Travelogue, Part 1: Tahiti

Today I begin my five-part travelogue about my recent trip to the islands of French Polynesia.
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May 31st started early. My carry-on loaded to the gills, I arrived at my friend Gail’s house at 4:15AM. We rode together to the Atlanta airport, went through security, found our gate. Then it was Atlanta to Memphis, Memphis to Los Angeles, lunch at the airport
Fish tacos!
before going through international security – we had to check our bags this time – and boarding our Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete, Tahiti. 
The bad news? After traveling all day, we were still more than 4000 miles from our destination.
The good news? We were greeted with fresh flowers;
pillows, blankets and a bag of goodies to make our journey more pleasant;
Ear phones, an eye mask, ear plugs, fuzzy socks, antibacterial wipes, etc. 
and fed not one but TWO full meals.
No extra charge for the wine.
Eight and a half long hours later – 10:00PM local time – we were in Papeete, Tahiti. Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia and Papeete is the capitol city. To enter the country, we had to go through two lines with two different pieces of paperwork, then through customs. Finally, we were on a taxi headed for the Hotel Tahiti Nui. We checked in and made our way to our beautiful room and two very welcoming beds. Exhausted from our day, we crashed around midnight.
 We woke to a beautiful sunrise and took in the views from our balcony.
As we left the hotel to find some breakfast, we discovered that the top was open to the sky
to support a jungle of tropical plants visible from the hallways of every floor.
We didn’t have to go far to discover a little sidewalk cafe called Miri Miri. My French is rusty but good enough to recognize a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of cafe au lait when I see them.
Everything tasted as good as it looked.
 After our delicious meal, we took a stroll through Bougainville Park. Named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who claimed Tahiti for France in 1768 shortly before Captain Cook arrived there, Bougainville Park is a tropical park located near the pier.
We were very grateful for the numerous huts that dotted the park, as they provided us with shelter from some intermittent rain that in no way dampened our enthusiasm for the adventure we were having.
We also saw a memorial site dedicated to all those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific region between 1966 and 1996.
A traditional paepae surrounded by five stones representing the five archipelagos of French Polynesia.
Later, we wandered around the city and stumbled upon Papeete Cathedral
 and a large open air market where we bought vanilla extract and scented soaps.
Exotic fruits and vegetables.
Native crafts.
Flowers, flowers everywhere.
 For lunch, we stopped at another small restaurant, L’Oasis.
Our colorful waiter.
I opted for a panini and a local draft beer.
Feta, tomato and basil panini and a Hinano.
 After lunch, we went back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation. I actually went to the hotel gym and did three miles on the elliptical machine on top of all the walking I had already done. Then I treated myself to a few minutes poolside before visiting out the internet cafe. Navigating the internet turned out to be a little more challenging than I anticipated due to the fact that the computers had French keyboards. Resorting to the hunt and peck method, I managed to check email and Facebook updates. As much fun as I was having, I enjoyed those few minutes of connection with friends and family.
For dinner, we went to Vaiete Square, where every night vans called roulottes set up along the waterfront and serve a tempting and affordable variety of food and drink. Pizza and steak frites? Chinese stir fry? Crepes? A burger topped with a fried egg? There is something for everyone.
I chose grilled broadbill swordfish and rice served with a blue cheese sauce. It was fabulous.
Our tummies full, we spied our cruise ship docked at the pier as we returned to our hotel. That was an exciting moment!
MS Paul Gauguin
 We decided to stop at the little convenience store next to the hotel to pick up something for breakfast the following morning. It was an interesting mix of the familiar
and the unfamiliar.
Gail selected a quart of milk; I left empty handed. Tired to the bone, we crawled back to our room and into our beds and slept like rocks.
By 11 o’clock the following morning, we were packed and checked out of the hotel. Since we couldn’t board the ship until 3PM, we decided to stick around and have lunch at the hotel restaurant.
Pesto pasta with sun dried tomatoes.
 Finally, it was time to call a taxi and return to the pier! Boarding was quick and easy; we were greeted with champagne and escorted to our cabin by two friendly crew members.
The beds came apart in the middle.
 The stateroom was much more spacious than I expected; there were lots of closets and drawers, two electrical outlets, and a tub in the bathroom. And we had a balcony!
Papeete, Tahiti.
We quickly changed into our swimsuits and made our way to the pool deck, where we managed to catch a few rays before the sun disappeared for the day. We spent a few minutes exploring the ship, booked our shore excursions, endured the safety drill, and showered and dressed for dinner.
Cheese topped French bread served over a mesclun lettuce salad.
Grilled mahi-mahi.
Vanilla creme brulee.
 After dinner, we spent a few minutes at the piano bar, attended the welcome aboard party on the pool deck, and called it a night. The ship set sail while we were sleeping, bound for the island of Raiatea. Come back tomorrow to find out about our explorations there!