After celebrating 4 months on the road at a very mediocre Mexican restaurant near the Granada airport, we spent one last night in Spain before our morning flight to Paris. Transferring to Paris also marks the end of 4 straight months in Spanish-speaking countries (wikipedia tells me they are collectively known as the Hispanosphere).
We didn’t get to use our Spanish as much as expected while in Spain (our routine was such that we didn’t interact deeply with all that many locals – no tours or long taxi rides, for example), but the months of language practice were nonetheless good for all of us. The boys will continue to study Spanish throughout the trip.
We were bit nervous about our brief planned stop in Paris. One of French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promises was to reform the country’s 42 different pension schemes. In anticipation of reforms, there were mass demonstrations starting December 5 – the week before our arrival. Additionally the national railroad (SNCF) and Paris transit company (RATP) went on strike. Transportation strikes are a national pastime in France, and this was the largest in many years. With virtually all the trains, subways, and trams shut down in and around Paris, we were worried we might not be able to get around. Furthermore we were planning to leave the country by train after a few days – this was now in doubt!
We briefly considered skipping Paris entirely, but dismissed that idea and decided to give it a shot. Despite some inconveniences, it all worked out in the end. But first, we had to get out of Spain. Our flight from Granada to Madrid was late. To make our connection in Madrid we had to run nearly the entire length of the terminal, from Gate 2 to Gate 98 or whatever it was. Our bags did not run as fast as we did, and missed the flight to Paris Orly. The nice folks at the lost luggage desk assured us our bags were on the next flight (2hrs later), so rather than have our bags delivered to the hotel at some indeterminate future date, we elected to hang out at Orly for two hours and collect them ourselves. This also gave us the opportunity to sample some fine French cuisine while waiting. We did not take advantage of that opportunity and instead went to McDonald’s. 🙄
After the bags showed up, we took an airport shuttle bus that by chance stopped less than a block from hotel. The airport buses were running despite the strike, and we were quite thankful for the bus-only lane as it whisked us past stopped traffic on the highway into town.
The hotel room was a surprise. Each room is decorated in a different theme (Love! 70’s Pop!). We got very lucky and wound up with a Google-themed room – the perfect choice for our bunch.
Upon check-in we noticed the reception staff were eating take-out. It smelled good, and they gave a very enthusiastic recommendation for the Turkish restaurant next door. Somehow the boys agreed to try it, and we had a delicious, well-priced dinner there.
Fed and rested, we set out the next morning to explore some of the city. Our hotel was right next to a metro station, but the metro was still on strike and pretty much everything except the 2 fully-automated lines were shut down. What to do? We discovered that the boys are willing to walk long distances provided that they are fed a steady stream of pain au chocolat. Bakeries were open and happy to have our business (the strike has been devastating for local businesses), so we started walking and kept buying them pastries.
The first stop was Notre Dame, about 2.5 miles from our hotel. The ancient cathedral is closed indefinitely due to the devastating fire in April of this year. This excellent interactive story in the New York Times describes the response to the fire – equal parts exasperating and uplifting – and explains just how close the cathedral was to total collapse. We should all be thankful that this irreplaceable treasure is still standing. I understand that without its roof the cathedral is not structurally sound, and there remains uncertainty about whether it will survive. Let us hope it can be saved.
From Notre Dame we walked along the river, stopping at the occasional Christmas market or to admire decorations in shop windows.
Next stop was the Louvre – the boys wanted to see the glass pyramid out front. I’d never been to the Louvre and the lines were relatively short, so on a whim we bought tickets and went inside. We spent most of our time in the Denon Wing, home to famous works like Liberty Leading the People, Raft of the Medusa, and the Mona Lisa. I was surprised by the size of some pieces. The Mona Lisa would fit nicely on the wall in a modest living room, whereas The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon… (at more than 640 square feet) is about the size of the entire first floor of our house.
Two hours of art was plenty for the boys, so we headed back outside without a plan. We quickly stumbled across a delightful Christmas market, full of Christmas cheer. Foolishly we chose not to eat lunch at the market, and instead set off in search of a café. After much hemming and hawing we found someplace that looked nice, but balked when we saw the prices ($20+ for a burger). The bakery next door to it served sandwiches, so we got those instead. From there we set off toward the Arc de Triomphe. To get there we took our one and only Metro ride in the city. The line to the Arc de Triomphe is fully-automated and therefore driverless. (The transit strike continued through Christmas, and as I write this some lines are still closed. The company running the trains happily shares that the automated lines weren’t affected by the strikes, and in this era of automation I wonder if the train drivers have made a strategic error by causing so much disruption during the run-up to Christmas).
After a brief stop to look at the Arc de Triomphe, we set off toward the Eiffel Tower for our 5pm entrance tickets. Nate was really excited about the Eiffel Tower, and as Lauren describes it: “When he saw it up close, it was one of the few times I’ve seen him truly in awe of something.” This elegant web of iron really is amazing. Even more so when you consider it in context: Built for the World’s Fair in 1889, it’s over 130 years old. The tallest structure in the world at that time was the Washington Monument, at 555 feet tall. The Eiffel Tower is nearly twice as tall, and is hundreds of feet taller than anything else humans had ever built. With its iconic design and incredible height, nobody in the world had ever seen anything like it. It would remain the world’s tallest structure for another 40 years.
After watching the twilight descend on the city from the mid-level viewing platform, we headed back down. We were completely beat by this point. Uber helped us get back home through “terrible” traffic that was honestly no worse than what we see in Cambridge on any given day. We had another delicious meal at the Turkish restaurant next door, and hit the sack. Our phones – which like to keep track of this sort of thing – said we walked over 10 miles and put in more than 22,500 steps. Whew!