August 25-September 13, 2016
This past spring, in planning for a late summer European trip, we had France on our minds: Paris, a re-visit of some favorite locations south, and an exploration of new areas. This would be a contrast with our trip last year to Central (Eastern) Europe which included, along with the beauty and cultures of the places visited, focus on the impact of the Nazis and Soviets on these countries.
Aware of our late start, and being inundated with activities at home leaving us little time for the detailed planning which would be involved, we worked out what we felt would be a satisfying combo. We would do the planning for Paris, and rely on a tour which traveled the “Country Roads of France”, as it was called, to explore other regions.
With three weeks to travel, following a few days in Paris, we would join the tour for what we called our “France Sampler”: a short re-visit of the Alps and the Cote d’Azur, and exploration of new regions: Burgundy, Provence, Languedoc, and Dordogne. We felt confident that we could utilize the positives of the tour: transportation, hotel bookings, knowledgeable guide, etc. etc. and depart from the group according to our own interests.
Again, we experienced that international travel always involves the same endless “things to do”. But finally, “Off to Paris and the South of France!” Great expectations!
Here are memories of experiences from what turned out to be a wonderful French adventure: natural beauty, excellent wine discoveries, appreciation of food, ancient and medieval architecture, history, French culture, and so much more.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 25; FRIDAY, AUGUST 26, 2016
TRAVEL DAY; BON JOUR, PARIS!
We arrived at CVG (Cincinnati) airport just before 4 PM; skycap did take care of our bags So we were comfortably early, and could linger a bit as we snacked at McDonalds and made a couple of calls before heading to Gate B5 for our 6:32 PM flight . We are pre-certified for security…nice to leave shoes on, no pulling out of computer, etc.
The 7 ½ hour flight was smooth. As with most international flights, it just seemed long and difficult to get some shuteye in an upright position. The flight routine is the same: be served a drink, then a light meal, then the lights are dimmed, and most sleep as best they can.
At one restroom break, we had a friendly discussion with an older Iranian man who was heading for Tehran. He had visited his son who owns a restaurant nearby us in N. Kentucky named “House of Green” with emphasis on fresh vegetables. We told him that we’d try it.
We touched down at CDG about 8:30 AM. It took a while to taxi to the gate, CDG having the distinction of being the largest international airport. We arrived in Terminal 2…and made the seemingly endless walk to arrive in Immigration. Many arrivals, with only three windows open, caused about 1 ½ hour line for those of us coming from a non-EU location. Again, a lively discussion with a couple from Washington D.C. who had worked for the Chicago Tribune, helped pass the time. Tom’s remark about the wife’s dead-on resemblance to Jodie Foster is what initiated our discussion. She acknowledged that many people tell her that.
Fortunately, our luggage had arrived with us, in contrast to last year when delayed baggage cost us almost a day of time! We purchased a 2-day museum pass (48 EUR each). Having several museums on our list, we thought it would be a worthwhile purchase to avoid the lines.
Cab fare to the St. Germain-des-Pres area was 55 EUR with a tip added. We’re glad that cabs accept credit cards…very honest and up front dealings from the driver…took about 40 minutes with limited traffic to arrive at the Le Regent Hotel.
We were excited to begin the first prong of our France venture: several days in Paris. At our hotel check-in, we reacquainted ourselves with Angelique, our favorite desk clerk, who remembered us from two years ago. Our room 61 is small with a shower in the tub…adequate and nicely located with a unique terrace overlooking parts of the surrounding area. Continental breakfast was included with our room rate.
We felt hungry, and with all the nearby restaurants, we easily found a good ham/egg/cheese crepe at a brasserie (16.20 EUR). The surrounding streets were bustling with activity on this beautiful, if very hot, day.
In spite of the things on our list for the day, jet lag, which we never want to acknowledge, caught up with us, maybe made worse because we were not able to get good rest before leaving home. We decided to do what the spirit moved. Just being in Paris and strolling the streets was an enjoyable introduction to our four-day stay.
Following lunch, we enjoyed a walk up Rue Dauphine to the Seine. Pont Neuf is a wonderful view in both directions, with Pont Alexandre and Notre Dame both visible from the bridge. It’s always of interest to note that the oldest bridge in Paris is named “Neuf”. There was a lot of activity in the bouquinistes lining the streets. We’re always interested in the street artists, but today they seemed to be absent.
In view of the sunny day, and our draggy feeling, we decided to forego museum plans and visit some of the traditional Paris sights, with no particular agenda in mind. We made our way to Trocadero and had ice cream for Margie and a beer for Tom at the Le Wilson Brasserie overlooking the area. The waiter commented to a family who entered that the temperature was the same inside the restaurant, as on the covered patio: “Tres Chaud”. No A/C.
Following that stop, we enjoyed the open terrace of the Palais de Chaillot for one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. Since there was reconstruction of the fountains in front of the Palais, the area on the terrace was reduced and fencing was surrounding it. But it still allowed for comfortable viewing.
We descended the couple flights of stairs and walked down an inviting pathway through the Jardin de Chaillot with its long green lawn and a multitude of brilliant flowers. A shady park bench looked very inviting. Did we mention that it was hot? 90’s F. But we were just happy to have a clear day with blue skies.
After enjoying a restful pause, we walked the remainder of the garden and crossed the Seine via the Pont d’Elena. On the other side, we were happy to buy a drink to quench our thirst. It’s amazing how much time can be consumed just walking about enjoying the Champs de Mars and the atmosphere of Paris.
Back to the Le Regent to unpack a bit and freshen up for a 7:30 dinner reservation. Before leaving home, Margie had booked the Andre’ Allard Restaurant. This restaurant had been given good reviews as a moderately-priced, typically French restaurant, and we liked that it was near our hotel.
Upon arrival at Andre’ Allard, we were greeted at the door by four or five waiters, dressed in their typical black and white suits, and given a corner booth just aside the wine bar. The meal began with a nice red wine, followed by a tasty cucumber salad, fresh baked bread, and their delicious French butter. Never have we tasted such wonderful butter!
The service was great and the wine, salad, pommes frites and bread were a “10”. However, the main part of the meal took a dive. The filet de boeuf aux poivres presented looked beautiful, generous sizes. However, both were so tough that, even with their steak knives, we could barely cut any pieces! The old cliché, “cuts like shoe leather”, could be perfectly applied. We ate very little of the boeuf, tiny pieces at that. However, the pommes frites which accompanied it were perfect!
For a tasty finale, we ordered a sorbet and cappuccinos, and left Allard’s 133.20 EUR poorer, leaving a 5 EUR tip. Margie’s eyes were heavy as we finished the sorbet and cappuccinos. A recommendation to others who might choose Allard’s would be: “Don’t order boeuf.”
A short walk to our hotel; happy to be in Paris! Off to bed by about 11 PM.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, 2016
PARIS. . .OURS TO EXPLORE!
Great to sleep about 9 ½ hours! About 9 AM, we descended the circular staircase to the lower level, which looked like a former wine cellar, for our complimentary breakfast. The tables were attractively set, as one might expect in France. We were served a typical French continental breakfast consisting of croissants and fresh bread, regular yogurt that needed some jam to flavor it, and café au lait.
Following breakfast, we walked down Rue Saint Andre’ Des Arts to St Michel Square, the hub of the Latin Quarter. This route is lined with shops and restaurants.
We had several museums on our list, and thought that we might visit the Musee’ d’Orsay. As we had hoped, it did not appear too crowded. The museum pass worked well to avoid the line which had formed.
We’ve visited the Musee’ d’Orsay a few times in the past, and still experienced it as a great as ever. Our main interest was impressionism…and this museum has an abundance of it: Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, etc. We spent most of our time in the 2nd and 5th floor exhibit rooms. So many great works. . .and not crowded. Farther on in our trip, we would be visiting towns which provided inspiration for some of these artists.
It was interesting and relieving, to see the signs posted, “No selfie sticks!”
Our 2-hour rule was easily exceeded, and we were tired as we headed toward the Champs Elysees. Although the stores lining it aren’t the appeal, it is always impressive to see the Arc de Triomphe, the architecture of the buildings, and the view down the tree-lined avenue to the Place de la Concorde. And interesting people-watching!
Café Deauville, which we had enjoyed in the past, was our choice for lunch. Finding an outdoor table, we each ordered a 16 oz. 1664 draft beer and a crepe with ham and cheese. Normally, we wouldn’t think of beer as an accompaniment to a crepe, but the hot day made a cold beer taste quite refreshing.
We easily found a nearby taxi stand and within a few minutes were facing the entrance of the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House. (9 EUR) for the Mercedes ride to the front door. Again, no problem using credit cards in taxis. We knew that our museum pass was not valid at the Opera House. ($11 EUR each to enter).
What a gorgeous place with gold leaf everywhere, magnificent marble staircases, sculptures and paintings by famous artists of the day, and the auditorium ceiling painted by Chagall! Though we had visited the Opera Garnier several years ago, we had forgotten just how beautiful it is. On each visit to Paris, we like to focus on one outstandingly ornate building interior, and for us this trip, the Opera House was it. The audio guides were excellent ($2 EUR each).
As we crossed the plaza to the Café de la Paix nearby to enjoy smoothies, we snapped photos of the outside of the Opera Garnier, stunning in its own right. It seems that every time we re-visit a place, we observe new details, and so it was today in the Opera House. No Phantom in sight!
Returning to our hotel to freshen up for dinner, we asked Angelique for a restaurant recommendation in the area. We easily found her suggestion, Cepe e’ fique, located on Cours de Commerce, a cobbled “passage” off Rue St. Andre’des Arts. It was a small, simple French place, but the food was wonderful.
We enjoyed their onion soup and boeuf bourguinon (which was on special for 19 EUR). They recommended a vin rouge from Languedoc, an area which we would visit later in our trip. It was a perfect pairing with our meal. The beef in the bourguinon was so tender, a treat after last evening’s experience.
We lingered till about 11:30, having a great discussion with a couple from Melbourne, Australia. We spoke about what is trending in both countries, plus travel experiences.
It was a good day visiting both the Musee d’Orsay and the Opera Garnier, and just ambling around and enjoying the ambience of Paris. The delightful evening meal capped off the day.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2016
ANOTHER FULL DAY IN PARIS!
Up at 7, even though we retired after midnight last night. Our goal was 10:00 Mass at Notre Dame.
We walked the 10-15 minutes to Notre Dame and easily found seating. There was a smooth exchange of people leaving the previous liturgy and entering for the 10 AM Mass which began very punctually.
Most of the main parts of the Mass were surprisingly and beautifully sung in Latin. But it was evident from the responses to the parts that were in French that there was a predominance of French-speaking worshipers, as one might expect. Even though visitors were permitted to walk around the perimeter while the middle sections were blocked off for worship, the liturgy was inspirational and completed in about an hour.
At the end, we shot a few photos of the stained glass windows and views of the long line forming outside on the plaza. On every visit to Paris, it’s our tradition to visit Notre Dame.
This was another beautiful, sunny day, with a perfect temperature. Luxembourg Gardens was calling us. We headed up the hill in that direction, but before venturing into the gardens, we first enjoyed brunch at an outside table of the Le Rostand Restaurant.
Tom’s croque madame and Margie’s quiche loraine were both excellent. We enjoyed our meal with a vin blanc for Margie and a beer for Tom as we watched the people arriving by bus or bikes, passing by to cross the street to the garden entrance.
The Luxembourg Gardens had never been so impressive! A perfect day to appreciate the outstanding palace, fronted by the large pond, flower gardens, pots of geraniums, green grass, with chairs and benches scattered around inviting people to relax; small sailboats in the water, lots of bodies lying out in the sun at the far end away from the walkers; even a small restaurant on the premises. Good job, Marie de Medici, for providing such a wonderful summer spot for enjoyment!
A shady spot with two inviting chairs was the perfect place for relaxation. Although we’ve seen Luxembourg Gardens in the past, we’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying it on such an ideal day. The flowers were at their peak, and all the grass was lush. Our visit lasted much longer than we had anticipated, but why not take full advantage of this beautiful garden on such a perfect day?
The palace, which now serves as the Senate, is huge and not normally able to be toured except in Patrimoine Week. Maybe in the future we’ll visit during the 3rd week of September for these “Heritage Days” and have the opportunity to tour the interiors of the Senate and other notable buildings.
After a couple of hours in the Luxembourg Garden, we tore ourselves away to walk the short distance to the Pantheon. In our past visits to Paris, we have never visited the Pantheon, and thought we’d like to step into a bit of history. Our museum pass was valid for the 2nd time…hardly worth the $98 we paid (used about ½ of that). Tourism was down in Paris, and thus the lines are not so long that the pass is necessary.
The Pantheon exterior is impressive, resembling the Pantheon of Rome. Louis XV commissioned the architect Jacques-Germain Souflot to erect this edifice in thanksgiving to God for his recovery from an illness. Due in part to financial difficulties, construction which began in 1757, lasted until 1791. The architect died before his goal of combining lightness and brightness using classical principles could be achieved. However, the Pantheon is still considered to be one of the most important architectural achievements of its time.
Over the years, the usage of the Pantheon has changed. Originally a church honoring St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, after the French Revolution the new government declared it a mausoleum dedicated to venerable patriots, scientists, philosophers, artists etc. On and off it has been returned to a church, but now it is again mostly a mausoleum underneath and the first floor a large open space with impressive statuary and columns.
We visited the undercroft, quite a large system with main passages and small offshoots where the notable citizens of France are interred. We visited several crypts, among them Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie, and Louis Braille, and viewed some videos showing how the Parisians honor the passing of their famous citizens.
Returning upstairs, we spent a couple of minutes observing the Foucault pendulum, a device conceived in 1851 by the French physicist Leon Foucault as a simple demonstration of the rotation of the earth. There were quite a few people gathered around the viewing area.
Following our Pantheon visit, which again went longer than we had anticipated, we enjoyed some sorbet and café au lait at Le Comptoir nearby. In Paris, one is never far from a café!
Each trip we, especially Margie, like to visit one high spot to enjoy a panoramic view of Paris. We’ve enjoyed Montmartre at sunset a few times, the Eiffel Tower, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, etc. but never made it to top of the Tour Montparnasse. On a previous trip, it began to rain just as we were ready to ascend.
Given the ideally clear day, we headed in that direction, and paid our 15 EUR each for a trip to the 56th floor. This was a perfect day to take advantage of the 360’ views of Paris. We learned that the elevator goes only to floor 52, with the remaining floors reached by a stairway. That is, unless one has reservations at the Le Ciel de Paris Restaurant. An elevator goes right to that area on the 56th floor. That might be on our “to do” list for our next visit.
Until more recently, after the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse was the second highest building in Paris. Several years ago the Tour Fust at La Defense has taken over that distinction. But whatever the height ranking, the view was outstanding. We took many photos on the first observation level, and then walked the other 75 steps up to the top terrace to view the city. Fantastic views in all directions.
From the Tour Montparnasse, we caught a bus to Boul. St. Germain where we intended to have dinner. Another great area of Paris, it’s close to our Le Regent Hotel. So many appealing outdoor/indoor restaurants/cafes…so many people frequenting them.
A happy find was the Brasserie Vagenende. We chose to sit in the more casual outdoors and shared the melt-in-your-mouth filet de boeuf chateaubriand béarnaise au poivre with their outstanding pommes frites. Wine and beer, of course, with the meal topped off with sorbet and café’au lait. The service was excellent.
The inside of Vagenende was beautiful. Margie pointed out the well-dressed people eating there and we both agreed that the Vagenende was a definite repeat ($67). On a return visit, this will be at the top of our restaurant list!
We returned to our hotel via a walk down Rue Gregoire de Tours and took note of an Italian restaurant that Angelique had earlier recommended. It was closed, but looked appealing for our next trip! In Paris, we always plan for that next visit!
The atmosphere was lively around Rue Buce. A small Dixieland Jazz band was playing in the area of many outdoor cafes. We lingered for a while, enjoying their entertainment and marveling at the large number of people out this Sunday night.
We headed back to Le Regent, and did some packing in order to be more ready for our morning check-out. Good night just after 11 PM. Another wonderful day in Paris!
MONDAY. AUGUST 29, 2016
ILE ST. LOUIS; PM: MONTPARNASSE
Up at 7:30 or so…continental breakfast…check-out wasn’t until noon…stored our luggage at Le Regent. Today was the day we would join a tour group at the Pullman Hotel in Montparnasse. We were ready for “Prong Two” of our journey, our “South of France Sampler”.
After checking out of Le Regent, we decided to make this a more leisurely day. We headed down Rue Saint Andre’ des Arts toward the Latin Quarter, stopping in some of the many shops. After the days of sun and blue skies, today was a bit overcast, and even a bit drizzly, but it didn’t last long.
We stopped by the famous English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and purchased a paperback copy of Animal Farm, a timely subject. Afterward, we walked along a section of the Seine which we do not ordinarily visit.
Ile St. Louis is usually on our list, and after doing some leisurely window shopping, we chose La Chaumiere En Isles for our lunch. It’s situated just over the bridge with a nice view of Notre Dame. A wonderful salad for Margie and omelette for Tom….with drinks and café au lait , and great service. (53,50 EUR).
Following that delightful lunch, we walked several more streets on Ile St. Louis, and wended our way back to Le Regent. The Notre Dame gardens, with flowers still in bloom, provided a pleasant stop.
Angelique, our fave, was on duty at the hotel, and called a cab that arrived within three minutes. A few miles and 15 EUR later we arrived at the Pullman Montparnasse Hotel where we were quickly checked in and our luggage was soon delivered to room 1101. It was here that we were to meet in the lobby to begin our travel to Burgundy, the Alps du Rhone, Cote d’Azur, Provence, Languedoc, and the Dordogne. We used the opportunity to shower and dress for the evening.
The Tour Group gathered in the lobby at 6 PM. We met Laurent, our native French director, whom we learned has been with the company for 17 years. We immediately liked him! And, as we would experience, he proved to be the perfect guide!
A “Welcome Dinner” was held in the Latin Quarter at Chez Clement Restaurant. The evening turned out to be a good experience. Champagne was served. It’s always a bit unnerving to meet totally new people and wonder just how things will go. However, we were seated with three Aussie couples. We sat across from Rob and Yvonne from Australia, not realizing that they would be our favorite couple and that we’d have quite a few experiences together.
The first item on the menu was a tasty French onion soup. We were treated to some escargot. Though not being inclined toward it, we thought it worth a try. The entrée (or “main” as the French say) was a deliciously prepared chicken, with accompaniments of potatoes and veggie. We were given our choice of beer, wine, etc. And a tasty dessert. Overall, we enjoyed the camaraderie and the first meal was very pleasant.
Back to the hotel just before 9 PM. Laurent pointed out that the Eiffel Tower, which we could see if we walked up a block or so to a large roundabout, would be lit up and “sparkling” at 9 PM. So we enjoyed the walk and the light show. It would be our farewell to Paris until our return in two weeks.
Tomorrow it’s off to Burgundy!
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FOCUS ON FRANCE: Paris and South of France
August 25-September 13, 2016