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A NeoFodorite’s Trip Report—Adventures (and Misadventures) in Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Madrid

A NeoFodorite’s Trip Report—Adventures (and Misadventures) in Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Madrid

Old Apr 24th, 2006, 07:10 AM
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A NeoFodorite’s Trip Report—Adventures (and Misadventures) in Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Madrid

Hi everyone! I have been back from my trip for almost a week now, and I haven’t let myself near Fodor’s because I’ve had so much to catch up with. Now that I’ve finally been a teeny bit productive (no small feat with jet lag and post-vacation inertia to contend with) I feel that it is time to begin my trip sharing process. Forgive my excessive detail—my mom is a great listener, so I never learned to summarize.

First of all, I learned a few lessons on the flight to Paris from San Diego. I knew that we’d be running late as always, so I dropped off our dog and cat at the pet hotel the day before. We managed to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, especially since we weren’t checking any baggage! Our carry on luggage (2 each) were already filled to the brim though. We are such nerds that we packed our laptop, PSP (portable Playstation—for my husband, not me), mini disc player, portable DVD player, digital camera, video camera, and electric toothbrush…. Believe it or not, everything but the mini disk player got quite a bit of use! As I walked down the jet way to the plane a flight attendant saw me and said, “That’s a lot of carry on luggage!” but, I coyly smiled and continued onto the plane. In my opinion, once you make it past the boarding airline worker, you’re golden (I used this to my advantage for the flight home too).

We first flew to Dallas Fort Worth. Our flight change was easy and uneventful, aside from probably riding their tram system the long way to our next terminal. Once on the plane which would take us from Dallas to Paris, I started to notice more “French-looking” (and smelling!) people. In fact, one of them sat next to me. Daniel was a jolly gentleman, who tossed back the airline wine with great aplomb. He gave my husband and me all sorts of advice on what to expect in Paris. He even bought me some Chanel No. 5 from the Duty Free airline magazine! What savoir-faire!

The flight was tolerable except for an hour or two in the middle of it when I had “jumpy legs syndrome”. I had been sitting for too long and I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t watch the movie, and I couldn’t read my book (too boring). Worst of all, all my comfortable flight trappings were scattered through out all the pockets and compartments of three different carry on bags. I didn’t have the heart to disturb all my peacefully sleeping co travelers in order to find everything, so I had to buy a travel comfort package from the “Duty Free” magazine. With my eye mask and ear plugs (and blow-up neck pillow which I did find in my luggage) I could finally calm down and get a little rest. Next time I’ll also bring a little aerosol can of Evian water. My nasal passages were getting DRY with all the recycled air. At that point everything was annoying me. But, near the end of the 10 hour flight (which was due to land at 11 am Paris time), it dawned on me—I had no clue how we were going to get from the airport to the hotel. I vaguely remembered bits and pieces of other peoples’ Fodor’s posts regarding travel from the airport into various arrondisements, but of course I hadn’t bothered to transcribe any of it for my personal use (see http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34779761 post for a further illustration of my failure to plan).

Thank goodness for our new French friend Daniel! He gallantly rode the bus with us into the city, and offered to take the metro with us too, but at that point I was a walking zombie and the thought of dragging my luggage into the metro was too much! Instead he tucked us into a cab and gave the driver our hotel address. Daniel was a wonderful introduction to the kindness of French people.

Once at our hotel we crammed our luggage and me into the tiny elevator, and Edgar climbed the stairs. He couldn’t believe how small our room, and bathroom were! I, of course, knew what to expect after all my Fodor’s reading. Against the advice of some Fodorites, we took a three hour nap. We needed it! We then asked Julie of Hotel Monge front desk fame how to use the metro (there were two stations for two different lines less than a block in either direction), walked round the corner for some quiche and French pastry snacks, and headed off to get our bearings at the Eiffel Tower!

I have to admit that the view from the top was a little gray—the flowers hadn’t quite bloomed yet. I think we were just a week or two early, because I saw buds on a lot of trees. Since dusk was near, we decided to stay on top until it got dark. It was very windy, so we stayed on the leeward side so as not to shock our delicate Southern California constitutions. Our patience paid off when we saw the city lights sparkling! What a view.

The only problem was getting back down! It took 5 times as long to get down the thing than it took to get up. I’m exaggerating, but it did take longer to get down and it was more frustrating. The lines for ascending were organized and logical, while the “lines” to get down were a big crush of people with newcomers constantly cutting to the front. I finally got what everyone was talking about when they mentioned that other cultures have oddball queuing mores. I was wishing for some zigzag velvet ropes to keep everyone in line, but after 10 minutes of observing the laws of the jungle, we gave up and pushed to the head of the line too.

We headed to a home style French restaurant recommended by robjame--- but they were full, so we tried another bustling restaurant on the same street that looked popular, called L’AOC. It had good food and service. Edgar had the steak and I had the “baby ham” as the waiter called it. It was actually deliciously moist pork tenderloin.
A little dog even wandered by our table. It’s so interesting to see dogs in restaurants in Europe! I wish I could take my dog to restaurants here in the US.

We went back to the hotel and slept a full eight hours. When we woke up refreshed and energized the next morning; we were so proud of ourselves for being impervious to jetlag. The next day we were to find out how “pervious” to jetlag we really were.

Since it was Saturday we decided to go to Versailles, after all, the next day was the first Sunday of the month, and any self-respecting Fodorite knows that the Louvre is free then.
So, we asked Julie for directions to Versailles. She whipped out a handy preprinted sheet with directions there. She is the most organized and knowledgeable front desk lady ever! We stopped to buy some pastries for breakfast, and on a whim bought a crudite to bring a long as a snack (We pointed out the one that looked the tastiest and the girl told us it was duck! I had never eaten duck before, but decided to give it a try. Delicious!). Then, it was a quick 45 minute trip on the metro and an RER train. Julie’s preprinted directions to Versailles pointed out that we could include our Versailles admission with the roundtrip RER fare. This turned out to be a stroke of genius, as there was very long line to buy tickets to get into the Chateau, but if you already had tickets you could waltz right in. Of course, we didn’t know that at first, so we stood around in line with everyone else for about 10 minutes before we realized our good fortune.

We enjoyed our wanderings through the Chateau, and when we got out to the grounds, we realized that we were an hour and a half early for the water show (we went on the weekend in order to see the water show). My husband wanted to wander around the grounds until the show started, I on the other hand had seen the Las Vegas Bellagio water show (seen one you’ve seen ‘em all, right?) and had a hankering for the famous creperie next to the train station. My DH caved into my wishes and off we went to gorge ourselves on crepe greatness. Yum! This was one of my favorite meals in France. The ingredients are so fresh and so delicious. The wait staff didn’t speak much English, so we had to rely on our Rick Steve’s French phrase book to get by. My husband enjoyed the service so much that he feverishly flipped through our phrase book until he came up with this gem: “Les Francais sont gentils” (the French are friendly). The waiters got a kick out of DH’s efforts to communicate.

We then took the RER train back to the metro and since we had some time to kill before our 9:45 Bofinger reservation, we rode the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. It took a bit of circumnavigating, but we finally found the underground passageway to get to the Arc (it’s in the middle of a busy roundabout, so you have to walk under the street to get to it. We were so excited to get to the top that we raced Stairmaster-style all the way to the top. The only problem was that I forgot to stretch out at the top, so I had crazy muscle spasms in my legs the rest of the night.

We took some great pictures from the top and oohed and ahhed at the intermittent sparkling frenzies of the Eiffel Tower, and then I spied the Champs-Elysees beckoning me with its neon lights and fashion. That is definitely the place to be on a Saturday night! The sidewalks were packed. We gazed around for a while, and then rushed off to our dinner reservation. When we got to Bofinger we were chagrined to see that everyone was wearing dressy clothes while we were still in our jeans and trainers from our earlier activities. We saw a few other people also dressed down a little, but we would have felt much more comfortable if we had dressed up. Nevertheless, the place was hopping, and we were glad for our reservations as there were quite a few people waiting for a table. We both had French Onion soup for our starter (THE BEST EVER), Edgar had the chateaubriand and I had the monkfish. The steak was wonderful, but I was under whelmed by the monkfish. The dessert of raspberries sandwiched between layers of thin pastry and whipped cream was amazing.

To be continued…
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 07:44 AM
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Very enjoyable! Looking forward to more.
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 09:06 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Y.

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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 09:22 AM
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Looking forward to more. Go Pads!
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 09:29 AM
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"The next day we were to find out how “pervious” to jetlag we really were."

Ah, sounds like someone else who gets hit by "day 3" jetlag. I know the feeling.

Looking forward to reading more about your trip.

Anselm
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 11:00 AM
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Looking forward to hearing more! How was the Air Comet experience?
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 11:09 AM
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Thanks for the props everyone. Here's the next installment:

This may serve as a testimonial to the quality of the Hotel Monge curtains and double paned windows: on Sunday we slept in until 2:30 pm! Imagine our dismay when after stretching luxuriously we checked our watch and discovered the time! We should have already showered, eaten, seen a couple of sights, and eaten again by that time! We had slept for more than 14 hours.

Needless to say, we cut a few corners on our beauty routines and raced over to the Louvre. We had to get our free Sunday’s worth, after all. It was quite a line to get in at the center pyramid. The next day we found out that there are two other entrances on either side of the pyramid toward the mini Arc. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. We waited for about 20 minutes, and then raced around to see the Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo. That’s right folks; we just checked those off of our list, Philistine-style.

Cut us some slack, though—we were on a tight schedule thanks to our beauty sleep. We then hailed a cab and raced over to Sainte-Chapelle. We probably could’ve walked just as fast, but we didn’t really know where we were going. We got there before the 5:30 pm last entrance cut off, but the place was locked up. There was a nice Spaniard who told us that they had been letting people in, but then they had closed the doors when they were full. Undaunted still, we zipped over to Notre Dame to check it out. We got there as mass was starting, so as we quietly admired the splendor, we were serenaded by some lovely a Capella singing. Then we headed back over to Sainte-Chapelle to wait in line for the concert. It was a real trial of faith waiting outside a locked church, especially with others in the line muttering, “I doubt they’re even putting on a concert tonight.” But, when a gentleman ahead of me started talking in French on a walkie talkie marked “S.C. Concerts,” I knew that we were good to go.

The best part about the concert was that you are seated in the chapel before the sun goes down, so you can kill two birds with one stone: drink in the beautiful stained glass and listen to a wonderful concert. I was too cheap to buy the programme (it was in French anyway), but it was a chamber orchestra and choir and I believe they performed several pieces by Mozart. I was amazed by the quality of the music in such a gorgeous setting. My husband on the other hand, took the opportunity to snooze throughout the performance. As if he hadn’t slept enough that day!

We then stopped back at Hotel Monge to ask for a restaurant recommendation. This time we had them make a reservation so we wouldn’t be left out in the cold again. Le Jardin d’Ivy was great. It’s on Rue Mouffetard, and has a charming garden visible from the back windows. We were seated right at the window, so we could enjoy the view of lovely spring flowers. They also have funky sparkly art works all over the walls. It was a nice atmosphere. We got a couple of prix fixe menus. Edgar got the appetizer, main course option, and I got the appetizer, main course, dessert option. If you go here, forego the dessert option, their fruit tart dessert was laughable with canned fruit cocktail. However, the appetizers and main courses were wonderful. I had the duck. It had an intriguingly spiced sauce that made it memorable. My husband liked his food too… I think he got something with scallops.

More later…
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 12:52 PM
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Great report-thanks for sharing. I did the sleep til the afternoon by accident thing my first time in Madrid. I remember how bummed I was I had slept 1/2 the day away.
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 12:56 PM
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The latest I have ever slept in my life was in Paris! It was New Years' Day. We had been up until 4 am. Our hotel room had little natural light coming in, and it was a dreary day. We made it up to Sacre Coure just in time to see it get dark!
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 12:59 PM
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Yeah, it is horrifying to realize you've missed out on the amazing things you were planning to see. But we tried to put it into perspective: we were on vacation, and sleeping in was only natural... Of course we made sure to schedule wake up calls on mornings when we had important reservations from then on!
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 01:00 PM
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More, more! It is such fun to read your report.
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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I did the same thing in London one time, I slept until about 2pm. We woke up when the maid was banging on the door. My internal clock really got mixed up after that.

Great report!!
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 01:54 PM
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Great report, so far!
Thank you!

A quick question:
Is the creperie "next to" the Versailles train station easy to find?

Dina
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 02:51 PM
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dina4--Yes it is! As a matter of fact I had fortuitously found out about it on a fodors thread that morning before we left! How did I access the internet? By tapping into an unsuspecting person's unpassword-protected wireless internet connection, of course! Here's the info that I gleaned from that thread:

"Author: SusanP
Date: 11/10/2004, 04:56 pm
elaine, We had delicious crepes at La Coiffe Bretonne. It was directly on the street between the palace and the train station. If you're walking from the palace back to the train station, it's on the right-hand side, set back just a little bit from the sidewalk.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Author: elaine
Date: 11/10/2004, 05:16 pm
thanks, here's more info

A la Coiffe Bretonne
10 avenue Charles De Gaulle
(that is indeed the street that leads from the train station to the chateau as
SusanP said)
open daily lunch served 10-4, dinner 6pm to 11pm
prix fixe menu 10-18 euro for lunch or dinner, plus a la carte
tel 01 30 21 78 22"

I highly recommend it--the meal crepes were hearty and the dessert crepes divine.


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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 05:37 PM
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Thank you!!!

Can't wait to hear more of your adventures!
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Old Apr 25th, 2006, 09:20 AM
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waiting for your return...
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Old Apr 25th, 2006, 11:22 AM
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The next installment:

We rolled ourselves out the door of Le Jardin d’Ivy and down the street. My husband insisted on getting a dessert crepe at one of the many little crepe shops on the same street. Then we headed back to our hotel to prepare our luggage for check out the next day. I also used my anonymous friend’s free wireless internet connection to do a little advance preparation for Venice. I found out about the bus from the airport to the vaporetto, and about the 72 hour vaporetto passes, and cut and pasted a bunch of Venice restaurant suggestions into a word document so that we would know where to eat. I also scheduled a wake up call so that we wouldn’t miss our Fat Bike tour of Paris in the morning!

Miraculously our jet lag was gone and we woke up before our wakeup call. We woke up so early in fact, that we had time to checkout, stow our luggage in the Hotel Monge lobby, sit down for breakfast, take a quick jaunt to the Pantheon, get lost in the Jardin du Luxemborg, and take a cab to the Eiffel Tower to meet our bike tour.

Our Fat Tire Bike Tour was fun. It was a sunny day, the tour guide was very informative and friendly, and we got a kick out of seeing all the sights in such an active way. The only caveat is this: every one says that the tour is 4 hours. As far as actual touring time goes it’s probably more like 2 ½. First you have to walk from the Eiffel tower to the tour office where they keep all the bikes which is about 10 minutes away. Then everyone who didn’t reserve in advance has to pay, and everyone has to get fitted for a bike. That’s another 20 minutes or so. Then the tour is about 2 hours, and then you stop in the park next to the Louvre (Jardin des Tuileries) and eat at an overpriced, tourist trap crepe place for a full hour! And the crepes there are horrible compared to the crepes I ate near the Chateau Versailles. My crepe had canned mushrooms in it! I may have been especially aware of time because it was our last day in Paris, but that hour really dragged by. We then concluded the last half hour of the bike tour and turned the bikes in.

My husband and I had planned to head back to Champs Elysees for some more shopping, when this girl who we met on our bike tour invited us to check out Printemps with her. We hopped on the metro and headed over. I was half expecting some sort of cheesy discount emporium, but this was a designer label paradise! I had never seen that many beautiful designer purses in one spot in my life! It was then that my husband pointed to his watch and I realized: we had a plane to catch. Dear, sweet Printemps, I will be back, oh yes, I will be back.

We grabbed our bags from Hotel Monge, hopped on the metro to the bus station and took the Orly Express bus to the airport. I know it may seem silly to put ourselves through all that hassle instead of taking a cab, especially if we can afford the cab, but it’s a matter of pride to me. I like to figure out the public transportation and I also like to save money for future splurges. An unnecessary cab ride represents half of a delicious dinner out, or a cool souvenir…

In the line for our MyAir flight to Venice, we started to get a little nervous about the weight of our carryon luggage. We had brought everything but the kitchen sink after all. But, our fears were unfounded and they didn’t even weigh our bags, let alone charge us extra for them. We checked our two 22 inch rollers, and carried on our back packs. The trip was uneventful and we landed in Venice at 9 pm. After collecting our luggage we headed outside to find the bus. The girl who had sat next to me on the flight happened to be out there, so I asked her which bus would take us to the vaporetto. She pointed it out to me and I asked the bus driver if we paid for our tickets on the bus. He said we had to buy it about 50 meters away, but they were about to leave and this was the last bus of the night. I desperately sprinted to the ticket kiosk and fumbled with my euros, but managed to buy our tickets and race back before he drove off. I think he took pity on me and waited.

When we got to the main vaporetto stop I left my husband with the luggage and went to buy our 72 hour vaporetto tickets. We got on the vaporetto and started the slow haul to the center of Venice. My husband seriously doubted my sanity at that point. He kept saying, “Couldn’t you find something closer? Is it that expensive that we had to get a room this far out in the boonies?” He didn’t understand that the airport was the boonies. We finally got to our stop, rolled our luggage off and followed the hotel’s directions to Locanda Barbarigo.

We were beat after our long day of saying goodbye to Paris, navigating public transportation, and flying. So beat in fact, that when a couple of 40 something Italian men saw me walking toward them (sans DH, when I was buying the vaporetto passes) one of them said, “Ay Amiga!” as if he couldn’t believe any self-respecting woman would leave the house in such a state of disarray. If it had only happened once I would have called it a fluke, but it happened a second time with a different set of middle aged Italian men. I wasn’t prepared for the Italian men to be so picky! I felt that I was entitled to look a little rough around the edges, considering my eventful day, but it did hurt my feelings a little bit. So, I resolved that for the rest of the trip if I saw any Italian men looking a little disheveled I’d say, “Ay amigo!” Oh yeah, and also put a little more time into looking pretty. Those reverse vacuum hair dryers aren’t as effective at taming frizz as our good old’ American hair dryers are.

Anyway, I digress. When we got to the front door of our hotel it had a note on it that said they closed at 8 pm, and we had to walk over to another hotel to check in and get our keys! So, since it was a dark lonely alley way, we went together, over two little bridges and down another alley, with all our luggage, tired and hungry, to get our keys. Then we had to go back down the alley, over two bridges and down to our hotel again, with all our luggage, tired and hungry, and annoyed that they didn’t tell us in the first place that if we came after 8 pm to go straight to the other hotel to check in. Oh, and on the way back to the hotel we saw two rats. And all the restaurants in Venice closed early so it took us about 30 minutes of wandering around to finally find a restaurant to eat in. And that restaurant, “Bacaro Lounge,” had unappetizing food. It was a challenging way to start our visit in Venice. We made some friends in Venice and they had an even worse introduction to Venice: they also arrived at night and got lost for 2 hours while looking for their hotel! Word to the wise: arrive in Venice during daylight.
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Old Apr 25th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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waiting for more!
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Old Apr 25th, 2006, 12:00 PM
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I can relate to your looking a bit worse for wear after that long day. We took our three kids to Paris a couple of years ago and took only public transportation. On the way home, by the time we pulled our luggage through the steets to the train, rode the train to the airport, found the checkin, etc. I was frazzled and exhausted; our bags had gained weight. I said "never again." When we arrive in Rome, I am going to spring for a shuttle to our hotel. And although the prices are outragous, I think I'll pay for a water taxi to get us from our Venice hotel to the airport.
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Old Apr 25th, 2006, 12:06 PM
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great report-will check back for more
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