July 8th, 2015

My Birthday Surprise

I was born, as my mother never tires of telling, on May 1st at one minute past midnight. The doctor gave her the choice, and she chose May 1st. This is why, a few weeks ago, on April 30th, my girlfriend kept me up till midnight to wait for my birthday cake. We sat on the balcony, enjoying the unseasonably mild May weather and the peaceful quiet in our neighborhood. As a church bell somewhere nearby struck twelve, it seemed as if we were the only people awake in this part of Basel.

At last, 12:01, my birthday!

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My girlfriend brought a strawberry cake with one candle burning on top. We made a toast, and the toast was identical to the wish I made before blowing my candle out, and I was thinking, this cake is a very nice surprise. My girlfriend had been telling me for weeks that she had a surprise for my birthday. I thought this was the surprise. But it turned out the cake was just the beginning. When we finished our cake, she said, “Now, come with me.”

Although it was past midnight, my girlfriend led me up the stairs to our attic, where I found a fully-packed suitcase and a birthday card on top. Imagine my shock when I opened the card to find a cut-out picture of the Eiffel Tower pasted to the red paper. I had always wanted to go to Paris with her. Now she’d gone and booked a trip for us for my birthday.

We left the next morning.

Although Basel lies about three hundred and sixty miles from Paris, the speedy TGV train got us there in just over three hours. You see the French countryside zipping past, but you don’t realize how fast you’re going until you reach a stretch where the trail line parallels the highway. The train easily overtakes even the Porsches and Ferraris passing all the slower cars, driven by young men who think they’re going to live forever.

The trip to Paris was a fantastic surprise culminating a year of surprises, in which I finished the third and last book in the Drone Wars series (coming July 15th!), and mostly stayed off of social media and my blog. I didn’t miss social media itself, not at all. What I did miss was having contact with you all, my readers.

This latest book took a lot out of me, and I had to say no to a ton of invitations and opportunities to remain focused and finish it. I’m happy to say the job is now done, and the book is being formatted right now. I hope you like the cover:TherDroneWars_ebookcover

Anyway, while in Paris, I left my laptop at home and of course didn’t give a single thought to the role drones might play in our future. We spent three and a half wonderful days there, and here are my main impressions.

 

The restaurants

We arrived at lunchtime, and since it was raining when we came out of our hotel, ready to explore Paris, we sought shelter in the first decent-looking eatery we found, which was on the Avenue de Suffren, 100 yards from our hotel. Here we ate a delicious plate of pasta and salads, which, with soft drinks, cost us less than 40 Euros. The service was friendly, and we had our food within ten minutes. This restaurant was situated in a row of restaurants, all on the Avenue de Suffren. We tried all of them, and in each the staff was friendly, the food was good and also cheap, and the service was impeccable. In three and a half days we did not encounter a single unfriendly waiter or waitress, contrary to my expectations.

 

IMG_3318The rain

We wanted to see the city rather than zipping around underneath it, so we braved the rain and wind for the first two days, no métro. Long stretches of the River Seine are flanked by green parkland. We walked the entire length of the Champs Elysées in the rain, from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triumph, before heading back down the hill from there to our hotel near the Eiffel Tower.

 

The lines

My girlfriend had a number of tourist landmarks on her bucket list. We started with the Louvre. IMG_3280Oh, my, when we arrived at that pyramid, the sight that greeted us … just finding the end of the line took twenty minutes. It was just a light rain, but the wind was also a factor, and we said to ourselves, the Louvre will have to wait till our next trip. We probably could have booked online tickets, but in other cities our experience with those has been mixed, to say the least.

 

On to Notre Dame, where we thought it might be fun to climb the 350 steps to the roof for a view of Paris, and the famous gargoyles. But when we arrived at Notre Dame, the line snaked backward the whole length of the cathedral and as much again down the other street. They told us there was no guarantee that we would even get in that day, even if we waited in the line. So instead we enjoyed the pictures of the gargoyles in our guidebook.

 

IMG_3329The line at the Versailles Palace serpentined six times through the entire length of the gravel courtyard, and kept moving in the pouring rain, like a Chinese parade dragon. With our shoes squishing with water, despite umbrellas and raincoats, not having made any progress in this line after thirty minutes, we gave up and returned to the ticket office. They gave us our money back without a fuss.

 

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower loomed over us numerous times over three and a half days, mostly in the rain, IMG_1459as we began or ended our walking tours. Every time we walked through the gigantic iron arches, we had to thread our way through the monstrously long lines just to get to the other side. However, on our last day, when the sun suddenly came out as we were walking under the tower, we noticed that one of the lines only extended out a little way. Forty minutes later we found ourselves on the second level of the famous tower, almost four hundred feet above the city of light, snapping unforgettable pictures.

 

Dressed up for the occasion

Dressed up for the occasion

The Moulin Rouge

I would show you pictures of the show from this famous cabaret hall, but photography of the performers was prohibited, and we didn’t want to get kicked out of our front row seats. The dance numbers and comedy skits, and even one acrobatic act, kept us enthralled for two hours. The costumes featured unbelievable feathered creations and explosions of color.

 

 

 

It was blissful spending three and a half days without my laptop, without my book, my story. This was my sixth book. Finishing is always hard, because it means letting go, giving up, in a way. You’re thinking: maybe the story would be stronger, easier to read, if I just revised once more.

But once in a while you have to take time to live your own story. Don’t you agree?