Paris with Deb and Gerry: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Love Locks, Arc de Triomphe, and the Luxembourg Garden

The end of August and into September we were lucky to have Tracy’s Aunt Deb and Uncle Gerry come and visit us in France.  Deb had come to Paris before, but always on business trips that limited her opportunity to tour the city.  This was Gerry’s first travel outside the United States except as a guest of Uncle Sam and the US Army with an all-expense paid trip to Southeast Asia in 1969 where the locals were  hostile.

Gerry, Deb, and Tracy in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Gerry, Deb, and Tracy in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris.

En route to Paris, Tracy and I stopped for a short layover in Montpellier.  We enjoyed a coffee and a walked through the Place de la Comédie while waiting for the OUIGO TGV to arrive and take us to Paris.  We have become big fans of the French national rail system’s, SNCF, discount high-speed train.  The train gets us from Montpellier to Paris (465 miles [750 km]) in 3 hours and the cost is only €10 if you book your tickets early.

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When we arrived in Paris, we found that there was a problem with apartment that Tracy had reserved.  Since the apartment was unavailable we received an upgrade to a much larger apartment in the Trocadéro district in the 16th arrondissement.  The apartment was located behind the Palais de Chaillot in easy walking distance to the Eiffel Tower.  Great serendipity for our stay in Paris.  Tracy and I are getting to know Paris, its sights, its Métro (the second busiest subway system in Europe after Moscow), and the RER (Réseau Express Régional) system better with each visit.

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We met Deb and Gerry at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport (Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle) and zipped into town on the RER and the Métro to drop their bags off. Then is was out into Paris to see the city.  While in Paris we enjoyed the Eiffel Tower Romance tour and had a private view of Paris from above the Jules Verne Restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower.  We enjoyed the daytime and nighttime views of Eiffel Tower and the city of Paris from the Palais de Chaillot near our apartment.  The Palais de Chaillot and its grounds over looks the Eiffel Tower and was built as part of the Exposition International of 1937.

We walked along the River Seine to the Île de la Cité (one of the two islands on the Seine at the city’ center) to visit the Cathédrale NotreDame de Paris.  It is always a stunning sight and Tracy and Deb conducted “zoom lens” wars searching for the most interesting gargoyle and detail on the Cathedral.  I always enjoy admiring the flying buttress and hearing the bells ring.  On the nearby Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s Bridge) we introduced Gerry and Deb to the “Love Lock” controversy of visitors securing a padlock to a bridge as a symbol of their love and their visit.  It has become such a popular practice many historic bridges are festooned with locks and suffer damage.  According to the Daily Telegraph in September 2014″ (All the love locks’) weight caused a section of metal mesh to collapse this summer on the Pont des Arts under the strain of some 54 tons of padlocks.”  While not illegal, Paris is responding by replacing the grates with clear plexiglass panel to prevent locks being attached.  Tracy and I became “part of the problem” by adding our own “love lock” prior to the practice being banned.

We walked the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées (that was originally built as an exhibition hall for the Universal Exposition of 1900) with its stunning glass and steel roof.  We spent time photographing the nearby Pont Alexandre III bridge’s Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs, winged horses, and its view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

Across the Pont Alexandre III,  Tracy and Deb enjoyed exploring the L’Hôtel National des Invalides. Les Invalides was originally a home and hospital for disabled veterans (a role it still serves), it now contains Musée de l’Armée (military museum of the Army of France) the Musée des PlansReliefs (that displays military models), the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine (with non-military contemporary history), and serves as a burial site for many of France’s war heroes, including Napoleon’s Tomb.

We liked exploring the grounds of the Musée du Louvre.  Fantastic location to people-watch since the museum entertains nearly 10 million visitor from around the world every year.  Tracy led Deb down to the Carrousel du Louvre (the underground shopping mall adjacent to the Lourve) for photo ops of La Pyramide Inversée (the inverted pyramid.)

At Deb’s suggestion we visited the Luxembourg Garden, (Jardin du Luxembourg) for the first time.  Fantastic location to explore and a “must return” place for Tracy and me.  The 57 acres (23 hectares) of public park was originally built as a private garden in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici (the widow of King Henry IV) as part of her new residence, the Luxembourg Palace (which now serves as the seat of the French Senate.)  The Luxembourg Garden has amazing lawns, tree-lined promenades, sculptures, flowerbeds, playground, tennis courts, a large circular basin with children sailing model sailboats, and several fountains, including the stunning Medici Fountain.   On the ground is the original model of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty that has been in the park since 1906.  The park has chairs everywhere and Parisians and visitors alike enjoy relaxing at their favorite spots in the garden.

Part 2:  France with Deb and Gerry: Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

Part 3:  France with Deb and Gerry: Omaha Beach, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Part 4:  Carcassonne with Deb and Gerry: Le Cité de Carcassonne, Château de Montségur, Mirepoix

Trip to the Apple Store in Montpellier

We had to make a trip to the Apple Store today. My baby is sick and needs therapy. Those of you who own Macs will understand. The average PC just needs a medic, a Mac needs a therapist. The actual report listed a “panic attack.” Apparently that is what it’s called when your MacBook doesn’t understand what it’s supposed to do next, it has a panic attack and reboots, all on it’s own. It’s kinda freaky to experience since Macs tend to be pretty hardy, at least mine have always been, so when it got sick I got worried. Thankfully we anticipated future issues when we bought the MacBooks 2 1/2 years ago and purchased the Apple Care Warranty so the new logic board will be replaced free of charge.

I was a little worried that with practically no French language skills that it might be difficult to explain the problem, so last night I stayed up late and used Google Translate to translate into French the problems I was having, what the report said, and a couple of helpful phrases like “May I use one of the computers to open Google Translate.” This trick has been pretty helpful over the last 6 days. When we get stuck with pronunciation, we just hand the person the notebook. Alan did this at the train station on Friday when we had to purchase tickets for today’s jaunt to Montpellier (a 2 hour train ride from Carcassonne, with a transfer in Narbonne — you really want to get the right tickets). Amazingly, though, today I didn’t really need it as the young man at the Genius Bar spoke very good English, and with a Scottish Brogue — which is always pleasant to the ear (Cheers Gregory).

We have found that by using this little trick of anticipating what we may need to say and then attempting to say it in French prior to handing over the notebook is actually getting us a really nice response from the French people we’ve been interacting with. In nearly every case, the person has switched from French to English — except the poor gal at the Post Office, but sign language helps too, not as in American Sign Language, but that sign language you would use with a small child or an animal where you point to something and then to something else like the section on the certified mail receipt and the address your sending mail too. But it’s been working and we’re getting by without too much trouble.

The people that intimidate me are the ones that start speaking in French after you’ve said “Bonjour!” and think you may actually know the language, it’s kind of sad and a bit of a poke to the ego to see the look of disappointment come into their eyes when they realize that’s all the French I know. Oddly enough, Kiara doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Apparently cute is cute in any language and the “aww” that escapes peoples lips when they realize she’s a social butterfly sounds pretty much the same in English, French, and Japanese (at least I think they were from Japan, they were super friendly regardless).

Anyway, for today’s adventure we had to navigate the train system, Carcassonne to Narbonne, a switch of trains then Narbonne to Montpellier, then outside the Gare du le Montpellier, Saint-Roch (train station) to the tram across the street to the Odysseum Mall. We found the Apple Store with an hour or so to kill so we had coffee and danish (chocolatey, warm and yummy) and wandered through some stores. We came across a place called Geant Casino and it’s like the Walmart of France. Great deals, huge lines and an entire aisle of hair care appliances. YIPPEE!! While they did not have the In-Styler I was hoping to find, they did have something similar, and that was good enough for me. Blow dryers are nice by they are not exactly a styling tool, the girls out there will understand.

We also found that the Montpellier IKEA was in the same area so we decided to check that out after the Apple Store appointment. Swedish meatballs . . . need I say more. While we did see Subway and McDonalds franchises, we passed right by those without a second glance. But when we found the cafeteria in IKEA and the sign showed Swedish Meatballs on the menu, that was right up our alley. I am a pretty good cook, but I’ve never been able to make meatballs that don’t taste like little round hamburgers. It was like Mecca for the tummy. And they serve wine, by the glass, by the bottle and even from a miniature wine cask where you can fill a tiny carafe with about 6 oz of wine . . . Alan liked that very much. I cheated and had my first soda in a week, not my first choice but red wine when I’m cold and wet has the same effects as taking a sleeping pill for me.

On our way back to the Gare du le Montpellier, Saint-Roch we noted that we still had about 90 minutes to kill before our train was leaving, so upon arrival at the tram stop, we headed over to the Jardin (garden) at the intersection of the train and  tram stations. It’s obvious spring is on its way here in the Languedoc with everything budding up ready to bloom, but I was still surprised to see the amount and variety of flowers already in full bloom in the jardin. It was raining and we were fully loaded down with purchases from the mall, but I still managed a couple of photos that were not half bad.

After a few minutes of wandering through the garden, we had had just about enough of the rain and headed to the Brasserie du le Gare and ordered up a couple of espressos and sat in the warm, cozy interior until it was time to head to the train.

Upon arrival in Carcassonne, we hopped off the train and started the .6 miles back to our apartment. It is rather amazing how fast a half-mile can become a “short” walk to someone who no longer owns a car. We have been averaging several miles per day on foot and after six days, it is hardly even noticed anymore . . . the rain however, is another story. We are looking forward to the dry season, as one gets plenty tired of being wet really quickly. On a side note: I now own a new umbrella!