Monthly Archives: July 2013

Portland to Amsterdam to Paris

Saturday, May 4 and Sunday May 5

We left Portland Saturday afternoon at 1:30 pm and arrived in Amsterdam around 8:30 Sunday morning. I’d tried to stay up most of Friday night thinking I’d be able to sleep on the plane and then arrive Sunday morning at least somewhat in line with local time. This didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped. The bulkhead of the plane curves outward and the airline pillow kept slipping down. I tried various combinations of airline pillow plus my travel pillow plus airline blanket but nothing would stay put for more that ten minutes at a time. I spent seven hours with my head bobbing around like one of those plastic dogs you see on the dashboard of cars. I finally gave up somewhere over Iceland and watched a movie on my phone.

After landing in Amsterdam on time, we had to go through security again to get to our flight to Paris. There was a big bottleneck of people attempting to do the same thing and the process took most of our one hour layover. It was close but we made our connection – a short Air France flight into Charles de Gaulle Airport.

We got off the plane and walked to collect our baggage only to learn that Jim’s suitcase had gone missing. After filing the forms at the baggage office, we found an exit mysteriously devoid of customs officials. It turns out that The Netherlands and France are part of the Schengen Agreement – European Union countries that share security and customs processes. The trip through security in Amsterdam was customs and immigration which explains the thoroughness of the officials – I was about to ask the woman who frisked me to at least buy me a drink first! (That is unfair: they were polite and professional and efficient and nothing was going to enter their country without their knowledge.) I was disappointed though since I’d thought my first-ever passport stamp would read Paris, France.

I’d researched taking the RER, the suburban train line, from CDG to the apartment in central Paris but thought that a taxi would be the better choice since we’d be tired and have suitcases to deal with. We found the taxi stand (having been warned off rogue taxis that were illegal) and found a nice, I think Vietnamese, woman to take us home. She spoke even less English than we spoke French so I wrote out our address and showed it to her. It took about 45 minutes to get to our apartment and I was glad we’d splurged for the taxi.

Paris Apartment Map

(Click on all photos to enlarge.)

I talked via text message with the woman that owns the apartment. She met us there, checked us in and made sure we had everything we needed.

Paris Apartment 1          Paris Apartment 2

We stashed our bags and walked to the small grocery store nearby to get some food – a baguette, some fruit and veggies – then came back to the apartment for a nap.

We slept for a few hours and wandered out to do a little sightseeing. Eventually we crossed the Seine to the Île de la Cité to find Notre Dame bathed in warm afternoon light.

Notre Dame

The cathedral turned 850 years old in December of last year and Parisians were enjoying 12 months of anniversary events. Bleachers and tents were erected in the plaza on the east end which didn’t allow for the best photos but it was a good spot to sit and people watch.

Notre Dame - Bleachers

It was so much bigger than I expected. It’s enormous: the interior of the cathedral is 67,000 square feet! And the two towers are 223 feet tall. It is an incredibly ornate building – kind of the opposite of an impressionist painting: the closer you are, the more you see.

Notre Dame - Arch Detail      Notre Dame - Detail

And, of course, it is famous for its gargoyles.

Notre Dame - Gargoyles 2          Notre Dame - Gargoyles 1

The most-photographed (and postcarded) gargoyles are the ones near the top of the towers. We elected not to climb the 387(!) steps and left those shots to the professional photographers and adventurous sorts.

The east end of Notre Dame where the main entrance is located is beautiful but I was much more taken with the west end with the famous flying buttresses.

Notre Dame - West End          Notre Dame - West End at Sunset

We walked through the small park at the end, Square Roger-Priou-Valjean, admiring the architecture and engineering and listening to a busker playing the accordion. The perfect soundtrack to our arrival in Paris!

We made our way back to the apartment to unload our camera bags and make dinner plans. Earlier that afternoon, while walking around, we’d been approached by several waiters whose job it was to stand outside their restaurant to answer questions about the menu and draw people in. One was friendly but not as pushy as some and let us walk away without too much fuss. We decided to go back to his restaurant, La Citrouille (The Pumpkin) for dinner. The waiter remembered us (Jim tends to stand out in a crowd being six-three and usually wearing some sort of Harley Davidson gear) and cheerfully welcomed us back. I’d intended to try and stick to my restaurant vegan diet but since it was late (we didn’t leave the apartment until 10 pm), and we were hungry, I’d decided to be more flexible. I had salad (“salad crudité” – not “salad” which apparently means “just a piece of lettuce plus odd looks from waiters”) and a rich four-cheese pasta – so worth the diet breach! Jim had onion soup and steak frites (steak and French fries). It was a three-course prix fixe menu and Jim had coffee and I had a tiny dish of raspberry and lemon sorbets that actually tasted like the actual fruits – yum!