I’m chronicling my first European Band Tour in 1997. This tour was instrumental in formulating my group travel philosophy and standards. Ultimately, it gave me knowledge, confidence, and practical experience that I needed to begin touring on my own.
Continuing my journal entry and retrospective comments…
June 7, 1997
I was a jarred awake by my alarm at 7:00 a.m.! Since this was the first night I’d slept in a bed for two days, I really was not in the mood to get up and get moving. It had been very warm last night while I was trying to drift off to sleep. But once sleep came, I was out for the duration. In retrospect, I am glad I did not have any “chaperoning” duties, because I’m afraid I would have been caught sleeping on the job! However, I suspect the other adults were just as worn out as me. I’m not quite sure how or what the “kids” did throughout the night. I hope they slept!
I am in the breakfast room trying to write this entry and get some food. We were served a ”continental” breakfast consisting of a hard roll, croissants, jelly, butter, coffee or tea, and watery orange juice. Although this is a typical French breakfast, it is rather institutionalized, being served in a sterile basement cafeteria on paper and plastic trays.
After breakfast, we assembled on the front “lawn” of our hotel to meet our bus and driver. While waiting, one of the kids stepped in a pile of French dog poop. The sidewalks are littered with this stuff at seemingly every tree or bush. So, after waiting for him to clean up, we boarded the bus for a tour of Paris’s historic landmarks.
The Cathedral “Notre Dame” wowed everyone with its twin bell towers, flying buttresses, and huge stained glass rose-shaped windows. This is only my second trip to Paris and I am trying to take it all in, when it comes to the sights. Lisa took time to point out some features of Notre Dame, such as the bas-relief carvings over the front door depicting God’s judgement of the dead. Seeing those goulish demons on God’s left, descending to hell, is enough to make anyone walk the straight and narrow! Lisa also pointed out the carving of the headless St. Denis, near the left exit doors, and his significance as one of the patron saints of Paris.
After visiting Notre Dame, we boarded the bus and drove down the river passing the Latin Quarter (known so for the “education” that has occurred here). Crossing the river we saw the Lourve, Tullieries, Champs Elysée, the Arch du Triomphe, and finally to the Trocadero. Stopping here, we got off the bus and enjoyed a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower. Back on the bus, we drove a few blocks to the Opéra neighborhood, where we had free time for shopping and lunch.
Several decided to have lunch at one of the many cafés lining the grand “Boulevard de l’Opéra.” I enjoyed “moules” (mussels) cooked in wine, herbs, and garlic butter and all the bread I cared to eat. Charlotte and Aunt Hilda had French Onion Soup, which I think was better than Bern’s. Mom had some salmon spread with salad. We also had a bottle of slightly chilled red wine from the Loire region, which went well with our meals. [WINE NOTE: Loire Valley-COULY-DUTHEIL Saumier Champigny 1996 46F]
After lunch, we rode our bus to the Musée du Louvre. As a group, we entered at the portal near “Rue Rivoli” and were set free to wander on our own. Several joined Charlotte and me to follow the “Rick Steves Guidebook” tour. It worked pretty well, but this is a big museum and after two hours, we had had about all we could stand. Looking for a place to sit and rest, we discovered a café on the top veranda of the Denon wing that served a refreshing orange drink known as ‘Orangina.’ This café was a cool and refreshing change from the crowded galleries and halls. It also provided a great view of the inner courtyard and modern pyramid entrance.
From the Louvre, we walked to the ‘La Boucherie’ Restaurant, where we had dinner. The menu was the best yet: salad, wonderful mashed potatoes, and steak.
After dinner, Lisa led a walking tour in the direction of the Pompidou, a modern art center. The walk from the restaurant to the Pompidou was fine, but the area immediately surrounding the Pompidou Center was dirty and a bit seedy. A little later, we met our bus and driver at the Bourse and drove to the Eiffel Tower.
The famous tower complex was engulfed with crowds when we arrived at 9:30 p.m. (the sun does not set until 10:30). Right away, Lisa purchased our tickets. After standing in line for about thirty minutes, we were on our way to the top.
Over the months leading up to our trip, Brian had been worried about the elevator trip up to the top. He has always been afraid of heights, roller coasters, and the like, so as we ascended, it seemed that the elevator cabin would never stop going up, and up, and up. We crammed Brian in the center of the cabin, and everyone crowded around him. Actually, there were so many people in the cabin, we felt like the proverbial “can of sardines.” I watched as the horizon disappeared into the skyline. Finally, the elevator stopped. We were at the top and all was well! From the summit, the Paris skylines twinkled with millions of amber lights. The hustle, bustle, and traffic noise of the city, 900 feet below, was replaced by silence interspersed with “wows,” “oohhs,” and “ahhhs.” As we were leaving, someone noticed a fireworks display off to the east. Watching that from “above” was a unique experience that I’ll never forget.
The trip back down was extremely crowded; we had to wait in a long line to change elevator cabins on level two, but we were back on the ground by 11:40 p.m. Once again, we returned, by Métro, to our hotel. After an hour on the subway, I was once again tuckered out and ready for bed.
Memories from today: Matt left the drummer’s bag containing all their sticks on the Paris bus; he and his dad spend much of the day tracking the bus down and recovering the sticks. Kissing Charlotte at the top of the Eiffel Tower was a highlight! We walked many miles. Lunch with my family was a treat. I took pleasure in watching my students experience Paris while having fun with their friends. Today was one of those days that makes me happy and filfilled to be a teacher!
That’s it for this entry; it is 1:50 a.m. and we are due for another 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. I had better get some sleep.
I remember we did a lot of riding on the bus from one sight to the next that morning. Rules for buses and emissions have drastically changed since those days. Now, buses are not permitted to drop off and pick-up passengers at the major tourist sights in the city center. Other cities such as London, Rome, and Florence impose incredibly high fees for tour buses to enter the “tourist zones.”
Today, when in Paris, my tour groups do quite a bit of walking and riding the Métro. Walking and experiencing public transportation is exactly what “Exploring Europe” is all about. Doing so, requires that one learn to live like a local, speak some of the language, and experience Paris from an insider’s perspective. I think it’s the only way to travel!
ORANGINA – Based on my journal entry, I suspose this was the first time I’d run across “Orangina.” I recall we were so parched and tired from “touring” the Louvre, that the cafe was a welcomed sight for sore feet! The little bottle of “Orangina” was chilled (unlike the soda we had been drinking) and served with a cute matching glass filled with several cubes of ice!
French Onion Soup and my reference to “Bern’s.” – Bern’s Steakhouse is located in Tampa, Florida and ranks #1 on my list of favorite restaurants. I began going the “Bern’s” in the early 1980′s as a guest of Roger Mayer, a musical instrument dealer. Ever since my first visit, it has set my standard for many food types, such as French onion soup. You can read my blog article about Bern’s by following this link.
The EIFFEL TOWER’S Countdown Clock – Throughout the late 1990′s the Eiffel Tower sported a digital “countdown” to the year 2000. Notice, here in 1997, we were 938 days before January 1, 2000.
LOOK AT WHAT WE WERE WEARING! – From these pictures, I can tell I had not yet formulated my travel attire opinions. Short shorts and tee-shirts would never make it on my packing list these days. Look at me! I’m the “typical American tourist” with my aviator-styled sunglasses, an LL Bean canvas hat, shorts, ankle-high hiking boots, and that huge backpack! Why am I wearing those sunglasses on the Métro, at night?
THE BEST DINNER YET? – Notice my comments about the meal at “Restaurnt La Boucherie,” “Salad, WONDERFUL mashed potatoes, and steak.” I think the ”comfort food” reminding us of home. I have no doubt, the food was good. Even today the mashed potatoes and steak sounds great. However, there is so much more in the way of “French” food to be had in Paris.
This is a photo I snapped of our ”starter” course on a recent 2011 tour in Paris. Chilled tomato soup (gaspacho) with fresh salmon was a savory hit with my travel partners. This was followed by a choice of three main dishes and desert. At Exploring Euorpe, I typically spend 20-30 euro per person for evening dining experiences.
That ”best-yet” meal we devoured at “La Boucherie” would go for about about seven euros in today’s tourism dollars. For a ”taste and see” culinary tour, consider reading my blog article featuring dining experiences on my 2011 Scotland and Ireland tour.
ONE HOUR Métro commute to our Paris hotel - While staying in central Paris is expensive, I think it is a sensible splurge to enhance one’s total tour experience. As we found out, the ”Residence Internationale de Paris” was on the outskirts of Paris, far away from the tourist attractions. I am sure the tour company got it for a bargain and considered it adaquate for the type of tour they were running. But, I’ve learned from experience, it is better to spend a little more for a safe, clean, and city centered hotel.
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