Note: I’m publishing this entry one year later since it seemed so inappropriate to do so last year during the tragic news we were encountering daily. Though we still are still in the midst of this pandemic, I’m giving myself permission to revel in these wonderful memories and ask you, the reader, for forgiveness and understanding if it remains somewhat inappropriate. My intent is to look back and share these joyful memories in hopes of lifting spirits.
For our 28th anniversary, my husband and I decided to go to Paris before flying to England to visit his children in the UK as we usually did. We had both been to Paris before, but never together. I’d worked for a French company for several years, and he, being born in the U.K., had visited several times before we married.
As it came close to our time to travel, we debated going since we knew the COVID-19 epidemic (at that time) had infected a handful of people in France. I’d been monitoring this on Twitter which came onto my radar in January when it was still only impacting Wuhan and China. By late February, my colleagues were making fun of me, especially after I bought a case of N-95 masks in the paint section at our local Home Depot. I was given a look of exasperation by my boss when I asked if our workplace had a contingency plan in case the epidemic impacted our area. “We’ll be fine,” he said. “There’s no need to worry.” I lost a whole night of sleep the night I saw a gif depicting the exponential spread COVID-19 that could wreak on an unprotected population in a matter of weeks.
We had taken the time off, though, booked the flights and were looking forward to visiting family in the UK, sandwiched between two Paris legs, so, we took the plunge and on a beautiful sunny Thursday, headed out from JFK (gaff planning on my part #1) to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris March 4. We booked out of JFK in case we needed to leave our problem and anxiety-ridden dog with a son from up there while away. We’d boarded him once and vowed never again. An even better solution presented itself before we departed, however, and our younger son came to housesit and watch the dog for us, so flying from JFK was impractical. But, tickets paid for and plans made, we sucked it up and drove the 3-1/2 hours north.
The departures area at JFK was eerily empty and I met a flight attendant in the restroom who commented in her 19 years with American flying international stints she’d never seen it so empty. It was disconcerting to say the least. Close to boarding time, however, a large group of French teenage students entered the gate waiting area and it became clear the flight would not be empty. It was about 1/2 full.
And off we went. Fortunately, David and I slept some on the overnight flight as we’d intended to pack all we could into our first four days in Paris before heading to Southwest England where his kids live. I had booked our return flight to the states from Paris (stupid gaff planning #2) as we wanted to return for the last few days of our journey and celebrate our 28th anniversary there. After making all the arrangements, my brother, frequent touring musician had asked why I didn’t just pack all we wanted into a full leg in France and then depart from the UK. Sigh, you live and learn…
Paris was a joy and we were staying in an incredible Airbnb located in the 7th arrondissement only a few blocks from Musee d’Orsay, a block and a half from a neighborhood Franprix, and two blocks from a boulangerie Gosselins. It was the perfect location and I’m so thankful to my dear friend who’d recommended the place!
We managed to stay up the entire first day and after a provisions run to the local Franprix, strolled along the Seine from our place to the Eiffel Tower in a light afternoon mist. A lovely dinner there and trip back on the 69 bus, we were sated, had more wine and https://www.emergenc.com/ back at the AirBnB and settled in for a wonderful sleep.
Armed with a three day museum pass and an evening flight to Bristol, we managed to squeeze in the Picasso Museum, Musee D’Orsay, the Louvre and Centre Pompidou in our short Paris stay. We were able to connect with my former boss, a Lyon resident who worked in Paris when not working remotely, and on the first full day in the city, she gave us a great tour of the Marais district after taking in the Picasso museum together. Always able to squeeze tons in, we we walked over to Notre Dame, then on to Ile de la Cite to see Sainte Chappelle and that entire lovely area, On Ile de la Cite, my former boss introduced us to the charming and inventive retailer Pylones and I’ll never be the same!
After recuperating overnight from that hectic day, we spent the next days walking all over the city and took the 69 bus which gave us wonderful views of the Seine-based city areas as that was it’s route. When we had to go outside the 69 bus area, we took the metro, which we used a few times, including when we went to the Monmartre district to see Sacre Coeur and catch the vibes there. Many of the stops and sights we took in were recommended from Rick Steves’ impeccable recommendations from his Rick Steves Paris Travel Guide 2020 which I’m so glad I splurged on! It was our travel bible!
On March 9, as planned, we left Paris for Bristol, UK, on a Monday evening flight, after enjoying a lovely lunch at a cafe near the Bastille area and a visit to an art store nearby. Alas, Magasin Sennelier which I’d hoped to visit was not open on Mondays and taking in the Museums those other days was our top priority. We had a flight back on the 12th and tickets to take a Seine dinner cruise on our anniversary, the 14th and planned to get to Shakespeare and Company, Sennelier, and many other places before heading stateside then.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 was now declared a pandemic by WHO and at 2 a.m. (local time) on March 12, our older son and my sister called urging us to cancel our second Paris leg and return home A.S.A.P. as Trump had just announced his plan to close U.S. borders to those coming from Schengen countries. I spent 2 hours on the phone trying to get through to change our flights on American Airlines, but never got through. I tried online for hours the next day from our daughter’s home in Wincanton, U.K. with no success either. In the end, I spent $3,000-plus for two one-way tickets on Virgin Atlantic to get back to the states from the U.K. which was not part of the travel ban (yet). We ended our trip three days earlier than intended and flew home on our anniversary instead of taking in the glorious Paris skyline at night from our planned cruise. The flight home was such a relief, and Virgin is such a great, civilized way to fly anytime. Not surprisingly, it was a packed flight with many fellow like-minded individuals determined to get stateside before an eventual ban eliminated that option.
JFK’s international arrivals area on March 14 was bedlam to say the least as were many other major international airports around the U.S. We landed around 2:30 p.m. and did not get out of the airport until after 9:30 p.m. All that time we were intermingled with and lined up with fellow travelers who had come to the states from or visited the Schengen countries within the past two weeks. Of course that included us. For six and a half hours, we were in queues with no distancing and with no one wearing masks. We had our N-95 masks on for part of the time, but it got so hot and uncomfortable in those tight quarters without water or access to toilets we took them off an hour or so into the wait, taking our chances. I remember we stood in line next to a group of high school students and their teachers and chaperones from East Tennessee and commiserated with them during this uncomfortable ordeal. They were to have caught a connecting flight to Knoxville, but of course were forced to miss it. I reached out to one of the teachers by email later and learned they’d been forced to stay in a hotel overnight before catching a different flight to Knoxville the next day.
When we were finally into the customs interview area, at about 9 p.m., it was mercifully quick, only a few questions, obtaining of our contact information and we were on our way. Though we had a son who lived not too far from there, we were eager to get home and opted to drive to suburban Maryland that night. The drive was hell as we were so tired, but we made it around 1:30 a.m. Fortunately, another son, who’d been at the house watching our dog, had prepped for our arrival with EmergenC tablets and drinking water at our nightstands. I was never so happy to land in my own bed as I was that night!
In retrospect, like the song goes, I have no regrets. I am so glad we went to Paris when we did! It was far less crowded than it would have been at other times, and we got into the Louvre — into all the museums we visited — with no wait at all! And the restaurants we frequented were appreciative of our business. Still, we missed celebrating our anniversary there and hope to return next year if the pandemic is over with by then to do the things we missed doing together this time. I’ve heard from my boss there from time to time, but my last email, sent a few days ago, has not yet been answered. I hope to hear from her soon and will edit this once I do.
In closing, I hastily put together a video for our anniversary recapping our visit. It’s viewable here: https://youtu.be/eHE1AvxGiig . Enjoy!