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Trip Report Tournez à gauche, Tournez à droite? Maitai’s Scenic Detour Through France

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With all the trip reports floating around Fodor’s, I’m surprised we ran into anyone speaking French in France during our 18-day adventure that lasted from late September through mid-October. Once again, even after warnings from their children, our friends Kim and Mary joined us on this trip.

Despite the fact that my liver is now only slightly better off than those of the ducks and geese we saw (and devoured) in the Dordogne (yes, I have a full blown case of foie gras remorse), our journey through the Dordogne (five nights in Sarlat), Loire (three nights in Amboise and one in the underrated city of Angers), Normandy (three nights in Bayeux and one night in Honfleur) and Paris (two nights at the beginning and three at the end) was completed without causing an international incident.

Outside of a minor (although pretty, damn bloody) injury at the Limoges’ train station (I’m getting old) and a harrowing, yet rather enthralling, drive through the streets of Paris (I swear I was NOT the guy who hit the Arc de Triomphe), we escaped relatively unscathed.

The French countryside of the Dordogne was all it was cracked up to be and more, the Loire chateaux once again impressed, Bayeux’s tapestry and the D-Day tour we took illuminated us and Honfleur turned out to be a terrific spot to relax before heading back to Paris (and my death-defying drive through the city).

Unlike French school children, we did our homework before we left, so we were prepared for the excursion that had been delayed a year and a half due to that pesky “Near-Death” experience I had a couple of years ago.

Our hotel choices turned out to be mostly fantastic, and, except for a couple of meals early in the trip, we dined at some really good restaurants and had some incredible meals along the way. Luckily, our foursome stayed true to our motto of, “1,000 Stairs A Day or Five Miles of Walking Whichever Come First,” so we all did not return as fat as a stuffed goose.

For the better part of two weeks, we were “guided” by our dueling and multilingual GPS Systems that allowed us to see parts of the country we didn’t expect (and often times didn’t necessarily want) to see. During those driving excursions, my passengers complained continuously of nausea after my multiple circle-drives navigating the country’s many roundabouts.

So without any further fanfare (oh wait, there hasn’t been any), welcome to Tournez à gauche, Tournez à droite? Maitai’s Scenic Detour Through France

Days One & Two – Debugging Device, Are We Flying to CDG or The CDC, Look Ma No Hands, Don’t Drop The Soap, Chalk Talk, Hey Moe Is That Larry, Please Stop Drooling on The Monet, Do Not Close Your Eyes Under Any Circumstance and The Crepes Of Wrath

As I always say, any flight that ends with a safe landing is a good one, and obviously we arrived at CDG safely on our non-stop flight from LAX on Air Tahiti Nui. However, spending 12 hours confined in a plane that had more diseased people than the Mayo Clinic, was not particularly fun.

Before I get to that, the flight began a little weirdly, because as we sat on the tarmac at LAX, two flight attendants walked though all the cabins spraying something from an aerosol can. At first, I thought it might be some sort of deodorant spray to offset the fact that I had taken a rather quick shower.

However, we were told over the intercom (after the spraying) that it was insect spray, and this was done on all flights going to Charles De Gaulle (although they did not do this on our friends’ Kim and Mary’s flight). The voice said the spray was harmless, but if we were worried we should cover our eyes and mouth.

Curiously, this message was related to the passengers about three minutes after the flight attendants had come through the cabin, we figured the carcinogens had already permeated our bodies, and we proceeded to contact our next of kin.

Before we took off, the woman sitting in the row behind us set an all-time aircraft record for the most (and loudest) nose blows in history. Just as the plane got airborne, she blew such a honking loud one, I was sure we had hit a skein of geese. I have to stop watching Seconds From Disaster the night before we fly.

By the time we were over Chicago, the cacophony of coughs and the syncopated sneezing reached such a crescendo, I was just wishing I could get a breath of fresh air.

When I told Tracy that, she said (without missing a beat), “I wish we were sitting next to Mitt Romney, so he could roll the window down.” Since it was minus 57 degrees centigrade outside at the time, I was glad that Mitt’s pre-election request that airplanes be built with windows that opened had not been implemented.

About four hours into the flight, I believe more than half the passengers on the plane were hacking up a lung. “Are we flying to CDG or the CDC?” I said. Instead of love, it was Influenza that was in the air on this Paris flight.

A short time later, a voice came over the intercom and asked something you never want to hear on an airliner. “Is there a doctor on board?” I thought we were going to star in our own movie version of Contagion. Thankfully, we never heard anything else, and as we disembarked in Paris there were no dead bodies to step over, and I witnessed no chalk outlines.

Going through customs at CDG was a breeze (unlike our return to LAX), and within about 45 minutes Kim and Mary wandered in from their San Diego/Dallas/CDG flight, and the trip was officially underway.

The cab ride from CDG was 55€, and was quite a thrill ride as our taxi driver sped along the highway at high rates of speed while only occasionally putting his hands on the steering wheel or looking at the road. He was, however, quite obsessed with his cell phone, and it was at this point that I was happy Tracy and I had revised our will. On the plus side, we’ve never had such a quick trip into Paris from the airport.

We arrived at our hotel for the next two nights, the Hotel De La Paix Montparnasse (225 Boulevard Raspail). The lobby was charming and there was a nice breakfast room, but since breakfasts at hotels in Paris are usually overpriced, we did not take partake the following morning.

The rooms were small, but clean and comfortable. After a long flight, we all decided to take a shower (no, not together), and both showers provided a challenge. They were so small that…well, let me just say I am glad I declined that second croissant on the plane.

If you dropped the soap, it would have been quite an ordeal to retrieve it. We always love the unique bathing options in Europe, and this trip afforded the group many experiences.

Refreshed, we walked a block to a restaurant that was recommended by our hotel for lunch (the staff at Hotel De La Paix Montparnasse was excellent). Bistrot des Campagnes, 6 Rue Leopold Robert, had an enticing chalkboard menu. Of course, our bilingual (in our dreams) crew could only decipher about two of the 15 items, and our perplexed look did not go unnoticed by our server.

Our waiter, who I think might have been the owner or manager, was very patient and explained all the menu items all to us. Kim and I tried the chicken supreme (the hot, sweet mustard that accompanied this dish was remarkable). Mary had a salmon tartare and a confit de canard with pommes frites. Tracy tried the Napoleon de legumes (eggplant and zucchini) topped with an egg.

We shared a large carafe of wine, and the bill hit 76.30€ for the four of us. Our goal for the rest of the day and evening was to stay awake until the magic 9 o’clock hour to prevent the dreaded jet lag.

The fresh air did us well, so we walked a bit, bypassing a metro stop or two. Then we hopped on the Paris metro (my favorite mass transportation system in the world) and took it near to the Musée d’Orsay. The museum was pretty slammed on this Wednesday afternoon, but we lucked out when they opened a second line right as we got there. Admission was 9€, and in we went.

The first statue I saw looked exactly like Larry from The Three Stooges, so for a moment I thought we had stepped into the wrong museum. Then I looked back at the big clock and realized we were fine (not Larry Fine, but fine).

For the first 45 minutes or so of traversing the Musée d’Orsay, I thought I was going to be able to make it through the day rather easily. It’s when I started drooling near one of the Monet paintings that I realized I must Van Gogh back outside Toulouse this sleepy feeling (art humor is not that easy).

Still showing no ill effects from their long flight, our intrepid traveling partners stayed for a little while longer to enjoy this beautiful museum. Meanwhile, in attempt not to fall asleep on the sidewalk, Tracy and walked for a bit (until it started pouring) before returning to the hotel.

It was at about 5:30, as we watched CNN International, that our eyes began to get heavier and heavier, although we were trying with all our might to keep them open. Nearly asleep, Kim and Mary called the room to tell us they were back. We all agreed to an early dinner, so we didn’t lapse into a coma.

None of us wanted to have an expensive or drawn out dinner, since it would have been kind of a waste in our wasted condition (Kim and Mary were also hitting the wall by now).

I had heard about a nearby restaurant that supposedly served the best crepes in Paris, so we agreed to give it a try. We hit the Creperie Josselyn a little before seven and got one of the few remaining tables. By the time we left about an hour to 90 minutes later, the line waiting to get in stretched all the way to Lyon. Outside of four weary Americans, the crowd was pretty hip. We were just tying not to break a hip.

Sorry to say, but we were all rather underwhelmed by the dinner crepes. They weren’t bad, but maybe the place is a little over-hyped. I will say, however, my Flambé Orange Crepe smothered in Grand Marnier for dessert did give the place a nice comeback. We really weren’t all that disappointed in the meal, since we weren’t looking for anything special anyway.

To insure we would fall asleep, we stopped by a nearby café, Bisto La Petite Rotonde (it was raining pretty hard by now) and shared a bottle of French vin rouge to toast another start to a trip.

We all got to bed a little after 9 p.m., and just as I had hoped, nobody saw the light of day until eight the next morning (although it was still pretty dark at that hour). Eleven hours of sleep! Jet lag averted! Paris and future French destinations await! Yeah, life is good.

Next: Day Three – Cheer Cheer For Old Notre Dame, Church Goers, Silver Lining, Pantheon Sans Sperm, You Might Rue Our Description Of This Street, Sherpa Revisited, On Track For Limoges, Dinner Quandary and Didn’t I Buy One Of These At Trader Joes Last Week

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