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Trip Report Thanksgiving in Paris - Isabel goes to Paris and the Cote d'Azure

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This was an extra trip for me. I’d already had one 8 day trip to Istanbul in March and a three week trip to Greece and Germany in July – and didn’t really have the time or the money for another trip. But my daughter KC is living in Paris this year, I had enough Capital One miles, and work “owed” me a few days. So – Thanksgiving in France it was. Originally I’d thought I’d stay with KC and make this a really cheap trip, but turns out her apartment is party central for the 20 something set so I took advantage of some “low as they get” hotel rates. And since KC was working (she’s an English teaching assistant) in the middle of the week I took advantage of Easy Jet’s 35€ flights to Nice for four days of sun on the Cote d’Azure.

My photos from this trip to Paris are at: www.pbase.com/annforcier/paris_in_november

and the photos of the Cote d'Azure are at:www.pbase.com/annforcier/france_cote_dazure

As this was my 6th trip to Paris and my main reason for being there was to visit KC, I didn’t do much in the way of touristy things. I even managed to put the camera away for good portions of each day (though not entirely of course, and there was some interesting shooting in the late fall light, Christmas decorations, etc). I also found it interesting, both in terms of photography and otherwise, that even though I’d already been to most of the places I went on this trip, I saw new things. For example, every trip I’ve done to Paris I’ve gone inside Notre Dame, but I still managed to notice some statuary I’d never noticed before. I also wanted to just experience KC’s life in Paris so spent a good part of my time just wandering around her neighborhood (north of Montmartre in the 18th), shopping, etc.

Rather than a day by day trip report I’ll just mention a few of the highlights and the pros and cons of traveling the end of November:

Pros – half empty flights (transatlantic anyway)
cheap (as it gets) hotel rates
no tourists in places like Eze, Villefranche, etc

Cons – darkness – doesn’t get light out till 8 and dark by 4 and most of the days in Paris it was cloudy with some rain. But not completely and on the Cote d’Azure it was sunny. But overall, much less light. The cold wasn’t so bad but I think I hit a relatively mild spell. And when the sun was out it was a very beautiful light.
Construction – they use this time to do construction projects in the tourist areas – so crowds were replaced by shops/restaurants closed and lots of construction (in touristy places, especially on the Cote d’Azure). Being the week before December they were also putting up Christmas decorations/markets everywhere (Paris and Nice) but they weren’t done yet so much of it was more construction like than festive.
The places I went in Paris (more towards the non-touristy) were as crowded, if not more so than in March. There were plenty of tourists in Montmartre, Notre Dame, etc. and the shopping areas were crammed.
Overall, I probably wouldn’t choose November if I had a choice. But November versus nothing was a no-brainer. Europe in November is still better than not going at all.

As soon as I get time I'll post the hotel reviews and mention some of the things I did.

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    Isabel, your pictures of Paris are gorgeous! They make November in Paris truly beautiful. Thanks so much for posting them. I was just there for last 2 weeks of October, and these photos make me want to go right back.
    I haven't looked at the Cotes d'Azur ones yet - but will now. I'm sure I'm in for a treat.

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    Thank you so much Isabel for sharing your pictures. They are gorgeous and stunning even at low light!! Are you a professional photographer?

    We go to France fairly often but never during low season. We are prisoners of school vacation days but in a couple of years we hope to be able to do just that.

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    Glad you are enjoying the pictures. I was a little surprised myself when I looked at them that there was so much blue sky. In Paris most days it was pretty cloudy, although several days it was sunny in the morning, but mostly cloudy by mid day. The cote d'Azure was sunny most of the time.

    I stayed in three hotels, and I can recommend all of them. In Paris for the first weekend I stayed at the Hotel St Jacques, which I have stayed at before and really like. Their regular price for a single though is now 97€ and that's a bit high for me, I'm a pretty budget traveler. But they were having a winter promo for 70€ a night for three nights so I took it. It's a very well appointed hotel, rooms all ensuite with TV with CNN. They have a lift that goes to the fifth floor, my room on the sixth requires one flight of stairs. The location of the St Jacques, 35 rue des Ecoles is about as good as it gets - ten minutes walk to Notre Dame, Place St Mich, Lux Garden, etc. The prices are in line with other hotels so it's not over priced, but there are other hotels, slightly less "nice" but for less money. If you have the money stay at the St Jacques.

    I left for four days to go to Nice so needed to change hotels anyway for the second part of my Paris stay so decided to give a new hotel a try. I had read about the Hotel Marignan, 13, rue du Sommerard. A very basic one star, but a very good price and a great location (just a block or so from the St Jacques, a block from the Cluny) – ten minutes to Place St Mich, Notre Dame, Ile St Louis. Six floors and no lift but if you ask when making the reservation they will guarantee you a lower floor which they will honor, even if it means giving you a better room. I reserved and paid for a single with shower and toilet shared (sink in the room) but when they tried to put me on the sixth floor and I said no they changed me to a quad on the second floor with shower and sink (WC across the hall). I did have the email that stated third floor max. Basic but clean furnishings, no TV. Breakfast (bread, spreads, coffee, oj) included in the price. Plus they have a kitchen you can use and even a washer/dryer. Currently undergoing renovation so there was some sanding, etc going on during the day. I repeat – it’s a basic one star but it’s clean and the value and location make up for it. I paid 47€ night. I feel pretty good about this hotel but admit I might feel differently if they had not been able to give me another room on a lower floor. Or even if I had a tiny single on the lower floor (I did not see a single). I did see some other guests apparently having a problem with not getting what they had reserved so it’s possible they make this kind of mistake frequently. On the other hand, I met a woman who has stayed there several times over a number of years and loves it and chooses to stay there even though she can afford something better so she can “spend her money on other things”.http://www.hotel-marignan.comreserv-marignan@wanadoo.fr

    In Nice I stayed at Hotel Solara,7 rue de France. A basic 2 star but very good value for the price and a really superb location a block from the promenade/beach (and airport bus drop-off) and five minutes from Place Massina, ten from old town Nice (and bus stop). You can walk everywhere. The street is pedestrianized with lots of decent food options including a grocery store around the corner. The hotel is on the fourth floor (there is a lift – super tiny but effective) and some rooms are up another flight. Room(#8) had two single beds, desk, tv, mini-fridge, ensuite and a terrace with small table and two chairs (view of other buildings though, not the sea, but it is sunny). Very basic and bathroom is a few decades old but serviceable and staff is friendly and speak English. 50€ night. I think the high season rate is around 75€

    Flights – The transatlantic Air Canada flights were among the best I’ve ever experienced – and only partly because they were half empty and I had the seat next to me free in both directions. The entertainment system is wonderful, hundreds of selections including about 20 relatively recent movies, lots of TV, classics, etc., The seats are comfy and roomy. Food was at least average and both flights on time. The flight from BDL to Montreal was on a toy plane, just me and my 10 co-passengers, and that one was uncomfortable to say the least.

    Easy Jet was, well, it was easy jet. Cheap as long as you don’t need to check a bag (22€). Boarding was well organized but next time I’ll remember to check in (on line up to 60 days ahead) as early as possible as they board based on when you checked in, and checking in only a couple days ahead gets you in the last group. Only allowed one bag (including your pocketbook) so even though a lot of people did have more than one, they randomly pulled people off the line and made them check something (and pay for it). But on time and reasonably comfortable for an hour or two flight.

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    TDudette - thanks, the camera is a Panasonic FZ35. It's my third in that series that I've had and I love it. I also have two digital SLRs - Canon and Nikon(probably should sell at least one of them) and this is the one I take on trips.

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    Probably the most interesting part of this trip was the main reason for the trip – Thanksgiving in Paris. There were eleven of us – six Americans, three Brits, and two French. Most of the Americans and Brits are English teaching assistants in the French school system and everyone but me was in their 20s, most of them had also done study abroad in France while they were in college so are living here for the second time. The Americans shared traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Liz made stuffing and found some Ocean Spray Cranberry sauce at Le Bon Marche. The Brits and French were intrigued that the Americans thought it was a good thing if you got the cranberry sauce out of the can in one piece with the can ridges still intact. Ameri-Kate (as opposed to “UKate”) brought corn, and Stephan brought another veggie dish. KC made stuffed squash and stuffed tomatoes and stuffed mushrooms (sense a stuffing theme here?). The French brought smelly cheeses, bread and champagne. We had everything but the turkey which would have been pretty hard to do in a large toaster oven which is the only oven in the apartment, even if KC weren’t a vegetarian. As the kitchen table only seats two, we had a picnic on the floor of KC’s large room. Then the Americans all shared traditional Thanksgiving stories, including showing a you tube video of a muppets Thanksgiving) , the Brits shared their impressions of what they had heard about American Thanksgiving and the French just looked bored (but in a nice way).

    Since I was there the last week in November, Christmas decorations were going up all over France. If you are considering a trip at this time of year I’d suggest waiting till the first week in December, because a lot of where I went was “under construction” so to speak – in the process of putting up decorations so there were fork lift trucks, cranes, etc working on the decorations which kind of detracted from the ambiance. But by the time I left it was mostly done. Christmas decorations in France tend toward the silver, blue and purple end of the spectrum. Lots of glitz. In fact a shopkeeper who is originally from Denmark remarked to me that “the French do Christmas as if it were New Years Eve”.

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    Hi Nikki - wasn't Paris in November better than you expected. It sure looked so from your photos and I was pleasantly surprised. Not that it's as wonderful as spring or summer, but I was expecting much colder, darker and damper than I got.

    There are lots of Christmas markets. They are all really similar – little wooden houses/booths lining the streets ( Champs-Elysees) or grouped in squares. The biggest one was at La Defense. I’d never been to that part of Paris so that was another new experience for me. Of course I’ve known that most Parisians don’t’ live and work in the 5th or 6th or even the outer arrondisments but when you are visiting it’s easy to forget that and go with the romantic notion that beautiful central Paris is the whole thing. So seeing the glass high rise office buildings and modern, generic mall was interesting in a way. We stopped at the McDonalds by the metro stop to use the loo and get some coffee. They have a little “McCafe” stand in the middle of the McDonalds – even sell macaroons. The display case looked as good as any patisserie, completely different from anything you’d find in a McDs in the US.

    All the Christmas markets feature fabulous food and we had lunch at them on a couple of days. There was a crepe stand at the market on the Champs-Elysees with a little girl making crepes. She was about the most adorable little girl I’ve ever seen (besides my own two daughters of course) and looked so quintessentially French that she could have been right out of central casting. I started photographing her and immediately about ten other people came up behind me and did the same thing. She seemed to really enjoy it. One day we had grilled salmon sandwiches with herbed crème fraiche and another day we had sausages with onions and peppers. And lots of crepes, waffles, and hot chocolate.

    On Place de la Concorde there is a giant Ferris wheel set up. For 10€ you get a nice long ride in an enclosed capsule with views of all of central Paris. We had considered going to Angelina’s for hot chocolate but the line to get in looked to be hours long. The line for the Ferris wheel was about ten minutes. So we did that and then went to the café at the Petit Palace. Beautiful building, free museum, nice café.
    Late November may be low tourist season in some touristy areas (and hotel/airfare prices were lower) but there was certainly no lack of people in Paris. I had wanted to see the decorations at the grand magasins. Big mistake. The windows may have been fabulous but you can’t tell by me, we couldn’t even get close. The sidewalks for blocks around le Printemps and Galleries Lafayette were wall to wall people. At least as bad, probably worse than NYC at this time of year. Probably less crowded on a weekday morning but I wasn’t able to get there then. One Sunday morning we went to Musee Jacquemart Andre. It’s small, and not a major tourist museum so we were anticipating a nice quite experience. Till we got there and saw the line stretching down the block even to get in. KC’s French roommate later told us that is what Parisians do on Sunday mornings. I don’t know if lines are shorter at places like the Eiffle Tower or the Louvre, but just passing through the Louvre courtyard there was no shortage of people milling about.

    One of the major negative things I’d heard in advance of this trip – that Paris in November is DARK – turned out to be very true, but not so much a bad thing. It is after all the city of light and more hours of seeing it lit up is not a bad thing. And the clouds and the light during those few hours that the sun was out, was very pretty. But it’s true that it doesn’t get light out till after 8am, is dark again by 4:30-5:00 and was cloudy most days, at least a good part of most days.

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    Here's some more of what I did:

    Another off the beaten path thing was to visit Deyrolle (rue du Bac), a garden tools store/taxidermy shop. There are a few gardening tools and books on the first floor but 90% of the people who go there I’m sure are there to see the animals. Every imaginable creature – giraffe, elephant, baby chicks, alligator, bear, seagull – you name it. Very, very cool. The shop suffered a fire a few years ago – there are some interesting/disturbing photos of the charred animals – but you wouldn’t know it to go there now. They were either miraculously restored or not all the animals were damaged because there are a lot of animals, and they are in great shape. The place was packed on a rainy Saturday afternoon.


    On Monday morning in the pitch dark I took the metro/orlybus to Orly for my Easyjet flight to Nice. The bus, the airport and the flight were all jam packed. The flight itself was only about an hour and, voila, cloudy grey Paris was gone and sunny, warm blue skies and blue water of the Cote d’Azure replaced it. I’d been to the area before as part of a trip to Provence, but had just grabbed a rental car at the train station and headed for the hills so had never experienced Nice. Well, Nice is – nice! Very nice in fact, I really liked it. Long, lovely promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean with “azure “ blue water on one side and turn of the century belle-époque buildings across the palm tree lined boulevard. At one end is one of the prettiest carousels I’ve ever seen, and just beyond that, across Place Masséna, is Vieux Nice.

    After a quick painless 4€ bus ride from the airport (only 6 miles from the center of Nice, you can watch the planes taking off and landing from the promenade des Anglais), and a two block walk to my hotel, I headed down the pedestrian Rue du France to Place Masséna. It’s a huge square lined with deep reddish arcaded buildings and a large fountain. Car free since the tram opened a few years ago. But the Christmas decorations were going up so it was filled with fork lift trucks and strange scaffolding like apparatus. The little wooden huts for the Christmas village were waiting to open and there was an area full of Christmas trees for sale, kind of an odd sight amid the palm trees, at least for me as I come from the US northeast. The weird thing about Place Masséna is the statuary. There are huge silver poles with tiny statues of people sitting on top of them. At night they light up in changing colours. Sometimes I think ultra modern and old can go together nicely (like the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre) but I don’t think it worked here. By the end of the week, passing through the square several times a day, they kind of grew on me.

    Vieux Nice fells like many other Mediterranean old towns – it actually felt more like Italy (or Spain or Portugal) than France. In fact being so close to the Italian border there are as many gelaterias as creperies, as many Italian restaurants as French, and many of the place and street names are definitely Italian. The colors are all yellows, golds, apricots, peaches, pinks, ochers, rusts, etc. Slightly crumbling buildings, laundry flapping in the breeze, narrow streets opening onto small squares, churches almost hidden by the buildings that have been built beside them over the years. The largest square, cours Saleya, has a flower and veggie market most days, but on Monday it’s an antique/brocante market. Among the usual French stuff, one guy was selling old US license plates. Kind of a weird collectors item for France I thought.

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    My second day began with breakfast in my room - yogurt and OJ (I had a mini fridge). Then I walked through vieux Nice to the flower and veggie market - they have some amazing mushrooms I must say. Steps lead from here up to the top of Le Château. Rising sharply is the site where the ducs de Savoie built their castle, torn down in 1706. It is now a park with fabulous views in all directions. There is a lift you can take part way up but I found the stairs before I found the lift so I walked up.

    Next I found the bus station which isn't as scary as I had read and found the bus ( 1€, pay the driver) to Eze, a perched town only a few miles east of Nice. Pictures of Eze have adorned my home bathroom walls for ten years and I've wanted to go there ever since we got those posters. On the way out of town we came across a demonstration which meant the bus had to stop for a good ten minutes. That apparently made the bus late and the driver went even faster than normal (I'm basing "normal" on the speed of the bus on the way home) and at one point even jumped the curb causing everyone on the bus to go "oh la la" (I'm not making this up). This was probably the exact spot that Princess Grace met her demise. (It was the same road). When we got to Eze I realized, of course, that being a medieval hill town the bus stops quite a ways downhill from the interesting part of town, so another climb. Reasonably atmospheric and almost deserted. Only one japanese tour group, a couple of brits and me. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for the season. I wandered around taking a few hundred photos. I had read that the view from Eze over the Mediterranean is the best view short of a that from a space capsule. Unfortunately, from most of the town you don’t see much view at all. The best view is from the Jardin Exotique, which you have to pay to get into. Since it was very hazy and although there is certainly more blooming at this time of year in this area than in Paris (or Massachusetts) I didn’t think it would be worthwhile. Overall I liked the town, the fact that it was deserted was interesting. I’m sure when it’s wall to wall tourists it’s a different experience. But whether we appreciate it at the time or not, having some artist galleries/shops to browse through in towns like this does add something to the experience and that was missing this time.

    I managed to find the bus stop back to Nice (of course it is not the same spot as where the bus from Nice drops you off). The road, the Moyenne Corniche, is one of the most photogenic stretches of road I’ve ever seen. One beautiful breathtaking vista after another. Being on a bus you can’t stop every five seconds to appreciate it though. Taking buses/trains in the area is very easy and cheap and during most of the year I would think it would definitely be the way to go. At this time though, things were so quiet that driving and parking would have not been a problem.

    Back in Nice I went to a Monoprix for groceries and felt like a proper French lady walking home with my baguette under my arm. I now have enough food for breakfast and lunch/snacks for the next few days. I did stop for a gelato on the way home (we are almost at the Italian border so the gelato is very good).

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    I just realized that I never finished this report. The thread I had started while I was in Nice, asking questions about Monaco, just got topped - making me realize I never finished the report with the info on what I did in Monaco. So here it is.

    By the way, I redid my Paris photo gallery so now the November photos are included in that instead of their own gallery. But the Cote d'Azure still has it's own gallery. They are the first two galleries at: www.pbase.com/annforcier

    Anyway - here's the rest of the report:

    On Wednesday I took the bus to Villefranche sur Mer, a little fishing village just on the east side of Nice, so close you could actually walk there if you wanted to take the time. The tiny harbor was filled with actual fishing boats and a few sailboats but no yachts. Steep stepped streets of the old town flow directly down to the waterfront. The most interesting is Rue Obscure (literally dark street), entirely covered by vaulted arcades. The “old town” area is tiny, I walked and photographed every street and was done in an hour. There is a slightly larger “modern” area but I found the train station just on the other side of the old town and decided, I’m this close and it’s not even noon yet, might as well go to Monaco.

    I had had no interest in going to Monaco. I don’t like ostentatious displays of wealth and that was my impression of what Monaco would be like. I was partly right. Since I hadn’t planned to go I hadn’t researched it at all till the night before when the idea dawned on me that I’d probably have time to do it along with Villefranche. So I went on Fodors, posed a question and in a few hours had more than enough info for a short trip. Yea Fodors forum.

    The train station in Monaco only has three tracks but still manages to be gigantic and it took for bloody ever to get out of there. And it was not the front exit and I had no clue where I was or how to get to the Place d’Arms. Fortunately the first person I asked spoke English and told me (and every other person I asked for directions – I had no map so had to do more direction asking than usual – also spoke excellent/native English). I took the city bus up to the old town. Great views of the harbor and Monte Carlo to the east, nice little palace, beautiful cathedral, few nice “old town” streets. More tourists here than in Nice, Eze or Villefranche, some school groups mostly. Shop windows had evening gowns instead of table cloths and lavender products.

    I walked down the hill to the harbor which is probably nice “in season”, and in a few days will be filled with a Christmas village, but this day was a little construction site. I had brought a sandwich with me, good thing cause all the places I saw were exorbitantly expensive. Like 8€ for a gelato. I eventually found a patisserie with normal prices and got a yummy almond croissant to round out my ham and butter baguette sandwich. The harbor is full of all that epitomizes conspicuous consumption – thousands of grandiose, showy yachts. When I walk by a harbor of beautiful sail boats, even though I know I could never afford one, I like to dream what it might be like to sail around the Mediterranean or Agean on one. I had no desire what so ever to be aboard one of these.
    On the other side of the harbor is another hill – this one up to Monte Carlo. While I rather enjoyed old town Monaco, Monte Carlo was like the harbor but with buildings instead of boats – conspicuous consumption in all it’s glory. The buildings are mostly very pretty, I’ll give them that. The opera house/main casino building is very beautiful. But overall I’ve never seen so many exorbitant, extravagant clothes and cars in any one place. Kind of interesting to note that while most of the people I saw were extremely fashionably dressed, they weren’t very attractive. Botoxed perhaps, but not very good looking. Money can only buy so much I guess. The whole experience was a bit like going to the zoo – only instead of animals I was looking at people, cars and $40,000 watches. Interesting, but I was glad to leave.

    Back in Nice I took a few minutes walk detour from the train station to see the cathedral Russe (Russian Orthodox Church). It was a real “wow”. A gilded, exotic and elaborate edifice built in the early 1900s by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. It is supposedly the most beautiful religious edifice of the Orthodoxy outside Russia, and a perfect expression of Russian religious art abroad. It dates from the Belle Epoque, when a few of the Romanovs and their entourage turned the Riviera into their vacation playground. Very interesting juxtaposition: the traditional Russian onion towers against the tropical palm trees.

    My last full day in Nice I went to Antibes, by train. Every train that morning was delayed by at least a half hour for some inexplicable reason but the trip itself was less than a half hour. Antibes is also a nice town. Much less touristy than most in the region, it has a “healthy” “modern” section and a nice, albeit small, old town. Nice view of the old ramparts, backed by medieval towers, along the sea front. In the center of the old town is a covered market with all the regular produce as well as a huge assortment of Provencal specialties like olives, olive oil, honey, spices, etc. Most of the vendors were not only offering, but pushing, samples – I practically had lunch just by walking through it. There were several other outdoor markets the day I was there – a couple of antique/brocante markets, a clothes market, etc. The Picasso museum, like so much else on the Cote d’Azure in late November, was closed.

    Although it was pretty warm (high 60s, low 70s) and sunny during the middle of the day, it still got dark early – sunset (magnificent along the promenade des Anglais) was exactly at 5 pm. But the vieux Nice is even prettier after dark. The slightly dirty facades become golden in the lamp light and the narrow streets become busy with shoppers, café sitters, etc.
    All in all, I loved the Cote d’Azure.

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