By Marvin Druger
The over-55 generation tends to travel a lot. Despite diverse destinations, incidents that happen are generalizable. This article describes details of yet another trip, in the hope that readers will recognize these commonalities and learn from them.
Victoria and I packed our bags once again and we were off to a week-long trip to Paris and Normandy. We had been on luxurious Viking River Cruises before, but this time we decided to brave it on our own. Through AAA, we booked three days at a hotel in Paris, then a train to Normandy and three nights in a hotel in Bayeux and the return trip to Syracuse.
The flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris was uneventful and we experienced the clever packaging of minimal, novel nutrition on the way to Paris. I had to ask Victoria to help me open some of the packets of food. Usually, we over-pack and take much more clothing than needed. This time, I only packed mostly underwear and socks. Victoria bought a small suitcase for herself to avoid the over-packing syndrome. I felt that I could survive the trip with very little clothing. Is someone going to notice that I was wearing the same shirt that I wore yesterday? I doubt it.
The flight over the Atlantic seemed endless. I sat by the window to watch the wing and make sure that it didn’t fall off in flight. I also worried about running out of fuel in the middle of the Atlantic. Just when I had to go to the bathroom, the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign lit up, as the plane started bumping around from turbulence. Individual TV in the plane helped make the time pass. I watched two violence-filled movies and kept switching to the channel that showed the flight status. Every time that I pushed the touch pad TV screen, the person in front of me uttered a complaint. “Could you be more gentle with pushing the screen buttons?”
In Paris, we stayed at a lovely hotel that was near the metro and the Eiffel tower. We had a tour of the Palace of Versailles scheduled for 1:20 p.m. the second day after our arrival. We slept late in the morning and, suddenly, there was a knock at our door. The hotel concierge exclaimed, “The tour van is here for the Versailles tour.” I sleepily said, “But the tour isn’t until 1:20 p.m.” The concierge replied, “It is 1:20 p.m.” The tour guide wouldn’t wait for us, so we missed the tour to the Palace of Versailles. This wasn’t a tragedy since my feeling is that if you’ve seen one palace, you’ve seen them all.
Instead of the tour, we walked to the Eiffel tower. This structure was built as the entranceway to the 1889 World’s Fair. Everywhere near the tower, young men were selling small models of the Eiffel Tower, some with blinking lights. I bargained for one and had a small Eiffel keychain added to the deal. As any traveler knows, it’s routine to bargain overseas for most items. Bargaining is expected, and can be fun.
There are countless art treasures in Paris, and we only had a glimpse of some of them. We wisely bought tickets to the Louvre museum online in advance. This avoided waiting on long lines. At the Louvre, we saw such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, the armless statue of Venus De Milo (Aphrodite), the famous statue Winged Victory, and many other priceless works of art.
As expected, there was a large crowd at the Louvre, especially people who wanted to see the Mona Lisa painting. Museum attendants were rushing everyone past this painting, and we barely had a chance to take a photo of it.
We had a pleasant walk alongside the Seine River to the Musee d’Orsay. At this museum, I was thrilled to stand next to the painting Whistler’s Mother. This painting is owned by the Musee d’Orsay, but is occasionally on display at the Louvre.
Walking and climbing steps seemed to be the mode in Paris. We walked about eight miles a day. That explains why there seemed to be very few obese people in Paris, despite the abundance of delicious pastries and breads. We also took the Metro and mastered the complicated network by frequently getting lost.
After experiencing Paris, Victoria jokingly told me that she wanted to stay in Paris while I went on to Normandy. I convinced her that the trip to Normandy would be a worthwhile learning experience… and it was. We took the train from Paris to Normandy and stayed at a quaint hotel in Bayeux. Shops, restaurants and stores were surprisingly upscale and expensive in Bayeux. Breads and pastries were delicious.
We had a nine-hour tour of the invasion beaches at Normandy. We stood on Utah Beach and Omaha Beach and imagined the American soldiers pouring onto these beaches, while the Germans fired upon them. I wanted to find a bullet as a souvenir. I found one … in a souvenir store near Utah Beach.
We visited Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. This is an ancient abbey that is located on a rocky, tidal island and visitors have to climb endless stairs to get to the top chambers. I expected to find exhausted bodies of the over-55 generation along the way. The older age of people climbing to the top seemed irrelevant.
We visited a cemetery in Normandy where many American soldiers were buried. It was a memorable sight, and it reinforced my belief about the stupidity and futility of wars. Germany and Japan were our worst enemies. Now they are among our best friends. So, why fight the war and lose the precious lives of so many young men and women?
Security did not seem to be an issue in Paris or Normandy. We never felt threatened, even when we walked alone along dark streets at night. At the Louvre, a group of four large, robust soldiers strolled by us. Each carried a submachine gun with fingers near the trigger.
The greatest threat to tourists in France seemed to be pickpockets and thieves and scammers. We met several people who told us horror stories about how they had been robbed or scammed. That would never happen to us…or would it?
We returned to Paris to spend one night in a hotel near the Charles de Gaulle Airport, before our flight to the U.S. In general, I don’t like to have dinner at a hotel, since the dinners are usually expensive and mediocre. The hotel clerk got us a taxi to take us to a nearby shopping mall where we could have more options for dinner. The taxi driver drove us to the African Lounge entrance to the mall. The ride took about 10 minutes. I asked, “How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty euro (about $22).” He replied. I said, ”That’s very expensive for such a short ride.” He then showed me a chart with that price on it and said, “That’s my company’s price.” I gave him my credit card. He put it into his machine and then said, ”There’s not good reception here, so the credit card machine won’t work. Pay me in cash.” I gave him $25.
We entered the shopping mall at 9 p.m. and all the stores had just closed. Victoria called the hotel to get us a taxi to go back to the hotel. The hotel clerk told us to wait at the main entrance, not at the African Lounge entrance. The mall was deserted. Finally, we found someone mopping the floor. He directed us to the main entrance. That area was open and crowded, since all the restaurants were there. None of the restaurants appealed to us, so we returned to the hotel in the taxi the hotel had called. The trip back to the hotel took only three minutes. I asked the driver, ”How much do I owe you?” He waived any fee. The driver was the hotel concierge and I suspect that he knew about the African Lounge taxi ripoff.
We had dinner at the hotel. It was a buffet with three selections, i.e., salad, main dish and dessert. I just ate the main course; Victoria had the salad. They charged me for the entire buffet. I said, “I didn’t want dessert or salad.” But that didn’t matter. You had to pay for the full dinner, regardless. When I protested, the manager told me that I could take the dessert to my room, but I didn’t want any dessert. I ended up paying about $70 for two meals that we never ate. It was a frustrating evening.
Maneuvering through Charles de Gaulle Airport and JFK was an adventure. There was endless walking and waiting. It seemed that we had to walk long distances to get to the proper terminals. At JFK, a driver in a cart stopped to ask Victoria if she needed help. We hopped onto the cart and we were driven to our distant destination. Along the way, people waved at us and we felt like celebrities.
Our flight to the U.S. on American Airlines was canceled and we were transferred to Air France. The return flight from Paris to Syracuse was very uncomfortable. We sat in the middle of the line of seats across the plane. There was no room to move our legs or the rest of our bodies. Where do we put our heads?
At JFK, we had to wait for our luggage to be removed from the plane. This took a long time, and we had to furiously rush from one Delta terminal to another to catch our flight to Syracuse. We reached the Delta gate just after the doors to the plane were closed. What now? We were put into an airport hotel overnight to get a Delta flight to Syracuse the next day.
Our seats were the last ones in the rear on the plane, right next to the toilet. There were two seats across the aisle. The woman in one of the seats exclaimed, “Marvin, I thought that was you.” The two people in the seats across from us were cousins whom I had not seen for years. They were on their way to an event in Syracuse and intended to call me when they got there. The stewardess was sitting in the aisle right next to us. She participated in the conversation. Finally, we reached Syracuse and Victoria’s brother-in-law drove us home.
The invasion of Normandy is known as “the longest day.” Actually, our trip from Paris to Syracuse was “the longest day.”