France and Barcelona : 2016 Trip Report

Sep 11th, 2016, 09:39 AM
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France and Barcelona : 2016 Trip Report

It has been a few weeks since we returned from our trip to France and Barcelona, and work pressures prevented me from penning this down earlier. Before the memories begin to fade away, it is time to put finger to keyboard, and to describe it all, both for the benefit of readers on this site, as well as serving a memory bank for ourselves.

We were two couples travelling together, all 4 of us in the late fifties/early sixties. The two males (including myself) were college friends going back 45 years, and our wives have known each other too for the last 30 years. All of us have travelled extensively, and are the independent traveller types. Personally, I enjoy the planning almost as much as the journey, and everyone was happy to leave the planning to me, which I did with the help of travel sites and forums like this, plus Lonely Planet guidebooks. My DW and I had covered Southern Spain on an earlier trip, when we had missed out on Barcelona, and we were determined to add that to France in this trip.

Our broad itinerary was as follows :
Paris – 4 nights
Nice – 3 nights
Provence – 5 nights
Barcelona – 3 nights

Will write and post this in several installments. Here goes the first.

Day 1 : 6th August (Saturday) :
Our Air France flight from Mumbai to Paris was uneventful, and on time. It left at 2:30 am, and we were so sleepy when we got on, that we slept well on the flight. Arrived at CDG Paris at 8:15 am local time. Our friends, who flew in from Bangalore to Paris, arrived at about the same time, and we joined up together at the immigration line, which was really long. Most counters were unmanned, and it took a full hour of standing in the line before we could clear immigration.

Took a large minivan taxi to the hotel, which was the Le 123 Sebastopol Astotel, on Sebastopol Boulevard in the Marais area. Had written to them earlier requesting for an early check-in. When we called on our way to the hotel, we were told that our rooms are ready, which was a relief after a long flight. It was a lovely hotel, with nice spacious rooms, very artfully decorated. The location was perfect, sandwiched between two metro stations, each about a two minute walk away. And about a 15-20 minute walk from Notre Dame cathedral.

By noon we were all freshened up and ready to go. We strolled over to the Isle area, and had a super lunch at “Le Grenier de Notre Dame” on Rue de la Bucherie, just south of the Isle. It was a boutique organic vegetarian restaurant, and we had one of our better meals of this trip that day. Everything was exquisite, tasty and wholesome. Stomachs satiated, we walked back to Notre Dame, and went inside. Great atmosphere around the cathedral, full of tourists taking pictures. An iconic place to start the trip, and we too clicked our cameras a lot.

Notre Dame done, we walked over to nearby Chatelet metro station, and took the underground to Charles Gaulle E’toile. As we emerged from the metro station, we were right beside the Arc de Triomphe. What a sight ! Did not wish to go up to the top, but admired it from below. From here, we started our walk down Champs Elysees. It was gentle downhill in this direction, and felt lovely, with all the fancy shops on both sides. Probably the most famous street in the world !

It was warm, and after a while we needed a place to rest and cool ourselves. All sidewalk cafes were in the open, and warm. The cafes on the side of the street were all without air-conditioning. Finally, we had to duck into a McDonalds with good air-conditioning. Some soft drinks and ice-cream, cool atmosphere, and feet rested, we were ready to go.

We took the metro back to Chatelet, and walked back to our hotel. Rested for over an hour, and then went out for a brief dinner. We were totally pooped, sleep deprived the previous night, and tired after a long flight. Just walked a block to a French restaurant where we had a very sub-standard meal. Back to the hotel and a long restful night.
indiancouple is offline  
Sep 11th, 2016, 12:07 PM
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Good start. I look forward to more.
Coquelicot is offline  
Sep 11th, 2016, 01:26 PM
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I always love your trip reports! Bookmarking.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Sep 11th, 2016, 01:37 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report including your time in Barcelona, which we visited for the first time earlier this year. We are staying in the same Paris hotel later this year.
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Sep 11th, 2016, 01:52 PM
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Am hoping you enjoyed ice cream at some place other than McDonald's while in Paris....like Berthillon or Amarino. Also hoping that the dining improved but I know that dinner the first night can be challenging with jet lag. I am sometimes just so tired that it's hard to enjoy the meal.
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Sep 11th, 2016, 07:49 PM
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Thanks everyone for the encouragement. Will keep posting. Hope I don't disappoint you, Elizabeth_S. And denisea, we did get to eat ice cream on many occasions, but probably not at the famed Berthillon.
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Sep 11th, 2016, 07:50 PM
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Day 2 : 7th August (Sunday) :
Had a long sleep and woke up fully refreshed. The breakfast spread at the hotel was awesome, and we had a hearty meal. We all managed to trundle out by 8:45 am. Went to the metro stop two minutes away (Reamur Sebastopol) and boarded a metro to the Louvre. We all found the signages at the metro stations in Paris a little bad compared to metro stations elsewhere in Europe – perhaps because the Paris metro is so old.

On reaching the Louvre, the majesty of the building awes you first, even before you enter to see the exhibits. Truly grand and ornate. We entered from the main pyramid entrance – it was a Sunday morning, but the lines were not bad at all. The ticket counter lines were also quite short. We quickly purchased our tickets and went in. On a first visit, we decided to concentrate on the masterpieces, which by itself would take over 3 hours. Over the next 3-4 hours, we flitted from one wing to another, and managed to view the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Wedding Feast at Cana, Coronation of Napoleon, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and many more. Enroute to these masterpieces, one sees so many more great paintings and sculptures. In fact, the halls where some of the great sculptures are housed are a sight to behold – specially the one having the Horses of Marly. And when you are before the underwhelming and over-hyped Mona Lisa, I found it more interesting to photograph the crowds thronging around it, rather than photograph the painting !

Alas one cannot see more than five percent of the Louvre in one visit – it is so large. But after 4 hours, we could feel a sensory overload, and the beauty of the masterpieces were failing to excite anymore. We had taken one rest in between, to slake our thirst with some sodas at the cafeteria, and at about 1pm we decided to terminate the Louvre visit, and had some lunch at the museum restaurant.

We had booked tickets in advance for the Eiffel Tower top for 2:30pm. So on exiting the Louvre we took a taxi and headed to the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many times you have seen it on TV, the sight of the Eiffel Tower in real life is exhilarating. We were a little early for our time slot, and so relaxed on a bench with some ice-creams. At about 2:15 pm, we were allowed in, and we boarded the lift to the 2nd floor, followed by another lift to the very top. It was a very clear day, and the sights from the top were spectacular. One could see the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc quite clearly. The sight of Paris with the Seine meandering through it is very pretty. We had photo ops to our hearts content, and finally took the lifts down. It had been a long day, so we just boarded a taxi back to the hotel, where we rested for 2 hours.

Just after 7 pm, we walked to a nice Italian restaurant recommended by our hotel, about 10 minutes away, and had a fairly nice dinner. We then took a metro to the Bateaux Mouches, where we boarded the 9:40pm Seine cruise. I think the timing was perfect – it was just beginning to get dark, and the lights on all buildings were coming on. The next hour was truly magical. Paris by night on the Seine cruise is beauty beyond description. All the ornate buildings look five times prettier at night. And the Eiffel Tower all lit up is a sight to behold. Could not stop clicking the camera. A must do in Paris.

We got off the boat at about 10:45pm. Nearby the boat station is the spot where Lady Diana died in a car crash in the underpass, and they have built a small memorial in her memory. As we saw it, the clock struck 11 pm, and the Eiffel Tower began to twinkle for the next 5 minutes – it was mesmerizing to watch it. Then reluctantly, we decided to call it a day, and took the metro back to our hotel, and crashed into bed at midnight. It had been a great day, with some great weather.
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Sep 11th, 2016, 08:03 PM
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Great TR! Following along.
joannyc is online now  
Sep 12th, 2016, 06:49 AM
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I always love reading your trip report, looking forward for the rest of your report.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 06:54 AM
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Thanks joannyc & Kindgirl. Keep those accolades coming !!

More installments coming soon.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 07:20 AM
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Day 3 : 8th August (Monday) :
PARIS (Cont’d) :
We treated ourselves to a late wake-up today, and got up at about 9 am. There was no tearing hurry to go anywhere today. We had a leisurely breakfast, which did not disappoint once again. The spread at this hotel was wonderful, including hot eggs anystyle.

We strolled out into the Marais area, stopping first outside the Pompidou Centre to admire the funky exteriors. Then ambled on the long arterial road of Rue Franc Bourgeois, all the way to Place des Vosges. There were excellent shops all over the street, and the ladies had a field day shopping for handbags, sunglasses, clothes, jackets, and what not. When their hearts were full, and their feet were tired, we spotted a lovely creperia, where we sat down for lunch. Turned out to be the best crepes that we would taste in France during the entire trip. Cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but the crepes and fillings were just awesome, cooked to perfection.

I had wanted to roam around Marais a bit more, and visit the Village St Paul and Hotel de Ville, but all else were tired from the long hours of wandering around. So we walked back to the hotel and rested for a few hours in the afternoon. The hotel had a nice tea-room where they would place some tea and coffee with a variety of nibbles in the afternoon, and it was an excellent place to sit around. Well rested and recovered, we left at about 5:30pm by hailing a taxi to take us to Montmartre area.

The taxi dropped us at the steps of the Sacre Coeur basilica, so we were spared the arduous climb up to the hill top. The views from here were excellent, and the architecture of the basilica, as well as its interiors were all exquisite and unusual. That done, we strolled over to Place du Tertre, which had an electric atmosphere about it. Large number of street artists painting profiles of tourists who posed patiently. Buskers and musicians all over the place. Great place to roam around and while away time. Sat down somewhere for ice creams, and resumed our stroll on the lively plaza.

We then started our walk down, in a random manner, enjoying the neighbourhood as we crisscrossed various streets. We were headed in the direction of Moulin Rouge, which was a must see on my list. After crossing numerous sex shops, we finally reached there, and found a crowd posing for pictures and selfies around the place where the caberet was allegedly invented. It is an iconic landmark after all, though probably past its prime. We clicked a lot of pictures, and then took a taxi back to the area near our hotel.

We strolled around a bit, searching for a good dinner spot. Finally settled for a Thai restaurant on Sebastopol Boulevard itself. Reasonably decent meal, followed by a short walk to the hotel, and into bed.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 07:39 AM
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Along for the ride!
ssander
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Sep 12th, 2016, 07:48 AM
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Day 4 : 9th August (Tuesday) :
PARIS (Cont’d) :
This was our last day in Paris, and was devoted to the Versailles Palace. We had an early breakfast, and left by 8:45 am, as we had heard about long long lines to get in. We had to change trains/metro several times to get there, as part of the metro route was closed down for repairs.

We finally made it, and buying tickets was done in a jiffy. However, when we reached the palace, and saw the long winding line to get in, our hearts sank. We had to crawl in the line for almost 2 hours to get in, and standing in the sun for that long just drained our energy. It was 12 noon by the time we got to enter. The palace exteriors were just gorgeous and intimidating, with all those gilt edges around the buildings. But the interiors underwhelmed me – or at least the portions where we were allowed. The Hall of Mirrors was perhaps interesting, but the rest was just a repeat of dozens of other palaces we have seen all over Europe, minus the plush furnishings which had probably been looted and plundered during the French Revolution.

When we exited into the Gardens, we found them better than the interiors. Too huge to explore completely, and we were tired with that long entry line wait. After spending about an hour in the gardens, we left, and made our way to Rue de Satory, the eat street in Versailles. There were restaurants from all over the world on that street. Our friends settled on a Lebanese restaurant, and we selected the Indian restaurant next door. The meal was average, but it was our first taste of Indian food in 4 days, so it tasted good.

We then started our long journey back, with all those train and metro changes. One of the changes of metro was at St Germain Boulevard, where we decided to stroll around and explore the neighbourhood. We spotted a shop of Loding Shoes, which we entered, and I ended up buying a nice pair of shoes which burnt a big hole in my pocket. Then back to our hotel and some much needed rest.

In the evening, we strolled to the Notre Dame area, and the region just south of the Isle. Selected a Greek restaurant on a street full of eateries, and had an average Greek dinner. Took a metro back to the hotel, settled our hotel bills and retired for the night. We had an early morning train for Nice to board the next day.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 08:26 AM
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Day 5 : 10th August (Wednesday) :
NICE :
We had to get up real early today. Got ready and had a very early breakfast. We were out by 6:30 am, on a taxi to Gare du Lyon. Paris had been nice, with good weather, and an excellent hotel at a super location. Would stay here again if we were to return to Paris ever.

We boarded a train at about 7:20 am bound for Nice. Had booked first class tickets weeks in advance. Seats were good, it was a long 5 1/2 hour journey, and we all had a nice snooze on the train. Reached Nice station at about 1 pm in the afternoon. Our hotel, the Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare, was a short 5 minute walk away, and we found it in no time. An average hotel, but spacious comfortable rooms, minus the nice décor of the Paris hotel.

We left immediately for lunch. We were late, and most establishments were closing down. Walked about 10 minutes from our hotel, looking for a restaurant which had disappeared. However, found an Italian place called Trattoria which was open, and settled down. Turned out to be an excellent choice, and the meal was very nice. Then back to the hotel for our afternoon siesta, as the sun was too hot to go anywhere.

At about 6 pm, when the intensity of the sun had abated, we left and walked to the Promenade des Anglais, which was not far from the hotel. The look of the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean was very soothing to the eye, and the sights from the promenade were excellent. We spent the next few hours take a slow walk down the Promenade, stopping ever so often to sit down on a bench, or have ice creams, or click pictures of the lovely buildings on one side, and the beach on the other. It was a sobering experience to walk past the site of the gruesome terrorist attack which had taken place just a month before, where people had laid out toys and teddy bears to remember the children who had lost their innocent lives. Perhaps the attacks had resulted in large tourist cancellations, as a consequence of which we never encountered the kinds of crowds we had feared we would see in August.

We detoured slightly to walk through the restaurants in the Cours Saleya area, then back on to the promenade to walk all the way to the end, near the Parc du Chateau area. From a vantage point here, you can see the entire stretch of the Nice beach, and we watched the sun go down from here. Then slowly walked back, and made our way somewhere in the town to a nice restaurant called Luna Rossa, where we had made a booking. It was a very nice Italian restaurant, with well cooked unusual dishes. A nice dinner with wine, and we walked back to our hotel to retire for the night.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 02:48 PM
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Really interested to hear more about Nice and glad you got ice cream outside of McDonald's! Rough day at Versailles!
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Sep 12th, 2016, 07:20 PM
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Day 6 : 11th August (Thursday) :
NICE (Cont’d) :
Got up very late today, and we ate breakfast at 10 am. It was almost 11 am when we left the hotel, and walked to the Old Nice, called Vieux Nice. Strolled around Cours Saleya, where there was a huge flower and vegetable market put up. The makeshift stalls made for interesting shopping for the ladies, as did the very interesting narrow by-lanes and alleys which abounded here. Very cute shops everywhere, and a lovely place to just roam around. The promenade was a short block away, and sometimes we would pop over to the waterfront and sit down with a coke, and then pop back into the narrow alleyways.

Since we had feasted on a late breakfast, we were not too hungry by lunchtime. So we just bought some breads, tarts and a few bakery items, and had a makeshift lunch on one of the benches outside the bakery. Tasted good and light.

As we walked back to the hotel, we encountered a square full of fountains set to music, with a huge number of children playing around in the water getting wet. Remember seeing a toddler who was hell bent in “catching” the water from the fountain, as his mother tried to drag him away ! Another square where someone was playing some live music, and a large number of couples were waltzing away with excellent ballroom moves. Enchanting.

We rested awhile at our hotel, and then made our way to the train station, where we were to pick up a rental car from Hertz. We had booked a Renault Grand Scenic automatic, which could fit all our luggage during the next week of travel. We called to confirm, and were assured that our vehicle was ready. But on reaching there, we had to wait an hour before our vehicle arrived. Anyway, the person at Hertz was nice, and made the GPS free in lieu of the long wait, which was nice.

We drove off towards Monte Carlo. Had wanted to drive on the Three Corniches enroute, and also stop at Eze village, but we were already late, and I was having some trouble in driving a large car, so we decided to go straight to Monte Carlo. We did lose our way a little bit, but finally made it. We parked our car in a garage, and set out towards the casino.

The buildings were beautiful and ritzy. Grand hotels everywhere – the Metropole, Fairmont etc. Our friends, who are F1 racing fans, could relate more to every twist and turn of the roads, which are a part of the Monte Carlo racing tracks. Finally we emerged at the casino area, and it was a wow for all of us ! The line-up of cars outside was jaw dropping – Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, they were all there in full glory. Tourists were busy admiring the cars and clicking pictures. Every now and then another fancy car would drive up, a smartly dressed lady would step out, and the valets would descend upon the car to assist the gentleman out and park the car. It was a very very rich place, and an experience just to be there.

We first walked behind the casino, which looks out on to the Mediterranean – lovely landscaped gardens, views to die for, and a great place for photo ops. Cruise liners parked in the sea, the lovely casino building on one side, fancy hotels all around – it was superb. Then we made our way back to the front, and ventured into the casino. There was a E 10 entry fee, which was OK. The atmosphere in the foyer was also very rich and grand – very different from Las Vegas. This place was more classy and exclusive, and fewer people ventured inside. I guess most found the environs a bit intimidating.

Then went into the gambling room, and sat down on the roulette table. Just had to gamble at Monte Carlo. It was fun, and within 20-25 minutes, I had managed to lose E 100, and was done with my gambling ! Excellent fun however. After we were all done with the gawking and gaping, we came out and sat for a round of drinks at the crowded and hip café outside, which was a great place to sit and watch people go in and out of the casino.

Finally and regretfully, it was time to go. We slowly walked back to the garage, again admiring the lovely buildings everywhere, and drove back. Missed the exit at Nice, and went on quite a long distance ahead, before we could manage to turn around and return. It was late by the time we returned and parked our car in the garage near our hotel. We decided not to experiment, but went straight to the Trattoria restaurant where we had lunch the previous day, and had another good Italian dinner, before we called it a day.
indiancouple is offline  
Sep 12th, 2016, 09:38 PM
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I like the way your trip is both intrepid and civilised.
kerouac is online now  
Sep 12th, 2016, 10:20 PM
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That's an interesting comment kerouac..."intrepid and civilised" ! Could you kindly elaborate on what you mean ? I am curious.
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Sep 12th, 2016, 11:21 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. Can't wait to read the following !
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Sep 13th, 2016, 06:49 AM
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Day 7 : 12th August (Friday) :
NICE (Cont’d) :
Today was our full day outside Nice, so we decided to take an early start. Got up at 8am, and we were out of the hotel by 10 am. We retrieved our car from the garage (incidentally, garages in France seem to have the narrowest parking spots, and each time it took ages to park a large vehicle in it), and drove off towards Antibes.

At Antibes, we parked in front of the Tourist Office, where we also collected maps, and wandered in the direction of the waterfront. There were two lovely small ports next to each other – very pretty sight, with yachts moored everywhere, and a beautiful castle in the distance making a perfect backdrop for a picture postcard. We walked towards the rampart walls, and climbed over it, which offered a spectacular panoramic view. After soaking it all in, we climbed down and walked to the beach – nice sandy beach, contrasted with the pebbly beaches of Nice.

We next walked into the old town area, called Vieil Antibes. Cute place, similar to Old Nice, but we did not venture very far into the alleys. We sat down at a roadside café, and had some coffee/beer. Then back to our car, and on to s upper drive around Cap d’Antibes, as recommended by the Tourist Office. The entire drive was spectacular, with superb views of the sea, contrasted with ritzy houses on one side. Much better than Nice.

We drove off towards Biot village, which was not far, and were there by 2 pm. Sat down at a cute café, and had a nice crepe lunch. We walked mildly down the touristy street filled with bubble glass shops and some small glass workshops. We did not find anything particularly interesting, and drove off.

Next stop was Grasse, the so called perfumery capital of France, and we managed to snag a parking spot right outside the Fragonard factory. Antique set-up inside, with a very well conducted tour of their facilities, ending in some sample sniffings. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour of perfumery manufacturing process, and ended up buying some nice perfumes.

The last stop for the day was St Paul de Vence, and the drive to that place was lovely. As the village surfaced on the horizon, it looked enticing from a distance with unique architecture. When we reached, we parked in a gorgeous looking garage, and strolled into the village. We were not prepared for the sublime beauty that confronted us. Most amazing place, which defies description. One of the high points of this trip. A very quaint village, set on top of a hill, with inclined narrow cobblestoned streets (more like cute alleys), a uniform architectural style throughout the village which was very pretty, and I could go on and on. Apparently the village has attracted artists by the hordes (understandably, as there is plenty of inspiration around), and the village is full of high quality art shops, selling fine paintings, sculptures and glass works. Very nice to just walk in and out of the lovely stores.

After a lot of meandering and camera clicking, we sat down at a nice restaurant for a dinner of gazpacho and salads. It was getting dark as we left, and with subdued lighting, the village was looking prettier. Drove back to Nice, parked the car, and went to bed.
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