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Trip Report Two femmes d'un certain age and their daughters take on Paris

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Five years ago, my sister-in-law and I decided when our daughters graduated from high school we would take them to Paris. That day arrived (sooner than imagined) and we were off. I travel to Paris almost annually and this trip marked my daughter's fifth visit, but it was the first trip to France for my sister-in-law and my niece. I kept an almost daily record of our trip on another social media site and am copying here for anyone interested in knowing what it's like to take two teenage girls to Paris (it is fabulous BTW).

Day 0/1 in Paris: Safe Landings and Ninja Cats

Day 0 (Travel Day): Left San Jose on time, landed in Chicago and headed to AA Admiral's Club for lunch (I bought a monthly membership for trip); hush came over entire lounge as news of plane crash at SFO spread. Imagine everyone felt as I did, grateful for safe flights behind us and hopeful for safe flights ahead.

J (sister-in-law) and M (niece) arrived from LA and we soon boarded plane to Paris. L (daughter) was looking for fuzzy socks and I asked flight attendant if I might purchase a first class amenity kit. Nice, nice lady gifted girls with kit as a graduation present: we were off to a good start (I love AA flight attendants). Despite much leg room in exit row (and yes, I was ready to open that door in case of emergency), very little sleep on way there thus arrived in France in zombie-like state.

Day 1: Despite zombie-like state was still able to converse in French with taxi driver during ride to Paris, which confirmed that the 5 years I spent getting that French degree not a total waste.

Arrived at apartment which was spectacular (link here:http://www.vrbo.com/422828). Because cleaners were still working we dropped bags, changed into sandals (hot in Paris) and headed to meet American friends at former favorite Café Central. Service was awful; was it because we were a large group of Americans or was the waiter incompetent, who knows but did eventually get much needed crèmes and the waiter avoided a shellacking from my friend (she does not suffer fools which is one of the many things I admire about her).

Back to apartment for nap (yes I know you're supposed to keep going but it wasn't possible for any of us). Took those wonderful first post-travel showers then dinner at 9:30 at great Café des Officiers just down avenue Duquesne (still light until 10:30 or so here). Off to walk around the Champs de Mars at dusk and to people watch. Sat on lawn next to woman with two cats on leashes; watched as she led them around the park to ninja leap on trees. Lady and cats also closely observed by a fascinated homeless man who perhaps, like us, wasn't quite sure what he was seeing.

Evening ended with sparkling light show of Eiffel Tower, right on cue at 11:00 pm. Perfect end to a beautiful first day in Paris.

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    Here is link again to apartment I rented: http://www.vrbo.com/422828

    The previous link was correct but somehow the punctuation was included in the hyperlink, which prevented it from working.

    And, more trip report:

    Day 2 in France: Cherchez Le Bébé

    Started off with breakfast at our favorite place on rue Cler (name is Bar PTT, but we call it the red awning place). Ordered tartine, which is just bread and butter, but it is FABULOUS and my favorite Parisian breakfast. Of course it tastes so good due to the superior French bread and butter, but I also think the fancy name helps (and that I'm eating it in Paris).

    After breakfast we decided to walk up to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées. This turned out to be not a great choice as the day became very warm and the walk was uphill; I was at fault for this since I am the one who "knows" Paris. The area around the Arc was mobbed with tourists; we decided to walk a little up the street and had to window shop (pauses necessary in front of stores to cool off). Reached the cashmere seller Eric Bompard and where better to shop on a hot day? Could not resist the sale prices (50% off) and each walked away with a sweater or scarf.

    All wanted to go up the Arc de Triomphe so we walked down passageway; long line led us to decide this might better be attempted another day. Stopped for lunch along the hot walk home. Wondered how Frenchwomen look so cool and chic in the heat as we were all sticking to the bistro chairs; large pichet of wine and bottle of water made us feel a little better. Also grateful for printed skirts/dark pants so that sweat stains on rear part of body did not make us look like we had embarrassing accident due to pichet of wine. Apartment looked really good at end of walk; we continue to feel very lucky to have found this place. However, all are becoming annoyed by constantly yelling/crying/whining French baby who lives nearby and all are becoming obsessed with finding the baby and asking it "what is wrong with you, loud French baby?" with the hope that this would frighten it into silence.

    Despite baby screaming took long naps again; jet lag seemed worse today. Finally got out for dinner around 9:15, ate at Italian place on rue de Grenelle. Food was good but inside was hot. Big problem because I ordered too small carafe of wine; typically in Paris, the servers come by only once to take your order and if you want something else during your meal you're pretty much SOL. Will definitely be getting the large carafe (or even better, bottle) next time as wine is essential to good eating (and it also makes me much more fluent in French).

    Ended day at grocery store for essentials; American-type food for niece who is not gastronomically adventurous and bottles of wine for mothers who need it. Decent rosé for 5 euros, we are really loving France. Grocery store is open until midnight and that makes sense in a city where everyone eats dinner at 9pm and it stays light until 10:30. The warm nights have been amazing. Loving it here!

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    Ugh, feel your pain re: Champs Élysées (hate it and awful in summer)! Double ugh, on the constantly crying baby. No bueno on the vacation! After listening to that, I am stunned you didn't order a mega-carafe of wine at dinner!

    Looking forward to more.

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    Days 3 in France: Pomme Chips de Dieu

    There's really not much to say here as we finally had a kickback day. Stayed in until noon and then headed out to do some shopping (sister-in-law needed sandals; it is still hot and we're doing a lot of walking). At boutique on rue St. Dominique, daughter stole a pair of pants from a woman, sort of; daughter tried on a cute pair of pants and a French woman nearby saw them on daughter and decided that SHE wanted them, too. I walked back towards trying-on area to find French woman and husband talking to each other while glancing at daughter; they appeal to store owner who asks me in French "Is she going to buy them or not?" Why yes indeed, she is, and I perhaps would have bought them even if daughter didn't really like them if only to spite snippy store owner and greedy French couple (in any case, the dame d'un very certain âge who wanted the pants wouldn't have looked as good in them as 17 year-old daughter does).

    Weather still very hot and all continue to worry about getting up from bistro chair with sweat spot that looks like bathroom accident. Once again I wonder how the Parisian women avoid this (Le Depends?). I noticed today that there is a sort of Parisienne summer uniform: sleeveless dress or top and skirt in white, cream or black, and gladiator sandals, often in metallic leather or neutral leather with a touch of neon (they call it fluo over here and it is all over). Also observed that it is true that the women are all thin, or thinnish; I attribute this to all of the walking everyone does, because I can tell by the fit of my clothes that I've lost weight since being here despite the butter, café crèmes, rosé wine and croissants.

    Decided to eat in for dinner and bought provisions at Lenôtre, home of the best potato chips in the world (if God ever made potato chips he would use Lenôtre's recipe; we've taken to calling these the Jesus Potato Chips). Everything in the markets so good; tomatoes are more tomato-ey, fruit is so sweet and so colorful. I will most certainly be scowling in Safeway when I grocery shop again in America. All early to bed this evening because we must catch morning train for Montpellier the next day.

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    Enjoying your report very much. I leave for Paris in 6 wks. Hopefully it will be cooler in September, but not too cold! The apartment looks elegant, spacious and beautiful! But I wouldn't like the crying infant part.

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    We will arrive in Montpellier 6 weeks from today to start our trip. I am glad we decided to add an extra day there to recover from jet lag after reading your wonderful description! Your trip sounds fabulous.

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    Day 4/5 in France: Montpellier Rocks

    Didn't get much sleep the night before our trip to Montpellier because I was too excited to see our former French exchange students J and C, and also to see C's mother who had become a treasured Facebook friend. The TGV ride was comfortable and fast and we were in Montpellier before noon. J met us at the train station and led us to the (small, typically French) hotel where sister-in-law and I stayed; J then took us to the town center where we met her beautiful and chic mother who treated us to lunch in an outdoor café in the old part of town.

    How to describe Montpellier? My first thought was of the movie Casablanca: beautiful old stone buildings, palm trees, and all kinds of people milling about the squares and boulevards of city. The old part of the city, Vieux Montpellier, reminded me of the winding streets through which the bad guys chase Indy’s girlfriend Marion in the first Indiana Jones movie, but the buildings in Montpellier are a creamy burnished beige instead of the bleached white that is found in North Africa. Thankfully we had J and her mother to lead us around or we would have certainly been lost in the old part of the city! After lunch we split up and sister-in-law and I headed to the hotel for a nap and daughter and niece went home with J to be French exchange students for the night.

    Later on sister-in-law and I walked to the shopping center which is part of the large pedestrian plaza that covers the center of the city; Montpellier is also laced through with a convenient tram system. It was very, very hot down in the south and the pants and shirt that I were wearing were not working (my light khaki pants did little to hide those embarrassing bistro chair sweat stains as my daughter delightedly pointed out after lunch). Husband put a moratorium on spending after earlier cashmere sweater fest at Eric Bompard and so we headed to Monoprix, where thanks to the summer soldes I picked up sleeveless maxi dress and tank to wear underneath for an amazing 10 euros. After a quick change at hotel we returned to mall to meet C and her mother, who picked us up and drove us to their home outside of Montpellier where we were to have dinner.

    C’s mother is one of the warmest and most generous women that I have ever met. She assembled her family for an unforgettable dinner; imagine two long tables in the backyard of a French home in the countryside, laden with bottles of wine, olives and then dish after dish of regional specialties. Dogs roam the yard and the conversation and laughter never stop; both the food and the company were wonderful. What surprised me is that even though I speak American-classroom French, my sister-in-law doesn't speak any French, and C's mother and her family spoke only in French, we all communicated perfectly throughout the night, which I believe is a testament to what a good hostess C’s mother is. It is clear that she enjoys life and that she is a great mother; her children are kind and generous like her and our former exchange student C remains beautiful and sweet as she was remembered to be. We were treated like honored guests, plied with gifts from the region, and given the most priceless gift of the memory of une soirée incroyable et inoubliable.

    Next day we met up with the girls and J (they had a wonderful time and my American-food loving niece even ate rabbit!) and after a three hour delay made it safely back to Paris. Thursday evening we were lucky to have two friends from home spend the night with us before they headed back to the U.S. At the apartment we six ladies drank some (rosé) wine, nibbled on some of Languedoc-Roussillon treats that we had been gifted with, and then headed back to Café des Officiers out for a great dinner. The waiter completely messed up our orders but neatly saved the evening by offering an effusive and charming apology in French and English (the waiters here were the nicest that I have ever encountered in Paris). Headed down rue Cler to the crèpe man so that the girls could get the almost-obligatory crèpe au chocolat, and then walked home in the shadow of the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Another day in French paradise; we were especially enjoying the fragrant and cool evenings which made us forget all about the sweltering days.

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    Bilboburgler: I did have a navy linen skirt that I wore often, but the problem was with the khaki pants that formed one of the other anchors of my wardrobe. Luckily, at the last minute before I closed my suitcase I threw in a sleeveless cotton-knit dress in a navy print, which I ended up wearing five times in two weeks; it was not only cool but also did a good job of hiding any damp spots!

    susan001: My mom was in Paris last year during September and reported the weather was perfect; I will wish the same for you.

    Kansas: You'll love Montpellier! I need to go back to explore and I am thinking of attending a language school in the city.

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    There's an American Library in Montpellier. I communicated with a couple of people there once thinking it might be nice to live there for a while, with more than a few English speakers in the area. I'm enjoying your report very much. Can't get over that luxurious apartment!

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    Day 6 in France: A Three-Year-Old Could Do This

    Decided to visit the Centre Pompidou today because daughter wanted to see the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit. First had to have kick-back morning drinking coffee and eating Bonne Maman madeleines (incredibly good and they come out of a package, goodness and convenience in one little golden cake that kicks Twinkie's butt). Niece continues to amaze us all with her inventive French food combinations; today for breakfast, Coke and a pain au chocolat (yum?)

    Finally got out of the apartment, had lunch at very nearby Café Gaspard (bacon-loving niece discovered that the French do have bacon but that it is round) and then made it to the Pompidou. The Lichtenstein exhibit was astonishing. I had only known Lichtenstein for his comic-strip like paintings but we discovered that he did so much more. We saw some beautiful impression-y works (a series of studies of the Chartres cathedral was amazing) and some really cool sculptures. Among my favorites were two female busts painted in the style of comic book characters; Lichtenstein said that he made those pieces because he always wondered what women would look like if they wore comic-book style makeup. Just genius; the kind of art that is so great it made us feel humbled and amazed and grateful at the same time.

    After Lichtenstein we moved down to the Pompidou’s two large floors of modern art. The early stuff was great; it included some photography (the B/W shots of just-pre-war Paris were haunting) and early masters like Picasso. The later stuff; well, see title of this post for our sentiments. One exhibit was a room hung with some blank canvases, all painted in red. Not art to me, instead I saw a room painted by someone too impatient to take stuff down off the walls (perhaps a decorating job by my dear husband?). Also, come on, an all-black canvas (no texture or design) in a black frame? Yes, I know it has meaning but it was lost on me. My sister-in-law particularly loved the fire-hose sculpture (really looked like a fire hose just laid on the ground) and all were puzzled (and a little freaked out) by the flannel batting-lined room that contained a single piano. Later that afternoon my niece found a post on tumblr titled “How to spot a jerk in an art museum” and we all felt a little guilty because we said most, if not all of these things:

    I don’t get it
    I could make that
    How is that art
    They literally just put ____ and ____ together
    A 3 year old could do this
    What is it supposed to be

    Recovered from our shame to have dinner at Pizza La Gourmandise on rue Augereau, across the street from the first apartment that we rented in Paris (in 2005). I have so many memories here in the 7th and it is truly a second home to me. Still hoping to stumble on that magic door that will take me, my family and friends to Paris whenever we wish to go. Big sigh. Back home to prepare for two days of fêtes, my birthday tomorrow (Saturday) and the 14th of July on Sunday.

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    Just catching up - what a great report! Thank you.

    I nodded when I read "imagine two long tables in the backyard of a French home in the countryside," because I've been fortunate enough to have an experience just like that (amongst vines, no less). They made us feel like rock stars, lol.

    Looking forward to more.

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    I'm really enjoying your trip report. And, I will put myself (and my travel companion mom) in the same modern art "category" as you. We've uttered several of the same comments you did at the Pompidou.

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    First, I love your niece and I have past the age where I can drink a coke, but pain au chocolat and a Diet Coke...heaven! Just not a coffee drinker. And, I love a good madeleine and sadly, have had few in Paris. May need to seek out Bonne Maman for an apt snack when we visit in December.

    Totally with you on most modern art, dance, anything....we were at MoMa last year and scratched our heads a lot! We went to a modern ballet in Paris a few years back at gorgeous Opera Garnier and left after two acts...the were some jungle type cries and calls out of nowhere and we almost burst out laughing. i know, so immature of us and so very unsophisticated but it was just goofy!

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    Denise, I'm with you on no coffee (just hate the taste!) and would drink diet coke if I had my "druthers".

    Count me among the jerks" one spots in a modern art gallery.

    Delejhunt, thanks for sharing your trip. I am fascinated and laughing.

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    Days 7 and 8 in France: Party All The Time

    Day 7: I'd wanted to spend my birthday in Paris for a long time and the day was finally here. And I woke up and, so what, it's just another day...well, another day in Paris...and then we arrived at the Palais Garnier to see the ballet La Sylphide and I was indeed having the best birthday of my life, sitting in the gilded theatre, watching athletic and graceful dancers, and listening to the music of the talented Opera orchestra (I love classical music so the combination of live orchestra and dance was a double whammy of pleasure for me). At the intermission sister-in-law treated to glasses of champagne - what else to drink here? - and my niece added the snack of Pringles and champagne to her repertoire of interesting food combinations (I never, ever imagined that I would place the order of “trois coupes de champagne et un Pringles” in France).

    After the ballet we headed home for naps and then out to dinner later that evening to Le Florimond on avenue de la Motte Piquet, my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. The owner, Laurent, greeted daughter and me with bises because we are long-time customers (I've been eating here for ten years!); sister-in-law and niece got them, too. Dinner was fabulous, of course. Daughter had her favorite lobster ravioli as a starter, I had a cold tomato and watermelon soup and then a langoustine risotto that was to die for. Pink champagne to drink, bien sûr. The girls shared the mile-high mille feuille for dessert and amused the French couple sitting next to us as they tried to determine how to tackle the dessert; niece finally solved the problem with a push on the tower of puff pastry and vanilla crème chantilly which knocked it on its side. We walked home through the cool and quiet streets of our quartier, back to our Parisian home sweet home; I think that Paris is indeed a great place to spend a birthday.

    Day 8: We celebrated another birthday today, the official birthday of the French republic; known as the Quatorze of Juillet here and Bastille Day in the U.S. It was a beautiful day; sunny and warm but not too hot. We got up early to head towards the big parade on the Champs Elysées, but sadly not early enough; the parade route was jam-packed and we could not see a thing, so after viewing the (top of the head of) French president François Hollande drive down the street (as he was loudly booed by much of the crowd) we decided to head back to our ‘hood for lunch. On the way we crossed paths with the mounted French Garde Républicain (an elite unit of the French national guard) and that is where we discovered who we have come to call Perfect Man; he was (and is) the handsomest man any of us have ever seen and he was wearing tight white riding pants and a really impressive uniform and…wow (I’m happily married and don’t ever behave this way around handsome men but...again, wow). I tried to convince daughter and niece to pose with this guy (as other starstruck young girls were) but they were too intimidated by his perfection and therefore I didn’t have an excuse to talk to him (too creepy for sister-in-law and me to ask to take a photo but we did consider it for a moment). We were distracted from our stalking by the flyover (I’d always wanted to see the bleu, blanc, rouge streaming from the back of those jets and it was as cool as I’d imagined) and as we watched the planes I struck up a conversation with a woman who turned out to be the mother of another one of these soldiers; she asked me if the girls would like to pose with her also not-so-bad looking son and we finally got a shot. We reluctantly left the soldiers behind and headed back to the 7th, and even though we didn’t see much of the parade, we felt as if we had seen the most important parts of it (the President, the jets, and the Perfect Man).

    After dinner we headed towards the Champs de Mars to find a place to watch what was reputed to be a very magnificent fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower. This time we anticipated the crowd and arrived early enough to get a good spot to spread out our blankets, and the fireworks were indeed magnificent. We began the evening sitting on the ground but when the Marseillaise was played the crowd stood and somehow surged forward and then we were on our feet for the remainder of the show. Singing (or really, humming because I only know a few verses) of the French national anthem in a crowd of thousands of French was very, very, moving and it was a Parisian moment that I will never forget. I will also always remember the music played during the show because the majority of it was American, including the song "Living in America" which baffled all of us! Kind of weird but I guess American music dominates the French charts, but still, I would have liked to hear all French music for the show (imagine La Vie en Rose at an American July 4th celebration?). After the fireworks ended (about 11:30 pm) we were very happy that we were at the back end of the park as we moved back towards our apartment in a sea of people which continued to stream past our apartment until 1am in the morning. The 14th of July in Paris was not quite what I expected; there was less overt celebration of the holiday (e.g. nobody here wears bleu, blanc, rouge clothes on the 14th) but it seemed that everyone in Paris was in a very festive mood and their good mood was infectious.

    Two unforgettable days of celebration. Can we top this? (probably, because we’re in Paris).

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    Loving your report! What did your "Less-than-adventurous-eater" niece order at Le Florimond? I have a husband just like that. He also happens to be gluten-free. Not a good combo, I might say! Years ago at Le Florimond, he just handed me his menu and asked me to find something he would like. This became a pattern and has continued to this day. Luckily, he has some redeeming qualities!

    Keep it coming!

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    dlejhunt, really a fun report, am having Paris envy as I read. Glad you all had such a fantastic time.
    I am one who likes modern art but the Pompidou had some stuff that had me making those same remarks.

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    Kansas, niece and sister-in-law ate the filet mignon special at Le Florimond. Niece scraped off sauce and all was well.

    Here is more trip report:

    Day 9/10: It Is Hot. Really.

    After a cool weekend the heat was back on Monday (85+ during the day) so we decided to do some sightseeing-light. Métro over to Nôtre Dame; the line to get in was crazy so we ate lunch at a forgettable tourist trap café and then headed over to the "Lock Bridge" so niece could add a lock with her boyfriend's and her name to the thousands already there. When I first heard about this new tradition I found it charming but after it was depicted on two reality shows (Real Housewives and the Kardashians) it sort of lost its allure for me (BTW only saw this on promos and not actual show because of course I would never watch that stuff :-) ). Niece cannot be denied; the bridge was found, the lock was put in place, and the key thrown in the Seine (sadly a day later we see a television report stating that the City of Paris will soon cut off all of the locks because their weight is destroying the bridge).

    We headed over to Berthillon for what is quite rightly said to be best ice cream in Paris (it is damn good). While walking to the shop I overheard two teenage boy nerds (identified thus by daughter) talking excitedly about spawning chickens in a trench and then blowing them up with dynamite. I was quite frankly seriously disturbed and thought to myself, "Holy cats, these two kids are at best a major threat to chickens and at worse future serial killers" and as the boys passed out of earshot I asked my daughter "did you hear what those kids were talking about?" She answered, "Yeah Mom, video games…typical nerds."

    Oh. Video games. Right. I was relieved and at the same time distressed at this reminder of the generation gap, which I am clearly now on the wrong side of.

    We made it to Berthillon where we unfortunately found ourselves in line behind the two would-be chicken killers and a large number of their classmates who must have been in Paris on a summer study program. It took these kids forever to order and pay, but the wait passed quickly as we spent the time talking to a nice man from New Jersey. It is always fun running into fellow Americans in Paris because we give each other little episodes of linguistic relief; as we speak our native English we become once again competent speakers of a language and are no longer the bumbling butchers that we feel like as we attempt to negotiate the demands of Parisian French. Ice cream was fabulous BTW (roasted pineapple and basil flavor on a hot summer day? Perfection). Finally made it to Nôtre Dame. Meh for me; I've been there before and there were way too many people to see anything. I was also somewhat disappointed that a large part of the plaza in front of the church is taken up by a big wooden structure built for the celebration of the 850th anniversary of the church; I've always found that plaza charming but it is ruined by the structure (which I hope is very temporary).

    The next day we braved the hot touristy hell that was the Champs Elysées so that I could get son the PSG soccer jersey that he requested. Due to the heat (and absence of cooling crossbreeze at night which impacted our sleep) we had abandoned plans to go up Arc de Triomphe or to visit the Père Lachaise cemetery. Ate dinner both of these nights after 10 because it was too hot to eat earlier; both dinners at cafés (clearly we’re not foodies as we are satisfied with simple bistro food). Continued to be thankful for the invention of rosé wine and that we could drink Parisian tap water (too hot to haul big bottles of water AND wine home from supermarché, though I was loving me some Badoit when we ate out). We were all looking forward to Wednesday (Day 11) when we would take the chunnel to London; was also hoping that Kate would have that baby on day we were in London so we could hear gun salute, maybe see Queen handing out cigars, etc.

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    ay 10: Two Strikes and London Is Out

    A few years ago, in the midst of a vacation in Paris, we (family of four) did a day trip to London. I wasn't really impressed with the city because what I saw that day was so different than the charming London depicted in photos and film. One of the reasons, I think, is that the city seems to be put together haphazardly, new and old construction next to each other, unlike Paris, which profited from Baron Haussmann's remodeling job during the 19th century. However, so many people just LOVE London, I thought it might be nice for sister-in-law and niece to see the city, and a great family friend is living there now so I decided to give London another chance and scheduled a day trip for us.

    The Eurostar tickets said to arrive at the station 30 minutes before your trip and we did that, only to discover there were multiple hoops to jump through before the Brits would let us in (I did not remember this from our first Chunnel voyage; have things changed or am I getting forgetful? Probably the latter). A initial ticket check was followed by a passport check, and then we had to fill out a form with our name, passport number, and other information and we were interrogated by a very unfriendly woman who wanted to know why we were going to London and when we were going back to the U.S. (what does that have to do with anything?). So tempted to say that I was going to London to steal the crown jewels or to stalk the Royal Family (Kate, have that kid on the day we’re in the U.K., will you?) but instead gave answer that got us past the guard (sightseeing and lunch with family friend).

    After this hoop we had to go through security scanners. Finally cleared to get on the train and arrive at the gate...as the boarding door was closing. European trains leave on time and this is why; latecomers are not seated. No problem because at desk nice French man arranged our tickets so that we were on next train (in 30 min) as we all smiled at crazy family arguing with each other; father was yelling at son, mother was yelling at father, and son was trying to speak to desk man while explaining to father that the train has most definitely left without them (all I could understand: father saying, “no, no, no”).

    Moral of this story, be at Eurostar gate 1 hour before train leaves.

    Made it to London, got through tube to Kensington Palace, our first stop. No sign of any royal, adult or newborn baby. Had tickets to attend a dress exhibition in palace; dresses were beautiful, in particular the Queen's. Diana's dresses were instantly recognizable and although I was most looking forward to seeing these, they were my least favorite because while her clothes are stunning it is clear that her beauty and personality were the most important parts of her "look." (Link here: http://www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonPalace/stories/palacehighlights/FashionRules/default.aspx)

    Kensington Palace was a disappointment. It was HOT (hopefully the royals have A/C otherwise poor, very pregnant Kate would have been dying in there) and the grounds were not that attractive (apparently the thrifty Queen does not water her grass in the summer). We were also surprised at the small size of the dress exhibition. Zipped through the Queen's apartments (Victoria was tiny!) and then headed out to meet friend, her son, his wife, and their two sons for lunch. After hot walk in palace and in London were thankful that friend had chosen restaurant across the street. Great lunch: British food is not all bad! (Link to restaurant info here: http://www.kensington-chelsea.com/index.php/spaghetti-house-comes-to-kensington-high-street/).

    Afterwards we headed to Big Ben and thought of going into Westminster Abbey. But...18 pounds each to see inside a church? No thanks; we explored the neighborhood around the church a little bit (there’s a little hidden courtyard across the street from the front entrance to Westminster Abbey that made a nice, cool walk for us). We were all hot and tired and London was SO crowded that we gave up; we decided to tube back to St. Pancras where we bought British tabloids (I have a sad, sad addiction to the Daily Mail). I suffered further disappointment when I learned that the Boots formerly located in the station had been closed. Damn you, London, I gave you another chance and you screwed up. Your people are nice but your city annoys me so I don't think I'll be back anytime soon (though son will be studying here next summer so I may have to give it yet another chance. And I know that one day is not a fair shake by any means).

    We have learned our lesson and we made our train with time to spare (BTW, getting back into to France was much easier than was getting into the U.K.). Finally were back in beautiful Paris, where it was 10 at night but still light. We were too tired to eat out so grabbed groceries and ate at home (the grocery store, Cité Carrefour at the École Militaire métro stop, was jam packed with Parisians buying party supplies, that is, wine). All were exhausted and the thought of getting up early the next day to go on what was predicted to be another hot day to tourist-packed Versailles was not appealing. But the tickets had been purchased and we would go (on yet another semi-disastrous train adventure).

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    Well different strokes and all that..was just in London for nine days and as happens every time I go, have my love for it re-newed.

    We went to Kensington Palace as well, and I also thought the dress collection was on the small side but otherwise loved what they've done to it. Apparently 18 months ago it had some re-furbishment and I particularly loved the William and Mary rooms, very clever.
    We spent an hour lounging under a tree on the grass, I thought it was very attractive.

    Must say I don't get the comments/jokes people make about bad British food, we ate very well, not a bad meal in the whole three weeks there and in Ireland.

    And as for annoying border guards/passport checks etc....you should try crossing into the U.S. as a foreigner.

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    I think British food has improved some from decades ago, but I still have never had a decent meal there -- in a British restaurant. Sure, I've had good food there, also, but it wasn't British, it was Indian or Italian, and the place mentioned about as good also was Italian, I note. And the food I had in Ireland was equally bad or worse, actually, but that was a couple decades ago. I've been in London off and on every few years, including recently, and have had pub food I could not stomach and could not eat after one bite, it was that bad. I remember starting out nonchalantly digging into it and nearly gagging on the first bite and it obviously showed, as some locals sitting near me started laughing, it seemed like they weren't surprised.

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    Christina, you ought to eat out with me then. And I am picky about what I eat. Honestly on this last trip we had maybe two meals where the food was at worst average. None of it was Indian either and only once in each country did we eat in a pub.

    Took my mother to England for three weeks in 2009 and she was surprised by how good the food was everywhere we went; after a while we were joking that we were just eating our way around England.
    I wouldn't tell her this but the most average/not great food we had was at her cousin's house.

    I also remember a million years ago on my first trip to England not being overly impressed with the food but I am now.

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    raincitygirl, I agree, I just need to find my London "groove" and I haven't yet. It is difficult because I love Paris & France so much, and because France is so close to the U.K., every minute that I spend in London I wish that I was in France.

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    Day 11: Let Them Go Someplace Else

    Alarm rang at 6:30 a.m. and I began extended internal debate; get my exhausted self out of bed and go to Versailles or waste the many euros spent for tour and train tickets. I am disciplined adult and my husband would have killed me if I wasted that much cash and so I got up (barely); convincing daughter and niece that they must get up was much, much more difficult than convincing myself. We all eventually made it out the door and to the train station, where our train trauma continued as we took the wrong train to Versailles.

    Rode backwards a couple stations, got off to catch correct train, and called tour company who promised to fix all (high marks for Viator, found at www.viator.com) . We finally made it to Versailles and were escorted to the palace to meet our tour guide; all we had missed was the garden tour (and on this hot day that was not a problem). As we walked to the palace I spoke French with the nice Viator employee and had one of those moments where I felt like I COULD speak French; however, I didn't get too excited as these moments are always followed by epic French language fails that put me firmly back in my American-classroom-French speaker place.

    Versailles was different than I had expected; I imagined the chateau would be surrounded by countryside but it is actually in the middle of a city. It is huge, and I can only imagine what people thought of it when they saw it years ago when it stood alone in the French forest (actually I know what they thought; the king is a jerk and we must cut off his head). Versailles was jam-packed with people, and as we assembled in front of the gate for our tour I was very grateful that we were not waiting in the miles-long line to get into the house.

    The tour was great, our guide was wonderful and the house indeed spectacular. However, what I found the most remarkable (and not in a good way) was the behavior of other tourists (of all nationalities, no stereotypes please) inside the house. I was shoved and pushed and big cameras were in my face and large camera lenses constantly blocked my view. Also was bothered by the constant photo-dodging that we had to do as the many photographers searched for a perfect shot/pose/smile while the hundreds of other tourists that surrounded them tried to continue their tour. After some time I got tired of this and I photo-bombed away (I will be appearing in many vacation photo albums across the world later this summer). Towards the end of the tour a couple argued loudly with each other as our guide tried to describe one of the rooms in Marie Antoinette’s apartment; I’ve forgotten which room we were in as the argument was so distracting. We finally finished the tour (sadly it was such a battle that it was a relief when it was over) and decided to lunch at Angelina's in the chateau (We were eating lunch IN the palace of Versailles! Living history so cool!). While the room, service and food at Angelina's were wonderful, we sadly witnessed more bad behavior as we ate.

    It was a warm day and the poor waitress, wearing a long skirt and a heavy blouse, was literally running between tables. It was clear that she was busy and doing the best that she could, and yet many diners acted as if they were the only customers in the restaurant. One group left when the waitress did not get to them soon enough (that is, immediately). The table across from us complained about what they ordered and seemed more interested in giving the male server who brought the food a hard time vs. rectifying the situation (he offered many times to take food back but they just continued to complain). A woman at that table laid her head down and fell asleep during the meal (this is at what the tour guide described as the “nice” restaurant at the chateau). As she paid her bill, a woman lunching at the next table with daughter loudly complained to the host that she never got her bread or water; he replied with a spectacularly intoned "hmm" that skillfully struck a balance between "I am so sorry, madam" and "screw you.” Teach me your secret, French man, I want to learn how to make that noise because it could be useful in so many situations (like those we found at Versailles).

    Faith in humanity was somewhat restored on the train ride back during which daughter and I conversed with nice couple from Louisiana. Once again, all were happy to be back in Paris; feet were killing us (despite all wearing old, comfy shoes today, fashion be damned) and thus decided to have dinner at café at end of block because we could not walk any further (Café Gaspard on rue Duquesne, not a bad choice). Ah, another dinner on la terrasse in the perfectly warm Parisian evening (with more rosé, of course). We'd made it through two days of tourist hell and looked forward to a more relaxing pace during the following (and last) days of our trip.

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    dlejhunt, I get it, some places speak to us more than others and sometimes it is just the circumstances which make it a better or not-so, trip. I love Paris too and also Italy, so it is always a big fight in my mind as to which place wins my next trip...I want to go to all my favourites as much as possible!

    Enjoyed this latest instalment, aren't people just great? ha ha. First time to Versailles was in October and not very crowded compared to your description, second time in July and it was madness so I let my DH and DS go through the palace and I opted for strolling through the gardens and the hamlet. Much better. But I ate lunch first in one of the restaurants and witnessed some similar ugly behaviour as you describe. You just have to wonder are those people like that all the time or does travelling just do some people in to the point of losing all sense of decency and manners.

    I stayed recently at a very nice hotel in Cornwall and one night we were seated close to a couple with very plummy English accents. The waitress was asked by the man to recite the specials, not once did he or his wife look at her and mid way through, he interrupted her, barked out their order and then motioned with his hand (as if sweeping crumbs off the table) and said loudly "that's all, move along!"

    We then tried to kill them both by death-ray stare. LOL.

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    Loved reading your trip report! I found London overwhelming, and the streets difficult to navigate. I actually thought the people were unfriendly (although I hoped it was because of the crummy weather they were having!). Nonetheless, I fell in love with London and found it nothing short of magical at night. I felt the same about Paris. Also, I caught the Lichtenstein exhibit in Chicago last year - SO memorable. Lastly, I'm glad you bought the pants for your daughter. :)

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    raincitygirl: I LOL'd as I read about your experience and your death-ray stare; my daughter is an expert at that and we should have used it, too.

    Annaandlulu: The pants were a good buy! She wears them all of the time and they're a good memory of how we out-foxed an avaristic lady and her husband. Literally a shopping win!

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    Oh, wonderful!! One of the best trip reports ever, thank you so much for sharing this lively, lovely adventure!! And that apartment - looks like you got it through Arch Digest rather than VRBO!

    Hope others are picking up on one of your best travel tips: naps!! We don't actually have to go-go-go every moment of the day. A refreshed traveller is a much happier traveller.

    (Death-ray stares: Airport in Jamaica. Hot. Flight delayed. Group of noisy teens near us are being really REALLY loud and obnoxious. I'm looking (ok, death-raying) in their direction. From behind me, my 25 y.o. son says: "Stop it Mom! I can tell what you're doing from the back of your head." (Voice of experience, that boy...) Sorry to digress - but thanks again for a great vicarious read!

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    >>a very unfriendly woman who wanted to know why we were going to London and when we were going back to the U.S. (what does that have to do with anything?)<<

    You'd be surprised at the number of nice, respectable-looking people who claim to be "just visiting" and somehow end up working illegally (there are a few entertaining threads here somewhere on people who imagine there's some magic formula that exempts them from that sort of rule).

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    Day 12 in Paris: Bubble Wrap and Live Porn

    We decided that our last days in Paris would be sightseeing-free. Sister-in-law and niece had a long list of people to buy souvenirs for; I wanted to buy some perfume at the Serge Lutens boutique and daughter wanted to see the Art Deco exhibit at the Pinacotheque (more art gallery than art museum so technically not sightseeing).

    After our trips to London and Versailles we were exhausted and sister-in-law and I did not get out of the house until lunchtime. We woke up girls when we returned and then relaxed in apartment while they lunched at La Terrasse (next to the École Militaire métro stop). We had been less than thrilled with the service here but the girls were giddy when they returned; they had been heavily flirted with by waiter and thus discovered the advantage of leaving middle-aged mothers at home. Finally got out of house together and headed to BHV to buy packing supplies (we were given bottles of wine for husbands and decided it was the least we could do to bring them home). Was forced to buy 3ft. long roll of bubble wrap which was only size BHV carried, and then forced to carry large roll of bubble wrap down the rue de Rivoli because nobody wanted to return home to drop it off. Pretended I wasn’t embarrassed and that I looked like a sophisticated Parisian buying moving supplies but in reality I’m certain I simply looked like (embarrassed) middle-aged American woman carrying a giant roll of bubble wrap.

    Headed to Serge Lutens perfume boutique in the Palais Royale (http://www.sergelutens.com/ ); I’ve been a fan of their perfume for a long time and wanted to buy a bottle of their newest scent, La Fille du Berlin. The boutique is like a purple jewel box and the perfume selection extensive and almost overwhelming; we were assisted by charming and beautiful young woman, all were dazzled and several bottles of perfume were bought (in fact, we all returned the next day to buy more).

    All took naps upon our return (even girls who had slept until 2); the heat was oppressive and we had now lost the evening breeze that cooled the apartment. We decided this night to have our last restaurant dinner at Café des Officiers (planned a picnic in the Champs de Mars for next day). The waiter, who had badly messed up our order the previous week, greeted us as old friends and was particularly nice to me because I had suggested that his error was due to my badly accented French and not his confusion. Everything was perfect (waiter asked after serving us, “It’s all OK?” and broadly smiled when we answered “yes” ). The warm night was perfect for outdoor dining; the scenery this evening became especially interesting when, towards the end of dinner, niece spied two naked men on top floor hotel balcony overlooking the café terrace. On honeymoon perhaps? (yay finally possible!). Camera flashes indicated that they were taking pictures of each other (I assumed that from up there the Eiffel Tower was in the background). Room lights went on. Then off. More people dining on café terrace turned to watch the show and waiter came to see what everyone was looking at. Wait…is one of them kneeling down? Oh, dear…thankfully they decided to finish whatever they were doing inside their room and the show was over. Thanks guys: this was our last café dinner in Paris and it was a memorable one.

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    PatrickLondon: The question seemed particularly inane to me since we were coming to the U.K. from France and not the U.S. Since we had no luggage and were clearly a group of four (she waved the rest of my group through quickly after questioning me) it would have been quite a stretch of the imagination for her to have thought that we were trying to sneak in the U.K. to work illegally.

    I also objected to this woman because she was rude. She interrogated a young man in front of us for quite some time and not only asked him when he was going back to the U.S. but also how he was returning home. He was so nervous that he blurted, "by train" which prompted her to ask, sarcastically, "By train? Really?" After a painful silence the young man stammered, "Train to airport, I mean, then plane" and after a nasty look she passed him through. Quite frankly, I was somewhat frightened to approach the booth!

    I'm certain that there are rude border control people working in every country of the world and don't want to pick on the U.K. My point is that if you're the very first "face" of your country you should try and at least be somewhat pleasant to people.

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