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Trip Report Trip Report -Prague, Kutna Hora, Karlstejn, Paris and Chartres

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I recently returned from a trip to the Czech Republic and France. This was my second time in the CR and the third in France. I wanted to use my time to do some new things as well as visit old favorites. I traveled alone and am a budget traveler.

I was overdue for a jaunt to Europe, after an absence of 2 years. I had been monitoring airfare and prices have been awful for the months I can travel. I received an email with an offer from an online company called Go-Today that was actually better than if I booked independently, so I took a chance and went for it. Go-Today sells hotel and air packages, and they set it all up. I was a little worried, but it went off without any trouble. I feel comfortable recommending them to others and would consider using them again if the price was right.

Here’s a little trip report. I am not a foodie, so there won’t be much reporting on meals (I skipped meals at times). For anyone who has read any of my other trip reports, this trip was at a slower pace. I was a little bit lazy this time and instead of trying to cram in countless sights, I was happy to just meander and enjoy the atmosphere.

June 26 – Departure from Houston on Air France to Prague, connecting in Paris. The flight out of Houston was delayed by three hours due to mechanical trouble. Luckily, my layover allotment was five hours, so it worked out. By the time I made it to my gate for the departure to Prague, I had 20 minutes before boarding. I don’t sleep on planes, so the travel was a little bit grueling. Bring back the Concorde! Well, even if the Concorde did come back, it wouldn’t be in my budget!

June 27- First day on the ground in Prague. I had arranged with my hotel, the Carlton, for a driver to pick me up at the airport. For the first time in my life, I was one of those people with her name on a sign board in the arrivals hall. I thought that was kind of cool. I appreciated the set fare of 650 Czech crowns (czk), because traffic was a bit gnarly and it took a while to get to my hotel. Had I been in a cab with the meter running, there’s no telling what the bill would have been.

The Hotel Carlton was good. Staff are friendly and helpful, the facilities are very clean, and while it is not in the tourist zone, I could get to where I wanted to go by way of convenient tram services. Each day I bought a 24 hour pass from the front desk for 110 czk (they didn’t sell the three day passes and I couldn’t be bothered to buy such a pass at the train station or major metro station).

After freshening up, I took the tram to Wenceslas Square (maybe 10 minutes max) and then started wandering. I walked around the Municipal House and Powder tower area. I walked down to the Old Town Square. I purchased a ticket to go to the top of the old City Hall clock tower (100 czk). It was really cool up there! It was crowded, so there was some jostling, but not too bad.

After the tower, I spent the rest of the evening wandering around and then went to Bohemia Bagel for dinner. I had gone to a different location of this chain last time I was in Prague and loved it, but this location (old town) was awful.

By the time I finished (gave up really) on dinner, I was really tired, having been going nonstop without sleep for more than 24 hours. I walked back to Wenceslas Square, popped into Marks and Spencer to pick up some treats (happily acquiring my favorite “Extremely Chocolatey Mini Bites”) and then took the tram back to the hotel. I took advantage of the grocery store across from the hotel and picked up some bottled water and Sprite (very reasonable prices) and then I crashed for the night. The hotel was quiet and I was able to have a decent sleep.

Tram tip: While at a tram stop and trying to figure out if you will be going in the correct direction, find your stop on the schedule listed. It should be in bold and underlined (or caps). If your destination stop is listed below the stop you are currently standing at, you are going in the correct direction. If your destination is above, you need to cross the street and find the stop for the tram going the opposite direction.

June 28 – Prague Castle day. I didn’t get up as early as I normally do, but that was ok, I’m on vacation! After the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (assortment of breads, cold cuts, fruits, yogurt, etc), I took tram #9 to the stop by the national theatre, Narodni divadlo and then I caught tram #22 to the castle complex, alighting at Prazsky Hrad.
I made my way to the Royal Gardens, which are simple, calm and lovely. After checking them out, I went and purchased my ticket to the castle, opting for the “short visit” which includes St. Vitus, St. George Basilica, Old Royal Palace, Daliborka Tower, and Golden Lane.

Noticing no line at the post office, I popped in and purchased postage for the postcards I knew I would eventually be buying and sending to friends back home. It costs about $1 (US) to mail a postcard back home.

St. Vitus Cathedral really is a beautiful church. There is a lot of light in the church and the stained glass windows are magnificent. It wasn’t as busy or crowded as I was fearing it would be (this was about 11 am).

The Old Royal Palace doesn’t have a lot to see, but is still interesting. St. George’s Basilica is different from any other church I’ve seen in Prague, unique, but not the most beautiful or awe-inspiring.

Golden Lane, filled with souvenir shops, didn’t interest me. I just was not into shopping at all on this trip. I feel moderately bad that I didn’t bring back any gifts on this trip other than candy (I’ll never not bring back candy!).

I exited the complex and enjoyed the beautiful views of the city down below before making my way down the steps. I wandered around the Mala Strana including a visit to St. Nicholas Church. The interior is beautiful, but very busy with all the decorative elements.

By the time I was done with the church, I was pretty hungry, so I succumbed to the golden arches. I had a chicken nugget meal in the Czech Republic, yes, I did. A six piece meal, with large coke, bottle of water, large fries, and two ketchup packets came out to be around 180 czk (they charge extra for the ketchup, without the ketchup would have been 150 czk).

Bathroom/WC usage in most places in Prague requires payment. Mc Donalds, for example, has a turnstyle machine in which you must drop 10 czk to gain entrance. Be sure to always have a supply of 10 czk coins or other small change available.

While it may seem annoying to have to pay for toilet use, it is worth it because every restroom I visited in the CR was immaculate. The same can’t be said for Paris!

There is a really cool webcam that is aimed at the astronomical clock in Old Town Square. I had set up a specific date and time to be there and told my family and friends to look for me waving in the left hand arch of the yellow building adjacent to the clock tower. This webcam is live streaming and it’s easy to pick someone out if he/she is away from the crowds. I made my way to the set arch at 4:30 pm and proceeded to wave at the camera for about 10 minutes. I don’t know if many people know of this webcam and no doubt some people at the clock could have thought I was crazy. Of course, for all they knew, I was waving at someone in the building across or down the block.

My arrangement was a tremendous hit with my family and friends. I received numerous emails and texts from home saying that they could see me.

It’s a fun thing to do, so here’s the link if anyone wants to do it on a future trip or just check out the live action in Prague. http://www.earthcam.com/czechrepublic/prague/

I would look at it in advance of my trip to check out the weather, see if people were dressed for warm temperatures or if it was chilly, raining, etc.

In the square, I was in for a treat. A guy was playing piano, with selections like Pachebel’s Canon, etc. He was great and I thought it was awesome to be in one of the coolest places in the world and have wonderful music to add to the atmosphere. Sometimes there’s lame street entertainment and then there are some standouts like this guy. He had a little display of cds for sale and it only occurred to me days later that I should have bought one. I sometimes just don’t think!

I tried to find the James Joyce pub for dinner, but couldn’t remember exactly where it was, so after trying for quite a while, I ended up returning to old town and eating at a pizzeria right off the square. The very bad cheese pizza was 125 czk and a tiny Sprite was 45 czk.

I walked the Charles Bridge afterwards, enjoying the extra beauty of it at night and then called it a day.

To see some of my trip pics (reduced from 1700 taken), you can check out this link: http://pragueandparis2013.shutterfly.com/pictures/8

Trip report to be continued… Kutna Hora daytrip is next

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    Actually, I too re-visited Bohemia Bagel after a return to Prague last September. I did visit the Old Town location, too (either that location wasn't there the last time I visited or I didn't know about it). But my return experience was different than yours: I got a fantastic cheeseburger there and went back a second time. (OK, so I'm no foodie.)

    When I travel solo I usually avoid sit-down table service restaurants, so Bohemia Bagel (order at the counter) was perfect for me, even if it's hardly authentic Czech food. I also got some decent take-away pizza slices in Mala Strana.

    Nice pics. Prague sure is a beautiful town, huh?

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    Andrew, yes Prague is a beautiful town, no debate about that! As for Bohemia Bagel, I can't remember what I had ordered and liked so much at the location near Petrin Hill on my last trip, but I probably should have ordered a cheeseburger like you did at the old town location. I saw other cheeseburger orders coming out, but I went a different route and made a poor choice. My food was poorly prepared and awful tasting.

    I'll have the Kutna Hora and Karlstejn castle escapades posted tomorrow.

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    Great photos and lots of interesting details. I leave next week. Good idea about the webcam. I too have been wondering about weather; this should help.

    Looking forward to your next chapter.

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    June 29 – Kutna Hora trip!

    Setting off around 7:30, I took the tram to the main train station (two stops away). I was heading to Kutna Hora/Sedlec for the day. Round trip ticket was 205 czk, I believe. I was too late to catch the 8:00 am, so I took the metro over to St. Ludmila’s church, which I had hoped to visit. The church was locked up, so I didn’t get to see the inside. I walked around a couple of blocks and then went back to the train station to wait for my 10 am train to Kutna Hora. The journey takes about one hour and I got out at the main station at Sedlec where I then walked about 10 minutes to the Church of the Assumption and the famous Sedlec Ossuary. The Church of the Assumption is nice and worth a few minutes, so be sure to pop in for a quick visit before heading on to the bone church. I purchased a pass for 160 czk that allowed entrance to the Assumption Church, the Ossuary, and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

    It’s a short walk to the ossuary and it was busy inside. This is the church that is decorated with thousands of human bones. It smelled musty inside and it just didn’t seem right for human remains to be made into chandeliers and other decorative artwork. You walk down a short flight of stairs and then you are in the grave, in my opinion, with the thousands of bones. It was creative, I will say that.

    I had read about a tourist shuttle to take visitors into Kutna Hora, but it wasn’t running and the ossuary staff sent me to the public bus stop across from the Assumption church. It took at least 20 minutes of waiting in the sun and I was tired with no place to sit. The bus driver didn’t speak English (the only person I encountered who didn’t), but luckily a passenger behind me told me how much to pay, 12 czk, and also volunteered to tell me where to get off for St. Barbara’s.

    The bus meandered through many different housing complexes before reaching the stop for St. Barbara’s. If it hadn’t been for the kind Czech guy, I would have had no idea where to get off because no announcements are made and there was no sign of the cathedral or town from the view of the bus.

    After getting off the bus and starting the walk, the church quickly became visible. St. Barbara’s is very unique, with almost tent like formation points.

    I knew it was going to be fabulous, but it exceeded my expectations. The stained glass windows are wonderful, as are the church sculptures and art.

    For an extra 20 czk, I climbed to the balcony level of the church. There’s actually an exterior balcony you can walk out onto and have nice views of the garden and countryside.

    After leaving the church, I took a lot of pictures of the gargoyles on the building. A gentleman approached me and he turned out to be a German I had met on the train. He had become separated from his wife and daughter and asked me if we were at the bone church. I had to tell him we were not and showed him on a map where we were. I hope he met up with his family quickly. I had enjoyed visiting with the family on the train that morning.

    Having accomplished the two main sights I cared about, I spent the rest of my time in town wandering around, seeing the Italian Court, visiting St. Jacob’s, etc. I had planned on doing the bobled ride, but I was low on energy and didn’t do it, which I regret. I had been sick the week before departure, so I just wasn’t at the level of energy I usually am. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t stop for lunch and wasn’t drinking much water.

    Kutna Hora is a very easy daytrip from Prague and a nice escape from the Prague crowds and I recommend it. If I were doing it again, I would make a point of having a restful lunch break so that I would have energy to make a full day of it.

    When I arrived back at the train station in Prague, I took the tram back to the hotel for a brief rest. Later, back in the old town, I visited the interior of the Tyn Church and St. James’ church. I also visited the church Mary of the Snows. I visited various churches throughout my trip, but I confess I don’t remember them all or where they were. If I saw something that looked interesting, I went in.

    I had an early dinner at U Pinkasu, near Wenceslas Square. I sat outside on the patio and had a big slab of fried cheese and potatoes. I think my meal, with a small Sprite, was about 170 czk. The food was good, but the wait staff were not friendly.

    I walked to the Charles Bridge and meandered across, enjoying the beauty of it, the river, and the Mala Strana.

    I finished off my evening hanging out on a bench by the Jan Hus statue in old town square. Cafferty’s Irish bar is just off the square and I could hear the crowd singing inside. Sounded like they were having a good time. If I looked more presentable, I would have gone in, but I was a little ragged after being out all day.

    June 30, final day in Prague.

    After breakfast and a late start, I made my way by tram to the Prague Castle complex. I walked through the complex to get to Lobkowiecz Palace. It sounded really cool and I had been eagerly anticipating the visit. I had meant to do it on my Prague Castle day, but had put it off. It’s a privately owned museum. The visit was 275 czk and I don’t think it was worth it at all. I was hoping to see furnished rooms, but the displays were predominantly wall art, some of which was not of very good quality (although there were some nice pieces too). If short on time and money, I recommend skipping this museum.

    Next stop was the Wallenstein garden, which is behind the Czech Senate. There are nice sculptures and manicured greenery. They also have a caged owl. I don’t know what’s up with that. Hopefully it’s an owl that needs the protection of a cage. Otherwise it’s cruel.

    I passed by the church that holds the Infant of Prague, but it was closed for mass. I went into two others churches in the area, which I was sure I would remember the names of, but alas, I didn’t. They were both very pretty.

    I made my way down the stairs to the Mala Strana and crossed the Charles Bridge. I was hungry by this time, so I was determined to find the James Joyce Irish pub. I found it and it was delicious! I had an Irish sausage and cheddar sandwich and it was decadently divine. Sandwich, which came with chips, was 129 czk. I also ordered some fries, which were an additional 45 (or something like that) czk.

    Just around the corner was St. Agnes Convent, so I headed there next. I love church art and this convent-turned-museum has a really nice collection thoughtfully displayed. The website says the regular adult price is 150 czk, but I was only charged 80, so I’m telling myself the clerk may have thought me to be a college student, and students are eligible for the 80 czk reduced rate. They can classify me any way they want if it means a discount, even better if it’s because they think I look younger than I am!

    Access to the chapel areas is free.

    If you have an appreciation for religious art, please make the time to visit this well laid out museum. It was a treat.

    Looking at my watch, I decided to hustle myself over to the train station and take a ride out to Karlstejn Castle (aka Karlstein Castle if anyone is doing a search using this spelling). The 40 minute train ride cost 99 czk round trip.

    Once you exit the train station, you must walk a little ways on the flat, cross a bridge, and then make your way up an incline through a street with a bunch of shops and then there is a steeper climb up to the castle. I was a little dismayed that I had to take a brief rest half way up the final incline. I had been stair training in advance of my trip, but for my treadmill time, I never put the incline higher than 6% so I could feel the exertion for the castle incline.

    Upon arriving at the top, I was delighted to find a band playing in the castle courtyard. They were really good, playing everything from Riverdance, to the Beatles to classical pieces I couldn’t name. I sat down and enjoyed numerous selections and the cool ambiance.

    I didn’t go inside the castle because interior visits are by guided tour only and I had heard they weren’t particularly interesting and I don’t care for guided tours. I was more interested in the exterior, so I was happy with my experience. I probably should have joined a tour, but this trip was rather unconventional for me, just doing what I felt like in the moment and not requiring myself to see/do every sight.

    Upon returning to Prague, I spent the remainder of the evening just wandering around. I got some cash at the Palladium shopping center for the ride back to the airport the next morning. I figured that would be a safe place to get money. It’s a very nice shopping center, by the way. I also stopped in a grocery store to pick up some Czech candy for my niece and nephew. The random things I brought back for them, like chocolate cat tongues, were a big hit.

    I made a final visit to the Charles Bridge where I found the surprise of 4 college aged kids playing violins and cello. They had a repertoire of selections including "You're the one that I want" from the movie "Grease", some song from the Disney movie "Pocahontas" and finished with "Cotton Eyed Joe." It was really cute and I dropped some change in their bucket.

    As I did with the previous nights, I finished off in old town square, just sitting on a bench and enjoying the scene before finally calling it a night. I was sorry to be leaving Prague. Dinner was comprised of just two apples I had picked up from the store.

    Final observation before moving on to France: I had been worried about pickpockets and gypsies, but there was never any sign of trouble or scams. I never saw a single gypsy/Roma while in the CR. I had been reading about troubles and clashes between Roma and native Czechs, but they seem to be in suburban towns.

    Beggars appeared on the Charles Bridge once the weekend hit, but they are the kind that kneel over, face to the ground and don’t make any contact with anyone or say anything. Tons of people were always around, so I always felt comfortable walking the bridge alone at night, even as late as 10:30 pm.

    I did see homeless type people on benches in the park outside the train station, but they kept to themselves and I never felt worried about them. Of course, I would never walk through that park at night!!

    July 1 Time to head to France! Trip report to be continued tomorrow.

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    I'm enjoying your continuing report! I was only in Prague last year but now I can pretend I've just gone back. ;-)

    I concur with your observations about the lack of gypsies and aggressive homeless people in Prague. I live in a town with a lot of aggressive homeless so the ones in Prague I saw at all were pretty tame. In fact, I never felt uncomfortable anywhere in Prague at any time of the day.

    For some reason, I fell in love with that Jan Hus statue in the Old Town Square the first time I visited Prague - it grabbed me for some reason - and last fall when I went back to Prague I too sat in the square on the bench by that statue for a while. I remember the Irish pub but didn't go in.

    I had a car when I was in Kutna Hora and from your description it sounds like getting around without one was a bit of a pain (perhaps better when the tourist shuttle is running?). I saw only the Sedlec bone church and not the others you saw. I found the town of Kutna Hora pleasant enough, a nice diversion from Prague, but not especially exciting or memorable. Sounds like the churches you mention would make a visit more compelling for those who like them!

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    Once in Kutna Hora in the historic center, getting around is a breeze on foot. It's just getting there by way of public bus on a Saturday. I bet bus service is more frequent on weekdays.

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    July 1- It was time to say goodbye to Prague and the CR. I was sorry to leave. I had a noon flight on Czech Airlines and I had arranged a driver through the hotel to take me to the airport. He was very prompt, arriving right at 9 am as requested.

    The flight to Paris was uneventful. Czech Airlines' flight attendants were exceptionally nice. I didn’t have to clear border control/customs, so I headed immediately to catch the train to Gare du Nord. I was going to buy my ticket from the counter because I didn’t have enough Euro coins and I didn’t want to use my credit card, but the line was so long I used my credit card after all. The journey is 9.50 euro.

    The train cars sure were beat up and worn out!

    The ride to the Gare du Nord was a breeze, but the train station itself and the area outside is a zoo. I had to take a few minutes to figure out where I was going. I didn’t want to spend money on a taxi, so I chose to walk to my hotel, the Best Western Ronceray Opera.

    It took me at least 20 minutes, maybe more, to get to my hotel. I was constantly checking my map to make sure I was going the right way.

    It was a little jarring being in Paris after Prague. I found Prague to be very clean and while busy with tourists, not chaotic. Paris is quite dirty and manic in the summer. My previous two visits to Paris were off season and what a difference there is! I will not go back in the summer time. It is just way too crowded and crazy.

    Anyways, I finally arrived at my hotel. The reception area was quite warm, naturally since it was warm in Paris that day and I don’t think they had the air con running. The back of my shirt was completely drenched with sweat.

    I was assigned a room on the 5th floor. Wouldn’t you know it, the elevator only runs to the 4th floor. It was a drag to lug my suitcase and backpack up the flight of stairs after my long day, but it was fine.

    The room was small and the bathroom reminded me of an airplane lavatory. The bathroom and floor were not clean. I had to clean the counter, toilet seat, and a gross stain (dried blood??) on the wall, before I felt ok.

    Thankfully, the room was air conditioned. If I looked out my window to a certain angle, I could see the Eiffel Tower.

    I freshened up the best I could and hit the streets. I took a quick peak at the Royal Palace Gardens. The area was overrun with families with little kids, so I moved on.

    I was a bit discombobulated by all the people in the city, but when I ducked into the Eglise Saint Germain L’Auxerrois and found a cool, empty, gorgeous haven, I was immediately calmed and reminded why I love Paris. In all my travels, I still feel France has the most beautiful churches. I leisurely walked around the church, enjoying the solitude and beauty and sat down to get my self organized.

    From there I headed to Notre Dame, one of my favorite churches. I was surprised to see mini stadium type seating set up in the front plaza. They are commemorating 850 of the cathedral’s existence, I believe.

    There was a bit of a queue, but it moved quickly. Mass was going on, so I slipped into a row and participated in the remainder of the service, though I couldn’t understand a word. After mass, there was just a little bit of time to check out the interior before they started ushering everyone out to close for the night.

    I proceeded on to the Isle St. Louis. I had already learned before departure that my favorite chocolate store had been closed and replaced by a more expensive shop. I was disappointed, but it’s not like I am deprived of chocolate in my life. I walked around a little bit and then headed off in pursuit of Saint Sulpice across the river. It took me a little while to find it and by that time it was long since closed up, but it’s in a pretty plaza and I enjoyed sitting down on a bench to admire its attractive facade.

    I forget where I was trying to go next, but I got very lost and wandered in circles in the Latin Quarter. I finally was so tired, I just went into the nearest Metro station and rode back to my hotel. The Grande Boulevards stop is right on the same block as my hotel, very convenient.

    There’s a small grocery store around the corner from the hotel, so I picked up some water and Sprite and then called it a night.

    July 2 – Chartres day!

    Another slow start to the day for me. I didn’t get down to the breakfast room until 9ish Most unlike me! Usually when I travel, I’m up at the crack of dawn and on the streets by 7 am. The breakfast room was packed. The hotel was doing a poor (non existent) job of keeping up with the tables. Guests were having to set trays and dishes on the floor to be able to sit down and have breakfast. Strangers sat down with me, which is fine. I will give the hotel a compliment for the breakfast selection, which included a healthy supply of rolls, croissants, scrambled eggs, cereal, yogurt, breakfast meat, etc. It’s just a shame they didn’t have someone cleaning up the tables to make room for the influx of guests.

    After inhaling a quick breakfast, I took the metro to the Montparnesse train station where I was just able to make the 10 am train to Chartres.

    This is a lovely, clean little town and it was a great relief to break away from crowded Paris. I headed immediately to the famed cathedral and it is awesome! I took so many photos of this beautiful structure, especially all the stained glass windows.

    I had received a better quality camera for Christmas that took me from my 5X zoom on my old camera to 35X. I was able to really zoom in on windows and art up high that I never would have been able to do with the old camera, so I was quite pleased. The camera also handled low light conditions much better.

    I enjoyed the garden out back as it was very pretty and relaxing.

    There are toilets for .50 euro in the plaza in front of the cathedral. To everyone’s amusement, there were no toilet seats. One thing that travel makes you appreciate is the standards you have at home. It would be really difficult to be a senior or physically challenged person in many places outside the US. France has a long ways to go towards ADA type accommodation for those with mobility challenges. I wouldn’t want to be old or infirm in France.

    I had a copy of Rick Steves’ Chartres walk and followed it. St. Aignan church is currently undergoing some rehabilitation. It seemed in really bad shape, so I hope it’s getting the help it needs. It is a lovely church. I was the only one there except for a construction worker who entered just as I was leaving.

    En route to St. Pierre, an older French speaking lady tried to ask me something, but I couldn’t understand her. I had three such ladies try to talk to me during my time in France and I regret that I have inferior French language skills.

    St. Pierre is a cool old medieval church. It too is in need of repair. A big net hangs across a portion of the church, I assume to catch anything crumbling from the ceiling. I particularly loved the stained glass windows in this church. I have a tradition of photographing religious art, like a Madonna and Child or nativity scene, and using it for a Christmas card each year. I think I have my photo for this year’s card courtesy of St. Pierre’s. To tell you the truth, between Prague and Paris, I have many suitable candidates, and I could have my cards taken care of for many years to come.

    I continued along the Rick Steves walk, enjoying the old buildings and the little river. I looked in the windows of a few shops, but my apathy for real shopping continued.

    I had passed a bakery that had looked and smelled good earlier and I retraced my steps to find it. The proprietor was really nice and seemed to appreciate my attempts at French. I always started out with French, but often times the language quickly switched to English, but somehow it worked out with her to maintain French. I picked up a brownie and baguette (about 2 euro). Both items would be my lunch and dinner for the day. The lady was kind enough to cut the baguette in half for me.

    When it seemed like I had covered the main sites, I went back to the big cathedral for a final walk around and took another series of photos, since the lighting was now different with the later hour of day.

    I proceeded back to the train station to catch my train. Unlike the morning train, this was an old train that was not air conditioned (help!) and slower, but only by 15 minutes. The morning train had been new, cool and had digital signs indicating stops. I actually went through several sections of the afternoon train thinking maybe one of the cars would be cooler, before I realized it just wasn’t air conditioned. I’m kind of spoiled living in Houston where we are used to ice cold air conditioning.

    I went back to my hotel where I found the maid had disregarded the “do not disturb” sign that was hanging on the door. Cardinal sin in the hotel business as far as I’m concerned! She even left cleaning supplies in the room and took away my towel and didn’t replace it. I always, always put up the do not disturb sign when I stay in a hotel and do not require service for the duration of my stays. I have never had the sign disrespected before and this was another strike against the hotel. I don’t like for strangers to handle and move my stuff around and that’s just what happened. I know, I’m a fussy one. I actually saw the front desk guy down the hall, so I mentioned to him and he just shrugged his shoulders. I didn’t make a fuss, but I did say it would be appropriate for housekeeping to respect the do not disturb sign. He just thought I was crazy, I could tell.

    I munched on my Chartres snacks, before heading out again. I walked to the Garnier Opera house first, taking pictures of it before walking on to the Madeleine Church, one of my Paris favorites. There’s an angel sculpture that I especially like.

    I lit a candle for a friend of mine back home who is going through a difficult time and sat in prayer for a short time. I then walked around the church and took a few photos.

    I forgot, I also went into Galeries Lafayatte department store with the notion to go to the top for the rooftop patio views, but the store was a complete and utter madhouse. It was like Harrod’s on steroids. Turns out they were having a big sale. I went to the Lancome counter to see how much my make up costs in Paris compared to the states (about $15 more) and then I got the heck out of there. I do not like crowds and this was insane.

    At some point on the afternoon journey, I stumbled upon the Sainte Trinita church and made a visit. It’s a pretty little church and I’m glad I popped in.

    I wandered around some more, including to the Place Concorde. I then headed up the Champs Elysee. Big mistake. It was a mob scene and it seemed like everyone was walking the opposite direction. I felt like a little fish trying to swim upstream against a fast current with densely packed schools of fish.

    Paris, with all its beautiful buildings, gardens, sculptures, etc. is marred by occasional disturbing, challenging sights. On the Champs Elysee, filled with expensive shops, there are people on the streets begging and have some scary deformities. There was one guy, for example, who was missing the back half of his head. It was like a guillitoine came down on him and literally sliced the back half of his head off. I don’t even know how someone could be alive in that state. I saw several disturbing cases in Paris and it really made me appreciate my life and how blessed I am. One minute I’m fussing about a hotel maid, the next I am getting a sobering reminder to be grateful for the good in my life.

    I had enough of the avenue’s crowds, so I went on a suburban field trip to a fairly new shopping center called So Ouest.

    En route on one on the Metro trains, a gypsy/Roma family boarded. The man had some kind of musical instrument and the woman sang. They had a small boy with them and he was playing with a broken necklace. I concluded the story behind the necklace was one of three things: a) he genuinely found the necklace and was enjoying it as a sparkly new toy, b) it was a prop used to scam someone. Maybe ask if someone lost the necklace while mom or dad pickpocket the person? Or c) maybe they ripped it off someone’s neck. I’m hoping the answer was “a” but who knows. I was very wary. The boy walked around the car soliciting money at one point. I moved at my next opportunity to the opposite end of the carriage.

    I had to make a connection to continue my journey to the shopping center. The next train was so packed, I had to skip it. The next one came along and it was jam packed too, so I just squeezed in.

    When I emerged out at Louise Michel stop, I was a little confused about which direction I needed to take and a nice man asked me if I needed help. I told him where I was headed and he gave me precise instructions which got me where I needed to go. Often times, people will say the French are not nice or even rude, but I encountered many nice people and never experienced any rudeness from the locals. Any rude behavior I witnessed in Paris was at the hands of tourists (thankfully none were American).

    The shopping center was about 10-15 minutes from the metro stop. It’s a very nice facility. I confess I was there to stock up on my favorite goodies from Marks and Spencer (Champs Elysee doesn’t carry them). It was a two hour roundtrip journey to get some buckets of chocolate, but well worth it. It was also nice to see a different part of Paris, away from the tourist zone. I felt completely at ease out in this area.

    At one point on my journey on the Metro that evening, there was a lady screaming and screaming at a Metro stop. Some people leaned out to see what was going on, but I have no idea what the story was. The latter half of my day was weird.

    It was 9 pm by the time I got back to my hotel. I went to the corner store to get more water and Sprite and then finished off my brownie and baguette in my room and went to bed.

    To be continued...

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    I did go to the top of the Galeries Lafayatte when I was in Paris in May. The views were nice but not amazing. The light wasn't great the day I visited anyway - but even had it been, I didn't think there were great postcard views. So maybe you didn't miss a lot. I thought the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe (not free to climb) was superior.

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    I had been to the top of the store my first time in Paris,so I was not too disappointed. I was just amazed at the crowds. It was if the store was a wonderland for people who've never seen designer purses, etc.

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    July 3 - Final real day in Paris.

    I decided to go down to breakfast as soon as I woke up, before showering, etc. and the room was not crowded this time. I had a much more pleasant dining experience than the previous morning. I indulged in two croissants this day and a small scoop of eggs and took an apple with me. The apple was huge and perfect. Usually hotel fruit is beat up, but this one was lovely.

    I wanted to take care of my online checkin for my flight home and print my boarding pass. For some reason, I couldn’t print the boarding pass from the guest computer. The front desk guy was really kind and had me forward it to him and he printed it off for me. Thank you front desk!

    I got cleaned up, checked out and left my bags with the front staff and headed out for my final day in Paris.

    First stop was Notre Dame des Victories church. It is very beautiful inside, try to find it when you are in Paris. I found a nice looking bakery and popped in and picked up a roll that had basil and mozzarella cheese baked in it. It was delicious and I should have gone back for more to eat later in the day. Next was the Royal Garden, much more calm and lovely than the day before when it was packed with kids (I do like kids, but appreciate the opportunity for tranquility too).

    On to Saint Eustache church. I love this church, with its high vaulted ceilings and pretty windows. There were only a few other people in the building. With the exception of Notre Dame, every church I visited in Paris was nearly empty.

    I wanted to visit two particular museums today, both free. First I visited the Cognacq Jay museum, which is very enjoyable and doesn’t take much time. Next was Carnavalet, very nearby. I love wandering the different levels of the Carnavalet. They have plenty of interesting things to check out.

    I started to head towards Notre Dame because I had a 2 pm appointment in the park in the back. I got there early and was hungry, so I got an order of fries (3 euro) from one of the vendors down the block. As I was walking with the cone shaped carton in my hands, a teenage American boy called out, “oh man, where did you find those?” He was pretty excited to see some good looking French fries. I directed him and his family to the location and proceeded on to Notre Dame. I sat down on the bleachers out front and enjoyed my snack with a view.

    After polishing off the fries, I still had time, so I went into the cathedral and took lots of pictures. I probably took at least 100. I really, really love this church.

    My appointment was to meet up with a college student who had previously been an intern in my office back at home. She’s now undertaking a masters program in Paris and we have kept in touch. It was fun to see her and catch up on a bench in the park immediately behind the cathedral.

    After our visit, I thought I should really try to find some presents to bring back for family and friends. I went into the shopping arcade under the Louvre, but nothing inspired me. I perused the shops on Rue de Rivoli, but I was still not inspired.

    I wandered around for about another hour and then my energy really started to wane. I walked, empty-handed, back to the hotel to get my luggage and head to my airport hotel for my final night. I was going to treat myself to a cab to the Gare du Nord, but it was rush hour by this time and traffic looked to be a nightmare. I turned back into a pack mule and hoofed it to the train station.

    I went to the ticket machine to buy my ticket, but the machine wouldn’t take my card! I have a world mastercard, but the machine said only “Euro Mastercard” accepted! What?! How could the machine at the airport take my card and not at the train station? I had to get in a slow line to buy my ticket from the ticket office. Machines only take coins and I only had bills and a few small coins.

    I lugged my stuff to the platform and it was a scary, crowded nightmare. There were lots of beggars, including a deformed gypsy woman calling out the same phrase over and over. Do France’s social services not assist these desperate folks? Or do their families use them to gain pity and therefore monetary donations? I felt bad for this lady, but I just wanted to get the heck out of there.

    I was terrified that I would get pickpocketed/mugged on my final night. I was pretty creeped out waiting for the train. It seemed like the longest 10 minutes in my life. When the train came, it was packed and I had to stand for a while and I was really fading in energy. I was starving and dehydrated, probably not a good idea. I will never, ever take the train back to the airport again, at least not from Gare Du Nord. Last time, I took the train from Chatelet les Halles, much better.

    Finally, I made it to the airport. Hallelujah! I had to catch the hotel shuttle to get to my hotel. I stayed at the Novotel Convention and Wellness, $94 by way of Priceline. The shuttle was there, but it was at least 25 minutes before it started moving. Then, it had to go to the other terminals and about 4 other hotels before it got to my hotel. I checked in and collapsed on the bed! I was starving, but the hotel restaurant was really expensive (19 euro for a burger, as an example). I could see the Roissy village out my window, but it was getting dark and I wasn’t keen to walk alone past a cemetery in the dark, so I just ate a granola bar for dinner.

    The hotel was ok, but not as clean as it should have been, as far as carpet and bathroom. Free wi-fi was available for basic surfing, but they blocked facetime and internet calls. It also kept disconnecting every couple of minutes and each time I had to re-sign up, completing a form each time.

    My flight the following morning was at 10:30. I am glad I stayed out at the airport so I didn’t have to worry about getting up at the crack of dawn to get there. I got on the shuttle around 7:00 and was at the airport by 7:30.

    My flight home was long and boring, but it arrived only 20 minutes late and miraculously, I got off the plane and cleared border control and customs within 40 minutes. My sister-in-law, who was picking me up, had impeccable timing and pulled up within one minute of me stepping out on the curb. Home sweet home!

    I had a great time on my trip. I love the Czech Republic as much as I did the first time I went. Everything was clean, easy and folks were nice. I felt good there. Paris was a mixed bag, a bit of an adjustment with the crowds and chaos, but I still love the beauty of French architecture and art. It does seem that each time I go, there are fewer French people in the city and it does alter the experience. It’s just a different city from my first visit in 2001 and I kind of miss that experience. Maybe it was the season, I don’t know.

    I believe the next time I’m in a French jurisdiction, it will be Corsica. I have some family ties there and it will be a different experience.

    In the meantime, my next trips are to Fort Davis, Texas and Newport, Rhode Island. Yea! As long as I have something on my horizon, I’m a happy human!

    Thanks for taking the time to read my lengthy report!

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    Bravo - nice trip report! I was in Paris in May myself for a fourth visit and didn't have the best time, either, perhaps for different reasons. Maybe I should write a report after all...

    Is your Mastercard a chip-and-pin card (with a pin for purchases)? The train station machines in Paris may not accept it otherwise. I just got a chip-and-pin credit card before visiting Paris in May - in part so I could use it in the machines at the train stations. I was able to use it to buy a RER ticket at CDG but the one time I needed to buy a train ticket, the machine wouldn't work at all (before it even required a credit card) - just busted I guess. I had to wait in line too to buy from an agent.

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    Thanks Andrew. No, my card is not a chip and pin. It's kind of peculiar that the machines at the airport and the train station wouldn't be the same. Oh well, all is well that ends well. Ok, you have me curious about your recent experience. Please elaborate, at least a little!

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    I missed this first time around, or (horrors!) maybe I just forgot. At any rate, I enjoyed reading it this evening! I loved your pictures. I really enjoyed all the churches. However, my favorites were the sunset ones in Prague which silhouetted the buildings against the sky.

    Thanks you for sharing.

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