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It was May 17 and the day had finally arrived! Alex and I were going to Paris with a guided bus trip from my hometown of Hulst in The Netherlands. We had no difficulty in rising at 5 am for breakfast at my aunt’s house. Tante Corrie drove us to the appointed bus stop. A short time later the bus arrived and after putting our luggage in the compartment under the bus, we were on our way. Both of us were terribly excited as we had been looking forward to this part of our European trip ever since we had decided to travel to Europe this year. We settled in for the four-hour ride, first stopping to pick up the rest of the passengers along the way. Every seat was occupied for this first trip to Paris of the 2007 season.
Our guide, Wies Robbes, began to explain some aspects of what we would see and do while travelling through Belgium to our destination.

The luxurious bus was most comfortable and we enjoyed the ride. Before we knew it we were half way to our destination and the bus stopped for a coffee break. Our only disappointment was that our guide spoke no English so that I had to translate everything he said, for Alex. That was somewhat annoying as well as difficult at times. We had been given to understand that he would give his information in Dutch, English, French and German.

As we approached the city limits of this vibrant historic city, the feeling of anticipation intensified. It was palpable and the level of conversation also rose. The ring road which would lead us to our destination was negotiated successfully by our experienced chauffeur. The unbelievable volume of traffic heading into the city’s core was expected but still remarkable. The bus driver parked on a side street of the famous Champs Elysees and we were given our first taste of freedom in this magnificent city. Alex and I excitedly explored the area nearby, the Place de la Concorde, the beautiful Jardin des Plantes and even climbed to the top of a nearby building which afforded us a spectacular vista of this tourist mecca. The Eiffel Tower was an excellent point of reference for locating other important sites. At the appointed time all the passengers returned to our bus now anxious to get to the hotel to get settled in, shower and prepare for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Not having stayed in many European hotels before we were unprepared for the smallness of our room. The double bed took up nearly all the floor space in the room. We had a tiny bathroom consisting of a toilet and shower. The floor to ceiling windows gave us a great view of the streets near the Athene Hotel on Magenta Boulevard. Traffic sounds were unceasing as we had expected. Alex and I were both elated to be in this city of which we had dreamed for so long.

We gathered for dinner at the small French restaurant which was about a ten minute walk from our hotel. The food was somewhat disappointing but the meal gave us the chance to become acquainted with our fellow travellers. A delicious red wine of course accompanied our meal.

After dinner our guide led us to the exquisite Sacre Coeur Basilica located on top of the Butte Monmartre in Paris. We walked for nearly an hour most of which was up the steep hill by way of steps, narrow streets and alleyways. However once we reached the top, the view of the rooftops of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur was dazzling and breath-taking! We entered the lovely church to find Mass going on as it always is 24 hours a day. We were impressed by the number of young people attending Mass at 11 pm. Both Alex and I lit candles in memory of our deceased mothers. Then it was time to leave this area and meet up with our guide and the other travellers.

We started to walk down the hill towards the Place de Tertre where painters are actually working and the cafes were busy with revellers. Loud music and talk surrounded us and we found it to be quite intoxicating. To me this was “le vrai Paris” as I had imagined it. We entered a small gallerie to purchase some prints and postcards. Then we realized we needed to find our group to return to the hotel. They were nowhere to be seen. At this point we were not yet panicking thinking that since we had come up this hill we would descend and hopefully catch up to our friends. However this was not to be. Alex and I walked and walked down the narrow dark streets having no idea where we would end up. We soon realized that we were lost!

By this time I was so exhausted that I flopped down on a chair outside a café. The waiter came out to ask if he could help me. My enfeebled reply to him was, “On est perdu!” I pointed to my husband who was attempting to figure out where we were by looking at his street map under the dim light of a street lantern. The young man brought me some water and proceeded to explain to Alex how to get to a main artery. Good thing we spoke French! We followed his directions and continued walking. Unexpectedly, we came upon a group of young men seated on the narrow sidewalk playing some kind of game. I panicked and became hysterical. Alex grabbed me by the arm and asserted, “Erna, we’re lost. Who would you sooner be lost with in Paris than me?” He succeeded in bringing me to my senses and I regained a measure of self-control. We began to look at our situation as an adventure from that moment on.

We continued walking, descending the whole time, and finally in the distance we saw lights. The main street where we came out was the Boulevard de Rochefort in the red light district of Paris. The famed Moulin Rouge night club is located there and it even crossed my mind for a moment to have a look inside the lobby at least. Alex couldn’t believe his ears! Instead we noticed a sign for the Metro and decided to see if we could figure out how to get back to our hotel. We were at the Blanche stop and noticed Boulevard Magenta on the map which is the street where our hotel was located. Down we went into the bowels of the old subway. Checking the ubiquitous maps again, Alex realized which train we needed to take and where we had to change trains as we needed to go in an eastern direction. I was very proud of him that he correctly navigated the subway to take us home. We debarked at Gare Est, a huge train station which I remembered our guide as having pointed out to us as being near to our hotel.

From there we walked to our hotel quite easily and surprised our guide and several others who were sitting outside having a drink. All were vastly relieved to see us! We sat down with them and joined them in a welcome glass of wine while explaining how we had found our way back. They were impressed that we had used the Metro successfully.

Thankfully, we were safe and had an interesting story to relate to our friends and family when we got home.

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