.
Other points of interest in Paris:
- Lots of piercings on men
- LOTS of skin exposed on both men and women, but especially women. (Very different after the extremely modest Indians)
- Lots of people smoking cigarettes. We hadn’t seen much of that at all in India, and it isn’t that common in the U.S. either, to see smokers on every corner.
- Lots of women with very short hair. This very short hairstyle seemed to be a current fad there in Paris. One wonders if we actually caught sight of a fad that will hit the U.S. in a few months—is it still true that fashions begin in Paris?
- Much cleaner streets and sidewalks in Paris than in India
- Young women traveling alone (on the subway, in the train, on the airport shuttle bus, even late at night).
Happily, we discovered the police tape was gone and there were no lines to get into the cathedral now. We walked in and found a worship service going on—a young woman was leading out in a sort of song service—she would sing a line, then the congregation would sing a line that sounded sort of like a responsive reading. She had an exceptionally beautiful voice.
Inside, we just gawked for awhile at the hugeness and the beauty of it. As we walked around, (the worship service was occurring in the middle of the sanctuary, sort of like the yoke inside of the egg. There was plenty of room on the outside of the worship service area to walk unobtrusively around without disturbing the service.) we saw lots of carvings, statues, burning candles, and at one point, a very large chandelier that had been hanging on the ceiling but had been lain down on the floor for cleaning. Our girls were particularly interested in the chandelier—it was HUGE.
We pointed out the rose window to the girls. Then, after taking a few pictures and enjoying the quiet ambience of this ancient cathedral, decided to look for the stairway to climb up to the bell-tower. For a couple of weeks now, I’d been trying to remember the plot from the book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” to explain to the girls. All I remembered is Quasimodo (the hunchback) as the bell-ringer, who rescues a gypsy girl, Esmerelda. That’s all that’s left in my brain after reading through the unabridged version ‘way back when I was a teenager! Of course, I suppose we could always watch the movie!
We finally found the entrance to the stairway, but discovered that no one was allowed to enter the stairway after 5:00, as the stairway closed at 6:00 p.m. It was now 5:25 p.m. Oh well. This turned out to be a blessing, as I truly believe that if we had climbed up all those stairs with the girls, we would have used up too much energy and not had the strength to go on to the Eiffel Tower.
It’s amazing to realize the value of sleep, and the dasterdness of losing it! Our exhaustion made it hard for us to think straight and to even walk around the city all day.
We returned to the courtyard in front of Notre Dame to take a few pictures without the police tape in the background, and suddenly someone said, “Well, hello!” We looked up, and there was the man from the Australian backpacking couple who’d been as befuddled as we were in the train/metro station. Small world.
By now it was late afternoon, and we entered the metro again to go to the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately, the “Tower Eiffel” is clearly marked on the subway map, and we had no trouble getting there. We were quite grateful that the subway system wasn’t holding a strike during our day in Paris!
The Eiffel Tower subway stop seemed to be a good mile-plus away from the Eiffel Tower itself, and Erin and I were walking more and more slowly. The tiredness reached all the way to my bones, and every bone from my hips down just ached from the constant walking. Erin was so tired that she had to lean on me as we walked. But we were excited about the Eiffel Tower as we got closer and closer, and our spirits revived once we finally reached it.
All around the Eiffel Tower, vendors were running around hawking their wares—mostly little glow-in-the-dark Eiffel Tower replicas, keychain replicas, and night-light replicas. We found it refreshing that these vendors knew what it meant when we shook our heads “no.” One of the vendors handed Heidi a keychain as a gift.
We noticed some policeman who approached the Eiffel Tower from the sidewalk, and suddenly there was a scuffle of some sort and all the vendors scattered in every direction. The vendors (all young men) seemed to taunt the policemen from across the street. After awhile the policemen left, and the vendors returned.
Byron bought tickets for us to ride the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower (not cheap, but we couldn’t possibly haul ourselves up the staircase in our present condition, and I don’t think the staircase goes all the way to the top anyhow).
While Byron was gone, I pondered how lovely it would be to just sit on this park bench and not move one more muscle while the rest of the family went up the Eiffel Tower. I think Erin was thinking the same thing, while Heidi played with her Eiffel Tower keychain and Lily chased pigeons.
But Byron returned with the tickets, and I gave myself a pep-talk, muttering, “I can’t come this close to the Eiffel Tower and NOT go up!”
We stood in line for about an hour, enjoying listening to a lot of American English being spoken by other people in the line.
Finally, it was our turn to enter. We crowded onto the elevator with at least 30 other people, and felt our ears pop as we ascended. We got out at the main observation deck, where the breeze blowing actually made us feel cold for the first time in months. Byron and I were excited to point out the Louvre (which we didn’t even attempt to visit as the museum is closed on Tuesdays), the Arch De Triumphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral to the girls, who were so tired they could hardly walk around the deck.
We took another short elevator ride up to the very top of the Tower, but didn’t stay up there long as we were tired and couldn’t really see much more up there than we had on the main observation deck.
We boarded the elevator for the descent, and started the long walk back to the subway. I realized that we probably wouldn’t get back to the hotel for 3 more hours, and that was if the trains were running. We were surprised to note that it was about 9:30 p.m., and still very light outside. We’d thought it was only about 6:00 p.m.!
As we plodded back to the subway, the sun began to set and we were thrilled to see the Eiffel Tower light up like a Christmas tree in the dark. The girls really enjoyed looking out how pretty it looked with all the lights on.
We reached the subway station, and waited for nearly an hour for the subway to arrive. Apparently this was the last subway of the day! Byron was the only Burke who was able to stay awake during the subway ride, which was extremely useful, as he was the only Burke who had figured out which train connection would get us back to the airport.
After a long train ride, we found ourselves at the airport once again, searching for a connection to our shuttle bus to return us to our hotel. It was after midnight by now, and the airport was nearly abandoned. We had a terrible time finding someone who could tell us where to catch our shuttle, but finally found the stop, and waited for another 45 minutes, wondering if we had missed the last shuttle bus run of the day.
Finally a shuttle arrived, and took the sleepy Burkes back to their hotel. We fell into our beds, setting an alarm to awaken us in time to eat breakfast and catch the shuttle from Paris to Atlanta.
The night was too short, and we enjoyed a lovely continental breakfast at the hotel. Byron and I scurried around disassembling our twin towers of luggage and hauling each suitcase into the hotel lobby once again, where the concierge who spoke English was still on the phone.
As we began to carry our suitcases outside where the shuttle bus would stop, a shuttle bus arrived. Byron was rather panicked that we weren’t ready to take that shuttle, but we simply couldn’t get the kids and the bags out the door before the shuttle left. We were pretty confident that another one would arrive soon—in about ten minutes. Let me just say this—in America, a shuttle bus would probably arrive every ten minutes. In Paris (especially here on the outskirts of Paris), shuttle buses come along whenever they feel like it. We waited for an hour until the next one showed up, and by then we had chewed our nails down to our nubbins and done a whole lot of praying that we wouldn’t miss our flight because of the elusive shuttle bus.
We were waiting with another group of Americans who were joking about how tiny the hotel rooms were. None of us had ever seen hotel rooms so small!
Finally, when I was about ready to physically tear the phone from the English-speaking concierge’s ear and scream, “GET ME A SHUTTLE BUS!” the shuttle bus showed up.
We disembarked at the airport, to find ourselves ushered to a special line reserved for parents with young children. Oh joy! We got through customs, walked another mile through the airport and got to our gate 5 minutes before they started boarding. Finally we settled onto the plane. Personally, I was hoping that the French I heard being spoken during this trans-Atlantic flight would be the last French I heard for a long time.
We were completely discombobulated with time-zones, being sort of on India time, but having lost so much sleep we would gladly have entered any time zone that would let us go to bed.