What, No Bunker?
While many Americans were hunkered down in their bunkers waiting for the end of the world, we didn't see it that way. It seemed impossible to us that any amount of computer failure could cause civilization to end. What, you say? It's not the computers but the second coming? Well, if the end of the world was truly upon us I'd rather be swilling wine in a great restaurant than sitting in a cold muddy pit slurping up some cold sphagetti-o's. So we headed off to Paris to ring in the new century…..
Let's see how simply I can explain this. I paid a ton of money for the privilege of sitting in a small uncomfortable chair for ten hours watching an endless stream of "edited for family" movies. We transferred in Amsterdam onto KLM airlines to fly into Paris. Amsterdam was a bad scene. We had virtually no lay-over so I was unable to enjoy the local "culture". Also, I don't know if you've ever heard Dutch, but it rates second only to that African clicking language for silliness. My first encounter with Dutch was listening to the flight attendant recite the airplane safety information. I immediately burst out laughing; a touch of true American rudeness. I can't explain it but for the rest of the flight there was an uncomfortable feeling between me and the flight attendant.
What, No Toothbrush?
We arrived in Paris with sore butts, and no toothbrushes. Yes, most of our luggage had gone missing. We stood in line for twenty minutes in order for a nice, polite French woman to hand us some "claim forms". On these forms you are to list everything of value that is in your bag. The reason for this is so that in the event your luggage was actually found baggage claim workers can rummage around in it and take all of your valuables. This, of course, happened, and a few of our party found themselves sans cameras for the rest of the trip. Brian was the only one on the trip who didn't lose his luggage, probably because no one would ever seriously consider taking his stuff anyway.
It took three days for the baggage handlers to completely rummage through our luggage, so we had plenty of time to distract ourselves with the local scenery. Soon after we arrived we were pummeled with hail, so we spent our first afternoon in the comfy confines of one of the many Brasseries, drinking beer and enjoying onion soup. This is not a bad way to spend a cold rainy afternoon. Or a sunny one. Here Danna learned that she's not going to get very far in this city without at least trying to speak French. The waitress refused to serve her anything until she pronounced it correctly. Luckily, la soupe sounds the same in French as in English. Somehow I managed to escape this embarrassment by muttering something in French early on in the ordering process. After finishing our soup we checked out Ground Zero: The Hotel du Cadran in downtown Paris. This hotel is first rate and the proprietors hospitality can't be beat. They were even nice to us when they heard our French. The hotel is also only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, which is where we planned to go to watch the fireworks. This, as it turned out, allowed us to get scathingly drunk in our hotel just minutes before the Big Moment.
Lots of Old Stuff
Paris is old. Older than your mom, your grandma, and even your great grandma. The Louvre, for example, was built over two hundred years before Columbus discovered America. That may not be old in the biblical sense, but I was impressed by it. There is a good reason why there are so many smelly old buildings still standing. The French have a slightly different idea of how a president should leave a lasting legacy of his time in office. In America, a president likes to lower taxes or cause some big scandal so he's remembered. In France, the president likes to restore old buildings, build monuments, or improve a city's infrastructure. This causes the French government to spend serious amounts of cash to restore buildings that, if they existed in America, would become crack houses and tenement buildings. All of these old buildings provided a lot of great sightseeing.
The day after we arrived the sun showed itself for the first and only time, so we took advantage of it by visiting the Eiffel Tower. You can walk up or ride up, and since there was only a half hour wait to walk up, we decided that we could use the exercise. While it is a very touristy thing to do, nothing beats climbing up several hundred feet of steel. The tower does provide some very useful information that the Paris tourist board overlooked; it is a fantastic way to understand how the city is laid out. It was much easier finding our way around afterwards. Danna appears to have a strange obsession with tall, pointy landmarks. At first I thought it was just some odd love for Seattle that causes her to stop and gaze at Seattle's space needle, a small trail of drool leading down her chin as she mutters, "space needle…", but, I soon learned the Eiffel Tower elicits the same response. Sometime we will have to visit the Washington monument so I can test this theory further.
This Old Stuff's Great, But What Do We Eat?
Paris has some really great places to eat, but they require forethought and planning. Plus, for Danna and I, they require a translator for all but the simplest menu items. We came with two translators, but Eric got sick and holed himself up in his room for a couple of days, and Marc had already been to Paris over the summer, so he had little interest in seeing the same sites we wanted to see. This left Danna and I to forage for food on our own. We found three favorite places. At the end of the block is a local patisserie. Like US bakeries, a patisserie is a small shop with bread behind the counter. You tell the salesperson what kind of bread you want and she brings it to you. French 101 did not load me up with words for all the different kinds of bread you can buy, so when we bought a loaf we always picked out something that looked interesting and then went home to try to figure out what we bought. Great fun. By the way, "pain de seigle" is a big loaf of rye bread.
Another favorite place for us to grab a quick bite to eat was a crepery on the corner. Nutella and banana crepes rule. Nutella is a very rich European chocolate, and banana is a fruit that monkeys eat when they're not slinging poop on people watching them. Another fantastic crepe is a jambon fromage crepe, which is just ham and cheese like mom used to make!
The world of American immediacy did not prepare us for French shops. They close early, around 4:30pm, and this included our favorite patisserie! What were we to do? Luckily, some nice French entrepreneur was kind enough to have a small shop that stayed open late and sold a variety of small grocery items. Kind of a "Le Mini Marte" if you will. This little man was our savior many times; his store was always full of somewhat lost looking people fumbling their way through French at the cash register.
The End of the World is Neigh!
The hotel was kind enough to furnish us with champagne for new year's eve. That, combined with several bottles of wine that Marc bought that day, and a rousing game of "drinking memory", which I purchased from the Louvre's gift shop, set us in proper spirits for watching the fireworks. And man oh man, what fireworks they were.