Paris and Beyond

People told us we wouldn’t like France. We definitely wouldn’t like Paris.  They were wrong.  Although we found the French less friendly than other Europeans, they were never unfriendly and we always found help when we needed it.

Our guidebook strongly recommended that foreigners not drive in Paris so we planned to leave the car in a parking garage and take the Metro to Partheon Square. Unfortunately this was Sunday. We did not have enough francs for Metro tickets and nowhere to change. The ticket taker would not accept dollars, so without francs, we feared we were stranded until banks opened the next day.  An Algerian noticed our difficulty and gave us two Metro tickets.  I offered him a dollar, which was more than they cost, but he would not accept it.  It was a good omen and set the pattern for the trip.  Another lesson learned: always change money on Friday.

After many disappointing inquiries, we found a hotel across from the Sorbonne and near the University of Paris that was old, cheap and almost full.  We got a room on the 6th flour, up narrow stairs that resembled a ladder.  There was no elevator.  However it was only nine dollars a night, and we were in Paris.  For three days, we learned to get around on the Metro while visiting the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and other tourist sites.  We tried to see everything in the Louvre in one day, returning to our hotel in the evening so tired that I thought I would not have strength to climb the six flights of stairs.

From Paris it was on to Switzerland. After many good experiences,  our entry into Zurich remains a warning on what not to do. We arrived in Zurich in late afternoon without a city map—a serious mistake I resolved never to make again.  Hotels were crowded with tourists and we drove around, in heavy traffic that remains a nightmare memory, until finally, at 9:00, we sought help from the Tourist Office.  They found us a tiny attic room in a pension for eleven dollars.  As guests were breakfasting together the next morning, four American girls told us of a zimmer outside Lausanne on a dairy farm.

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Our zimmer near Lausanne

We left Zurich that morning for Lausanne, and found the place described.  The house, on a hill overlooking Lake Lucerne, was the beautiful realization of every image of Switzerland.  Although the lake was ice cold, we swam in it each afternoon.  Most important, we learned to look for “Zimmer” or Zimmer Frei which means a room for rent in a private home.  Whenever possible for the rest of the trip, we stayed in these rooms because it enabled us to meet ordinary people and have wonderful conversations.

From Lucerne, we crossed the Alps through the Gotthard Pass to Italy. In Colorado, I had been paralyzed with fear when on the edge of a high mountain road, and I dreaded facing more mountains. However, the Swiss roads seemed so solid and protected, I had total confidence in their safety.

Author: kaychaudhriwriter

In 1976, I accepted a position teaching chemistry and other sciences at Bahrain School. I intended to stay only a year or two, but remained until 1989 when I transferred to Germany. Crowded with Voices describes my experiences and the Middle East I knew.

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