Tuesday, October 25, 2011

france and italy trip...the beginning (Days 1-3)...

TH, Sept 1 (Michigan to NYC)
Left early from work (3pm) to get on the road to NYC and my sister D's house.  We arrived around 1am after getting a little lost in NJ.  Only one bad traffic jam on our side of the highway and that was as we were heading into Toledo.  A truck carrying a large spool of steel lost said steel and there it lie, in the middle of the highway.  It made a huge gouge from the impact and I'm glad to say that it seems that the pot hole was the only casualty.

FR, Sept 2 (NYC)
D only had one job on Friday, so she was home pretty early since the job was just down the street from where she lives.  She took us around her neighborhood and showed us all the changes; her neighborhood is revitalizing and there are a lot of new businesses opening up.  She also took us to Ground Zero, but we were a week too early for the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial.  Still we were able to get a pretty good view from above, in the World Financial Building.

Later, she used our car to drop us off at JFK where we were heading for our great adventure...but first we needed to wait in a huge line.  Our airline is an unknown airline called XL Airways France.  We got the tickets from CheapOAir and Jerome informed me that the seating was going to be pretty tight...this didn't bother me one bit (ha!).  We stood in line for nearly an hour and during that entire time, we didn't see our friends; Lou & Dee.  We figured they would be waiting for us at the gate.  And they were.  They upgraded to First Class, which had more room in general and no line at check-in; lucky dogs.

Flight was on-time, but I would give the Captain and the flight in general a C- overall.  The take-off was loud, there was constant turbulence, when the Captain spoke to us he was hard to understand and the landing was sort of rough.  I was OK with the seating, we were one seat in front of the wing (one of my favorite places ~ hate the tail), it was tight, but not unmanageable.  We saved around $500 a ticket by booking this airline, so, I suppose any discomfort was worth it.  It was a 7 hour flight.

SA, Sept 3 (Paris, France)
After we landed, we met our friends on the jet bridge.  They were standing there with a well dressed young man.  They seemed relieved when they saw us and a little surprised it took us so long to get off the airplane...not everyone gets to fly first class ya know.

So this guy that is with them is dressed up nicely and seems to know who we are.  He takes the carry-on luggage and walks us all the way to customs, cuts in front of everyone, asks us for our passports and hands them to the agent.  The agent stamps our passports and we are on our way to the luggage area.  He waits with us and grabs our luggage and escorts us all to our waiting van.  Now that's service!  Even Jerome's brother who works for AirFrance at CDG isn't able to get us that kind of service.  I guess our friends set this up through our hotel and this is the job that this young man has.  Pretty cool.

Our van driver spoke English and took us directly to our hotel; Saint James ~ Paris.  And yep, it was everything the website said.  It was a stand-alone building in the middle of Paris, which is rare.  It was gorgeous!!!  Way out of my league.

We took a couple of hours there to rest and recuperate before we headed out to see Paris.

Jerome had the thankless task of being our tour guide...even though I think I've been to Paris more often than he has.  We walked a couple of blocks to our first Metro Station.  Jerome had downloaded a free ap of the Metro Subway System so that he could easily figure out which trains to take to get to the Arc de Triomphe.  However, at one point in the middle of transferring trains, we all tried to get into the #2, but only Jerome was able to before the automatic doors closed and the majority of our group were stuck on the platform.  He waved bye-bye and motioned that he would meet us at the next station as the train sped off.  Only one casualty of that debacle; Lou tried to use his foot to stop the subway doors from closing.  Just so you know, the doors don't stop closing, even if you have a hand or a foot in the door.  It's a subway door, not an elevator door.  Lou moaned a little about his painful injury as we sort of looked at each other with only a small amount of panic in our eyes.  Don't worry, we met up with Jerome at the next subway stop and then, reunited we went on to see the Arc.

We walked up the steps into a gloriously hot, sunny day.  The heat was stifling but the view of the Arc was just distracting enough that we quickly forgot about the heat.  We stood around taking pictures for quite some time and realized they were setting up for some sort of presentation.  Apparently there was a kind of National Celebration at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  We were shooed away so that a huge parade of soldiers could march into the space we were currently occupying.  Once that happened, we were unable to get a good view again and decided to start walking down the Champs Elysee.

We took a look into some of the Automobile Galleria's, some shops (which we were informed we were not allowed to take pictures), we had a little snack at the Brioche Doree.  All the while, some dark clouds were forming and seemed to be following us.  It was getting windy.

We walked a little more, to the Avenue FDR when all of a sudden the clouds burst open and we were in a torrential rain storm!  We were stuck under a line of trees and getting wetter and wetter.  Jerome made a break for it and ran to the nearest phone booth (yes, they still have phone booths there!).  I waited a while but soon followed him.  Our booth door wouldn't close completely and it was pretty tight in there.  We were still getting a bit wet,...but not as wet as our friends who DIDN'T run!  They stood there like a couple of horseys left out in the rain - just standing there taking their medicine.

Eventually we got back onto the Metro, soaking to the bone and headed to the Eiffel Tower. When you leave the Metro at the Eiffel Tower exit, you head down the Ave. de Suffren and make a quick left when you get to the Cafe Castel and VOILA!  There she is, seemingly hiding just around the corner!  We got there as night fell and so all the lights were turned on.  It was beautiful.  We walked around and my eyes were drawn to the colorful objects flying around in the air around the Eiffel Tower.  It's the Nigerians selling their wares.  The first time I came to Paris, they were selling wind up birds that would fly around ~ I, of course bought one.  This time they were selling little LED lighted helicopters that operated by a rubber band and flew way high up in the air. ~ I, of course bought one...for my granddaughter!  Of course I paid WAY too much for it and as you continue walking, more and more salesmen come up to you trying to sell you more for a better price.  But once you go past a certain spot, they all RUN the other way.  It was weird; they were there and then they were high-tailing it out of there!

Walking back to the subway, we stopped at the Cafe Castel for some well deserved dinner.  Kind of interesting, at one point our very nice waiter went running off after someone who didn't pay their bill.  I believe he caught him.  Excitement on the streets of Paris.

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