The Eurostar ride was fast (2:15), smooth and on time (only 20 minutes in the Chunnel). I didn't have a passenger next to me until the train made a stop in south London to pick up a few riders. My seatmate turned out to be French but has been working in NYC for the past 1.5 years at a global financial services company. We chatted for a bit about my visit to London and other topics, and eventually Jeremy asked me if I was visiting anyone in Paris. When I said no, he invited me to join him and his friends for a party he organized at a restaurant/bar (turns out that he set it up as an event on Facebook) tonight. He said they'd be there around eight and I should come by to have a drink and talk with people. Sounded good to me! (Honestly, I think he felt bad about my dinner track record after I explained about my London disasters.)
He made sure I was on the right train (so nice!) to get to my hotel, and I was on my way. Turns out the Parisians are not too fond of escalators (probably why my French friend Caroline at work always takes the stairs :)). I sweated my ass off hauling my suitcase up and down flights of stairs when I had to change trains. Whew! Still worth it vs. an expensive cab, though.
I checked in, unpacked and headed out around 4 p.m. My original plan was to go to Musee Rodin, Musee d'Orsay, Musee d'Orangerie and maybe the Arc de Triomph. I was starting out too late to get to Musee Rodin (closed at 4:45 p.m.), so I headed straight to Musee d'Orsay. Bought a two-day museum pass (quite the steal) and got to bypass the lines. Poked around on the first floor (some pre-Impressionism paintings and awesome sculpture) and noticed that the upper floors were closed. Turns out there was some private event (!). Weird that no one mentioned it. I could see Rodin's Gates of Hell from a distance and I actually considered going vigilante and busting up the stairs so I could see my favorite stuff (Degas ballerina sculpture and paintings, etc.). Held back and decided to come back tomorrow.
I've been waiting eight years to see the Musee d'Orangerie since when I came in 2001, it was closed for refurbishment. I can still picture the moment when I saw the "ferme" sign. I was devastated. So, I was really, really excited to finally make it there. Well, they also were closed. There were "ferme" signed taped on the doors, but staff was still inside. I'm doomed! I have to figure out what's going on, and I hope it will be open tomorrow. But, at least I saw the Egyptian obelisk (I've also seen the ones in London and Rome)...see pic.
So, again rerouted and decide to walk to the Louvre even though I knew it was closing. I figured I could take the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe from there. I walked through the beautiful gardens (weather is awesome...close to 60 degrees) and found a friend, a little redheaded dog who walked with me most of the way. No idea where he came from and no idea where he went, but I was glad for the company.
I had never figured out how people got to the Arc de Triomphe up close because it's like its own little island surrounded by bustling French traffic (btw, the cars don't always stop when you have the right of way to walk). It took me a couple tries, but I finally found the multiple sets of underground passages to get there. My museum pass covered going inside and all the way to the top, which was pretty cool. Except, the walk up was via an insanely tight circular stairway. I have never heard so much huffing and puffing in my life from other visitors walking up. Every couple stories, more people would drop out and catch their breath in a doorway. Mid-way up, there was a cool exhibit where you could move a tiny replica Arc and zero in on a piece of detail work on a 3D model in front of you. Then the detail was projected onto a screen and explained (see photo). The view at the top was great, and the city looked cool at night.
Took the Metro to the Tour Eiffel and thought I was crazy because the train skipped the stop. Got off at the next one, went in the reverse direction and it was skipped that way too. Turns out it was closed. Got off and realized that the Eiffel Tower was on the other side of the Seine River...bad news, or so I thought. I ended up walking over the bridge (didn't realize it was pedestrian-friendly), and it was a great experience. The river was beautiful and there were great views. I tried to call Phil at work, but my phone hasn't been working since I arrived in Paris. Then, at 8 p.m., the Tower started sparkling with moving white lights and the crowd starting oohing and aahing. I have to say, it didn't feel like I was in Paris until I spotted it on my walk to the Louvre, and then it really sunk in that I'm here. Very pretty.Next headed to Chez Justine, which was a good 30-40 minute train ride because I was going from one end of the city to the other. Found the place pretty easily and when I asked the bartender where to find Jeremy's party, he directed me upstairs.
First thing I noticed was that it was a million degrees once I hit the top of the steps. Next thing I noticed was that there were a ton of people up there. Spotted Jeremy at his table with about 15-18 friends. He was really nice and introduced me to most of his friends. Everyone kept switching seats throughout the night, so I was able to talk with quite a few people. Jeremy was the common link to everyone and as he explained, there was a "patchwork" of friends in attendance...childhood friends, college classmates and work colleagues (several had worked in NYC but were back in Paris). It was funny when someone would ask me how long I've known Jeremy and I had to say, "Seven hours, and we met on the train this afternoon." Hilarious!It was so nice to be included. Most of the time everyone spoke French, but we had plenty of English conversations too. Jeremy's friends have all kinds of backgrounds: French (of course), Czech, German, Italian...and then there was me: the English-speaking American stumbling over the pathetic amount of French I know from my library language CDs I've been using over the past five weeks. Only one guy gave me a hard time about forcing the table to converse in English every now and again to accommodate me. He said I should try to only speak French, so I started counting and labeling anything I could remember on the table. Worse, when I tried to say I'm hot (as in it's very warm in this room), they started laughing and told me I was saying I'm horny. Oh my. No one gave me a hard time about not speaking French fluently after that.
We talked about French and U.S. politics (of course), our family names, relationships and other random topics. I think I recruited a couple people to visit Cleveland too. One friend, David, said I should be in tourism because I made him want to see my city. Yay! A bunch of people said they're on Facebook, so I passed out some cards and hopefully we'll stay in touch. Jeremy said to let him know when I'm in NYC next and we can meet up so I can meet his wife.
Oh, and my meal was delish. About the only thing I recognized on the menu were the salads, and a salad de chevre (goat cheese) sounded really good to me. It was fantastic! Imagine a perfectly toasted mini grilled cheese sandwich on top of a salad, except the crust is the cheese (no bread). That's what it looked like and it was pure heaven.
Time totally got away from me (Parisians stay out late on work nights!), and I left Chez Justine at 12:30 a.m. I was really nervous about missing the trains because I had two connections to make to get to my hotel and was told trains stop running around 1 a.m. Made it to the next closest station to my hotel and walked a couple minutes home. I'm exhausted. Tomorrow: more adventures!