Back to Paris
It's getting cold here
and there ain't a lizard in sight
did the end begin
when you shed your skin
in the home of the brave
Somebody shake him
from the land of larger than life
where the remnants warn
of a legend born
in a dead man's cave
Jim Morrison's grave
-From “Jim Morrison’s Grave” by Steve Taylor
This is going to be a long one…
The night before we left Interlaken I went to talk to the lady at the front desk of the Hotel Toscana. I knew that they didn’t keep the desk open 24 hours, and I wanted to close out our bill. Of course, this would be the second time I paid for the MinOtel Toscana, but that wasn’t her fault. I would deal with that issue when I got home.
The lady was concerned when we told her we had to leave the next morning to catch an early train. “You’ll miss breakfast!”, she said. I agreed, and figured it was just part of the territory. We would grab something someway, at the train station, or on the train. She said, “I will make you sandwiches”. She told me to come back to the desk at 8:PM to pick them up, and I could leave them out on the balcony overnight, because it would be cold and they wouldn’t spoil.
When I came back later, she had it all bagged up for us. Very organized, everything tight and taped closed. I figured that there must be some charge for this, but if there was I never found it. I think she was just being nice to us because she knew we had paid twice to stay, and the first time the money was stolen.
I asked if she could call a taxi company and have a cab meet us at the hotel at 6:00am, and to please tell them we had five people with luggage. She called and spoke in the Swiss German dialect. I thanked her and let her know how much we liked their hotel, and that we would recommend it to others, especially large families traveling together.
In the morning, we got up bright and early. We had gone to the store and bought some “Sugar Crisp” cereal, and a liter of milk before we were offered the sandwiches. We figured that we would eat the cereal now, and save the sandwiches for lunch on the train. It would be a long day traveling from Interlaken to Paris.
The cab arrived right on time, and large enough to take us all in one trip. We went to Interlaken West, because we found that it was only a few blocks from the hotel. The Ost train station we started at was much farther.
The fare was only a few Francs, and I rounded it up. Again, the driver seemed pleased and surprised when I wouldn’t accept the change. A big difference from the US, where if you don’t tip a cab driver, he might flip you off, then run over your foot.
We went inside the West train station, and found a big bench where we could group our luggage, and all sit. There was a store already open inside the station. Inside they were serving food, which we didn’t expect. Had we known, we would have eaten there instead of the cereal out of the Toscana room glasses.
I looked around and there wasn’t really anything I wanted to buy, except some bottled water. I came out and gave Jane and the kids the remaining thirty or so Swiss Francs that I had left and asked them to go spend them. No use in taking Swiss currency back to France, and ultimately home.
Late the night before, Jane and I walked over the station and changed our planned route to one that was more direct. We were going to take three trains, but we found that if we connected through Bern, we could get a TGV (bullet train) right into Paris.
The train to Bern came right on time. It was a commuter type train, and there weren’t a lot of people on it at that hour. We spread out. I sat alone toward the center of the car.
When we arrived in Bern, we changed trains without incident, settling into our reserved first class seats on the TGV.
When lunch time came, we opened the bag from the lady in Interlaken. She had really gone out of her way. We had sandwiches, including a vegetarian one for Christian. She packed bottles of orange juice, chips and Kit-Kat candy bars. This was one of the nicest things any stranger did for us during the trip.
It was a long trip, though Switzerland and across France. On the way I pulled out the hotel file. This was one of the hotels we had to reschedule due to the MinOtel fiasco. Several days before in Florence, I just booked a Best Western in Paris that had a triple room for the kids and a double for me and Jane. I was kind of rattled at the time, and figured that we would get to Paris and find the place using the Metro or cabs. This was the first time I looked to see where the hotel actually was. What I learned is that strictly by accident, I had booked a hotel directly across the street from where we would arrive, the Paris Gare De Lyon station.
Gare De Lyon is in a very busy area of Paris, just west of the Bercy station that we left from over two weeks before. We rolled our luggage out the door, thinking that we would see a huge “Best Western” sign, but that wasn’t quite the case. We walked around a bit, and I looked at a tiny map in the Best Western book we took the night before from an unsuspecting clerk at a hotel near Interlaken West.
We finally spotted the sign, it was across the street, but on the next street over. It was visible from the station, but you kind of had to know where to look.
We checked into the hotel, and once again took two shifts to get up to our rooms. The kids were down the hall, and our room wasn’t clean yet. I missed Switzerland already.
We put all of our luggage in the kids room, and locked it up. We decided that since our time in Paris was going to be short, we would do some sight seeing.
We found the Metro, and bought a 3 day pass for everyone. We did that even though the next day we wouldn’t be in Paris, because it covered us when we got back and had to return to the Quality Hotel near the CDG airport.
Once we got our passes in order, we decided to do something from Jane’s list. She wanted to visit the grave of Héloïse and Abélard at the famous Cimetiere du Père LaChaise.
I actually had no idea who Héloïse and Abélard were, but I am a huge fan of “The Doors”, and I happened to know that Jim Morrison was buried there.
After another whirl on the Metro, we came up across the street from the Pere LaChaise Cemetery. We bought a map from a newsstand outside. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as far as security. It turned out that we were able to walk right in, just like you would a public park.
This is an amazing place. I don’t know that there is anything like this Cemetery in the US, at least not in the west where we live. There were huge monuments, crypts and very old graves. Some had private prayer rooms built into the memorials.
We arrived at the grave of Abelard and Heloise. It was very fancy. Jane explained to us that they were a real life “Romeo and Juliet”. I could see that this meant a lot to Jane, so to commemorate the occasion, I reached inside the fence around the grave and took a chestnut that had fallen to the ground, and stuck it in my pocket.
Jane at the grave of Abelard and Heloise at the Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris
After visiting Abelard and Heloise, we headed off to locate the grave of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of “The Doors”. Morrison managed to start a rock group, become world famous and kill himself with alcohol and drugs all before the age of 30. As we walked through the grave yard, doors songs were echoing in my head. Finally, we located the grave. Apparently, vandals had stolen the bust of Morrison that used to mark the grave, and now there was a fairly simple headstone. It was sectioned off with steel barricades. Hanging around the perimeter was a pretty good assortment of weirdoes of various ages. I guess I fit right in.
The grave of Jim Morrison, lead singer of “The Doors”
After we left the Jim Morrison experience, we headed up the hill to find a grave of someone who really is a timeless genius:
Jane at the grave of Chopin
From Chopin’s grave, we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We decided to make that our next stop. After stopping at the grave of Eugene Delacroix, we left the cemetery and went back to the Metro.
When we came up from the underground, we had our first good look at another world famous landmark. The Eiffel Tower was truly grand. We walked around the area and saw long lines for elevators to the top. But one side had a short line. We decided to take that one. Now, after climbing Mount Vesuvius, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we were about to add the Eiffel Tower to our list.
We came up to the ticket window. I said, “Cinq”, and held up five fingers. The girl behind the glass told me the price in French. I don’t speak French, so to me it just sounded like, “Blue, Blee, Foo, Foo, Blue, Blah, Blue”. I looked at her kind of like dogs look at people when they start to wax philosophical. I even turned my head kind of sideways. She ripped the register tape and thrust it in my face. “Oh… 17.50”, I said, and handed her a €20.00 bill.
I said, “Who needs elevators when you have legs?”. The stairs actually only go to a second viewing platform, but it is a long climb up, probably hundreds of stairs.
Erin, Climbing the Eiffel Tower
We got to the first platform, and Jane and Erin decided they had enough climbing, so they went into a café and had some frites. Christian, Casey and I pressed on to the second level.
Joseph and Casey on the Eiffel Tower
After walking around the platform for a while, we rejoined the girls down at the first level. Then we bought some souvenirs, and took a very packed elevator back down to the ground level.
After getting lost while trying to find the Metro, we turned back around and suddenly the tower lit up with glittering, twinkling lights. It was very spectacular from across the river.
Jane and Joseph across the river from the Eiffel Tower at dusk
Video: Eiffel Tower (1 Min 57 Sec.)
Avoiding long lines at the elevators, we take the stairs.
We finally found the Metro again, and headed back to our hotel near Gare De Lyon. We were hungry by then, and asked the waiter for a suggestion on where to eat. He asked me what kind of food I wanted. “French Food!”, I said. He told us just to go into any of the cafes along the boulevard, and they all had good food.
He was wrong about that. We ended up in a terrible place with bad service and worse food. Bad waiters are bad all over the world, but I’m not sure if there is anything worse than a bad French waiter. Everything we had was either the wrong thing, or just plain nasty.
I ordered a lemonade to drink. I didn't want a coke because of all the caffeine, and Lemonade was the only other thing I recognized on the drink menu. When it came, the label amused me enough to peel it off and stick it in my shirt pocket to bring home:
I wanted so much to call upon my suppressed acting skills to create what we used to call "Guerrilla Theatre". "Monsieur! I ask for Lemonade, and you bring me Pschitt!?!". It never would have played to the Paris crowd. Oh well. I guess that's why I'm doing Trade Shows instead of "Saturday Night Live".
Disappointed, but amused, we went back to the hotel.
That night, Jane and I made another trip to the train station to try and figure out what our best course of action was for the next day. We wanted to go to Fougeres, a small town in the western countryside where Jane had lived when she was a missionary 26 years before.
There was no train to Fougeres. You had to take a train from Paris to Laval. From there they had a bus. We were talking to a ticket agent, and Jane told him we wanted to go to Fougeres (we pronounced it “Foo-Jair”). The agent had all kinds of trouble locating it, so Jane wrote it out for him. He looked at her and said, “Oh… FOO-Jair”. Whatever…
He was able to book us on the way there, but he said we would need to book our return when we got there. That the return was via a private bus company. We weren’t really sure what that was all about, but we accepted what he said.
Once again, we had to leave very early, so I went to the desk on the way back to the room and paid. This was another hotel that should have been pre-paid via MinOtel. At least we weren’t sleeping on a bench.
Wow! What a long day. We started in Interlaken, and ended in Paris after visiting the graves of a bunch of famous people and climbing the Eiffel Tower. We went to bed that night, and I watched the French version of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. They totally recast it with French guys, but they were exactly like the American cast. They had a flaming blonde guy that did wardrobe advice, and a kid of reserved guy with glasses teaching cuisine. It was really pretty hysterical. I wish they would show this version in the US, because you don’t need to know French to follow it.
Next: We leave Paris again, and go to a charming town in Brittany called Fougeres. We tour a medieval Castle, and feast on Saucisse! We finally find REALLY good French food!
But First…Here’s a photo of Christian, some French guy, Erin and Jane on the Metro in Paris: