1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Arche de Triomphe

Journal From a Journey to France
Part One: Oregon to Paris

Out the Door: Sunday, 30 May 1999

Finally, after months of planning for our trip to France and acquiring new luggage, traveling clothes, and so on, were out the door and on our way. Well spend the night at Beavercreek, then drive to the airport in the morning. The sudden change from endless anticipation to the realization that anything forgotten will be left behind or done without results in a major headache and dis-ease. But at least now there is no more burden of getting things done before we leave!

On to Paris: Monday, 31 May 1999

We are up at 3:45 a.m. to stuff everything into the car and head for the airport, where nephew Brent will drop us off. Did I remember the toothbrush? Wheres the aspirin? At the airport, we learn that contrary to expectations, the ticket folks cant assign our seats between Cincinnati and Paris (we are to fly to Seattle, change planes, fly to Cincinnati, change planes, then fly to Paris). Well just have to do the best we can when we get to Cincinnati. A short flight to Seattle and the first of many bland but spendy meals. Looking forward, though, to being in a country that shuts down for two hours at noon so people can enjoy a leisurely meal, provides some compensation.

There are the usual tense take-offs and landings, but all goes well. A couple of rows forward, someone is reading a newspaper article about a plane crash. The five of us are not able to sit together on any leg of the flight, but at least we three can. In Cincinnati, the planes auxiliary power supply shuts down as we leave the terminal, but after an hour of fiddling, it is pronounced fit and we are on our way. Our route is projected on the cabin screens. Surprisingly, the route takes us over Elyria and Lorain, Ohio, and it occurs to me that it has been thirty years, almost to the day, since I left this area.

We continue on over the Atlantic and into the night. And a short night it is as we speed towards the rising sun. But it seems all too long for those of us who can manage to do no more than to doze off for a few minutes. When they finally show the movie (at 2 a.m.!) it is a welcome diversion.

Paris, at last: Tuesday, 1 June 1999

Hotel de ParmeFinally we arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport, but instead of taxiing to the terminal, the plane is parked in a remote area and we wait again as they try to find a bus to unload the fully booked (and over-booked!) airplane. Paris is hot and humid, not at all the mild weather Id seen reported in the paper.

Hot and humid, but at least we are in Paris, at last. We breeze through what seems to be a rather perfunctory customs inspection where only our passports get a cursory inspection. On the other hand, as we wend our way to the RER (regional rail system), we pass a gendarme with two assistants in camouflage carrying very menacing assault rifles. Late in the day, we see them again (but not necessarily the same ones) in the Metro.

Between the RER and the Metro, we have four transfers, which are easy enough, but seem to follow a labyrinth of tunnels, stairs, and escalators. After some meandering, we find Rue de Clichy and our modest hotel.Eiffel TowerOur room on the second floor (first floor by French tradition) looks out over a busy street, but we are grateful for the breeze from the open window.

After a brief rest, we are back on the Metro to see the Eiffel Tower in the heat and humidity. The tower itself is wrapped in scaffolding and a gaudy illuminated sign counting down to the year 2000, all of which seems to fit in well with this industrial erection. It is also wrapped in lines of tourists waiting interminably to ride the elevator. And wrapped, as well, with a strange assortment of street vendors hawking everything from mass-produced models of the tower to un-cold bottled water and non-descript artifacts of overwrought imaginations, to garish paintings and fine pencil sketches of the sights of Paris. Paris may be the City of Light, but some of the lights are just as dim as anywhere else.

This evening we have a fine dinner in honor of cousin Matthews birthday, and stroll towards the Montmartre. At the Moulin Rouge, huge tour buses lumber by with flashes of light from within as though a trolley line were arcing inside the bus. Strange groups of tourists are disgorged by other buses to walk past the signs advertising 150F avec 3 consumationes. What a long, strange trip this has been, and its only our first day in Paris!

Wednesday, 2 June 1999

We get a reasonably early start and pick up our picnic supply at nearby stores, and gather for cafe au lait at another for a great start on the day. But at the Clichy Metro stop, we find the gate down and other bewildered commuters peering down the dark stairway. We find out later that two Metro workers had been killed the day before, and the others had gone on strike, presumably to demand better security. We also discover that the museum workers have been on strike for the last couple of weeks, so the Louvre and most other monuments, like the Arch de Triomphe, are all closed. The Eiffel Tower appears to be an exception.

Eglise St. JeanLacking the Metro connection to get us to the Tower before the lines are too long, we go to an alternate plan and walk to the Sacre Coure. Along the way, we stop at the Eglise St. Jean de Montmartre, an unexpectedly impressive church of neo-something gothic design. An overly-jolly pedestrian, seeing my hat, wants to know if I'm a fisherman. I lift my hat, saying no, and point to my thinning hair and try to explain that the hat is just for protection. Whether or not he understands, he seems entirely too happy about it. Mary Beth garners a kiss on the cheek.

I hadn't read anything about the Sacre Coure, a remarkable gothic church of medieval design constructed in the modern era. Its Neo-Byzantine design suggested a Howard-Hughes like expression of over-endowed fantasy and vanity, so I hadnt really expected to go see it. But sitting atop the Butte Montmartre, it certainly has an appealing location. As we entered, however, we discover it to be a most solemn memorial to the dead of the Franco-Prussian War, and as such the site of continuous prayers maintained since that time. A small spiral staircase leads to a path across the roof to the central dome. From there, another small spiral staircase leads to a narrow balcony surrounding the dome with a great view of Paris. Unfortunately, the second staircase was not illuminated, and was pitch black. Fortunately, though, I happened to be carrying my small flashlight, though for seven people, it was still tricky to find our way.

Sacre Couer Sacre Couer
Sacre Coure

From the Sacre Coure, Matthew leads us on a search for the Museé de Montmartre with many artifacts of the artistic heritage of the area, an impressive list of previous occupants of the house at 12 Rue de Corton in which the museum is located, Talousse-Latrec posters, and artifacts from the days of the Paris Commune. It made me wish I knew a bit more of the history.

Art Vultures Musee de

From the museum, we made our way through the neighborhood cafe district replete with artists cranking out sketches of passers by for ridiculous prices. One stopped us to do a cut-out paper silhouette of Gabriel, for which he demanded 100F for about 30 seconds of work! The square was thick with equally aggressive leeches and their prey (many of whom were equally obnoxious). On the next corner, another painter was chastising a bewildered Japanese tourist for some transgression.

From the Montmartre, we threaded our way back through the maze of the streets of Paris stopping at every corner to check the map. Down endless blocks of sex shops and tour buses along the Boulevard de Clichy. Back to the hotel room for a nap after picking up bread, cheese, and wine.

At the Louvre Jardin Des 

Restored by a two-hour nap and after a brief rainstorm, we set off to visit the Louvre, even though we knew it would be closed. By this time, the buses were on strike, as well, so the whole journey was on foot. Even though the museum was closed, we were able to wander about in the central square and enter through the pyramid to the underground shopping mall. Here we bought overpriced drinks and went outside to sit on a bench and eat our picnic. By this time the clouds had parted somewhat, but a wind was whipping across the sand/gravel, whipping up clouds of dust.

From there, we continued through to the Jardins des Tuilleries, past the obelisk, and onto the Champs Elysees. Of course, we neither walked nor sauntered, but strolled along to the Arche de Triomphe. Under one side of the Arche is a small guardhouse more soldiers with assault rifles wandering around an eternal flame freshly decorated with flowers.

After the Arche de Triomphe, we had barely enough oomph left to make it back to the hotel where we all gathered to devour the rest of our food and chat into the night.

Thursday, 3 June 1999

Another early start. We gather up the evidence of our forbidden meal in the room from the night before and slip it into a garbage can set out on the street for collection that day. Back to the bakery for bread, the tiny grocery for fruit and cheese, then back to the cafe for our morning cafe au lait. We all then retrace (more or less) our route of the day before, the others wanting to see the Arche de Triomphe on our way to the Eiffel Tower. We had wanted to be there by opening at 9 a.m., to avoid the long lines we had seen on Tuesday. Even though we dont make it until 10 a.m., the lines are not bad, and we are able to get our tickets quickly and then get onto the elevator almost immediately. The elevator, which changes inclination as it approaches the second level, is a marvel in itself, especially considering that it was a later addition to the tower. From the second level, one changes to a second, central, elevator which makes the direct ascent to the top.

Tower Eiffel 

From the lookout at the top, ones first impression of Paris is how remarkable it is that the older central core of the city has not been overwhelmed by skyscrapers as in most other major cities. The skyscrapers are relegated to peripheral areas such as La Defense, where they do not clash with the historic core area. Although it has always seemed a rather corny spectacle to me, the tower is remarkable in its own right, especially considering the time in which it was built. But then the gaudy tradition continues with a huge illuminated display counting down to the year 2000. I only hope that they are not counting down to another time when the lights go out in Europe.

From the tower, we decide to walk towards Notre Dame, hoping that by the time we reach the Assemblie Nationale, the Metro would be running again (we had found that only one line was open by the time we had reached the Arche de Triomphe). On the way we sit on a street corner and eat our lunch, where passers by wish us bon appetite! Merci!

Finding the Metro still closed, we recross the Seine, pass the bullet-riddled and only partially restored (apparently) Palais Royale. Across the street, we poke our heads into the Petit Palais with its beautifully decorated high dome ceiling and arched hallways. But by this time we are too tired to enjoy this art museum, one of the few still open, so we continue on back to the hotel.

From the corner of the Petit Palais, across the Champs Elysees to the Ministrie de Interiore, and the police station, hundreds of heavily armed police line the streets, hurrying us along by their mere presence. I couldnt help but think that if they had been spread out through town, the disturbance on the Metro might never have occurred. But then, of course, not knowing any details of whatA
Seine Bridge had happened, its hard to make any judgments. But it is remarkable that we have seen so few police anywhere else, but when they are seen, they are very heavily armed.

As we approach the Gare St. Lazarre (one of several railway stations serving Paris), a thunder storm breaks upon us, sending down torrents of rain and sending people under any overhang available. We feel lucky to be able to find shelter in the station so easily. After a few minutes, the rain stops, and we continue on the few blocks back to the hotel.

After a long nap, and finding everyone safely returned to the hotel, we sit and talk in our room sharing Matthews chocolate and Peg and Nolies wine until 8 p.m., when we cross the street to the Brasserie du Théatre for dinner.

In most places it seems that the export crop is the best, with only the left-overs available locally, but I suspect the French must export all their bad wine, for even the cheapest wine at restaurants and the cheapest corner grocery store wine has been excellent, so far. But already it is after 11 p.m. again, and so we need to sleep .... Tomorrow we head for Notre Dame and Versailles

Saturday, 5 June 1999

This morning we decide to take it easier than planned. Rain suggests that we postpone our visit to Giverney to the return leg of the trip. Instead, we have a leisurely morning, bidding farewell to our cafe au lait hostess as best we can. As we sip our coffee, she hails an acquaintance passing by who speaks some English. He tells us that she thinks we are quite jolly. MB tries to find the French for ordering the usual, since by now our routine is obvious (cafe au lait for the adults, juys dorange for the kid). But he cant come up with the phrase, so we are left to our own devices.

After coffee, we pick up our picnic supplies and head for the Metro to find a hotel for our last nights in Paris. Our first thought is the Gare du Nord district, but then realize that as long as the RER is running, the Marais would be just as convenient and certainly more appealing. With that settled, it is fairly easy to find a hotel and make a reservation, then have our lunch with the pigeons in the Place du Vosges.Place 
de Vosges

Then its back on the Metro to Musée de LOrangerie and an exhibit of Monet's water lilies, complementing the huge paintings for which the museum was built, a legacy of Monets friendship with Prime Minister Clemenceau. It seems to be one of a few museums in Paris not on strike. Despite that, the line is not as bad as it might have been, even with the continuing drizzle.

By the time we complete the tour, my feet are complaining more loudly than the rest. We head for the Metro again, struggle through a defective turnstile, and back to the hotel for a nap and dinner out of the bag and bottle with Peg and Nolie.

Tomorrow morning we leave Paris by TGV from Gare Montparnasse at 8:20 a.m., so its time to pack our bags (which MB does as I catch up with this journal) and get to bed. Gabriel sleeps through dinner I hope he will be able to sleep through the night as well, though he is probably just as tired as the rest of us.

The Photos: Detail from the Arche de Triomphe; Gabriel at the window of the Hotel du Parma on Rue Clichy (budget accommodations, pleasant enough but noisy, double windows keep out the noise but intolerable when hot); Peg & Nollie with backs to the Tour Eiffel; interior of the Eglise St. Jean de Montmartre; Sacre Couer from the front and stairs; Musee de Montmartre and Matthew & Sandi being mugged by street "artisits"; MB & Gabriel at the Louvre, and fountain, canvas art and obelisk at the east end of the Jardin des Tuilleries; two views from the top of the Tour Eiffel; a bridge on the River Seine; the Place du Vosges.

1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!
Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss