We stayed at the Marriott, in Neuilly, a ritzy suburb of Paris where the streets were wide and lined with exquisitely hand trimmed horse chestnut trees. We learned from our French guide Mirelle,a specialist in the history and life-style of the city, that there are only two types of trees allowed to grow there, and they are trimmed by hand. So French! She spent time reviewing the history of France during Napoleon, whose tomb we visited and studied. There, she injencted other tidbits about French life, from how many hours in the week that they work, 35, and how flexible their work schedule is. We saw that first hand as we lined up to board the bus at 9:00 a.m. and saw dozens of parents,dressed to go to work, but leisurely walking their children to school before getting into their cars, or getting on a bike to get to work. There are bike kiosks everywhere, and for a fixed fee, people can borrow a bike and drop it off somewhere else. Bikes, cars, buses and motorbikes competed to get into the streets and off the streets. The traffic was horrendous throughout the day.
Paris was built like most European cities from a small kernel, an island, actually, outward. Notre Dame cathedral is on that island, the first city proper on the Seine, and on our boat tour on the Seine we saw all the major places while a beautiful weather and instructions in four different languages made the trip quite enjoyable and easy. Throughout Paris one can look up and see the Eiffel Tower, a major marker for direction.
We entered Notre Dame while Mass was being celebrated. We became a river of tourists circling the cathedral as the main nave was set up for Mass. The noise and the flashing photography was deafening. I noticed that a small candle cost three euro to light up. Inflation of devotional stature.
No matter where we were headed, we passed the Arc du Triomphe,and some of our tour members returned later to visit and take pictures. My husband and I were happy to be transported everywhere, avoiding the hassle of driving or finding our way around on the Metro. But people who ventured out on their own had no trouble finding assistance and people were happy to help. We were amazed at how many people spoke English, and when they didn't, they would help us communicate with our limited French.
What we knew about Paris unfolded in front of us at every street corner: cafes with outdoor seating, well dressed Parisians, charming buildings with well kept frontage. Our tour guide explained that buildings must be maintained according to specified standards on the outside. But, there are no standards for the inside. Many times, we stopped to have coffee at a beautiful place, and when we looked for a restroom, it was relegated to a tiny, tiny basement, accessible through a winding, skinny circular staircase, hard to see, and harder to manuveur around. Each time, the appliances were different, the flushing mechanisms were different and the places were all too stuffy.
We only had one rude encounter the whole time we were in Paris. It was at a cafe in Montmatre,full of artists and small shops, accessible by a funicular. We looked at the menu and I asked a question in French. The response was a rude: "What do you want to eat?" I put that in the category of someone who had not had much experience with the English language. The meal was not remarkable.