First of all, i apologize for leaving everyone high and dry with no word. I received a few emails from worry worts (which I appreciated!), but seriously all is well. I just needed a few days post-Europe to collect my thoughts and re-adjust to life in the good US of A. Anyway, here’s a recap of how things went down after my last post (about the beach).
For the whole trip, I secured a Eurail pass which was a FANTASTIC deal. What this pass gives you is free travel in the countries that you choose for one (lower) price. I bought one for France, Belgium, and the Netherlands—this is really what defined my travel itinerary after the conference in Montpellier. The Friday after the conference (Sept 22nd) I met a friend from the States in Montpellier and together we set out for Brussels, Belgium.
BUT not before my credit card was declined when I was trying to check out of the Montpellier hotel. Apparently American Express believed me to be a Shelley Batts impersonator, and after getting me on the phone asked me all kinds of strange questions (“Name a street near the street you live on….” etc). The receptionist luckily was very kind and joked to AmEx that I didn’t LOOK like a terrorist. Finally AmEx conceded the point and “allowed” me to charge up my hotel bill on their card. How kind of them!!!
The train ride from Montpellier to Paris (had a train change there before Brussels) was absolutely gorgeous, as it went through the provincial and rustic French countryside. It was about 5 hours long and really rather pleasant, there was a bar/food car in the back where we could eat Croque Monsiors (sp?) and drink the French equivalent of Budweiser (so forgettable, I don’t remember the name.) When we got to Paris, we were in for a shock: all the trains to Brussels were booked, and we couldn’t get a ticket until the following morning at 11:30am! This was awful news, as it meant 1) we’d have to find some probably-expensive hotel to stay tonight in Paris, 2) our reservation for our hotel in Brussels would either ALSO be charged, or perhaps canceled. So, what could we do, but buy tickets for the next day, and lug our bags out into the Parisian night…..
Which ended up working out just perfectly! I called the Brussels hotel, who had never even heard of Shelley Batts let alone her reservation (although I secured the following day!). I had made the reservation through Expedia, so why they didn’t get it I have no idea. Anyway, we dropped our bags at the Marriott across from the train station, and decided to roam the streets of Paris.
Of course, the first stop was a cafe to get a much-needed beer.
(More pictures of the Eiffel Tower and more, below the fold!)
Next we walked over to the Champs Elysee and caught the Arc du Triomphe at sunset. This “street” (more like a circle) was crazy with traffic, although don’t bother trying to hail one of the 1billion cabs in Paris. They only pick up at “taxi stands” and will more likely give you the finger than give you a ride.
Further west is the famous Eiffel Tower, which is much more impressive in person than I had imagined. We got there well after dusk, and saw that the entire tower is lighted. And in fact, it *sparkles* for about 10 minutes an hour (the sparkling was many many flashbulbs going off randomly on the tower). The sparkling can be seen far across the city.
For a paltry 15 euros and an hour in line, you can go up in the tower, but we decided to have dinner instead (red wine, pate, baguettes, cheese!). We tried to take the metro back to the hotel, but it closes at 1am and we got stranded in the Metro station with no trains running. Trudging back up to street level, we figured out the secret of the cabs (after I tried flagging them down 5 or 6 times).
And one other thing of note that I saw in Paris, which made me terribly homesick for Pepper, was this:
We hit a few more bars/cafes that night, and laughed ourselves silly when a French waiter who was trying to take down a cloth umbrella got royally drenched with rainwater. He let out a string of fantastic cussing in French—I was sincerely sorry my French was too rusty to translate for you.
Back to the hotel, and off to Brussels in the morning…………..