Thursday, October 8, 2009

America is my country, Paris, my hometown

Letter to mi familia, regarding my trip to Paris Sept 8- Sept 15th, 2009

Ah my fam, I can't believe it has taken me this long to share my Paris experience with you. I came back a different person, no I didnt get married, change my name, or purchase land. I did however, have a 'perspective' shift-change, that was needed and I didn't even know it.

As I glance at my journal sitting next to me I realize now how difficult its going to be to trim down the experience and not include every single word I wrote. I'm going to do my best, I hope you read this when you're bored and it provides entertainment.

I have to give honorable mention to the Geico gecko that rode with us to the airport the day I left. He stayed with us most of the way, not sure when he made his exit but it might have been when I whispered to him that he couldn't go with me because he didnt have a passport. I will probably never get an insurance rate reduction offer again, but I can live with that.

The TX heat was rather oppressive that day, I sat outside waiting for my peeps and tried to imagine the cool fall weather Paris promised. one: finding people and getting them together in the same place to check in at the same time is like herding cats. cell to cell convo: "look, I dont see a HUGE wishbone, I dont know where you're at, I know where I'm at, what are you talking about? just walk towards me and you'll find me" hows that for clear and concise....two: exchanging american dollars to euro can either be a quick 3 minute transaction or it can be a 45 minute excursion to the gates of hell, you decide. I myself became friends with exchange girl because we had the same cell phone she noticed. Even the same pink, right down to the shade, much to the chagrin of my friends. I can't help it if I'm sociable people. But MY transaction took 5 minutes. A few others couldnt decide whether to get Euro in paper or do the debit card thing, then when finally deciding on the debit card thing, it was too late to change their minds once they realized that was going to take a whole lot longer to process. Fast forward to bff Brian leaning against the wall of the airport, sighing, and we havent even got through the check in yet. But we're going to Paris, who cares! (that was my standard phrase through this entire trip. B: "Dude the van is stuck in a tunnel, in a narrow line of traffic, faced in the wrong direction, of oncoming traffic, its too narrow to turn it around, and the tunnel guy doesnt speak ANY english" me: "we're in Paris, I dont care"

Flight check in-done. We're through the security gate, we're now all together, waiting at the bar outside the gate (Champs its called) so excited we cant be quiet and let the other one finish their sentence. It dawns on me that there are a lot of people speaking french around us, probably headed back to their home country. For everything they say in English over the loud speaker, they then repeat it in French. The Paris experience began before I set foot on the plane. 9 hour flight looming. Did I care? not a bit. They served us several times throughout that flight, warm croissants, little cheeses (fromage) like gruyere and camembert, fruit baskets, baguettes, wine, eyes were drinking in every last detail because this flight was different. I was GOING TO EUROPE.
Two movies, 4 snack/meal times and several catnaps later, we touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport. My time was 2:30am. Their time was 9:30am. Rise and shine!
Going through customs was not what I expected, I could have been carrying a cow and that man wouldnt have noticed. But I have a stamp in my passport that says Paris, I dont care. And his welcome to me, to his country, was warm. We had a driver waiting which was nice (you need to budget about $200 for this roundtrip, but for 8 people thats good) The first thing I noticed was how fresh the air smelled. No signs of humidity or smog. Fresh crisp fall air. They dont drive pick-up trucks over there, like Dodge rams and the like. Not an SUV in sight. Cars, and service trucks, thats about it. *we were in a van* They drive on the same side of the rode we do, and the steering wheel is on the left side of the vehicle, unless someone has driven their car from somewhere else, I did notice some with the steering wheel on the right side of the car.
Once we got in the city the traffic can't be described any other way than a total clustered nightmare. I promised right then to never get upset about Dallas traffic ever again. Motorcycles can drive in between cars, its allowed. (they scare me lol) Hotel Opera Cadet, Rue Cadet....I spent 7 days here. It took about 40 min to get there, we just drank it all in along the way. We were told that its best to stay up and have your first day in real Paris time, you'll drop at the end of the day but hopefully awaken on Paris time, and thats exactly what we did. By the 3rd day I was completely switched over and had to remind myself what time it was at home before I texted anyone to let them know all was well or what was going on. I had no cell signal issues at all, had the international plan added to my phone before I left, made no calls while I was there, and did very little texting.
Each morning in the hotel, we had free breakfast. They boil eggs and put them in a huge wicker basket and you just grab as many as you want. They're still in the shell, and always warm, never figured out how they keep them warm. coffee, croissants, jellies, cheeses, cereal, juices, baguettes....and this breakfast was all they serve as far as food, they don't do lunch or dinner. We did so much walking it turned out that we were only doing two meals a day, that breakfast and early dinner if we planned well.

If I had to do a word collage of what I see now in my mind it would go like this:

Very very narrow, winding streets, cobblestone, brick, UNbelievable architecture, highrise apartment buildings, flower window boxes, fast paced walking, espresso that could start a car, little cafes with tiny tables and chairs, fromage (cheese) shops that smelled like a pigbarn, (stinky cheese doesnt cover it) the metro, brown paper bags with baguettes peeking out of the top, wine, berets, artists, ambulence/police sirens that don't sound like ours, bonjour, merci, pink skies, bicycles, scooters, smart cars, motorcycles, La Tour Eiffel, Montmartre Village, Louvre, Mona Lisa, Sacre Coeur Basilica, Latin Quarter, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Seine, Champs Elysees, Luxembourg Gardens, Chateau Chambord, maps, coins, narrow bath tubs, narrow elevators, very few odd electrical outlets, and finally, patience.

You MUST have patience during a trip like this. 8 different personalities, long flights, walking 900 miles (it felt like it I can say it) public transportation, map reading, impending starvation if you don't pay attention to where food is served, and a 7 hour time difference.

The Eiffel Tower is HUGE. I had no idea it was that big. We went to the top, in two different sections of sideways elevators, that entire process took 2 hours. The view from the top was breathtaking, also very chilly and windy, and my ears were popping a little just like they do when I fly. There's a champagne bar at the top.
Chateau Chambord is a castle, in the truest sense. 400 rooms and most of them have fireplaces that 8 people can stand up in. I could smell that they are used all the time when its colder, the wood is stacked beside all of them.
Notre Dame Cathedral has stunning stained glass windows, and alters with candles throughout. If you donate a euro or two you can light a candle if you want to and kneel and pray right there if you choose. I lit a few while I was there.
The Louvre absolutely cannot be done in one day, its too big. Walking the river seine was my favorite part I think. Artists line their work along the walls of the bridges and streets to sell it but also paint new ones while you peruse their work. Some painted, some sketched. And some of those paintings were WANTING ME TO BUY THEM. I came home with few different sketches, if you want to see one and you're in the 'ville, please drop by to see my Mom. (mom have coffee on hand, I just invited peeps over) I couldnt afford to get the big beautiful paintings, I took a few pictures of some of them but only if I sensed that was okay with the artist.
In the latin quarter and montmartre village you have to learn to politely say non and keep walking if the local artist with his sketchpad approaches you and starts sketching and you don't want to purchase that sketch. I do think that would have been a cool thing to have, but we werent sure what the cost was and we really didnt have time to stop too long, we were trying to see so much each day. In the latin quarter I had a gyro that was to die for, the meat was in a huge cone shape attached to a vertical spit that turned in circles and cooked all day, then they sliced the meat off into a pita and put anything else on it that you wanted. Monmartre Village was filled with artists and art galleries and flea markets, and crepes! I had a fromage crepe that was quite tasty. I noticed that in the cafes when ordering lunch, they dont add fat to things that dont need it (in their opinion). If you order a tuna sandwich, you will get a baguette with tomatoes and lettuce and tuna. Its not tuna salad mixed with mayonnaise like we're used to. I never saw any sliced bread other than baguettes or large fench bread rolls, croissants, etc. We had pizza one night that was really good, but not like pizza hut. The crust was like a crepe, very very thin, a little red sauce and tons of cheese. I saw one dominos pizza, two starbucks (and of course I went in, do you even need to ask? it was the weakest coffee I had over there), and 3 mcdonalds. Prices were similar, but slightly higher, and you can buy wine and beer at their mcdonalds. I didnt, but I'm sayin. Absolutely nothing written in English but for the most part I didnt have any trouble. The really nice dinner on the last night was courtesy of the owner of the hotel where we stayed. Brians mom has known him for years and because of that relationship we were well taken care of, that dinner was totally on him which to me was very nice of him, there were 8 of us after all. (oh he owns the restaurant too so....) If the french promote anything its definitely wine, escargot (tried it, loved it) and fois gras. (goose liver pate in this instance but it can also be made with duck) and it was YUM. If you want a "familiar" beer in Paris, you can have heineken or corona, but we chose to drink their beer if we wanted one, Kronenbourg 1664. Light, very good, and not expensive. They had wine shops, cafes, flower shops, cheese shops, and pastries on just about every street we walked.

To reach the top of Sacre Coeur Basilica, you have to climb quite a few steps, I lost count, but remembered that workout for a few days, or at least my calves did. My thoughts on the walking were this, hey we're getting exercise every day. Nothing wrong with that!

I have to mention, for the girls, the women over there don't match their clothes like we do. Its nothing to them to wear a black skirt, turqouise shirt, red scarf and pink shoes, seriously not kidding, and the funny thing is they pull it off well. I know if I did that here it would look odd, but it doesnt over there. The sizes on the tags on the clothes were written weird, never really figured them out. Some shops VERY expensive , others not at all.

For the change in perspective. I learned that the people that live in Paris are so easily satisfied with just doing simple things. Walking.....sitting at cafe's and sipping espresso with their friends....reading a book on bench at Luxembourg gardens while their kids play in the grass. Buying their dinner at the food shop around the corner that has rotisseries set up outside, roasting chickens, and taking it home. Taking naps, outside, at those same gardens, and not giving their backpack or "stuff" a second thought. I'm not saying Americans don't do these things, don't misunderstand. But I do feel like we're spoiled a little. Or it takes more for some of us to be entertained. (not all, just some) And I'm sure there are people over there that are spoiled too, just saying.

I just came home different, and I'm squeezing the life out of that 'paris' feeling I left with. I don't want to lose it!

adieu for now
FiFi (my chosen French name)

P.S. The sky really is pink over there!

This is a very small part of Brians family email regarding the exchange of money at the DFW airport, I'm just sealing my story of my newfound friend that only liked me for some reason, she didnt seem to care for anyone else she was waiting on. Hence, he deemed her stick-butt girl. =)

More time passes. Tiffany whips out her own cell phone and starts texting. Stick-butt stops typing and squeals. They have the same exact cell phone! OMG! So now all financial activity ceases while the Cell Sisters completely bond over the joys of handheld devices.

and so it goes....

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