Saturday, November 13, 2010

Double Dip

When you travel on business, you have certain destinations you need to get to and specific rhythms you need to follow. The destinations usually revolve around offices you need to be at, while the rhythms are fairly rigid. Contrast that with traveling as a tourist, where the destinations tend to be museums and historical sites, while the rhythms have a more relaxed feel.

While they certainly are not mutually exclusive, usually it's tough to combine the two. It's not that you can't go sightseeing after a day of meetings in Cincinnati (no offense intended to my friends in Cincy). More to the point, as most road warriors will tell you, when you finally wrap up for the day you just want to have a bite of dinner, catch up on your email and get some rest before the forced march begins again the next day. It's not that there's nothing interesting to see; it's just that on balance the bed in the hotel outweighs the desire to visit the Queen's City's National Sign Museum.

However, you occasionally get lucky and wind up with some extra time in a place that all but dares you to turn your back on it. That was the situation myself and an associate found ourselves in this week. Our schedule was similar to one we might have in New York or Boston or Atlanta: finish up in one city, then race to the next, usually well past any civil dinner hour. Up early the next day, packing in far too much to do with the locals, then meeting up with others for a drink and a bite before heading back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep. But in this case, all bets were off: we were in Paris.

Like most business trips, our hours were chock full of work, starting at 6AM and going the full day. Between the schedule we were trying to keep and damage done to our body clocks from the time zone changes, we were pretty wiped out virtually all the time. Added to that was the fact that we were working and staying in La Defense, a manufactured business campus technically outside the city limits. Other than the signs in French and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, we could just as easily been in downtown Houston.

But we were in Paris! The last day of the project was no different than others: first call at 6A, non-stop go-go-go, finally a short break for a delivered sandwich at 130P (admittedly on a freshly made baguette). But when all was in the can, we saw it was about 4P on a Friday, and our flights back weren't until morning. The right thing to do would have been to go back to the hotel, and work the phones and email to the States, still in the middle of it's day some 5 hours behind us. Think how much we could accomplish! But did I mention? We were in Paris!

So we changed into walking shoes and jeans, and grabbed the Metro to the Place de Concord. We strolled towards the Tuileries on an uncommonly warm and clear November day, and stopped to get crepes; hers with sugar and butter, mine with Nutella and coconut. We meandered towards the Louvre, then crossed the Seine. Having been to Paris several times and knowing a little about where to go, and having a traveling associate who was game to walk and just look as long as I gave her time to snap pictures, we wandered the Left Bank heading towards the heart of the Latin Quarter.

The cafes were packed, and the shops will still open. Since it had been a few years since my last visit, I made a few wrong turns. No matter: like the old joke, we may have been lost but we were making very good time. Eventually we found our way to a tiny square I remembered, rimmed with open fronted cafes. As we sat in one and had a drink, a brass band made up of college students took up residence and performed an impromptu concert. We eventually wandered into a tiny restaurant nearby for a thoroughly French meal, finishing it off with a cup of gelato from a small shop on the square.

We finally grabbed a cab for a long ride back across the city to our hotel. I'd venture to say we were pleased with ourselves for performing that rarest of double-dips: a successful business trip AND a quintessential tourist excursion at the same time. I can only wish for you the same on your next outing.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to share travel experiences with others. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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