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Chasing the bus (Europe Day 4)

I didn’t run as much as I intended to in Paris. For one thing, it was really damn hot the whole time we were there, and for another, we were trying to cram as much experience into our time there as we could, and I didn’t want us losing an hour or more because I’m crazy enough to go run a half-marathon again.

But boy did we run when we thought we were going to miss our bus.

A little background: as part of our travel plan, we bought a two-day “hop-on, hop-off” bus ticket with Big Bus Tours. We decided it made sense to use it on our first full day in Paris, so we would have a chance to see the sights and get a better idea of where everything was.

Like most tour buses, there’s seating up top so you can actually see the sights, and you can choose a variety of languages to listen to through the complimentary headphones. (There’s also music playing in between the recorded commentary, some of which was pretty damn catchy.)

We took one tour just to see the sights, then got off for lunch before taking the tour again to actually get off at some of the spots. As for that lunch … the first three cheeses on that four-cheese panini we bought on the street were pretty tasty. The fourth, which was some version of bleu cheese, was frankly, pretty disgusting (and I say that as someone who actually likes bleu cheese). It ruined my appetite for the rest of the evening and on into the next day.

That didn’t make it any easier on me when we were trying to catch our bus. We had got off near Notre Dame, where a variety of vendors were selling books and artwork and jewelry along the Seine. I was looking at the books, trying to find just the right souvenir, when we realized it was getting late. The problem was that the Big Bus Tour, which stops everywhere, doesn’t stop very often along that part of the route. We thought for sure we were going to get stuck hailing a taxi or even walking all the way back to the hotel, when finally we saw a bus pulling over, well ahead of where we were.

I hope we at least looked amusing dashing down the sidewalk, all the while me fishing in my pocket for our bus tickets.

A closer look. Obviously, even before we got on the bus, was a walk over to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t keep track of how much time we spent around the tower while we were in Paris, or how many pictures we took, but I think it’s safe to say that landmark was the centerpiece of our trip. One might even say it towered over everything else.

I apologize.

Might as well start smoking again. It’s easy to forget how rare it is to experience secondhand smoke here in the U.S. anymore. Unless you’re hanging out at a bar, or with a bunch of smokers, it’s pretty easy to avoid.

Not so in Europe, where cigarette smoke is a major part of the ambiance, as it were. Even though the restaurants themselves are non-smoking venues, the habit is allowed at the tables on the sidewalk, so the smoke just wafts your way. It’s quite the treat.

Europe by train, or Paris, here we come (Europe Day 3)

Turns out train travel is worlds more comfortable than plane travel. Who knew?

So when we were planning this trip, we decided it would be neat to take the train from Frankfurt to Paris rather than boarding yet another flight. The chance to see the countryside, not having to worry about security checks … but even those pluses pale in comparison to the heavenly amount of legroom that comes on a train.

The legroom. Was. Glorious.

Funny part about the whole train experience though; we expected that, since our hotel is right above the train station that we can just board the train there. Nope. Gotta go to the main train station in Frankfurt. So we get on one train, along with all our luggage, and head into Frankfurt proper. There, we need to switch trains to get to another train station. I go to buy tickets. The machine won’t read my card. And you have to have exact change to get the tickets.

So now I’m scrambling around trying to find somewhere to either A) break this 100-Euro note I got out of the ATM the night before, or B) buy tickets from an actual human being. Fortunately I find B, and in the meantime, Bessie has figured out that the platform where I left her waiting with the luggage is not, in fact, the platform we needed to be on to catch our next train.

Don’t worry, the guy who sold me the tickets told me where we needed to go, so we ended up getting to the right platform about two minutes before the train we needed to be on got there.

So, another train ride takes us to our final station. However, I’m looking around for a big board that will tell me where our train will be leaving from. These big boards—you know, like the ones you see in airports—either don’t exist in Frankfurt, Germany, or are so cleverly designed and well-hidden that silly Americans like me can’t find them.

Fortunately, we find an information booth and the guy tells me our train will be departing from Platform 19. (A side note, and I’ll likely mention this later as well: for all the rumor that Americans are treated like dirt in Europe, we never experienced that, at least until we got on Air France to come home. But that’s another story for another day. Maybe it’s because we made the effort to speak the language while we were there, or we weren’t obnoxiously American, and maybe it’s because we were tourists going to touristy places, but we had no issues with rude service while we were there.

But Air France, ooh boy …)

Better watch your speed. So maybe you’re asking, “But, Andy, how did you and your lovely wife make it from Frankfurt, Germany, to Paris, France, in a matter of hours by train?”

Well, Dear Reader, turns out that once those trains hit the countryside, they are moving.

There was a display board in our train car that showed the next stop and where we were eventually headed, and once we got going, the speed was shown as well.  At one point, we were doing 316 km/hour, which is about 196 mph.

I’ve never driven quite that fast, but I think I’ve come close.

Hey, there it is. Here’s the deal: visiting Paris has been on Bessie’s bucket list for a long, long time. And the Eiffel Tower has been THE thing she’s wanted to see in person.

I know, hard to believe for anyone who’s seen our décor.

So once we got to Paris and were picked up by our driver for the trip to our hotel, I’m sure we were both looking for our first view of the Tower. We were taking in the other sights along the way, of course, and we were wowed when we reached the Arc de Triomphe.

Then, there it was. The Eiffel Tower, peeking out from above the buildings surrounding the Arc.

I’m not sure Bessie’s been that smitten with something since she met me.

Needless to say, we didn’t spend a lot of time at the hotel once we got there. Drop off the bags, freshen up a little, let’s go get dinner.

We ate at a place called Café Kleber, which is on the Trocadero with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Our first meal in France was steak frites; I had a Heineken and Bessie had a mojito.

Then we walked around and waited for night to fall so we could get pictures of the Eiffel Tower all lit up. It really is a gorgeous sight in person.

I’ll never complain about driving again. We decided that we weren’t going to try to drive in Europe. Too stressful, too much anxiety.

We had no idea.

Our first experience at the Arc was eye-opening to say the least. There are no lanes, not really. It’s just a big circle around the Arc, with six or seven or 20 (I lost count) different “lanes” of traffic all going around and darting off when they can.

It did make some sense after our driver explained to us that vehicles entering the circle from the right had the right of way, so you were supposed to let them go. Considering the madness of the French streets, I’m amazed we only saw the aftermath of one accident in our week there, and that was a minor fender-bender at best.

Walking Frankfurt (Europe Day 2)

It probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to see how much American influence there is in Europe, even in countries like Germany and France. Sure, there’s the old churches and beautiful Gothic architecture, but often right across the street—even right next door—there’s a McDonald’s or a Burger King or an Express .

No, we didn’t shop at any of those places.

We did go to the outdoor farmers market in Frankfurt with our friends Sal and Bethany. I couldn’t help but think about the food truck market I went to when I was on assignment in Portland, Ore.; the Frankfurt market had a similar vibe, but with a LOT more wine. That we did sample, although to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the Riesling more than the apple wine that is a specialty around Frankfurt.

We peeked inside the Church of St. Catherine during our walk around Frankfurt. These churches really are beautiful; considering all the various conflicts that have occurred across Europe over the centuries, it’s amazing to see these incredible pieces of architecture still standing.

Then there’s America, where a 20-year-old sports arena isn’t suitable anymore and needs to be demolished and replaced…

Stick with what works. So, while we ate at the farmer’s market while we were out and about (bratwurst because yum!) we ended up having dinner at the same restaurant we did our first night in Germany. Paulaner was delicious both nights; plus, it wasn’t far from our hotel. Speaking of our hotel, one thing Hilton Garden Inns do well is breakfast. It was nice to have some familiar foods to fall back on, like eggs and bacon (even if Europeans apparently don’t believe in crispy bacon) but I also ate like the locals with some (OK, a lot of) Nutella on a croissant. Tasty!

Thanks to our tour guides. A special shout-out to Sal and Bethany for serving as gracious “hosts” during our time in Germany. Sal gets a bonus because he encouraged us to try macarons while we were overseas. Thanks for the new addiction.

It’s a hub! Before we met up with Sal and Bethany, we walked around the area where we were staying, which is part of the airport but also a train station with a highway nearby. Lots of traffic but considering we were sleeping right under the flight path of incoming planes, we were never disturbed. It was cool to watch the planes come in.

Jet lag is real, and it’s spectacular (Europe Day 1-ish)

When I finally got up from what should have been the greatest nap ever, I wandered over to one side of the hotel room. Then I wandered back to the other side. Then back again, a couple more times, before my wife finally realized I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
She pointed me toward the shower. Yes. Shower. That will wake me up.
It took another 30 seconds or so for me to grasp the concept of turning on the water. There it is. Ooh, not too hot, not too cold. Let it wash over me. A little more awake now.
Grab my body wash. Wait, I usually wash my hair first, then the body. Oh, well, the bottle of body wash is in my hand so I’ll just go with it. Squeeze it out. Here it comes. … Wait, I stopped squeezing and the body wash sucked back into the bottle.
The absurdity of the whole situation hits me and I start laughing like a loon. “You OK?” Bessie asks.
A piece of advice: if you’re flying a long distance, especially overnight, DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO TO SLEEP ON THAT PLANE.
Trust me.

So our first trip overseas was to Europe, specifically Germany and France. Paris has been on Bessie’s bucket list for years; this year we finally made it happen.
But first, a couple days visiting friends in Germany. We stayed in Frankfurt, in a hotel at the airport/train station. (A friend and former co-worker, who’s originally from Germany, basically asked why in the hell we’d want to go to Frankfurt—“I hope you’re going somewhere nice after that.”)
We certainly did … but first, Day 1(ish).

Timing is everything. I don’t like to get places at the last minute; fortunately, Bessie’s the same way. The problem with that is we tend to get to the airport sometimes a little too early.
In case you somehow weren’t aware, there’s not a heck of a lot to do at the airport (especially true at Orly in Paris, but that comes later). So at Indy and later JFK, we had plenty of time to sit and eat and try not to go stir-crazy waiting to go to the next place.
At least Shake Shack at JFK was damn tasty.

“Dude shows up dressed like a cat and you don’t wanna know more?” The nice thing about long flights—well, let’s be honest, really the only nice thing—are the movies you can watch. There’s probably some sort of irony to me watching “Captain America: Civil War” while on a flight to Europe.
Great flick, by the way. Two thumbs up. Full reviews of “Civil War,” “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Batman v. Superman” to come. I sense a theme.

“You’re watching the BBC.” So, a little bit about TV. Now, obviously, we didn’t go to Europe to watch TV, but still, you get to the hotel room after a long flight and you’re trying to stay awake long enough at night to get accustomed to the time change and, well, you turn on the TV to see what’s on. Fortunately, our hotel in Germany had a few different BBC channels so we were able to watch shows that weren’t in German.
Some interesting stuff.

The week that was (8.15.16)

Let’s see if I can get this back on track. Here’s my look back at the week that was:

Things I wrote

I officially said goodbye to sportswriting (although there’s a chance I’ll still cover a game here and there), which prompted some heartwarming responses when I shared the blog on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll address that a bit more come Wednesday.

Things I read

Or, in a couple of cases, I plan to read. The New York Times devoted their entire Sunday magazine to an in-depth look at what’s led to the current situation in the Middle East. At the least, this looks cool and I’m hoping to learn a lot from reading it.

And Conor Friedersdorf listed over 100 pieces of exceptional journalism at The Atlantic’s website. I may not be an official “journalist” anymore, but journalism done well is always going to be special to me.

A couple other stories I wanted to share/keep a link to, including a cool profile of the Colts’ Anthony Castonzo and a column noting the hypocritical stance of some evangelicals when it comes to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. (For those keeping score, yes, I did lament on my personal Facebook page about the overwhelming number of political posts there. Doesn’t mean I can’t share things here.)

Things I watched

Rented a couple of movies over the weekend. Keanu was hilarious. (“Get that bitch.”) And while Mother’s Day earned the poor reviews it got, sometimes you just need to turn your brain off for two hours and zone out.

How I ran

Umm … let’s just talk about that next week, shall we?

So, readers, anything you want to share?