My wife and I debated for months whether it was a smart idea to book a trip to France during a worldwide pandemic.
You bet it was!
I worried I would come down with COVID-19 for the first time just before the trip. That didn't happen.
But then there was the news of a lack of pilots and crew and thousands of canceled flights that could end our trip. To our delight that didn't transpire either.
The flight from Bradley International Airport to Dulles International Airport in Virginia gave us less than an hour to make our connection to Paris. To our relief, that plane was late leaving, too, and we boarded our United Airlines flight to Paris with a little time to spare. Next time we will take a non-stop flight.
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It never rained for the 10 days we were there, but was very hot, and at times humid, as France made international news with temperatures well over 100 degrees. I will soon forget the heat and remember the welcoming faces of the French people who were very happy to see tourists returning from America to spend Euros in their beautiful country.
France has lost most of its Russian visitors as sanctions have limited them to using cash only. The Americans have filled that void.
In addition to three days exploring sites in Paris, we took a seven-day river boat cruise on the Seine River, making stops at historic and charming cities including Rouen, Giverny, Les Andelys and Vernon.
Our final stop was at the Normandy Beaches where U.S. and Allied forces turned the tide of World War II during D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was heart-warming to see local residents and tourists enjoying Omaha and Utah beaches with the freedom afforded them from the men and women who fought for them nearly 80 years ago.
Although not planned, we happened to be there July 14 which is Bastille Day in France. The day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille July 14, 1789, and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on July 14, 1790. It was the beginning of the end for the monarchy. The celebration reminded us of our July 4.
Our Viking River Cruise boat was docked on the Seine River a few minutes away from the Eiffel Tower where fireworks began for Bastille Day just after sunset. Fireworks erupted from several floors of the Eiffel Tower and more fireworks went off from other nearby sites. We relaxed on the upper deck with a glass of French champagne to celebrate with our shipmates.
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Earlier in the day we were treated to a flyover of dozens of military planes at Notre Dame Cathedral, which is still closed after the April 2019 fire. Many city streets were shut down for the holiday. Paris was guarded by scores of police and military vehicles to protect people and property from terrorist attack.
Food on our boat and throughout Paris and the other towns we visited did not disappoint. Every morsel of French cooking excelled. I did not weigh myself before going but I'm sure I put on a few extra pounds. We did average about five miles a day walking with one day over eight miles. Maybe I lost a little weight with all that walking.
Similar to other large cities, Paris is full of bicycles, motorized scooters, and small motorcycles that pedestrians must take care not wander into while looking at the beautiful architecture that is everywhere. Motorists rarely, if ever, ran red lights. Maybe they have red light cameras there too.
On the other hand, many bicyclists ran the red lights at intersections. Always look to your left and right before crossing streets.
This is a very good time financially to travel to Europe, as the Euro has been dropping in value against the dollar. One dollar was equal to one Euro while we were in France which is a very good exchange rate for Americans.
Our river boat had 154 passengers. All but two were Americans, surprising the boat's staff. The other two guests were from Australia.
We met many of the vacationers at breakfast and dinner aboard the ship. Everyone was friendly and conversations revolved around other trips taken, trips planned and their children and grandchildren. Travelers were mostly from the southern states, mid-west and California. There were four other Connecticut passengers.
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Thankfully no one talked politics.
One highlight for us was the Palace of Versailles, which is a former royal residence located in Versailles, about 12 miles west of Paris. Le Château de Versailles, or Palace of Versailles, is visited by millions of tourists every year. It is often associated with King Louis XIV, “The Sun King.” He was an absolute monarch who ruled France, one of the most powerful nations of the 17th century.
From the Royal Chapel to the Hall of Mirrors, two of the 2,300 rooms in the palace, each room was breathtaking. Priceless paintings, sculptures, furniture and massive ceiling paintings, all were magnificent. I didn't even mind, well maybe a little, that the temperature reached 106 degrees that day.
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I've always wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower, and I was not disappointed with this experience. Built in 1889 by the Gustave Eiffel civil engineering firm in just over two years, the tower served as the centerpiece for the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. It was supposed to come down 20 years after the fair but remains today. Even Adolph Hitler wanted it taken down during World War II.
I took the elevator up 984 feet to the top level just before sunset. The tower is bathed in golden yellow light. On the hour for five minutes strobe lights make the sight even more impressive. The view of The City of Light as the dusk turned to night was spectacular.
If it is not on your bucket list, please add Paris and the surrounding area. You will not be disappointed.
This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Traveling to Paris during a pandemic and war in Ukraine