© 2009, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
This trip involved four days of business in Paris, France, followed by seven days of play in Normandy, and three more back in Paris, all in December, 2009.
My 3:15-pm taxi arrived five minutes early, and my Indian driver whisked me away to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at a break-neck pace. The weather was very pleasant, and we had the windows down all the way there, an unexpected treat after the recent rain and cold. Although it was the end of the 4-day Thanksgiving holiday, the cab driver said that business was quite slow. Apparently, all the people from out of town who were returning to the airport had friends or family members drive them.
Surprisingly, the airport was far from busy, and I was through check-in in 10 minutes. The new security area lines moved quite quickly, but the new inter-terminal train system opening had been delayed, so I boarded the old-fashioned bus to Terminal C. I settled into United Airline's Red-Carpet Club lounge and snacked on some celery and carrots while chatting with some Germans who were heading home, and a retired American couple heading for Alsace. I started my emergency rations kit by taking some of the complimentary granola bars, cookies, cheese, and crackers.
My in-coming plane was 45 minutes late departing San Francisco, so I was sure my departure would be delayed. However, that was not to be, and boarding at Gate 4 was called right on time, at 4:35 pm. So, I made my way there and took up starboard window Seat 11J in Business Class on a Boeing 777. Business Class was no more than half-full, and the seat next to me was empty, so my imaginary friend sat there. Although I very much like the B777, having recently flown the refurbished B767 several times—the Business Class of which now has large suites with lay-flat beds—Business Class in the B777 seemed rather feeble by comparison.
The scheduled departure time was 5:20 pm and the doors closed right on time. However, we were informed that there was a problem with one of the fuel pumps and that a mechanic was on his way to "check it out." (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) Not long after, the pilot told us with great confidence that the mechanic stared hard at the offending piece of equipment, and it started working again. (This interested me very much as I've stared at all sorts of malfunctioning appliances at home, and none has ever jumped back to life!)
We were 20 minutes late pushing back from the gate and 15 minutes after that, flight UA914 took off to the west, circled back to the east, and headed northeast up towards the New England states, the Atlantic states of Canada, and across the Atlantic. I was quite tired, so decided to forgo a movie and to watch several episodes of the TV show "The United States of Tara," during which hot towels were dispensed and drinks were served.
Dinner included the following: Saumon fume, prosciutto et crudité aux sauce ranch, and salade César ou Vinaigrette asiatique au sesame et au gingembre, followed by a choice of three main courses: mahi mahi grille, boeuf braise sauce au poivre, or roulades de lassagne aux épinards sauce rosetta la tomate. For those of you not versed in the French language that would be smoked salmon and ham with vegetables and ranch dressing, a green salad with Asian sesame ginger vinaigrette, and fish, beef, or pasta. I had the braised beef with peppercorn sauce, and it was very good despite the preponderance of spinach. (I rationalized that it was good for me as it contained lots of iron, and I had recently been rejected not once or twice but three times at the blood bank because of a low iron count.) I forwent the cheese, coffee, and port wine, and at 7:30 pm I put my seat way back, arranged two pillows and two blankets, put in my ear plugs, put on my sleep goggles, and wished for dreamland.
[Next day] After a very long time, I finally got to sleep. When I woke, my clock showed 12:15 am, so I put it forward six hours to GMT+1 making it 06:15, Paris time. We'd just crossed the English Channel ("La Manche" in French, meaning "the sleeve") and were over Joan of Arc's former stomping ground, Rouen, in Upper Normandy with only 20 minutes flying time to go.
Arrival in Paris
I'd slept through breakfast, but managed to get a glass of orange juice. There was a flurry of activity as the cabin crew prepared for landing, and at 06:45 we touched down at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) international airport. Passport control was a formality; I didn't need an immigration card and the agent barely looked at my passport and did not stamp it. (Apparently, for both my and France's benefit, there would be no record of my having entered the country!) A series of long moving sidewalks took us from the plane into the terminal. At Carousel 3, I had a 10-minute wait for my bag. Then I walked straight through the "Nothing to Declare" (except that it was bloody cold) line at Customs and was out in the general population in no time at all, mingling freely with the Cancan dancers from Moulin Rouge who had been sent by the President to welcome me to "Gay Paris." (Actually, that's not true; I think it was the Prime Minister.)
I found a cash machine, which was happy to dispense €250 in €50- and €20-bills. I deliberately avoided finding out the exchange rate, as I knew it was in the "extremely depressing" range. At the information desk, a young woman was ever so happy to direct me to the train that went into the city. I rode the airport train two stops to get to the main station and along the way, I chatted with an elderly French couple who were returning home from a holiday in Laos.
Using my minimal French, I deduced that the sign on the ticket machine at the entrance to my train platform indicated the machine was out of order, so I went in search of another entrance. With the help of a local man, I managed to buy a ticket, which cost €6.90. I had some Euro coins left over from my Netherlands trip in September, so I used those. At the platform, I set about deciphering the schedule on a large TV screen. There were two tracks, both of which serviced the inner city; however, they had slightly different sets of stops. A Chinese man from Singapore approached me for help and together we tried to figure it out. He was going to a stop two beyond mine.
We got on the next train that came and chatted as we rode towards the city. Interestingly, he too was in town for an international standard's meeting; however, his was all about metal welding while mine was on office software technology. As we talked, day broke around 08:15. At the station before mine, I got up and made my way to the door for a quick exit. Then off to the right I saw a very large sporting stadium, and as that was right next to my hotel, I knew I was on the right track. Unfortunately, the train failed to stop and did not do so until it had gone some distance to the next stop, Gare du Nord, the Paris North station. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) So, it was on to Plan B. I found the track going in the opposite direction and, don't you know, the very next train (which left in two minutes) was a local one terminating at my station. (Don't you just love that!) And once I got out, the first thing I saw was the building where I'd be meeting for the next three days.
It was rather cold and overcast out and commuters were pouring in and out of the station area stopping for their breakfast croissants and coffee and having their early morning cigarettes. There were more than a few restaurants and snack places open including a large McDonalds.
In 15 minutes, I was in front of the Suite Hotel, one of the recommended conference hotels that I'd booked via the internet. It was 08:45 and I fully expected to have to wait 3–4 hours before I could get a room. But no, the very friendly front desk clerk was ever so happy to see me and to give me a room right away at no extra charge. I had a nightly rate of €101 with the final night (a Friday) running €125. Breakfast was another €12 but I could accept/reject that each day. High-speed wired internet access was included.
Each room was a large suite that was very nicely decorated and had a large work desk on wheels and a series of tall pull-down screens that could be lowered to separate the sleeping area from the working/living area. There was a microwave oven, fridge, electric kettle, and tea/coffee-making facilities along with a large digital TV on wheels.
Once I pulled the blinds closed, the room was very dark, and the windows sealed well enough to keep out the noise from the traffic. Within five minutes, I was in bed with the lights out. I think I lay there a good while, but I finally made it off to sleep. Four hours later, my alarm went off. I made a cup of boiling tea and snacked on cheese and crackers from my emergency supplies. I connected to the outside world and, of course, email arrived. I also was notified that a colleague had arrived at his hotel.
The TV had only one channel with English-language programming, and that was Germany's DW-TV, which alternated between German and English every hour. I watched some news and current affairs programs while working on email and this diary. Soon, it was afternoon teatime, so I boiled the kettle and enjoyed another cuppa along with several of the Walkers' finest shortbread cookies I had rescued from the Red-Carpet Club.
I spent several hours preparing for my meeting. I also worked on some personal stuff. Around 19:00, I went out in search of a place to eat and finished up at a restaurant right next to the hotel. I ordered a pizza, which was quite large. It came with an egg fried in the middle something I hadn't seen since eating at my favorite pizza place in Adelaide, South Australia, many years ago. Unfortunately, the egg white was nowhere near cooked, so between the waiter's basic English and my minimal French I managed to explain that I needed it cooked more. I finished off with a decent but strong cup of café au lait while reading the arts section of the UK newspaper, the "Financial Times."
I found a greengrocer's and bought juice, fresh fruit, some carrots, and other emergency snacks. The combination coconut/pineapple juice was "to die for." Back in my room, I worked and played while keeping one ear on the TV news. Lights out at 23:30.
Getting Down to Business
[Next day] Sleep-wise, it was a terrible night. I had a small breakfast in my room, and after a very hot shower, I packed for work. Outside it was cold but dry and I took some back streets to AFNOR the French national standards organization. The 500-meter walk got my circulation going. A number of colleagues were already there when I arrived at 08:30, and we chatted until the conference room was unlocked.
People were late arriving, so our meeting start was delayed 40 minutes. Eventually, we got underway for a 3-day standard's meeting for which I was secretary. Eighteen people from seven countries attended. We worked through until 16:00 taking an hour break for lunch at which time I stayed behind to bring the minutes up to date and to work on some action items. After lunch, I had to fight sleep, but several times, it got the better of me. Although the sun came out in the afternoon, unfortunately, I was in no position or mood to take advantage of it.
We broke early with some of us taking home action items to be completed overnight. On the way back to my room, I stopped by McDonalds to have an early supper of fish and chicken. The walk and cold air woke me up a bit but once I sat at the desk in my room, I had to fight to stay awake. I got most of my work done and sent it out to the other members for proofing before I turned out the lights at 18:30.
[Next day] I woke at 00:45 after six hours of deep sleep. After a small snack, I checked my email and phoned home. At 01:00, DW-TV broadcast in English, so I caught up with some world news and current affairs. After several hours of work, I went back to bed where I got another three hours of sleep before my 07:00 alarm sounded. Breakfast consisted of a cup of very hot tea and a large nashi (Asian pear). If you've never tried one, I highly recommend it. It has the consistency of an apple but tastes like a pear and has sweet juice.
Workwise, it was a very productive day, running from 09:00 through to 18:00 with an hour break for lunch at 13:00. At 18:30, we moved to a reception room for a social event hosted by IBM and Microsoft. A large variety of appetizers was served along with drinks. As is often the case, business issues get resolved more easily by different factions getting together socially. I ate enough snacks that I didn't need an evening meal. I walked home in light rain with a German colleague and friend, Mario, who was staying at the same hotel. I worked on the day's minutes and then tried to keep busy and awake. Lights out at 21:30.
[Next day] After a short and restless night, I was up, showered, and dressed by 08:00. Once again, we had a productive session and completed an important phase of our work. The meeting adjourned at 13:00 and once again, I forwent lunch. Around 14:30, the committee chair and I had a private meeting to discuss a number of issues. Around 15:30, I said goodbye to my colleagues and walked back to my hotel in light rain. I worked for several hours completing the draft minutes for the 3-day meeting, and then circulated them to attendees by email. Them I worked on some personal projects while keeping one ear on world news that played in the background.
At 19:00, I dressed warmly and went down to the hotel foyer. A few minutes later, Mario joined me, and we walked to a restaurant nearby. "Events" was a sports bar with a giant TV screen and casual fare. We spent two hours talking mostly about travel especially the four weeks he had spent in New Zealand and Tahiti. I had a nice piece of veal with hot vegetables and a small salad while Mario enjoyed a large steak. By the time we ventured outside light rain was falling, again. Back in my room, I dealt with email that had arrived while I was out, and did some planning for my up-coming vacation while sipping coffee. Lights out at 22:30, asleep very soon after.
[Next day] I woke at 09:30 after 11 hours solid sleep and when I raised the blinds, I saw that the sun was shining brightly. That was indeed a very good start to the day. I caught some world news from DW-TV while sipping a cup of boiling tea and savoring some Walkers shortbread cookies. A local radio station played various French and American hits. After playing some games on my computer and working on this diary, it was time to go to work for the day right there at the desk in my hotel room. It was just the kind of work commute I prefer!
At 14:00, I broke for lunch and went out to a local bakery. It sure was busy and the server and I struggled to communicate. Eventually, I managed to order a large bowl of onion and potato soup and a bread roll. It really hit the spot! As I left, I bought a large bread stick filled with sausage and cheese, and a pastry "for Ron," as in "later on."
I worked through to 23:30 with occasional snack breaks delivering a major piece of work by email at the end. My seat got pretty hard by day's end, and I was glad to lie flat that night. Lights out at 23:45.
A Visit with Stéphane and a Culture Fix
After a week in Normandy (click here for that trip's diary), I was back in Paris, staying with friend, Stéphane, who I'd hosted some years before. His apartment was located right downtown on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) of the Seine River, 200 meters from the Sorbonne university, and 400 meters from Notre Dame Cathedral on an island in the river.
Within 45 minutes of my arrival, we headed out to meet a group of more than 20 of his friends for a walking tour of Paris. Members of the group walked together monthly, and this time they planned to see the City of Lights all lit up! By the time the group all gathered, and we set out, it was 16:00. It was bitterly cold with a light wind, but except for my nose, I kept warm. Here was our itinerary (note that we only walked by these places; we did not go in any of them): Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville (city hall), George Pompidou Center, Forum des Halles, the Louvre Museum (we walked through the courtyard as the outside lights came on), the Tuileries Gardens, Place Vendome, Opera, Maxim's restaurant, Galeries Lafayette (several department stores decorated and lit up like Macey's or Harrods), Madeline, Concord Plaza, Grand Palais (where one of the great Paris exhibitions was held 100 years ago), all along the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and, finally, back across the Seine, to the Eiffel Tour. The streets and garden walks were lit for Christmas, many with lights that simulated melting icicles. One big section was filled with rides, included an enormous Ferris wheel, and stalls selling all kinds of things.
Mid-way in our walk, some people brought out containers of hot wine with cinnamon and we warmed our insides. We walked, stopped, looked, and talked for 5½ hours, and we covered 11 kms. Then we caught the Metro and rode 20 minutes back across the city to Place d'Italia where, at 22:00, we sat down to a 2-hour dinner in a Greek restaurant. The food and company were superb! We caught the Metro back home and were in bed by 00:30. It had been a long but good day. As I closed the blind of my bedroom window, I could see the top half of the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the distance.
[Next day] I slept soundly for 10½ hours, which was great. After a nice warm shower, I had brunch, which consisted of a bowl of boiling tea with some bread and jam. By then it was after noon, and we discussed what we might do for the day. Around 13:30, we set out on a 2–3 km walk to the Museum d'Orsay. Several of the floors were closed for renovation but what was open kept us very busy for three hours. We saw rooms full of paintings by Degas, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, and van Gogh, and many sculptures by Rodin. There was also some furniture, ceramics, and glassware. One of the two temporary exhibitions was on Art Nouveau. Although I really liked half a dozen things I saw, what I liked most of all was the building. Until not many years ago, it was a major train station, and after the renovation and conversion, it looked fantastic. And I managed to improve my culture quotient a little bit. After the long walk the night before and then three hours of standing and walking, we decided to catch a bus home. At our stop, we visited a small supermarket to get some provisions; for me, that meant whole milk (my first in two weeks), juice, and chocolate with hazelnuts.
Back home, I worked on this diary and phoned home. Stéphane cooked fish, rice, and vegetables for supper, which we followed with a selection of cheeses and some fresh fruit. Lights out at 22:30.
[Next day] I was wide-awake at 10:30 after 12 hours sleep. Yes! Over a light breakfast of tea, bread, jam, and cheese, I looked at the possibilities for the day. Stéphane had gone out for the morning, and I was on my own. Plan A was to go to the Museum Picasso but according to the website that was closed for renovation. So, I moved to Plan B, the Rodin sculpture museum, but that was closed on Mondays. Plan C was that good old Parisian backup, the Louvre, and although its website suggested in French that there were work stoppages, it gave no status about that day. Being positive, I decided to go and find out.
I went down to my local Metro station to find that there was no ticket window or machine. I asked a young woman where I could buy a ticket, and (presumably) as I was so cute, she smiled and simply waved me to the turnstile and passed me through on her pass. Then, because the machine wouldn't let her use that pass again immediately, she bent down and pushed her way under the now-closed barrier. I was now a criminal, certain that Interpol would be waiting for me at the next stop. (Unlike some subway systems, the Paris Metro does not require a ticket to get out of any station.) I rode three lines until I got to the main Louvre station.
I came out the station in a small underground city of shopping arcades that lead into the museum entrance. And boy was it crowded. I bought a general admission ticket from a machine and found my way up to the 2nd Floor. That was full of Flemish, Dutch, and French paintings, hung in small and large halls some from floor to ceiling. Based on my observations there and the day before at the d'Orsay, I decided that the subjects of many paintings were poor people especially women. I deduced this from their obvious inability to afford much clothing. I came around one corner and there was a very realistic "still life." However, on closer inspection I determined it was an elderly patron asleep in a chair. (I kid you not. Hey, it could have been art!) I spent quite some time on that floor looking at a large room full of Rubens' and "The Lacemaker" by Vermeer. (Back in September, I'd been to Vermeer's hometown of Delft, the Netherlands, and seen a collection of his works including some of the Girl/Pearl Earring series.) While it was all very impressive, I could not help but wonder if these guys could actually paint my house. I don't mean a picture of it; I mean to actually paint it!
The 1st Floor had all kinds of artsy-fartsy stuff called "antiquities," which is a fancy name for "old stuff," and I moved through that very quickly. In the Italian paintings wing I dropped by to see da Vinci's Mona Lisa. As I walked from side to side, it sure looked like her eyes were following me. Opposite, taking up a whole wall was Veronese's The Wedding at Cana. It was huge with such a lot of detail.
The Ground Floor had sculptures and lots of antiquities from the Orient, Egypt, and Greece. I stopped by to see Venus de Milo. She was only discovered 180 years earlier on a remote Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean, and there is some doubt as to whom she depicts, Aphrodite or some other goddess. She looked quite (h)armless. The big attraction for me was in the Mesopotamia section; it was the large basalt pillar on which was carved Hammurabi's code of laws from around 1750 BC. This was one of the first known set of written laws and was very progressive.
I browsed the bookstore a bit and then went up the steps into the big glass pyramid in the courtyard to look outside in all directions. Now, being the Philistine that I am, I went through all four floors in double-quick time; however, it was not quite like the cartoon depicting an American tourist arriving at the Louvre by taxi and asking the driver to wait while he took a tour!
I rode the Metro (this time as a paying customer) to the town hall where I came back above ground into the vicious cold. In the tunnel leading from the subway, I stopped for a mini concert by a young woman playing a cello. After a short walk, I was at the Notre Dame Cathedral where I went in for a sit and a look around. Admission was free unless one wanted a guided tour, but I noted that admission to the Treasury cost €3. I quickly figured out how the Treasury was funded! One ignorant tourist ignored the "no chapeau" sign at the entrance but the hat police—in the form of an 80-year-old woman with a walking stick—caught up with him and made him remove his hat.
From there it was a 10-minute walk home, and I was glad to be out of the cold wind. To be sure, it had been an abbreviated tour, but I had to leave something for the next visit, right? I worked on this diary, occasionally looking out the window to the Eiffel Tower as day turned to dusk and then to night.
At 19:30, we ventured out for my last supper. Throughout the day, I had been thinking about a nice veal dinner at an Italian restaurant, so where did we finish up, but at the Maharaja's Indian place. Both country names began with the same letter, so close enough, right? We started with some garlic nan and then we each had curried chicken, one with fresh cream, almonds, and tomato, the other with onions and green peppers. We shared a dish of rice with vegetables. Although I was quite full after that, I had already picked out a dessert at the beginning and nothing could dissuade me from having a small scoop each of passion fruit, mango, and coconut sorbet.
On the way home, we stopped by a train station where I bought a ticket to the airport for the following morning. When we checked the schedule on the internet back home, a rail strike was still going on, but most trains were scheduled to run. Lights out at 22:30.
[Next day] I was awake at 06:00, 90 minutes before my alarm. (Don't you just hate that!) I lay there until 07:15 listening and feeling the vibrations from the subway system below as the city came alive. Stéphane and I had our usual light breakfast, and I wrote in his visitor's book.
I had planned to take the 08:46 train, but I was packed and ready to leave at 08:00. We said our goodbyes and I walked out into the dark street to go a block to the RER B station that served CDG directly. Despite the strike-restricted service, three trains were scheduled to leave before the one I'd planned to take, so I took the first one that came along. When it arrived, it was only 110% full, so 10 more people pushed their way on at each door. It was everyone for themselves with elbows out and pushing and shoving. Fortunately, many people got off at the next two stops, so I soon got a seat.
Daylight broke on the way to the airport and the trip was uneventful. At the end, I changed to the inter-terminal train and went to Terminal 1. Check-in took only a few minutes, and I was off to passport control where the agent gave me an exit stamp. While I was in line, I spoke to a young American living in France who was going home to Colorado. I asked him if he'd like to be my guest in the Business Lounge. He accepted, and we sat there and snacked for the hour before our flight. It was his first time in such a lounge.
The security process at the gate was very slow and a bit chaotic, but as all the staff members were so darned polite it was hard to be upset. In any event, the plane was right there and wasn't going without us. Eventually, we boarded, and I took up window Seat 11J in Business Class—the same as my flight over—where I could keep an eye on the starboard engine. The sun streamed in my window as boarding completed and all seemed right in that part of the world.
United Airlines flight 915 took off to the east about 10 minutes late. As we used up the whole runway, I figured we had a full load onboard. We circled around to the west and headed home over France, UK, the Atlantic, and Canada. Once we'd gotten to our altitude, drinks and nuts were served followed by hot towels; then came lunch. To begin we had bresaola ham with roasted peppers and vegetable barley salad (which I found not at all interesting) and a green salad with creamy peppercorn dressing (which was excellent). The main course was a choice of filet mignon with garlic, potatoes, and carrots with parsley (my pick); roasted cod with honey ginger sauce, herbed rice pilaf and creamed spinach; or porcini mushroom raviolacci with cream sauce and chopped chives. Dessert consisted of cheese and passion fruit white chocolate mousse cake.
During lunch, I watched the Quentin Tarantino movie, "Inglourious Basterds," starring Brad Pitt. I found it very interesting, and the two hours went quickly. After that tiring activity, it was naptime, and I managed a couple of hours. When I awoke, we were over Nova Scotia, Canada, on the final leg home. After burning all the calories sitting, sleeping, and watching a movie, what I needed was more food. Right! So, 90 minutes before landing, a substantial snack was served. I had the fruit and cheese plate with two cups of coffee and that got my pulse rate back to normal.
We had an on-time touchdown landing from the south. We were one of the first flights in from Europe that afternoon, so the airport was not at all crowded. Our plane pulled into a gate right next door to the mobile lounge gate, and soon we were in the immigration hall where I walked straight up to an officer for processing. My luggage came out soon after, and I was in a taxi headed home in double quick time. Although it was cool out it was nowhere as cold and windy as in Paris.
I was happy to be home and to be staying in one place for an extended period. I made a shopping list and went off to the supermarket to fill my fridge and pantry. Then I unpacked my luggage and synchronized my laptop and desktop computers. Lights out at 8:30 pm.
Merci beaucoup. Au revoir mon ami.