Paris, France
November 27, 2001

Captain, she's on full power! 
The tractor beam is too powerful!
It's pulling us in!

Scotty, divert all power to the shields!

Spock, what is your analysis?


Captain, I think it's the Eiffel Tower.

We left London for Paris on the Eurostar -- the high speed train that uses the Chunnel to cross the English Channel. There had been several train accidents in England in recent weeks and speed limits were reduced for all trains including the Eurostar.  But once we entered the Chunnel the train resumed it's usual high speed.
Mitch and Max enjoyed a game of cards and I was glad to leave the left-hand driving behind in Great Britain.  The Chunnel is not much to see.  The tunnel entrance looks like any other and once inside it was mostly dark.  From the train we could not see the shore of the English Channel from either country. 
The train runs 100 miles an hour through the Chunnel and 160 miles once it hits Europe.  It was funny to see cars on the freeway look like they were going so slow, since in France they drive very fast.

I was able to get this picture of a passing Eurostar using the video camera.  At 32 frames per second there is only one frame with the front of the train visible.  The trains pass in the blink of an eye.  When we entered smaller tunnels the train would displace the air in the tunnel causing the air to compress.  Our ears would instantly experience the higher pressure when we entered tunnels, and just as quickly decompress upon exiting.  The sound of other trains and tunnel walls was like muffled bangs as we blew past them.

The Eiffel Tower

We knew it would be great to see the Eiffel Tower but we were shocked to see just how enormous the structure really is.  Pictures just don't capture the size of it.  In a picture it looks like an oversized radio tower or maybe like the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.  But standing underneath this structure is like being on a massive star-ship from a scene out of Star Wars.

 


Another famous Parisian stop is the Arc de Triomphe, (Arch of Triumph.)  Napoleon had the Arc commissioned to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.
 
 

It may look like you can drive through the arch but the streets actually go around the monument, (you can see them in the picture below.)  Twelve converging boulevards make the the largest, busiest traffic circle we've ever seen.  It may be the busiest intersection in all of Europe. 

Below is a sample of one of the unique sculptures that adorn the Arc de Triomphe.

Splitting off from one of the subway tunnels is a pedestrian underpass that goes to the Monument.  From there you can climb the stairs to the top.  It's a great place to watch the traffic and get a good view of the city.

Speaking of subways, we highly recommend them in all big cities.  But, though we've never had a problem, there is always the risk of pickpockets.

In American cities there are armed muggers -- the kind that will hurt you while they're stealing your wallet.  In France it's different -- the French pickpockets don't like confrontation -- they are more clever than that.  If they acquire your belongings you'll probably never know about it until you try to pay your restaurant check.

Entering the subway one day I noticed a guy following us.  I often drop back behind Cheryl to keep an eye on her purse.  For myself, I keep my wallet in my front pocket and a hand on it in tight crowds.  Cheryl stopped, turned directions, then walked back to a bench.  I saw this guy nonchalantly follow and take a seat at the other end of the long bench.  I sat next to Cheryl and quietly told her what I had observed.  After a few moments we got up and walked away.  Soon, the guy got up and stood close to several other people waiting for the subway.  I saw him say something to the guy in front of him.  With a slight nod the other fellow moved away, then they both walked towards us, but as if they didn't know each other.  The subway arrived and although we tried to board a different car they got on the same one as us.  I was convinced that one of them would create a commotion by bumping into us or something.  Since they saw that I was keeping a close eye on them and Cheryl had a death-grip on her purse, they gave up on us and got off at the next stop.  Maybe it was nothing at all.

But there are lots of ways that American tourists can get ripped off.  Fortunately for us, it only took a couple of days and the loss of a few hundred francs to catch on.  (One franc is worth about 17 cents)

We took a taxi from the Eurostar station to our hotel near the Eiffel Tower.  The road we took may not have been the most direct, but it really wasn't that far out of the way.  There was, however, one stretch about ten blocks long that was one lane, one-way, and packed full of cars.  It took two or three lights to get through each intersection.  Later, I asked the clerk at our hotel about taxi prices and he said that all Paris taxis charge by distance.  Mitch and I know otherwise, since we watched the meter ticking along as we were often stopped for several minutes in traffic.  And, of course, the taxi driver only spoke French, making it difficult to communicate.

We had read that most French restaurant prices include the tip in the listed price, so the first night we went out we asked about this.  Again, our waiter who's English was suddenly not very good, said something like, "there is no place to write a tip on the charge slip, but you can leave one on the table."  After asking at our hotel, we found out that the tip is built into the listed price and no additional tip is necessary.   If a waiter is exceptional it is customary to leave up to an additional 5% tip above the bill, but usually no additional tip is left.

We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Mitch bought a small souvenir tower in a shop for about 10 U.S. dollars.  We walked into a different section of the shop and the same tower was $6.  I ask the girl about the price difference.  She said it was a different shop and their prices are different.  Then we found out that we could have bought the same exact tower for $2 from one of the guys selling them on the street below the tower.
 
 

Two views from the Arc de Triomphe


The Eiffel Tower

Avenue Champs-Elysées 
I put this picture in for the Mitch and Max.  When they are older they can look back at these pages and remember some of the things that they thought were the best part of our travels.  In this case it's the two spiral stair cases.  Mitch and Max are at the bottom looking up at the camera, but it's too dark to see them.

Here's the beautiful Avenue des Champs-Elysées.  It's the main street in Paris and runs between the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre Museum.  Christmas lights added to the splendor of this famous street. 
Many high class stores are on this street.  Here, we stepped into a Toyota dealer to check out this car.  Ed has friends, (Dave and Cynthia,) that like to race cars.  I bet Cynthia would really like to take this one out for a spin.

There are many bakeries and brasseriers (French cafes) along the street.  We've always heard of "great" French food, but really never thought anything of it.  Just how much different could it be?  Well, we're convinced, it really is GREAT!  I could write a whole page just on the foods (and especially pastries.) 

In the morning it's common to see the bakeries full of people enjoying a cup of coffee and pastry.  You pay one price for food "to-go" and a higher price to sit and eat at a table.  French bread, especially baguettes, are available everywhere.  A mid-day glass of red wine and French bread is common.  I really enjoyed the French bread with anchovies and spiced olive oil with my glass of wine.  Max got hooked on french sandwiches, (ham on a skinny baguette with a little mayo.)  We've been back in the U.S. for three months and he still makes his sandwiches the "French way."
What do you think Dave, do you want to try this one?  (Yes, that's a Century 21 sign on this car.)  It's so small the driver parked it on the sidewalk

Fancy Deserts

Outrageous Seafood Kabobs

Chocolate Crepes

Shops and Markets

Pheasant Anyone?

If you're thinking of traveling in Europe we highly recommend a series of books by Rick Steves called Europe Through The Back Door.  He has several travel shows that are seen on PBS.  Cheryl is the travel planner in our family.  Using these books made traveling a lot easier.  We even met several American, Canadian, and Australian tourists and were able to give them a few pointers since she had studied his books.  We stayed and ate at many of the places recommended by Rick Steves.  Max could often be heard saying, "If we had listened to Rick Steves . . . . ".  For those of you in the Seattle area, Rick's office is in Edmonds, Washington.  It is worth stopping by to review the books, maps and travel resources.
 
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