I'm not sure how prevalent the news was here in the states, but the fact was, while we were in Paris, there was a massive transit strike going on. This caused several problems:
You couldn't take a train anywhere. They simply weren't running.
It was night impossible to get a taxi. They were in short supply, due to the above reason.
Many of the museums weren't open, simply because people couldn't get to work.
Fortunately, we were staying in the Latin Quarter, a hip, student-focused neighborhood near the Sorbonne, so restaurants and nightlife were close at hand. Unfortunately, issues like this strike also tend to get the students riled up (Remember the barricades? Les Mis? Yeah, it was this neighborhood.), so the students were ready to go at any moment, and because of that, the neighborhood was also heavily patrolled by police in full riot gear. But they made no attempt to deter our fun, so we simply took them as an unnerving presence.
In Paris, we didn't let this deter us. We walked everywhere, more so than in trips past, and we saw many of the things that we'd not seen before. Like L'Orangerie, an Impressionist museum that introduced me to Marie Laurencin, an artist I had neither heard of nor seen, but fell in love with immediately.
We visited the cemeteries, seeing the graves of Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Jim Morrison. We went to the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her final days before going to the guillotine over the whole cake deal.
We went to the Sacre Couer, and Mont Martre (where we saw the cafe from Emilie), and even went to the Erotic Art Museum on Pigalle. That one was a total surprise; what we figured would be silly joke for a few Euro turned out to be an unbelievably extensive collection of art and artifacts, and even included some pieces by Degas I'd never even known to exist.
We went to a piano bar, and a regular bar where French college students were playing American covers.
We ate a lot, and had a lot of wine, and just relished the idea that we were in Paris, strike be damned.
Then things got a little worse. One of the high points of the trip was to be, for TFN's birthday, an overnight train through the Alps into Florence. Unfortunately, the strikers were also setting train tracks on fire, and vandalizing switches. No trains were leaving the country, and TFN's fabulous birthday adventure was about to turn into a run-of-the-mill Planes, Trains and Automobiles traveling nightmare.
In order to get out of France, never mind getting the trip back on track, we needed to first catch a cab to the airport and book a flight to Milan for the next morning. Due to everyone going through identical issues, the hotels at the airport were booked up, and all we could get was a very large, very lavish, very expensive suite in the Hilton with a lovely view of the parking lot.
The wonderful restaurant in the Hilton offered a $100 buffet, so we opted for the restaurant next door, which was like the French version of Denny's. Just like the Denny' here, the food was awful, but at least this one also had wine.
At Christ-it's-early the next morning, we caught our flight to Milan, then we took a shuttle to the train station, and while I went into the office to buy tickets to Florence, TFN stood outside, and demonstrated her ability to tell off a beggar in Italian. She does it very well normally, but when she's pissed off (on her birthday, no less!) she ranks up there with the best. She can make them scatter.
I bought the tickets to the train (I wasn't wearing a watch, but I walked out of the station and told TFN when the next train was – she glanced at her watch and informed me that I had just bought tickets for a train departing in 10 minutes – more running ensued). Finally, we were settled on the train to Florence, where Z and Mr. Z were waiting, and we could celebrate the birth of TFN (and Thanksgiving) in style.
More to come…