December 15 - Missing Class

We got up around 06:30.  We didn’t sleep well because of the impending alarm, waking up well before the alarm was set to go off.  Once actually out of bed, we finished packing, then took the sheets off the beds and followed other hyper-specific directions.  The Airbnbs in Europe seem to have much more specific directions than in the US.  It’s gotten to the point that we discussed just using hotels, at least in cities where hotels are around the same cost and in roughly the same neighborhood as Airbnbs.

Our taxi driver theoretically arrived a couple minutes early, only we saw no evidence of a taxi.  Crystal checked her taxi app, and we realized the issue - the taxi driver was on Engelstraat, not on Engelsestraat.  We hadn’t caught the extra syllable when we input the address.  Fortunately the taxi was just a couple of minutes away, and arrived at basically the time we had arranged.  On the short drive to the train station, there were so many bikes ("BIKES!"), as it was the morning commute and kids were heading to class.  Also, we never drove a straight line for more than 0.1 miles.

There was a little bit of confusion at the train station.  On the platform next to the train we were due to take, there was an earlier train to Brussels that was sitting there, delayed, because it had no pilot.  We got on, then got off, then got on again.  We ended up leaving 5-10 minutes before the one we initially intended to get on.  There were a couple random stops on the way out of town, but otherwise the ride was pretty straightforward.  It was so gray outside, not quite fog, but really low clouds.

We arrived at the Brussels MIDI station around 09:30.  We found our gate (Gate 4), and it was right near where we ate before meeting Beverly a week earlier.  We all got more calls from Belgium, presumably checking to see if we were getting tested a second time.  We ignored the calls since we were leaving the country.  Crystal bought snacks for the ride.  The Thalys (one of the high speed trains) was on time, and we boarded at 10:13.  We were in France around 10:40.  It was pretty boring scenery, which we knew to expect since Beverly had seen it the previous week.  Crystal and Beverly read, and Justin “admired” the scenery.  One cool thing was that the tracks were banked so that the train didn’t have to slow down when it turned.

We arrived in Paris, at the Gare du Nord station, just after 11:30.  There were people checking vaccine QR codes, so we tried our Belgium QR code.  It didn’t work, but then they saw that we were from the US, we showed them our CDC card, and we got through ok.  Our first stop inside the station was at an information booth, where we found both a pharmacy and a locker location.  The woman at the information booth looked like Justin’s aunt, Beverly’s sister.  We went downstairs to the locker area, and had some issues with the first locker we tried, but the second locker worked fine.  Sans bags, we went outside and our first stop was a pharmacy, just a block or two away.

The Pass Sanitaire was no big deal, easy money for the pharmacy.  Now we had an official EU QR code, not the one that was specific to Belgium.  We wondered how often, if at all, we’d need to show our CDC card after this.  We walked to Sacre Coeur, which was not far away at all.  There were quite a few steps to get up to the church, however.  The inside of the church was nothing memorable.  Much better was the view from the top.  There were a lot of steps to get up there, but the steps were much easier to traverse than most places, including the Airbnb in Bruges.  There were just hundreds more of them.

From the top we could make out (or thought we could make out) numerous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Invalides, and more.  After taking in the view, we walked back to the train station, through a garment district and a wedding district.  We retrieved our bags downstairs, and then purchased some Metro tickets.  We took Line 4 to the Chatalet station, then Line 1 to the George V station.  We came up on the Champs Elysees, with the Arc de Triomphe just 450 meters to our right as we crossed the street.

It was less than a 5 minute walk from here to our Airbnb, on Rue de Bassano.  The check-in instructions we received were good, and we had no issues getting into the unit.  We arrived at 15:00, set our stuff down, then headed out, southwest, to Trocadero Gardens.  Because of the other buildings around, we had no view of the Eiffel Tower until then, but once at Trocadero Gardens, it was right in front of us.  We eventually found a Christmas Market, which was tiny and looked like it had maybe just opened for the season, by the aquarium.  The food and drink options were a bit fancier than mulled wine and sausages.  We shared a plate of cured meat, cheese, pickles, bread, butter, along with some wine and champagne, and the guy at the chalet told us to just find a place to sit and he’d bring everything to us.  We enjoyed our Christmas Market with a view, then got a move on.

We walked east along the north (Right) bank of the river, taking in all the views.  The lights on the Eiffel Tower came on at 17:00.  [Crystal missed her 17:00 Hungarian class today, but it was for a good cause.]  We ended up in Tuileries Garden shortly thereafter, at what we had read was the premier Christmas Market in Paris.  It was huge, but to us it looked more like a kid’s carnival than a Christmas Market.  Granted, if we’d seen this before we saw all the markets in Vienna, Prague, Salzburg, Budapest, maybe they’d be the odd ones and Paris would be “normal.”  Beverly had read that French Christmas Markets are much more attuned to children than those of other countries, and that seemed to be evident here.  Oddly, with a ton of space available in the Tuileries Garden, the market area was incredibly cramped, with many families.

Around 18:00 we got some cherry mulled wine; we ordered the large and that was a bad idea, it was entirely too large.  For once, we didn’t finish our glasses.  We know it was around 18:00 because Crystal kept glancing over at the Eiffel Tower (which was visible here and there, depending on what was in the way), wanting to see the “sparklies” that happen on the hour at night.  We walked back west along the riverbank, slowly, trying to find a good vantage point to watch the 19:00 sparklies.

Once back in our neighborhood (the 16th arrondissement), we tried to get dinner at the place Justin had found (Le Bizetro), but they were theoretically full; it didn’t look remotely full, but perhaps they had reservations that were going to be seated soon.  So we went back to the Airbnb and looked for other options.  We found a place that the host recommended, a steak frites place called Le Relais de l’Entrecote Marbeuf, just a few blocks away, but when we walked over there they had a line of close to 30 people.  We weren’t going to wait in line in the cold.  Crystal recommended we just look at the place directly across the street, Chez Andre.  She checked, and they did have 1 or 2 tables available, and we finally got off our feet (Beverly’s Fitbit told her she had walked over 30,000 steps today, so we had done a fair amount of walking).  Everyone was happy to be sitting.  Everyone ordered the duck leg confit.  The employees appreciated our tortured French, and took good care of us.  Beverly’s floating island dessert was so huge and so impressive looking that Justin actually took a photo of it, and the table next to us made sure to order it for their dessert also. We got back to the house around 21:30, and everyone was asleep within an hour of that.

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