Home from Paris

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series PBP2011

Dear Reader,

I did a few blogs when I was in France and the UK, but not nearly enough to give you a real sense of what was going on that side of the pond.  I’ve uploaded all of my pictures to Facebook if you want to see them, sans the family pictures because privacy and all that jazz.  First, I don’t know if I mentioned this, but the real reason we went over to that side of the world was because my mom does ultimate, crazy cycling and was going to participate in an event called Paris-Brest-Paris.  The cyclists have like 90 hours to travel 750 miles.  It’s nuts and you’ll never see me doing it, but I’m all for supporting my mom because she loves to do it.

So, we left on the 15th for Paris.  This was a total travel day.  Since we were flying out of Houston I had to drive to my parents place on Sunday so that we could leave ultra early.  I just sat in the car and read while my mom drove.  I got to read a friend’s book that just got contracted, so it was super cool and exciting.

In Houston we parked at a hotel and were shuttled to the airport where we then had to wait for about four hours because my mother insisted that was the way to do international flights.  Even though we couldn’t check in for about two hours.  We were nervous about our bags, because my mom was flying with her bicycle in a semi-hard case, with her clothes in a backpack and her other gear in my checked luggage.  Getting that all under weight limit was really difficult, but we did it!  Most of the cyclists had to pay between $75 to $150 for their bikes, but we got by without having to pay more.  Woohoo!

Our adventure really began at the airport.  There were several other cyclists on our flight, so we all met up at the terminal and hung out, grabbed some lunch and whiled away the time until we boarded the nine hour flight.  Dear lord, that was one of my least favorite flights ever.  I don’t sleep on flights anyways, but typically they are at least comfortable.  I sweated the entire way there, the air conditioner was a pathetic excuse.  I at least read three books, so that was nice.

We arrived in Paris mid-morning on Tuesday.  We used a big travel agency that coordinates the cyclists adventure on PBP.  They got us all from the airport in big charter buses, the bikes on a separate truck.  Oh my gosh, talk about freaking the poor cyclists out!  The truck didn’t show up at our hotels until later, so we had time to walk around a bit, grab some food and whatnot, and people were very vultcher like waiting for their bikes to be unloaded.

While we explored the area around our hotel, I got to appreciate the local scenery.  Dudes in Paris wear some pretty form fitting jeans, and have great asses.  It’s probably from all the walking people do.

Anyways, we didn’t get to go do stuff on Tuesday.  We really only got to check into our hotel, socialize and put bikes together.  Oh, and explore the Carefor, which is like the French WalMart.

Wednesday was our mother-daughter Paris Day.  Because my mom was going to be doing bike stuff for about half of the time we were there, she only had a limited amount of time to do sight seeing.  In my research of what to see and do, I ran along an ad for a boat tour of Paris that you could jump off and on at a few different points.  It looked like a great way to see some of the highlights from the water without having to walk, and also being able to jump off and see some of them close up.

Unfortunately because of all of the family stuff going on, I didn’t get to research everything as much as I would have liked because a few of the stops I didn’t have any idea what there was to do in the areas.  But, we did see the highlights of the city, such as the tower, Notre Dame, and going by the Louvre and an old castle and chateau.

Of them all Notre Dame was my favorite.  We got to see paintings and things that hadn’t been touched up since they were made in the 1500’s, and real relics.  One of which is supposedly an actual piece of the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross.  I’m skeptical about that, but whatever.  The artistry of the things the relics were kept in was enough.

We took a trip out to Vincennes Chateau, which is both a chateau and an old castle.  It’s the chateau were the crazy king lived.  Seeing the old next to the ‘new’ was crazy cool.

We walked so freaking much, and I think honestly too much.  By the end of the day I hurt way bad!

On Thursday we took off to London.  My mom thought Paris was okay, but really wanted to go to London.  I researched the prices and we talked about it, but I didn’t really think we would go.  The cost of going to the UK was way more than I thought it would be to take the bullet.  But, in the end my mom really wanted to go, so we went!  It took all of two hours to get from Paris, across France and the channel to London.  I was super bummed because I didn’t think to charge my ereader or bring my charger with me, so I read until I killed the battery on the train and napped a little.  Since we were just going for 24 hours we only took a change of clothes and the very bare necessities.

Since we were only there for 24 hours our goal was to see as much as we could as fast as possible.  That meant not getting to go inside places, which was disappointing, but just being there was cool.  We opted for an open top bus tour and sat on the upper deck of one of the double decker busses.  It was way cool!  I snapped tons of pictures and we saw lots of places with awesome history.  The whole trip was kind of crazy, because we didn’t know where we were going to stay, we didn’t know what we were going to do until we got there, it was all done by the seat of our pants and was such a blast.  We were really glad we did this.

Doing the buss tour was a complete random decision.  We passed this brochure and decided that was what we were doing.  Heck, even deciding where we were staying was by chance.  We were near the Tower of London and stopped by this tourist information booth place and called up this hotel and it just happened to be not that far away.  It was a cool little place, I even took pictures of it and put them on flickr.

There was a nifty little pub around the corner from our hotel where I got fish and chips with cider, which was one of the things I really wanted to do when we went to London.  I wanted to go to the Globe Theater to see a play, but our lack of planning bit us in the butt and the show was sold out.  Also, didn’t get to see the TARDIS, but we got to see and do so much other stuff!  I really loved the whole trip, disappointments and all.  It was a once in a lifetime chance, and we took it!

Friday was almost completely lost to travel.  Not the bullet, that was a quick and easy trip to make.  The problem was that we lost an hour in the time change, and then getting back to where we were staying was further complicated because we hadn’t yet learned how to navigate the metro and trains and buses around Paris.  We seriously lost most of the day to loading up on the wrong bus, taking the wrong train and really learning the public transportation system of Paris.  Okay, I learned it.  Not so sure my mom did, but that’s okay, I was there.  Luckily, we met up with some of our Texas cycling people for an impromptu dinner at the restaurant below our hotel where we met my Parisian boyfriend.  He met the hot ass requirement.

Saturday was all about cycling stuff.  We spent the whole day doing bike check and taking care of the drop bags and meeting up for group pictures.  It was time consuming and awesome.

One of the funnies was that I wound up taking about 15 or 20 pictures for the Taiwan cycling team.  It started out as offering to snap a picture for one of the guys in the huge group shot, and the next thing I know my arms are overflowing with cameras and I’m working to get through all of them.  It was so silly people were snapping pictures of me taking pictures.  This scene was pretty much replicated during the American team meet up, only it was organized a little better and the American’s didn’t give me a package of postcards!

While Saturday wasn’t about sight-seeing, it was a lot of fun getting to hang out with the cyclists and catch the sense of excitement.

Sunday was more no-sightseeing.  It was the start of the big ride, the reason that made us go to France in the first place.  We started around noon and it was a crazy day.  In line at 3pm along with a few thousand of our closest friends, charged atmosphere and finally seeing mom off at about 7pm.  I hung around the start for at least another hour seeing off other friends and eventually went back to the hotel with a group of cycling wives for a celebratory dinner.  I am totally guilty of staying up way too late, refreshing the website to see if my mom had checked in someplace else.  Yeah, dumb, but oh well!

Monday was a nutty day.  I got a little bit of a later start than I wanted.  I was slightly nervous about going into Paris on my own.  I’ve been overseas several times, but always in a very structured, led group where I didn’t go off on my own.  It’s a very different dynamic.  Anyways, I set off for the city on my own.  The trains were a little confusing, but we were at the end of the line so I figured the only direction the trains would go was into the city.  I waited for a train, and when it came in I jumped on, sat down and opened my ereader to read until I got to my stop.

And then the train started to go in the wrong direction.  Instead of heading into the city, it went further out of it, and into – the train yard, where all little trains go to sleep.  I couldn’t get the doors to open.  I was locked in the freaking train!  I’m not sure how long I was there, but I managed to read two chapters in my book and pace the train car a lot.  Finally a poor little maintenance dude went by and I pounded on the windows to get his attention.  He didn’t speak French but he understood me thanks to some great pantomime action and got me on the right train – after walking the mile back to the train station.  Yeah, my day got off to a rocking start.

Thankfully from there on out it was smooth sailing.  I got to the right train stop near the Orsay and started to stroll up the bank towards the Louvre, where I planned to spend my day.  On the way over, as I took my time, this really short chick just blew by me.  I wasn’t paying attention and all of a sudden she cries out, crouches on the sidewalk and picks something up.  She turns to show me what looks like a man’s wedding band.  That’s cool.  She jabbers at me in French, tries it on, pouts and then offers it to me.  I don’t want it but she’s insisting I try it on.  I’m starting to get a little suspicious of what’s really going on when she then asks me to give her money for the ring.

Ug.  A scammer.  I politely disengage and walk off, holding on tight to my purse and anything valuable.  Fool me once, shame on you, you won’t fool me again!  Overall, I had this tried on me three times during my trip.  The last two attempts got the cold shoulder.

After this eventful morning, I finally made it to the museum and decided I wasn’t getting a map, I was just going to lose myself in the art and everything around me.  The Louvre itself is such a cool building, a former residence of the kings and queens of France, the location where Joan of Arc made her stand, and now one of the hearts of the art world.

I didn’t anticipate being able to take pictures, but you could.  I snapped a lot, but the function I used that took the best shots turned out a lot of fuzzy pictures.  It’s annoying.  Overall the Louvre was awesome and breath taking and just neat.  I spent hours walking all over.  Even saw the Mona Lisa!

Out in front of the Louvre is a big garden area with several fountains that have lounge chairs around them.  I grabbed some lunch from my favorite French pastry chains, Paul, and settled in to read and soak up the Paris atmosphere.

With my mom we were all go-go-go.  My other trips over seas have all been similar, cramming everything possible into a short amount of time.  This trip I wanted to be different, taking the chance to really stop and enjoy myself.  So allowing me time to hang out for an hour or two to was important to me.

I’d planned on just going back to the hotel, but I took a quick tour around the immediate area surrounding the Louvre.  While walking down a busy avenue this dude comes out of nowhere and starts jabbering at me – not in French, in Russian and I’m understanding about half of what he says.  I have to stop him and tell him I’m an American and he informs me that I look Russian and should be Russian!  Turns out he and his wife own and run a souvenir shop.  I did the bulk of my shopping there and got a small discount because I should have been Russian, lol!

Tuesday and Wednesday were kind of similar since my original plan had been to go to Fougeres out on the cycling course but because of logistics and difficulty getting around the plan had to be scrapped.  At a loss for what to do, I decided to get an open top bus tour since it was so much fun in London.  I happened to meet up with a couple from Singapore at the train station and together we trekked to the bus stop and hopped the bus.  While we went our separate ways, it was really fun to meet them and chat.

The bus had four different routes.  I rode one of them completely before switching to a main line and getting off in the Notre Dame area.  I loved it before, and thought it was totally where I wanted to have lunch, chill and walk around.  This was my first time pointing at a special of the day and ordering something without knowing what it was. I wound up getting steak and a huge pile of french fries!  it was cool.

After chilling at the restaurant and reading and watching people go by, I started exploring the Latin District, which boarders Notre Dame on one bank.  I turned down what looked like an alley and discovered an entire labyrinth of shops and restaurants and bakeries and awesome places.  I discovered a super cool book store with a reading room – perfect findings for a person like me.

I spent two whole days discovering the city, learning awesome stuff and immersing myself.  Experiencing Paris like this was great.  It was exactly what I wanted to do and yeah.

Thursday was another day given over entirely to cycling stuff.  I had it figured out that my mom would be arriving sometime between eleven and noon, so no time to go do other stuff, but enough to sleep in and get my rest.  Like I said in my other blog, she called early that day and I gave her a pep talk and pegged her as being an 11:30 arrival.  It was a really cool homecoming for the cyclists and I took care of my mom, having her shoes on hand, some food and helping her break down her bike before clearing out of the room so she could nap.  During the ride she’s lucky if she gets more than 5-8 hours of sleep.  I think she got about 6 this time around, which is good but not nearly enough!

Friday was our last day and man was it rough for me.  Mom snores when she’s super tired and I’m a light sleeper.  It was a bad recipe, especially considering that we had a physically demanding day planned.  Mom wanted to do things that involved lots of walking so we did the catacombs and the palace in Versailles.

The catacombs was crazy awesome cool.  They started as rock quarries, were abandoned and later became the repository for the bones overflowing the cemeteries of all of the Paris cathedrals.  One of the sources estimated roughly 6 million bodies have been stored in the catacombs.  All of the bones were arranged into stacks with patterns.  One of the columns was even recreated with bones around it in the shape of a huge barrel.  Yeah.  It’s totally neck and neck with Notre Dame as my favorite thing in Paris.

Versailles was really nifty, but you couldn’t see more than a handful of rooms and as beautiful as the gardens are, we were too tired to walk through much of it and the day was a little rainy.
Saturday, August 27th

And we left!  Of course things had to go wrong one day, and this was it.  My mom and I each set two alarms and none of them went off.  We wound up being half an hour late to the bus but they waited on us.

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