So, travel plans were made. We would go to Paris for a week, leaving on Sunday March 16th and returning on Sunday March 23rd. Our hotel was arranged, and interviews set up for me and Sean (to help him find employment). The vice president of Intercontinental Clinical Research, Dr. P, whom I had known and worked with for years, invited me to dine with him and his wife at a restaurant in Paris since they would be there too. His wife just happened to be Parisian. Sean and I were too excited for words about the whole trip.
Finally the day arrived and we were all packed and waiting for the car to get us and take us to John. F Kennedy International Airport, which is about 2 hours drive away from our home. The car came right on time and we loaded our bags with the driver’s assistance. Sean had traveled with me on domestic business before, but had always paid his own way. Now, we were leaving on foreign business and the company was paying his way in full. I felt that it really demonstrated the company’s commitment to me and to this assignment. I really felt the pressure to do my best.
We arrived at JFK with plenty of time to make our flight. We were flying coach, because there were two of us. If I had been going alone, it would have been first or business class. The flight took off around 7:00 pm and dinner was served later. I was just too excited too sleep and could not get comfortable. I don’t do well when I can’t sleep. Then there is the jet lag of going to Europe from the US which totally sucks.
We landed at Orly, just outside of Paris, at 8:20 am and it was gray and overcast. Orly Airport struck me as a bit crowded and claustrophobic.
We collected our things from the baggage claim area and headed out to the taxi stand. This was the acid test: would my massively unused French carry the day? I had studied French for 3 years in high school and one semester in college but it was so many years ago. I haltingly was able to communicate with the cab driver, but believe me; he made no extra effort to understand me. He did seem pleased, however, with my efforts to speak his language. I was glad that I had the hotel address written down to hand to him. The area around Orly was your typical urban sprawl: apartment buildings, small companies, gas stations, etc. It was very depressing. Or maybe it was because of the jetlag. Finally we got into Paris proper and to our hotel. We paid the driver and he seemed pleased as he helped unload our luggage. The hotel was off of the Avenue Charles de Gaulle near the Palais des Congres de Paris. Our room was not ready, but we anticipated this since it was very early, so we checked in and left our luggage there and struck out for breakfast IN PARIS!
It was just dawning on us that we were together in Paris and we had the whole day together by ourselves to do as we pleased on the company’s dime. We began by walking down the Av. Charles de Gaulle, towards the Arc de Triomphe and we didn’t have to go far before we spotted a café. We sat at one of the tables in the glassed in area and waited for the server while we looked at the menus which were in French. We were sure we wanted coffee and ordered that and were very pleasantly surprised with the quality and presentation. It was a heavenly dark and aromatic blend and was served with a tiny bar of dark chocolate on the side and a stick of crystalline sugar too. Heaven! Sean ordered a croissant with ham and melted brie inside and I ordered a salade niçiose. You know, when in France, do like the French. Of course, the food was fabulous.
Click on any photo to enlarge
Reenergized, we hit the streets again. We continued in the same direction on what was now the Avenue de la Grande Armée, towards the Arc de Triomphe. We proceeded slowly, examining everything in shop windows, and the shops themselves. Finally, we made it to the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is in the middle of a busy traffic circle and you have to take your life in your hands to get to it. I had been there in 1965 as a little girl and remembered it well. Back then they let you climb up the stairs inside to get on top of it and look out at all of Paris with the streets going out like spokes from a wheel.
It is said that Napoleon did this so that he could see his enemies coming from any direction. But now the top was not open. Sean and I walked around the Arc and admired its neoclassical roman architecture. This was certainly a place of power, just like the St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The Arc is 51 meters tall (165 feet) and 45 meters wide, construction was completed in 1836 and it is the second biggest Triumphal Arch in the world.
Click on photo to enlarge
Underneath it is the tomb of the unknown French soldier from World War I, placed there in 1920. There is an eternal flame for him and when President and Mrs. Kennedy visited, they noted the flame. After President Kennedy was assassinated, Jackie remembered the eternal flame and asked that her husband’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery have one. Charles Godefroy flew his Nieuport fighter through the Arc de Triomphe in 1919 three weeks after the WWI victory parade. He did it as a salute to all the airmen killed in World War One. Now that must have been something to see!
We had to choose a direction to move on, but there were so many choices. So, we decided to walk down Avenue George V, towards the Seine. George V is supposedly the most chic shopping area in Paris, so we ogled the store windows the whole way down to the Seine. We went into some of the clothing design shops for a hoot and looked at the prices, which at that time were in francs, since 1997 was before the euro. You had to either laugh or cry at the prices, they were so ridiculously high. Nice threads, though. There was this one scarf…
The corner building at the Arc and Av. George V
Next time: we ride the Bateaux Mouches!