Europe (1)

We departed early on February 5th, flying through Dallas and on to Paris. Only when we bought our cheapo tickets online, we sort of made an oops... our second flight was scheduled to start boarding before our first flight even landed. And if you've ever flown through Dallas/Fort Worth, you know it's a very large airport. We were going to try to run for it but I'm glad we didn't, because by the time we raced to the shuttle with our luggage (which was light, but nothing you'd want to carry along for a marathon) I was exhausted. We slipped on to the plane just before they closed the doors.

Nine hours later, we're in Paris.

Ben was a superstar at navigating foreign cities, so we made it to our hotel with no problems. In fact, we made it everywhere we went with no problems- not once did we get on the wrong train or start out in the wrong direction. Our room was a wee little thing, but nice enough and cheap enough. Instead of sleeping, we washed up and set out for the Champs-Elyees. And so began three days of fabulous people-watching: those Frenchmen and -women know how to dress. I coat-watched as much as I people-watched; they have turned the warm trench coat into an art form. It was just one chic person after another. And there we were: Ben in his Browns cap and I in my large green puffy parka that makes me look like a watermelon. (Foreshadowing: I fit in much better in Switzerland.) It was chilly and gray but otherwise pretty nice. Until we got hungry, and had to manage our first French-language food order while completely jet-lagged. We spent about 15 minutes looking at the gorgeous sandwiches at the counter of this swanky French deli, but could not summon the courage to try out our "je voudrais un sandwich." So after drooling over beautiful food, we ended up picking up pre-packaged sandwiches to avoid the terror of actually speaking French. By that time we craved coffee like nobody's business, so I'm sad to say we fell all over ourselves when we passed the controversial McDonald's of Champs-Elyees. I really didn't think I was that kind of traveler, but when it comes to my American-style coffee I just don't budge. Generally speaking, I like to think I am open-minded and respectful of other cultures, but I will never understand how a place so cosmopolitan and hip as Paris has convinced itself that instant coffee is remotely acceptable for human consumption. For the love of God, toss the Nescafe into the Seine and get a percolator!

From the Champs we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Ben would probably say we walked a tenth of a mile, and I would tell you it was more like a mile and a half; my poor feet testify on my behalf. Those Eccos did a fine job, but we walked a lot in Paris. We started to stand in line but then the sky turned portentious and we decided we weren't really up for getting drenched. By that time we were crazy tired and ready to head back to the Hotel.

Before we turned in, I headed down to the lobby to send off this email to family: hello all we are in paris, everything is okqy: except thqt this keyboqrd is different: we cqnùt get zireless internet zith the mac so this zill just be short; ze love you qnd will emqil agqin if ze are able: sorry thaqt mqkes no sense: bye for now!

We woke up at 11:00p.m., hungry, and so ventured forth to track down more sandwiches. (I didn't know that sandwiches were so central to French cuisine. Everywhere you go, it's all about the sandwiches.) We finally fell asleep again by 3:00a.m., and woke up at a respectable 9:30a.m. for day two.

All in all, Rick Steves was an excellent tour guide. We consulted his phrase book and travel guide religiously. But that dude was straight WRONG about two things. He gave the Cathedral of Notre Dame a measly two-star rating, while giving the smaller Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle a full three-star recommendation. Notre Dame was everything I imagined when I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame freshman year of high school, and then some. It is really an astonishing place. We walked through while Mass was being celebrated, which seemed grossly inappropriate. Like touring a museum while the artists are still finishing up their paintings. I stopped to watch the priest consecrate the elements, and suddenly was hit with the strangest of realizations: "Oh, I do that, too."

From Notre Dame we headed over to the much-lauded Sainte-Chapelle. Unlike ND, which is free to the public, you have to fork over cash for S-C, about the same amount you'd pay for a museum. We just weren't all that impressed. The big deal at Sainte-Chapelle is the stained glass, and so maybe if we'd been there on a sunnier day we could have contributed to the collection of tourists' slobber that purportedly coats the floors. But as it was, it just didn't compare to the spectacular Notre Dame. I did catch one photo in there that I really like a lot - those floating candles make me happy.

From there we walked. We can't really remember exactly where we walked, which is sort of sad. I know that we saw a lot of fantastic architecture, and eventually ended up in a Starbucks for some more overpriced yet passable coffee. There we established our plan for the rest of the day: we'd walk to the Orsay Museum, which plays second fiddle to the Lourve but has a fantastic collection of impressionist art. We timed it so we arrived at the Orsay right when the late-day discount kicked in, so we had just about an hour and a half to "do" the museum before they kicked us out for the night.

Dinner on day two was our one sit-down meal in Paris (oh yeah, Parisians not only eat a ton of sandwiches, they eat them while walking down the street in high heels). We went to a quaint little creperie that had great service and menus in English. Maybe Ben will tell you the story of what he ordered (tee hee), but I had pea soup, ham & emmental crepes, and chocolate-chantilly dessert crepes. Yum.

That night we just couldn't sleep. The jet lag got the better of us, and we ended up oversleeping until nearly 1:00p.m. I was a meanie about it, too, but have since apologized for my hysterical "But it's our last day in Paris and we have WASTED IT!" behavior. We hit the Pompidou after a hasty lunch, and ended up being thoroughly pleased with our decision to forgo the Lourve for the mecca of modern art. Even though a whole floor of the Pompidou was closed, we spent nearly three hours pouring over their impressive collection.

From there we headed to the Eiffel Tower, and we arrived just as it was getting dark. We decided the lowest level was enough for us, and it was actually kind of cool because we were practically the only people there. It was way too cold to be very romantic, though - and besides, the memory of crazy-jetlagged-mean-Katherine was still fresh in the mind of poor downtrodden Ben. Instead of waiting for the elevator, we decided to be cool and walk down the stairs. I do not recommend doing this at night. You know how they light the tower up at night? It takes a whole lot of wattage to illuminate a massive steel structure. And the minor suns they enlist to do the trick are located directly under the stairs. It was painful.

That night we were just not up for any more cheese, so we happily dined on cheese-free food at a Greek fast food joint. It was the perfect place to eat on our last night in Paris.

Next up: Geneva & Bern.

This is one of my favorite photos, captured while walking in between Starbucks and the Orsay. The building wasn't labeled well, but we both loved the architecture and the characters that were hanging around on its grounds. See the French dude smoking under the arch?

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