Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Paris and London (10 years ago)

Monday, May 31, 1999:
I was a bit sad when I woke up that morning, since our Ireland trip was over. After a final breakfast, we said goodbye to our Dublin host family. Then we boarded the tour bus for one last trip - to the Dublin airport. But luckily for me and two friends (Jason and Marisa), this wasn't the end of the trip. The rest of our class flew off to London, and then Dallas and Little Rock. But we we took a different flight, from Dublin to London Stanstead.

From London we took a train south to St. Pancras Station, where we boarded the Eurostar high speed train. This is the train that travels through the Chunnel and into Paris. I was excited to be on it, and to travel through the Chunnel. But the lack of sleep the night before, and perhaps one too many drinks, finally caught up with me. I was exhausted, and promptly fell asleep on the train. Jason woke me up before the train passed through the Chunnel, and I eagerly stared out the windows to see what it was like under the English Channel. And well, it isn't all that thrilling. It's pitch dark inside the Chunnel, save for an occasional safety light. The only thing I saw was my reflection staring back at me. So I went back to sleep and woke up shortly before we arrived in Paris.

At the train station we got a taxi to take us to our hotel, which was simply called "The Paris Hotel." We arrived, and tried to pay the taxi driver what the meter showed that we owed. But we didn't speak French, and he didn't speak English. He took our money, but motioned that we owed him more. We added on some more francs thinking he wanted a bigger tip (he was a good driver - but not that great). That still wasn't enough, and he got frustrated with us. He walked into the hotel lobby and brought out the receptionist, who quickly translated for us. Turns out they charge an extra fee for baggage. Whoops, sorry about that. This wouldn't be the first time that not speaking French would prove to be a problem.

We checked into the hotel and had a look at our view.
View from the Paris Hotel

Lucky for us, our hotel wasn't that far from the center of Paris. After dumping off our bags we took off to explore Paris, walking through the busy streets. It was a bit of a culture shock compared to Ireland, primarily the language difference (though to be fair, it was often hard to decipher the Irish accent, too).

Soon we passed by the Place de la Concorde, the large plaza at the end of the Champs-Élysées. This is the spot where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette met the guillotine.
Place de la Concorde
The obelisk here stood at the sight of the guillotine. The 3,300 year old obelisk was a gift to France from Egypt.

I got excited to look up and see our first glance of the Eiffel Tower, poking up over the trees.
First view of Eiffel Tower

After the heavily structured tour through Ireland, it was nice to have the freedom to go where we want, and when we wanted. We wandered down the streets, with the eventual goal of the Eiffel Tower ahead. We strolled up the Champs-Élysées, and saw the Arc de Triomphe rising in the distance.
Champs Elysees

From there we turned back south and made it to the River Seine, where I stopped to get this shot of the Tower.
Eiffel Tower

Finally, we reached the Tower:
Eiffel Tower

After a somewhat hectic day of traveling through three countries, it was nice to just sit in the grass at this little park, enjoying the view. There were people about, walking down the paths or playing soccer. It was nice to sit there and watch as dusk settled in over the city and the lights of the Eiffel Tower turned on.
 Eiffel Tower

Of course it would have helped if I brought a tripod with me.
The folly of not bringing a tripod

There just wasn't enough room in the suitcase for the tripod, dang.
If only I had a tripod...

After it got dark, we got up and walked under the tower and across the Seine. None of us had eaten all day, and we saw a stand on the street that sold crepes. Maybe it was because I was starving, but the crepes were awesome. And even better, the person working there spoke English. We walked around some more, passing by the Arc de Triomphe again.
Arc de Triomphe

From there we walked back to the hotel, and got some rest after a busy day.

Tuesday, June 1, 1999:
We woke up the next morning and tried to squeeze in some sightseeing. We had unfortunate timing, however. The few days we had to spend in Paris just happened to coincide with a huge strike. Many of the city's attractions were closed, and we ended up wandering around trying to find something that we could get into.

Our first stop was The Louvre.
The Louvre

Which was closed, of course. No famous art for us. But I was amazed at just how huge The Louvre was.
The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

We crossed over the river onto the Île de la Cité to find Notre Dame - which amazingly was open!
Notre Dame

It was a bit dark inside though...
inside Notre Dame

And the memorial to Joan of Arc:
Notre Dame

And while the inside was open, it was hard to get good shots of the exterior (which was covered in scaffolding).
Notre Dame and pigeon

And another view of the Île de la Cité:
Ile de la cite

Jason and Marisa stopped to buy something at a little shop, and I wandered around the store looking at all the goods they offered. I opened up a cooler to look at the different types of ice cream for sale when the shopkeeper at the counter started to yell at me in French (apparently she didn't like that I opened the cooler). I couldn't make out what she was saying, but did understand her when she ended her rant by calling me a "stupid American." I promptly turned around and walked out of the store. Soon after, Jason and Marisa came back out and said that the shopkeeper had apologized, but I wasn't offended. In fact I thought it was hilarious. It wouldn't have been a proper trip to Paris if one of us wasn't called a "stupid American" by a Parisian.

We booked a special tour through our hotel, which included a visit to the Eiffel Tower (thankfully still open) and then an automobile tour of Paris at night. We were able to bypass the lines and quickly get our tickets, and soon found ourselves standing with all of Paris below us.
Paris from the Eiffel Tower

And the view looking up:
Up the tower

And my favorite shot from Paris, of dusk settling in over the city. I'm amazed that it turned out so well. I think I was using the railing as a tripod here.

The driving tour was nice, but I didn't get any good pictures out of it. It's hard to get good shots from the inside of a moving vehicle at night (and the driver probably wouldn't appreciate someone using the flash while he was driving, either). It was our last full day in Paris, and I was sad that our time there was so short. We hardly cracked the surface of things to do.

Wednesday, June 2, 1999:
We awoke that morning to find that more of the city was on strike. This time it was the subway workers. With the subway closed, it meant that all the buses and taxis were too full or already taken. We had to make it back up to the train station soon to catch the train back to London, but we weren't able to get a ride. The hotel tried to get us a taxi, with no luck. We tried to get onto a bus but there wasn't room for us, let alone our luggage. After missing our train, we got desperate and just decided to walk to the station. Luckily for us, we managed to snag a taxi after walking a few blocks. But we were already hours behind schedule. We managed to get new tickets for the Eurostar, and eventually we were smoothly cruising out of Paris.

I was awake this time and spent the trip staring out the window at the French countryside. That high speed rail is a great way to travel, I wish we could get them over here. Eventually we made it back to St. Pancras Station in London, and from there we walked over to King's Cross Station (no doubt walking right by Platform 9 and 3/4). I have a friend from college whose parents lived about an hour or so northwest of London, and we were taking the train up to stay with them for the night. We took another train north, and eventually stopped at the station near their house.

My friend, Andrew, and his Mom were there to pick us up. One of the first things Andrew's Mom said was, "Have you heard about what happened in Little Rock?" No, we didn't watch the news or hardly turn on the TV when we were in Paris. But by the tone of her voice, it must have been something bad. At first I thought it was a school shooting.

It was a plane crash. On June 1, American Airlines Flight 1420 tried to land during a huge storm. It skidded off the runway, collided with the runway light poles and broke apart. The plane stopped just short of the banks of the Arkansas River. Sadly, eleven people died. Andrew's Mom then asked us what day the rest of our class landed at the airport. Oh no...

We quickly tried to figure that out. They had landed at the Little Rock airport the night before the crash. But if our trip had lasted just one more day, they would have been on the flight that crashed.

We arrived at Andrew's house in the town of Naseby. Like the families we stayed with in Ireland, it seemed like that summer Andrew's parents became host families for all sorts of visiting Americans. Along with the three of us coming in from Paris, there was another friend from college there with his high school buddy. They had been out exploring Europe and were spending a few days in Naseby as well.

After a great dinner, all of us headed out to a pub in Naseby - the Fitzgerald's Arms. It was another long night there, as we all caught up on our various European travels over several rounds.

Thursday, June 3, 1999:
We got up early in the morning and took the train to London, joined now by Andrew. At the train station I went to a newstand and bought the international edition of the USA Today. There on the front page was an article about the plane crash in Little Rock. We hadn't heard the details of what happened until then, and it was chilling to read about it in the paper.

After checking into our hotel near Russell Square, we got out and explored the city. We walked through the pigeon-filled Trafalgar Square...
London, finally

And soon made it up to the Houses of Parliament.

The sky looks really forbidding in that shot, but the light changed quickly. This was taken just a few minutes later.:

And then Westminster Abbey:
Westminster Abby

Westminster Abby

Again we didn't have much time to explore London, and we missed out on seeing a lot of standard touristy sights. Which means I'm just going to have to head back there sometime soon. One last view of Westminster Abbey:
Westminster Abby

Friday, June 4, 1999:
I'm a bit disappointed with the London leg of our trip, we hardly saw any of the big sights. We didn't see the Tower of London or even the Tower Bridge, we didn't see the British Museum (even though our hotel was right next to it), among countless other missed sights. Of course it was a bit silly for us to only visit for such a short amount of time, there is no way you can see a fraction of the sights in either Paris or London in just a few days. At least London wasn't closed due to strike, like Paris was.

We did go up and walk around Buckingham Palace:
Buckingham Palace
The flag is up, which I think means the Queen was there.

And also we visited Kensington Palace. There were flowers placed there in honor of Princess Diana.
Kensington Palace

And that's pretty much it for London. My ideas for sightseeing were outvoted, so the trip kinda ended with a whimper. This was our last day in London, and I had just used up my 40th roll of film on the trip.

Saturday, June 5, 1999:
It was my birthday! I was 20, and it would prove to be the longest birthday of my life (thanks to traveling over several time zones). We said goodbye to London and Andrew, and made our way to the airport. We flew from Heathrow to Newark, where we went through customs. I thought it was funny that I had never been to New York City before then, but had somehow managed to hit all three of its major airports on this trip.

From Newark we flew to Dallas, and then to Little Rock. We were riding an American Airlines flight, and you could tell that a lot of passengers were nervous to be flying. The couple sitting behind us said that if they hadn't decided to extend their vacation for a few days, they would have been on the flight that crashed.

As we got closer to Little Rock, the pilot came out to talk to us. He said that we shouldn't be nervous, that he had landed once at the Little Rock airport without any problems that day, and that there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We landed safely, and the three of us met up with our families at the gate.

I wasn't too happy to make it back home, I didn't want the trip to end. It didn't help that I was about to start an unpaid summer internship (which I hated). Since that trip, my passport has expired. But one of these days I'm going to head back overseas...

No comments: