We couldn't have had a nicer start to our time in France than being able to stay with Dave's friends Tony and Caroline in their cute little Parisian flat, conveniently located just steps away from the kebab house and the croissant bakery. It was tough to tear ourselves away from all that good food and hospitality, but being the dedicated travellers that we have committed ourselves to be for the next year or so, we hauled ourselves out of bed each morning at the crack of dawn (okay, maybe it was more like some time before 11:30) to discover all the charming neighborhoods and tourists haunts we could find. As the motorcycle did not get shipped until a few days after we did, we relied on our feet and the Metro to get us where we wanted to go.
Our personal tourguides had the weekend to orient us to the town. Had some great Greek food in the Latin Quarter, then stood in the fast-moving line to enter Notre Dame Cathedral. Who would have known that you could take the elevator to the roof of La Samaritaine, a big trendy department store, to get a scenic view of the Seine River.
Of course it took a while to drag Dave away from all the haute Parisian fashion he wanted to buy. Gotta love those cute plaid handbags, a nice complement to the Transalp paint job.
Next day we checked out the Arc de France, a modern structure allegedly big enough to encase the Arc de Triomphe (with room left over for the pidgeons). Not too far from the Champs Elysees, where real high class city folk shop for the latest GAP jeans. Further exploration led to the Place de la Concorde, a huge square surrounded by government establishments and a great Egyptian obelisk, and the Jardin des Tuilleries, not too vibrant with spring flowers in the April chill but still quite a draw for all the Parisian workers who seemed quite content munching their big ham-and-cheese baguettes for an extended lunch break.
Monday we spent an aesthetic morning at the Louvre purveying treasures from Egypt to England. Dave felt he was just as mysterious and intriguing as the Mona Lisa and stood for some time near the original to see if other viewers found him as lovely. Most viewers seemed to focus more on the Mona Lisa. No accounting for taste.
Finished up with a panoramic view from the chilly Eiffel Tower--in retrospect we were pretty lucky as that afternoon was the only one on our trip so far where the sky wasn't a blanket of clouds and rain.
That evening Tony and Caroline rounded up a bunch of French friends to have drinks at a smoky club in the up-and-coming Butte-Aux-Cailles neighborhood. Erika could figure out a few words of their lively banter, but both she and Dave were glad they could manage a few more words of English. Caroline is a native of France who has spent time in San Francisco, as well as New Zealand, from whence Tony hails. Her fluency in French and English came in handy way more than once, as we attempted to navigate menus, subways, and motorcycle pick-ups. After drinks, we headed down the street to find a restaurant special enough to qualify for a birthday dinner for Dave (who spent his actual birthday Erika-less at the International House of Pancakes in Vancouver). Had a traditional French meal with tasty fried tripe and white wine. Wish Dave had enjoyed his main course as much as the fried tripe--though he is not fond either of boiled vegetables or fatty gristly meat, he wound up ordering "Pot Au Feu", which, loosely translated, seems to mean something like "boiled vegetables with fatty gristly meat". Mmmm.
Dave happily got a taste of reconnection with his beloved missing Transalp the next day when we stumbled across a street packed with motorcycle stores. REALLY tricky to pull him away from brand-new European Transalps and all the accompanying gear. He was conveniently able to locate a Honda place that had a computer specific enough to show the actual obscure part he needed (somehow the word escaped him en Français). Buoyed by contact with motorcycle parts, he was able to endure another afternoon on foot climbing the steps of the Sacre Coeur church. We loved Montmartre, the hilly neighborhood once frequented by Picasso, Dali, and other creative types of an earlier era and now frequented by busloads of rowdy foreign tourists.
Luckily for us we seem to have arrived a few weeks before the tourist buses. (in a week Erika's parents will be arriving in Montmartre for a two week tour, but since her mom is Swiss and her dad is honorary Swiss they don't count as foreign. Though they have been known to get pretty rowdy. Have a great trip M & D!! :)
We went out for our "last meal" with Tony and Caroline to a Thai/Lao/Cambodian restaurant in their neighborhood (sometimes known as "the chinatown of Paris"). It was great, but boy did we fool them about the "last meal" part. Our plan to leave early the next morning to pick up the bike at Charles de Gaulle Airport was thwarted when we found out the next morning that the bike hadn't arrived on time. (or so we told Caroline, who was then obligated to cook more meals for us. clever, huh.) So we bravely suffered through another day eating cheese crepes and croissants and exploring the Biblioteque François Mitterand (four modern buildings designed to look like open books, allegedly the largest book collection in the world). Erika wanted to tell our hosts that the bike STILL hadn't arrived the day later, but Dave could only be separated from his motorcycle for so long.......
Thursday morning we went to Charles De Gaulle Airport just north of Paris to pick up the Transalp. Getting there was easy, the metro took us very close to the airport and we boarded a bus which dropped us directly in front of the freight company holding our bike.
Retrieving the bike was straightforward. The bike was shipped from Canada on KLM Cargo, but Swissport was the agent in Paris. After picking up the paperwork from Swissport we then walked about a half mile to the French Customs office. The customs officials were very friendly and were mainly concerned if we were planning on selling the bike in France (if so, they wanted duty on the value of the bike), and whether we had the required "green card insurance" which is mandatory for all vehicles travelling in Europe. After explaining that we had no plans to sell the bike and showing our insurance card, the customs officials wished us luck and we were on our way back to Swissport to get the bike. We showed the Swissport officials the customs documents, paid a fee of 64 euros and were shown the Transalp parked out back in the warehouse.
The whole customs process was very simple, it probably took no more than two hours from the time we arrived to the time we were reunited with the bike. Everyone was very helpful during the entire process, although Erika's knowledge of French sped things up a bit.
We were finally on the road! The bike was shipped with less than a quarter tank of gas, so the first order of business was finding a gas station. After figuring out which gas pump was fuel and which was diesel, we filled up the Transalp with some liquid gold. Fuel in France is a whopping $6.00 per gallon! So no pity will be sent back to the States on account of the record prices back there. It's no wonder that everyone drives such small cars over here. Like the little Smart Car that Erika wanted to stuff in our motorcycle top box.
Getting out of Paris was a challenge. We made a mistake of not buying a decent map of France as we only planned on spending a couple of days in the country. After riding around in circles for nearly an hour, we finally made our way to the motorway heading in the general direction of north. Of course, we wanted to be heading east, but at least it was a start.
After an hour on the motorway and nearly getting our credit cards eaten at the tollbooths, we decided that French motorways were just as boring as American freeways. A change of scenery was urgently needed!
The next off ramp deposited us into a completely different world, the beautiful countryside of the Champagne region. Rolling, green hills, charming small villages and smooth twisty roads made for an unforgettable motorcycling experience. Unfortunately, we were in such awe that we neglected to take any photos. Doh!
Each village looked straight out of a postcard, with golden stone walled homes and farmhouses, perfectly preserved. We pulled off the road for a rest stop near an old church with gravestones from the 19th century, where the only sound was birdsong from the pastures nearby. As a matter of fact, where WERE all the people in those villages? Maybe we really were driving through a movie set.
Along the way, the Transalp developed a peculiar problem. The bike ran out of gas within 15 miles of switching the fuel tank to reserve. It was strange, since there was still a good gallon of fuel remaining in the tank. Erika was not thrilled at running out of gas in the middle of the countryside on the first day on the road. We tipped the bike on its left side to allow extra fuel to settle near the petcock and the bike fired right up. Fortunately a gas station was within a couple of miles, so we filled the tank back to the top and the problem disappeared. Dave installed an inline fuel filter prior to departure and suspected that perhaps there was not enough of a "head" of pressure to move the fuel through the newly installed filter. This was still a surprise as Dave had already ridden the bike over 1000 miles with the same setup and hadn't had a problem. If anyone has any thoughts on this please let Dave know.
Everything was so picturesque that our 4 hour drive turned into 9 hours. We were due to arrive at Dave's friend Anne's mom's house in Le Val d'Ajol around 6:00, but 6:00 found us not even close. Using the Visa card in the local telephone was not an option to let her know that we were running late, nor was purchasing a phone card which apparently is the only way to operate the phone. We hoped that buying a nice bottle of wine would be a small appeasement for the worry we ended up causing her by being 3 1/2 hours late. At almost 10:00 PM we finally rolled up to her home. Anne's mom Annie and her sister Madeleine forgave our tardiness and fed us local specialties such as rabbit pate and cherries preserved in liqueur.
We had a great night's sleep and woke up late to a nice breakfast with Annie. The view from her place in the morning was great--green green valley, cherry trees in bloom, church turrets and red roofed farmhouses. Her daughter and two beautiful granddaughters joined us for a while. We wished we had had more time to explore this region, known in France for its charm and beauty, but had to move on to meet up with Erika's parents in Switzerland that day.
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