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2 Weeks in France - Paris and Provence - Trip Report

2 Weeks in France - Paris and Provence - Trip Report

Old May 14th, 2011, 04:01 AM
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2 Weeks in France - Paris and Provence - Trip Report

Hi Everyone! I decided to keep a blog on this trip so I'll be reposting that stuff here as well. Mostly written for my friends/family and I don't have time during the trip to edit for this group so I apologize if there is superfluous information and/or not enough of the impt travel info - please feel free to ask questions about where something is or anything like that! Hope you enjoy. [Sam is my husband, btw]

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We're finally in Paris - given that we booked this trip last July (that's how it goes when you're redeeming miles), it's hard to believe we're actually here!

The trip here was incredibly smooth. Beginning with the tucked away British Airways lounge at Dulles Airport - now I know why the general airport population looks so unkempt. The lounge is amazing, although we were still second class citizens with our Open Skies tickets, as only the actual BA ticket holders can eat the buffet dinner food. But we had enough to eat and drink - small tea sandwiches, cheese, cookies, and free alcohol. I've never gotten on a plane that tipsy before. It was part of my plan to drink enough to fall asleep, but of course I forgot that alcohol actually makes jet lag worse. Oh well.

Open Skies is owned by British Airways and is an all business class airline that is about 60% "Biz seats" that don't recline all the way, and 40% "Biz beds" that do. We had biz seats which are sort of like domestic business class seats but they do recline quite a bit. It's like sleeping in a very nice reclining lounge chair. The flight attendants were the old fashioned kind, right down to the little french hats and the "would you like a warm towel?" Awesome, I could definitely get used to this. The food was wonderful and we ate it all despite being full from the food we had in the lounge.

3 hours of sleep and a warm croissant later and we had landed! Orly Airport is another perk of flying Open Skies. I have never been through CDG but customs and luggage pickup at Orly was a breeze. We were able to buy the Paris Museum Pass there too, and the very kind people at the info desk took one look at our luggage and suggested a cab, which was the right choice and not nearly as expensive as we'd imagined.

Sam was the hero of the day - carrying two extremely heavy bags up four (more like six although it was advertised as four) flights of narrow curvy old stairs to our apartment in the St. Germain area of Paris in the 6th Arr. We phoned our landlord who, in his delightful accent, said he was "outside paris" and would "come tomorrow." No problem, we didn't need him, the apartment is perfect - clean and small and cozy and with a little balcony.

In order to save myself from the temptation of a nap, we went out to walk around the area. We are only two blocks from the Seine, so we strolled along there and then walked south a bit looking for a cafe to get some breakfast (or lunch? honestly we had no idea what time of day it was or what meal we should be eating at this point, only that we were hungry). Now, anyone reading this probably knows that Sam and I are really really into food. And that was one of the things we were most excited for on this trip. However, even we were not prepared for the insane array of food everywhere you turn. The streets are filled with an overwhelming number of sidewalk cafes crowded with people all facing the street of course, snack shops with sandwiches as long as your arm, tea salons, ice cream stores, and street market stands selling cheese, fresh fruit, and rotisserie chicken.

In our jet-lagged haze we found the decision even harder than usual. We first sat down at a cafe on or near Rue de Buci and then discovered with my terrible french that breakfast was no longer being served (it was 12:05). So we went to a cafe/bar/restaurant next door where I was able to get a mushroom omelette and Sam a "croque norwegiene" with smoked salmon. I was able to order orange juice and hot chocolate all in French, but then when Sam wanted water my brain turned off and I told him to just order it in English. Of course the waiter understood, and was quite patient with us. After that we just wandered around the streets getting lost, stopping every few seconds to read a menu or pop into a boulangerie or a patisserie. We are constantly pointing things out to each other, usually with our mouths open in awe at what we are seeing. It's sensory overload here, but in a good way.

I hope we are awake enough to take advantage of the relatively nice weather, as there might not be more for awhile. Perhaps a boat cruise on the Seine or a visit to the Eiffel tower? I'll update later!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 05:25 AM
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Great start. Looking forward to reading this. What apartment are you staying in?
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:22 AM
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yeah, great start

i love your enthusiasm
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:31 AM
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thanks for sharing, shar.

Look forward to more.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:32 AM
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Super! More, please and yes, where are you staying?
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Old May 14th, 2011, 12:36 PM
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Thanks! We are staying here: http://www.parisbestlodge.com/ppp.html
More to come soon....very soon if I don't fall asleep..if not, then tomorrow. Jet lag is the worst!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 12:49 PM
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More of Day 1 - the longest day ever..

I feel like I haven't slept in a year....But anyway, so after I last left off we succumbed to temptation and took a nap, but we set an alarm and very reluctantly got up after it went off..again...and again. We stopped for tea at this cute place in this little passageway (Passage Dauphine) across from our apartment at L'heure Gourmande where we had lemon cake, goat cheese tart, and tea of course. We'd intended it to be a quick snack before hopping on a 6:30 boat ride, but we are learning that NOTHING in Paris is quick. This is nice because everything has that leisurely pace, but not nice when you're in a hurry (I suppose the trick is never to BE in a hurry).

So we just took the next took the next boat cruise on the Seine river instead. We went with Bateaux les Vedettes du Pont-Neuf (Thank you Fodorites for the tip on the discount coupon). While I've done this before at night which is lovely bc of the lights, it is not that warm out and I didn't feel like freezing at night. I was hoping for sunset but forgot that happens very light here. It was a nice hour ride up and down the river, perfect for getting oriented geographically and having some great views of main attractions like the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower - a preview of what's to come.

We were too tired to track down any of the restaurants I'd done some research on so we ended up back in the lively Rue de Buci area, which, while touristy, is definitely the greatest place to people-watch that I've EVER seen. There were musicians performing in the street that we watched over a carafe of wine, and then we moved onto the Bistro with the tastiest looking frites - Peres et Filles. We both had onion soup and frites which were absolutely delicious. I can't eat like this for the next two weeks but I need to get some of it out of my system now! We picked up some groceries so we can at least have a light breakfast in the apartment in the morning.

And now, my pillow is calling....
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Old May 14th, 2011, 01:07 PM
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Thanks, Sharbear84, I love these live trip reports!! Waiting for more.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 01:49 PM
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Thanks Shar. Enjoying the report and looking forward to Provence.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 02:09 PM
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What a great start, I'm looking forward to reading more.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 05:27 PM
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Ah, sharbear. The one with my childhoood nickname combined with the year I graduated from high school (prob the year you were born). I remember reading about your trip planning and am so glad you are finally in Paris and having a blast. Love the details. Keep it coming (after you get some rest, of course.)

~ Shar
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Old May 15th, 2011, 10:11 AM
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looking forward to more...I love the 6th!
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Old May 15th, 2011, 10:23 AM
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Bonjour! What a difference 10 hours of sleep makes. I can now fully appreciate Paris instead of seeing it through the tinted haze of exhaustion. (and sorry for the many typos in the previous entry!)

We woke up late but decided to try to make the free walking tour of the Marais area that we had reserved (I love this free tour concept - of course you are supposed to tip but you feel so great that you're getting something "gratis"). Luckily, the Paris Metro is much faster than the DC Metro and even on a Sunday morning trains were coming every 4-5 minutes, so we made the tour with time to spare. On the Metro you have to actually pull a lever to open the doors to get out; it's a good thing I saw other people do it or we would have been standing there like idiots waiting for them to slide open automatically. It started to rain a little which it did on and off for a while and then the rest of the day was cool, with a mix of sun and clouds.

Chris, our tour guide, was very sweet and spoke very good English. The group was a mix of clearly American tourists and a group of Australians who peppered the guide with questions. We started out at the Etienne Marcel metro stop and highlights of what we saw include: the Les Halles area (which used to be a giant food market and is now an ugly shopping mall about to be torn down and replaced by an even uglier shopping mall), Centre Pompidou (modern art museum - apparently revolutionary in its design, with all the pipes and air vents being outside the walls of the building), Saint Eustache church, the Jewish area in the Marais (including falafel samples from L'As du Falafel..yum), Place des Vosges, and Place de la Bastille.

Interesting things I learned: The term "gothic" architecture came from an insult that someone (I forget who) gave to the churches he thought were ugly, naming them after the Visigoths. The biggest French controversies seem to concern modern buildings and whether they belong amongst the older ones. Also, all French are socialists (just kidding) - our guide lamented the fact that many of the fancy apartments surrounding the Place des Vosges remain empty while many in Paris are homeless. On the other hand, apparently many of these fancy apartments now belong to rich Brazilians and Saudi royals, because the "French are not so rich anymore," he said. I was happy to hear him discuss the oft-hidden role of the French in the Holocaust, including the deportation of school children to the Concentration Camps. He mentioned two good movies about this that I've seen - Le Raffle, and Au Revoir les Enfants. When he talked about how the city had given apartments in the Marais to low-class city workers to get people to live there, someone pointed out that those apartments probably used to belong to Jews. Good point.

After the tour we needed to rest our weary legs so we sat down at Cafe Hugo right off the Places des Vosges. Yes, we wanted some time to rest and eat. No, we did not expect it to take over two hours. I know, you thought I learned this lesson yesterday. We had the "Brunch Complet" which comes with hot drink, orange juice, baguette with jam, eggs with smoked salmon or bacon or cheese and dessert. SO MUCH FOOD. We had to split a desert and had no room for the Macarons at the nearby Gerard Mulot. Another day...

We walked over to Ile St Louis - such a charming island in the middle of the Seine. We passed a real estate office - studios there cost over a million euros. Craaazy. The island is also home to more ice cream than I've ever seen, but again, we were too full to have any. We crossed over to the neighboring Ile de la Cite and headed to the Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the line was really long and our museum passes don't let us skip that line (boo) so we just looked at the outside, but we'll try to go back. Right outside the Cathedral we stumbled into some sort of bakery/pastry festival! It said it was a meeting of the best bakers in the world, and we got to watch them baking baguettes. Very cool. We also walked through a flower market that was selling birds. Hundreds of singing birds in cages of all colors of the rainbow - yellow, turquoise..it was quite a sight. I wanted one but figured customs would probably not let me through with a live animal....too bad.

We also visited Sainte Chapelle, a smaller Cathedral nearby with breathtaking stained glass (we were able to skip the line there - yay), and the Conciergerie - a museum in what used to be the prison during and after the Revolution. Upwards of 2,000 people were detained and executed there. It definitely has the requisite creepy atmosphere going on. On the way back we walked by Saint Germain square where we hadn't actually been yet, with the famous Cafe de Flore and discovered an outdoor Jazz concert that is apparently part of the Saint Germaine Jazz Festival going on this week. Now it is time to rest before dinner and drink the bottle of Cote du Rhone Sam we just bought at the corner store...
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Old May 15th, 2011, 10:36 AM
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Every time DH and I got to Paris, we returned to Ste. Chapelle but always missed the Conciergerie.

Really enjoying your report!
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Old May 15th, 2011, 11:40 AM
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This is really good. Keep it up, but enjoy your trip!
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Old May 15th, 2011, 01:05 PM
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The Conciergerie is fantastic!! I got tearful seeing that little fountain against the wall in the courtyard, thinking of the women (including Marie Antoinette) drinking water from there and having a brief glance at the sun.

Sharbear, what a great trip!!
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Old May 15th, 2011, 01:07 PM
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Thank you so much for all the kind words of encouragement! I find that writing the report while I'm on vacation, although it does take a little time, makes for much better recollections. Also it is a way to keep in touch with family back home so they know what we are up to - and a way to elicit real time suggestions and comments on this forum!
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Old May 16th, 2011, 05:23 AM
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A tip for you: when you get back home and watch Au Revoir Les Enfants, have a big box of tissue nearby!

I'm enjoying your report - thanks for sharing. I blogged on our Paris trip a couple months ago, and while it is nice to do it as you go, it really does take time. But we appreciate it, of course!
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Old May 16th, 2011, 10:50 AM
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So I must post about dinner last night. We ate at a place called "Fish - La Boisonnerie" (which is basically fish - fish if you translate it) on the Rue de Seine. They clearly cater to English speakers while still managing to be authentic and have good food, which made it perfect for us. Immediately we felt at home, it's a small cozy laid back place with an Australian bartender, who may also have been the owner, and several lovely English speaking waitresses. The menu clearly changes a lot, and the waitress was nice enough to run down the entire menu in English for us even though it was written in French. Every ten minutes or so you would see someone bringing baskets of focaccia bread from the sandwich shop owned by the same family I think across the street (Cosi - no relation to the one in the US). We ate so much of that bread it kind of ruined the whole idea of having a "light" meal, a difficult feat to achieve in Paris. I starte with a celery veloute (soup) with a poached egg on top and Sam had a cauliflower risotto with anchovies. Both were amazing. My entree was sea bream (dorade) with pesto and artichokes and Sam had red mullet. Both wonderful and light. We couldn't decide on a desert and asked the waitress her favorite, which was a lemon orange tart that was bruleed on top. The texture was almost custard-like and contrasted perfectly with the crispy topping, and the tartness was delightful. We also had some great wine. I would definitely highly recommend this restaurant!
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Old May 16th, 2011, 11:08 AM
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Paris - Day 3: Vespa-ing, the Louvre, and the Best Hot Chocolate in the World
So once again it was extremely difficult to get up this morning - I suppose this is some lingering jet lag or just exhaustion from all the walking. But the excitement about our Vespa tour with Left Bank Scooters got us up and out the door. Adam, our guide, met us with another couple and our vespa right outside our apartment. [Now a little background here - last time we rode a moped in Greece the woman renting them made Sam come back and exchange his for a less new one because she saw how badly he was driving it - so it was time for a little redemption.] I started out riding with Adam so Sam could get used to driving it without the extra weight. He got the hang of it very quickly and then I hopped on behind him. Admittedly, I'd been nervous, but driving behind Adam made it a lot easier. I could tell that Sam was relaxed, which made me relax, and we both had a ton of fun driving around the city and feeling like real Parisians (although not driving anywhere near as fast as they do or weaving in and out of cars). We got to see so many sites this way, stopping along the route for commentary from Adam. We drove through the Latin Quarter, past the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, past Notre Dame, over to the 1st Arrondissement and past the Louvre, then back over the Seine past Les Invalides and up to the Eiffel tower, just to name some highlights. I think its time to buy a Vespa back home!

After the tour we didn't want to spend so many hours eating, so we grabbed tuna sandwiches at a bakery and ate them while we walked. The long skinny sandwiches in Paris are so much easier to eat while walking than the way they make them in the US! We also had two yummy mini beignets fille with chocolate. We took the metro to the Louvre - we have really mastered the metro now, including changing lines. I love the Paris metro, it is so simple and intuitive to use and you never seem to have to wait for a train! We entered the Louvre from the "Carousel" (shopping mall) which is definitely the way to do it without the line from the main Pyramid entrance.

The Louvre...what can I say? I read beforehand that it is really overwhelming and you need to plan before you go, but I thought, how overwhelming can a museum be? Well, I was dead wrong. I actually almost had a complete melt down at one point when I couldn't understand where the audio guide was telling us to be and we couldn't find anything or decide what we wanted to look at. The place is MASSIVE. Apparently if you looked at every piece of art for two minutes you'd be there for seven weeks!!! Since we wanted to see the Mona Lisa anyway we decided to do the "Italian collections" tour on the audio guide. We finally got the hang of it and I would definitely recommend the audio guide, at least for me, in order to get something out of a museum like this I'd rather focus on fewer pieces and learn more about them rather than just rushing by everything, especially when the plaques are in another language. I also have to say this but I am not a huge fan of basically pre-Impressionism era art, although I can certainly appreciate it. The favorite things I saw were probably the Italian sculptures, the things they could do with marble are incredible. I just can't get into some of the religious pictures from the 14th and 15th century, but I do enjoy learning about the different art styles and it takes me back to my art and architecture class in college. I've seen the Mona Lisa before, so I was prepared for how it's small, and behind glass, and people are crowded in front of it taking pictures - but it's still cool. Sam wants to go back and see more of the Ancient Greek and Roman stuff, so we'll try to do that if we have time.

After, we were tired, but I insisted on going to Angelina's as I knew we were close by. Angelina's, hands down, has the best hot chocolate in the world. It's like chocolate soup. I can't describe it, just go have it. We also had their specialty pastry, the Mont Blanc, which is some chestnut cream concoction and a "New York-Paris"which was almond something something. I wish I had kept the menu somehow, because the intricacy with which they describe the pastries, each one consisting of about 10 elements, is fascinating.

We stumbled out of there and onto the metro again back to Saint Germain, where we went to the Mono-Prix store and FINALLY got a converter so I can use my hair straightener. Important, I know. We ran over to Rue de Buci to see if the rotisserie chicken guy was still there and yes, he was cleaning up but he had a few chickens and some potatoes left! But then came the bad part....he somehow charged us 26 Euros. Yes, we got totally ripped off. Sigh. I'm hoping that this is the best chicken I've ever tasted, I'm going to find out soon. We also picked up some salads as I'm worried about scurvy if we don't get some vegetables into our bodies soon.

A bientot!
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