A music festival and a few days at the beach were great excursions. But I was ready for some international travel. Poor C, no accrued vacation yet and his boss said he would literally get down on the floor and beg if it meant that he could get their project wrapped up by a certain date. So he stayed home and I ventured out of the country with a 4 year old.
We just happened to have 3 friends in France at the same time; one American and the others British. I cobbled together a flight to Paris and train journeys to Bordeaux and Bordeaux back to London. We flew the first leg because it was a full $150 less than taking the train. England has the most expensive rail service in Europe. The Eurostar from London to Paris is particularly pricey during the summer if you're booking just a few weeks ahead, so flights can often be a bargain. Compared to what we pay in the States for air travel, either this continent is really small or European airlines don't have to pay crazy prices for health insurance. Oh, wait...
The only drawback to a $50 flight to Paris is the 6 am departure. I figured it would be uncrowded and easy to drive the 12 miles to our local airport and breeze through security to the gate. Screw the advice to get there 2 hours before our flight, this was 5 am. You know how most American airports are deserted 5 am? Well, honey, we're not in American any more. The airport was mobbed, the security lines were long (though thankfully people don't have to doff their shoes), the 4 year old was getting anxious and the display told me it was a 15 minute walk to our gate! And that's without a kid who stops at every vending machine to suss out what he's gong to buy some day when his mother won't be around to tell him machine food is evil.
We actually made it with plenty of time and 50 minutes later we were in the middle of France. For sure the subways in France are deserted at 7 am so it felt a little like meandering through tunnels of an empty city after the flu apocalypse. And because the Paris Metro hasn't been refurbished in about 30 years, it feels as thought the apocalypse came and went in 1978. When we emerged from below, the sky was blue, the air just slightly cool and we were in PARIS.
My dear friend B, with whom I powered through PA school in 1996, was staying at the flat of a large-hearted Frenchman who doesn't live there himself, in the center of gay Marais, above a bar called Cox. Really, I don't make this stuff up. It was the quintessential old Paris flat with 10 foot shuttered windows, up 3 flights of gorgeous wood stairs with iron railings, and an impossibly small kitchen. Z and I had our own room with white linen sheets and square pillows covered in lacy cases whose style hadn't changed much since the 18th century.
Our 2 days in Paris were often a contentious battle between adult sightseeing and kid fortitude. We tried to accommodate kid things into every hour which was nice as it meant B and I spent a lot of time sitting on park benches talking while Z's body suddenly recovered from the fatigue of walking when there was a playground involved. We enjoyed a river cruise until Z fell into a sleepy stupor and I had to carry his 52 pounds off the boat. B couldn't help me as the last time he visited us in Seattle Z was behind the mishap that caused him a torn shoulder from which he still hasn't recovered. Sorry, dude!
We indulged in chocolate croissants, cheesy crepes, and a truffled-infused, arugala topped pizza that I would cross way more than the English Channel to eat again. Z's Paris highlight was probably the chocolate gelato cone that was molded into the shape of a flower or the magenta pink replica of the Eiffel Tower he begged me to buy. Mine was the afternoon we all sat down, fatigued, along the Seine and blew bubbles for almost an hour. They drifted up and over the bridge above us and when we walked to the top of the stairs, still blowing, an American told us "You're making everyone smile."
Paris is so incredibly beautiful it makes the cold modernity of American cities seem offensive. It's a place to pause and a place to watch humanity go by. It lacks the buzz of trend-setting, economic powerhouses like London or New York. And even though I know there's a great night life here, as seen by the dozens of men smoking outside the base-thumping Cox at midnight, Paris really feels like a place to come if you just want to turn down your dials... a lot.
The day we left, B and I made a point of sitting at an outdoor cafe where the chairs are positioned facing the street so you can tilt your head to talk to your companion without missing out on all the beautiful people walking by. At the train station I kissed him on both cheeks knowing we would see each other again in London, and we made ourselves comfortable in the First Class car (only $2 more than standard on this particular day) for the 4 hour journey south to Bordeaux. We had barely moved before we were in full-on countryside. Paris was there and then it wasn't. Pinch me again.
P.S. My iPhone broke and Chris lost his on a hillside in Wales. I'll see what I can do about the photos of Southern France for the next installment, but I'm pretty crabby about this kerfuffle...