We pick up our intrepid travellers' adventure as they leave from Dulles Airport (one day after their niece's very successful wedding) for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
The aircraft is a new one for me -- a 777. It's a twin-engined behemoth, with capacity approaching that of the 4-engined 747 series that have been plying the skies for nearly 3 decades. The 777 has only been doing it for something like 4 years. I have to admit that I would prefer the redundancy of a 4-engine jet, but the 777 is undoubtedly quite safe -- I think.
The 777 has at least one significant advantage: The entertainment system gives passengers considerably more control over their experiences than any other aircraft -- even in cattle class, where we endure the trip. 6 movie channels, 2 or 3 television network offerings, 12 audio channels, and my favorite: the "map". The map provides you with nearly-real-time flight data, including position and heading plot on a map, groundspeed, predicted time of arrival, and the all-important outside air temperature. "Staying Healthy" advertisements occasionally pop up randomly, reminding you of exercises you can accomplish while in your seat. Presumably, this is to fend off lawsuits about phlebitis arising from sitting in a confined space for so long.
On the other hand, I could find no evidence of power outlets, here in cattle class. Thus, there would be no recharging my TRG Pro (Palm PDA) during the flight.
Food was okay. My dinner entrée was a decent tortellini in tomato sauce. This was accompanied by salad greens (vinegrette on the side), fresh fruit cup, cheese course (a surprisingly good wedge of brie and crackers), and what appeared to be a slice of a decent mango cheesecake. Brig chose a sliced beef with mashed potatoes. It tasted institutional. Big surprise.
Brig spotted pint bottles of sparkling wine on the cart. She asked for the "champagne", which turned out to be pretty good. I stoked up on sparkling water instead.
We arrived at CDG more or less on time. Based on Brigid's excellent research, we quickly make our way to the "car" Air France (don't be fooled, it's a bus), and after €11.50 each, and around 40 minutes, we're at the station. I decide to pick up extra cash, and go looking for an ATM. There are apparently 3 "Point D'Argent" machines in the gare. I eliminate two of them ("temporarily closed") before finally finding the one that works.
We hop on the train (which ends at Nogent) to Chartres. While waiting for the train to start, a young woman enters the car, with a cat draped around her neck! The cat seems relatively calm for having been among such crowds of strangers, but is constantly swiveling its head, staying aware of everything. After finding a seat, the cat hops down, confined by a leash, and sits next to her human companion. The cat draws a few interested looks, but there's no indication that this is terribly out of the ordinary.
We pull out of the station. After around 45 minutes, and plenty of suburbs and then pastoral French countryside, the cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres appears, dominating the skyline.
We arrive at Hotel Chatelet at around 12:30, and freshen up a bit before leaving to seek lunch and wander a little.
Lunch was at Le Pichet, another recommendation from Brig's research. The special of the day is Coq au Vin, avec pommes frites ("french" fries) and some kind of a garlicy puree that reminded me slightly of poi in texture. The chicken is really pretty good. At first, I wasn't convinced that it was chicken -- the texture was just plain different. Dinner is €14.50 (plus €0.50 tip), which is approximate $15.00
We wander around, on our own. There's a really nice view of the town from the east side of the cathedral. We come across a ruined structure of some sort, on the other side of the Eure river. Later on, we learn that this used to be the town's grand entrance gate, which stood for something like 800 years, until the retreating German army decided it was too much trouble to evacuate the munitions they stored there. They just detonated them in place. Oops, sorry about that gate! A mural on a nearby creperie's exterior wall depicts the structure as it looked before 1944.
We finally stumble on a shopping street. In a patisserie, we purchase 400 gm of assorted cookies to share on the bus. And then we find a grocery, where I buy a couple of pamplemousse (grapefruit) for my habitual nightly snack.
Back to the hotel for a shower, and to meet our fellow tour members and tour guides.
Kristen and Susan, our guides, seem to be smart, talented, and competent. When it comes time to pick buddies, Brig suggests I pair up with Dina, young ex-New Yorker with a pronounced Lawn Guyland (Long Island) accent, with whom we had been chatting. Brigid takes Sarah (since we have an odd number of tour members).
Unfortunately, it turns out that two couples who are likely to travel together have selected each other as buddies. Not good. Brig and I swap buddies with one of the couples, to help solve the problem. I get Molly and Brigid gets her husband, Rob.
After a brief orientation walk around Chartres, we join a bunch of tour members at a nearby creperie, for dinner.
Brigid has a "Speciale Mer" buckwheat crepe, with filet of sole. I choose a €10.40 "menu", with a gruyere buckwheat crepe (pretty good, but nothing special), a crepe with a sunny-side-up, smoked sausage, and mushrooms (deelicious, and of course, Brig helped with the egg). The "menu" came with a bowl of hard cider. I order the "sec" (dry) cider for me, and a bowl of "doux" (sweet) cider for Brig. Both have a faint metallic flavor to them. Neither are good enough to order again, nor bad enough to be memorable.
Dessert is a wheat crepe with a chocolate syrup. That was very nice, and Brig helped me make it disappear.
Back to the hotel. Bags have to be ready at 9AM, and we meet at the cathedral at 9:30. Bon soir!