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david and carol

Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 1
Europe 1999
London, Paris, Venice, Florence


David and Carol


5.20.99 - 5.21.99

Thursday / Friday

Day 1

The Journey Begins

Anticipatory insomnia. We've been mentally and literally packed for two weeks. Let's light this candle…
Finally the shuttle arrives (30 minutes late) and whisks us off to Tucson International Airport. Flew Continental from Tucson to Houston (two hours) with a three-hour layover in Houston. Had airport lunch and fantasized about the trip. Walked over to the international section of the Houston airport and waited for our Continental flight to London (eight hours.) The original flight was canceled due to mechanical problems, but 45 minutes after the original departure time we found ourselves on a brand new Boeing 777. As the great steel bird reared its head and thrust itself airborne, casting us eastward, we were bound for Europe!
The 777 had small "entertainment" units in the back of each seat, with a "control panel" that stowed into each armrest. With the control panel we could watch any of several recent movies such as "A Bug's Life" and "Blast from the Past" or listen to any of several types of audio programs - comedy, rock, classical, etc. We could play assorted video games, or watch the progress of the plane on its 4800 mile journey to London. The food and snacks on the plane were surprisingly good, and although we wanted to sleep, we were too excited.
The sun set early, since we were travelling at 500 miles per hour into the east, and in the clear dark skies to the southeast I could see, brighter than usual, the familiar stars of the constellation Scorpio. It seemed like an old friend I had seen so many times in the night skies above Tucson. Tonight, its question-mark shape seemed appropriate. I wondered what lay before us in the days ahead…
Our course took us across several southern states, then up the east coast and out across the vast Atlantic Ocean, north of Ireland, down over Belfast, finally into English airspace, down the west coast of the Isles, across the fertile green southlands of England, and finally up into Gatwick International Airport.
Arrived at Gatwick about 6:00 A.M. (10:00 P.M. the evening before, Tucson time.) We had not checked our bags through, but rather stowed them overhead, so we quickly collected our things and cleared British customs. It was so fast and easy that we had to go back and check to make sure that we really did go through the customs process.
At the Gatwick Express ticket counter, we visited with a group of young Americans just arrived with their backpacks and eager to explore the wonders of Europe, much like I did in 1971 and Carol in 1978. We bought our tickets for the Gatwick Express, which was a fast train through the beautiful rolling, green, quaint English countryside into London's busy Victoria Station. On the train we visited with two young Yanks off to tour Ireland and two gals on their way to Uganda to see the apes. We said our farewells and found ourselves in the bustling Victoria Station. The energy in the Station was palpable - people rushing about on their way to work. Our destination at this point was the Waterloo Station to catch the "Chunnel" train into Paris. Since Waterloo Station was only about a mile and a half away, we decided to walk.
We walked past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. There was history and wonderful architecture around every bend. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. It took us a little while to adjust to the different traffic patterns - "Look Left" and "Look Right" painted on the streets greatly helped to keep us alive.

 Big Ben
Finally we made it into Waterloo Station and Carol arranged for an earlier Chunnel train. We sat for a while in busy old Waterloo Station and bought some wine, and we uncorked it after the train pulled out and began travelling south through the city of London. It was a wonderful three hour ride through the green countryside of southern England, 20 minutes of darkness through the Chunnel, then into and across the north of France, destination Paris. Lots of small French villages along the way.
We arrived at Paris's Gare du Nord after a relaxing and picturesque three-hour train-ride. We had a little bit of confusion regarding which metro line to take to our hotel, but Carol's freshman French paid off and she finally figured it out - we actually had to take three lines.
The metro was very crowded, and when we got on and became two more sardines in the can, I immediately felt someone's hand slip into my back pocket. I quickly reached around and grabbed an arm belonging to a young French pickpocket who was very surprised and startled. I gave him a look that said "You've got your hand in the WRONG pocket, Monsieur," and he gave me an apologetic look of regret. Or was it fear? He could see I was fighting the urge to wring his throat. The doors had no sooner opened at the next stop and this culprit was off and disappeared into the crowd.
The metro was a bit "odoriferous," more so than we remembered from our previous trips. We heard later that the city was experimenting with "perfuming" the metro stop at Madeleine, and we noted it once while passing through.
We finally arrived at our hotel, the Hotel du Palais Bourbon, around the corner from the Rodin Museum. The room was nice - clean, big comfortable bed and "new" bathroom. The ever-present bidet. We were conked out so we slept for a few hours, then showered and began our first of many, many miles of walking through Europe.
Strolled leisurely past wonderful little shops selling wines and cheeses of all sorts, and breads and chocolates and all things French and European. It is so extremely wonderful to be here… It is hard to believe that we really are here! It amazes us how fast you can travel from one side of the planet to another. We walked through the Rue Cler area and found a wonderful street market where we sampled some cheeses. The markets in Paris are Carol's favorites - such a feast for the senses.

Carol at a Parisian phone booth
Walking past the Academie du Justice we found the Brasserie Bourbon (1, Place du Palais Bourbon,) an inviting restaurant suggested to us by a guest at our hotel. We were seated at a table by a window looking out onto a small park with benches. Across from the park were two gendarmes with machine guns, guarding the Academie.
We ordered the house wine, which surprisingly came chilled, delicious appetizers of smoked trout with cream sauce and fish soup. Our main courses were (Carol) tuna and (David) sausage, which the waiter described as "particular" and warned us "Not many Americans enjoy it." We thought he meant it was going to be "spicy." I could not get it past my nose. Carol, being the more "adventuresome" perhaps, traded plates with me and about ¾ of the way through the sausage we roused enough courage to ask the waiter what it was. When he told us "lamb's intestines," we laughed and drank a LOT more wine.
After our memorable, albeit smelly, dinner, we strolled arm-in-arm, back past the Hotel du Invalides, built by Napoleon as a hospital for the returning citizens who had fought in the French Revolution. A massive, awesome architectural masterpiece, its huge dome is covered in real gold and can be seen glittering in the sunlight from all over Paris. Napoleon, le Empereur, is buried here. We walked the few remaining blocks from The Invalides, stopping in a small market near our Hotel du Palais Bourbon. When we reached "home," we crawled up to the second floor, had barely enough strength to turn the key in the door, fell into bed, and slept like babies. Not bad for our first day…

Next Day

Day 1 London/Paris | Day 2 Paris | Day 3 Paris

Days 4 and 5 Paris/Venice | Day 6 Venice/Florence

Day 7 Florence | Day 8 Florence | Day 9 Florence

Day 10 London | Day 11 London | Day 12 London

Day 13 Home | Reflections

 copyright 1998 / david and carol lehrman / all rights reserved

 email david@davidandcarol.com