Intro   Part II (Liguria & Lake Como)     Part III (Villages & Friends) 

Part I
"From Napoleon to the Riviera II"

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Friday, 10 September. We left home by car around 2 p.m. and got to Randall's house in Culpeper an hour later. He drove our car to Dulles Airport where we arrived about 4:30. Check-in was easy except that the French woman checking carry-on baggage made us transfer one item from Jane's carry-on to mine because Jane's was too heavy. We couldn't persuade her that it didn't matter because it was all going on the same plane.

Air France flight 029 pulled away on time, and we took off at 7:10 p.m. Dinner was served almost two hours later. They ran out of the fish just as they reached us, so we had to take the bouef burguignonne. It was all right for airplane food, but we had expected something more impressive on Air France. Each seat had an individual TV screen, and we watched a little as we ate. As soon as possible, though, we tried to get some rest. Unfortunately, though, the plane was too crowded, noisy, and warm for sleeping.

Saturday, 11 September. They served a very poor breakfast, even giving us weak instant coffee instead of the real thing. We landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris about 8 a.m. local time (but 2 a.m. Washington time). Our baggage was very slow in coming. When we finally left the customs area, we were met by our Tour Director, Gerald Gommier, a pleasant enough fellow who unfortunately fancied himself a comedian. (Once we arrived in France, all the arrangements were the responsibility of IST Cultural Tours. Gerald, as well as the guides and Tour Director we would meet later, all were IST employees.)  In spite of our obvious fatigue, he had us stand on the exact spot where he met us for two hours while we waited for others of our group to arrive on later planes. I slipped away for two minutes and successfully tested a nearby ATM machine, both to get us some francs and to verify that my new debit card would work.

We finally got to the Hotel Mount Thabor after 10:30. The hotel, under Japanese management, was in an excellent location, just one short block north of the Tuilleries Gardens and a ten minute walk from the Louvre. Our room, though, was disappointing to say the least. Not only was it very small, but there wasn't a dresser or any other piece of furniture with a drawer. The large wardrobe had only a few hangers. We had packed for 40 days, including a change of seasons, and hoped to unpack our huge and overstuffed suitcases for the four night stay in Paris. We had to abandon that plan. Worse yet, in the middle of a rare Parisian heat wave, the room faced south so the sun beat in all day. There was no air conditioning. It was at least 95 degrees in there when we arrived, and we could do nothing to cool it down.

About noon our entire Elderhostel group assembled for the first time. There were 36 of us, all Americans. There were no organized introductions, but we met several people while we were waiting. The group walked a few blocks to the Loli Cafe for lunch. It was a traditional three-course French dinner, a bit much when our stomachs still had not had time to adjust from the irregular meal schedule of the flight. In addition, the food was really bad. The main course was poor, and the dessert was horrible. (No one could identify the main course, described to us only as "fowl, but definitely not chicken or turkey." We learned later that it was turkey.) The bad food, together with the long wait at the airport and the horrible hotel room, gave us a very poor first impression of Elderhostel. We must say, however, that this first meal was the only poor one we had throughout the tour. Even a later meal in the same restaurant was very good. And all subsequent accommodations were excellent.

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Jane in Tuilleries Gardens
After lunch we had about three hours of free time. Jane and I went for a walk in the Tuilleries Gardens, between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. But we were exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, and the heat was just too much for us. We went back to our room and tried to rest, but it was even hotter there than out in the sun.
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Place Vendome
We met the group at 5 p.m., and Gerald took us on a short orientation walk. We walked two blocks to the Place Vendome, a huge square once most notable for the tall bronze column with a statue of Emperor Napoleon on top. The main focus of tourists today, however, seems to be the Ritz Hotel, from which Princess Diana and Jodi Fayez began their fatal ride. The square is also home to many of the finest, or at least the most expensive, jewelry stores.

After a short break, we all met again at 6:15 and walked about a mile to the restaurant Les Fontaines Saint-Honore. Here, thank goodness, we had a lighter supper, cod fish on a bed of vegetables, followed by a delicious pineapple mousse with raspberry sauce. After the meal, Gerald finally gave us the schedule for our stay in Paris, something he had treated like a state secret until that moment. The group broke up and left the restaurant about 8 p.m. 

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Louvre entrance at night
jane and I walked by ourselves to the Louvre courtyard and the glass pyramid. We could see the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the distance. We started a stroll through the Tuilleries Gardens, now pleasantly cool, but a guard with a big Doberman chased us out at 8:45. We went back to our room, still stifling when we went to bed at 9:30. Our room was at the end of a hall where there was no traffic, and we left the door and the window open most of the night to get a little air.  

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