The Valley Vagabond: Life as a Paris Local, the Perks of Pet Sitting-Part Deux

[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, pet trainer and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

When I left you in part un we were just returning to Paris from a trip to the Normandy beaches and Mont St Michel. We arrived late to Gare St Lazare, hopped on the RER (5 express train lines connecting Paris city center to surrounding suburbs), but missed our local stop, ending up quite a distance from the city center. By the time we got turned around, we were quite glad to be back in our little home-away-from-home with our away pet, Marble.

We spent a lounge day walking “our” neighborhood and took a cruise on the Seine. We came home and watched “Saving Private Ryan” since we were now experts on WWII and the French countryside…ok, I admit I once again wimped out and spent most of the movie in the other room. I detest war movies, even in France.

The next day we did the thing I had been looking forward to and dreading at the same time…The Louvre. This place is almost indescribable if you haven’t been there before. I was looking for a size comparison and thought it was larger than Bellevue Square, but it’s not. It’s smaller than the mall by a couple hundred thousand square feet, but it feels so much larger. You can’t see it all in a day or two – or even three. There are many wings and floors of Italian, French and Dutch Masters, of Greek and Roman Statuary, ancient Egyptian artifacts, decorative arts and near Eastern antiquities.

You must plan a strategy and know what you want to see when visiting the Louvre. Plan on walking a couple of miles, at least, so wear comfy shoes. It’s pretty hot in there for a couple of North Bendians, so wear layers and frankly I wouldn’t spend a a lot of time seeking out the Mona Lisa. She’s pretty darned underwhelming and you won’t get very close. My personal favorite part of the museum is the sculpture department with its high sky lit ceilings allowing sun to slant in, lighting up the marble in the most delightful ways. But honestly, I’ve got about 5 hours in me and then I just want to get away from the crowds and take my shoes off.

We spent the weekend just chilling and trying to fit in. Again, we really didn’t. For one thing, we eat way too early to be Parisians. We’d wander out and 5 or 6 at night for dinner and they’d look at us like we just grew another head. We tried to shop on Sunday and nothing was open. I had no idea that many European countries ban Sunday shopping because of the Christian tradition that Sunday be a day of rest. Lastly, try not to have to public pee unless you have some Euros in your pocket. Public restrooms are not free. By Monday morning we were ready to go on another adventure and set off to see Giverny, the location of Claude Monte’s garden and home.

October 30th was the last day of the year Giverny was open to the public and I feared it wouldn’t be a good time to go. I googled and Instagramed “Giverny October 30th” and came up with some gorgeous photos so I decided it was worth a try. We caught an early morning train to Vernon and from there got a shuttle bus to Giverny. A settlement has existed in this area since Neolithic times, and Monet rented a house there after noticing it from a train window. He eventually bought the house and some of his most famous paintings were created there until his death in 1926.

The village is idyllic, gorgeous and even in October, still quite colorful. There were no crowds – after coming home and reading about the gardens in the springtime – it’s quite clear we picked a good time to miss the usual crush of people. You can tour his home, his garden, the famous water-lily pond and buy way too much in his once studio, which now houses an extensive gift shop. We ate cheesecake in an outdoor café, took a million photos and toured the very small impressionist museum before boarding the bus back to Paris.

One of the things we decided to do on this trip was visit some neighboring countries. We flew into Germany, but considered visiting Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, or The UK. We ruled out Switzerland because it was the start of ski season and while beautiful beyond reason, was prohibitively expensive. Brussels also looked interesting, but we decided against it because we didn’t want to go from one large city to another.  Mark has a college friend in Eindhoven, Netherlands, but the timing was off. I would have gone to London, but he has been there and wanted to see something new.

So we settled on Luxembourg.

Where? Yeah I know. I’m not entirely sure why I picked it. It may have been its name-Luxembourg. Kind of sounds very fairytale-ish, eh? It may have been Grund a quarter of Luxembourg city, their old town and frankly just super picturesque. Or it could have been the close proximity to Paris and the super good screaming deal I got on a luxury hotel (more on this later), but off to Luxembourg we went.

Now expert overnight packers, we packed a bag and boarded the train. A short two hours later we were in a Mercedes Uber on our way to our 11 suite boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Such a find you say. However did you get such a deal on a random Wednesday in November? Well you see, unlike the US, Europeans have national holidays in the middle of the week! It’s All Saints Day and not a ding-dong thing is open!

Sigh.

Well all was not lost. We managed to tour the ancient casements around the old city and tried out the local faire of “Toad in the Hole.” The next day we toured the most expensive shopping district I have ever seen. It was VERY high-end luxury stores peppered with kind of low rent lingerie stores. I drew a few conclusions from that formula that I’ll keep to myself, but we did find a very nice magnet we could afford to remember the town before returning to Paris.

So what do you do when you have one last day in Paris? Why you go to the Eiffel tower of course. The last time we were in Paris I didn’t think I cared if we went up or not. I pictured it being akin to the Space Needle or something and thought, “Well I’ve done that a million times. I don’t need to do that again.”

But it’s not the same at all.

It’s quite a bit taller and it feels somehow less substantial. You really feel the height. Plus, Paris is much flatter so you can see much farther if it’s clear. We waited a very long time, and spent a relatively short time at the top, but it’s worth it. It is sad to see the difference in how barricaded off it is now vs. seven years ago, but given the recent terrorist attacks in the city,  it’s understandable. I felt completely safe. In fact, I felt safe the entire time I was in Europe.

The next day we bid our tiny home and kitty adieu and left for our final side trip on the way back to Germany- Strasbourg, France.

Truthfully by this time I was kind of over the whole thing. Three weeks is a long time to be away and I wanted my bed, dryer (no electric dryers in Europe) and missed my dog. So I was kind of wishing I’d skipped this last trip and just routed us home. I booked the last hotel blind and chose the town because Emily’s friend said it was cool. The train station gave no hint of what the town was like. We hopped into another taxi and made our way to the hotel, booked solely based on cheapness.

The hotel was fabulous with a great huge bathroom, a plus at this point. Staff directed us to Petite France, the historic quarter of the city. There are four channels that flow through this part of the city and charming half-timbered medieval buildings ring the canals with restaurants and gift shops. We bought everything in sight and walked to the Strasbourg Cathedral – a sight to be seen.

The cathedral is the sixth largest church in the world. You round a corner not expecting it to be in this charming, somewhat small town. It’s a bit shocking to see it rising out of the surrounding buildings. We spent a lot of time admiring the architecture and the stained glass windows. In the end, we were glad to have gone to Strasbourg and wished we had spent more time there. I highly recommend visiting and think the holidays there would be quite special. The next day we wearily boarded the train for our last ride to Frankfurt and our flight home.

Have you ever heard of the Secondary Security Screening Selection? Or as I like to call it, the extra slap and tickle? Apparently if you get the dreaded SSSS code on your boarding pass, you have been selected for extra screening. No one really knows why. Could be random. Could be because your name is on a list. Could be because your name is similar to someone’s name who is on a list or it could be because someone got your birthday wrong when they bought you your ticket for your birthday. But I’m just guessing.

Any-hoo, I was taken into a room in the German airport, wiped down for explosives, had my feet felt up, my luggage gone through, asked some questions and got sniffed by a dog. That last one was tough for me given how much I missed my own dog.  Finally, I was allowed to get on the flight home.

Approximately 24 hours later, complete with one crying kicking baby in first class, and we were home. Best trip ever and I thank my generous gift giver. Even if he did get my birthday wrong.

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