Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bonjour Paris!

This begins my account of my first trip to Europe last Christmas 2010. I took a KLM flight to Amsterdam from Manila. However, the flight from Manila was delayed, so we missed our connecting flight to Paris. We were billeted overnight in Ibis Hotel at the Schipol airport, and boarded a morning flight to Paris the next day.

So, I arrived in cold Paris after lunch, still dazed by the fact that my schedule got messed up, and I had one night in my hotel foregone. I was also in limbo because I couldn't believe I was in Europe. I had a very busy year, and just before my flight, I had to attend several Christmas parties.



Being the backpacker that I am, I lugged my huge suitcase across the Charles de Gaulle airport, and made my way to the train station below it. After sorting our a ticket to the city, I managed to step in an empty cabin. Suddenly two Eastern European men jumped on the train and shouted out the destination: Paris. I was scared a bit, because the cabin was very dirty, full of vandals, and there were two hecklers mocking and bugging the passengers who boarded the train. At least I wasn't alone anymore.


The train ride to the city from the airport took around 45 minutes. I took the RER C line, and alighted at the Ecole Militaire station, an area beside the Eiffel Tower. It was wrong to take the train when I had a heavy bag, since the stations didn't have escalators. I wasn't in Singapore.


I easily found my hotel, given my directional instincts. The Hotel Caudron (150 Euro a night for a double room) was situated in a small street just off a main road parallel to the Eiffel Tower. It was a boutique hotel, but just like all rooms in Paris, it was small in size. The amenities were ample though, and the of course, the design was notable.


After resting a bit, I quickly grabbed my coat and headed off to fulfill my first Parisian cafe experience. And I just had that in the corner beside the train station I got off. It was true, the feeling was very relaxing, and I could sit in a Parisian cafe the entire day and watch the people pass by the huge windows.


It was already getting dark, so I decided to explore what I could given the remainder of the day. I didn't have anything planned, so I descended to the station and chose to get off at Madeline. The name of the station sounded it had attractions. Turned out, it was a shopping destination.


I walked over a few blocks and witnessed shops and stores and more cafes light up their signs and facades. After all, it was Christmas. I found my way to the largest Uniqlo store I have been to, and to the Galleries Lafayette. The quintessential mall had a stunning Christmas display in its store windows, and once you get inside, a massive Christmas tree and gifts hung from the grand ceiling. You don't get that drama in malls here.


The window displays of Galleries were amazing. They were marionnettes showcasing musicals such as Mamma Mia and other Christmas inspired themes. The modern, neon sparked displays was truly an attraction, and the dolls, well, especially the teddy bears, were the stars of the show.


I went back underground and decided to go back home. It was quite an eerie scene underground, when there are a few people commuting already. The entire day was quite dreary, and this picture just made me realize how different my expectations were of Paris. It wasn't all glamour. Just beneath, you will find its imperfections. It's a city that's truly alive, and that's what I felt during my first day.


So after a quick dinner in a seafood restaurant near my hotel, I dozed off, since I had to meet my daughter Lizzy and Kats, her mother, the next morning. Early morning to be exact. More of Paris and the rest of my European escape...

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