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It started with Paris …

Preflight Champagne

Preflight Champagne

I’ve been telling TWWNCBUIP about “my” experience on our Air France flight to Italy two years ago when I had three meals, ice cream, cookies, hot towels, French wine and espresso while she slept through it all. Every few minutes I was offered some goody or another and I took my share as well TWWNCBUIP’s (in case she woke up) all the way across the ocean.

TWWNCBUIP never believed a word of my story.     

Even so, I insisted that if we were going to go to Europe for our 40th wedding anniversary, then, based on my last experience, it had to be on Air France!  Little did I realize that my first experience was going pale in comparison to my second experience.  The day before we left Houston we were offered the opportunity to “upgrade” our Premium Economy tickets to Business Class.  Now we were pretty excited to have these Premium

Our hotel limo

Our hotel limo

Economy tickets because we had read that the Premium Economy section offered 40% more room than the Economy class,  our normal “class”.  Well, this upgrade was 200 eu and since we purchased our original tickets with miles it was almost like getting to travel in the “Business” class for free! So we said “Sure, let’s upgrade!”

What can I say? Wow! It was unbelievable. We each got our own little egg-shaped pod to live in while we made our journey across the ocean.  It was like a recliner! And we had not left Houston before they offered us champagne.

Remember when room keys were keys?

Remember when room keys were keys?

And then a warm lemon scented towel. And then stockings to put on over our own socks. Eye masks. Chapstick. Ear plugs. Fancy pillows. Fluffy blankets. Movies. Wine. Appetizers. Wine. Fancy Dinner. More wine. Cookies. More warm towels. Breakfast. Cafe au lait.  Jeez….I didn’t want to get off the plane.

Seated next to us on the plane was a young lady who smiled politely when we arrived at our seats. She giggled when she observed how excited we were to be in the fancy section. (I think she must have been a “regular” in the Business Class section because she took it all in stride.)  She wore her earplugs throughout the trip so we didn’t have a chance to get

Scambled Eggs in a Jar and they were Fabulous!

Scrambled Oeufs in a Jar and they were fabulous!

to know her but as we were getting ready to deplane we visited a moment. You know TWWNCBUIP, it only takes a moment for her to get to know you well enough that before you know it you are promising to come visit us at the Duck. As it turns out our new friend lives just blocks from the Duck. She works in the oil business and travels often.

I Rodin a taxi to get to see this. Still looking for Mona ....

Still looking for Mona ….

She seemed nice. We hoped that she really meant it when she said that she would come visit us when she returned to Houston. Sometimes people say things but they don’t mean them, you know, so we will see.

Anyway, as we exited  through the First Class Section (I think the French call it La Priemere)  we just looked at each other – what happens up here?” ….what else could Air France do to make this “upgrade” any better than the one we had just experienced?  I don’t think we are ever going to know the answer to that.

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport at 8:30 in the morning and hiked thirteen miles or so to the front exit and grabbed a taxi to our hotel.


This is the only way to drink Hot Chocolate.

We arrived at our hotel,  a former château called the St James Paris, at 9:30 and we found that we really would have to wait until 3pm for check in. Oh what to do? We decided to discover a bit of Paris while we waited for our room to be readied. We set out on foot, down Rue de Fochs toward the Arc de Triomphe. We fought our way across the scariest traffic circle known to man only to find that when we reached the other side there was an underground tunnel that we were supposed to have used to get to the Arc which explained all the fist waving Just follow the signs they say ...

Just follow the signs they say …

and yelling in French as we crossed that crazy roundabout! I think we might just be lucky to be alive after that little adventure. We continued on down the Champs de Elysee to the end where the Parisians set up a six-block long Christmas village each year. Of the many offerings, my favorites were the hot wine and the hot chocolate, we will have one of each please.

Wrapped in my long coat, hand knitted hat and scarf and full of hot wine, I still found myself a bit chilled, however, our room would not be ready for another few hours so we continued on…over the Alexander Pont to the Musee d’Orsay. Impressionist stuff, which isn’t my cup of cocoa, but TWWNCBUIP was thrilled and the Musee was heated, so it worked out. It was a pretty nice place and a decent way to pass the time, but the minute that magnificent clock struck three we were ready to head to our hotel~we grabbed the first taxi we saw and jumped in. Guess what? This guy only spoke French! Imagine that. We had to pull out our reservation papers and point to the address of our hotel but, you will be happy to

We survived crossing the traffic circle at the Arc.

We barely survived this crossing.

know that by the end of the week we were actually able to say “43 Avenue Bugeaud” well enough that the taxi drivers understood us. I think this is the taxi ride where I lost my beautiful hand knit hat. I loved that hat, and in Paris, I needed that hat.

I needed this hat ....

I needed this hat ….

Oh well, when we arrived back at the St. James we were in such a sleep deprived state that all we could think of was taking a nap…we didn’t intend for the “nap” to last eight hours. We woke up at 11:30pm and realized that we only had 30 more minutes of our actual anniversary remaining. We decided to see if we could make it to the Eiffel Tower before midnight.  Our hotel called a taxi and directed the driver to take us to the Tower d’Eiffel and voilà! we arrived at the tower just as it lit up with a million or so sparkling lights. I thought someone had called ahead and let it be known that we were celebrating 40 years of marriage because how else could something be so perfect? But apparently the lights are turned on every hour on the hour.[wpvideo M4bLxaTx]

We walked around for a bit and headed back to the St. James just in time to take another nap…this time we woke up at 3:30 am and we had to wait for the hotel restaurant to open at 7am, for breakfast. It was served buffet style with all of the good stuff, croissants, French bread, cheese, bacon,

Under the Eiffel at Midnight

Under the Eiffel at Midnight and still in possession of my favorite hat.

French roast coffee and scrambled oeufs served in a glass jar.  There was a man who had breakfast at the same table every morning, just he and his dog. We ate our breakfast looking out over the garden which has air balloon tenting. Pretty cool.

On day two in Paris we took the train to the Palace of Versailles. Even in the cold and the rain it was a sight to behold. The Hall of Mirrors was a highlight as was Marie Antoinette’s “farm” and village. The garden fountains were not turned on because it was winter but from what I could tell, it would have been pretty fancy. We had tea and cakes in the Angelina Tea shop actually located within the Palace.  It wasn’t hard to imagine the reason for an uprising when you are surrounded by luxury eating cakes and having tea while the citizens were freezing outside in the rain and the cold. After our cozy tea we realized that we were once again going to have to go out into the cold and rain ourselves to make our way to the train station for the return trip to Paris.  That morning before we had left we decided that we would finally stay up late enough to have an evening meal in the Paris.

Hah! We no sooner got to our hotel when instead of dinner in the City of Lights it was lights out! Who are these people?

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

On day three, after breakfast, we headed off to the Louvre on foot but decided that it was too cold to walk all the way so we hailed a taxi.  The driver let us out and pointed to a door on a dirty building-nowhere on it did it say “Louvre” and we did not see the grand entrance with the glass pyramid that I remembered from the Da Vinci Code, but the driver insisted that this was indeed the Louvre. Once we got inside, through a checkpoint Charlie more complicated than the one at the airport, we saw beginnings of the vast complex that is the Louvre.  We decided it might be a good idea to just touch on a few “highlights” and maybe return the next day for a more in-depth experience. You know what the highlights were, right?  Well, La Joconde or La Gioconda as my Italian buddy would say, was our first stop. She was located up several flights of stairs and even though we were there in “off” season, she was still surrounded by tour groups. When we finally made our way to the front of the line we just stared at her for a few minutes. She was not my favorite part of our trip to Paris.  Same with Venus de Milo. But we got there. We saw them. Now let’s move on. On this day we wandered the Marais District which has many art galleries, cabarets and shops. Also, lots of sidewalk cafes. But it was so drizzly and cold we didn’t linger. We will have to come again, perhaps April in Paris, to experience and appreciate this beautiful area fully.

The next morning we were on a train to Reims at 8am to visit another church (every place we went there was at least one

I signed the bottle of champagne when our guide wasn't looking.

I signed the bottle of champagne when our guide wasn’t looking.

Cathedral that was a TWWNCBUIP must see) and a tour of the Veuve Clicquot champagne house. Now the French had my

Quite intimidating view, if you ask me...

Quite intimidating view, if you ask me…

attention! Veuve Clicquot is the 4th largest maker of champagne in France and has the largest cave in France (18 miles of chalk walled cave that runs under homes, roads, stores and a park).  Our guide, a young man named Luic, had a grand passion for Veuve and we learned a great deal from him about La Grande Dame.  We are going to write to the folks that run the place and ask if Luic can come to Houston for a visit and tell all the Mucky Duckers about champagne.  What can they say, but oui or no?

The train ride back from Reims was short and sweet and even though it was not late we still found ourselves ready for bed before the rest of Paris was even ready for dinner! I think that the miles of walking (usually uphill) and the wind, and the cold were making it impossible for us to see the Paris nightlife. Asleep by 8pm we were again awake at 4 in the morning and watched the clock until it was time for breakfast. We were always starving by this time because we kept going to bed without any supper.

As the hostess escorted us to our table TWWNCBUIP asked if we could please sit at a table facing the garden. “Of course, Madam.”  So we are taken to a table facing the garden and seated

next to a young woman who looked up and gasped when she saw us. We were so also greatly surprised to see someone we “knew” in

Champagne being aged for you and me.

Champagne being aged for you and me.

Our Chateau in Paris - The Saint James

Our Chateau in Paris – The Saint James

Paris.  Our new friend from the Air France flight was sitting in our little hotel dining room!  She was in Paris for her birthday weekend and had decided to treat herself to the Saint James for her birthday.

Of all the gin joints in all the world.

And you know what was really cool?  After she got over the surprise of seeing us she asked if we minded if she let her boyfriend know that the “people from the plane” had just walked in to the restaurant-which meant, of course, that she had actually really planned on visiting the Duck. In fact, as we found out during breakfast, her boyfriend is an Englishman and when she told him about us he had looked at the Duck calendar and decided that the Christmas Singalong sounded like the perfect event to attend during his visit to Houston this month. How nice is that? Hope you all will get to meet our new friends at the Duck.

American Cemetary in Normandy

American Cemetery in Normandy

Our last day in Paris and TWWNCBUIP had more churches to see including the one on the highest hill, the Sacré-Cœur – on butte Montmartre – gotta love it…so many stairs. From there we set out to  discover the neighborhood. Seemed like the thing to do since we couldn’t find a taxi and couldn’t read the bus signs. We wandered along streets where stores had clothing piled on tables and in bins all along the sidewalk – it was like shopping from a laundry basket. This was the Montemarte neighborhood and not my favorite part of Paris, no matter how historic it was.  By the time we had walked 3 blocks of a street where stores seemed to only sell cell phones, I was relieved to get

Mont Saint Michele Abbey in Normandy

Mont Saint Michele Abbey in Normandy

a text from our new airplane buddy who wanted to meet us for a drink so that we could meet her boyfriend who had just arrived from London.  Sounded like a great plan.  We headed back to the Saint James and met up with them in the library bar…a very cool spot. Elegant and old school.

View from our balcony in Bayeuz

View from our balcony in Bayeuz

We left Paris the next morning the 8am train for Normandy. I know you might be noticing these early morning events in this story and probably wonder why we are up so early. I can refer you back a few paragraphs to the asleep at 8pm and awake a 3am routine that we still had not been able to correct.

Our train stopped at the tiny Bayeux station in Normandy and it was only a hop skip and a jump to our hotel, a former Chateau called, Domaine de Bayeux.  Our host was very proud to show us around this beautiful place taking great joy in explaining that the sleek design of our fancy bath was all his handiwork. After checking out our new hotel, we took a taxi to the gas station that rented cars and picked up our little rent car that would take us on our tour of Normandy the following morning.  But for now, we decided to park the car at our hotel and walk to dinner since the town square was only a few blocks from our hotel.

Sidewalk Cafe in Bayeux. Unfilled because of the 38 degree night.

Sidewalk Cafe in Bayeux. Unfilled because of the 38 degree night.

 We had dinner at La Rapiere (the best meal of our trip – and since we were walking – had a bottle of wine as well). Our walk back to the hotel was pretty special – there was a full moon hanging in the sky right over our  hotel, just like in the movies.

The next morning, we set out for a 30 minute drive to the Normandy beaches – however since we didn’t understand the French signage – it took us longer – I called it the scenic route. TWWNCBUIP kept saying something too, but you will have to pardon her French.

When we arrived at the American Cemetery we got out of the car close to the beach just to stand there and get a feeling for this hallowed ground. I don’t know where it came from but “America the Beautiful” was playing when we exited the car. It was an altogether moving experience. I can only wish that everyone would be able to pay a visit here.  It cannot be described in words.

The next stop was the Mont Saint Michel Abbey. I won’t elaborate on how long it took us to get there but we did travel through every village in Normandy on our way to the Abbey.  If you don’t know – the Abbey is built on a rock that becomes an island during high tide with the water level rising 3 – meters. Even after visiting dozens of churches, sanctuaries, and abbeys, I have to say that this is a place you should visit should you ever get the chance, even if it is a church. Be aware though, like everything else in France, it is straight uphill and once you get to the top there are many flights of stairs. Take three and breathe….all the way to the top. But don’t give up because it’s worth it.

So why get out of bed?

So why get out of bed?

We spent our last night in Bayeux and the next morning visited the Tapestry Museum. The Bayeux Tapestry (Calvados) is an embroidery, 70 meters long, made

On a cold winters night outside our hotel in Buyeux.

On a cold winters night outside our hotel in Bayeux.

in the 11th century to celebrate the victory of William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings. 1066. That’s pretty old. Then the train back to Paris.

Our last night, concerned about traffic from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport, we chose to stay at the citizenM hotel because of it’s location at the airport. We would not have to worry about rush hour traffic or any transportation strikes. The Citizen M is a new concept that is much like a hostel in size (bed, toilet, sink, tv), but not in appearance. The bed is wall to wall, or the walls are so close that they touch the bed, however you look at it. The bed was really comfortable, the shower was wickedly strong and hot, the room was operated by an iPad located next to the bed. Great  free wi-fi and lights that changed color to fit your mood. Party. Romance. Rest. Business. It was a really cool, dare I say, almost hip, this hotel experience at the Charles de Gaulle airport. In the morning you make your way down to the common area where there is a delicious breakfast buffet and lots of comfortable little cubbies to relax in while waiting for your plane. When it was time to go we walked out of the hotel, down the covered walkway to the airport train which took us directly to Terminal 2. Then we walked for ten miles to the Air France gate. And then we got on the plane.

Sadly, we were in our Premium Economy seats on the return trip as we were not offered the Business Class upgrade this time….oh what a difference that upgrade makes. The flight over seemed like it took about two hours but the flight home seemed more like twelve.

We are home again and happy to be here!    

We are sure lucky to have Shane who took care of the Duck and the puppies while we were gone.

And to borrow that famous old line… there really is no place like home.

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