I’m chronicling my first European Band Tour in 1997. This tour was instrumental in formulating my group travel philosophy and standards. Ultimately, it gave me knowledge, confidence, and practical experience that I needed to begin touring on my own.
Continuing my journal entry and retrospective comments…
“June 6, 1997
Our flight arrived at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport at 9:15 a.m. After clearing Customs, we were met by Lisa, our EF tour guide. The bus ride from the airport to central Paris was filled with excited travelers, marveling at the signage in a “foreign language,” checking out the smaller and faster cars on the highway, and trying to locate the Eiffel Tower on the skyline.
So far, Lisa is doing a great job, although we have not done much. We transferred, by private bus, to our hotel, ‘Residence Internationale de Paris, 44 rue Louis Lumiere.This place is in a residential area with quite an eclectic population. On first sight, it appears to be okay; it is comfortable, but a little hot. There is no air conditioning in the rooms. I believe this place is known as a “residence,” because it appears there are people living here on long-term contracts. Actually, many of the “residents” appear to have physical disabilities, so perhaps this place is some sort of a rehabilitation facility that rents out rooms as well.
After settling in, we gathered in a conference room. Lisa presented a tour overview, made introductions, and briefed us on Paris and how to navigate the Métro. Shortly, we plan to go out and visit Paris.
Leaving the hotel, we took the Métro to the Montmartre area. This journey required a change of trains in an underground Métro station. It was a bit scary trying to keep up with everyone, making sure they made the switch and got on the correct train. Most of the group had never ridden a subway, so the entire process was a learning experience. Everyone made the journey, without getting lost, upset, or robbed!
Exiting the underground, at the Anvers Métro station, was a cultural shock for all of us. While Lisa was interested in pointing out the historic Art Nouveau Métro sign, I was interested in keeping my group together, safe, and away from the vagabonds and winos littering the street. Apparently, we had “popped out” of the Métro in the median of the Boulevard de Clichy, a place known for sex shops, prostitutes, vagrants, and rubbish.
Things went from bad to worse as we crossed the street and began our en-mass tourist trek up the dirty street toward the Sacré Coeur. Michael, one of the parents on my tour, was targeted as a prime candidate for pick-pocketing by a gang of small “gypsy” children. I can’t blame them; Michael was wearing a large backpack and had several cameras strung around his neck. That getup, combined with khaki pants, white tennis shoes, and a straw hat, pegged him for sure as an American tourist. On more than one occasion, he had to literally beat off the gypsy kids who were trying to pick his pocket.
Finally, we reached the end of that crowded street, coming to a park with several steep stairways leading up to the Sacré Coeur, a beautiful white church at the top of the hill. I thought, “Whew, we survived that and are finally to safety.” We all huddled around Lisa, like she was our mother hen, listening to her “speil” about the area and its history. Then, just when I was beginning to relax, thinking all my kids were safe, she suggested we split up and get lunch on our own. Alarm bells went off inside my head. I was very hesitant to “release” my students to go wander the neighborhood in search of food. So instead, we all just walked across the street and bought lunch at a hot dog stand.
Lunch consisted of a hot dog with cheese (15FF) and a Diet coke (10FF). HA! What a great way to begin a tour to France with such a gourmet meal.
After lunch, we hiked up the steps to the Basilica and went inside. The interior was disappointing, as it was under renovation with scaffolding all over the place. However, the views from here are great; you can see all of Paris looking South across the river. If you leaned out and look beyond the trees to the right, you can even see the Eiffel Tower.
Leaving the Basilica Sacré Coeur, we walked toward the Bohemian-inspired area known as Montmartre. In the early 20th century, starving artists, musicians, and dancers lived here together in a commune. This enclave became famous for cheap rent, all-night parties, sleepy days, and artistic creativity. Today, the place is still filled with artists gathering to sketch, draw, and sell portraits. Sarah, Sabrina, and Carey finally caved into the artists constant hounding; they “commissioned” sketches at a cost of 20FF for a black and white sketch to 150FF for a color portrait.
I am feeling okay, not too much jet-lag! But, I think this is due to my sleeping on the flight to Paris last night. Holly has become sick and thrown-up, and Leslie is not feeling well either. All I can remember is how I felt in Amsterdam in 1995, so I sympathize with them.
From Montmartre, we went by subway to the old marketplace with outside fruit vendors known as Rue de Sentier (MO:Sentier). After a brief walk through some heavy traffic, we arrived at the “les Halles” gardens, more specifically the Place René Cassin. My son, Brian, decided to bring his skateboard on this tour. So, today, our first day in Paris, here he was toting it around all day on his special backpack designed to carry a board. Then we arrived at Henri de Miller’s 70-ton statue known as “ecoute,” translated as “listen” in English.
By this time, my hearty lunch had worn off, so I was excited to eat at our first “real” French restaurant for dinner. Apparently, it was a big French chain-type restaurant known as ” Hippotamus.” Here, we dined on the gourmet French delicacies of white rice, chicken ka-bobs, lettuce with dressing, and chocolate mousse. I purchased a “Coke Light” for 10FF.
After eating, we took the Métro back to the hotel. It was a forty-five-minute ride with one transfer. When I finally got to my room, I was totally worn out and fell asleep immediately. I think the kids stayed up most of the night playing cards in our third-floor lobby area. Occasionally, when I woke up, I could hear them outside my door.
If I remember correctly, clearing security and customs was a breeze. It was in the “old” Terminal I, Charles De Gaulle. I remember thinking that I’d seen those inclined escalators and walkways (housed in a tube) in a James Bond movie. Today that place seems so “old” and run down. In 2007, we went through Terminal I several times, and it seemed they were always working on the place with new sheetrock, barriers, and layouts. Now, in 2011, remodeling is still in progress, but just minor painting and traffic routing. The “escalator tubes” still harken back to the 1970’s, but in a nice nostalgic way.
Montmartre has not changed much in fifty years. When I took my students in 1997, Montmartre was exactly as it is today. Rounding the corner, as you head to the left of the Sacré Coeur, the local artists form a gauntlet of sorts and pester everyone about posing for a portrait or sketch. Many use the bait and switch tactic of snagging tourists as models so they can practice their artistic craft. Then, when the sketch is completed, insist on giving it away to the “model,” but only if they pay for it.
My advice is to avoid and ignore the initial onslaught of sketch artists and keep on walking. There are better professional artists in the Place du Tertre, the main square in Montmartre. In March 2011, after a week of “scouting” the artists, I finally broke down and paid for a color portrait. The artists, an elderly gentleman who looked like Santa Claus, held me captive for about forty-five minutes while making a pretty good pencil sketch of me.
Hot dogs and Diet Coke! What was I thinking! Nowadays I walk the 200+ steps to the Sacré Coeur, give everybody a chance to look around, catch their breath, and see inside the Basicila. Then, we head uphill and around the corner to Montmartre, fight the artist gauntlet, and visit Place du Tertre.
For a snack of soup, cheese, or salad, there is no place better than one of the cafes surrounding Place du Tertre. Combine that with a coffee or glass of wine and the ambiance is divine. For a more substantial dining experience, walk on down toward the windmill, and find a local place. I’ve got plenty of suggestions for dinner.
How about that exchange rate?!
15FF for a hotdog= $1.50USD back then
10FF for a coke light= $1.00USD
sketches and paintings 20FF-150FF=$4-20USD
Rue de Sentier, that’s near the Borse, and that’s just a short distance from the “market area” I referred to known as les Halles. This grand marketplace is no longer here; in fact, it was leveled in 1971 and replaced with a pitiful underground marketplace, now a major RER station.
The Hippopotomus! White rice, kabobs, etc is one of the main reason I decided to venture out on my own. There is so much more to Parisian cuisine than this!
And I can’t leave without discussing the hotel Residence Internationale de Paris. This place is okay, but it was way, way, way out on the outskirts of the city center. It took a 30 minute Metro ride with several changes just to get to the Latin Quarter. The neighborhood was a little sketchy with hookers on the streets between Metro stops. Don’t get me wrong; I even used this place once after founding my tour company, but there is a lot better to be had for the price in Paris.