2009.08 | Paris, France | Day 1 & 2
I won't bore everyone with a an hour by hour description of our entire trip, but the adventures of our first 24+ hours is a story worth telling, if only as a reminder to myself...never assume that a hotel will be able to provide an early check-in.
THURSDAY 6:00am (Boston)
Friday was our first day in Paris, but Day 1 of our vacation actually starts at home on Thursday morning. Our bags are already packed, and we'll be going directly from work to the airport, so after a short session in the gym, we grab our suitcases, hail a cab and head to work.
THURSDAY 8:00am - 4:30pm (Boston)
Frantic pre-vacation work day with the usual last minute emergencies.
THURSDAY 4:30pm (Boston)
Take a taxi from my office to the airport. We're early as usual, but we avoid stress, and we have enough time to eat dinner before boarding. We both knew that leaving Boston in the evening and arriving in Paris the following morning was going to be a significant challenge. However, I assumed that flying overnight would help make us tired enough to sleep through the majority of the seven hour flight.
THURSDAY 6:30pm-1:30am (Boston)
I was wrong. It turns out that taking a red-eye to Paris is no guarantee that you'll be able to catch some sleep on the plane. We watch movies and play games on our iPods until the batteries wear down. After that there's just boredom, but no sleep. We're sitting in opposite aisle seats, and I'm lucky enough that the seat next to me is empty. Kelly has a little old lady beside her, but she's harmless compared to Kelly who starts her trademark fidgeting after about two hours.
THURSDAY 1:30am (Boston) / FRIDAY 7:30am (Paris)
By the time we land, neither of us has managed to get any real sleep. It's still not too late, particularly for me, since I am often up well past mid-night. But after a full day of work, and a seven-hour trans-Atlantic flight in coach, even I was anxious for a soft bed and a few hours sleep. Not too much, just enough to bring us in line with Paris time, which is six hours ahead of Boston. Getting through customs at Charles de Gaulle is freakishly easy (Passport. Stamp. Next please.) and is in fact easier than getting a cab, because French people seem to resist lining up for anything, and the airport doesn't try to enforce any type of queue system. Our first lesson in Paris...survival of the pushiest.
THURSDAY 2:30am (Boston) / FRIDAY 8:30am (Paris)
After a 50 Euro cab ride into the city from the distant airport, we arrive at the Hotel Lutetia in the St. Germain des Pres region (6th Arrondissement). Our bags are promptly whisked away and we are directed to the front desk, where we optimistically check to see if there is a room available for an early check in. There isn't, but we are told to check back in the afternoon.
THURSDAY 2:30am-6:00am (Boston) / FRIDAY 8:30am-12:00 noon (Paris)
It's been a long day and we've just found out that we are homeless of at least the next three and a half hours. At least our suitcases are stored, and we are in the city that invented the cafe. We decide to walk to a nearby cafe for coffee to get us through the next few hours. We walk towards the Seine, stopping at a cafe across from the Musee D'Orsay. The espresso is good and the croissant is fantastic, but even after a very strong cup of coffee, we are still spiraling towards sleep.
After some time in the cafe, we start walking along the river, where a young woman just happens to find a gold ring on the ground just as she is about to pass by us. I smile and continue because I know it's not my ring. She tries to interact with us, as if insisting that we had just dropped the ring, but we live in the city and the general rule is that you ignore strangers and keep walking. Looking back on the situation, we've since determined that she was part of a pickpocket team who had targeted jet-lagged tourists. I had noticed that she was walking towards us along with a teenage boy. I remember because I thought is was strange how they had split up and gone on separate sides of a stairway in the middle of the sidewalk, which led down to the river. The stairway reduced the width of the sideway just at the point where she "found" the ring. After picking up the ring she was beside and slightly in front us, and because the sidewalk was narrow at this point, we had to go around her in order to proceed. For city dwellers like us, pushing past people who are trying to interact with you is just part of our everyday life, but if we had stopped to talk with her, she would have been distracting us from the front, while her young friend - who had gone around the stairway by this point - was picking our pockets from behind. I'm sure the trick will work on some other poor unsuspecting tourist, but you have to do better than that to fool us.
THURSDAY 6:00am-8:30am (Boston) / FRIDAY 8:30am-2:30pm (Paris)
We start to stagger back towards the hotel, but it's still early, so we stop in an inviting little church yard to see if Kelly can grab a little sleep on a park bench. She can't, so we keep walking back to the hotel, hoping that our room has opened up early. It hasn't, but by this time, Kelly can barely keep her eyes open. She manages to dose off in a deep and comfortable chair in the hotel lounge. For the next two hours, we take turns napping in the lounge, and on a park bench in the park across the street (I can't sleep in the lounge). It's not a great sleep, but we've been up for more than 24 hours by this point, so any sleep is good sleep.
By 230pm, despite the fact that others have started to check in without any problems, we are still being assured by hotel staff that our particular room is not ready, but that they are doing everything they can to get us in. It's now 26 hours after we woke up the previous day, and we are clearly at the end our ropes when a desk clerk finally comes to the lounge to tell us that a room has opened. It's not the room we had reserved, and it's not exactly a premium room (courtyard "view" in the back of the building), but we'll take it.
FRIDAY 2:30pm-5:00pm (Paris)
After a two hour nap, we force ourselves awake so that we can start living on Paris time.
FRIDAY 5:00pm-9:00pm (Paris)
We're still clearly jet-lagged, but we're also hungry, so we decide to start our search for a quick meal. Since there is nothing quick about Parisian cafes, we're looking for looking instead for a convenience store selling sandwiches and wine. Before long, we've found it, and we take our bounty to the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower. On the way to the park though, we discover that we don't need to rely on convenience stores for our quick eats, because there are plenty of great specialty stores selling baguettes, cheese and wine.
Our picnic in the park is the first of many memorable al fresco meals, but for us, the Eiffel Tower is only memorable as our first taste of the Paris tourist madness. It's a very impressive structure, but the crowds are too heavy for us. We look up from the bottom, but never even consider a trip to the top. TRAVELLER'S TIP: If you're looking for a stunning view of Paris, try the Crypt to Dome tour of the Basillique du Sacre-Coeur on top of nearby Montmartre. It's only 5 Euros, and there are no lines. See a picture of this view on page 3.
After another walk along the Seine, we return to the hotel for a much needed night's sleep.
Our stay at the Hotel Lutetia would have been much more positive if our room would have been available for an early check-in, and if we have been given a room with a street view. However, I don't necessarily blame the hotel for either of these problems, so I would still recommend this elegant hotel for anyone visiting Paris. It's a beautiful Art Deco period hotel, with a perfect location and a nice lounge.