For many years, our family tradition was to gather with my parents, siblings, and grandchildren at the condominium complex on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida, that my mom and dad rented for the winter months. Sisters, grandchildren, and all would motor down to Florida and enjoy a week of sand, sun, food, and fellowship. Sadly, one winter my mother was suffering from breast cancer and the decision to go to Florida was put on hold as she was going through treatments in Indiana. Literally, at the last minute, I phoned one of our family’s special friends who lived in France to see if we might come for a visit with her over the holidays. Chantal Chatot had been the teacher leading a group of French students to the States for the summer a few years earlier and she made her home with us while the students were guests of other families. My son and daughter, then sixteen and fifteen, considered Chantal to be their big sister and they were thrilled at the idea of going to France and getting to spend time with her. Her enthusiastic response to my request convinced me that she would truly enjoy having us visit and notwithstanding my promises not to interfere with her plans, she started immediately making arrangements for our visit. So did I! The best fares I could find were on Icelandic Air out of Kennedy Airport in NYC flying through Iceland and on to Luxembourg. Hasty arrangements were made for a rental car to be picked up in Luxembourg and reservations were made at a hotel in Paris that we had previously visited, the Hotel Square Monge de Bernadine, near the Odeon Metro station on the left bank and just two blocks up the hill from the Seine and literally at the foot bridge to Isle de la Cite and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
We left for NYC on Christmas Eve. Following an office Christmas party on December 24th about two o’clock in the afternoon, we loaded up our diesel-powered Chevy station wagon and headed out on I-70 from Indianapolis to NYC. It began to snow and we went as far as we felt we safely could and…this is no joke...we stopped for the night in Bethlehem, PA, at a Holiday Inn! Our little party seemed to be the only guests in the Inn! Early on Christmas morning we all got up and opened a few presents that had been packed and were deemed “useable” for the trip, and then we drove on to the airport and arrived in plenty of time for our 8 p.m. departure. We found a pay phone and called family and friends to wish them all a Merry Christmas…no cell phones existed then… and boarded our on-time flight to Luxembourg.
Luxembourg to Paris. Our flight initiated in New York but didn’t go directly to Luxembourg. We stopped, as did all Icelandic Air flights, at Keflavic Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland, first for a two-hour layover and visit to the duty-free shops! Upon arrival in Luxembourg on December 26th at about 9 a.m. their time (3 a.m. our time), we rounded up the rental car and headed for Paris. I count this as one of my best “dead reckoning” driving efforts since I had no map but managed to drive directly to our hotel by following the Seine! When we arrived at Square Monge, the proprietor led us to a house next door and told us to enjoy a more spacious place to spend the night since, as he put it, things were a bit slow at that time of year. We unloaded our bags and headed off for a whirlwind tour of Paris which included a visit to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, dinner at Le Procope, a very old restaurant actually visited by Benjamin Franklin when he was ambassador to France, along with lots of people watching along Rue St. Germaine.