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Hot Flashes and Cold Rain in Paris: Is it too late for a September trip report?

Hot Flashes and Cold Rain in Paris: Is it too late for a September trip report?

Old Jan 8th, 2008, 09:26 AM
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Also letting you know you have a big audience. I love your honest assessment and sharing of your experience. I figure you travel to gather experiences - you want and expect them to be a certain type of experience, but they aren't always, but I don't think everyone will always admit that to themselves let alone others Looking forward to the next installment!
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 09:29 AM
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Such an enjoyable read. Can't wait for your next installment!
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 10:28 AM
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Waiting anxiously for you to have time to continue. I like your writing style. And can identify.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 11:04 AM
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Loving it! You've got me hooked. Can't wait for more...
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 11:43 AM
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Jess,

Hugely enjoying your Paris trip report! We were there the first two weeks of October, and we enjoyed warmer weather than you seemed to, and almost no rain.

Looking forward to more!

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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 12:02 PM
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I love the title of Moleskin Diaries. May I borrow it?

I'm really enjoying your report--my daughter is my best travel companion, but, then, I trained her.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 12:30 PM
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jess, I'm loving your report! I think I know where you are coming from in regards to your travel companion. My mom, aunt and I went to Ireland together last February. Although we had a blast (and I had fun introducing them both to Europe) I missed my favorite travel companion, my husband. We just travel so well together and have similar travel habits. It was definitely an adjustment traveling with someone other than him, and at times I felt a little sad for reasons I couldn't figure out at the time but sound very similar to how you were feeling in Paris. I would love to take my sister to Paris but she's not very well traveled and I think my visions are a little more glamorized then the trip would actually end up being. Still, to experience Paris with her would be wonderful...maybe one of these days!

Looking forward to more!
Tracy
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 12:31 PM
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Excellent report but I am expecting a tragic end. I have traveled with the wrong people before.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 12:49 PM
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I am really enjoying this report so far, but I have a sense of dread about what is to come. I am expecting things to go very sour based on your ominous tone so far.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 02:02 PM
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Great read, can't wait to read the last page!
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 02:05 PM
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Hi Jess, Great report, but I am really starting to worry about our trip to Paris. My DH and I are taking my sister for the first time at the end of March. We have been their twice before and really travel well together. Who knows what will happen but I promise to do my first trip report for all those who have helped me in the past. I have been lurking on this site for 2 years and have been helped with 3 trips and one that had to be cancelled due to illness. So you have inspired me to take notes and report also. Waiting for more,Jane
 
Old Jan 8th, 2008, 02:44 PM
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Here comes Day Three:

Tuesday dawned as another “partly cloudy, 30% chance of rain” day, and S and I had some plans to split up for the afternoon. S was meeting her friend L for lunch at 1:00 at the Jussieu metro stop, which left us the morning together, and we planned to do a Paris Walks tour of the Marais at 10:30. After getting up and having coffee and applying moleskin and loading her pockets with throat lozenges and pocket-sized Kleenex, S was raring to go.

The sun was shining, though the temperature was chilly and there was a bit of a wind as we walked from the apartment to the St Paul metro stop, the starting point for the walking tour. As we walked, we wondered aloud how easy it would be to find the group and the guide, since the instructions on the website say to “meet outside the metro stop” with no further clues. We were taken aback when we arrived and discovered a crowd of at least 40 people, all apparently there for the tour as well. We hovered at the edge of the group, watching the tour guide collecting ten-Euro notes from people. We exchanged glances of doubt about the whole thing, and agreed to hang back for a few more minutes before deciding whether to join in. Eventually, the guide made an effort to gather everyone around her and began explaining the tour. Unfortunately, despite the fact that she was clearly speaking at the top of her lungs, her voice did not project well and we couldn’t make out a word she was saying. So much for the Paris Walks tour! Such a shame – a group of 8-12 would have been perfect and I’m sure we would have learned a lot about this area of Paris. I can’t even imagine how much money Paris Walks made that day on that one overcrowded tour. I guess this is the by-product of success – demand overwhelms capacity.

S was very interested in taking a double-decker bus tour of the city, and because the weather seemed to be cooperating, I decided to join her. We walked to Notre Dame (about a 15-minute walk) and looked for bus tour stops and info. We found a stop with enough info to tell us that if we stayed on for the whole circuit, S would be late for her lunch with L, so she called L to see if they could adjust their meeting time. L was not able to be flexible about this, so we skipped the idea of the bus tour for the moment. S remarked that as much as she wanted to spend time with L while in Paris, it was this kind of commitment that made being spontaneous and flexible difficult.

We checked out the line for climbing the Notre Dame towers and saw that it stretched 60-70 feet down the sidewalk, so we crossed that off the mental list of things to do. After a few minutes hemming and hawing about plans, we realized that S was due to meet L in just over an hour, and if we just split up now, S could take her time walking to her meeting point. So split up we did, with the idea that we would both intend to be back at the apartment by 6-ish in the evening.

Here I was, temporarily alone in Paris, with no one to answer to for several hours. And what did I do? Well, initially, I walked in circles, literally. I never left the area of Notre Dame, but for several minutes I walked first in one direction, and then in another, intoxicated/overwhelmed/exhausted by the endless possibilities. Finally, I sat down and pulled out my map to orient myself to my original plans for the afternoon.

The line to climb the Notre Dame towers caught my eye again. I knew that I wanted to do this on this trip, and the sun was shining. I decided that since I unexpectedly had even more time to myself than I had anticipated, there was nothing to stop me from waiting in the line and climbing the towers today, when I knew the visibility would be good. I got on line, and for forty minutes I shivered in the shade and wind, while being entertained by a little girl of about 7 and her mom. The little girl was busy drawing in a journal, illustrating her trip to Paris. The mom was busy admiring the illustrations and constantly repositioning herself to block the wind and the cigarette smoke coming from the couple ahead of them. (I didn’t smoke while on line – or at other times that I thought it would bother anyone else.) Eventually, we reached the stairs and began the long climb up the worn stone steps. Surprisingly, it was warmer at the top, as the sun shone brightly and the wind somehow diminished. I took several dozen photos, probably all identical to the photos I took when last there in 2004. I eyed the Montparnasse Tower off to the south and made a mental note to try hard to get there and see the best view of all of Paris – the one that does not include the Montparnasse Tower! (Unfortunately, I never made it.)

After leaving Notre Dame, I began a zig-zagging walk along the Seine, walking first on one side of the river and then on the other, crossing at almost every bridge, admiring the view, stopping to sit along the bank, and wishing I had a picnic to enjoy on the Pont des Arts. At one point, I was sitting along the Seine with the sun shining down strongly enough that I removed my jacket, and I thought, “How can I be anything but thrilled beyond belief to be here at this moment?” But what I really wanted, if I could have anything at that moment, would have been to be back home, curled up on the couch with a good book. This was incredibly distressing to me – that I was using time, money and energy to take this trip I had fantasized about and that I wasn’t enjoying it enough; in fact, I hardly seemed able to enjoy it at all. Not only did I feel bad about wasting the time/money/energy, but I felt disoriented about myself. I have long thought of myself as someone who loves nothing more than travel, who is never happier than when far from home, who never gets homesick, who loves adventure, who thrives on foreign places, especially Paris! And here I was, sad and disconcerted, as the sun warmed my face along the banks of the Seine. I can’t explain the origins of these feelings, but I think I will continue to think about and process them for a long time to come.

As I approached the Musee d’Orsay, I felt the call of the museum pass in my pocket as well as the call of my bladder, so I went in (two-minute wait for those with passes, looked like a 20 minute line for those without) to use the bathroom and admire some art. I had been to the Orsay before, and enjoy the whole effect of the building itself as much as any particular piece of art here, so I just wandered randomly to an upper floor and strolled slowly back to the main hall. (When I’m in “museum stroll” mode, I walk slowly but steadily until something catches my eye in particular, and then stop to examine that more closely. At other times, I love to get museum audio guides and concentrate on particular sections of a museum. Still other times, I enjoy the people watching in such a magnificent setting as much as I enjoy the art itself.)

After about an hour in the Orsay, I moved on, walking back behind the museum into the 6th and then heading toward the Eiffel Tower and the 7th. On a past visit with my mother, we had stayed in a hotel in the 7th and I loved walking to the Eiffel Tower almost every evening. The Eiffel Tower is definitely my quintessential Paris site, and I hoped that a good long look at that view would do my mood some good.

There were the usual long lines to buy tickets and go up the tower, as well as the usual crowds of tourists generally milling around, along with a few guys in camouflage carrying their automatic weapons, keeping the Eiffel Tower safe from…something, I presume. As I walked directly under the tower, my cell phone rang and I frantically dug in my purse to find it. (Some things are the same whether at home or on vacation!) It was my husband, calling to check in and see how much fun I was having. It was all I could do not to burst into tears and wail, but a few minutes of talking to him actually brightened my mood a bit. It was interesting trying to decide on the spot how much or little to say about how I was feeling – telling him I was unhappy would possibly satisfy something in me, but would likely make him feel bad and helpless to do anything about it. Telling him everything was great wouldn’t be honest, but would allow him the ongoing fantasy that I was having a grand vacation. I think I took a middle-ground stance by saying that things were not working out quite as we expected and that I wasn’t feeling like myself. I suppose I should ask him now just what his interpretation of that conversation was at the time. (At one point, I considered buying a postcard and sending it to him, saying, “Having a terrible time – wish YOU were here!”)

While sitting on a bench under the tower and talking to my husband, I enjoyed watching a little boy of about 3 or 4 entertaining himself by running headlong into groups of pigeons, watching them scatter in all directions. He would run in an orbit around his mother, dispersing a group of birds and then rushing back to hang on her legs, catch his breath, and laugh. At one point he disturbed a large flock of pigeons, several of whom flew directly at my head when they took off. I ducked and decided this was the time to move on myself.

My eventual goal for this afternoon alone was the Quai Branly Museum, newly opened in 2007, focused on non-Western art. It was only a few minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower, and was also covered by the museum pass. The building itself is fascinating. The wall that faces directly onto the street is a vertical wall of plants of many different kinds growing right from the wall and hanging down like an enormous vertical windowbox. On the inside, the museum is strangely dark in parts, but full of interesting artifacts nicely arranged in sections: the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. I got the audioguide, which was very interesting, but I wished there were more displays with audio content. I spent a couple of hours here and was reminded how much I love going to museums alone, able to wander completely at my own pace and without interruption.

When I left the museum, it appeared it had been raining while I was inside, and any hint of the warm sun was long gone. It was late afternoon and wet and windy, and I was thirsty and cold and a bit hungry, not having eaten all day. (This lack of appetite was the strangest symptom of all in this strange disoriented state I was in. I never lose my appetite. Never. If I’m happy, I want to eat. If I’m anxious, I want to eat. If I’m depressed, I want to eat. You get the idea. But here I was in Paris, and I didn’t want to eat. It made not one bit of sense.) I decided to start walking back in the direction of our apartment, with a plan to stop in a café for a café crème if the opportunity presented itself. I walked along the left bank of the Seine for a few minutes, seeing little but traffic and fallen leaves, then crossed to the right bank and kept walking. As it started to sprinkle, I decided that this seemed like an excellent time to figure out how to use the bus system in Paris, which had been one of my goals for this trip.

I find subway maps relatively simple to read, but have always been intimidated by bus maps. They seem so much more complicated and unclear, but I knew it couldn’t be rocket science to figure them out. I pulled out my Paris transportation map and figured that there was a bus that would take me along the right bank as far as the Hotel de Ville, from where I knew my way home easily by now. I came upon a bus stop quickly and was glad to go in out of the rain, and the right bus (nicely marked with the number on the front) came along minutes later. There was a man waiting for the bus with me, and I desperately wanted him to get on first so I could see how he handled paying, but of course he was too much of a gentleman for that. I knew that my Carte Orange would work for bus travel, but I vaguely remembered some kind of warning about not putting the ticket into the machine, so I pulled it out of its plastic folder and held it up in front of me, smiling hopefully at the driver. He looked at me blankly. I began to feel silly. I waved the ticket around a bit in the air and then asked in my fractured French, “Must I do something with it?” He answered, too fast for me to understand, but also smiled and nodded his head in a way that I took to mean, “Go and sit down, you silly tourist,” so I did.

This was the first of what turned out to be several bus trips around Paris throughout the week, and while we weren’t always sure exactly where to get off or how to make a connection most efficiently, the freedom of the Carte Orange meant we didn’t worry if made a mistake, for we could just get off and go in another direction if necessary. In the end, I can’t remember why I thought bus maps were so difficult to begin with.

After getting off the bus at Hotel de Ville, I couldn’t resist the urge to go into the BHV department store. I had a couple of gifts in mind for my husband and thought I might be able to find them here in the kitchen and cookware department. No luck with the gifts, but I did find more of the lovely table linens and tea towels we had seen on rue du Bac, just slightly cheaper here. I toyed with the idea of buying a tablecloth, but at more than €100, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, especially when I realized that table runners were less than a third of that price. I bought two table runners (one at 30% off!) after many long minutes of looking and admiring, taking one off the shelf and then putting it back, going back to look at displays again and again. They were all beautiful, and I was briefly overwhelmed with indecision.

Choices eventually made and items paid for (this was the only time during this trip that my debit card wouldn’t work, at least while I still had money in my account!), I headed back out to walk the 10 blocks or so up rue du Temple to our apartment. S was already there – good thing, since she had the only set of keys! – and we spent the evening comparing stories about our respective afternoons. S had met her friend for a nice lunch, and they had walked in the Latin Quarter, stopping at les Arenes du Lutece and shopping a bit on rue Mouffetard. S had found a wonderful store selling nothing but umbrellas, and had enjoyed the saleslady’s efforts to show off each umbrella to its finest potential by opening them to display. Though she was still considering returning to buy one, S hadn’t been able to bring herself to spend €100 this afternoon, despite the drizzly weather. Unfortunately, S’s stomach was more than a bit upset. She mentioned that she has a lactose intolerance (I had not been aware of this), and thought that the cheese might be more than her stomach could handle. She was also feeling quite sore from all the walking she had done, and her shoes were not as comfortable as she had hoped.

Footwear was a huge topic prior to our trip. From the moment the planning began, I extolled the virtues of comfortable vs fashionable shoes and encouraged walking in preparation for the trip. S had bought and tried several pairs of shoes over the summer, testing them in NYC and Washington DC, but had found that every pair had caused her blisters or other problems after the first mile or so. She wasn’t kidding when she told me that she had a hard time finding comfortable shoes! She eventually bought two pairs of shoes just prior to leaving for Paris, and while neither of them gave her blisters, thank goodness, they both created red marks and tender spots. S’s morning ritual included time devoted to moleskin application, and her evening ritual often involved foot soaking.

In the end, I brought my two tried-and-true best travel shoes: a pair of leather Keen clogs and a pair of Reiker slip-ons. The clogs are by far the best, having good support and cushioning, and being waterproof as well. These shoes have never failed me, and I am thankful to have found footwear that works so well. I certainly remember times in the distant past when shoes that seemed comfortable enough initially left me with the soles of my feet aching as though black and blue. A fashionista I am not, but you will not find me complaining of tender feet while on vacation!

(I fear that I will never get through this entire trip report. Having only written about Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I am already eleven pages into this. I’m not sure I have the stamina to finish, nor can I imagine that anyone would have the stamina or desire to read the whole thing!)
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 03:31 PM
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I'm still reading and enjoying. I like your honesty with your feelings, when they didn't meet up with expectations. I have had that feeling on a solo trip too, like I would rather just go on home. In fact I cut one trip to Italy short by a few days and did just that. Please finish the report.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 03:56 PM
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Love the report! Brings back memories.

During a trip to Europe with a friend several years ago, I remember breaking into tears one early morning in Paris on the third day of our trip. I couldn't sleep all night, was starving, missed my then-boyfriend and had an encounter with a very mean French hotel employee.

I remember sobbing on the bed in our tiny hotel room, and my sweet friend rubbed my back until I finally fell asleep at 7 a.m. She let me sleep until 1 p.m. Fortunately, the rest of our trip (six weeks) was wonderful after my jet lag wore off!

To prep for my upcoming trip to Paris, I'm packing some Ambien CR, will be sure to keep some food in the apartment for middle of the night hunger pangs and will have my husband with me! I'm also taking a French class to hopefully have a few phrases under my belt to encourage better encounters with the locals.

Looking forward to the rest of the report!
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 04:00 PM
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I'm reading - it's very enjoyable! Since I am nursing a broken bone in my foot, I am doing a lot of vicarious traveling
I almost always travel solo and usually have a pretty strict itinerary. Could some of your homesickness been that you did not seem to have your day planned and you were somewhat at a loss....hope you don't think I'm criticizing....
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 04:34 PM
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jessw37:

Oh please keep posting. You have an easy style of writing and your honesty comes thru. It is refreshing to read.

Looking forward to more.

Sandy
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 04:49 PM
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I'm enjoying every word. I kinda had a sense of loneliness last September. All my family left for the states five days earlier than me. So I was in Nice alone. It took a couple of hours of self pity before I realized I could shop, shop, and shop some more. And I could eat wherever and whatever I wanted. I could sit and gaze at the beautiful ocean as long as I wanted. I loved it!
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 05:20 PM
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Great report. I'm going back to Paris for the 4th time in March and you've given me some wonderful ideas about things to do that are different. Luckily I have a great traveling companion but that has come after many bad experiences. We found that separate rooms, while expensive, work best for us. We all need our own space sometimes.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 05:22 PM
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jess,

A lot of us are enjoying reading your report, so please continue. You are a good writer.
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Old Jan 8th, 2008, 05:23 PM
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I know that feeling that you are describing of a homesickness and a yearning for the familiar. I have that feeling on every trip I take, even though I love to travel. I haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet. Sometimes I attribute it to a situation that may be happening at home, like the time we went to Ireland when My daughter was pregnant and anxious. I wanted to be nowhere but home. We didn't have a great trip. Other times I can't attribute it to anything other than perhaps feeling insecure and somewhat self concious with being in a place where I don't speak the language and don't know anyone besides my traveling companion (husband. The one trip I didn't have any of the "homesick" feeling is when we (husband and adult kids) all went on a trip to Paris together. Of course that brought with it other problems. I guess nothing is perfect. I still love to plan and love to travel. I am looking forward to hearing more of this story and perhaps you will get to the bottom of your melancholy feelings.
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