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"What do you like in a travel companion? For me it's friendly curiosity about other people and places, coupled with useful knowledge and unusual insights. Extra credit for funny. With Ernie witham
at your side, you get it all!"


Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr. (Society of American
Travel Writers' gold
medal winner and
National Geographic author)
Vin, Fromage, Paree?
Oui, Oui, Oui!


Excerpt from: Where Are Pat and Ernie Now
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A very nice couple from Sartrouville, France, which is in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, asked us if we’d like to swap houses for three weeks in August. I was a little hesitant at first, as I couldn’t imagine what Pat and I would do for three weeks in and around Paris. Just as I was about to tell Pat this, I noticed she was sending a reply to the family that simple read, “Oui, oui, oui!” I’m guessing that was one “yes” for each week.

Next thing I knew, the two of us were on an Air France jet, sitting in the nicest airline seats I had ever been in. It turns out that “we” had spoiled ourselves and sprung for premium-economy seats. There were only two seats on our side, and we had an entire luggage bin to ourselves. The flight attendants served us boeuf (beef, which somehow made it all the tastier); potatoes; smoked duck; ham; mango-coconut-raspberry cake with a glass of Champagne; and several glasses of merlot, finished off with a digestif of cognac. I made a joke about something, and the attendant gave me another cognac. I don’t always get paid that much for my humor, so it felt good. Pat and I watched a movie then slept for a few hours. Before we knew it, breakfast was served.

“Digestif?” I asked after finishing sausage and eggs, yogurt, fruit and a muffin, but apparently 6 a.m. was a bit early to drink cognac, even for the French.

The female half of our exchanging couple—Charlotte—picked us up at the airport, and we arrived at their home. Her husband Philippe and their two kids, Lisa and Mateo, showed us around the house and explained how everything worked. Since both Pat and I thought the family was going to the airport the next morning, and we were zonked from the jet lag, we didn’t pay that much attention, figuring they would go over everything again before they left. Then they suddenly left to spend the night at a friend’s house, a friend who would take them to the airport. Even more tired than we were surprised, we had a bite to eat then went to bed.


Heading out on our first adventure!

The next morning, we decided to venture out to find a store, but I couldn’t figure out how to unlock the front door! House exchangers always leave a book with information on everything, but unlocking the front door was not included. It would be a very long three weeks if we couldn’t actually go anywhere. Finally, after my magical remedy for all nonworking mechanical things—threatening the device and using every curse word I had accumulated in the last 60 years—I figured out you had to use the key to unlock the door, even from the inside.

A minute later, we were in the car, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it started.

“Try some of those magic words again,” Pat suggested. “They reminded me of junior high school.”

I was about to oblige her when—ta-da!—the car started. We then drove to a mall that had a market so large it had 62 checkouts—only 10 of which were open, of course. There was one entire aisle of nothing but chocolate and another of coffee, half of which was dedicated to espresso! We filled our basket, just in case we could never find the place again, and checked out. Pat paid—or tried to.

“Sorry, madame. Your card does not work.”

That’s when we learned that the store required a credit card with a chip in it. “Didn’t you just get one of those in the mail?” Pat asked me. I pulled my card out and it worked. “We’ll just have to charge everything to your card, I guess.” Yup, it was going to be a long, costly three weeks.

The next morning, Pat and I went to the train station in Sartrouville to see if we could figure out how to get to Paris. Looking at the train schedule and map, there were many métro stations in Paris; we chose one called “Auber” and purchased our tickets from the automatic dispenser. Again, it rejected Pat’s credit card, but accepted mine.

“Maybe I should do a commercial. ‘Yes, with my new chip-in-the-card card, I can travel anywhere.’ ” I laughed hysterically at my cleverness and thought the salesman voice I used was the bomb.

That’s when Pat reminded me of two things: 1) My card meant we could go anywhere, and 2) If I was going to do “pretend” commercials, maybe I shouldn’t do them aloud at train stations, since most people were already a bit leery of weird characters who hung out there.

“Agreed,” I said as I put the card away and attempted to act normal, which was not an easy thing for me to do, normally.

Speaking of weird characters, I couldn’t believe how many people cheated and didn’t buy tickets. Those rogues simply waited until an honest person with a ticket went through the first turnstile, and then they followed close behind. Those cheaters must have known that the local police were all in other parts of the station looking for people talking to themselves or doing pretend commercials.

Quiet! I thought. Quit talking to yourself!

Auber, as it turned out, was a huge station near a lot of interesting stuff, but not the interesting stuff we had come to see. So we walked. And walked. And walked. We walked across the River Seine, along the Left Bank, past vendors selling everything from books to art to food to locks.

Yes, locks. Couples buy the locks and in a moment of amoré, attach the locks to the bridge and toss the keys into the river. There were thousands of locks attached to the bridges, and a lot of the locks were heavy. In fact, the bridges would fall down if the city didn’t send crews out every now and then to cut off all the locks. Bad news for the landfill, but good news for the lock sellers. And good news, I suppose, for those couples who broke up shortly after they locked up their love of a lifetime.

We finally reached the Musée d’Orsay, an incredible museum that used to be a train station, which you can readily visualize once you are inside. My chip-in-the-card credit card was refused as tender, because the first Sunday of the month, museum admission is free! The only thing I liked better than world-famous sites was free world-famous sites. Once inside, we had to fight the crowds. We managed to make our way upstairs to the impressionist paintings and, more importantly, to the museum’s famed picturesque restaurant. It seemed like everyone was taking photos of the restaurant, so I am certain we were featured in a number of vacation slideshows.


Inside the Musee d"Orsay

“Say, isn’t that the same guy that was doing the pretend commercial in Sartrouville?”

I took a zillion photos myself. Then Pat and I began our long trek back to the Auber station, but we couldn’t find it. We began to panic: most of Paris’ metro stations were designed to fit into the cityscape, so you had to practically fall into a station’s opening to find it.

“Look, now that pretend commercial guy is running around and screaming.”

“Oui, I see him. Let’s never go to America, OK?”

We did finally find the Auber station, but when we tried to enter, we realized we were at the exit. The entrance was around the block on a small street, which, of course, we walked by several times before we thankfully found it.

But our being lost wasn’t a complete loss after all: right across the street from the Auber station, we saw a Le Tour Hop-On, Hop-Off bus station. The next day, we rode the train back to Auber then enjoyed three different bus tours throughout Paris. I waved at all the walkers.

“Let’s do something in the countryside tomorrow,” Pat suggested. “Something we can simply drive to.”

“Sounds great,” I said, knowing that our past countryside adventures were a thing of legend. Will Paris prove to be the same?

 

To read more of our humorous French adventures, from Chartre to Provins to the
Normandy Coast and of course to much more of Paris, please buy my book.


Other humorous escapades in
"Where Are Pat and Ernie Now"? include the South of
France, England, Quebec and Victoria, Canada, Oahu and The Big Island of Hawaii,
Miami and the Florida Keys, Washington DC, New Hampshire, and California.