Romance rides the rails with Rail Europe

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We have had very limited experience with France because, well because of my own personal stubbornness, if you want know the truth.

During a summer trip to Europe  while we were in London the wife and kids talked me into taking the Eurostar “Chunnel” train from London to Paris. At first I was reluctant because I had heard nothing nice about the French. But I agreed to go along and I’m very glad I did.

The train was incredible. It whisks you from Waterloo Station in London to the Gare Du Nord train station in Paris in about three hours. The train goes fairly fast in England and you’re only under the English Channel for about 22 minutes. Then once out on the French side that thing really rips. At first you notice that you’re flying past all the highway traffic and then the conductor comes on with this message...first in French and then in English: “Ladies and gentlemen, the engineer has informed me that we have now reached our top speed of 186 miles per hour.” That’s really hauling butt folks! We sprang for first class and the meals were top notch including complimentary wine.

You get two separate impressions of Paris right off the bat.  At least we did.  On the one hand it is a very beautiful city.  On the other hand it is a pretty dirty city.  Unlike London where they make an effort to steam clean sidewalks from time to time, we saw none of that going on in Paris.  And there were mounds of doggie doo-doo on the sidewalks. So watch your step if you go!

The people of Paris weren’t nearly as bad as I had expected. A couple were downright friendly. Trying to communicate with the subway ticket seller that we wanted an all day pass was rather difficult. I suspect she understood English but was just being French. She went out of her way to be rude and complained about our lack of communicating in French. That little task past us we were able to navigate our way via subway over to the Eiffel Tower. At least most of us went to the Eiffel Tower!

The Paris subway (Metro) is a bit different than most in that it runs on rubber tires in Paris rather than on a set of rails.  The subway in Montreal operates in the same way in Canada.

My wife and I took our son, Rob, along on this trip along with our daughter Christie and her husband-to-be Russ.  While my wife and I joined Rob in heading to the Eiffel Tower Christie and Russ had different ideas about their one day in Paris. So where did they go? To visit Jimmy Morrison's gravesite!!!!!  You know, the rock singer!  They did do a little shopping and hit a coffee house.  But Morrison's grave rather than the Eiffel Tower?  Kids!!! (Actually they were in their 20s.)

Immediately approaching this famous landmark (the Eiffel Tower not Jimmy Morrison's gravesite!!!!) you notice just how incredibly wide it is at the base.  In the movies it appears really small but you'll be amazed at how far the base anchor supports are as you arrive.

After standing in line for 2 hours waiting to buy a ticket we then started up the famous landmark. Once at the intermediate point, we waited another hour for the second and smaller elevator to the top. The view was worth it.

When you're at the very top the age of the structure really sinks in.  You ask yourself: "This thing opened way back in 1889. How on earth did they have the technology to pull it off?"  And when you look around closely you'll notice that the thing is old and does make funny noises when it fidgets in the wind. The other thing that strikes you is that you're  really up there!  It's 900 feet tall!

We got back on the subway and headed over to the Louvre but the lines were too long. We toured the grounds of the Louvre and then headed back toward the train station to catch the Eurostar back to London and had a late lunch on the way at a very nice but casual restaurant near Gare du Nord. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon and we were the only people in the restaurant and there was only one employee visible in the establishment. The guy didn’t speak a lick of English but we got through the meal with flying colors and he was very nice---whatever it was that he was saying. He was smiling, I can tell you that!  I feared we might get a bad meal there but it was very, very good.  We had just enough French francs left to cover the tab but not enough to offer a tip.  We pointed to our credit cards but the kind server signaled that they did not take plastic.  We tried to ask him if there was a bank nearby where we could dash to and get some U.S. money changed into francs so we could give him a tip. I'm pretty sure he understood us but very nicely said goodbye.

Most people in Paris were nice. The most rude of all were the beggars. They just sit on the steps of the subway with a bored expression on their face with their hands outstretched. They say nothing. They get nothing, either!  While waiting in line forever at the Eiffel Tower a family made the rounds begging. Actually the mom sent her little kids along the lines of tourists. The kids were about 6 or 7 and simply rattled a cup with a coin in it and gave each person a dirty look as they passed by in the line. Nobody gave them anything because of their lousy attitude.

There is so much to see and do in Paris.  Churches such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, museums, parks and monuments, and restaurants that many consider to have no other rivals in the world.  Throughout the rest of France there are incredible opportunities.  Wine lovers are in heaven, of course. Fish lovers max out in Marseilles with the famous stew.  Theatre fans head to Cannes and the rich and famous flock to the French Riviera sunbathing in such famous places as St. Tropez.

So go out and buy yourself a good travel guide book to Paris and or France and figure out exactly what's interesting for you and your family.

Currency is the Euro.  It used to be the French Franc. Driving is on the right (and the French drive rather wildly!) A passport is necessary...but not a visa.

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