We left Florence last Friday headed for a one-night stopover in Milan, before taking an early train to Paris. We hated to say good-bye to Italy, but we were going on the Paris! The city of light! How much more fun could our lives get?
Our afternoon in Milan was delightful. We used a Rick Steves’ audio guide downloaded to our phones to tour the Duomo area, the beautiful Milan Galleria, and the LaScala Opera house. We are told that the Milan Cathedral is the third largest is the world and is just magnificent. We didn’t stand in the line to go inside, but the outside was pretty incredible, with more than 1,000 figures in relief and statuary depicting stories from the bible. We also toured the LaScala Opera house which was interesting and fun.
After having a last meal in Italy of pasta, accompanied by house wine, and followed by gelato (what else?), we went to bed early. Sleep did not come easily, though, as the hotel management where we were staying did not deem 80 degrees Farenheit to be hot enough to turn on the air conditioning. This meant we had to leave our windows open, and this meant that we weren’t able to tune out a rock concert that blared into late hours of the night. The alarm went off at 4:30 (I had already been awake for a while) and we went into action to get to the station to make our 6:00 a.m. train.
Getting to Paris
The news that morning reported a package bomb that had gone off in Lyon, injuring several people. This impacted our train travel to Paris with an unexpected passport check travelling into France and a rerouting to avoid Lyon. Despite these interruptions, we somehow arrived at the Gare du Lyon on time and took off to catch the Metro to meet our host, Boris, at our vacation rental apartment. Our Metro travel was derailed (pun intended) when a crucial link on the M11 line from Chatelet to Belleville, the stop closest to our rental, was marked as closed. We would need a taxi. Getting out of the Chatalet Station was no easy feat as it took us into a confusing and crowded, multi-level shopping complex. Once we escaped the station and shopping mall, we grabbed a cab and got to the rental exactly at the time we had arranged with Boris, but we felt exhausted and stressed out.
We told Boris about the M11 closing at Chatelet and he told us that it was due to a protest by ‘des gilets jaunes’ or the yellow vests, a grassroots movement for economic equality. He assured us that, by the next morning, the line would be open at Chatelet again. This was an answer that, we later found, he had pulled from his derriere.
After Boris left, we went out to walk the neighborhood and pick up a few groceries. The neighborhood felt safe enough, but was dirty, full of litter and graffiti and, most distressing, included a Chinatown section a couple of blocks away that was lined with Asian prostitutes. We walked back to our place and stopped at a grocery store next door. The place was absolute chaos, jam-packed with way too many people, and with such an odd assortment of products that we weren’t able to buy what we really needed. We went back to our place more exhausted, frustrated, and stressed out.
Stresses, stresses, and more stresses
The next days presented more stresses. First there was a dispute with Boris over the amount of the final payment on the vacation apartment. Then John ran into trouble with the purchase of train tickets we would need to get from Paris to Brussels when the Trainline website would not accept any of our credit cards – it turns out that there is a well-known problem with this vendor not accepting non-French credit cards – and there was no customer service available, even after we went to the train station to find help. Oh, and the M11 Metro link at the Chatalet station? It turned out to be in the middle of a long-term closure that will extend to December and it happens to be a critical link for many destinations in Paris. This caused us to spend more money than anticipated on taxis and Ubers. On top of all of this, Paris has become such a well-known pick-pocketer’s paradise that we felt that we had to take extra steps every time we left the apartment to pick-pocket proof ourselves. Regular pick-pocket warnings on the Metro heightened the anxiety. More stress and more frustration.
No Mona Lisa for us!
Then there was our Monday morning appointment at the Louvre. When we arrived for our 10 a.m. booking, there were over a thousand people gathered near the pyramid in lines that were at a standstill. Then we saw the sign.
By now it has been in the international news that the Louvre employees went on a one-day strike to protest over-crowding in the museum, but on Monday morning, neither we, nor the other hundreds of other people hoping to visit the museum knew what was going on. More stress and frustration.
In spite of some disappointment, we ended up spending our time Monday doing what I love to do in Paris anyway – we walked the Champs Elysees, strolled the Latin Quarter and had a leisurely lunch, took the boat ride on the Seine, and went to the Trocadero for amazing views of the Eiffel Tower.
Life on the road
All of life has its ups and downs and life on the road, while it can create adventure and enjoyment, is harder in many ways than our regular lives at home. We happened to hit some rough spots in Paris, but no disasters, just a reminder that life on the road is still just life and some days, or even weeks, will be more challenging than others.
Here are some of our favorite experiences in Paris
Getting together with a former co-worker. We met Frederic, a former co-worker of mine from my days working in Brussels. In his forties now, he is married with a son and has a very successful career as an academic at a renowned business school in Paris.
Impressionist Art. Visiting the D’Orsay and the Orangerie to see incredible Impressionist art and more.
Palais Garnier. Touring the spectacular Paris Opera House.
French Holocaust Museum. A visit to the Deportation Martyrs Memorial. We happened upon this by chance one day and it was a very well-done remembrance of the experience of the French in the Holocaust. I read the book Sarah’s Key a few years ago that was about the Val d’Hiv round-up in France. I recommend it if you want to learn more about how the Holocaust affected France.
Eating street food like a local. We took our crepes to a park overlooking the Seine one day and another day, when we got caught in a rain shower, ate slices of quiche on a bench in the Metro.
Drinking coffee like a local. Getting to the Musee D’Orsay early and dodging another rain shower by ducking in to the Café Mucha, a traditional Parisian coffee shop.
Sunday night dinner at chez Jim Haynes. Louisiana native, Jim Haynes has lived in Paris for decades and has hosted Sunday night dinners in his apartment for more than forty years.
Sunday morning Bastille market. Tons of fresh food of all kinds and a fun atmosphere.
Boat ride on the Seine. I know it’s touristy, and we could barely understand a word the tour guide said, but it’s still fun to glide along and watch the beautiful Parisian cityscape go by.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower as viewed from the Trocadero. But skipping the up-close crowds.