Let me, first of all, debunk the myth that the French, or Parisians in particular, are rude. We did not encounter one rude person in our entire 17-day trip. Even though neither Brian nor I know much French at all, we tried to be polite and use what little of the language we did know. All of the shopkeepers were very accommodating, resorting to a signed language if they didn't speak English. (what they might have said to each other after we left, I have no idea, but they weren't openly rude or disrespectful!)
Our trip began with a short flight from Cleveland to Atlanta, and then an 8 1/2-hour overnight flight that got us into Paris just before 2 p.m., local time. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day in Paris, and we were excited to be in The City of Lights. We picked up our rental car, after a bit of trouble finding the offices, and began the winding, circular route out of the airport. I'm getting dizzy again just thinking about it! You had to make two laps around this elevated circular road to get to the proper exit for the autoroute we needed. This should have been our first clue to what driving in France would be like! (and I realize now that I forgot to take a photo of our tiny car... ah, well)
Driving on the main highways in France was no problem. They usually had enough lanes to carry the high volume of traffic, and they were mostly straight and very well cared for. So, once we got to Paris and got off the Peripherique (the HUGE bypass that goes around the city), we were in complete confusion and shock. The streets go every which way, with random roundabouts and traffic lights thrown in for good measure! Street name signs are on the sides of buildings (and are not lit at night, by the way), and summer and fall are "orange barrel season" there, too. So, even if you found the street you needed, there was no guarantee you could get there from where you were! Brian and I joked that even driving in Pittsburgh has nothing on driving in Paris! There are no lanes really marked on the streets, but traffic flows like everyone just knows where they should be. Except us!
Several times, that flow of traffic got us many "blocks" down a wrong street before we could even find someplace to turn around. And even then, there was no guarantee that we could make the correct turn coming from this new direction! I am the designated navigator on all our driving excursions, and I was VERY stressed out at this point! It had only taken us about 30 minutes to get into Paris from the airport. It took us another 45 minutes to find our apartment once we got into Paris! We inadvertently ended up in the Place de Charles deGaulle - THE largest roundabout in all of Paris (you know, the one with the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of it?). Twelve streets go off this roundabout, with incoming traffic having the right-of-way on a green light. It was absolutely incredible! I told Brian that we needed to be in the right lane, so that we could get out of the roundabout at our street. He calmly replied, "There ARE no lanes, Honey."
Incredibly, 45 minutes and a dozen wrong turns later, we found our little apartment. By this time, it was 4 p.m., coming up on the Day of Atonement. We were tired, not having slept much on the plane. Our blood pressure was through the roof from our recent driving experience. We just wanted a place to drop our suitcases, take a shower and get something to eat!
Our host, Didier, was incredibly kind. He carried my suitcase up the beautiful, winding wooden staircase to the 3rd floor apartment. (that would be the 4th floor here in the States) The apartment building had been built back in the 1880's, and Didier's grandfather had purchased it in the early 1900's. Didier was the third generation of his family to own this building. He had maps of the area, to show us where restaurants and certain tourist attractions were. He even had an atlas of France to help us with our upcoming excursion to Normandy. (we were thankful for this later!) There was a phone in the apartment that we could use. Phone calls to the US and Canada were free! This was a good thing, since I had tried to call my mother on Brian's cell phone when we first arrived and couldn't get the call to go through. So, I called her while Brian and Didier talked. (as it turned out, we had parked in the wrong parking garage, and Didier even helped us move the car)
The apartment had everything we needed. A bathroom, a WC, a kitchen (with a washing machine), a dining/living area and a bedroom. It was very old - not updated much since the '30's or '40's, but it would suffice for our 5-night stay. Didier left us with a recommendation of a cafe down the street and around the corner, and then he bid us good-bye.
Barely keeping our eyes open by this time, we wound our way back down the staircase and out onto the sidewalk. We walked by vegetable markets, a butcher shop, a fish market, two bakeries, a cheese shop - it was truly beautiful to see all these little markets flourishing. I really wish we had more of this in the US. You really know you're getting the best when you purchase it from a shop that only makes that kind of item. When you get it from a supermarket, who knows where it came from.
Anyway, we stopped short of the cafe Didier had told us about and found a takeaway Thai restaurant. We got a couple different chicken dishes and a couple sides and headed back to the apartment. It was nearing sunset, so we quickly reheated the items and ate, all the while listening to the street sounds of Paris coming through the open windows. (The weather in France, for the most part, is very mild and not at all humid, with few bugs, so it's very nice to have windows open, even though there are no screens. There are not many places in France that have or use air conditioning.)
Aaaaaahhhhh... We were in Paris! And tomorrow we would be observing the Day of Atonement with some of our French brethren!
We managed to stay up until about 10 p.m. (I had to write everything in my journal, you know!) After a much-needed shower, we crawled into the comfortable bed and ZZZZZZZZZ....
To be continued...