When I told my sister I planned to meet a friend in Paris, she sighed and said, "That makes you sounds like an international jet setter..." and to be honest it was fun to say. The fact that the friend is a guy, (younger) and former co-worker makes it even more fun, as I spread the rumor that I'd be having a rendezvous with Mike in Paris. Hey -- I'm a romance author, it's good publicity. (And Mike's a great sport!)
So, on Wednesday morning, armed only with all our maps, Sheryl and I set off to have a rendezvous, (which means meeting in French).
The first challenge is finding the Ledru-Rollin market, as we turn in different directions trying to decide where we need to go. Finally, a sign points us to the market. Then we circle the block, because there were many corners... until a man comes running toward us with arms outstretched. It's Mike and we join him and several of his friends for hot chocolate at the cafe.
One of his friends lives in Paris, so we receive the hug with the kiss on each cheek that's traditional in France. Then we shake hands with the other friend. Over our hot chocolate we talked about the flights we took on Iceland Air, their visit to Iceland and our first impressions of Paris.
We tour the market and Sheryl bargains for an antique lighter for her husband and I purchase a silk fan for a co-worker. Finally, we part, but of course we use that famous line from "Casablanca" -- "we'll always have Paris."
On to Notre Dame.
Of course, you've seen it in photos, but being there, next to the Seine, with the spires reaching up to God and the Saints looking down at us is the experience of a lifetime. We wander through the church, I light a candle in memory of my son Garth. We remain quiet and awestruck by the Gothic beauty of this cathedral. There's a peace to Notre Dame, even in the midst of all the visitors. I marvel at the dedication of the builders who loved God enough to sacrifice so much to demonstrate their faith.
After touring the cathedral, we enjoy the view of the boats, the strolling tourists and the lovely houses on each side of the river. It was a "pinch me again, because I don't believe I'm in Paris" moment.
We travel on to the Sainte Chapelle chapel. I'd been told by friends to make time to visit this "jewel box" of a church, and we aren't disappointed. Our only glitch is a wait in line to tour the Police Station, discovering too late it isn't necessary for us to go through the X-ray. Plus, my friend Sheryl had a nail file in her bag and the Police thought it was mine. Since I don't speak enough French to understand and they spoke no English, they decided that two not even five ft. tall Americans probably couldn't do a lot of damage with a nail file.
St. Chapelle is filled with exquisite painted surfaces and incredible stained glass windows. To say it's breathtaking doesn't do the church justice.
We finally discover the elusive Bus #69, and hop on. As we ride past the Musee D'Orsay, the bus backs up to make a tight turn, (despite all the pedestrians who don't seem to realize a bus is bigger than they are) and through the gates of the Louvre with only inches to spare. This driver is the best!
Next stop: The Eiffel Tower. My assistant, who is French, told me that we shouldn't waste the extra money to pay for the elevator to the top, but simply climb to the second level. What she didn't tell me was there would be nearly 800 steps up to that second level. Of course, we've been walking for days, hauling luggage and basically getting in shape for this climb.
We reach the first level and stop to take photos. I'm winded and my cheeks are quite rosy. But, I'm determined to get up to the second level, and I remind myself I can do it -- one step at a time.
And I do. The view is worth the effort, as we wander all around, make some new friends from Israel and Spain, spend some money in the gift shop, (after all -- it's the Eiffel Tower) and enjoy the light show from INSIDE the tower.
As dusk descends, we watch the "city of light" begin to glow and even though we've been busy nearly every minute -- we've had a wonderful day. We search for a place to eat and manage to be the nightly entertainment for one restaurant crew -- as we ask if we can have dinner. They laugh and the owner says, "Americans! We don't open until 8pm". It's around 6:30pm and we are starving. We haven't had anything to eat since our hot chocolate with Mike and his buddies. So we settle on a small pâtisserie on a corner. Although no one speaks English, I manage to use my very rough French enough to order. We enjoy the French version of pizza and have them box up two pastries to take back to our room.
The evening ends with wine and dessert in our room. Our feet hurt, we're exhausted but we've had a lovely first full day in Paris.