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Monday, April 7th, 2008

My flight to Paris took off on time, but the pilot thought he was driving a fighter jet and took us up to cruising altitude with a steep ascent and lots of stomach churning drops (reverse for the descent.) As I was sitting next to a window, I got to see the terrain change below me. We left the desert behind and headed out over the Mediterranean. Coming back over land in Europe, we flew over the Alps which were heavily laden with snow. Landing in Paris 5 hours after take off, I got my bags and took the train, then the metro to the Montemarte area of Paris. Here I was to meet Damien whose home I was going to couchsurf. (For those not in the know, couchsurfing is a website where people with extra space open their homes to travelers to stay for free. I met several people on my trip who had tried it. With the horrendous euro/dollar exchange rate I need all the cost savings I can get.) As it was still an hour before it was time to meet him, I sat and waited at an Internet Cafe. I then walked to his building using a map that he sent me. We met up outside of his building. He lives in a 100 year old, very narrow building on the fifth floor. I was shown the couch where I would be spending the next five nights. He then offered to take me on a bike tour of Paris. I needed to rent a bike which in Paris is very easy. There are public bicycle stations at various points in the city. You have to use a credit card to put down a 150 euro deposit. The bike cost 1 euro (1 euro = 1.58 dollars) for 24 hours. There is a very annoying catch though. You have to replace the bike at a station every 30 minutes, or you get charged more money. This short time span is very annoying as you constantly have to look for new stations. I would rather pay more money up front and get longer time as the money you pay keeps increasing the longer you keep the bike past the 30 minutes. We first rode out of the hilly Montemarte district past the Moulin Rouge which sits on a very open and flashy adult street. Then we rode through the horrendous traffic around the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower. Here the sun was setting and I got to watch a great sunset from beneath the tower. Finally, we headed down the Champs de Elysee to the Place du Concord on which sits an Egyptian obelisk bought to France by Napolean. This ride gave me a good first impression of Paris. The weather is still quite cold. There are lots of trees, and they are just starting to put on Spring foliage. The city at night is especially pretty as many of the fountains and trees are lit up. [read on]