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July 30 - August 2
Written August 3-4

Dear Friends and Family,

Three days in Paris with friends.  Sounds good.

As drivers, we are familiar with most European challenges; small roads, speedy autobahns, signs in various languages, different drivers' practices.  However, driving in Paris was never considered an option.  The thought of trying to negotiate the traffic circles at Arc d'Triompfe or Concorde would stop us from ever traveling again.  The solution was simple: leave the car in the hotel basement in Vernon, 7 euros per day, take the train into Gare St. Lazare, 10 euros per person, and enter into the Paris Metro subway system, 12.80 euros for ten tickets.  Cheap, quick, and it preserves sanity.

From the St. Paul stop on the Metro, we walked the three or four blocks to the Hotel Castex, in the heart of the Marais district.  The Castex was our most expensive hotel of the trip, but the room the smallest; completely expected for the privilege of staying in The City of Lights.  Our room view was nothing but city roofs, but we grew to enjoy it and, I must say that even with the window open all night, it was as quiet as anywhere on the trip.  Nice.
But, on this first day, we had no time to waste looking out the window.  We needed to meet up with Marianne's brother Chris and his family.  They were staying in an apartment several blocks away, still in the Marais, but closer to the center of city action, all kinds of city action.  (Our St. Paul area started to look like a quiet village.)  Their apartment was on the fifth floor and had a beautiful spiral staircase instead of an elevator.  Fine for us, since we had no luggage.  Their view was also of roofs, even more interesting ones.

We sat around chitchatting while the boys worked more on PS2 (I think).  These gadgets are great travel partners for kids.  After, we went into the neighborhood for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed more talking.  Chris' Hungarian cousin, Aniko, joined us after awhile.  She lives north of Paris and made the trip just to see the family and meet Marianne.  The three Hungarians practiced that funny language while Leisa and I stuck to English.  The boys stuck to PS2.  (By the way, they get great marks for tolerating long hours of just sitting around while the old folks talked and talked.)


The next day, Chris' family goal was to play tennis in the Luxembourg Gardens.  They have been playing tennis throughout their trip from Germany to Italy to Monaco and now in Paris.  Pretty cool memories for the boys.  The "plan" was for Marianne and me to find out where the courts were at the Gardens and guess when the family would be there.  Our various communications methods had broken down (Viber?  Hate it.) so it was with great surprise that, as we were walking past the Metro exit at the Garden gates, the American tennis team was just  walking out.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Watching the Hidas family play tennis was fun for  Marianne and me.  The boys, seven and ten, play well and will certainly be beating their parents pretty soon.  Reportedly, Adam already does.  After the doubles match, I paid a few euros to hang around with Spencer on the elaborate playground.  The popular traveling-rope-swing was an exercise in multi-cultural cooperation.  Kids do it well.


After a lunch in the neighborhood, we headed to Sacre Coeur, the famous white church in the Montmartre district.  The Metro trip over was made more memorable when Marianne got on the first train at the station but the rest of us did not.  Divided in Paris with crummy communications going through rougher neighborhoods: unsettling for everyone.  After a half-hour of worry, we did manage to get back in touch and eventually we met a pale Marianne at the Barbes-Rochechouart station in Montmartre.

This district is crowded with tourists, street vendors, and at least one pick-pocket.  Chris managed to catch the hand in his wallet pocket, so nothing was lost.  Marianne and I rested below the steps, while the family climbed with the crowds.  Watching the tide of tourists flow in and out was fun enough for us.

From here, it was Metro back to the Morais and hugs as we bid the Hidas family farewell.  The next day they planned to squeeze in a trip to Roland Garros tennis stadium before they caught a train to Vienna, where they would get on the flights back to San Francisco.  We hope they made the return uneventfully and look forward to seeing them again this fall, in Monterey.
That evening, Marianne and I worked up the energy, barely, to go for a walk and chose to go along the Seine from the Bastille to Notre Dame.  It was a long walk, but the "Paris Beaches" project was going on ,so there were plenty of distractions.


The next morning it was up early and a taxi ride back to Gare St. Lazare.  I'll admit that I was tired of the Metro and lugging bags up and down stairs.  Breakfast at the station, waiting and people-watching at the station, the 45-minute trip to Vernon, and the 20-minute walk to our hotel-cum-parking-lot and we were back on the road. The next story.

Over the last ten years, while I was working for AREVA, a French company headquartered here, I have been to Paris many times.  Marianne has joined me from time to time, so we are both "veterans" when it comes to this city.  Nevertheless, this visit did not sit well with us.  The part with Chris and his family was fun but, honestly, the city got on our nerves with the crowds and noise and dirt and grunge and expense. Marianne and I had disagreements, something very rare for us.  We're tired.

It is time to go home, but we still have two stops, stops that we might omit except for the distance (too far to drive in one day) and for a last stop with friends, just over the border in Germany.

John and Marianne
To Paris -- In Paris


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