Untours Cafe

Hello dear readers....it was recently suggested to me by someone named Brian (he left a comment on my Blogger.com blog) that I post my 10-part saga of our 2001 Paris trip here on the Untours Cafe. Thank you Brian, for tipping me off about the Untours Cafe! Being a brand new Blogger as of June 2007, my first choice of what to write about was our 2001 trip to Paris...more explanation is below. I hope you enjoy our story....thanks for stopping by, and anyone is welcome to leave a comment.

(Note: I don't want our experience to be a bad reflection on Untours; we heard glowing things about many other apartments from our fellow Untourists. The apartment we had is no longer used by them. Untours is a fantastic company, I highly recommend them.)

Sara on August 31, 2007


This is my first attempt at blogging. It seems appropriate to start with our trip to Paris, exactly 6 years ago, with a wonderful tour company called Untours. After we returned from this trip, I organized my notes and the few photos I took, but could never find the enthusiasm to do anything more. Now that time has blurred the edges, I'm excited to see what comes forth. In a nutshell, to explain my previous ambivalence, I'll refer to that well known faux pas of an opening sentence: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Paris has never called to me, despite my smattering of French ancestry. I'd much rather explore the wonders of the British Isles, so clearly imagined in my mind (but not yet seen in person) after five decades of reading English novels, travel diaries, and watching PBS. However, my darling hubby and I decided Paris would be the place to go for our first ever overseas trip together. It was his choice, and his first time in Europe...and after all, it is known as the most romantic city in the world--right? So...we were off to France! C'est la vie! Ooh la la! And, why oh why didn't they tell us that lovely city on the Seine can hold it's own with the Deep South for hot, muggy, oppressive weather??? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Our dear friends and veteran travelers, Richard and Guila, gave us a ride to the LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal, dropping us off the requisite 3 hours before the flight...and snapped our photo as we pulled the luggage from the back of their vintage VW van. It's really happening!

We are excited and eager to get going, but do take time for some lunch at the airport grill & bar, then make our way through security, and off to the gate. The flight departs on time at 3:35 pm. We arrive Paris/DeGaulle at 11:15 am on Wednesday morning. We have landed on French soil!


Yes, we have indeed landed, and for some reason we disembark onto the tarmac (I thought they only did this at smaller airports?). Following the others like sheep into a holding pen, we crowd onto waiting shuttles that drive us over to the airport proper. Uh-oh, there are several choices of upcoming stops, we can't interpret the French signs and have no idea where to get off the shuttle. Thinking quickly (difficult after a sleep-deprived overnight flight), we opt for the first stop because most of the people who look like they know what they are doing get off there....it was a lucky guess! I shudder to think where we might have ended up, innocents abroad that we were. We make it through a maze of stairs and hallways to what must be their version of Customs, falling in line behind some other obvious Americans (cameras, white Reeboks and blue jeans) waiting to get their passports stamped.

A couple of older folks are confused and asking questions about where to go. A scowling French customs officer seated in a booth behind safety glass mutters loudly "these damn Americans!" How thoughtful of him to speak in English for our benefit. Maybe those rumors about haughty French people are true...hmm.....what a nice welcome to France. This happens to be the scowling official whose line we are in, but our passports are opened, stamped and handed back with no further welcoming remarks. Whew, we're out of there and find our way to the lobby. No need to wait at baggage claim, we took some good advice and limited our luggage to one carry-on each. We packed carefully! More on that later.

Our cheerful and helpful Untours contact, Joanna, warmly greets us as we round the corner (we are dutifully wearing our Untours name tags, and she's standing right there). "Oh," she says "it's so nice to have some young people!" I guess she's used to seeing octogenarians, cause we are, after all, 50-something, even if just barely. I'm feeling better about France already! After a moment of conversation, a few instructions about the welcoming dinner, and handing over the apartment keys, Joanna takes us out to the curb, puts us in a taxi, firmly and repeatedly instructs the driver in French to take us directly to the apartment, and off we go. It's really getting exciting now.

The drive into Paris takes about 20 minutes. Soon we see the Sacre Coeur church gleaming whitely atop its hill in the Montmartre district to the left as the tip of the Eiffel Tower swings into view to the right. Suddenly it's like a ride at Disneyland (hang on for dear life!) as our driver, rushing full speed ahead, weaving expertly in and out of some sort of crazy automobile free-for-all, honking and lurching along, navigates the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. CT and I are thrown about in the back seat; we are slightly disheveled but unscathed as things finally settle down and we proceed in relative quiet along the Champs Elysees. We eventually see the Seine on our right, and soon we cross the river heading into the Latin Quarter, to the apartment that will be our home for the next two weeks, near the corner of Rue Lacepede and Rue Monge, forever emblazoned on my memory.

Rue Lacepede is a very narrow, one-way cobblestone street, climbing up a gentle hill. Rue Monge is a two-lane paved street dissecting Rue Lacepede. The buildings in this district are old and multi-storied, built right up against each other, plastered a light gray, with banks of windows rising one above the other (most buildings are 6 to 8 floors), and cute little wrought iron balconies. Very old European looking. At the street level are shops, with homes and apartments above. It's quaint, slightly cramped, and dirty. Gas fumes from passing cars abound. At the top of Rue Lacepede is the famous medieval market street, Rue Mouffetard, which we will explore after settling into our apartment.

Our silently efficient cab driver crosses Rue Monge and continues about 100 feet up Rue Lacepede. He pulls to a stop - which building is our apartment building?? He points to a small, dingy entryway on our left, behind a tall gated fence of iron closely resembling jail bars--evidently such safety precautions are common practice in Paris. A rumpled plastic bag has affixed itself to the foot of the gate, and the whole area needs a good sweeping. Are those urine stains on the sidewalk? We pay the taxi fare, get our receipt, and turn to face our fate, trying not to let appearances depress us. Luckily, Untours has supplied us with the secret numerical code to unlock these iron gates of hell--but after several attempts they remain stubbornly closed. The building manager hears our distressed rattling of the bars (we jokingly wonder, if it's so difficult to enter, will we ever be able to get out again?) - his lace-curtained window is open and right next to the gate. He pulls the curtain aside and leans out to instruct us in the proper sequence, using gestures due to the language barrier. He's been eating garlic; our noses are assaulted. Success at last - we pass through the gates, walk a couple of steps across a grungy cement area, enter the glass door and are standing in the tiny lobby, paved in drab brown linoleum - so appealing!

The elevator is just another step to the left, and it's tiny. We are tall (CT is 6'3 and I'm 5'10) and therefore not petite, but somehow we manage to squeeze in, along with our two carry-ons, pull the door shut, and push the button for the 5th floor. CT's head practically touches the ceiling, and the luggage is making inappropriate advances upon my person. The elevator faintly protests with an undulating EEEE-eeee-EEEE-eeee sound until we stop at our floor and emerge into a darkened hallway. No windows. We notice a button by the elevator and push it to turn on the hall light, hoping it stays on long enough for us to find our door and insert key! We don't make in on the first try, but finally the door is open. Nous arrivee! Some very kind person has left a bouquet of beautiful pink and cream Stargazer lilies for us---the lovely fragrance greets us as we enter. There is also a small gift basket with coffee, tea, fruit and cookies on the dining room table. We both let out a sigh of relief, park our carry-ons, and flop down on the sofa to take in our surroundings.

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Comment by Marilee Taussig on September 1, 2007 at 7:59am
This is a wonderful blog.....I remember well the sort of dazed disappointment that assaults one (along with garlic and/or sullen officials) at the beginning of a trip. What USUALLY follows is the happy resolution, as you settle in and your brain catches up with your jet-lagged body. But we will have to wait and see if that is how your story turns out. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.
Comment by Doris M on September 1, 2007 at 8:37am
I'm intrigued! Looking forward to your next segment....
Comment by Mary Lou Grier on September 1, 2007 at 4:41pm
Sara must be a member of Mensa! Such a detailed
memory of the most minute details after 6 years has passed since their trip to Paris. I have now read
all 10 of their postings and am so impressed. Too
bad they had such an unsatisfactory apartment and
that they went at almost the worst time of year -
only August would have been worse!
Comment by Sara and Christopher on September 2, 2007 at 11:07am
Yes, I was surprised myself at how the memories came flooding back once I dug in and started writing. I had my notes from each day that I had written at the time, but they were pretty sketchy. In fact, there are a few more memories I have recalled since then that I should really add to some of the parts...it took me hours and hours to get each of the 10 parts ready for publication...toward the end I kinda burned out. Maybe later I'll go back and add a few more stories.... thanks, everyone, for your comments!
Comment by Jean and Fred Agneta on September 19, 2007 at 3:27pm
I just read part 1 and was impressed with your memory and fine details of your trip.
Now on to part 2--- great job,
Jean and Fred


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