ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE TOUR–OUR ARRIVAL
Well, I am finally on the mend after my bout with Angevinia, as Sherill, one of our tour group, named the ailment that struck so many of us down upon our return home. So I feel up to starting my tour reports—sadly, after the fact. But even if my netbook had let me log onto the internet as often as I’d wished, I wouldn’t have been able to manage daily bulletins—too much fun, friends, and wonderful French wine. My intentions were good; I just wasn’t being very realistic.
I thought I’d do a day at a time. Most of us arrived in Paris on Sunday, June 4th,
though a few lucky souls got there earlier and Paula, one of our four Australians, was able to spend time in England and Wales beforehand. Once we checked into our hotel on the Left Bank, jet-lagged but excited, some of us went out for lunch, where we discussed—quelle surprise—books, with great enthusiasm. Several of us then wandered over to one of Paris’s best-known English language bookshops, Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare and Company was a famous hangout in the 1920s for the “Lost Generation,” writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. It was closed during the Nazi occupation of Paris, but later reopened at its current location, very close to the Seine and Notre Dame. The last time I was there, there was a very sleek and elegant black cat napping in the window, but he wasn’t around on this visit.
We had a very interesting and eclectic group—four from Australia, one of whom is now living in Viet Nam, one from Canada, one from England, and the rest from the US, with a large number of states represented—California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Nevada, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Ages ranged from Anna at 14 to those of a “certain age” like me, and it was skewed toward the female side, though the three men aboard were not complaining about that! We had a fascinating mix of professions, too—a doctor, two psychotherapists, a diver at Disneyworld, a librarian, a lawyer, several students, two midwives, two accountants, a pharmacist, an optometrist, and a cellist, just to name some of them off the top of my head. We had three mother-daughter combinations, which pleased me and made me a little sad that I’d never been able to take a trip like this with my own mother. And we had one family, Lisa and her two daughters and her sister Kathy. Lisa’s daughter Julia is the one who videotaped the tour for us, and did an outstanding job, always very unobtrusive, almost invisible at times. Best of all, we were a very congenial group, bonding easily and getting along very well; I am sure that a number of friendships were forged in those ten days. I know I feel as if I made 36 new friends
That evening, we had our first official tour dinner, which was the only real misstep of the tour, for it was at a restaurant that was small and cramped and very, very noisy. I remember thinking that we’d need to shout to be heard—and then the musicians arrived. Imagine being trapped in an elevator with an exuberant accordion player and you get an idea of the acoustics. So we were soon being serenaded by such French classics as “I can’t get no satisfaction,” which a group of German tourists seemed to enjoy more than we did. John, our retired English doctor, who would later prove to be my guardian angel on the tour, performed an act of great chivalry and changed seats with Paula, who was seated in the line of fire, right next to the accordion player. I would rate that with Sir Walter Raleigh’s sacrifice of his cloak to keep Gloriana’s feet dry.
As I said, not an auspicious start to the tour. But when I talked to J.D., our tour guide, he explained that we were supposed to eat in a private room upstairs; the restaurant’s air conditioning had stopped working, though, and they’d had to put us downstairs. So it was not the fault of our tour planners, had to be written off as one of those inevitable minor mishaps that occur whenever people travel. I’m sure medieval pilgrims often found themselves staying at inns with leaky roofs or mice that wanted to get too up close and personal. All in all, I was quite impressed with the itinerary set out by Academic Travel and would highly recommend them in the future. We were very well looked after by J.D. and by Janus, our bus driver; wait till you read about our experience on a narrow bridge on the way to Fontevrault! Tomorrow I will start the tour in earnest, with our first day in Paris.
PS The photo is one of John’s–the Ile de la Cite, which was the beating heart of Paris in the MA.
June 24, 2011