If you're Facebook friends with me, you've seen these pictures already -- and probably saw some of the story via statuses. This is just the...director's cut. *grins*
The project I'm working on is a "global" partner program that is a change in the way partners do business with Cisco, so it involves a lot of training for all internal constituents as well as partners. I work as the program training "lead" for Change Management (which is the biggest oxymoron in the history of ever...'managing' change is a virtual impossibility) and so that means I create a ton of powerpoint decks and job aids and eLearning so that everyone knows what they need to know as well as how they need to say what they know (it's all about spin and positioning, isn't it?).
I'm a 'background' person -- putting together the materials for others to use/present -- but due to that, they need me to be present during these training 'bootcamps' so that if there are questions or updates, they have me primed and ready to make them. Which is why I've gone to a few international locations recently. Thankfully (due only to the timing of these trips as they rub sideways against my regular life constraints) I won't have another international trip for awhile. And I think the next one will be closer to my time zone....
So! Paris! City of love, romance, and 40 bagillion motorcycles!
I left Kansas City on Monday afternoon and arrived in Paris on Tuesday morning. The plane from Boston to Paris was an Air France carrier and everyone spoke French first, English second. I felt a little like I was back in my Freshmen French class with Madam Scott who spoke French all the time because we "needed to be immersed in the language." Also? The plane didn't have the air vents above the seats. That nearly did me in on take-off and landing. I don't do motion well.
Luckily I arrived only slightly shaken, not stirred, and made it through customs as easily as I had in Sydney. People in front of me and behind me were waved to have their suitcases searched, but not yours truly. Maybe I just look innocent...? As I exited into the main terminal, searching for the Taxi sign, about 10 different guys -- youngish guys in motorcycle jackets (that I just love) -- stopped me and asked if I needed a taxi. I'd say yes, but then they'd say, "Motorcycle?" and I'd go, um, no. I had this big suitcase with me...how the heck...?
When the 10th guy stopped me I finally give up and in my very American, partly Hoosier (I twang when I'm tired) accent I say, "How the heck are ya'll going to handle this here suitcase?" The guy, Josef, smiles all friendly and says, "American, yes?" I nod. He says, "No problem! We strap to back!" I was momentarily flummoxed. My back? His back?
But! I was also intrigued enough to follow him. I'd never ridden a motorcycle before and my knowledge of them has been gleaned through four seasons of Sons of Anarchy, so...why not, right?
Hoping I wasn't taken to some back alley and rolled, I went through the doors to the outside and there stood a cadre of mototaxis. He put my computer bag in a hard-side case, then bungied my suitcase to the back of the bike (aha!), then handed me this wicked-big overcoat to put on. Once robed, I swung my leg over the back of the bike, he put a helmet on me (which squished my face) and gave me gloves, then he got on. I didn't know where to hold on to, so I just held onto his waist as I'd seen in movies.
The speed limit signs on the inter...um, well they're not "interstates" in France, now, are they? Okay, so Highway, for lack of a better term, went from 50 to 90 to 110. My Mario Andretti-like father would have LOVED to drive there. I had to put the visor down because it was still a bit chilly at 9am and the wind literally slapped tears from my eyes going that fast.
You guys. THIS is the way to travel. When all the (teeny, tiny) cars (by American standards, at least) got stopped in traffic through the tunnels and whatnot, we just zipped between them -- on the dotted white line -- and made quick work of traffic jams.
There were a few times I am pretty sure I squeaked thinking he'd smack the side-view mirrors of the passing cars, but nope! Got through totally unscathed! We arrived and I was grinning, though my face had red marks on it from the helmet. I was too early to check in -- and THANKFULLY the front desk staff spoke English, though I didn't get much of that elsewhere -- so I went to the public bathroom in the hotel, changed clothes (which, as a girl who used to run the horse show circuit between jobs, I was adept at changing clothes in tight spaces and in limited time...and that's I'll say about that), left my suitcase with the bellman and headed out.
It was 10am and I had to meet my team for dinner and "strategizing" at 5pm, so I had about 7 hours to see Paris. The city felt historic with the buildings no more than five stories tall, all with iron balconies out front, old, narrow streets...it was fantastic. I loved the tiny restaurants and the bakeries and the cafe and croissants. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. First stop? Arc de Triomphe (mainly because our hotel was located just down the street).
Now, around the Arc de Triomphe is a ginormous round-about with five entry/exit points. There are no lanes painted on the brick/cobblestone road, no lights to allow access/exit -- drivers just hold their breath and jump in or out. Going around it on a motorcycle had me breathless. Walking past it was insane. To get to the monument, you can't cross that insanity -- you go under it. I did my best to follow the pictured signs but managed to walk in a giant circle twice coming up the same place I went down. I'm usually directionally challenged, but that was ridiculous.
I started eavesdropping on people until I heard an American accent and followed a group of women (at a distance so that I didn't look like a crazy stalker -- more like...a spy *wink*) and FINALLY made my way to the center. It's quite amazing up close and the thought of the Roman architecture that inspired it gave it this incredible sense of history. I got back on the main road, then followed four wrong paths until I found the Champs Elysses, then followed that to the Eiffel Tower.
Now, I have pictures of this in my house. My husband, a former architect, loves one in particular that shows it from 1888-1889 in stages of construction. And I've seen the tiny replica of it in Las Vegas. Nothing could prepare me for the enormity of this construction. I was walking along, feeling rather lost, and then suddenly...there it was.
The Tower and the surrounding area is beautiful -- and made for tourists. I almost got a gelato at one of the stands but was hording my limited Euros for the taxi rides. I also didn't go up to the top of it for that reason...that, and there's this heights thing I couldn't get past. Were I with the hubs or a friend, I might've been talked into it, but I decided to spend my time seeing more sights rather than more of this one.
I crossed the River Seine to get the picture you see above so that I could get the whole Tower in frame (I had only my camera phone, so I was a tad limited) and as I looked down at the Seine I thought of two things: Les Miserables and Highlander the Series (Duncan McCleod's barge was on the Seine).
I hadn't worn the right shoes for this mad trek across Paris; they were cute shoes -- boots, really -- but totally inappropriate for so much walking. So I had to stop at a Pharmacy to get bandaides for my blisters...and that was interesting as they were located behind the counter so I had to ask for them rather than just get them and quietly pay. I tried to ask in English, but the clerk just gave me a blank look, so I ended up using my handy phone app which the gal at the pharmacy thought was funny. I also stopped at a McDonald's (ah! home!) to use the restroom and found out that you had to PAY to use the toilet! Not like buy food to use them, but actually put 50 cents into the door to open it. I have never seen that before.
Anyway, onward! Next, I headed to Notre Dame; this was the one place I was looking forward to seeing the most and the one place I went inside. The outside is simply marvelous but inside is the kind of gorgeous that makes you want to whisper (regardless of the multitude of signs about indicating "silence"). There were tours one could take up to the bells, but I didn't have enough Euros, so I just went inside...and sat down. I'm not Catholic, but I am a believer and the peace that I felt in that place brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to light a candle for my husband just because there was a crazy thought in my head that a prayer here might have more power.
I think the lack of sleep might have been getting to me. *laugh*
There were signs everywhere that said no picture taking inside, but people were doing it all over the place. I was a good girl, though. With my luck, I'd be the one caught and asked to leave. However, if you all could see the big center window from the inside out, it would take your breath away. Just awesome. This was also the only place I have a pic of me; some nice ladies from Texas saw me trying to do a self-portrait (badly...that's hard with a camera phone!) and offered to take a pic. It's not the best shot because I was kinda...slouched on the wall so she could fit me and the building in, but at least it's proof I was there! *grins*
After I had my "moment" inside Notre Dame, I almost got a cab to the Louvre because, boyoboy I was tired. But I trudged on, got to the Louvre and saw a sign that the museum was closed on Tuesdays. Doesn't it just figure?! I took a couple of pics of the outside (thinking of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" the whole time).
I did get a cab from the Louvre and had a business card for the hotel, so I could tell them where I needed to go. I got back with about 45 mins to spare to freshen up and meet my team for dinner. Now, I didn't sleep on the plane ride over (nodded off once, but couldn't get back to it once turbulence woke me) so by this time I'd been up for over 24 hours and was getting hap-slappy. We took a subway to a little neighborhood that one of the guys who had been there before knew about, then went to a little bar because Europeans eat dinner way later than Americans.
We had to wait until about 7pm to eat and I played it easy on the wine consumption because I was also on cold medicine. Not a great combo, that. It was a good meal and luckily everyone was tired and we took a cab back to the hotel. I didn't really sleep well -- my body was all wacked out by the time change -- but I was ready to tackle the day. However, I didn't leave the hotel from Tuesday night until I left for the airport on Friday.
It was, in a word, busy. And there were a lot of...personalities...to deal with. I spent two days with the distinct impression that our European constituents didn't really think much of their American counterparts and felt a bit worn out by end of the day Thursday (however, when I hung out with the event planning team during the cocktail hour on Wednesday night, I had a good time and was told I was "regular people" which I took to be a compliment). Between that, not sleeping, and the lingering cold, I wasn't up for the "dinner out in Paris" that was planned for the whole 100+ group on Thursday night, so I bowed out, got room service, finished some work that was waiting for me, and hung out in my room with my Kindle Fire.
I am a party animal.
Friday I couldn't WAIT to leave for the airport and took a regular cab there (which took a LOT longer than the motorcycle). The flight from Boston to Paris was 7 hours; the return flight went to Atlanta and took 10 hours. But this time, I was on a Delta plane with air vents AND movies (the Air France didn't have any movies, either). I was so cooked that I decided to watch the Footloose remake (which I'd sworn never to do) and get this...I liked it. I KNOW! I should feel shame, but...I just can't bring myself to. I was entertained.
I was also a little punch-drunk, but that's totally beside the point. >_>
Traveled back through time once more -- left Paris at 1:30pm, flew 10 hours to Atlanta and arrived at 7:00pm, got through customs and totally RAN to the next gate (where I then found my flight delayed and caught up on Twitter), then flew the 1.5 hours to Kansas City and got home at 9:30pm. Once more, the hubs brought Mo Chuisle with him to pick me up and as I exited the gate with 100 other weary travelers, a blur of pink launched herself at me and this time there were tears and kisses and clinging and "I missed you so much!"
I'd been gone from her a lot over the last 6 weeks -- a week in Sydney, a week in California, and then this week in Paris. She wasn't used to that and spent as much time last week as close to me as she could get.
So that's it! Paris in 7 hours, on no money, and with a 2.5 day meeting thrown in. *smiles*
PS - I have read through the comments posted to the Ramble for episode 7.17 and will be working through replies today and tomorrow. Love your beautiful minds!