Our plane landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport at 5:55 on a foggy and drizzly morning. By the time we tucked ourselves into our beds at the ibis budget hotel at Marne Le Vallee, many of us had been awake for 34 hours.
We met our tour guide, a friendly Spaniard named Rafa, boarded a bus, and drove to the hotel to drop off our luggage.
We then walked to a shopping mall to find something for petit-dejeuner (I enjoyed a double espresso and un pain au chocolate) and we boarded a train for the city. We’d take a sprawling walking tour, enjoy some time to sit at a cafe, see more sights, and finally head back to the hotel for some deep sleep.
Paris is beautiful. Perhaps a bit chaotic to American eyes: the streets seem laid out at random, motorcycles and scooters seem to follow a different set of rules apart from drivers of cars, trucks, and buses, which is to say they follow no rules at all. There are a dizzying amount of restaurants, patisseries, boulangeries, book stores, cafes, restaurants, beautiful buildings and beautiful people.
We walked over the Seine to the Ile de la Cite (city island), home to many iconic Parisian sights, most notably the cathedral of Notre Dame. We ducked into the Panthenon to escape the rain. This place was amazing–the longest Foucault’s pendulum I had seen and everywhere you looked you’d see beautiful sculpture, huge oil paintings, and impressive monuments and architectural design. The crypt housed some of France’s most honored: the Curies, Voltaire, Rosseau, Louis Braille, Dumas.
When dinner finally came, some of our students had fallen asleep with their heads on the table. By the time we had boarded the bus for our trip back to Marne La Vallee, everyone on the bus (save the driver) was asleep.
The next morning marked my 37th birthday. Our kids serenaded me with “Happy Birthday” as we rode the bus back to the city. We stopped near the Champs-Elysee, the one street in Paris everyone instantly recognizes. I bought a ridiculously good treat for myself and ate it while looking at the Arc de Triomphe. Then it was off to Versailles to see the world’s biggest monument to wasteful extravagance and selfish excess in the world (outside of the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue): the Palace of Versailles.
There is not much to prepare you for the size and scope of Versailles. The gardens reach as far as the eye can see, and in a one hour tour, you can only see about a dozen rooms. We had an excellent guide named Frédérique, who provided us with plenty of history and context to help us better appreciate what we were seeing.
We then headed to dinner, but before that I had time for a short walk and another sit-down at a cafe.
After dinner, I took a boat cruise on the Seine, watching people wave from the banks. One more cafe stop later, we watched the Eiffel Tower light up before getting back to the hotel for sleep. We will need it because today we’re visiting the largest museum in the world: the Louvre.