I’m sick, tired, jetlagged, and suffering from serious wine and cheese withdrawal. Yes, I’m home from Paris! I just uploaded over 500 pictures from my camera to my computer and weeded through them to find some decent ones to share with the world. That’s you (and my facebook friends, of course.)
I flew to Paris all by myself. I’d never flown so far alone—I’ve been flying alone for various reasons since high school, but never an international flight. I felt very mature and worldly. And I look awesome. My seat mate offered to take this picture. You know you’re a blogger when you feel like you should post awful pictures of yourself because they help tell the story.
It is a long way from St Louis to Paris. (Not as long as it is from Paris to St Louis, but that’s a different story.) I knew I needed to sleep as much as possible on the plane because I was arriving in Paris at 9 am and then needed to stay awake as much as possible. The plan was to take the train to the hotel and meet Chris there in the afternoon after the orchestra arrived (around 3:30 or 4 pm).
I arrived in Paris basically on time, collected my suitcase, went through passport control, and went to find the train station. The hotel had given me information on how to get to the hotel: take the RER to the metro and then the hotel was within 100 yards. I was terrified of this but figured since we were planning to take the metro all week I should go ahead and figure out the system.
A friend had given me this map of the metro and train systems in advance and I’d been studying it.
It ended up being easy enough—the hard part was lugging my suitcase through the stations. The most annoying part was waiting in line for the ticket. Later I found out I could have used cash in the machine—you can’t use American credit cards in the machines, but I didn’t realize you COULD use cash and I already had euros. Basically I waited in line for 30 minutes for no real reason. Oh well!
I chatted with a woman on the RER who was on a long layover and just taking the train into the city for a few hours. It turned out that she had a sister that played the cello, went to the University of Akron, and studied with somebody in the Cleveland Orchestra. Oh, and she used to play the viola.
Anyway, I managed my transfer to the metro without too much trouble. I got off at the correct stop, and walked upstairs. I wasn’t sure where the hotel was exactly, but luckily I was able to see it from the station! We were staying at Le Meridien Etoile for the first night (the symphony hotel) and then moving to an apartment for the rest of the week.
I’m remembering how terrified and thrilled I was upon arrival. I had read David Lebowitz’s "The Sweet Life in Paris" and had some ideas of the culture and what to do and what not to do, and was concerned about saying "Bonjour, Madame" to everybody and terrified they would think I was a rude American. Within a few hours I no longer cared and realized that they absolutely thought I was a rude American and were delighted and amused by my inability to speak French, my complete failure at doing almost everything, and it was completely okay. But I hadn’t gotten to that point yet, and I was almost too tired to do anything at all.
I attempted to check into the hotel but the room wasn’t ready yet. I stored my bag and headed out in search of lunch.
I found some cafe nearby and decided it would do. I got a Kir Royale in honor of my arrival. I just sat there, looking around, in disbelief that I had finally arrived!
My table was next to a post office box. I watched several people mail letters. In a foreign country, sometimes it’s the little day to day differences that are most fascinating.
I don’t even know what I ordered. I hadn’t finished the Rick Steves book that would bring us such joy and knowledge all week, so I didn’t even know that entrees are appetizers and plats are entrees (which is just SO weird—why do we say entree which is a french word but use it for the wrong course??)—all I knew is, I liked shrimp and salmon so that worked well enough. After I ate, the waiter asked if I liked it and seemed surprised that I did. (Note that I had my own bread basket. Everywhere we ate we got a huge bread basket and if you finished it, they would continue to refill it without even asking. If you wanted water though, you had to beg for it.)
I went back to the hotel after lunch and YES! my room was ready.
Time for a short nap. I figured by the time I woke up Chris would be there. I slept for about two hours—no sign of Chris. Finally the phone rang, and it was Chris! The hotel had gotten confused and he had been trying to figure out what was going on for 20 minutes—evidently they told him the room wasn’t ready yet, so he was wondering where on earth I was, I had been told he could just pick up the key to the room when he arrived and I didn’t need to meet him. Oh well. We were both finally in Europe together! I showered and then we headed out in search of more food.
Croque Mademoiselle. A very classic french lunch—ham and cheese sandwich with egg. Croque Monsieur is similar but without the egg.
I was struck right away by how at ease Chris already was in a foreign country. What was crazy and strange to me was already old hat to him, even though he had just arrived in Paris. I also appreciated the fact that he just refused to attempt French, figuring he would butcher the language, and just would speak English to everybody, hoping they could understand. Most often this was the case!
It was funny to me how comfortable he was though—he had been so worried about going to London alone, and then here he was one week later, acting like a world traveler. It was reassuring, and one of the things we talked about all week was other cities we hope to visit together in the future. (I want to go back to Rome, and to London, most of all!)
Chris had the Croque Monsieur. Oh, and I had a Coca-cola Light. It’s like Diet Coke, but better. I don’t know if it’s actually better or if it just tastes better because you only get it on vacation in Europe or Mexico, and I don’t care.
I look really weird without eye makeup on, huh? Whatever. I may look rough, but I was SO happy!
After our snack it was time to get ready for the concert. Chris and the SLSO were playing at the Salle Pleyel and I had a ticket for the show.
The Salle Pleyel is the home of the Orchestra du Paris.
My ticket was for behind the orchestra. I thought this would be a fun and unique way to experience the concert, since we don’t have that option at home. I ran into some people I knew in the lobby including my friend Valentina.
I look a little better after putting on nicer clothes and some makeup, but those are pretty pronounced eye bags…
Anyway, the concert was wonderful—I loved sitting behind the orchestra as I could see parts of the orchestra better (i.e. I could really watch Chris play) than sitting in front, and the sound was great. Christian Tezlaff’s Beethoven was gorgeous and daring, and the rest of the concert was enjoyable as well. The audience seemed to love it all too. One of the coolest things was that we clapped enough for Tezlaff to play an encore but without a standing ovation. It was one of those times where we all started clapping together for him to come back, but we never stood up. I guess standing ovations are an American thing but I sure clapped for a long time.
After the concert there was a reception for the orchestra upstairs. There was champagne and some treats, including macaroons!
After the reception Chris and I went to a brasserie (again, this was before I knew the difference between a restaurant, a cafe, and a brasserie…and there is a difference) and had wine and cheese. Serious cheese—this was good stuff!
Then we went back to the hotel and I think I fell asleep approximately 15 seconds after getting into bed. Chris was now done with the tour and it was time for us to go off on our own and do whatever we wanted for the rest of the week!
To be continued…
(a souvenir Chris bought me in England—the Olympic mascot!)