April in Paris 1990 - Part 1
I was very excited about out trip. I'd never been to France, before, much less Paris. And it is such fun to go off with Philip on our own, without the worries of family and dog - sort of like when we were first married. Young and carefree. So before we left, we had to get kitted out. Philip bought a new smart summer suit, and a couple of shirts and ties, a new light weight beige jacket and some trousers.
I wanted a new dress, because on one night of the conference we were booked for a rather thrilling experience - a floating restaurant on the Seine. I must have looked in 20 dress shops before I found the dress that was not too expensive and looked smart and yet practical. And then I got a jacket, in case it was cold, a cardigan in case it was only cool, and two pairs of shoes. As were were packing, I showed my new dress to Philip. To be honest, it was the most expensive dress I had ever bought. And he, said, "Oh, is that a Brownie uniform?" Talk about shattering one's beautiful vision. I ended up not wearing it in Paris at all - not just because I didn't want to look like a brownie, but because my common sense had let me down, as it was too cool a material for the temperatures in Paris in April, and also had wrinkled so badly that it was unwearable without a lot of extra attention.
We decided to leave the car at home and take a taxi to the airport, and Philip called the one
he always used - a one cab company. The flight was early afternoon so I think we asked him to come about 12. Luckily he was on time, because before we'd gone far, Philip discovered he'd left his wallet at home and we had to make a return trip to get it.
When we reached the airport we met up with our friend Bill and Bett, who were also going to the conference on Accelerated Mass Spectroscopy. Bill had retired from the Chemistry Department a few years ago but still kept up his interest in things like carbon dating. Both he and Philip use the spectroscope machine at Daresbury to do their measurements, being allowed access to it about 24 hours a month.
Our flight was on time, straight forward and took just over an hour. We just had time to finish our plastic lunch and have some coffee before we were landing a Charles De Gaulle airport north of
Paris. Philip commented that airports all look alike, and certainly our fist view of Paris from the air didn't make us feel we were at any place very foreign. But as soon as we got into the airport Philip said he could smell garlic.
The airport itself is fairly modern and has been dubbed "the space age" airport. When you enter the vaguely flying saucer shape, you jump on a moving staircase that takes you up into a clear plastic tube, so you can see people going up and down in all directions, seemingly gliding in space. But I wasn't impressed. The walls were bare grey concrete and the only colour came from some globes suspended from the ceiling with adverts lit up on them. It may have been unusual but it certainly wasn't pretty, in which it contrasted with most of what we saw of Paris.
Going through emigration was straightforward for Europeans, but not being one, I was sent back to fill in an embarkation form, and had to go to the end of the queue. En route we had discussed how we would go from the airport to our hotels, and had agreed to try to share a taxi. So when we left the airport we tried find the place where taxis were picking up fares. Nothing in the airport was signed in any language except French. Having found the taxi rank, we then tried out our French on the drivers who were all very determined not to take us, because they would not take four people in one car - even though one of them looked perfectly big enough. Bill eventually found a willing cab driver but when he heard the fare would be 400 Francs - well over £40, we decided to try for the bus. It again meant trying to decipher all sorts of signs and lugging our bags down many roads and through various sections of the building. It seemed there were busses and busses. Some were for specific hotel guests - some were for specific airline passengers. In the end we got on one for Air France, and were relieved o find it would only cost us 105 Francs.
What did I notice on the bus trip in? The outskirts of Paris were much like any other city, the grass looked dry, the trees were nearly all leaved out - much more so than the ones we left behind. The cars were nearly all French or German. I think I spotted only two English cars in the 15 mile drive. When we reached our rendevous, the character of Paris was much more noticeable. The streets were fairly narrow - and the buildings were of a seeming uniformity of age and purpose. Many were
white stone and most had black wrought iron balconies. They all seemed to be between seven and nine stories high.
When we got out of the bus, we were faced with out next challenge - finding and using the Metro. We had been told by our guide books and friends that the Paris Metro was easy, fast and good. So we decided to try it rather than be refused by yet more cab drivers. The entry into the Metro was about half a block from where the bus dropped us off in E'toile de Charles de Gaulle. We didn't really feel like sight-seeing just then, but we couldn't help but notice that we right by the Arc de Triumph - but we were mostly concerned with getting to our hotels rather than taking in the architectural wonders.
I found out later the the Metro was built for the 1900 World Fair and the man who designed it also did the various buildings of note. He used a horticultural theme, and each entry was different, That one we entered was draped in tulip shapes. We went down what seemed like hundreds of stairs and
were faced with maps and names of various lines. Our first job of course was to buy tickets. The turnstiles were similar to ones we have in England where you push in your ticket at one end, and it
emerges have been stamped at the other and releases the bar at the same time so you can get through. Bill and Bett and I all got through without any bother. But poor Philip tried machine after machine and they all refused to accept his ticket. He put a bit of his "travelguide to France" to good use by going to the man and the ticket counter and exclaiming in his best French, "It doesn't work".
Whereby the man released the machine himself and Philip and his two suitcases were allowed through. We decided afterwards that the machine though the second suitcase was another person trying to sneak in behind and was determined not to let him.
Bill thought it might be good to enlist help so asked a friendly traveler to find out which line we wanted to go on for the Cambronne area where our hotels were. Eventually we communicated enough and with pointing and gesturing we decided that we should get the line that went to Nation. so we went down some more stairs and along some more corridors, and felt like we had done really well when we got to the platform and finally sat down on the train. But suddenly Bill said, "We're on the wrong train. We're going the wrong way." So we all trooped out at the next stop went up stairs over and down more stairs and got the same line back to our original place. Then we studied the map more carefully. Apparently there were two ways to arrive at Nation - the way we had
chosen would have taken us in an enormous circle all over Paris before we finally got to Cambronne. But by going up and along we found another train also destined for Nation, but meaning we had only
eight stops along the way, rather than 75. After we finally were satisfied we were on the right train, the Metro emerged from underground just in time to give us our first view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. Even though it was a cloudy day, it made a lovely picture. Bill and Bett got off after six stops, because they were at another hotel, and we had two more and got off at Cambronne. Our hotel was also called by that name and it was only a shortdistance away.