Tuesday 6/11: Our trip to Paris.
Our day started at the crack of dawn. No, that isn't quite accurate since the sun still had a couple of hours left to snooze... We got out of bed at 0400 so we could be at the St. Pancreas international train station by 0530; that is 30 minutes to get from our hotel to the train station and 1 hour for Madeleine to get ready. By female standards this is apparently an amazing feat! We arrived around 0520, thanks to everyone else in London still being in bed, to a freezing cold train station. No kidding it had to have been 10 degrees colder inside than outside. We arrived a little earlier on purpose so we could talk to our tour guide who we assumed would be there at 0545, otherwise known as the time we were told to be there. 0530 the time a good tour guide would have been there came and went. 0545 the same. 0600 a guy shows up, says nothing to anyone, goes into a booth and proceeds to sit there and stare at us like we are idiots. Finally we go up to the booth and low and behold there is no tour guide, just this gentleman who is there to hand out train tickets to the lucky mind-readers in the group. We check in, go through security, and after a pleasantly short wait board the train. I am looking forward to experiencing a trip under the English Channel; however, our early morning and my inability to stay awake on any means of conveyance conspire against me actually being awake to enjoy it. My trip from London to Paris was something like this: Pulling out of the train station in London, (blank spot), Madeleine waking me in Paris. According to her the French country-side was very nice...
In Paris we met our tour guide Michael, a very friendly and knowledgeable guide originally from the UK, who gave a much understated hint about the beginning of our trip. As I later figured out, the first actual part of the tour was when we had a reservation to go up in the Eiffel tower at 1230. They plan this in case something goes wrong with the train on the way over and since our train was on time at 1030 we had two hours to go for a 'guided tour' around Paris. The hint he gave that I missed was 'we have two hours to see as many sights as possible'; to translate that into what he really meant: We have two hours to see everything in Paris so we have hired 'the Transporter' to race this bus around Paris like we have just robbed a bank!
Ladies and gentlemen there is nothing quite as exhilarating as the feeling of being on a bus being expertly drifted around historic French monuments! Being true to my nature I had to guzzle a Monster Khaos energy drink to help enhance the sensation. Wow! In the midst of all this Michael (the tour guide) is trying his best to tell a little bit about the sites we are currently flying passed. “On our left is the Louvre, please don't blink or you will miss it! Never mind our bus driver has decided to drift the bus around the glass pyramid for a closer view! Ladies and gentlemen a round of applause for the driver for the expert way he managed to fit the bus between the pyramid and the building while managing to miss all those lovely old ladies in their walkers!” In between the major sites as we hurdled precariously down twisting back alleys Michael told us more about what the day consisted of; all punctuated by 'Expect for the Hutchinson's who will instead be going to Versailles.' Example: “After the Eiffel Tower we will take a boat tour of Paris on the river Seine, except for the Hutchinson's who will be going to Versailles. After we have completed the Boat Tour we will then be climbing back on the bus for a short break before heading to the Museum of Natural History, except for the Hutchinson's who will be going to Versailles.” I think he didn't appreciate that we were going to Versailles...
All too soon our speed tourism was over and a new adventure began! Finding a parking spot for a bus at the Eiffel Tower! We pulled up just far enough away from the Tower to be able to fit it completely into one picture; Michael took one look at the parking prospects and said “Screw it; we will just get off here.” I just adore pragmatic people! Here Michael passed on a very good piece of information that I am now passing on. The toilets at the Eiffel tower are interesting for two reasons that are rather uncommon in Paris; first they are relatively clean and second they are free. He deposited us there to take advantage of this deviation from French culture while he went to pick up our entry tickets unencumbered by our group of rather typical American tourists. “Take a picture of me pumpkin! I'm holdin' up the Eiffel Tower!”
At our duly appointed reservation time we were admitted to the Eiffel Tower. After a quick jaunt through security were they insured we weren't carrying anything dangerous by the simple task of asking “Are you carrying anything dangerous?” we ascended to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower where Michael mysteriously disappeared; probably to take a fistful of Tylenol... Madeleine and I soaked in the sights and sounds for 10 minutes before the press of the crowd outweighed the majesty of the panorama. She and I turned to one another, looked deeply into each other’s eyes and simultaneously said to the other “So... Lunch?”
Across the street from the Tower but before you fall into the Seine there are a couple of sidewalk vendors so we decided to try out some of the local cuisine. I had two hotdogs and French Fries and Madeleine had a Crepe which she justified as real food because it had a banana in it! We met back up with our group at the pre-designated place at the appointed time so we could watch everyone else get on the boat tour while she and I went to Versailles. Michael did ensure to point this out to the rest of the group a couple more times just for clarification purposes. Shortly thereafter a small van arrived to pick us up and to transport us to Versailles. Our new smaller group consisted of an older married couple from Argentina who said very little and who was offset by a very friendly and very VERY talkative Canadian couple, eh? This group was led by a French tour guide who drove us out to Versailles and maintained the speed limit very exactingly by constantly adjusting the gas pedal. (You should definitely attempt this the next time you go out with friends. It is a very simple procedure in which the driver maintains the speed limit by applying the gas pedal as soon as the vehicle speed falls 1 mph/kph under the speed limit and letting off the gas as soon as the speed limit is achieved. For additional fun you can also place bets on which of your former friends will be the first to vomit!) The tour guide kept our attention by talking into a microphone (that's right, this mini-van came equipped with an announcement system) with the volume turned all the way up, and this van had a superb sound system! Also, and I know you will find this very hard to believe, this woman managed to talk the entire one hour that it took us to get to Versailles!
Versailles was very beautiful, very crowded, and very French. The Chateau was... garish; however, the gardens were magnificent. We walked out the back of the palace towards the gardens and all I could think was “Thank god I don't have to cut the grass!” Imagine it! This palace has been there for centuries but riding lawnmowers have only been around for the last 50 years. No wonder they had the French revolution!
The tour of Versailles was ended by an hour and a half ride back to the Center of Paris with our talkative tour guide. Here I have to express my thanks to As I Lay Dying, Trivium, Machine Head, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and Asking Alexandria for the wonderful LOUD music they have made that allowed to tune out our tour guide's monotonous droning, thus preserving my sanity.
In Paris we met back up with our original tour group and proceeded to the Gare Du Nord international train station for our return trip to London. This time I was determined to experience the trip beneath the Channel. As soon as the train started out I could feel my eyes growing heavy but wasn't worried about catching a quick nap because we had an hour and a half through the French country-side before we got there. Reassured that I had plenty of time to take a nap and still be awake for the trip through the Chunnel I allowed myself to drift off to sleep! Once again I was awakened by Madeleine, this time in London. According to her the French country-side was very nice...