We went to Paris by rail, leaving from Bordeaux. The high speed train blew into the Paris station traveling at 175 mph, with the countryside whizzing by us. And that was the last time we experienced speed in any manner. The streets were gridlocked, the sidewalks clogged, and lines were everywhere. Traffic in Paris, particularly along both the East and West Banks is in Seine.
The City of Lights has 30,000 traffic lights, two for every car on the road and these lights cause 10,000 accidents a year. There is also no computerized sequence to the lights, and no flow through the narrow streets and alleys. After watching a municipal garbage truck make its way down the middle of our narrow street, stopping every 20 feet to carefully transfer the trash by hand from the lift-enabled bins, I asked our doorman why they don’t drive close to the curb so the dozens of cars and trucks queued behind it could pass. Smiling, he said, “Because it’s Paris.”
When it came to it’s reputation towards Americans, Paris did not disappoint. The seasoned waiters were as surly as ever; the taxi drivers always try to overcharge; and store clerks ignore you unless you’re waving euros in their face. But there is hope. The young Parisians are friendly and engaging. So, we may see a more civilized, welcoming Paris in the future unless this new generation succumbs to past tradition.
The famous landmarks of Paris must be seen in person as they are all overwhelming. The architecture is detailed, ornate, sculpture-festooned, and dramatic. Unfortunately, like other cities in Europe and elsewhere, Parisians have difficulty keeping the buildings, monuments and landmarks free from the soot created by the diesel-fueled cars and trucks, as well as the vast number of motorcycles. Despite this issue, everywhere you turn there is some spectacular visionary delight.
Our home base here was the Renaissance Marriott hotel in the Vendome section of the city. The first night there, we had dinner in the restaurant lounge which was called Balagan. It served Israeli influenced cuisine which was wonderful and unusual. And the drinks were great. They had us try a strange bread that can only be described as a large flat pretzel with two different dipping sauces. It was amazing. Overall, the restaurants we visited were very good, but the highlight of our dining choices was LaCorte, a tiny Italian restaurant, hidden in an alley that Sara found. After talking to the owner in her native tongue, she made a reservation for dinner on our last night in Europe. The staff treated us like family, and served extraordinary dishes prepared to perfection. The owners even came outside and took pictures with us.
The touring highlight of Paris was The Louvre. The contrast between the 500-year old palace and the contemporary glass and steel pyramids makes you want to explore its vast interior and all its treasures. We were only able to spend a couple of hours there, but that just makes you realize that you need a month to see just one exhibit hall. We also did a bus tour which allowed us to see many of the major sights within our brief three-day stay.
Taxi transportation was the only blemish during our stay in Paris. One evening we took a taxi from our hotel to Notre Dame. The driver told us it was a ten-minute drive and would cost about seven euros. Twenty minutes later, in standstill traffic we argued with the driver for taking us out of the way, while the meter read 12 euros. Tom, after calling the driver a thief, handed him 10 euros and we got out in the middle of the street. We walked the final 10 minutes to the cathedral, which was closing as we took pictures outside. We then walked back to the hotel, which took a half hour, about the same amount of time to get there. After this experience, we checked with some taxi drivers on the street, and they told us the fare to the airport was a flat 50 euros, and could take about an hour’s time. The day before we left, Tom and I both booked taxis for the next morning through the hotel’s front desk. Neither cab showed up at the appointed time, so we both had to scramble for replacement taxis. Tom and Maggie left two hours before us and got a female driver who spoke no English. She demanded 65 euros when they got to the airport, which Tom refused. I’m not sure what he eventually paid or whether he made bail. Our driver charged us 63.5 euros, which I refused to pay. We settled for 57 euros.
Navigating the airport was simple, with the security checkpoint stations set up near the gate pods. With many more stations and less passengers, we moved through quickly. And then the challenges began. They make it impossible to get WiFi, free or otherwise, so we sat at our gate reading. Except it was the wrong gate. We realized this when the plane didn’t show up. Lufthansa changed the gate twice without an announcement. Even at the correct gate, the plane was late and then further delayed when the Lufthansa CEO’s golf clubs were late getting to the cargo hold. This caused us to miss our connecting flight to Newark. So We’re sitting here in a strange hotel in Frankfurt the morning after we should be back in the USA.
But before we get back to Paradise (Sarasota) there’s one more stop in a third-world country. We landed in New Jersey, where despite record-breaking increases in sales, property and income taxes, the state is in shambles. The roads are so bad that guardrails are twisted masses of crumpled steel. There is so much uncollected litter that it looks like an endless form of tasteless art along the medians, and the potholes are so big you can drive in them. And speaking of driving, the residents routinely travel at speeds of 20-30 mph over the posted limits, even on local streets. But tomorrow I will be on the safe streets of Sarasota, where octogenarian drivers do 20 in the passing lane, and take naps at the slow-changing traffic lights.