It all started in 2005… My husband and I, who travel frequently, could not agree on going to Paris. I was interested and he was not. So around my 38th birthday, while chatting with my world-traveller friend, Steffany, we devised a plan to go for my 40th birthday. She went as far as suggesting we try it in November, 6 months after my birthday, but what the heck, I could celebrate the milestone all year long if necessary.
A year before the trip, we cashed in some points and booked business class flights to Paris. 3 months out, we started researching hotels. As the day drew closer, we almost couldn’t make it happen due to conflicting schedules, but somehow we made it work and on November 10th we were flying across the pond ensconced in our own little beds on Air Canada.
Upon arrival at Charles De Gaulle, we groggily stumbled into the baggage area, here we just stood and laughed. Here at a world class location, there was about 4 feet of space between the row of carts and the baggage carousel. It was quite a sight, with everyone contending for their opportunity to hoist their oversized bags onto carts. We just waited out the chaos. I guess there is no need to upgrade it as people will wait for their luggage regardless of how long and arduous the process is.
Our schedule was as such: 3 days in Paris, 2 days in the country, 3 days back in Paris. We had booked a 3
star hotel to start, 2 star in country, 5 star on the return Paris trip. We got 2 out of 3 right. We stayed in the Opera district both visits to Paris. We spent 2 nights in the Loire Valley, supposedly a 2 hr trip from Paris (more on that later).
Our 3 star hotel was fabulous. Great location, spacious room, thick towels, washcloths, superb front desk staff.
One employee informed us that 2 star was all that was required when traveling to the country. We were happy, we were lucking out with our hotel choices. You only need a 2 star in the country because the rating system will not bump you into a higher category unless you all the criteria. You could have 5 star accommodations, but if you do not have, for instance, say bathrobes, you would
still be a 2 star. This is valuable information to know when arranging your own accommodations.
As our first 3 Paris days drew to a close, we found out that a Metro strike was scheduled for the next day. At the time we had no concept of the impact that a Metro strike would have on us. Good thing we had booked a car.
Good thing we had booked a car…. that was actually there. A Metro strike in Paris means, that there are no rental cars, no taxi cabs, a zillion bicycles, a million motorcycles and 5 times the amount of cars on the roads than a normal day. So the car we booked was not there, but a nice manual transmission Passat station wagon was. So after 15 years of not driving a stick shift, I drove up out of the parkade and onto the streets of Paris to exit the city… or at least try.
A metro strike means that there are protests and blockades throughout the major routes. A metro strike means that you sit still for ½ hour at a time. A metro strike to me, meant driving in the bus lane. My reasoning was that with no busses running, who would be in the bus lane? We were lucky, we did not get a ticket, but meant just being in the right place at the right time. After an hour and a half, we found the peripherique(ring road) and eventually the toll highway and left the city and the strike behind us. We were more than happy to pay the 17 Euro to drive on the high speed motor way (140 km/hr was slow!).
The Loire Valley was surreal.
We stayed at a small Auberge (Inn)
that had a 5 star restaurant. 4 courses for 23 Euro. Considering that in Paris, a glass of wine at the George V is 23 Euro, this is great value. Satiated we wandered to our spacious room for a very quiet, restful, country sleep. The next day we drove 150 km around the Valley, taking in the scenery, the wineries and the wine caves
(wholesalers who store and sell the wines for the wineries). We had booked both nights at the Inn’s restaurant due to its high ratings, and so after a nice afternoon nap, a bottle of local red, another gourmet feast awaited.
The Paris metro strike was supposed to last 2 days but in fact, it lasted 10 days. So our plans were changed. Upon returning to the city, after another harrowing experience getting to our new hotel, we found out the computerized underground trains were running, or should I say, train. Number 14 train was running. For some entertainment, there are some youtube clips that show trying to get on these trains. They are accurate, it gives new meaning to the word sardine.
We spent the last 3 days at a posh, 5 star hotel. Don’t bother, would be our recommendation. The staff is more likely to be snooty, the hotel old, the drinks expensive. One redeeming quality was the location, good if you have to walk, which we did. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, so our planned site seeing took
the back seat and we spent more time shopping and wandering around our local area. Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps are great department stores in Paris. We had no trouble filling our time with shopping, eating and drinking wine.
The one last bit of excitement for this story happened on our departure day. We had pre-booked a shuttle service to return to the airport. This is recommended because sometimes it is very hard to get a taxi and when you do, you have to pay from where it is hailed. So if the taxi has to drive 10 minutes to pick you up, you pay
from that point. We confirmed the pick up the day before but the morning of, at 8 am, the shuttle company phoned and cancelled our ride. It took 45 minutes for the bellman running up and down the street to get a taxi (at a 5 star hotel) and once again a 90 minute journey to exit the city with long bouts of just sitting and not moving at all.
We did make our flight, we had left ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport, our intention had been to get to the airport early, sit in the business lounge and reflect on the week over some lovely French wine. The only change was that we reflected once in the air instead of on the ground.
We had quite a trip, laden with our purchases, fully bellies, and joie de vivre. We both lost some weight due to all the walking. We were both elated and amazed, so maybe it is true that French women don’t get fat.