Friday, December 10, 2010

Paris - The First Time

"We're going to Paris this weekend," Mom announced one day after I'd gotten home from school. We were living in Germany at the time as a typical military family stationed overseas. To help pass the time and offer intriguing diversions for the wife and kids stuck at "home" far away from home, "AAFES," the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, organized short excursions and weekend getaways around Germany and the rest of Europe. Even for a career military family much that was on offer, while not extended vacations, allowed one and all to see parts of the world that would otherwise be way off the financial radar, especially for the families of the enlisted men and women.

Problem is, I cared precious little about any of that and didn't want to go! I had very important plans that weekend, like any good nine-year old would. I was going to hang out with my friends. Kickball games, hide-and-seek, marbles, one or two good bags of candy and maybe tormenting the younger sister if I could fit it in to the calendar. The argument I knew I would lose continued.

"I want you to see it," she argued. "Send me a post card," I fired back.

My protestations were met with the to be expected resolve of a strong willed mother not afraid to use an open palm to garner cooperation from willful children. Off to Paris we went, the overnight bus taking about 11 hours from Stuttgart to the heart of France. At least my friend Donald showed up on the same trip, he also persuaded by his mother and picked up at the next stop from our place before the long ride.

We loved our hotel room, though I cannot remember where it was. None of us had ever seen a bidet before and logically concluded it was simply a flat urinal while the toilet was only for #2. As compelling as the bathroom was we had only two and a half days to get in as much of the City of Lights as possible, part of a tour group with children in tow. This very trip is how I learned all about "power touring," up at dawn, run-and-click, run-and-click with the camera, eat at restaurants only when the sun went down and back at the hotel for a few hours of sleep no earlier than 11PM.

Into the streets we went where we learned quickly that traffic only watches the traffic lights, not any wayward tourist still trying to cross the road when the light turns green. We marveled at the number of public pay toilets for humans but how no one seemed to worry about the lack of any provisions for their pets. What were those men in lime green uniforms and plastic green brushes doing all day?

I won't say that Mom is afraid of heights but our budget no doubt played in to the decision to only ascend to the second level of the Eiffel Tower. "That's high enough," she would say, an eye on her purse and glad she had the upper hand over us kids. The view was no less spectacular and, we decided as compensation, more realistic because everything appeared its regular size instead of miniaturized from the greater height at the very peak. If we saw anyone kissing we were young enough to run for cover, scream "koodies" and keep going.

This Paris visit wasn't turning out to be that bad!

Gotta go.

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