We left Simon's apartment in Delft and headed to the tram stop around 7:45 am. We were headed to Den Haag Rail Station where we were to catch the coach bus to Paris. It was to depart at 8:45 am. The rain was coming down rather consistently and it was quite cold as well, but we still managed to arrive rather early. And by arriving early, unlike the day before to Cologne, we hoped to assure that we would not miss the tram to Den Haag. Well, things went smoothly and we arrived well before 8:45 am. So we began our wait for the tour bus. Also waiting and pacing the platform was another family. When the bus was over a half an hour late, Simon asked a woman, with the other family, to use her cell phone to call and get an ETA. She called and was told the bus was indeed running behind schedule, but it was on its way. It arrived shortly thereafter.
The driver of the bus was a tall man with a big smile and hearty laugh. He was originally from Morocco but grew up in The Netherlands. He and Simon conversed for a while in Dutch and Spanish (for some reason). The driver immediately began trying to guess my nationality. Neither Simon nor myself gave him a true answer at the time. Later in the day he would try and guess again, when I approached him to get a bottle of water. Was it Curacao, South America, Antilles, or Suriname? Where does such a beautiful woman like yourself come from? He asked. I finally told him that I was a plain 'ole American from the United States--no where exotic. "Aahhh...," he said. "Then you must be very rich." I answered no, not quite. He said, but if you're from America, you must be rich, continuing to say that it had been his dream from a little boy to marry a rich American lady one day. (I had to chuckle to myself because I had been warned that foreign ladies had to watch for men who would try to flatter them in such a manner. And Simon had already told me that he thought the driver was a little smitten with me). Fortunately, Simon walked up and interrupted our conversation. However, I wasn't offended at all by what the driver was saying. It was quite interesting to get his POV about Americans and especially because he was Muslim. From then on he called me Princess and seemed to make a point to be extra gentle and respectful with me throughout the duration of the trip. The best thing I can say about him is that he was a very good driver. I don't know how he managed so well through those narrow streets and having to make such sharp turns, but he did a great job.
Anyway, we left Den Haag and went to Dordrecht where we picked up a few more passengers. From there we left to the border of Belgium and Holland. Once there we waited at a rest area for passengers from other buses to join us and then we would continue on through Belgium and into France. I really enjoyed this mode of travel. Once again it allowed me to see the countryside of Holland and then Belgium, for a while, and then France. And I was not disappointed in the least. The countryside that we saw was very beautiful and charming. I had to pinch myself to know that I was really present in these areas. It was also fun to take a look at the various people with whom we would be "stuck" for the next few days. There were at least 43 of us. Several couples, ranging from their early 20's to their 70's and older. There was the family with 2 young boys, who behaved quite well, for such a lengthy ride. There were sisters in their late 20's and early 30's who were very pretty girls (model like). There were several female friends who were taking this excursion together (Girl Power!). And, of course, Simon and myself. A guide also joined us. He reminded me a lot of Vin Diesel or a stereotype of the bald, muscular, hunk with the thick foreign accent. But he seemed well-equipped for his job and very knowlegeable (according to Simon, because I had not a clue what he said the majority of the time).
After a good 6 hours on the road we arrived at our Paris hotel around 4:30 pm. The hotel was actually in a Paris suburb called Epinay sur Siene. It wasn't your average suburb, as it was quite lively and as we would eventually learn, not too far at all from the heart of Paris. Upon arrival, we were told that we needed to return to the bus at 5:30 pm. It took several minutes to receive our room and by the time we were in our room we had only 30 minutes to prepare for departure. So very quickly we each freshened up and made it down to the bus.
We left the hotel and the bus took us to several points-of-interests throughout Paris, like the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, The Opera, and the really ritzy streets where all the pages of Vogue magazine come alive. It was pointed out that many of the stores require an appointment in order to shop with them. (I figured one of the stores must have been the one from which Oprah Winfrey was turned away a couple of years ago because she did not have an appointment). It was rush hour and people were everywhere. I was in awe of the number of people, so concentrated, so massive. Once again, every nationality one could think of. I know this may seem weird to those of you who are used to the 32 flavors of people (wasn't that a song?), but coming from Arkansas, one is typically aware of only a few races/nationalities...black, white, hispanic, asian and native Americans. Here it's just so many, even more than I've seen in some large American cities. So exotic. So international.
The most shocking to me during this ride was the ride around the Arc De Triompe. I'd seen it on film and had heard lots about it but to actually be there in the middle of traffic was quite awesome. No real rules of the road just every driver for him or herself. Why accidents don't occur every 5 minutes, I'll never know. Everyone is driving around that circle weaving in and out to get to their desired streets. Cars, buses, and trucks, and what bicycles are to cities in Holland, motorcylces seem to be choice of transportation in Paris. They are everywhere zipping in and out of traffic. It all looks so dangerous. There are no painted lane lines around the Arc. Vehicles just cut in front of each other to get to the road they want. It's quite amazing and simply indescribable.
After the ride through the city we arrived at our restaurant for the evening. It was in the Montmartre area. (If you've seen the French movie A'merlie, you'll recognize the name Montmartre). It was a really nice evening. Cool and dry. Simon and I shared the table with a Dutch couple from the tour. In fact, I think our group was allotted time for the restaurant just for ourselves. The serving crew consisted of 3 men. I chose steak that evening and Simon the salmon. The meal was delicious.
From there our night tour of Paris began. I was so overcome with emotion. And for some reason I thought of my deceased brother. My longing for him was so strong. At every magnificant site we saw, I spoke to him and told him about it. I miss him so much. I faced the window and cried silently at the sight of Du Louvre. The whole city at night is spectacular. I can't say the right words to describe it either. Just breathtaking...at least to me. Throughout the ride, I did witness one other lady, a couple of rows away, brush away a tear. So, I was not alone in my emotion.
After hitting the other highlights of the city night tour, we headed back to our hotel. It was after 11:30 pm. Some of the clothes I brought were extremely wrinkled. I spoke to the night clerks who said there was a dryer available for 4 Euro. Oh well. Anyway, I was up until 1:00 am messing with those darn clothes. When I finally fell asleep, I did not awake again until it was time to get up at 6:30 am to start our 2nd day in Paris.