Last Updated: Sunday, April 27, 1997
Anne's Log of her Trip To Paris, France
March 31, 1997 - April 6, 1997
Monday, March 31, 1997
TI sent Wayne Daniel and myself to Paris, France for a week to evaluate a Telecommunications Network Management Toolset developed by Bull. We got a limo from Center II at 10:00am on Monday, March 31, for a 12:30 flight. There was no traffic and we got lucky and found an agent who knew how to handle international at a non-international (and totally unbusy) counter, so we were unfortunately ready for our flight two hours early. Since we were in business class they gave us two tickets each for beverages in the Admirals Club. We relaxed in a somewhat non-smokey spot and goofed off until we realized we had forgotten to exchange our money and the Currency Exchange was in another terminal. By the time we caught the tram back, our plane was boarding!
The flight to Boston was uneventful until we got close to final descent and were told to circle for a while. Then we were told the Boston Airport was closed due to a major snowstorm and we were re-routed to Washington, DC. In DC, we were lucky enough to ignore American Airlines' request to wait until we were re-ticketed before picking up our baggage, so we were herded onto a British Airways flight by an attendant who said "We're boarding and you're last. I hope you have your baggage."
The British Airways flight was wonderful, a Boeing 777 with true Barcolounger seating - adjustable headrests with wings for sleep support, adjustable lumbar support, seat cushion length, foot rest height and extension. Not to mention private TVs, radio, even remote control with a phone embedded in the back of it. I tried to call Stewart but the satellite connection wouldn't go through. And unfortunately, the flight was going to London, not Paris.
Tuesday, April 1, 1997
The flight arrived at Heathrow airport about 9:30 am. We had hours before the flight to Paris and I tried to stay awake despite only four hours of sleep and seven lost hours, trying to stave off jet lag. We looked through all the shops but realized we only had dollars and francs, not pounds. Luckily the post card place took credit cards and we got a few in the mail before we took off.
Finally caught the 1:20 pm flight to Paris, gave up and slept through the whole flight and arrived in Orly blurry eyed. We tried a few "Bon Jours", picked up our rental car and, once Wayne figured out the trick to putting it into reverse, we were on our way. Bull is actually closer to Versailles than Paris, so we aimed ourselves that way, with actually very little clue where we were going. The map we had gotten faxed to us has very little detail and the map roads were numbered while the street signs used names (or were those driving instructions??). As we found out later, our hotel wasn't actually in Versailles, but in Les Chenay, but we tried to brazen our way through it anyway. Our first views of French streets were in the town leaving Orly and they were very narrow, so luckily all of the cars were as small as our rental Renault Laguna. Many were actually parked right on the sidewalks, or two wheels up on the curb to keep them out of the street. Once in Versailles, the streets were somewhat more accommodating of traffic, but not much. The buildings were very old but very well kept up, and the traffic was pretty pushy. The general idea seemed to be to see a spot and put yourself in it, you snooze you lose. We weren't doing so well finding the hotel by chance and the street signs were very discrete, so we were trying to find a place to ask directions when lo and behold, a giant palace appeared in front of us! The thing was massive, spanning many city blocks, and we decided "Hey, they'll have an information desk in here!" So we parked and headed in, discovering once I dug through my Baedecker France book, that we had stumbled on to the Palace of Versailles, one of the great monuments of European culture and a major tourist attraction. It once housed 10,000 people, and was said to have cost 500 million gold francs, not counting the forced labor of the peasants. It was the residence of the French kings for over a hundred years (from 1682-1789). During the French Revolution in 1789, Louis XVI was forced by the Paris mob to leave Versailles and move to the Tuileries in Paris. After the First World War, the treaty of Versailles was signed here in the Hall of Mirrors. Both the buildings and grounds were very gilded and ornate. The area was lovely and the weather was great - about 70 degrees by this point, despite the Web page forecasts of 56 degrees.
Ok, so we got directions to our hotel (finding the information folks very friendly), then paid our first francs for a ticket to the Palace. [Well, actually I had decided I had to use the "toilette" when we first arrived and found it to cost 2 francs 50 (about 50˘). Fried as I was and not having acquainted myself thoroughly with my money by this point, I just handed over a 20 franc bill and took the odd clump of change in return, so I may have paid upwards of $4 for that potty break but who cared at this point.]
The directions were great and we found the hotel quickly. My room was nice although small, but with bathroom, TV, both a single and a double bed, a refrigerator/mini bar, and a phone that rang like a British ambulance. At first I thought it was a fire alarm, but it turned out to be Wayne, recommending a walk to dinner (had I been driving, we would have walked to Bull). We found that our hotel was right across the street from a huge mall! We were in the Parly 2 area and we later discovered the mall was the first mall ever built in France. We roamed a bit, found a few promising restaurants, but instead went back to a place called Hippopotamus that we had passed on the way in. The waitress was pretty patient with us, and I had poulet with a poivre sauce (chicken with pepper sauce I think) and Wayne had le boeuf (steak, easy to recognize in the picture). It was very good, but we found we weren't going to get ice tea. Even water was a challenge (sans patz or you'll get mineral water). Everyone drank wine all the time, but at this point I think one sip and the gendarmes would have had to scrape us off the floor.
Wednesday, April 2, 1997
Having gotten a buffet breakfast and directions at the hotel, we left early to ensure we'd get to Bull on time. When we got close, we followed the Bull signs in and announced our purpose and our contact's name, Alain Grignac. The receptionist looked somewhat confused and called Alain who informed us we were at the wrong Bull site. This one was closer to the hotel, so they assumed it was the one we wanted. Alain was gracious enough to drive the 20 minute route to our location and escort us to Bull. He also loaned us a map for the rest of the week.
The class itself is covered in a work-related trip report so I'll stick with the fun stuff here. We didn't start until 9:30 and lunch was at 1pm, so I had some trouble keeping alert as the jet lag and hunger started to set in. At lunch, we were required to get a salad, appetizer, entrée, vegetable and dessert, along with a token for coffee later ("It's all included.") The coffee bar was in a separate building and had something like espresso machines with a picture of a partially filled cup and a filled cup. We originally picked the partially filled cup thinking we didn't want too much of this strong coffee, but found that you got just as much coffee… the difference was how much water you got. Luckily I was used to Starbucks and actually liked the French coffee, at least after a day or two.
In the evening we had dinner at the mall. We went to an Italian place since it looked pretty comfortable (casual). I had salmon lasagna (salmon is everywhere here) and Wayne decided to be safe and had cheese pizza. I told him "cinq fromage" meant five cheese, and when it arrived, he seemed happy with the light and dark yellow pieces, but offered to let me have the green ones. Both the lasagna and pizza were really pretty good.
Thursday, April 3, 1997
This time we were sure we knew the way but were ready early so we planned on a little looking around. Unfortunately, we couldn't get on D307 from D1986 northbound (the recently internationally numbered routes) so we U turned in very heavy traffic and arrived right on time. As we were driving around though I noticed a huge arched wall back behind the heavy trees and rustic stone buildings lining the street. More on that wall later.
Lunch was similar to yesterday and most of the day was spent with Alain, although he brought in Giseleine to help explain Agent stuff. She didn't join us for lunch, saying that she needed to leave early to pick up her children. I asked if she ate lunch at her desk and she said, no, she just didn't each lunch. She said in France no one eats at their desk. Lunch is sort of a ritual and it is expected that you take at least an hour and talk with other folks. I guess they'd rather see you starve than ignore a relaxing break. I like this place.
In the evening, we decided to be brave and went on into Paris. What a trip! Folks had warned us to drive only to get close and then find a parking lot and take the Metro in. Well, we didn't know when we were close (much less how to recognize parking) before it was too late. Wayne got into aggressive French driving mode while I fruitlessly buried my head in the map trying to navigate, but I popped my head up at Wayne's "What the heck is that?!" "It" was the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile, and we had accidentally found ourselves in an 8 lane traffic circle! We laughed like hyenas trying to grab our cameras and negotiate traffic at the same time. I found out later "etoile" means star and in this case refers to the twelve avenues that radiate out from the monument. We opted to take a few spins around the monument to get adequate shots and finally got slung out into a lane we hoped would lead to the Eiffel Tower. Actually it was hard to miss until we got so nested in 400 year old Gothic and Neo-Classic architecture that even a 300 meter tower was hidden. Finally we popped out along the Seine, and amazingly enough, found a parking space right across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and it was fully 2 inches longer than our Renault. Perfect.
We found 3 options at the tower and took the third which gave us access all the way to the top for 57 francs (about $11). It was approaching sundown and the view from the top was incredible. The sights of Paris were spread out all around us and, on the west end, the wind was blowing like Candlestick park, and the sun was blood red as it dipped beneath the clouds on the horizon. Having become accustomed to the subdued voices of French folk, it was both welcome and disconcerting to hear so many brash American voices in Paris.
We landed about 8:30 so we figured we'd have time for a boat ride on the Seine before dinner. We found one and took seats on the outside. It had a handset that gave English narration if you pressed "2" so we got a lot of history of the bridges (including Pont Neuf, the oldest), the buildings (the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, etc.) and the people who had developed the area. We missed seeing Notre Dame since we were on the outside and although the boat turned around, it circled the island that Notre Dame is on. So we put that on our list for Saturday. The teenagers hooted and hollered under every bridge and razzed some jugglers that dropped their bowling pins as we passed. We got a first hand view of the French equivalent of the finger when a man climbed down the bank carrying a bag of garbage and flung it into the Seine. The passengers booed him, and he stood at attention with his arm extended and chopped it at the elbow with his other arm. (I guess jerks are universal). When the boat pulled in, there was a brass band playing French revolution inspired tunes and the trees along the Seine were flashing lights like fireworks.
Time to eat, but now it was after 10pm and the boat restaurants were all closed which was strange because the place was still hopping with people. We grabbed the car and decided to find a restaurant and then park. Fat chance. We drove and drove and passed many restaurants but there were no parking places. I tried to find the streets on the map but it was dark by now and the map font was tiny. We assumed we'd hit the outer loop eventually, but instead found out later we were skimming the belt, so we saw a lot of Paris: the huge old buildings, canals, elevated train, traffic circle monuments, and even a Las Vegas style quarter we decided later must have been the Moulon Rouge since it certainly was a red district. The French seem to be much more comfortable about sex in general since the streets in that district had just as many young women pedestrians as men, carrying backpacks, so it didn't seem seedy really, as long as you didn't dwell on the photographs in the windows.
Eventually, we lucked our way back to the freeway and got back to the hotel about 11:30. Too late for room service so I dined from the minibar and crashed.
Friday, April 4, 1997
We ate a good breakfast at the hotel buffet before heading to Bull. We found a direct route finally (now that we don't need one any more) and got to Bull in 20 minutes. We had agreed to meet at Entrée 1 instead of 3 today so we had to navigate a new parking lot, and found that there were no parking spots anywhere. We eventually parked on the down ramp of a loading dock, but not blocking the door, so when Alain picked us up, he and the guard discussed it for quite some time until Alain waved us in so we left it there all day.
This being our last day, we were joined at lunch by Herve Amosse and Phillipe Roy, the two contacts the folks back in Dallas had been working with, and before we left they loaded us down with gifts: Bull pins, fountain pens and mouse pads. And a British fellow named Terry dropped in our class to point us to a favorite restaurant of his in Versailles called La Pied au Mouton. It was at 20 Rue de Pain ("Bread Street") and it was a classic French road, a side street off some very narrow roads bounded by 3 story very old brick buildings. We made our way down the back street to a store front presenting fresh seafood in a display large enough to obscure the door. This was it. Barely large enough for 30 people, and only that many by squeezing tables so close together they had to be moved to let people into the seats against the wall. They greeted us with a special version of the menu that included English translations. I had a smoked salmon entrée (which in France is really an appetizer), followed by a wonderful baked sole with what they called "spicy potatoes" (spicy here means parsley, not a Texan's idea of spicy). It was wonderful and served at a very leisurely pace which is nice when you're not going anywhere. [There were other times when the pace of service was a little annoying.] We drove back past the palace but it wasn't as lit up as we expected so we headed back to the hotel, expecting a big day tomorrow. We had been told that Easter holiday starts April 5 here (ours was last weekend), and it spans a week so we could expect large crowds wherever we go.
Interesting side notes of the day. I've now seen 6 different ways to flush a toilet on this trip: pull a knob on top of the tank, push a button on top of the tank, depress a panel on the right side of the tank top, push a button on the wall, step on a foot pedal, or just plain stand up. Also, parking meters dispense tickets - 2 hours for 14 francs (about $3). The traffic light at eye level next to your car is yours personally. Don't turn right on red unless you have a yellow flashing arrow. Speed limits, lane markings and red lights are optional.
Saturday, April 5, 1997
Our last full day in France we decided to spend in Paris. We were up and out early, having breakfast at the hotel so we could be on the road by 9am. We found out from Terry (the British guy at Bull) that the blue "P" signs did indeed mean parking so we followed them around as we reached the east end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, and parked at the Place de Concorde, figuring it would be hard to lose the car with the 75 foot high Obelisk of Lexor nearby. We set off across the Pont Alexandre III, easily the most ornate of the bridges on the Seine (and that takes some doing), with a golden horsemen guarding each corner and elaborate artwork covering the sides (aka Pont Tacky).
We decided to walk from there to Notre Dame, on the Ile de la Cité, so we could pick out what else we wanted to see on the way back. It turned out we had a very long walk, but saw some incredible architecture, including the Musée D'Orsay, and lots of antique shops on the way. At Notre Dame, we were awed by the light filtering in through the stained glass rose windows, the side chapels each with their own ancient paintings and sculptures, and the Pieta on the altar given to France by Louis XIV. As we left we saw a stairwell leading underground and found an archeological dig underneath the church. It seems they had tried to build some underground parking in the 1960's and discovered a church under the church! Whereas the extra terrestrial church was built from 1100-1400 AD, this underground version dated back to 300 AD! It was amazing, although the excavation primarily involved a stone wall structure (easily visible) and some artifacts (visible only for a fee we opted not to pay since there was so much more to see elsewhere).
Working our way to the east side of Notre Dame and the statue of the actual Our Lady, the namesake of the church, we found rows of artists displaying their work against the iron fence surrounding the church. We scanned the oils and water colors just as the gendarmes were discretely checking the credentials of the artist. Evidently they had escaped their assigned quarters. Wayne bought some oils and I got Stewart some water colors just as our artists were nudged on their way.
We crossed back to the right bank I think (it looks more like the north bank to me) and found our way into the Louvre. It's like the Smithsonian on steroids. We saw the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, which, despite being about 4 foot by 3 foot, looked small after several rooms of floor to ceiling paintings. But she still has that look that follows you around the room. We spent a few hours checking out the 18th and 19th century French paintings (we heard that all the Impressionists' paintings are either at the Musée D'Orsay or in America), the 1st to 8th century Roman sculptures, the jewelry from the 14th century French monarchy, and even some weaponry and armor that Wayne was sure his kids would have loved.
At this point we were getting pretty hungry so we tried to find our way out and succeeded only after we pushed our way through the "fashion" exhibit which included lots of chartreuse vinyl reminiscent of the 60's and culminating in a pink shower curtain shift dress with clear plastic shoulder straps. We hit the side streets hoping to happen onto a sidewalk vendor selling sandwiches, and found sidewalk vendors selling everything, including chickens, flowers, puppies, fruit and even, eventually, sandwiches. We grabbed a few grilled ham and chess sandwiches at "Texy Mexy" (I assume the "y" was added to encourage the French to pronounce the "x" rather than saying "Teh Meh").
By this time we were pretty wiped so we walked back to the car and sat for a bit digging through my sight seeing book to see what we should check out next. We decided to head back past the four horsemen to the Palais des Invalides which housed a hospital for veterans at one point and now holds tens of cannons, a few tanks, and just beyond, Napolean's Tomb. We were determined to make tracks at this point and passed up the opportunity to pay extra to see Napolean's casket (heck, you can't see the body!). So we headed back past the Place de Concorde to the Petite Palais and Grande Palais. The Grand Palais was closed it seemed so we walked on. Wayne found a newpaper/magazine vendor and hunted for more goodies to take home while I found a park bench in front of the most serene little pond and tree lined garden - it was just beautiful. We walked around some more, finding a long row of stamp vendors of all things, and finally opted for dinner at Le Berkely since at least some of the menu was in English. The food was good but we were ready to leave behind the restaurant smoking, snotty waiters, and the sense that the bill was always finagled but not in your favor. On the way out, we aimed the car toward La Défense, a complex of futuristic office blocks built in the mid-sixties. The most striking structure is the Grande Arche, a huge rectangular monument built of marble and weighing 300,000 tons, inaugurated in 1989 on the bicentenary of the French Revolution. We drove on and returned to the hotel for our last night in Paris.
Sunday, April 6, 1997
I got up at 6:30 am so I could pack before our agreed meeting time of 8am. We checked out and drove out toward Bull's site in Clayes-sous-Bois, ostensibly because I wanted to get countryside shots, but really because we saw a MacDonald's there and were both sadly craving American food. On the drive out, I got Wayne to stop and check out this huge arched stone wall I had been glimpsing along the roadside and we found that it was made of much the same rock structure that walled much of the Parly 2 area. It was about 30 feet high and ran for several blocks. We never saw a description of it but got some shots.
At the MacDonald's, along with Big Mac and Egg MacMuffin, they had the traditional French breakfast of yogurt and fruit (oddly, I opted for yogurt and fruit). From there, we worked our way along the country side for some shots of the more serene side of French life. The rolling hills were covered in green with old rustic houses tucked away here and there. We often saw bikers along these roads on our way to Bull, and they were serious bikers in spandex and jerseys with great hulking thighs.
For our last stop before the airport, we decided to drive back to Versailles and try to capture the street we had walked to Friday night's dinner (it just seemed so France). What a treat we got when we arrived! The entire surrounding area had been turned into an open air market with vendors hawking their products in raucous voices, shoving cheese and fruit at you as you walked by, trying to out-yell their competitors, and the whole scene was serenaded by street musicians playing wind instruments.
Sadly, it was time to head out to Orly and, except for a 2 hour delay in Chicago due to 60mph winds that shut down all but one runway, our trip home was relatively uneventful. We did get a great view of comet Hale-Bopp out the airplane window. Trying to adjust to Central Standard Time, I stayed awake a full 24 hours and made it back home with ears ringing but very ready to resume life with wide personal space, weak coffee, and sleep.