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 week-long training. I arrived in Paris Friday morning, took an hour power nap 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.
I arrived in Paris Friday morning and got checked into the hotel - Le Meridien Etoile around 11am. I walked about 2 miles from my hotel and got my first view of the Eiffel Tower from the overlook off the Palais de Chaillot. I 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.
I walked down along the river and crossed back over to walk back up the Champs-Elysees. My mind kept going to the thought of all the riders in the Tour de France riding on those very treacherous cobblestones...especially when they were wet. Eek!
I walked up to the Arc de Triomphe - and had fun taking pictures while standing in the tiny median - cars coming at your in all directions!
Arc de Triomphe
Sitting in front of the Louvre
I took the metro down to the Louvre. Stood around the pyramid and the fountains for a while taking some pictures, enjoying all the great clouds and the sun occasionally peeking through.
I walked the 3 miles back to the hotel through the Jardin des Tuileries and down the Champs-Elysees. Enjoying a view from the Pont Alexandre Bridge along the way.
Pont Alexandre Bridge with the Army Museum in the background
Pont Alexandre Bridge, Siene, Eiffel Tower
L'église de la Madeleine in Concorde
La Maison du Chocolate. I took the metro from the station closest to my hotel (Port Maillot) down to Concorde, and through the fairly heavy rain walked through the neighborhood to find the chocolate shop - stopping for a photo of the L'église de la Madeleine first. Amazing chocolate, and they had some great souvenir chocolate boxes for friends and family!
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.
Dinner at Le Relais de Venise
Eat dinner at 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.
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 and thankfully made it in for the first seating.
You sit down and the only question they ask is how you want your steak cooked. Order a glass of wine - and then the rest just happens.
They bring out a small salad, a tray of french fries, and your steak that they slice into strips and top with this amazing secret sauce. 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 so good! It is supposedly a pretty touristy place, but despite that - I still had a great meal.
I decided to go back out to get some night time photos of the Eiffel Tower. Starting at 9pm on the hour the tower twinkles with white lights for 5 minutes. I took about a million pictures...it's pretty darn amazing!
Just as I got down to the tower it started downpouring! And of course I didn't bring my umbrella. I 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!
Eiffel Tower Twinkling Lights
Enjoying a glass of wine at Le Maillot
When in Paris, eating baguettes for lunch (from Pomme de Pain) and enjoying wine, coffee and croissants at small cafes seemed like a must.
One of the cafes I enjoyed wasLe Maillot, just a couple blocks from my hotel. I sat at a small table on the sidewalk patio, enjoyed my dinner and the people watching of course.
Les Fontaine Training Week
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 and took a taxi 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.
The Chateaux at Les Fontaines
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!
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. 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!
Enjoying a 10 minute break
Our group photo from the Women's Leadership Program
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. 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.
On the final day 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!
I had a 6:30am flight back to the US and 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!