On March 31st I woke up to a very exciting email - I had been invited to a Women's Leadership Development Program at our company's University (Les Fontaines) in Chantilly, France. I've been with my company for 7 year and it was the first invitation to France - so needless to say I jumped out of bed wide-awake on that day! I made travel plans the next day and on April 23rd I caught my flight for Paris.
I was able to enjoy the weekend in Paris before heading off to my weeklong training. I arrived in Paris Friday morning and got checked into the hotel - Le Meridien Etoile around 11am. I took an hour power nap (to recover somewhat from the overnight flight from Houston, TX) and then ventured out for a day of sightseeing. It was a cold and rainy weekend in Paris, but I still enjoyed walking everywhere and experiencing Paris. The last time I was in France was in high school, 18 years ago, when I took a 2 week trip with my French Club. I'd definitely say the experience this time was very different, seeing Paris as a adult.
Friday - April 25th
On Friday afternoon, with my map in hand I started walking towards the direction of the Eiffel Tower. It was about a 2 mile walk. Along the way I found a sandwich shop, Pomme de Pain, where I grabbed a baguette to-go and continued to walk towards my destination as I ate. I got my first view of the Eiffel Tower from the overlook off the Palais de Chaillot. Took some pictures, and then worked my way down the steps and across the river to stand under the Eiffel Tower. I had been to the top of the tower as a teenager, so I didn't have the desire to stand in line and do that again - but I loved standing under and around the tower and taking more pictures. It was such a gloomy day that it definitely added to the challenge of taking a good picture. I had fun trying though.
After that I headed on my way....walked down along the river and crossed back over to walk back up the Champs-Elysees. It was fun admiring all the shops (especially the huge Louis Vuitton store...which I did not stand in line to enter) and just people watching along the way. My mind kept going to the thought of all the riders in the Tour de France riding along the Champs-Elysees, on those very treacherous cobblestones...especially when they were wet. Eek! I walked up to the Arc de Triomphe - had fun taking pictures while standing in the tiny median - cars coming at your in all directions. Then I continued down about another half mile back to my hotel.
I was pretty tired after my jet lag and walk, but since I knew it was probably going to be the best day without rain, I figured I better take advantage and not sit around the hotel room. I took the metro down to the Louvre. Stood around the pyramid for a while taking some pictures, enjoying all the great clouds and the sun occasionally peeking through.
From the Louvre I ended up walking through the Jardin des Tuileries and all the way down the Champs-Elysees back to the area around my hotel (about 3 miles). I found a small cafe just a couple blocks from my hotel to eat dinner - Le Maillot - where I sat at a small table on the sidewalk patio, enjoyed my dinner and the people watching of course. After a long day, I turned in for the evening, ready for one more day of exploring in Paris.
Saturday - April 26th
On Saturday, I didn't have much on my agenda, so I decided to just take it easy and basically see what I see. It was also a pretty rainy day, so I had to strategically think about how much walking I wanted to do. I started by taking the metro from the station closest to my hotel (Port Maillot) down to Concorde. From there, in the fairly heavy rain, I walked through the neighborhood to La Maison du Chocolat. I found some great souvenir chocolate boxes for friends and family and got a few treats for myself as well. Just from the free sample the lady gave me in the store - I knew this was going to be some of the best chocolate I've had. Now that I'm home and have eaten my few pieces I bought, I'm so sad I didn't buy more! I walked along the streets in the neighborhood for a bit, and then headed back to the metro station. I decided to take the metro a bit further to the Chatelet station, to go see Notre Dame. That turned out to be a great area, with neat streets to walk along, admiring the river from the various bridges, and then walking around Notre Dame. The line to get in was incredibility long, but again - I didn't have the desire to go in...I just wanted to look around the outside of the building.
After that I hit a few of the souvenir shops, walked back to the metro station and headed back to the hotel. Near my hotel I found a small cafe to stop in and enjoy a coffee and croissant. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.
The night before I had seen an incredibly long line to get into a restaurant near my hotel. So tonight I looked it up and figured out what it was. Le Relais de Venise. It is a restaurant that has truly taken to heart the motto - do one thing and do it well. The only serve steak and fries. Their doors open at 7pm and they fill up the entire restaurant, leaving the people at the back of the line standing outside to wait until tables turn over. I got there about 6:45 - stood under my umbrella in the pouring rain - and thankfully made it in for the first seating. You sit down and the only question they ask you is rare, medium or well. You pick how you want you steak cooked, order a drink - and then the rest just happens. They bring out a small salad, and then not far behind comes a tray of french fries, your steak that they slice into strips and topped with this amazing secret sauce they pour on. The neat thing as well is that they serve you 2/3rds of your steak, and leave the rest in a warming tray, so when you are almost done they come back with the rest of your still hot steak and some more fries. It was amazing! It is supposedly a pretty touristy place, but despite that - I still had a great meal.
After dinner, on a whim, I decided to go back out to the Eiffel Tower to get some nighttime shots. Starting at 9pm on the hour the tower twinkles with white lights for 5 minutes. I had my scarf, jacket, room key in my pocket and camera on my shoulder and headed on my way. I just missed the 9pm show, taking a few wrong turns and underestimating the distance - but it worked out OK because it wasn't quite dark enough at 9pm for good pictures anyway. The only snag though was just as I got down to the tower it started downpouring! And of course I didn't bring my umbrella. I threw my scarf over my head, tried to protect my camera as best as possible...took a few photos right down at the river and then ran up to a nearby building to stand under a ledge until it passed. It finally stopped raining and I walked up the steps of the Palais de Chaillot and found a prime front and center spot at the top to wait for the 10pm show. I had about 25 minutes to wait, and thankfully I got there so early - because I realized after a while that about 10 coach buses of tour groups had been dropped off! I took about a million pictures of the tower and when the lights finally started twinkling it was pretty amazing! 10:05 the show was over and I started my 2 mile walk back to the hotel. I was cold and wet, but sometimes getting that great photos makes it all worth it!
Sunday - April 27th
On Sunday I just took it easy. I had breakfast at the hotel, packed up my room and then around 1pm started my 2 hour train journey over to Chantilly, France for the start of my work training. I took the metro from Port Maillot to Gare de Lyon, and then took the RER D up to Chantilly...about an hour train ride. I got off in Chantilly, had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a taxi and then they drove me the very short distance to Les Fontaines...my home for the next 5 days. I got there around 4pm, checked into my room (very dorm like) but nice enough bed and bathroom. I wandered the grounds for a bit, got my bearings, and then started meeting and mingling with various people. That night we had dinner at the Chateaux at 7pm - I met 4 of the women who would be in my Women's Leadership Program for the week and we had a great time getting to know each other for hours at dinner and at the Chateaux bar afterwards. We knew it was going to be a great week when while waiting for dinner we looked out the window and saw the most amazing full double rainbow right over the lake behind the Chateaux. Beautiful!
Monday - April 28th to Friday - May 3rd
The rest of the week was very hectic - breakfast at 7:45am, then sessions started at 8:30 each day. We had a few full sessions in the auditorium with the 200 participants, and then the rest of the time was spent in our classroom with the 18 women in my group. One thing that I loved watching during the week were these artists. They would storyboard in real-time during some of the sessions, picking up on key words said and they would draw them out. By the end of the week the posters were all over and it was really neat to look back on them. Lunch each day was around 12:30, and then we were back at our training sessions until at least 6:30 each day. On Wednesday we had a social event with finger food and a DJ / Dancing, but other nights dinner was at the Chateaux around 7:30-8pm. We had a group presentation (4 of us in a group) to prepare for and give on Friday morning, so the last couple nights we spent extra hours after class prepping for that. It made for some very long days, but despite everything draining about the week - it was absolutely amazing! Not only was the content we learned great, but the people were just phenomenal. We had ladies in our class from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, India and Spain. What we all learned from each other can never be taught in a classroom. And the networks we have all now made across the world is just priceless. I think we were all pretty energized after the week and ready to see what awaits us in the "real world" with our new found knowledge and relationships. On Friday we all gave our 15 minutes presentations to the class plus four vice-presidents who attended our session that day, and then sadly had to say our goodbyes.
At 1pm a coach bus took us to the airport and I checked into the Sheraton in Terminal 2 of the airport for the evening. Once I checked into the hotel the adrenaline of the week really started to wear off and I was just plain exhausted! It worked to my advantage though because I went to bed early and woke up at 4am for my 6:30am flight back to the US. I landed in Dallas, TX at 2pm on Saturday where my mom met me at the airport and the next day I did a 65 mile bike ride for the National MS Society at 7am. Talk about a shift from mentally exhausting to physically exhausting! But the ride went great, we drove back the 4 hours to Houston, where I was finally home for a whole 10.5 hours before waking up Monday morning to catch a flight to Los Angeles for the work week. Never a dull moment!
You can check out more of my pictures from France here - France Photos