Small World

Paris is approximately 4,400 miles from Blairsville, Georgia. Cumming is approximately 40 miles from Blairsville. It only stands to reason that my bride and I should have to travel to Paris to meet Joan and Carl Anderson from Blairsville. We were in Paris celebrating our seventh anniversary. The Andersons were celebrating their 39th!

We bumped into the Andersons while boarding a boat for an evening cruise on the River Seine. Lu and I had just finished dining at the Altitude 95 Restaurant on the first level of the Eiffel Tower. I believe that first level is 95 meters off the ground (that’s about 312 feet) from which height the people on the ground appeared as little ants scurrying around.

The total height of the tower is 324 meters (including the antenna at the top). That makes it 1,063 feet high. Before we left Paris, Lu and I returned to the tower and took the elevator to the top. Neither of us was inclined to take the 1,652 steps required to walk to the top.

This was our first trip to Paris. As I recall, it was also the first time for Joan and Carl. Later in the evening we met the Andersons a second time – at the Operas Metro Station. We had no idea that we’d meet again after the boat ride, but we did. We didn’t see the Anderson’s after the conclusion of the evening – they rode a different subway train. We hope they enjoyed the rest of their stay as much as we did.

Lu and I had heard how the French hold a certain distain for Americans. After four days of sightseeing tours and visiting museums, dining at restaurants, shopping at grocery stores, and riding public transportation, we didn’t find a trace of truth in the rumors. We found that most French people speak very good English and were more than glad to help by answering our questions and giving us directions. Of course, we were careful to be polite and on more than one occasion complemented the people for how well they could converse in a foreign language.

In truth, I felt somewhat ashamed that I’m unable to speak any foreign language as well as so many Europeans do. Many people we met spoke fluently in several languages. I’m sure that simply being part of Europe makes learning foreign languages almost mandatory, but we Americans should make more of an effort.

Lu’s favorite part of Paris was the famous Louvre Museum. We spent four hours wandering around and barely scratched the surface. In addition to the many works of art and other historic artifacts, the building itself is astonishing. Most of the main structure was originally built as a palace for the royal family. I couldn’t begin to guess how much it cost to build and decorate such a huge edifice. I wonder if workers able to duplicate the fine craftsmanship of the ceilings and doors could even be found today.

I was more enamored by the complexity of the city itself. I’ve traveled extensively through many cities in the United States and my biggest complaint is that we’ve homogenized our environment. Every city and town in our country boasts the same fast-food restaurants, the same retail outlets, and the same hotels, gas stations, and other facilities. In many cases one has to be reminded which city or town he or she is visiting.

Paris – and the same can be said for most of London – is a city of differences. While many of the buildings look similar, each has its own unique features. And every block is different. The sidewalk cafes all appear to be privately owned as do the small grocery stores, gift shops, and produce stands. They’ve also done a fantastic job of leaving open areas for tree filled parks and playgrounds.

One day, after touring Notre Dame Cathedral, Lu and I bought open-faced sandwiches at a small shop and found a bench along the river where we sat and enjoyed our lunch. It was difficult to imagine that we were in the center of one of the world’s largest cities.

It was with mixed emotions that we boarded the Euro Train that took us under the English Channel and eventually into London’s Waterloo Station. Our time in Paris was all too short, but we were looking forward to our visit to England.

Our original plan called for a “Jack the Ripper” tour on the evening of our arrival followed by a bus tour of Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge the next day. The “Jack the Ripper” tour came off as planned although it was extremely cold as we trudged through the dark allies of London. The tour finished at the Sherlock Holmes pub where we dined with some new-found friends, Paula Charron and Pam Morrison. These two ladies were from California and on the same basic tour as Lu and I. Feeling very British we dined on bubble and squeak, fish and chips, bangers and Yorkshire pudding, and another English dish, the name of which escapes me.

The next morning Lu and I were out of bed around 5:15 to give us time to get to the pick-up point for our bus tour. However, Old Man Winter had other plans for us. Two to three inches of snow – more in the Windsor and Bath areas – caused our bus tour to be canceled. Therefore, we had a leisurely breakfast before riding the tube (London’s subway system) into downtown London.

This turned out to be quite a feat as many of the trains were severely delayed by the ice and snow. It seems that snow on the tracks (where the trains ran above the ground) was interrupting the power supply to the trains and they were getting stuck. What should have been a twenty-minute trip took us almost an hour. Then, when we arrived at the British Airways Millennium Eye (the world’s largest Ferris wheel… at the time) – the main reason we decided to go into downtown London – we discovered that the ice and snow had it closed down as well!

Not to be discouraged, we visited the Florence Nightingale museum. Lu, being a registered nurse, found the tour extremely interesting. I also enjoyed learning all about the lady and the lamp.

Following the nursing tour, we returned to the Eye and found it running. I mustered up all my courage and bought two tickets. Off we went for a thirty-minute ride. That’s how long it takes to make one revolution. Each car can hold between twenty-five and thirty people and we got some spectacular views of the city even though the sky was still very overcast.

After our ride, we made our way to the other side of the River Thames and strolled through the area I knew best when I worked in London several years ago. We finally decided to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant that I often frequented during my two-month stay in 1997. Believe it or not, a gentleman who worked there ten years ago waited on us, and he was just as cheerful and polite as I recalled.

Finally we made our way to Covent Gardens and wondered around the shops until we found some items to bring back to our friends and family. I even bought a hat since we had left our umbrellas at the hotel and the snow had changed to rain.

Eventually we rode the tube back to our hotel in Earl’s Court and waited for the weather reports before deciding to go with our initial plan. That plan included renting a car at Heathrow Airport and visiting areas where my ancestors lived prior to coming to the colonies.

I’ll save the details of that venture for another article. In the meantime I’ll say “Happy Anniversary” to Joan and Carl Anderson. I trust you arrived home safely in Blairsville and can now show this article to your friends and family. What some people won’t do to get their names in the news!

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