Monday, June 12, 2023

Paris, France

Before Gabby starts her residency, we decided to take advantage of the flexibility we have to do some traveling. This resulted in planning a whirlwind two and half week sprint before her first day. To start, we drove to Ohio for my brother’s wedding and were there for three days. We came back on a Saturday night and flew out for this trip on Sunday. The day after we return (late at night) we’ll be driving from Virginia to Colorado with our friend Nick and his moving truck, flying back home a couple days before Gabby officially starts.

For this trip, we and our friend Adam booked four one way flights. A flight from Washington, DC to Paris, France on Play Airlines; a flight from Paris to Zurich, Switzerland on SWISS Air; a flight from Zurich to Keflavik, Iceland on EuroWings (I know, I’d never heard of them either); and, finally, our flight home from Keflavik to Washington, DC.

The trip to the airport on I81 was a little rough, with lots of accidents and construction slowing things down. Plus, the guy driving the shuttle bus from the parking lot at the airport pulled over to the side of the road and turned the bus off at one point. However, Dulles has nice bag scanners at security where nothing has to come out of your bag (liquids, electronics, etc.), and, with that boost, we made the flight somewhat comfortably.

Our first flight connected in Iceland, but, unlike other times we’ve flown through there, we noticed it never actually got dark on the way, although we were flying through the night. This was definitely different than traveling in the winter, and one of the first things we had to get used to in taking a somewhat normal “summer vacation!" Our flight was a little late into Iceland, so the connections were going to be pretty tight. Knowing most of them were on Play, I asked the flight attendant and she confirmed my assumption that they would hold the connections for their arriving passengers.

When we got to passport control though, there were obviously a few people who hadn’t gotten the memo. In particular, there were three college aged girls traveling together standing in line behind us, and, in our first instance of Americans loudly broadcasting their business to everyone within earshot, they were arguing about whether they were going to make their connection. One girl, obviously the leader of this operation, was freaking out, while the other two tried to calm her down. “I told you guys this wasn’t a good idea. I would pay three times the amount for a direct flight. I’m so f---ing pissed. F--- us, honestly. We’re so f---ed.” Later, Adam said, “See, Ezra, you’ve got it easy. I could be like those girls.” I said, “Adam, if I had any inkling you would be like those girls, I would never have brought you.”

The second (shorter) flight to Paris was much better, especially because I ended up in the exit row. I tried not to rub it in with Adam too much. We arrived to a (hot) terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport and navigated buying tickets for the train into the city while trying not to look like bumbling Americans. We bought a two day ticket with unlimited rides which definitely paid for itself. We had also pre-purchased the Paris Museum Pass, which gave us admission (and, in some cases, priority access) to a lot of the destinations we were planning to see. We made it to our AirBnB, met our host, dropped off our backpacks ("Pack light, travel fast!") and grabbed a baguette at a local corner cafe. Given it had been 12 or so hours since we had eaten anything, that was the best sandwich I had ever had.

Our first stop was the Pantheon, a former church converted back and forth into a national memorial several times. Our Paris Museum Pass allowed us to skip the line and go straight in (which felt like seeing New York with my friend Jeff), and had Adam was singing its praises. We saw the giant time keeping pendulum and a crypt where Voltaire is buried.

Our next stop was the Lourve. It was gigantic (and also hot). We did our best to hit the highlights, which included the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace (which Adam told us is "very important"). Unfortunately, when we finally arrived in the room that housed the Mona Lisa, it was obvious this was a similar situation to that at Platform 9 and 3/4 of King’s Cross Station in London: a huge line snaking back and forth through the center of the room just to get the chance to take your picture of the painting. Gabby said, "I'm not standing in that line."

Next was the Pompidou, with lots of strange modern art. Adam enjoyed the Norman Foster exhibition, while Gabby and I examined a horse skin hanging from the ceiling and a piano in a sweater. The Pompidou’s one redeeming quality in my eyes was the amazing views out over the rest of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and the The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. We had some delicious hamburgers for dinner at a place called "Meating Corner."

After dinner, we headed to the Arc de Triomphe and arrived right at 10:15 PM. However, although the website said access closed at 11:00 PM, apparently they let the last group in to go to the top around 10:15 PM. They were shutting down the area when we arrived, but I asked one of the attendants if he could let us through. He deferred to his boss who told me it was “impossible” because they had already shut everything down. I tried my best Tanner charm impression, “Aww, cmon, man, you can’t help me out?” to no avail.

Undeterred, we made our way down to the Eiffel Tower for the 11:00 PM light show. Continuing a theme for the day, this area was, of course, swarming with people. There were also “entrepreneurs” everywhere. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone selling the same light up Eiffel Tower statutes. Also, a nice guy with champagne that will charge you an outrageous markup so that you can enjoy your adult beverage under the tower. I still can’t figure out how there’s a market for that many of the same thing. I kid you not, there were five guys selling the same thing standing within 15 feet of each other.

On the metro back to the AirBnB, a group of ladies speaking English loudly boarded the train. It was immediately obvious they were “Not from ‘round here.” I listened to the accents for a minute before asking “Virginia or North Carolina?” “Kentucky,” came the answer. I was close.

The next morning we checked out of the AirBnB, and got breakfast at the same local baguette shop. We stopped at Notre Dame, which was damaged in a fire recently, but is currently being reconstructed. A fun group of street performers was playing nearby, including one guy with a real piano that they definitely hauled through the metro (tour production managers with keyboards in fake upright shells take note).

Our final stop in Paris was Sainte-Chapelle’s cathedral, which may have been my favorite. At first, we entered into the lower level and were a little disappointed. Then we found the staircase to the beautiful top floor with huge stained glass windows that tell stories primarily from the Old Testament. I looked carefully for distinctive objects that could help me identify what story a particular window was for. I found a bathtub ark (some things are cross-cultural) and the ark of the covenant.

After that, we took our final train back to CDG airport. For the record, CDG is probably in my bottom five airports thus far. It’s a hub and spoke design to start with, which gives it a strike puts it on the same level as Newark (NWJ). Our flight was delayed here, which was a shame, since we could have spent more time in the city. I also almost stepped on a pigeon who was standing in the security line in front of me, but no around appeared to think this was unusual.

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