Monday, August 31, 2009

Ahhh Gay Paris!

Neither Michael nor I slept very well last night - combination of traffic noise and worrying that we will sleep through the alarm probably did it! I think everything is done so that we each have an easy time over the next few days - train ticket sorted - well sort of, travel cards topped up, contacts for each other in our bags, suitcases packed. Belgian chocolates in Michaels bag. Kate updated. Camera batteries recharged. I think thats all - anything we have forgotten we will need to just wing it with now! Just got a text message - looks like Donna (my sister) will be joining us for two weeks in October - how super is that!

Helen is well and truly en-route and will be in Copenhagen later today before her final leg to Paris. I am on my way there too and will go to the apartment to chill the champers before leaving to go to Charles de Gaulle Airport to collect her when her flight finally lands tonight at 8:10 pm. Michael is off to Albert for 4 nights and will spend the next four days criss crossing the Somme and this area. His blog update will come once we have met up again.

Haha - Hel's sister Sue has just chatted with me on GMail. We are not sure if Helen is online in an airport terminal somewhere, or the kids at home are using her GMail account because she just appeared online! Guess I'll find out tonight.

The trip to Paris was a fast and efficient one. One thing you can count on is that the French trains come on schedule and leave on schedule and arrive at the destination on schedule. And even though I am travelling second class (and not in the direction of travel) the seats are comfortable and the leg room amazing! The hour and a half to Paris passes quickly.

In between watching rural France fade into urban France, I am reading the Fodors Guide to France - trying to reconcile my need to show Helen ALL of this amazing country with our need to get to Italy. We still haven't decided which route we will take, that will be a conversation for the next couple of nights. Michael and I are pretty relaxed about it - we don't mind going back over parts of the country we have seen, but also want to still keep moving southeast.

OK, so I have now arrived in Paris Nord (the northern rail terminus) - now all I need to do is get the appropriate ticket and change to the regional rail system RER. I need to travel just two stops to St. Michel Notre-Dame and then change lines to Champs de Mar - Tour Eiffel to reach the apartment. Gosh, aren't even the names exciting! No problems. Down the escalators and what do I come across - the local McClean (bathrooms) - gosh how that dreaded phrase has entered every part of our daily lives!

Waited in an efficiently moving queue and when I reached the seller in response to her Bonjour, I replied (in my best school girl French) Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas le français. Parlez-vous anglais? (Excuse me, I don't speak French. Do you speak English?) She showed me a little with her fingers and then in quite fluent English, helped me to get the correct ticket. Who said the French won't speak English? I am convinced that it is all in the approach!

Ticket in hand, off I go following the clearly marked directions. Screens tell you when the next train is due and which station it stops at, so no problems there. In less than an hour, I am sitting here writing this update! And that was allowing time for the WOW factor. Coming up out of the station and turning to face the Eiffel Tower that is just behind, throwing open all the windows and gazing across the Seine that is literally across the road from where we are staying.

And the apartment is everything that has been promised and then some. Light and airy, but quaint with room hidden behind ceiling to floor drapes. And the second smallest bathroom I have experienced during our trip yet. There is a table and chairs just like the one that Helen's family gave her for her last big birthday - so girls, you got it right! And a folder filled with useful information and recommendations from both Isabelle and previous guests. I think that our problem will be - so much to see, so little time! And yes - we CAN see the Eiffel Tower just two blocks away (well, if we lean out the window we can!!!!)

OK so I am about to leave to the airport to meet Helen. The sun is shining as is my mood! Arrived at the airport without drama - oh except that there was a delay on the train and all the locals were pissed of - but not me-ee! So its about 6:15pm yeah yeah I know I am early - but the excitement bug got to me. Couldn't sit in the apartment waiting any longer. Its much more fun people watching here in the airport. I love to see the family reunions - there is some young sports star arrived home to the raucous attention of her family - we'll never know if she won, lost or drawed, but to the family she is a star! Like the whole extended family that is.

I've been to the Tourism Office desk, bought 3 day metro passes and collected more maps. I keep checking the board for the SAS (Scandanavian Air Services) flight that Hels is due in on - and the time is dragging. It is due in on time so as soon as I see it has touched down, I go and stand in front of the double steel doors through which everybody arriving must stream. No opportunity to see them before they actually come through the door and so it is hard to have the camera ready! So, after standing for about 50 minutes finally SHE IS HERE. Standing in front of me, moving away from me, pushing her luggage cart as she heads for the exit. Elbows out I head straight for her - don't care who you are, just MOVE.

"Bienvenue, mon ami. Bienvenue a Paris!" Welcome, my friend. Welcome to Paris!
I had been practicing my French in my head while I was waiting for her and managed to pull it off. Thanks Madame Isert - all your badgering in class has paid off! And in the excitement the camera wouldn't work - bugger no first photo (turns out I had knocked the switch!) OMG it DID work - it was on movie setting!! How cool is this!

She looks fantastic - not at all as I expected her to look after 40 hours of travelling. Poor thing, having experienced similar, I know just what it is like! She tells of her fellow travellers and her experience - don't think she realises yet, but she's a little shell-shocked!

Loo is the first stop as it always is and then we head for the shuttle train to take us to the RER station. I had originally planned that we might get a shuttle bus and do a little night seeing, but when I arived by train this afternoon and realised the vista that you get when you come up out of the subway, I figured that Hel's first view of the Eiffel Tower would be under lights at night, just steps from the apartment and thought that this would be cool. Mind you, her impression of the trains was very different to mine. "Dirty and smelly" she said. Huh, she ain't seen nothing yet! And I don't think that I helped by following the wrong yellow (brick road) footprints as we changed lines and we have to re-trace our steps for a couple of hundred metres through one of the underpasses. C'est la vie!

Anyway, we finally get up on the Quai Branly and she sees the ET. It's time to eat - I had a sandwich earlier today, but nothing else and I am starving and Helen too says she is hungry. there's a little brasserie on the corner opposite the Pont de Bir Hakeim that les between the Eiffel Tower and our apartment. As we sit down at a table (you have to realise that it is now almost 11 pm) lugging her suitcase close in the the table with us, I realise that the people at the next table are struggling to close one of those collapsable maps. Looks just like the one I have. "London-Paris?" I ask. "Yes" they replied. "Do you have a better map? I have a spare if you would like it." Turns out they do have others and decline my offer.

So that was how 'met' Danny from London and (wait for it) Helen Marie from Killarney in Ireland who works in community development in the grants area! Do, do, doo, do! How small a world is that! (for those who don't know, Hel's is Helen Maria, I have a aunt whose ancestors came from Killarney and Mum and I visited when we over in 2006, and I work in the grants sector.) We spend the next hour or so chatting with them as we drink a Kir Royale each (Champagne and Cassis) to toast us being here and then eat half a Margeurita and half a chicken Pizza - the rest we take home for tomorrow. We get quite chatty and after a while they get a card with the blog details and we are shouted a wine each. At the end of the night an invitation to come up and have a look at the apartment is graciously turned down, its hugs and kisses all round and a slight expectation that one day we might see them in the 'borough!

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