Day One

Day 1

Getting to the airport

Now the big day had finally arrived, however since I wanted to be able to squeeze in as much as possible I had decided to leave the Friday evening. I was lucky enough to be able to leave a tad early from work and dash home to get ready. I had made the decision to travel light and thus had only packed a small haversack, which would mean not having to spend time waiting for my luggage upon arrival. So after getting ready, double checking everything, ensuring that I had my passport I headed to the subway for the trip out to the airport.

I had decided to take the subway since there was plenty of time and it was the cheapest option. Maybe in hindsight that may have not been such a good idea ! I managed to make my first connection without incident and boarded the train that would take me on the long ride out to the airport but that's when I noticed something was wrong. After beginning to pull away from the second station the train mysteriously stopped, half on the platform and half off. This was not good I thought to myself as the train just sat there. I was towards the front of the train, inside the subway tunnel but could see the lights of the platform not far away. After waiting in this situation for about twenty minutes I had come to the conclusion that there must be something seriously wrong and was trying to think of alternatives. Minutes later there was an announcement from the train guard saying that there was some kind of emergency and everyone would have to evacuate. This meant that we all had to file back through the train until we came to a car that was still adjacent to the platform and then exit.

This wasn't too bad I told myself, even though the express train to the airport was blocked I could take the local one and still make it. Well, do you think a local train showed up ? Nope, it didn't. I was still on the same platform another twenty minutes later and beginning to get a little panicy about making my flight. After listening to a cop explain to others that they would have to catch another train back up, change and then catch the airport express from there I decided that maybe a better option would be to catch a cab. So I headed up to the street to hail a cab.

Time to try a cab !

Upon exiting the subway, in an unfamiliar part of town I looked around and to my horror the street immediately in front of me was jammed with bumper to bumper traffic and not a cab in sight ! Trying to calm myself, I decided to head over a few streets and find a street that wasn't as banked up. A block or two later I located a quieter street but with a good steady flow of traffic. A few minutes later I hailed a cab and was finally on my way, much to my relief ! 

A few minutes into my journey to the airport I was interrupted by the cab driver asking me whether I wanted to leave the meter running or opt for a set fare of  thirty five dollars. After a moments contemplation I decided that a set fare would probably be my best bet since then, at least I would know how much I was up for.

As we crossed the bridge out of the City I noticed that traffic was beginning to build up. Being a Friday afternoon everyone and their dog was trying to get out of the City - things weren't looking good. At this point my cab driver gave me another option. I could either opt to continue with the "normal" airport route, through all this peak hour traffic or take the cab driver's "back" route - which he assured me would be much quicker ! Hmmm...decisions, decisions. I must admit that I was a bit dubious about the cab driver's so called "short cut" but I told him that I didn't really care how he got me to the airport as long as he got there ON TIME ! That said we proceeded to take the "short cut":.

During our trip through some of the darker streets of the suburbs there were places I though that we were either lost or going to get held up indefinitely. To the driver's credit we arrived well ahead of schedule and without further incident. .Extremely happy to put this "experience" behind me I paid the cab driver and made my way to the flight check in counter.

The flight

After checking in and passing through the security points without incident I started to relax and decided to get myself something light to eat. After a leisurely coffee break, I settled down in the departure lounge, with my traveling novel, to await the boarding call at around nine ten pm.

I must admit that I never look forward to long flights but unfortunately they are a necessity if one wants to travel anywhere these days. After settling in and ensuring my tray table was in the upright position we lifted off - first stop London.

After approximately six hours of flight time we touched down at Heathrow at ten am London time. Upon debarking from the plane, those traveling onwards ( ie me ) were sheparded through a side entrance and into the international departure lounge. For those who have never been to Heathrow let me assure you that it is an amazing sight. No other place that I have been to has more people waiting for more planes and more duty free shops ! It is like a complete shopping mall catering to almost every fancy one could hope to imagine. After perusing the shops for a while I located my departure gate and settled down once again to continue with my novel and await the boarding call. I had about two hours to wait as my flight wasn't scheduled to leave till twelve pm London time.

The second leg of my flight was to Orly airport on the outskirts of Paris. As we approached Orly airport I began to get excited about the fact that I was actually going to Paris ! Upon disembarking from the aircraft I was struck by how deserted the place appeared and how dated the decor was. Oh well, off to customs, my first language test no doubt. At the customs checkpoint I began to get some idea that French language would indeed prove a challenge. I waited in a queue that seemed to be a little to fast moving until I realised that it was for diplomats only. Damm, I had to move to the end of the ordinary tourist line. Of course once I did that they opened the diplomat line to the rest of us tourists.

I've finally arrived !

Ok, here we go I thought. I started practicing exactly what I was going to say and what to expect when I arrived in front of the customs official. This proved not to be my first encounter with French conversation for the official briefly looked at my forms, stamped my passport and waved me through. Now that was easy I thought.

The next challenge was to locate the bus to transfer me from the airport to Paris. This wasn't difficult at all either. The signs were in French and English and were helpful in pointing me in the right direction. I entered the bus and stood there looking at the driver holding my ticket. I knew exactly what I wanted to say but the words just wouldn't come out of my mouth. The driver sensing my struggle calmly took the ticket from my out stretched hand and inserted it into a reader located on the pole just behind him. I can't remember if I even said "Merci" ( Thank you ). I began to realise that actually learning French and speaking it were going to be two entirely different things as I took a seat about half way down the bus.

After another fifteen or twenty minutes wait we started on the short trip into the heart of Paris. My research indicated that the bus made a stop in the Invalides area of Paris, near the Eiffel Tower. I had decided that this would be ok, even though my hotel was located across the other side of the city. I would enjoy a nice walk though the streets of Paris before checking in, had been my original plan. However, when I studied the bus route map inside the bus it seemed to indicate that the bus in fact stopped at or near Montparnesse Bienvenüe, which would be much closer to my hotel. I therefore decided to take the risk and get out here so I could check in and avoid carrying my backpack around for the afternoon. Being unsure of the exact location that bus would stop I had to study the map carefully to ensure that I was really getting off in the right place. So, after making my best judgment and thanking the driver I finally stepped onto the streets of Paris.

It seemed like most other cities but there was something unique about the place. The first thing I needed to do was get my bearings. Rather than look like a real tourist and start reading a map straight off an airport bus I decided to "wing it" and see where my wanderings would take me. I had some idea of the area that I was in and major roads that I needed to locate to take me to my hotel so I just started walking. After about fifteen minutes of walking around aimlessly I decided that I had no choice but to check my map. As it turned out I was in the right area but had started heading in the wrong direction ( south instead of north ), isn't that always the way ?

Now that I was finally heading in the right direction I could take my time and have a look around the streets as I proceeded. I was traveling so well until I got to Place du 18 Juin 1940. This is an rather large seven way intersection. I knew that Rue de Rennes was off this, but where ? After a few more aimless minutes and map checking I was finally on the right path. It seemed to be a rather busy this time of day ( late afternoon ) and I took the time to see what shops and restaurants were here - since I was going to have to eat at some stage. About three hundred metres or so from Place du 18 Juin 1940 I found my hotel.

Checking in

Acadias Saint Germain appeared to be like any other apartment block in the street, with shops down below and a small entrance leading into the rear of the building. I knew that I would surely have to use some French here, so as I got my accommodation vouchers ready, went over in my mind exactly what I might need to say and respond with. As I approached the desk and started to speak the receptionist greeted me in English. Hmmm.. I though, suppose it is rather obvious that I am a tourist. I no sooner had the apartment key and was directed to the small elevator that would take me up to my room on the fifth floor.

My room was simple but more than adequate. It had a queen size bed, a bathroom, a writing desk, TV and a balcony ! Here's the view from my balcony looking south down Rue de Rennes.

and looking north

After unpacking my meager supply of clothes, I decided that there wasn't much point in sitting around in my room. So with a few hours of daylight left I decided to head off for a walk. Since my Metro pass was valid for five consecutive days, from the first day of usage I decided that I wouldn't start using it till the following day. This would allow me to get the best value for my money and after a seven or eight hour plane trip I felt like some exercise. 

Hitting the streets

The weather was overcast with light rain as I left my hotel and headed north up Rue de Rennes. My plan was to continue north until I hit the river Seine, then hang a left and head towards theEiffel Tower and finally make my way back. As I walked up Rue de Rennes I noticed that there were plenty of restaurants which would make finding a place to eat a little easier I thought. I also passed the Metro station Saint Placide, about two hundred metres or so north of my hotel. This would be my main starting point each day on my travels through Paris on the Metro. I began to appreciate what a good job my travel agent had done in locating this hotel for me.

As I continued north the rain became heavier but I was undeterred - I hadn't come all this way just to sit in my hotel at the first sign of a little moisture. At the top of Rue de Rennes I crossed over into Rue Bonaparte, past the Café Les Deux Magots famous for surrealist artists and writers such as Hemmingway that frequented, across from the St Germain des Prés church and into the heart of St-Germain Des Prés. After another few minutes through some small alleyways I finally came upon the River Seine.

At this of time day, late in the afternoon and with the rain, the Seine was quite a yellow muddy colour as well as being quite fast flowing. I continued my walk to the west, along the bank of the river, taking in the atmosphere. The weather had unfortunately started to deteriorate and I was getting quite wet by now. Although the temperature was cool it wasn't cold enough to force me to turn back, so I continued on to my ultimate goal for the day - The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower dominates the Paris skyline being one of the highest points but in many cases you can't see it due to the density of the apartments and narrow streets in most locations throughout the city. However, as I continued my trek west it came closer and closer until I was finally there. Pausing for a moment to take it all in I was really struck by the magnificence of theTower. I am sure that nearly everyone has heard of, and seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower but actually seeing it for yourself is something else. It is a real piece of art that has seen much history and remains probably one of the best known landmarks in the world.

I wandered around the base of the Tower and discovered how much a ride to the top would cost and what times it was open. I suppose that I could have gone up the Tower then and there but I wanted to save that experience for later in my trip when the weather was perhaps a little better. With my new found knowledge and quite pleased with my first day in Paris I decided that it was time to head back to my hotel and attempt to get something to eat. I set off to the south east, back to the Montpartasse quarter trusting just my instincts ( although I still had my trusty map handy just in case ! ).

After about a thirty minute walk through the darkening streets of Paris I finally came to something that I recognised. Up ahead of me was Place du 18 Juin 1940, which is filled with bright neon and bustling traffic and which I knew was not far from my hotel room. So, being back on familiar ground I decided that now would be a good time to try and locate a place to eat. I knew that I could opt for something easy like McDonalds but knew that this would have been a "cop out". Instead I decided to try a local restaurant. After procrastinating outside some establishments, making a vain attempt to read the menus, I decided that I had better just make a decision.

Dinner time

I chose a rather small and deserted café off the main street to have my first encounter with French cuisine.  Upon entering I was greeted by the owner. "Bonsoir" ( Good evening ) he offered to which I duly replied "Bonsoir". Knowing what to say next I asked "Paelez vous anglais ?" ( Do you speak English ? ). To which his answer was "Ah, you are English ?". I corrected him slightly saying that I was in fact Australian as he led towards a table at the front of the café. He gave me a menu and explained to me the basics and left me to make my decision.

After studying the menu for a while and not really recognising much I decide on the Prix Fix menu. This basically allows me to make a choice from three entrees, three main courses and three deserts. I can't exactly remember what I had, however I thought that it was pretty good, even though the meat could have been a little more cooked, however I was expecting that. Upon finishing, I thanked the owner and being unsure whether to leave a tip or not I left a small amount as gratitude for at least humoring my attempts at speaking French. 

I continued my walk back to my hotel, the time being about eighty thirty to nine pm, I was interested to see how busy it was. I suppose that this could be explained since it was in fact a Saturday night. Finding my hotel the second time, without incident, I obtained my key from the desk and proceeded to my room to plan for tomorrow.

Once I actually sat down and took off my shoes I realised how tired in fact I was. I looked through my "Eyewitness travel guide" and decided to spend the next day in and around the Invalidesarea of Paris. As sleep quickly overcame me I was well pleased with what I had managed to achieve on my first day here and looked forward to what tomorrow had in store.