Day 7 of our trip was Thursday, November 9th, and it was a VERY BIG DAY. Why, you ask? Because Day 7 was the day we embarked for France! We were so excited we could barely stand it. We had our last taxi ride to Edenbridge Station (and the lovely Paul, our favorite taxi driver, was somewhat horrified when I hugged him goodbye -- so American!); took the train to London Bridge Station, then the tube to Waterloo Station. Part of the excitement was our mode of transportation from England to France: the Eurostar train through the chunnel. This was too cool for school. Waterloo Station is international, so you have to go through the same sort of stuff you'd go through in an airport. The train was super cool-looking, just like you'd imagine. Going through the chunnel was something awesome! You're sitting there thinking, "Wow, there's about a jillion tons of water over my head as we scream through this underground tunnel!" It's a little mind-boggling.
Living in Colorado Springs you don't exactly get a lot of train time. That's why we all thought it was soooooo neato when we learned there was a little snack bar car on our train. I kept finding excuses to wander up there and buy chocolate or orangina or some other treat. Since it was an international train, they took payment in either British pounds or in Euros. I had the English currency in my left pocket and the Euros in my right (it all looks kinda the same to me), and I felt so worldly and cosmopolitan paying for my soda with a fistful of European coins. And asking for a napkin in French, ooo that was the ultimate American girl in France kind of experience! ;o)
So this fantastic TGV train is supposed to go up to 200 miles per hour, which was part of the thrill for us. We really wanted to see the countryside streaking by in a blur. Unfortunately it didn't really happen that way. The train kept slowing to a crawl, and a few times it came to a dead stop for extended periods. The steward explained in French and in English that unfortunately there was a disabled train on the track somewhere ahead of us and that was the reason for the multiple delays. But it soon came to light that some of the Eurostar employees were on strike, thus the service was interrupted. So what should have been a two hour train ride took more like four hours, and I got so bored I was ready to eat my own head. At one point I began picking all the little lint pills off of my woolen scarf, made a big puffy ball of them and stuck it in the crevice between the two seats in front of me. Then I took a picture of it. This is what boredom can do to a person.
Eventually the train got it in gear (and went really super fast!) and we made it to Paris. By then we were pretty pooped out, but we were incredibly excited to finally set foot on French soil! Chuck had this crazy idea that we could hoof it from the Gare du Nord (the train station) to our hotel. Don't ask me how, but somehow we managed to negotiate the streets of Paris with our suitcases and all our crap, on foot, during rush hour. It was probably about a mile and a half to our hotel and by some miracle we actually FOUND it! Chuck had a map and we just sort of pressed on in the right direction until we located the right street. And what a cute little hotel it was, the Hotel Sainte Marie. I didn't know quite what to expect, but when we booked it online we made sure we specified that we wanted a room with a toilet! And a shower! It wasn't very expensive at all, I think it was about 40€ per night. Our room was tiny and it had two twin beds, and it was a little scruffy and utterly charming. The bathroom was microscopic! All I cared about was the bed though. We all decided to retire to our rooms and take a "nap," which ended up being several hours! When we woke up we were horrified that we had slept away the afternoon and early evening. It was totally dark out. The four of us walked around trying to find a place to eat and we were very worried that all the restaurants seemed empty. Then we realized that, duh, the French don't go out to eat until about 9:00pm. The evening rush hadn't even started yet. We found a wonderful restaurant with a waiter who was very excited to try out his English on us. The food was simply amazing in every way.
After dinner the streets really started to fill up with pedestrians and automobiles. Paris is called the City of Light for good reason! Magnifique! We walked all over, stopping to snap some photos of the Opera National de Paris, spectacular by night. Then we found the Louvre. Holy crap. It was just so incredibly beautiful, I wanted to cry. I couldn't believe I was standing in the courtyard of the Louvre, and it was SPECTACULAR. I can't even explain it so you'll just have to look at my pictures to understand how incredible it was. I'm getting all verklempt just writing about it. After that we wandered in the direction of the Seine. We took the steps down to the level of the river and walked right along it. I had another "pinch me" moment. Seriously. Here I was, in Paris, at night, strolling along the Seine, hand in hand with Pat. It was unbelievable. There was a couple on a bench enjoying a bottle of wine. A tour boat floated by. I'll never forget walking along the Seine that night.
There was one more thing to see by night before we went back to our hotel. We walked a little farther up the river and emerged a bit to the north. Just a little bit farther and there it was in the distance: the Eiffel Tower. So incredibly beautiful, all lit up and glowing in the night sky. I knew we were going to see it up close the next day, but I tried very hard to get a decent photo of it by night because it's gorgeous. I leaned against a lamp post and fired off a bunch of shots (very slow shutter speed). I just couldn't believe how magnificent it was.
Thus ended our first day in France. It was the most amazing initiation to the most amazing city on earth. I can't really explain it other than to say that it was a lifelong dream coming true.
Hever Castle is the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn. Like any self-respecting castle it has a centuries-old church, complete with creepy graveyard. This is one of my favorite photos from the trip, a gravestone so old that the inscription has been completely worn away.
This is what boredom looks like, my friends. Out of sheer desperation I began picking the pills off of my woolen scarf and stuffing them into the gap between the seats in front of me. I think it was as this point that I decided the TGV ("tres grande vitesse" should be rechristened the TGE ("tres grand ennui").
Looking down the street from the Hotel Sainte Marie...
And looking up the street from our hotel window. After I snapped this picture a head popped out of the next window over and a very nice lady greeted me in French. Once she found out we were American she wanted to hear all about us, but she didn't speak English so I did my best to explain to her in French who we were and what we were doing there. Kind of a neat little memory for me.
The Louvre by night -- wow!
The Eiffel Tower. Formidable!