One day for the capitol of one of the world’s most frequented and historic countries? How is this possible? Well, we attempted it a week or so back when we hit Paris for a day. We started our day in the City of Lights exhausted from our red eye from Bangalore. We still had a little gas left and decided to do as much as we could in our 10-hour layover. Soon we found out this was easier said than done. After going through customs and getting our bags, we bought our one-day train passes which allowed us to go anywhere in Paris for a single price. We hurried and made it on one of the trains heading from the airport to the city, barely. On the train we scarfed the last of our Indian snacks hoping to stave off any hunger and not have to use Euros to buy food. On this ride we also got a glimpse into a thing distinctly Paris (no, not the graffiti but that too is distinctly Paris). There was a man with an accordion playing some trademark French tunes and then going around asking for money. Coming off of four months in China, southeast Asia and India, I assumed this man was closer to a beggar than a worker, but my dad explained to me that this was more like a job in Paris and that we would see many more of these performers. I personally don’t like the sound of the accordion so I slipped back into my seat, leaned against the window and popped in my headphones. Soon the man finished playing, made the rounds around this particular car of the train with his money tin, and so moved on to the next car. It was safe to return to the world again, so I took off my headphones.
We stopped at a station and from here made a few more line changes until we ended up at the stop for the Louvre. We got out and felt the cold French winter and the nippy bite of the wind. We rushed to the Louvre to try and escape the cold, but of course we had to take a ‘pyramid’ picture outside the Louvre’s glass pyramid, which slowed us down considerably. We got in line and began to wait. Oddly we saw the people in front of us walking away. When we reached the front of the line, our hearts sank. A small black sign stated in polite white letters, “Closed on Tuesdays,” which just happened to be the day we were there. What the heck? From here, greatly disappointed with our unfortunate timing, we decided to make our way to another French landmark, one that never is closed, the Eiffel Tower. We got to the tower only to find it colder than the Louvre so we hurried as much as possible. We gazed out on the fields of Mars and the tower, but our bodies told us, “GET OUT OF THIS FREEZING PLACE!” We took a few pictures, and after Mac and the little kids had bought some Eiffel Tower keychains, we headed to look for something to eat. We walked down the famous Champs Elysses and to our surprise, out of all the famous restaurants with master chefs, McDonald’s was the most packed. We decided to eat there since it was by far the ‘cheapest’ of all the places that we had seen ($33 Euros or $40 for the 6 of us) and it had been months since we’d eaten beef. Little did we know it would take us a good 30 minutes to even get seats. We got our food and it was actually quite good, probably because of our beef withdrawal. Being able to drink iced beverages without worrying about waterborne bacteria was also a plus. Shows you how much you can really miss simple things, doesn’t it?
We had our computers with us (since storing our carry ons would have cost $20 per bag at the airport) and discovered that the McDonald’s had free, that’s right…free…WiFi. We got on their network and rushed to do some work which we had been waiting for a stable connection to do. Mom called South Africa on Skype to confirm our place for the next night and talk about rental cars and Dad posted a few entries to the blog. Without even noticing, we had soon spent an hour and a half of our cold day working on the internet in a warm McDonald’s on the world’s most famous street. Once the important stuff was done, we rushed to get in just a few more sites before our plane to Johannesburg. We hopped another train to the Arc de Triumph and from there took a few more trains to the Musee d’Orsay, the city’s second most famous art museum. When we arrived there was a huge line. We knew that if we had to wait in it, we would never get in, and we were already running dangerously short on time. A guard yelled out at my dad to go into the reserved line. Dad came back and told us, but we were skeptical. Only after the guard told my Mom in person that the reserved line was also for people with children did we finally get in it. After a relatively short wait we were in the museum. We looked at the clock on our cell phone and noticed we had less than an hour before we needed to be on the train to the airport. My dad, using his limited knowledge of the French language, managed to find a place for us to store our bags, and from there we rushed to see what we could. Seeing one of the world’s most famous museums in forty five minutes means you see don’t have time to stand and ponder. We hurried from one room to the next taking pictures of what we could, noting all the paintings we recognized from Art History books, and wondering why the French are so smitten with the Impressionists. We were running extremely short on time. We picked up our bags, rushed to the train station outside, and boarded our train for the 45-minute ride back to the airport. By now it was almost dark and our day in Paris was coming to a close. As we looked out of the windows of the train, we saw the Stade de France where ten years earlier the World Cup had been played. We had taken in as much as we could in a day and were exhausted from our efforts. Too bad we had to follow this day up with another red eye to Johannesburg. At least we have a month before our two day layover in Amsterdam. I can only imagine what we’ll do when we have 48 hours in a European capitol.