An American Couple in Delft
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I Love It in the Springtime

Americans generally think of Europe as a small place where international borders come quickly and languages and dialects change even more quickly. There are so many world capitals in close proximity to each other. Yet when one lives here, other places don’t seem quite so close. According to this site which gives the "as the crow flies" miles between cities, it’s 888 miles from here to Madrid, 795 miles from here to Rome, and 1347 miles from here to Athens. That’s not terribly close.

Paris, though, is another story.

Concorde, the supersonic aircraft, came into existence in 1969. It was able to make a trip from New York to Paris in three hours. That meant that if desired, one could go and return in a single day, not so different than driving from Philadelphia to Washington (except that the price of the ticket was a year’s salary but that’s not what this is about). I remember thinking then that it was conceivable to go to Paris for lunch. That phrase, Paris for lunch, rolled around in my head for many years. This past Friday, Lynn and I went to Paris for lunch.

Paris is about 235 miles from here, 280 or so to drive, less than from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. It’s about a five hour drive but on the Thalys, the so-called bullet train, it was just a shade more than three hours. Until about Antwerp, Belgium, the train moves like any other, but after that it really opens up. For a while, there is a highway next to the tracks. Presumably, traffic is moving at about 70 mph or so. The train passes cars and trucks like they’re standing still but the ride is as smooth as could be. Unfortunately, they served a free lunch on the train so that by the time we got to Paris, we didn’t want to eat anymore. We were then forced to wait for dinner and to stay for a couple days.

We did a lot of touristy things that everyone knows about. I won’t go into all that except for the Eiffel Tower. We saw it on a previous visit (it’s hard NOT to see it from almost anywhere in Paris) but did not go to the top. This time we did. Talk about Paris at your feet. The view is spectacular and even if one is only a little familiar with the city, there are many landmarks to be easily picked out. From the time we got in line until we got back to the ground, it was two hours but well worth the wait. The people who run the show there have a sense of humor. They allow people to climb up and down stairs to the second level instead of using the elevator, maybe four hundred feet high. Along the way, closer to the bottom, there are figures of maintenance people painting and doing other chores. At first glance, they appeared real and it seemed crazy that they would be in those positions working. It made a weary stair climber laugh and forget for a moment the pain in his legs.

As usual when we go to new places, Lynn and I spent a lot of time walking around. We think that in the two and a half days we were there that we walked about 15 miles or so. We walked through the afternoon, found a place for dinner, walked some more until we found a café for some wine, and walked some more until we found another café for desert. We walked down the Champs-Elysée from the Arc de Triomphe, in the left bank area of St. Germain, on the Ile St. Louis, and in more residential areas in Montparnasse, and others. If you’ve ever been to these places, you know that you can’t forget them. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know what you’re missing. In the sixties, the Kingston Trio did a song called "Raspberries, Strawberries." There is a line spoken in the song that goes like this: "A young man goes to Paris, as every young man should. There’s something in the air of France that does a young man good." This is something which I can’t explain how I know it, but I know it’s true. Perhaps Paris is not just a place but rather a frame of mind. It’s a great place to be. If you have never been there, go. Every young, and not-so-young man, and woman, should.

The above is written totally from the perspective of a tourist. We know from living in the Netherlands that being here as a tourist and living here are not the same. Tourists don’t see the garbage, don’t have to deal with immigration, etc. The same is true in Paris. While on these long, slow walks, we came across a couple of real estate offices. Having just gone through this exercise in Delft, we were curious as to what it cost to buy a home in Paris. We were somewhere around Montparnasse, a very nice area, but by location and the look of the place, a good area but not the primo Parisian neighborhood. We saw a 135 sq ft apartment (that amounts to one room, 13.5 x 10 feet) for €600/month and a 450 sq ft apartment for €800,000. This is not a cheap place to live.

We frequently hear that the French are rude and won’t speak English to you even if they know it. This may or may not be true among the general populace, but the people catering to tourists and people who deal with the public are usually very courteous. I have learned enough French to say, "I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?" It’s so weird that people understand what to me sounds like junk syllables. But there was one clown who didn’t care. He was the cashier in a metro stop. We ran out of carnet tickets, the ten strip discount metro fares. We needed one regular ticket. There was an automated machine that probably sold what I wanted, but I now have a lot of experience in dealing with machines that I can’t read and I know for sure it’s a bad idea and is to be avoided if at all possible. I approached the cashier and gave him my total French knowledge and he said yes, he spoke English. I asked to buy a ticket. "Use the machine." "I can’t read the machine." "Use the machine." So much for hospitality. No wonder this guy had a job underground.

See my pictures of Paris.

See my videos of Paris


© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008