April 8, 2019: the start of our 5-week European adventure!!!

When we bought our Air France tickets to Paris in late 2018, we thought we’d still be on the road with the Airstream, so we’d leave from Miami after leaving the Airstream and truck with friends in Florida….little did we know that we’d leave the open-road life behind in November, 2018 and buy a house in the Dallas suburb of Garland to live in with Mandy’s 88-year-old mother, Florence Phillips! But that’s exactly what we did, so when the time for the start of our European adventure rolled around on April 8, 2019, we had to hop a Southwest Airlines domestic flight from Dallas Love Field to Ft. Lauderdale Airport, then hop a commuter rail line, “TriRail” from the Ft. Lauderdale Airport station back downtown to Miami International Airport station. In the evening we walked about a mile down the busy boulevard from the Marriott Courtyard Miami Airport to a highly-recommended, authentic Cuban restaurant. Mandy had an all-sides meal of yucca and plantains among other things, and I had steamed vegetables, stewed shrimp and rice pilaf with black beans. And good Cuban cuisine must be paired with delicious sangria! We sat in a breezy outdoor dining area with the scent of orchids wafting by.

Our pre-Europe Cuban feast!
Cuban cuisine is best paired with delicious sangria

April 9, 2019: We awoke to our 31st anniversary on Tuesday, April 9th and had some time to kill before going to the airport for the hop over the Atlantic to Paris, so we took Miami’s marvelous light rail line towards downtown from MIA to the Frost Science Center. At the Frost Science Center we chose to go to the marvelous aquarium. We spent about 3 hours here and marvelled at the various tropical ecosystems represented and loved the outdoor open-air feel of the place.

A baby alligator
Sea Anemones

Finishing with the aquarium, we went to MIA way too early – 6 hours to be exact! There was nobody to greet us at the Air France desk, so we whiled away the hours until they showed up by strolling through the large international terminal – eating, testing my new Olympus mirrorless digital camera and trying on my heavy backpack one last time. The ground crew finally showed up, we stood in a long cue to board, and we finally made our way onto and into the back of the Boeing 777 jumbo jet and settled into our somewhat cramped seats for the 9 1/4- hour flight to Paris! I watched Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” about Freddie Mercury and Queen (I cried throughout!) and read some.

April 10, 2019: At landfall on the Brittany (?) coast we saw rolling waves breaking off shore, many small villages and farms. We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport at 10:40 a.m. on April 10th. Neither one of us can sleep on planes, so we sleepily boarded the RER-B train line from the airport to central Paris and headed to our little old hotel for a brief nap before exploring. We emerged from the St. Michael Metro station from far underground into PARIS!!! We were immediately walking on the left bank of the River Seine about where it splits to pass on either side of the I’lle de Cité, onto the Quai St. Michael. We could turn around and see the looming facade of Notre-Dame de Paris! We immediately found ourselves in the bustling and quaint Place du St. Michael – and there was a statue, with a bubbling fountain below, of St. Michael holding his sword aloft after slaying the fearsome dragons. Following Google Maps, we soon found our way onto our tiny street, Rue St.-André des-Arts, a narrow one-car-wide street that was mostly used by pedestrians (strolling down the middle of the street) and zooming mopeds and motorcycles, which were also parked all up and down the street. We found our little hotel, the Hotel Rue St.-André des-Arts, and made our way through the tiny lobby of the medieval-era building to an extremely friendly clerk with an excellent command of the English language. We took the big old key and made our way up the leaning, bowing and creaking stairs to the third floor. Our large and comfortable room had two windows looking out onto the teaming street below. Beams dating from the 1400’s were in the ceiling and cross-timbers and posts from the same medieval era were in the plaster walls. We snapped our photos leaning out over the street from our respective windows, looking onto the beautiful city of Paris below with its mostly 4, 5 or 6-story low rise buildings built close together. In Mandy’s picture you can just make out the hazy image of the Eiffel Tower a mile and a half away:

You can pick out the Eiffel Tower in the distance beyond the spire!
The view looking up Rue St.-André des-Arts back toward Place du St. Michael. A very sleepy but very happy man!

After our brief but restful 3-hour nap in the early afternoon, we headed straight for the massive Notre-Dame de Paris, located on a small but crowded island in the middle of the River Seine, the I’lle de Cité, originally settled (in Roman times) in about 200 B.C. First we walked all around the outside of the massive cathedral in the waning light of a bright early-April afternoon. The sun soon started to set, with the beautiful light of dusk illuminating the facade of the gorgeous medieval edifice. Soon after the sunset, beautiful lights came on on the cathedral:

The evening lights on the glorious medieval facade of Notre-Dame de Paris, facing the large plaza in front of the cathedral

We sat in the beautiful plaza for over an hour, admiring the lights and the waning bits of sunlight vanishing from the facade, whose mood changed so much with the passing of time and the growing dark. Soon afterwards, walking the meandering and tight medieval streets, we found the “Cité” Metro station with its fabulous Art-Nouveau frilly signage and gorgeous wrought iron handrails, above the stairs leading underground to the subway:

The Art-Nouveau era entrance to the Cité Metro station near Notre Dame de Paris

We watched some amazing river cruise boats passing beneath the gracious stone arches of the Pont-Neuf (1578), the so called “New Bridge.” This is the oldest existing span over the River Seine in Paris. The earlier wooden spans all had houses and shops perched over the river on either side of the lane leading down the middle of the bridge, similar to how the famous London Bridge once was:

A beautiful river cruise boat passing beneath the gracious stone arches of the medieval Pont Neuf

We topped out our excellent first evening in the City Of Light with a delicious Chestnut Crepe at one of the many creperies along the tiny street leading back to our hotel.

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