First day in Europe!

Trip Start May 25, 2008
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14
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Trip End Jul 04, 2008


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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Up early to catch train into London, where we transferred to Kings Cross St Pancras International Station for the speedy EuroStar service to Paris! Sat next to an interesting, likeable French lady on the train who explained she had been studying English language for 3 months in London to help her in her sales assistant role back in Paris.
Finally 'found' our ride in the large crowds inside the station on arrival in Paris......he was an English/French speaking Chinese man who drove us in a small van thru the crazy traffic across town to our hotel...along the way, we experienced many back streets as quite a few main arterials were cordoned off by Police for security reasons, as President Bush either had just visited, or was just about to. We saw road rage erupt right in front of us when at a  standstill in tiny side streets where 3 x lines (not lanes...they don't seem to have any!) of cars were desperately trying to merge into a space where two car widths was stretching the friendship, between unending lines of cars parked on either side and mostly half on the pavement. We saw beautiful wide, tree-lined avenues, and tiny narrow laneways, but all featured lovely green trees everywhere you turned.
Arrived at our hotel in La Defense business district of Paris...checked in and then waited to meet the other members of our Trafalgar Tour as they arrived (majority started at London previous night, took coach this morning on ferry across the channel, thru war cemeteries on to Paris).
Turned out our tour leader was from none other than Australia, which was initially a little disappointing, as we were expecting someone with a strongly European accent, who would surely know the continent better than an Aussie??  Not so!! Our guy turned out to be just the best bloke & very well suited to the task....as you would expect of someone who has been living in London, and escorting European tours for a dozen years!
Must comment here especially to make a point of what a tremendous group we were about to forge some enduring friendships with.....relatives of ours have travelled quite a bit, and have commented more than once that both the tour director & the group themselves can really make or break a trip, no matter how fantastic the destinations......our group of about 34 consisted of probably half Aussies, an NZ couple, 8 or so Canadians, with the balance from USA.......WHAT A BLAST WE WERE TO HAVE!!  No language or cultural challenges to overcome, just a fun and well-grounded bunch of people out to have a good time...we were truly blessed!
We firstly all went to Notre Dame, which was just awesome...hard to contemplate one project taking 160 years to complete...that's probably 4 x generations of workers!!
Next, we enjoyed a little free time in the Latin Quarter to 'find' dinner.....decided on a little (French of course) restaurant which was just right....French onion soup, followed by chicken crepes & mousse...not too shabby.
Soon after, total group met for a cruise on the Seine River......referred to in the tour brochures as something like 'Illuminations' tour, we set off, not initially realising that in summer, the sun in this part of Europe does not set until around 10pm-ish! So, the lights were not as bright as we thought, but the sights themselves were just non-stop incredible....sooooo much to take in!!  Too much to take in, but we weren't complaining! The architecture in this place has to be seen to be believed...that, and the fact that so many of the structures have been standing, in one form or another, for so many centuries?? Numerous bridges from many periods cross the Seine...each one has it's own story.
Got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower frm the cruise before dark, and then again from the coach as darkness was falling.....photos don't do the lights justice!
We immediately sensed a different atmosphere in and around Paris....certainly an exciting one for us.
A HUGE but thrilling day finally comes to an end!
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