On our last trip to France, we didn’t plan to spend much time in Paris. It was mostly just a point of entry and exit. We flew into Charles de Gaulle and picked up our rental car, and were then welcomed into Paris with a two-hour traffic jam. Yes, driving through Paris was probably a décision très stupide, but in fairness to us, we made the decision while quite jet-lagged. So much so that we even needed help starting the keyless car. (There was some elaborate, not-at-all-intuitive procedure one had to perform – like “hold down the start button, engage the left turn signal, and tap the horn three times”, or something like that – to start the engine, which our addled brains couldn’t figure out without the assistance of the customer-service-averse rental lot attendant.) And while we both have ample experience with map and GPS functions on our phones, this was the first time we’d used car-based GPS. There was a bit of a learning curve in trying to use this new and unfamiliar navigation system (which we named Gabrielle Penelope Sartre, but called Gabrielle for short). Also, we were impatient to start our vacation and, I’ll say it again – jet-lagged – so we hastily OK’d one of the several routes Gabrielle offered without fully realizing what we had chosen.
Anyway, after we finished crawling through the Paris suburbs, worrisome levels of fatigue finally forced us to stop at what the French call an “aire,” the British call a “lay-by,” and the Americans call a “rest stop,” for a 45-minute nap in the reclined front seats of our car. Not ideal, but it did the trick, and we made our way to our Loire Valley destination without incident. From there we had three splendid weeks exploring France, notwithstanding the Annecy debacle, returning to Paris for just two nights at the close of our journey.
About three months before our departure, the husband surprised me by booking lunch for us at the swanky Jules Verne restaurant, which is perched on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. (Remarkably – or perhaps not if you are familiar with swanky restaurant booking lead times, which we are not – three months was not enough time to secure a dinner reservation. Ergo, lunch.)
Because we had so little time in Paris, and also because we had seen the usual must-see attractions on previous trips, we vowed to avoid anything that involved lines, tickets, or throngs of tourists. With that in mind, we chose a different way to see the city. If you read my post entitled Not Your Ordinary Travel Adventure, you learned that the two greatest movies ever made are Before Sunrise and its sequel, Before Sunset. The latter is set in Paris, so I booked a hotel situated only steps from Shakespeare & Company, the famous bookstore in which the opening scene of the movie takes place. We visited the charming, tiny, labyrinthine shop shortly after arriving in the city and got to see firsthand why it’s so beloved by locals and tourists alike.
On the morning of our one full day in Paris, we decided to make our way on foot to Le Pure Café, the location of another scene in the movie.
After coffee and a pastry, we wandered back toward our hotel, stopping at another café for a another coffee and pastry, or what a Hobbit would call “second breakfast,” because… why not? We then stumbled upon a large open-air market and spent some time parting company with our Euros.
Earlier in the day, I had issued a verbal decree stating that we must be back at the hotel by noon. This would give us time to change into clothing befitting a dining experience at the Jules Verne. We would then walk to the metro stop on the other side of the Seine, and take a short trip to the iconic tower with plenty of time to make our 1:30 reservation.
When we got to our metro station, however, we were alarmed to discover that it was out of service. In our family, we play to our strengths, meaning I’m in charge of “time” and the husband does “directions.” Thus, I set about worrying how this would affect the time buffer I had carefully created for this expensive, prepaid gustatory extravagance. The husband set about figuring out an alternate transport plan. The result was that we were forced to take two different metro lines and endure 11 excruciating stops. The calming effects of deep breathing exercises were nullified each of the 42 times we anxiously glanced at the clock.
After what felt like a month, we emerged from the station and immediately saw the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, I was not becalmed. I knew it was not just around the corner. Thus ensued an awkward period of speed-walking/running on cobblestones until finally we reached the base of the landmark. That’s when we knew our problems were not over.
This was not the same Eiffel Tower we had visited in the past. You could stroll under that Eiffel Tower at your leisure. This Eiffel Tower was surrounded by chain-link fencing, hoards of people, and long, slow lines that snaked into small checkpoint buildings used for security screenings and bag inspections.
As a schoolteacher who chastises students on a daily basis for “line budging,” it is anathema to me to jump a queue, but our latest watch-glance told us we had to take desperate measures. Waving frantically and knocking on a window of one of the security buildings to get the guard’s attention had proved fruitless, so the husband decided to delicately move past disgruntled line-queuers while simultaneously explaining our emergency situation and apologizing profusely. (“We’re not here for the tower. Excuse me. Pardon me. We have reservations at the restaurant. Pardon me. Excusez-moi. They’re going to charge us several hundred dollars and cancel our reservation if we are more than 15 minutes late!”) Some gave us the evil eye, others seemed more sympathetic, but nobody blocked our way. The husband then hastily explained our situation to the guard, and he waved us through. Now we were under the massive structure, but had to run to the correct “leg.” This we did, stopping at the entrance just long enough to catch our breath and compose ourselves. And then we stepped into the rarefied milieu of the Jules Verne at e x a c t l y 1:30.
Once we were escorted up the private elevator and led to our window seat, we exhaled deeply and the stress dissipated like the champagne bubbles in the flutes in front of us. Looking down at the masses on the deck below, we couldn’t help feeling a bit like French royalty.
After a transcendent multi-course meal, we were let out a private door onto the public viewing deck to mingle with the rabble and take in the expansive views.
Then, with the press of a button, we were readmitted to the restaurant, escorted back down the elevator, and released back to our commoner reality.
And the next time we’re in Paris? Dinner at the Jules Verne, sensible shoes, and a taxi.