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Trip Report Three Short Days in Paris + Giverny & Rouen

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Paris Pictures: see http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,380,1,0,0-paris-france.html
Giverny Pictures: see http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,381,1,0,0-giverny-france.html
Rouen Pictures: see http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,382,1,0,0-rouen-france.html

This was my fourth visit to Paris (first time to Rouen or Giverny) - the start of a ten day trip that would continue in Luxembourg and Belgium. I first visited Paris in 2000, when I fell in love with it. I visited again in 2002 and 2009. I’ve seen lots more of Europe since that first visit, and my excitement about Paris has faded a bit, but I still enjoy going back every once in a while.

(If you’re planning a first trip to Paris, this rambling report may not be of much help, as I’d already seen most of the “highlights” of Paris on previous trips. Also, I’m not exactly a restaurateur, so don’t look for restaurant recommendations here, either. I didn’t eat a single sit-down meal in France.)

I’ve taken a few nice pictures and more almost-nice pictures in Paris over the years and have a photographer’s obsession with perfection, so re-shooting from some favorite Paris spots was high on my list of things to do on this trip. I also wanted to re-visit some favorite places, see a few new things, and enjoy wandering around the beautiful City of Light.

I didn’t have great weather in Paris this time, so even though I still took a lot of pictures, I was a bit disappointed in them. To see what Paris looks like in better weather (in the fall) with some nice shots of the Eiffel Tower, see these pictures from my previous visit:

2009 Paris Pictures: http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,298,1,0,0-paris-france.html

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    Paris Arrival and Day One

    I started my ten day trip to Europe with three nights in Paris before heading on to Luxembourg. (One of those Paris days would be devoted to a day trip to Giverny and Rouen. )

    The USAir flight (coach) from Philly to Paris was routine and on time. I had only two carry-on bags (one a big camera bag full of camera stuff). Immigration, as usual at CDG, was quick and efficient. I took the RER B train from CDG into central Paris; I bought a ticket at the ticket machine with my new chipped Visa card and into Paris I went! Unfortunately, our RER train was stuck for about 25 minutes just before the Gare du Nord RER station. I was tired and of course wanted to check in to the hotel and get going! Finally our train lurched ahead and I connected at Chatelet to RER A, got off Auber, and walked to my hotel, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, not even ten minutes. Very easy.

    Paris hotels are notoriously expensive, but got lucky: I was able to rescue two Hyatt hotel award nights that were to expire in April right before my trip, Hyatt helpfully extended them into May. And then - two available nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, an expensive, highly regarded hotel, completely free!!! I booked the third night via Priceline at the Holiday Inn Gare de la Est, convenient for an early morning train to Luxembourg at the end of my Paris visit.

    The Hyatt Vendome was beautiful, elegant, expensive. The discount rate was almost as much as my airfare! In fact, I felt quite under-dressed and out of place there, almost like Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop” trying to check in to a nice hotel! There was no room ready when I checked in about 10AM, so I left my bags and went out to walk around Paris a bit, then came back later to check in. My room was on the 2nd floor - probably one of the “least nice” rooms in the hotel, on the same floor as conference rooms, facing the courtyard (with a little private balcony), but it was still a beautiful room and quiet enough. There was absolutely nothing to complain about. I felt incredibly lucky. A free room at a Motel 6 would have been good enough.

    Unfortunately, it was rainy and overcast when I arrived, just as predicted by the ever-gloomier weather forecast I’d been following for days. What do you do when come to Paris to take pictures and it’s raining? I had a museum or two in mind that I might have visited, but most of museums I was interested in or hadn’t seen before were closed. So I headed up to La Defense, one of the few new places on my list.

    La Defense isn’t on most tourist agendas, at least for a first visit to Paris. It’s a modern, urban neighborhood outside Paris’s historic core, built in the 1980s. But if you’ve been to Paris before like I had and you’ve seen “old Paris,” La Defense is definitely worth at least a quick visit to walk around. It’s really cool! Everything seems vastly oversize: tall glass skyscrapers, huge plazas, and a giant Arch, Le Grande Arche, that dwarfs even the Arc de Triomphe. You need a wide angle lens to do justice to this area (or walk very far back).

    Without great light to inspire me to take many pictures, I tried to find other things to do on this first jet lagged day in Paris. (I follow the philosophy of staying up all day and not napping on the arrival day in Europe, to try to overcome jet lag). One museum was open on Tuesday: Musée de l'Armée (the Army Museum) at Les Invalides which included Napoleon’s Tomb. I’m not sure why this museum eluded me on past trips, as I do like military history and was certainly familiar with the gold dome at Invalides. Finally visiting now, I headed for the World War I/World War II section, which I thought would be the most interesting to me. But I found the museum a huge disappointment. I am kind of a World War II buff, having read numerous books about it, and I found the coverage of World War II mostly an overview. I guess if you hadn’t known much about the war you might have found it educational, but I was soon bored. At least I got to see Napoleon’s tomb - somewhat interesting and historically important.

    Later I walked over to the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens), perhaps my favorite spot in Paris. This is an amazing (and huge) garden that many Parisians enjoy on nice days, and I had never seen it in the spring. On my last visit in October 2009, the trees had mostly turned fall colors and it was warm; on this gloomy May afternoon, the park was mostly deserted. Some of the trees were beautiful and blooming but the huge park was almost empty and lifeless.

    I kept walking to stay awake, hiked into St. Germain, walking seemingly forever, grabbed food (take-away pizza in St. Germain). Finally I headed back to the Hyatt.

    I had a photo objective almost every evening around dusk - which was around 10PM in May - and the first night my objective was to shoot the Eiffel Tower with the Seine in the foreground, with boats going by in long exposure, making streaks of light. I tried this in 2002 but was unsatisfied with my pictures and now had a much better camera, anyway, so i wanted to try again. I found a convenient bus from Rue de Rivoli not far from my hotel right up to and past the Eiffel Tower, to where I wanted to go. (Sometimes the buses in Paris are much more direct and easy than two Metro lines.) I got to my view of the Tower about 9:30, but I couldn’t quite nail the original location, and there weren’t many boats on the river anyway. (Owing to poor weather? Or the late hour?)

    Then it started to drizzle. And I was feeling a bit exhausted, having not slept in almost two days, standing on a bridge in the rain with my camera on a tripod, looking at the beautiful Eiffel Tower lit up at night, waiting for a boat to come down the river and help make my picture. Buses weren’t running often by that late hour, so I didn’t stay long. I caught a bus back, still had a 15 minute walk back to the hotel, got a bath, and finally went to bed around midnight.

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    Paris - Day Two

    I slept like a baby - until 10AM! Ten hours!!! I woke up and peeked out to seek the sun shining. Get UP! I cursed myself for sleeping so late, even though I was so tired. Who knew how much more sun I’d see in Paris? I got dressed, inhaled some cookies for breakfast, and headed to the nearby Opera Metro station to buy a Mobilis Metro pass (day pass) and get moving.

    My second big photography goal in Paris was to shoot better pictures of the amazing Alexandre III Bridge. This bridge is adorned with numerous gold statues and is just breathtaking. I wanted to shoot it with some light on it! (Plus, I have a thing for photographing bridges.) So this was my first destination. I got down to the bridge soon enough. The sun was still shining, sort of, popping in and out! It was one of those frustrating days (for photographers) with scattered clouds, so the sun would come out here and there. If you’re trying to photograph a bridge in the daytime, you don’t want part of it lit by the sun and part of it muted by clouds. So a lot of patience was required to wait for the clouds to move until the sun fully lit the bridge. Plus, it’s an awkward bridge to photograph from some angles.

    I walked along the Seine toward the Notre-Dame and the Île Saint-Louis. There are lots of bridges along the way, some of them interesting, but the sun had gone back in for a while. Soon I made it to the Notre-Dame, which was celebrating its 850th anniversary. There was an outdoor exhibit in front of it with bleacher, booths, etc - not really what you want in your photographs. I peeked inside - I’d never even done that before. Then I grabbed some take-away food and ate it on the bleachers in front of the Notre-Dame.

    Next on my agenda: the viewpoint on top of the Galeries Lafayette department store/indoor mall. The views are pretty nice but the sun was hiding again. Pictures with overcast skies just aren’t that appealing! (If you’re tired by now of reading my complaints about the weather - I apologize!) At least it wasn’t far from my hotel. The view inside the Galeries Lafayette is itself pretty cool.

    Next, another museum on my agenda: the Musée de l'Orangerie, the highlight of which is Monet’s famous “Water Lilies” impressionist paintings. Because I planned to visit Monet’s garden (the inspiration for the work) in Giverny the next day, I thought I’d see the paintings first. It’s not a huge museum, and Monet’s huge paintings don’t take long to see (but you can kind of dwell a little) I felt compelled to see most everything else on display in the museum (downstairs) in addition to Monet’s work.

    Walking out of the museum (at the end of the Tuileries Garden by Place de la Concorde) - the sun was back out! Back to the nearby Pont Alexandre III. The light was different in the afternoon than in the morning, so the pictures would be different.

    Finally I made my way by Metro up to the Arc de Triomphe and the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysees. I’ve photographed the Arch several times before before, but I drawn to the monument (originated by Napoleon) for some reason and always feel compelled photograph it again. The sky was getting hazy again, so it was probably a waste of time. (My 2009 pictures are much better.) It was rush hour and was plenty of traffic driving around the Arch.

    On the nearby Champs-Elysees, I ate at one of the expensive restaurants there called Quick Burger. (that’s a joke.) I would have eaten at McDonalds, but the lines were too long. Parisians love McDonalds; Quick Burger to Parisians seems to be what McDonalds is to Americans. If you haven’t noticed: I didn’t eat fancy meals in Paris!

    Then I headed back to the Hyatt to grab my tripod and right back to the Arc de Triomphe to shoot it at dusk. I was hoping to re-shoot some more pictures from 2002: long exposure shots along the Champs-Elysees with the car lights making streaks in the picture. I thought about going back to try the Eiffel Tower again...but this seemed easier. Some of my shots came out well but I still didn’t think they were as good as the ones from 2002. Never satisfied...

    It was getting late again, but I made one last dash via Metro back out to La Defense, to photograph Le Grande Arche at night. And then, it started to rain again! Then, metro and RER back to the Hyatt.

    As I walked back to the Hyatt I passed the beautiful Paris Opera and decided to photograph it at night, too, just for good measure. Some guy in an old VW bug broke down right in front of the Opera and kept flagging down people to give him a jump start, but it would never stay running...and then he’d flag down someone else and try again. With the car’s trunk lid up, it was a colorful car and might have made for some sort of clever picture - but I was tired and wanted a shot of the Opera, and it was ruining my shot! (Finally he pushed it out of the way.)

    Back at the Hyatt, I took a bath and again got to bed just after midnight. I slept OK. Jet lag wasn’t too bad; it’s usually worst for me my second night, so that’s a good sign.

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    Paris - Day Three plus Giverny and Rouen.

    I set my alarm early to catch an 8:20 train to Vernon (Giverny), but when I woke up and looked outside...it was drizzling. Any point in going to Monet’s garden in the rain, instead of enjoying this beautiful hotel and comfortable bed for a few hours longer? I went back to bed.

    Waking up a little later, I decided to head to Rouen, my planned second day trip stop (Vernon and Rouen are on the same train line). I packed up my bags and with some sadness checked out of Hyatt, but I was able to leave my biggest bag at the hotel while I was gone all day. There was a train to Rouen at 10:20, leaving from nearby Gare Saint-Lazare, and I had some time to kill. So I decided to take one last walk through the nearby Tuileries Garden down and by the Seine for a last look at Paris, as I planned to get back to Paris late and leave early the following morning (to Luxembourg). I crossed over the Pont de Solférino pedestrian bridge (and found a cool statue of Thomas Jefferson), and happened upon a bus direct to Saint-Lazare, saving me a walk back.

    Unfortunately, the bus got stuck in traffic in the busy Place de la Concorde traffic circle! And I had no train ticket. Geez - how many times have I gotten to a train station late on my various trips to Europe? Will I ever learn to arrive early for a train? The train to Rouen was leaving at 10:20 and the bus finally arrived at about 10:05. OK, where are the automated ticket machines? Found them...but they weren’t working (or couldn’t sell me a ticket to Rouen), and the line to buy a ticket from an agent was too long - I’d miss the train. I asked a conductor if I could buy a ticket on the train, and she told me there would be a 10 euro surcharge for doing so. Great - what other choice did I have? I hopped on the crowded train (not reserved) and found a seat.

    Giverny Pictures: see http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,381,1,0,0-giverny-france.html

    The train to Rouen would first stop in Vernon (Giverny). By now the sky was clearing a bit, and by time we got to Vernon, the conductor hadn’t come by. Why not go for Giverny after all (plus save that 10 Euro surcharge)? So I got off, cutting off the conversation I’d been having with an Aussie couple next to me. (Hey, I thought you said you were going to Rouen?)

    You can walk or bike from Vernon to Giverny, but it’s (I think) about three miles each way. With a heavy camera bag, I opted for one of the crowded shuttle/tourist buses instead. The line to get on the buses was long and slow enough that I had time to buy a train ticket on to Rouen so I’d be legal for the next train trip!

    By the time the slow bus finally arrived in the big parking lot at Giverny, it was just before noon. BUSY. There was a long line just to buy tickets to get into Monet’s house (and garden). They limit how many people can go in at one time. Why hadn’t I gotten up as planned and come early after all? (You can also buy tickets online ahead of time and skip the line no matter when you arrive, but of course I hadn’t done that either.) Still, as impatient as I was to get into the garden, the next train to Rouen was a few hours off, so I need not have rushed, anyway. But who loves waiting in line? Once I finally got in, I had plenty of time in the gardens - it’s just that they now were mobbed with people. Photography was challenging enough with the iffy-sun and light. I hated having people in my shots in the gardens, but it was hard to avoid them.

    Monet’s gardens and ponds were beautiful (despite the mobs), but the whole thing was a big tourist trap, the kind of thing I’ve tried to avoid on recent trips to Europe. I hated the whole experience. But this was one of those things you do anyway, even though you know they are touristy. Or - you do them smarter than I did (come early, buy your ticket in advance).

    After the shuttle bus from Giverny dropped me off back at Vernon train station, I still had maybe a half hour before the train to Rouen. I couldn’t find any cheap food in the station, and restaurants nearby were closed. (There are a few restaurants in Giverny itself but nothing that seemed fast or cheap.) I found one grocery store near the station, grabbed a soda, and ate some snacks I’d brought with me for lunch.

    Rouen Pictures: see http://portlandbridges.com/00,0,382,1,0,0-rouen-france.html

    By the time I finally got to Rouen, the sun was out through cloud breaks just as in Paris the day before. I checked the train schedule for returning from Rouen to Paris and picked a “target” train I’d hope to make to go back. Then I walked from the train station down the hill to the center of Rouen, which is quite nice. The ubiquitous timber framed houses all over the old town are pretty cool. The area around the Church of Saint Joan of Arc (a modern church) had plenty of people sitting outside at the cafes on Friday afternoon. There are a few stores under the church, too. There’s also the huge Rouen Cathedral a few blocks away and the nearby Great Clock (Le Gros Horloge) that catches your eye as you head toward the cathedral.

    By contrast to the bustling Old Town, the Seine waterfront in Rouen is pretty dull - separated from the old town by busy roads. But Rouen has one really cool modern bridge over the Seine, the Pont Guillaume-le-Conquérant, something I wanted to photograph. I hiked out to a fairly decent spot along the river to photograph it, but the sky wasn’t cooperating. I could see the sun kind of poke through but it kept fooling me. I sat for quite a while watching the bridge and the river, as bicycles passed me on the waterfront and boats went by, waiting for better light but it never came. I got the best pictures I could and finally called it a day.

    With an eye on catching the next train back to Paris, I started my 15 minute hike back to the train station. I grabbed a take-away meatball sandwich from (yes!) Subway, to eat on the way back to Paris, because I was starving again, and just made the train. The ride back to Paris was comfortable but not memorable.

    Back in Paris, I managed to get back in plenty of time to get my bags from the Hyatt and take the Metro over to the Holiday Inn by Gare de l’est. The hotel wasn’t full, but I almost had to beg for a room with a single queen bed instead of two twins (I’m tall, those twin beds are too small for me) - come on, I know I got a good price at the Holiday Inn with Priceline, but still!

    I could have gone back out a last night to take more dusk shots in Paris - but I was just tired and had an early train, so I stayed in for the rest of the night and ended my trip to Paris. (And then on to Luxembourg and Belgium.)

    This wasn’t my favorite trip to Paris. Yes, who can predict the weather? But rain and overcast skies usually aren’t a photographer’s friends. Plus, the late sunsets were a challenge for shooting pictures at dusk, when I was tired and jet-lagged. This was very different from my first trip to Paris back in 2000, when I fell in love with the city. It didn’t dazzle me like it once did, and Paris felt a lot bigger than I’d remembered.

    Rouen was nice. Giverny was ultra-touristy, but Monet’s garden was beautiful.

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    I am still dying to get to Giverny but I will be up and out for the first train to Vernon (first I have to plan a trip when Giverny is open). I have had some recent interest in Rouen, so interested ti hear about your time there.

    Andrew, I beg of you...sit down for a meal sometime! Doesn't have to be opulent but I am cringing over Subway and Quick Burger! :-)

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    Your courtyard balcony room was probably an upgrade. We've only gotten a balcony once in 3 stays. Love the hotel!

    denisea,
    It's worth training to Rouen just to eat at Gill! Aside from eating, we enjoyed our time in the town very much too ;)

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    Hi Julia! Yes, Rouen is a nice town. I do regret not having had a chance to have a meal there, but there just wasn't time with my hectic day trip. An overnight there would probably be fun and more relaxing.

    Denisea, I've eaten plenty of meals in Paris before. But I often don't bother dining alone when I'm in Europe - depends on the circumstances, the place, how busy I am. Service as we all know is intentionally slow in Europe so one can enjoy the experience. Sometimes I'd rather just have a quick bite and get back to the hotel and get to bed earlier after a busy day instead of spending an extra hour waiting for service, waiting for the bill, etc. I did eat at restaurants on this trip in Bruges and Luxembourg City, smaller towns where I could get around more easily at a more relaxed pace than Paris was for me this time.

    Patty, I guess I was lucky then at the Hyatt! I didn't realize a balcony was any sort of upgrade. For the prices they charge, all the rooms should have balconies!

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    Patty- we will get to Rouen!

    OK, Andrew...just don't want all your meals on vaca to be on the run. If you read any of my stuff I spend too much time at the dinner table!! Or seeking out the best pastries.

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