The time had finally arrived. It was June 25 and we were heading to the airport. We arrived, checked in, bought our kids booster juices for being kind enough to drive us to the airport and for staying by themselves for the next 3 weeks. Then we “crossed over” through the screening system to the “other side” to await our flight. I had recently applied for and received an American Express Platinum card which advertised free access to large numbers of airport lounges. I checked to see if we would be permitted entry into this one only to find out that I needed the American Express Aeroplan Platinum card. While I was mildy disappointed, we did not have long to wait before being called for our aircraft which would bring us to Montreal where we would catch a flight about an hour later to go to Paris.
The flight to Montreal was short but interesting as it gave us time to relax and take in the fact that we were finally getting away to Europe on our long awaited trip. After walking fast to the gate in Montreal for our Paris flight, we were once again called quickly to board the flight to France. I had been given an opportunity the day before when I verified our flights online to upgrade to first class which had better meals, better booze and the piece de resistance, a fully reclining seat. My wife and I declined and didn’t think the approximate $1800 upgrade for both of our seats was worth it. (Had it been me, I probably would have gone for it!). It was entertaining walking through first class to our seats just behind first class. You could see the regular business types who went about their business and the others who perhaps were taking FC for the first and only time just beaming and staring at each and every passenger going back to coach class with their “I am in first class” look. Ugh. I looked away in disgust and likely too much envy!
The flight was fine, if not a little long at 6 hours and 45 minutes, with two or three quite good meals, snacks and numerous movies. I couldn’t quite settle down but did manage to get maybe 30 minutes sleep. I looked over through the windows as we approached Charles de Gaule airport (CDG) trying to determine from what direction we were coming, but could not. I had not been to CDG and it seemed huge.
As we disembarked and walked into the airport, we remarked to each other at the number of armed police/army seemingly everywhere, with large rifles. I wondered if this would be our experience everywhere in Europe or was there some kind of threat outstanding at the time. Everyone seemed to ignore the police and so I assumed this was the normal state of affairs at this airport.
I had done a lot of research on this trip to try to ensure that we stayed in the best places possible, saw important sites (to both us and in general) where we travelled and if possible, saved some money even on the high end hotels. I thought the easiest way to get into Paris was to take the RER (train) to Gare du Nord, a train station in the downtown core of Paris, which is what we did. It was on the train that we encountered our first taste of local culture (??); a spanish speaking women singing in spanish to the riders of our coach who then passed the hat to collect for this performance. Being quite tired, a little flustered at having my silence interupted with mediocre singing for all too long, I hoped it would end soon. At that point, I would have paid for silence rather than singing so perhaps she should have passed the hat and said if you donate, I won’t sing (ha ha)!
Above is a picture of a train like the one we took from the airport to Gare du Nord station.
As we arrived at Gare du Nord, it became apparent that we would have to climb many, many (yes very many) stairs to get up to street level. For years my wife has criticised me for packing too much. Well maybe I have packed a little too much sometimes in the past, but all those past trips were either by car or by plane with a rental car or shuttle to our hotel. This trip we would be hoofing it from time to time and having to tote our belongings with us, when we didn’t take a taxi or shuttle. So I packed lite. I even purchased clothes that were lighter and could dry in several hours after being washed. She, for perhaps the first time in her life, packed heavy. I mean heavy. She had a large suitcase FULL of clothes and a heavy backpack. I had to get her to reduce what she had brought and rearrange the remainder before we left so we wouldn’t be hit with huge excess weight charges. But still, her suitcase was heavy. And it was me, with my back issues that ended up carrying the suitcase and mine up the endless stairs to the street. There were so many stairs you’d have thought we were ascending from a station in hell!
Once up on the street level, I was struck by the beauty of the buildings and just the look of the surroundings. I had never been in a place that looked quite like this. We both just stopped and admired it, although my wife had been here before. Since it would have taken an hour to walk in 35 C (over 90 F) weather and likely just as long to take a bus or series of buses, we hailed a cab and paid the 25 euros to go to our hotel, the Hotel Concorde. During the entire ride there, I repeatedly remarked at the beauty of the architecture, even though we were seeing only a small part of the city and no famous landmarks.
We arrived early, very early but still decided to check in and have our bags placed in storage. The entrance at the Concorde was beautiful and I took the opportunity to use my French, although we switched between English and French during our conversation. Although we were both longing for the opportunity to take a shower after the long flight and change into clean clothes, we left for a walking tour of the area.
And so we had made it to our first stop in Europe and any hardships and fatigue melted away for the next little while.