Paris: Day One

We arrived in Paris around 11:00 a.m. local time, and then spent about half an hour taxiing around the airport before the plane parked, then we walked down a ramp to the tarmac, where a series of busses took us to the actual airport.  The driver seemed to not care that he had people in the back of the bus, a bus with no seats, mind you, just some rails to grab ahold of.  Now, I know that you can go through turns faster by accelerating into them, but it wouldn't occur to me to try it with human cargo in the back of a 40 foot bus, but it didn't stop him.  When two people who have spent as much time riding on hay racks as Holly and I nearly lose our footing, you know it's bad.  I heard some of the other passengers gasp as they tried to hold on for dear life.

We made our way to passport control then, which was such a confusing mess that even the French people in our plane couldn't find the line dedicated to them.  It took us about 20 minutes to make our way through the queue.  The officer didn't even look at the silly yellow card they make you fill out on the air plane, and then he neglected to stamp my passport as well.  Holly's was stamped, as she went to a different officer, so maybe she'll be allowed to leave, and I have to stay here?  I'm sure it'll bite me in the ass later.

We collected our luggage, and then proceeded to break our first law, which has to be a record, even for me.  I knew we wanted to take the RER trains to our hotel, and so I purchased two tickets from one of the automated machines.  This wasn't difficult, you just told the machine you wanted to go to Paris, and that you wanted quantity of 2 tickets.

So, I walked through the turnstile with my ticket and luggage, and then Holly attempted to follow me.  Even though the automated machines took my ticket, it wouldn't take hers, and there was no one in sight to help us, so, with my encouragement, she jumped the turnstile.  Somehow I doubt we're going to wind up on France's Most Wanted for this, and we had purchased a valid ticket, but we felt like rebels.

After a half-hour ride to the Notre Dame station, where we had to change trains, we met a frenchman who detected from our general cluelessness that we were lost, and he helped guide us to the right platform to make our connection.  He also helped me find the ticket counter to buy a ticket for that next leg, and started to explain how the "Visite" passed work, but we'd already purchased those before leaving home, so I didn't need that much help.

I then annoyed the ticket counter keeper by charging the 4 Euro fare to my Visa card, but I'm hoarding the currency, as it's a pain to get more, and I don't want to waste it when I can use plastic.

It took me a few minutes to find my way back to where I'd left Holly (at the Frenchman's urging) by the platform with our tickets, as the RER stations aren't quite as well-marked as the Metro stations, and they're darker and probably have a higher urine content as well.

We made our way onto the RER train, and headed towards the Eiffel Tower stop, as we're staying at the Hilton Paris hotel, which is quite near it.  I knew our hotel was only a couple of blocks from the train stop, so I figured we'd spot it easily.  We exited the train station and began walking down the street, but didn't spot the hotel.  After about 5 blocks, and some nagging from my wife about the state of her bladder, I dug out the paper which showed the address of the Hotel, and realized we'd gone three blocks too far.  We retraced our steps, then realized how easy it was to miss the Hotel, because there are literally no markings on that street to indicate that it's a Hilton, but if you pay close attention, the H logo is on one of the glass doors.  If you go to the North side of the building (which is not the street given as the address), that's where the main hotel entrance is, you just can't see it from where we were.

I declined the four offers from various hotel staff to carry my luggage while thinking  "I lugged it from Charles De Gaulle, I can manage the last 50 feet on my own, and I'm not giving you a tip."

This brings me to Seth's Paris Travel Tip #1: This is probably going to sound like a commercial, but it's not.  I used to book our hotel, and saved a fortune.  The Hilton Paris has a "rack rate" of $289/night, and via I paid $116/night for our hotel.  The downside of Hotwire is that you can't see what hotel you're buying until you pay for it, but you can use to "decode" the Hotwire star ratings and amenities, and usually narrow it to one or two hotels that fit the description.  In the case of the Hilton Paris, it's the only one in the area that fits the profile, and it's very nice hotel for the same amount as you can spend on far worse hotels elsewhere in town.

We checked in around 2:00 with a girl who spoke English so well, I'm not sure if she was French or not, though I think she was.  In any case, we got a room on the first floor (up one floor from the lobby) with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  I was encouraged by that, as often Hotwire customers get the crappier rooms, because we pay super discounted rates, but I can't complain about this one.  Our room is pretty large by European hotel standards, though it has twin beds, which is another European hotel standard, though the girl at the desk told us to just push them together.

We reached our room, then dropped everything and crashed for a two-hour nap, as it had been a short night.

We managed to drag ourselves out of bed around 4 p.m. and showered before setting off to see the Eiffel Tower.  It's only a few hundred yards away, and we weren't feeling ambitious enough to venture farther into the city.  We walked towards the tower, saw the rather long lines, and decided we should eat first, as we were both pretty hungry.

On one of the sidestreets near our hotel we found a cafe with the magic word "cheeseburger" on the menu, though listed at a price of 10 Euros, which, while not cheap, was about what we were willing to pay, as we were pretty hungry.

A waiter showed us to a tiny table inside the smoky cafe, and we each ordered the Cheeseburger & Frites (fries) as well as a Coke.  Herein lies Seth's Paris Travel Tip #2: Always find out the price of your beverage before ordering it.  After eating our cheesburgers, which contained so little beef that they make a McDonald's cheeseburger seem positively beefy, and the fries, which were actually quite good, and quite a large serving, we had the displeasure of receiving our bill (after I had to ask for it, 15 minutes after we finished our meal).  I need to check the travel book, as this may be the custom in France, and it just didn't sink in, so I'm not judging the place based on me having to request the check.

However, I will not be going back, as I was shocked to be given a bill for 36 Euros, or about 48 dollars.  While our cheeseburgers & frites were only 10 Euros, the "medium Cokes" were 8 Euros each, which is about 11 bucks.  Holy shit, an 11 dollar Coke.  I thought the 6 Euro Coke in my hotel mini-bar was high, but thus we learned the importance of pricing not only meals, but beverages as well.

I paid the check, while trying not to think about dropping 50 bucks on sub-par burgers, when we could have had fillets at the best restaurant in town back home for what I just spent, and headed back towards the Eiffel Tower.

Seth's Paris Travel Tip #3: We bought tickets, and stood in 3 separate queues to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower.  There's really no reason to go above the second tier, however, as the top tower is more expensive, takes longer, and the view is worse.  It's kind of neat to be at the top when the wind is blowing at 60mph like it was while we were there, but you're so far up in the air that you're looking down on the rooftops of the city, rather than getting a good view of it.  The second tier is cheaper, avoids the longest queue, and you can walk down, rather than having to wait in yet another queue to do that.

Since we didn't have my advice, we went to the top, though Holly was rather uncomfortable riding in the glass elevator all the way up there, as she's a bit of a wimp.  The view from the Tower is really spectacular, though, and going early in your stay gives you a good feel for the various landmarks, and the relative distances involved when visiting them.

We got a bit chilled out on the platform, as it was qutie windy, and the sun was going down, so we risked our mouths on a shared 3 Euro cup of hot chocolate, which was served at approximately 211 degrees F, so we sat around starting at it for another 10 minutes until it cooled to a drinkable termperature.

After making our way back down the elevator to the second tier, with the best view, we decided to take the stairs the rest of the way down, as to avoid yet another queue.  It seems like walking down stairs should be easy, but the Eiffel Tower is very tall.  By the time we reached the bottom, we were pretty well beat, and after snapping some more photos of the tower at night, we limped back to our hotel room, and promptly crashed, but not before enjoying a brief but spectacular light show on the Tower, when they made it sparkle.  Ironically, I wasn't looking out the window at it, but was watching CNN, where they were covering the French election results, and the Tower was sparkling behind the reporter they were talking to via Satellite, so I looked out the window, and sure enough, it was sparkling here too.  I'm not sure what schedule the "sparkling" effect is on, but it's rather spectacular, especially when you can see it from your bed.