Friday, August 1 - Paris at Last!

Our arrival in Paris was just as the Captain predicted – very smooth and about 20 minutes ahead of schedule!   After breezing through the Border Police station (only documentation necessary – one’s passport), we were able to retrieve our bags on the very first try and then head for the exit, where an affable young man in a red Viking polo shirt (and wielding a BIG Viking sign!) was waiting for us.  A few brief minutes later we were whisked away by our driver Boris into the Friday rush hour traffic for the 45-minute drive to the Neptune, which is moored just downriver from, and with a magnificent view of, that most famous of all Parisian icons, the Eiffel Tower.

Upon arrival at the ship, we were greeted by Lionel (pronounced Lee-oh-nel’), the Program Director, who took a few minutes to give us a personal overview of the day’s itinerary while various crew members scurried around either taking luggage aboard or removing it to various taxis and buses.  Apparently we had made our appearance on the scene when the previous tour’s guests were still disembarking for home or other points, and so we joined others who were temporarily homeless to wait for our staterooms to be refreshed for their new occupants.

Part of the plan for the day is a walking tour of the 15th Arrondissement, which bounds the side of the Seine (the famous Rive Gauche) on which we are moored, to commence at 2:00.  Lionel imparted to me the fact that France’s President resides here, although I seriously doubt that we will be dropping in on him during our outing.  

After a momentary sojourn on the Neptune’s upper deck, Gary departed to get photos of a nearby small-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty while I went in search of power for my nearly depleted iPhone.  I was fortunate enough to find someone else doing the same thing in the ship’s lounge, and she was kind enough to let me plug into her adapter (which itself was piggybacked onto the power cable for the lounge’s lovely Yamaha Clavinova electric baby grand piano).  Upon learning the password for the ship’s Wi-Fi, I was able to upload yesterday’s post to the blog, completed just as my power source had to leave to return to her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

As I write this we are again basking in the warm sunshine of the midmorning, and starting to feel a little bit of yesterday’s travel catch up with us.  Even though they are going to feed us lunch starting at 11:00, my hope is that our room will soon be available so we can catch forty winks before leaving on our walking excursion.  Thus, I have dispatched Gary to the Reception Desk to learn if we have a space to call home yet.

More later…

Quite a bit later, actually!   We were finally able to take possession of our room shortly before noon, and after unpacking hit the bed for a nap before the walking tour.  Thank goodness for a rather obnoxious tone on the alarm clock, or we might both have slept straight through.  However, we did manage to present ourselves in the Reception area on time and looking (and feeling!) a bit more presentable than when we had arrived. 

At 2:00 sharp we departed with our extremely petite and chic Parisienne guide Sophie, who had the daunting task of riding herd on a mixed bag of walkers while keeping up a running commentary on the sights to be observed in the immediate area of Neptune’s docking space.   This particular part of Paris is not one that is usually frequented by the tourist trade, so it afforded us a glimpse into the reality of life in this vibrant city.  We ambled past cafés and bistros, a shiny new shopping mall that would have seemed perfectly at home in the States, charming bits of green space dedicated to play by both children and adults, and the remnants of a village inside the old city walls that had been created by a nineteenth century businessman for his own enjoyment.  Sophie explained some of ins and outs of travelling around the city, whether via the ultra-dependable and easily-accessible Metro, the exhilarating (read: terrifying) prospect of a Paris taxi ride, and even the ability to rent modes of transportation from bicycles to electric cars that is afforded the city’s denizens. 

Although we were gone for just over an hour and a quarter, to our jet lagged systems it seemed as though we had been on our feet for DAYS!  When Sophie delivered us safely back to the Neptune, we were again ready to crash for the couple of hours that remained before we were to be summoned by an signal to gather, with life jackets at the ready, at our designated spots on the sundeck for the obligatory safety drill.  After returning the lovely orange life jackets to our cabins, the entire complement of guests assembled in the second-level Lounge for an explanation of all the things we would need to know about shipboard life and the options for excursions to Versailles, the Louvre, and other locations of interest during our week of cruising.

A lovely dinner followed, and we found ourselves seated with a delightful couple from Belfast.  Morris and Pat had been on quite a few other river cruises, but this was only their second experience with Viking per se.   We traded stories of life and travel, all the while savoring our first sit-down meal with everyone on board for the Normandy tour.  When dessert was being served, we learned just how attentive the crew of the Neptune is: Morris had mentioned in passing to the Concierge that it was his and Pat’s 39th anniversary, and so a charming lemon mousse tart with a sparkler planted firmly in its center made an appearance on our table, to the strains of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender over the PA system (and enthusiastically, if not exactly musically, accompanied  by servers, crew and other passengers who by that time were feeling the effects of too little sleep and too much yummy French wine…)

We had been advised by Lionel that one of the additional benefits of our berth is that, after nightfall, we can pay homage to the illuminated Eiffel Tower, which every hour on the hour is lit for five minutes in such a way that it sparkles like an enormous jewel set in the crown of the Paris cityscape.  Due to magic of the iPhone (and Gary’s expertise with such matters), we should have an actual video of this spectacle posted to this blog in the near future.

By now it was after 10:00 p.m., and immeasurably past the time when our bodies had told us it was time to pack it in, so it was back to the stateroom and sleep.  And so, bon soir until the beginning of tomorrow’s adventures!

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