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Joanne and Matt at the top of the Arc de Triomphe
When Russell's sister Joanne first made plans to visit us in Europe, the intention was for Russell to act as her tour guide during the trip's grande finale in Paris. Even after her husband Matt decided to come also, Joanne still asked Russell to join them there. So on January 18th, Russell got up at 5:30 AM and took the two-hour TGV (bullet train) from Valence to Paris to meet them.
Imagine Russell's surprise when the first thing Joanne said was, "We don't want you to give us any directions anywhere. We want to find our own way." The second thing she said was, "And don't do any of the talking for us, either. We want to try everything ourselves." So for the next three days, Russell's tour guide duties were limited to announcing regularly, "Watch out for the dog poop!" On the other hand, he thoroughly enjoyed the time that he was able to spend with his sister.
It was fascinating to see the completely different approach between Russell, who is "living" here on a budget, and two people who were obviously here on vacation. While Joanne and Matt enjoyed a first-day breakfast of omelettes at a sidewalk cafe, Russell had a packaged roll and a banana that he had brought from home. While Joanne and Matt had a sumptuous three-course menu dinner at a restaurant on atmospheric rue Mouffetard, Russell -- off shopping in another part of town -- had a two-Euro pizza from a sidewalk vendor. Joanne and Matt bought the requisite souvenirs for the family back home, and Joanne picked up some of the European fashions.
Joanne largely followed the recommendations of Rick Steves' tour books, and as a result Russell was able to visit several sights that he would not otherwise have seen (mental notes galore for our return trip to Paris in April).
On January 18th, hitting the ground running after our arrival, we took a walk through historic Paris, including the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Saint-Chapelle, and the Quartier Latin. We also saw the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned for the last several months of her life. Russell was so fascinated that he spent the next several days looking for a book on the French Revolution (he finally found one - in English - at the Louvre).
In the afternoon, we visited the Centre Georges-Pompidou, a bizarre (and controversial) building that serves as Paris' museum of modern art (it is also the single most visited tourist attraction in Paris). Paintings included canvasses that were completely black, white, and blue. Sculptures included a pile of rope on the floor and gigantic plastic potatoes hanging from the ceiling. "Four," a film by Yoko Ono, showed extreme close-ups of various people's rear ends (think about it). Russell and Joanne laughed their way through the exhibits, but Matt (who prefers Renaissance marble sculpture) considered it one of the most "insulting" things he had ever seen. Joanne and Matt finished their first day in Paris with a scenic cruise up and down the Seine River.
Matt being insulted by the Centre Georges-Pompidou
On January 19th, we went to the Arc de Triomphe (which the World Trippers had done) and climbed the long spiral staircase to the top (which the World Trippers had not done), where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the twelve roads that meet at the world's largest traffic roundabout. We walked the long straight line down the avenue des Champs Élysées, through the Jardin des Tuileries, and on into the Musée du Louvre. With Joanne as map navigator, we zipped through in a couple of hours, pausing at Michelangelo's Slaves, the Mona Lisa, the Nike of Samothrace (aka the "Wings of Victory"), and the Venus de Milo.
Zipping through the Musée du Louvre
Joanne and Matt wanted to see the top of the Tour Eiffel at twilight, so Russell made plans to meet them there at 6:00 PM when they were finished. When he arrived at 6:00, they were still in line for tickets, so he ended up joining them. It turned into a very long evening (at the end of a very long day); in addition to the half-hour wait for tickets, there was a half-hour wait on the second floor for the elevator to the top, followed by a half-hour wait at the top for the elevator back down to the second floor. In hindsight it was probably not worth the time and expense; the top was very cold and crowded, and the view was actually much better down at the second floor.
(The actual highlight of the day had come earlier that morning, when two men tried - rather ineptly - to mug Matt on the Metro. Suffice to say that one of them ended up slammed up against a wall by Matt.)
On January 20th, we took the one-hour RER train ride out to Versailles, where we took a one-and-a-half hour guided tour (in English) of Louis XVI's and Marie Antoinette's private apartments. We tried to follow this with a tour of the massive outside gardens, but in the middle of winter everything was gray, nothing was in bloom, the fountains were all turned off, all of the statues were covered with tarps, and it was raining. (On the other hand, there were no crowds.) We also met up with a very sweet young woman from Argentina who spoke English but not French, but we lost her somewhere along the way.
Russell, Joanne, and Matt at Versailles
Absolute decadence: The Hall of Mirrors
Upon our return to Paris, Joanne and Matt were able to squeeze in an hour's visit to the Musée d'Orsay, while Russell went running around looking for more books for Cameron (lately he has become fascinated by Roald Dahl). In celebration of our last night in Paris, Joanne treated Russell to a fabulous three-course duck dinner at a restaurant on the Île Saint-Louis as an early birthday present. Since Russell's birthday is actually in May, Joanne was probably just tired of seeing him starving himself.
On January 21st, Russell accompanied Joanne and Matt to the airport as a luggage sherpa (they had graciously offered to carry a suitcase full of our things back home). By now Matt was beginning to come down with the flu. The RER to Charles-de-Gaulle Airport was crowded and delayed (it actually stopped on the tracks once for 20 minutes), and we barely made it to the airport in time. After braving the long lines of additional security, Joanne ended up having to completely open the World Trippers' suitcase when it set off a metal alarm (it turned out to be Gail's belt). On that note, Russell bid goodbye to the American tourists.
The check-in line at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
After an uneventful TGV ride back (although it was delayed for 20 minutes), Russell was greeted by Gail and the boys who had driven up to Valence to meet him. Joss had made a "Welcome Daddy!" sign for the front door of the house; it included numerous spirals ("for hypnotizing") and a subliminal message repeated over and over: "never leave again." Despite three-days' fatigue of running the house by herself, Gail managed another one of her incredible dinners: fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and a dessert of fondant au chocolat. It was good to be home.
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