I finally made it to Paris - albeit over two months later than I wanted to get there. If you remember this post from a couple three months ago with the reasons why I wasn't in Paris at that time when I should have been, you'll remember that I was a very unhappy camper with United Airlines. On this trip - thanks to the delays out of Quad Cities International Airport on my trip to the U.K. at the end of June - I made up my mind that I'd just book the flight to Paris directly out of O'Hare International in Chicago and drive in well in advance of the flight. It worked out fine. The only problem was that I had to get in the car after a 9 hour flight and drive back to the Quad Cities. On the Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend. I was tired, there was a lot of traffic and I wasn't feeling very well. (More on that later on.)
The reason for the trip to Paris was a 3-day training session with one of our companies - Devialet. We got in on the ground floor with this company when it became available in North America and we have endured some growing pains with them. However, the company is hitting on all cylinders right now, they have some great products - very unique in the consumer audio industry - and they invited individual sales people from our staff over to get indoctrinated in their philosophies, tour the factory and learn the inside poop about the product and features. I was supposed to go in mid-June with my colleague from Montreal, Francois. But that didn't work out thanks to United. So, I re-booked for a late August trip with my colleague, Ian. Ian and I travel well together and he's rather worldly and - most importantly - a planner. I let Ian figure out what we were going to do and where we were going to eat.
After a nine hour overnight flight to Paris, I got into Charles De Gaulle Airport around 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. About four or five international flights got in at the same time and there were only 4 customs windows open for about 800 to 1000 passengers. It was excruciating waiting for the line to slowly work its way to the French border guards in their individual booths. It was close to 45 minutes before I was able to go up to a window as the border guard silently stamped my passport without asking me a question. Maddening.
Thankfully, Ian had gotten into Paris about 90 minutes before I did and was waiting for me outside customs. We found a cab outside the airport and took it into the city. It was about a 40 minute ride from the airport to our hotel.
Our hotel on this trip was the Hotel Malte Opera in the heart of Paris. it is located near the Louvre, as well as the Palais Garnier - the Paris opera house. (Surprise! Hence the "opera" in the hotel's name.) It is also right across the street from the Opera branch of the National Library of France.
The elegant lobby of the hotel was replete with a number of French antique-style chairs and contemporary tables. It featured a breakfast area and a front lobby desk where they invited their guests to sit down and enjoy a coffee or a bottle of water (sparkling or still) while they checked in.
The room I was given was what I would say are typical of what you'll find at most French hotels. The rooms aren't big at all. (Check out the 1 foot gap between the end of the bed and the wall.) The bathroom was also very small and - as I've found with other French bathrooms - the shower/tub had no shower curtain or shower door. I've half-jokingly said that my goal in life is to move to France and start up a shower curtain store. I still can't figure out why they don't use shower curtains in many of the hotels I've stayed at in France. Water gets everywhere and you'll need a towel specifically to clean up the wetness on the bathroom floor.
The bed, however, was comfortable and I spent a lot of time in it thanks to getting food poisoning (or having a bodily aversion to some food that was super rich). I was down for a day and still didn't feel well on my last full day in Paris. I missed a chance to go out to dinner with colleagues who were in town for a separate manufacturer trip because I couldn't risk going out of a 20 foot radius from my bathroom. It was pretty upsetting to me because I understand a good time was had by all when I was lying in bed instead. This was my fifth trip to France - my third trip to Paris - and I've had stomach problems on four of the five trips. But none of the previous were as violent as what I went through on this visit.
And because of my sickness, I got to watch a lot of television when I wasn't sleeping. The television system at the hotel featured, of course, a number of French channels, but I also found CNN International, some BBC programming, as well as American programs broadcast with French subtitles. There were also a number of German channels including a sports channel that showed soccer non-stop, and there were channels from Italy, Austria and Portugal. Interestingly, there was no channel that emanated from Spain. Maybe there's no such thing as good Spanish television.
After getting checked into the hotel after we arrived in Paris on the first day and grabbing a quick lunch nearby, Ian and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Paris in what became a steady rain. Ian's goal was to go to the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides (the French military museum) across the Seine. He has visited a number of museums in Paris, but had yet to go to this one. Anything that had to do with military history was fine with me.
First of all, I love Paris. It may be my most favorite city in the world. And I love to walk around in Paris. But the place drives me crazy when I try to figure out where I am. I like to think that I have this innate ability to get a directional reckoning wherever I go. (My colleagues call me the "Human GPS", although I will say that I've lost some of that super power ever since I went out and bought a real GPS a few years ago.) In Paris, the streets meander in different directions. The Seine loops through the heart of the city instead of a straight line. You can follow a street into a roundabout where streets spoke out in multiple directions. Street names change just by crossing a street. It's utterly maddening for me to try and figure out where I am in Paris. Even maps don't necessarily help. But the beauty of the city more than makes up for the confusion I suffer as I try to navigate.
To get to the Musée de l'Armée, we had to walk through the courtyard of the Louvre museum complex. Architect I. M. Pei's Louvre Pyramid is the centerpiece of the courtyard. The glass pyramid features 666 individual diamond-shaped glass panels and serves as the main entrance into the lobby of the Louvre. The wait to get into the Louvre was more than two hours, but Ian - the seasoned world traveler that he is - took me to a hidden and little known entrance later on that had no wait to get into the Louvre. Since it was near closing time when he showed it to me, it wasn't worth it to spend the money to go in. Someday...
We made it to the Musée de l'Armée and spent the nearly $20 per person to go in. I wanted to take a picture of the front of the place, but it was raining rather hard at the time so I figured that I'd be able to find a similar shot on the Internet. Here's a picture of the front of Les Invalides from Trip Advisor.
After going through a couple areas that showed medieval armaments and battle armor worn by combatants, we decided to look for the part of the museum that specifically dealt with World War II. We had to go through the World War I part of the museum to get there, but we finally found it. We lingered for a long while in that area, looking at the French side of the World War II story. Although many of the signs were in French, we were able to decipher much of what was on display.
While we were going through the museum, there was a large area that dealt with the liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany occupation. As I was looking at some stuff, I noticed that Paris was liberated exactly 70 years ago from the day we were there - August 25. The next day would be the 70th anniversary of the famous parade up the Champs-Élysées led by Charles De Gaulle. (They had a ceremony that evening - in the rain - commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation not far from our hotel.) Ian and I both thought it was rather neat that we were in Paris exactly 70 years from the day.
We made our way into the rotunda area of Les Invalides known as the Dome des Invalides. The Royal Chapel is part of the rotunda celebrating the reign of Louis XIV before it became a military pantheon during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. A number of French military commanders have been buried in Les Invalides which served as both a military hospital and a retired soldiers home into the early 20th century.
The tomb of Napoleon is located in the center of the pantheon directly under the dome. Some of Napoleon's relatives - including a brother and two sons - are buried in areas near the red quartzite tomb. To me, it was pretty interesting to see.
The long day - complete with jet lag - was catching up with us. We started to walk back to the hotel in a light rain, stopping off at a typical Paris sidewalk cafe along the left bank of the Seine to have a double espresso to keep us awake for dinner later on, and to get out of what was continuing to be a steady rain. I'm still grateful to the guy who was selling cheap umbrellas in the courtyard of the Louvre for five euros.
Other than getting sick - and the weather being less than desirable during our visit - I'm always grateful for a chance to get to Paris. It is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The architecture, the history, just the feel of the city is so stimulating to me. Sure, there are the usual touristy things to do, but just walking around the city and soaking up the vibe is what I really like about Paris. I found myself already missing the place as I was on my way to the airport to come back to the U.S.