A wall in Amsterdam
There were still a few friends on the ship and we said a sad good-bye to them. Some had shipped out at barbaric hours, but not us. Some were spending more time in Amsterdam. That would have been nice, but we were going to Paris. That was not shabby either. We enjoyed our last breakfast on board and saw the staff getting ready for the new passengers that would embark later today. Can you imagine, I felt a pang of jealousy that they were getting on and we had to get off? I suppose that means we enjoyed it.
We had to put out our luggage in front of our stateroom by 7:15. At 7:30 we were picked up by bus. This was the shortest bus ride we ever made. The bus took us to the train station. We could have walked there in about 3 minutes. Chris and I were the only passengers on the bus together with the driver and our guide. The guide had to make sure we did not get lost even though we could see the train station from the dock. We did however appreciate the guide who carefully explained to us how we would get on and off the train.
It seems crazy, but after being pampered for 8 days we felt a little uneasy to be leaving all our friends and going off on our own. The guide made that all easy and slick. It was a tranquil traveling experience and as we learned in Hong Kong Airport a few years ago, a tranquil traveling experience is always the best kind. So we left the comfort of the group and struck out on our own.
I know Chris would have liked to straight home because of her health. She was tired and ready to return to our own home. Her physical problems were a bit challenging. But she was a trooper.
It was a great pleasure to ride the Thalys bullet train to Paris (by way of Brussels). The train was very fast. It probably took us less time to get to Paris than it would have by plane. Our security check-in was much shorter and we carried our own luggage on to the train. The train also arrived in the centre of the city. Most importantly however was the tranquility on the train. This was truly a tranquil travelling experience unlike anything one obtains from Hong Kong Airport.
Train is really the civilized way to travel. None of the cramped in seats of planes. You can stretch and sit in comfort. Every seat on the train is like a first class seat on a plane. There is almost no turbulence and no scary thoughts of crashing into the sea. Yet we traveled at high speeds. It just did not feel so high.
Later I realized (on our trip to London) that travelling first class as we did to Paris makes all the difference. Economy class as we did to London is not quite as idyllic. I do not know how much extra first class cost. It was included in our extension. I was not sure why we did not get from Paris to London.
We did notice 3 well-armed police walking through the train. We don’t see arms on an aircraft. That slightly marred the peaceful feeling. But they were smiling. Obviously this was just a walk. Perhaps they were just showing the flag. Perhaps they were going to the bar car.
In about 3 &1/2 hours we arrived in Paris. Neither Chris nor I had ever been to France. We wanted to at least see it briefly. We were here for just 3 days and hoped to make the most of our short stay. As it turned out, for health reasons we did not really accomplish that, but we did see a lot. Whatever we saw was better, much better, than nothing.
A guide from Monogram the tour company hired for us by Avalon, met us right as we got off the train and out of the security zone. She was holding a Monogram/Avalon sign. We instantly felt comfortable. We were in Paris with someone who would help us.
The local guide’s name was Pauline. All she did, it turned out, was walk us to a car right outside the train station. Imagine that another guide for a 3- minute walk. This time we had to walk. I had to visit the toilet and of course, had to pay for the privilege. This is fairly common in Europe but I was told is becoming obsolete as more public washrooms are being provided. Paying for a toilet is hardly civilized. Is Paris civilized? My very first impression was not a good one. After that they were all good.
Pauline introduced us to the driver who drove us to our hotel in Montparnasse in the famous area of Paris called the Left Bank (La Rive Gauche). The Left Bank is the area of France famous for artists, writers and philosophers including some of my favourites. At one time or another the following lived in the Left Bank: Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Beauvoir, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Edith Wharton, and many others. In other words some consider it the world’s artistic and intellectual centre. In a sense it was the heart of civilization.
The area is also well known for its cafés. Existentialism was created in those cafés. After settling in to our hotel, we chose a café for lunch that was very near to our hotel. The day was a bit cool and cloudy so we decided to eat inside, even though we would have much preferred to sit outside in the French style. Next time, we thought. Only one thing disappointed us—that was that the waitress was NOT surly. This was hard to believe. Could we really be in France? It did not seem possible after all we had heard about Parisians. Where were the self-respecting French with their famous reputation for surliness? If the truth were known, we never met one surly staff person in our 3 days in Paris. We declared the French reputation fraudulent.
After lunch we went on the craziest walk of all time. The first problem was a lousy map. It was very unclear and did not have all the street names. Then in some cases (not make that many cases) it was extremely difficult (impossible?) to find street names on the street. The streets were also not aligned on a grid, but went in very which direction. Then there was the major problem—us and our lack of brainpower. First of all, we had a very poor conception of where our hotel was located on the map. So we could not really figure out where we were starting from. That makes it difficult to walk in a city you have never been in before. In other words, we were stupid—very stupid—for not taking a cab. This was particularly true because of the fact that Chris still had hip and knee problems. All of this was a template for disaster and that is exactly what happened. The walk was a disaster.
That is not entirely true. It was very interesting walking through Montparnasse region. Added to that we had a few fine views of the Eiffel Tower. We took a number of photographs of it of course. No one can resist that.
Thankfully we did see Hôtel des Invalides or St-Louis des Invalides with its most impressive golden dome. This imposing Hôtel was constructed in the late 17th century for Louis XIV’s invalid soldiers.
We were looking for the Musée Rodin. Our driver had recommended this as did Sarah-Jane. Unfortunately by the time we reached this museum after our epic walk, was closed. We were either too late or it was closed that day. In any event the goal was not achieved and we were dead tired. Dead stupid and dead tired. We had not been very ambitious on our first day in Paris but we did not even achieve our modest goal of seeing the Musée Rodin.
After that we were much too tired to do a lot of walking so we hailed a cab. We took a cab to Tour du Montparnasse near to our hotel. We had been told this was the best for the best views of the city. We were also told that we could sit in the bar and get the view for no more than the cost of a glass of wine. We were fully prepared to pay that price, but sadly, there was no room in the inn. We could have taken a tour but that would have taken more time and cost a lot of money. In other words we were too tired and too cheap to sign up for the tour. So we returned to our to our hotel.
When we got to our hotel we realized that all this walking had been disastrous for Chris. Her rash returned and her knee was wobbly. Chris did not want to go anywhere after that. We had badly overdone it. So we went to the C-store near by and picked up supplies. So our first night in Paris was spent sitting in our hotel nibbling on snacks, eating potato chips and diet coke. What a great Parisian meal.
Thus concluded our worst sight-seeing day ever. And we had absolutely no one to blame other than ourselves. Life is hard when you are stupid. We proved it again.