Monday, March 31, 2008

Paris or Bust

Sunday was my friend Kim's birthday, and a large group of us gathered to celebrate. We started with a late lunch at the Nitty Gritty, and then most of us returned to her house for dessert. Several times throughout the afternoon conversation turned towards the upcoming high school reunion later this summer, which resulted in memories of Spring Break in Paris, and before we knew it...out came the yearbooks and Kim's Paris photo albums. The three children present loved seeing how their Mom and "aunts" looked back then.

While Tricia and I were looking through one of the Paris albums together a sheaf of papers fell out -- apparently some notes Kim had made while organizing her albums and had never throw away. One cryptic item that puzzled us was the notation that said "Heather and Michelle with Becky and Paula's sign." HUH?? What sign? Neither of us remembered a sign. Then while paging back through one of the albums again, I happened upon the photo below. Hey, look! It's Heather and front of a sign! Yeah, even with photographic evidence I still don't remember that sign. LOL (Click on the image to enlarge if you can't read the sign.)

Of course I had to borrow that page of pictures from Kim's album so I could scan and print it out for my own Paris scrapbook, as well as one of the group pictures. There were 18 students embarking upon that memorable journey, along with two French teachers (our teacher, Sarah Vaillancourt, and a friend of hers who taught at another school -- sadly, Janet was killed in a car accident a decade or more ago).

What made the trip most memorable was the number of friends traveling together. I am still friends with these girls, all these years later, and we have returned to Paris -- at least in memory and conversation -- many times since. Kim was even lucky enough to celebrate her 18th birthday during our trip. Even better -- it was the day we explored the Loire Valley. We stopped first at the Cathedral de Chartres, a beautiful old church whose two towers are in vastly different styles, but it is most notable for its gorgeous stained glass windows. Unfortauntely, as it was a rainy, overcast day, the few pictures we have do not do it justice. Here are pictures of Michelle (taken at Malmaison -- it was suggested as a substitute by our excellent tour guide when Versailles went on strike the day we were scheduled to tour it) and Kim (taken the night of her birthday).

We saw a few chateaux through the rain-streaked windows of our bus -- such as Blois, Châteaudun and Amboise -- but what was truly amazing was the fact that the rain stopped every time we pulled into one of the three sites we were to tour -- Chartres, Chenonceau, and Chambord -- then would start up again at the time we were to meet back at the bus. It meant our pictures weren't as spectacular as they could have been, but who cared about that? We were in France, exploring the Loire Valley!

Karen, Kim and Michelle (Chenonceau)

Tricia and Kim (Chambord)

While Karen, Michelle, Kim and Tricia all seemed to prefer Chenonceau and its magnificent gallery extending over the Cher River, I prefered the ornate chimneys and lanterns of Chambord -- not to mention the double-spiral staircase believed to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who is interred on the castle grounds. The picture above of Tricia and Kim was taken while they were on one helix, and I on the other.

And yes, the picture is rather dark. Remember that it was an overcast day, with the gloom extending indoors -- plus I had a Kodak 110 camera at that time. Anyone remember those? They were cheap and took halfway decent pictures in bright light, but even with a flash indoor pictures tended to be rather dark. A couple people in our group had disk or 35mm cameras, but most of us had a 110. Guess our parents figured if we broke or lost it, it was less expensive to replace.

Even with the unpredictable spring weather, it was a fabulous trip. Mme V's only rule was that we not sit around indoors all week staring at four walls. And we didn't! On free days we were allowed to go our own direction, so long as we went in groups of 2 or 3, but we were almost always en masse. We were up and breakfasting by 7am every morning, and most nights did not return to the hotel until after 10pm. There were three other smaller groups lumped together with us on the tour. Two of them spent most of the time grumbling about the hotel, the weather, or that there was nothing to do (seriously -- in Paris!), while the third group followed wherever we went.

It was really quite funny actually. Had they asked, we would have gladly shared our plans and invited their (very small) group to join us. Instead, they would quietly listen to our morning conversation, then show up wherever we were later. They should have listened more attentively the day we spoke of going to the disco, though. If they had, they would have known at what time we had to leave the disco to catch the last metro, and not had such an expensive taxi fare back to our hotel. Hehe... We had a blast that night! After dinner with the entirety of the tour group (our school plus the other three), our faction set out for an evening at the beautiful old Opéra Garnier (where we stayed for 2 of 3 acts of a modern ballet), followed by the disco. We had to run to make our connecting train back to the hotel, and the following morning one of the chaperons of the stick-in-the-mud groups was heard exclaiming to another, "That wild bunch didn't return until two in the morning last night!" Snicker.

We truly did have a fantastic week in Paris, though it was much too short. We saw a great deal of the city by foot, which is the only way to truly see and experience the city. We saw all the usual "touristy" sites, as well as lesser known ones. We visited Arc de Triomphe, La Tour Eiffel and the Palais de Chaillot. We saw the Louvre (before the glass monstrosity of a pyramid was built) and the Musée d'Orsay (my personal favorite). We toured Notre Dame and the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle (the stained glass windows there are breathtaking!). We strolled through Père-Lachaise cemetery and attended a fashion show at the Printemps department store. We toured the magnificence of Versailles, home of Kings Louis 14, 15 and 16, and the less-known Malmaison, home of Napoleon and Josephine. We explored the area near Centre Pompidou and Montmartre. So much that we did, yet we still did not see everything we wanted!

Do I yearn to go back? Definitely! So many avenues yet to explore, and sites to see anew! Some day I will return...

Sur le Cathedral de Notre Dame


Jana said...

Ooo cool. I'm so jealous. Sounds like ya'll did have a lovely and fun time. Love the pictures, too!

Heather said...

Thanks Jana! We did indeed have a fun time. Our teacher was the best tour guide. She took us to a fondu restaurant one night for dinner, and taught us how to do fun illegal stuff like jumping the metro turnstile. Lots of great memories from that trip, but I do wish I'd taken more pictures. One thing for sure, if I ever do get back to Paris I will take A LOT more photos!