Saturday, September 5, 2009

From Paris to Avignon (May 2005)

As Jackie Gleason (a long since deceased comedian) used to say: "And, away we go!"

We arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on time (thanks to Air France, our favorite carrier). By the way, use of the article "de" (meaning "of") prior to the last name--a French characteristic--refers generally to the "place" where one hails from. Such use announces an individual's ties to a place in time as opposed family or nobility. Interesting.

Standing at the exit of the baggage section of the CDG terminal were our new best friends. They were holding a sign with our names on it and enthusiastically waving to us as we rushed to greet them (and they us) with bises (the French form of greeting: air kisses at both cheeks, no touching with hands, please!). It was so great to finally see them in person, since we'd only communicated by e-mail during the past year.

We had planned to spend one night in Paris to rest from a 20-hour flight from Honolulu, rather than catching the TGV at CDG and going directly to Avignon. So, our friends dropped us at our typical French boutique hotel in the 5e and we checked in. After a most welcomed shower and a bit of rest, our friends came to get us for dinner and to show us their apartment in the 15e. After waiting an entire year, we were very stoked! The apartment was perfect for us. They took us on a short walk through their neighborhood, showing us which shops were best for cheese, wine, bread, etc., and then to the bus stop. They'd generously purchased a "carte orange" transportation card for us with a month of use already paid for, so that we only had to pass the bar code over a sensor to ride either bus or métro. How nice! Each card had our picture on it, too! (We had exchanged many pictures over the course of the prior year and they found a couple that were suitable.) We rode a bus a short distance to the 14e where we were taken to the top of the Tour Montparnasse for dinner at Le Ciel de Paris (which means the ceiling of Paris). What a spectacular view and delicious food, not to mention such charming company. We had a fabulous time.

Our fantastic docents then drove us to our hotel, where we both fell into bed and into deep welcomed sleep. We were up early the next morning because we only had a few hours to quickly survey the 5e neighborhood before our friends would pick us up to drop us at Gare de Lyon for our trip south.

We walked past the Sorbonne, the famous Paris university where our friends attended and met one another, and the general neighborhood including the Pantheon. We were excited and eager to return to Paris after our riverboat cruise on the Rhone and Saone, so that we could really explore this and other neighborhoods.

Our friends were prompt in picking us up, and they drove to Gare de Lyon. However, before we took the suitcases from their car, they wanted us to take a short walk around the 12e neighborhood where the station was located. It seems that they once lived in this neighborhood and wanted to show us a bit of the area. What an unexpected treat! They took us first to their prior hang-out, a local brasserie and showed us the ropes on what to order for a coffee drink, how to pronounce it so they think you are savvy and how much to tip. This is where I learned about ordering a café noisette. I loved the rich dark espresso, but needed a touch of cream in it to settle it down a bit. I had no idea that such a thing existed, so from then to forward I proudly announce, "je voudrais un café noisette, s'il vous plait." I'd like an espresso with a bit of cream, please.

The biggest surprise awaited us. We were then taken to a place called Promenade Plantée. Seriously, you wouldn't know this place existed if it wasn't pointed out. The French, rather than tear down (something they learned after Napoléon III, I think it was, who hired Haussmann to redesign most of Paris and those old beautiful buildings that had survived the war were torn down and huge gray apartment structures put in their stead) old abandoned rail tracks, instead morphed them into a sky-way park area with trees, grass, plants and arbors. It's a beautiful reprieve from the bustle of the traffic and people below. An oasis! We were delighted by this lucky find.

Gare de Lyon awaited our departure and we were soon on our TGV racing toward the South of France to Avignon. Once there, we located an appropriately licensed taxi driver (be careful when you ride in a Taxi and follow the station signs, going only to those drivers who are legitimate. Don't accept a ride from someone standing inside the station and urging you to follow, as you may never see your wallet or luggage again).

In my rough French, I was able to communicate to our taxi driver that we were taking a Viking boat up the Rhone. I gave him the name of the boat (Le Burgundy) and the taxi driver knew the boat and quickly dropped us at the boarding area.

We were greeted by a crew of very nice people, directed to our cabin and within minutes our luggage arrived. We were looking forward to a gentle cruise up the Rhone, with time to lounge and recuperate from our long trip across two oceans. We were high on the fact that we were back in France, and we couldn't wait to learn more of her culture from yet another perspective in the south.

Here are a few pictures of our exchangers, the few sights we enjoyed during our brief glimpse of the 5e and the 12e, and our sleek blue streak (TGV).

Our Sleek Blue TGV Awaits Our Departure
For Avignon

Gare de Lyon Get's Busy When Trains

Our Friends Take Us To Gare de Lyon
To Catch Our Train To Avignon

An Early Morning Stroll Through The Pantheon, 5e
Sans People!

A Look At The Sorbonne Université, Early Morning Stroll
Next To Our Hotel, 5e

Early Morning, Paris 5e, Our First Morning In Paris
Taken From Our Hotel Window

Unusual Sculptures Surrounding An Apartment Building
Shot Taken From Stroll on Promenada Plantée
Nothing Like the Arts in Paris!

Promenade Plantée
12e (Former Abandoned Elevated Rail Tracks)

We're Presented With Our Very Own "Carte Orange" Already Containing
Our Photo I.D. And A Month Of Free Use!

Our First Meal With Our New French Amis At
Restaurant Le Ciel de Paris (Atop Tour Montparnasse)
An Amazing View of Paris

Next post: The Riverboat Le Burgundy and the village of Arle

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