If you're going to spend one last night in Paris, let it be in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
When we bade good-bye to Madam and the Loire Valley late this morning, it was with real regret. As much as I love traveling, it's rare to get attached to a place along the way, but the Chateau de l'Aubriere is one I will truly miss.
Our consolation to ourselves for having to leave was a detour on the way to Paris to Chartres, a beautiful old medieval city, so we could visit one of the biggies from my architecture history books: the 13th century Chartres Cathedral.
Walking toward the magnificent structure with one Gothic and one Romanesque steeple, I was reminded that Chartres is a long-time place of pilgrimage for religious nuts wanting to see Mary's veil, supposedly the one she wore while giving birth to you-know-who.
Personally, I find this notion complete bunk, but not so the hordes of nuns snapping selfies of each other in the garden in front of the cathedral. Is it just me or was there a time when nuns would have been appalled at the self-importance of taking their own pictures in front of so significant a holy place?
Welcome to the new Catholicism.
Levity jostled me out of my condemnation of the nuns when a man came strolling across the cobble-stone streets singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," a seashell extended in his hand for those who liked his song.
He may or may not have been drunk. I'm not here to judge.
Inside, things got serious fast with a placard asking visitors to "sense the faith that has impregnated the cathedral for 800 years." Rather colorful language for fanatics, don't you think?
But the cathedral itself was impressive, even if its flying buttresses looked positively clunky compared to the thin, soaring ones we'd seen a few days ago at Notre Dame. Parts of the cathedral had been restored and the stone cleaned to a pristine near-white while other parts bore the dirt of daily candle burning.
Probably the nerviest thing we saw was a woman carrying her dog through the cathedral despite signs prohibiting dogs. Probably the most surprising thing was when the massive pipe organ began playing a haunting song, although we saw no sign of an organist.
Sign from above, perhaps? Out, out, damn heathens!
Lunch found us in the shadow of Chartres, actually just across the rustic street at Café Bleu's crowded patio, where we indulged in classic "snacks," as the menus here always refer to Croque Monsieurs and Madames, under shady umbrellas with a view of the Cathedral and a balmy breeze blowing.
Interestingly enough, a man walked by us, looked straight at me and said hello as if he were an old friend. I was told it was the yellow dress and legs, but I couldn't be sure.
Paris welcomed us back with unexpectedly sunny skies, this time to the west side of the Left Bank at a small hotel where the French doors in our room open out to a busy street and a quintessential view of the Eiffel Tower from them.
What better way to pass time until dinner than to walk over and admire the "metal asparagus" from all angles? The giant soccer ball still hangs in its center, but the views from underneath and the sides were fabulous, picture postcard-like, even.
I snapped pictures furiously, like a Japanese tourist without the Hello, Kitty backpack. If not now, when?
Leaving the hordes behind to ascend its lacy heights, we wandered over to Le Zinc (zinc bar, two stools, mostly standing only and an enormous patio), joining throngs of Parisians and visitors on the patio for Friday night happy hours.
Because, of course, in Paris, why limit happy to just one hour?
Sitting one table in from the sunburn-inducing patio, we had the best of both worlds: fresh air and no direct rays. A table away sat four pretty young things sipping le Coca Cola in glass bottles while all around them, people sat squinting into the sun rather than putting on sunglasses. Go figure.
Our last dinner in Paris was simple - salmon salad with sardine rillettes and the Friday special of fish "burger," I mean how much more Catholic can you get than fish on Friday? - and set to a club music soundtrack (all except one inexplicable Doobie Brothers song) and savored in the typically unhurried usual French way.
Not that we needed a reason, but we used today's especially warm weather as an excuse to finish with cold, namely salted butter chocolate ice cream and green apple sorbet.
The only thing that could have made this final night any more perfect was watching Gustave Eiffel's tower, aka the metal asparagus, light up and twinkle, which it did promptly at 11:00, even though clouds and deep blue skies behind it attested to the fact that it wasn't yet fully dark.
Leaning on the balcony railing watching the Eiffel Tower show off, that's how I want to leave Paris. Helluva way to finish out my marvelous birthday trip.