This was, simply put, the best trip I’ve ever had.  Originally, I was going to make this post a complete trip recap, but there’s just way too much to cram Paris, Tours and Le Mans into one post.

Wednesday, June the 8th, I board American Airlines flight 48 bound for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.  In 9+ hours, I’ll be on the ground.

My neighbor is a lovely woman from San Francisco.  She is meeting up with some of her friends she’s been in class with for the past 6 months.  They’re doing some French trip.  We talk racing, French culture, past travels, camera tech, all sorts of stuff.  She’s apparently well traveled – she gets up every so often and walks about the plane.  Her third time asking me if I’d like to join her, I do.  It gives me the time to stretch my legs and walk about.  I wish I had gotten her name, she was a lovely woman.  She naps, I nap, and before you know it, we’re flying over the Normandy coast and we land shortly thereafter.

We’re down safe and sound.  But not at our terminal.  As we taxi up,  I see a full terminal and several middle-east based airline jets.  Hmm.  They park us on the tarmac and as we exit the plane, there are 3 shuttle buses waiting to take us to the terminal proper.  I don’t know if this is standard procedure, but I go with the flow.  I board one of the buses and we head to the terminal, only to be greeted by armed guards.  OK, this is a bit unusual, but I’m a lemming at this point.  Up the stairs and into French customs.  No questions, no issues, stamp and I’m in.  45 minutes later, here comes my luggage.  Now to find the bus stop to catch a ride to my hotel.  I wander around for an hour.  But not without issue.

There must be a reason for all the armed guards.  I near the terminal with the middle east airlines – and they’ve got it shut down.  No pedestrians, no taxis, no one coming or going.  I see tons of armed troops.  K9 units.  I’m a bit taken aback at what I’m seeing.  After about 5 minutes, a few whistles blown and we’re allowed to pass.  Odd and yet very interesting.

I wander around a little more.  Finally, I find an information booth where I’m told where to go.  I head upstairs and outside, where I must have just missed the black bus.  Finally, another black bus with the Hotel OnlySuites logo appears.  Done.  I’m on board.  20 minutes later I’m at the hotel.

Prior to booking my night in Roissy Pole/Paris, I e-mail the hotel telling them I’ll be landing in the morning and ask if I can check in early so I can head into Paris and check out the sights.  No problem, I can check in early.  On the bus, I pull up the e-mail telling me I can check in early.  Good thing I do.  I get to Hotel OnlySuites, head to the reception desk, tell them who I am, and I’m told: “I’m sorry check-in isn’t until 3:00 and we don’t have any rooms available”.  She points me to a couch and tells me I can leave my bags there until a room opens up.  Oh really?  I show the attractive receptionist my e-mail and point to the gentleman I believe wrote me said e-mail.  She tells me: “One moment please.”  She heads to that gentleman and they shut the door.  3 minutes later, she returns and tells me my room will be available in 15 minutes.  Sure enough, she calls me and hands me a key.  Room 7…007.

It’s a cool little place.  A very modern looking building with nice accommodations – except for the worst shower head in the history of ever…but still.

Ok, a quick shower.  Gather up my camera and I’m off.  The black bus will take me back to CDG and I can catch the RER into Paris.  Specifically the St. Michael-Notre Dame stop. 10 minutes later, I’m back at the airport and I’m in line for train tickets.  “Bonjour…may I have a round trip RER ticket and an all-day pass on the metro?”  Oui.  22 Euros later, I’m on the platform waiting for the train.

The French suburbs wiz by and before I know it, we’re pulling into the St. Michel-Notre Dame stop.   I climb the stairs expecting a short walk to Notre Dame – but no, there it is.  I pull out my new Nikon D3100 and realize I’ve made a tragic mistake.

When I left the hotel, I didn’t want to bring both of my lenses so I decided to pull out my big 55-300MM lens.  Rookie photographer mistake – I can’t get far enough away to capture the whole church.  Major facepalm.  I get some incredibly detailed shots, but not the all encompassing front shot.  Damn it.

After a quick photo merge, I’m able to piece this together.

Here’s the glorious central Rose Window

Here are a few more just because.

I have dozens more that I’ll upload, and when I do, I’ll update this post.

OK, next stop: St. Chappelle.  It’s on the same island as Notre Dame and a quick walk.  I get there and my shoulders slump.  There’s a a line around the block.  I’m on a somewhat tight schedule and much more to see, so I decide to skip St. Chappelle.  Onto the Louvre.  I don’t want to see the exhibits, I just want to see the I.M. Pei pyramid.  I pull out my trusty pocket map and start that direction.

Everywhere I look there are church steeples and monuments.  This is the Fontaine du Palmier in Place du Chatelet.  Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his military victories, it was also a source of fresh drinking water.

This is the Tour Saint-Jacques.  Dating back to 1523, it is all that remains of a church that was demolished during the French Revolution.

I double check my map – Rue de Rivoli runs on the north side of the Louvre.  Got it.  I’m looking, I’m walking, I’m looking, I’m walking.  My phone rings – it’s mom and dad.  I give them the quick run down of what I’ve seen and where I’m going.  I keep walking.  I come upon some street carnival and I notice a new street sign: Rue Saint-Antonie.  WTF?  Where am I?  I’m furiously searching the map.  I don’t know where the hell I am.  I spot a Metro station – Saint Paul.  Damn it, Rue de Rivoli turns into Saint-Antonie.  I went the wrong way. I went the wrong way to the tune of about and hour-long walk.  I check my watch.  Damn it.  Ok, scratch two Paris landmarks I have to skip.

I hop the Metro, and while I could have exited the Louvre stop – and in hindsight, I probably should have – I head onto the Concorde.  Again, a short flight of stairs and I’m outside and I’m greeted with this:

Looking down the Champs Elysees

I walk around the grounds for about an hour.  Off in the distance, the Arc de Triomphe beckons me.  Three Metro stops later, I’m there.

Again, the zoom lens prevents me from capturing a full shot, but I have detailed shots that I’ll upload later.

Next up: the Trocadero and Tour Eiffel.  Another photo merge from the Trocadero landing towards Eiffel:

The zoom lens strikes again.  I can’t get a full shot until I’m at the far end of the grounds.  About a half mile later, I’m finally able to capture this.

After another hour or so on the grounds, I find a Metro stop, double check the route and make my way back to the RER route.  It’s rush hour and we’re packed in the trains like sardines.  Once we get outside of Paris proper, the crowds begin to thin until there are just a few of us getting off at Charles de Gaulle airport.  Another 10 minute wait and the black bus is there to take me back to OnlySuites.  I shower, grab a quick bite to eat at the neighboring Marriott and head back to my room and settle in.

On TV, EuroSport is broadcasting the Thursday night practice at Le Mans.  Tomorrow I’m finally meeting the Grand Prix Tours group back at CDG.  Time for some much needed sleep.


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