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France Report: Moules & Frites, Bag Disaster, and Burgandy Barging

France Report: Moules & Frites, Bag Disaster, and Burgandy Barging

Nov 8th, 2005, 10:28 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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there are tons of cheap restaurants on rue du Pot de Fer, which runs to the west off rue Mouffetard. Some are not so good, I think, but there are some better than others. That one has a website so you can get visuals for this report:


Now for those always asking about NY eve, it seems they are advertising their NY eve menu beginning 11/15 and are probably not too expensive.
Christina is online now  
Nov 8th, 2005, 02:07 PM
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excellent report! keep it coming. Just came back to read the next installment but its not here yet. Looking forward to it.
MorganB is offline  
Nov 8th, 2005, 03:33 PM
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Ok, D and I are obsessed with mussels. We make them at home and order them as appetizers when we eat out. After seeing Moules et Frites advertized at several restaurants in the Latin Quarter, and eating them at the Pot de Terre, we were on a mission to eat as many as we could on this trip. After Paris, we took the train to Caen and spent 3 days driving through Normandy and Brittany, and knew we would have many opportunities to eat the classic combination of mussels and fries.

We had our first M&F at a restaurant near Omaha Beach with our friend Colette, at whose house we stayed for 2 nights in Caen. Her DH hates seafood and she hadn't eated mussels in many years. She's a petite, thin woman and she put away a gigantic portion of them, as did we.

Next, on our own in a rental car, we had them again for lunch at a seaside place somewhere on the Normandy coast. It was close to Point du Hoc, our favorite Dday site. It's the German artillery position that was taken out by Allies who scaled vertical cliffs, and is still pockmarked with huge shell holes and Gernan bunkers. We were also moved by the American cemetary.

Our first overnight stay after Caen was Mont St. Michel. We weren't intending on staying there, but it was late afternoon, and I noticed that the hotels were very reasonably priced. We thought it would be a wonderful experience to actually spend the night in that magical place and be there after most of the tourists left. And it was very special, once we figured how the parking works at the base of the mount.

Our revered guidebook, The Rough Guide, noted that tconsistently the worst food in France is guess where? Mont St. Michel! And the guide was right: we had a horrible meal, which I didn't think was possible anywhere in France. However, we picked the restaurant badly and I ordered the wrong thing, but still..... It was worth a bad meal for this experience, though.

Next, we explored Dinan and St. Malo in Brittany, both as a result of threads I read here. But we decided to go on to Concale, the famous oyster town (Napolean supposedly had Concale oysters shipped to him), where we found an OK hotel and had memorable drinks in a seaside bar as the sun went down, and an enjoyable meal in a warm, friendly bistro. This is the place where there was a very odd group of diners, about 8 of the strangest looking people I've ever seen. They looked straight out of a Fellini movie, and had either escaped from a mental hospital or were taking their evening break from the circus. It was good theater.

In between drinks and dinner, we found the oyster shacks that are right next to the quai in Concale. There were about 6 different women selling a variety of oysters, mainly sorted by size. D is an oyster fanatic, so he bought a dozen mediums from one of the ladies who shucked them in record time, slapped a half a lemon on the plastic plate, and told us to throw the shells into the sea. We sat on the retaining wall and he slurped up 11 and I ate one, since I am not an oyster fanatic.

One final word on our moules and frites orgy: towards the end of our stay in Brittany, I was actually starting to get tired of them, but D, as a final goodbye to this coastal area, ate them for both lunch and dinner in the same day. Even I was impressed.

Next: The Day of the Bag Debacle, and after that, Barge Week, at last!

dabodin is offline  
Nov 8th, 2005, 03:41 PM
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Oysters (be still my heart) We'r due for another trip to Brittany one day. We went to Belon to try the famous oyster of France near their beds.
cigalechanta is online now  
Nov 8th, 2005, 08:50 PM
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dabodin is offline  
Nov 8th, 2005, 09:33 PM
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Oh dabodin, mussels, oysters and fries!
What more could one ask for except for a bottle of wine. I am so enjoying your report. As I have stated several times, I have not renewed travel magazines, Fodorites write better trip reports with more wonderful details and information plus the personal touch.

Hope to see more of your report when you are have the time..tomorrow I hope!
LoveItaly is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 03:09 AM
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I am drooling! I could have mussels for lunch and dinner too They can keep the fries, I was not impressed with French fries (as fries cooked in France).
marigross is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 08:33 AM
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I'l try to keep this brief, even though it was the single worst day I've ever spent while on vacation.

We had a rental car, a really cool Alfa Romeo that we lucked into. We even figured out thow to put it into reverse gear BEFORE we needed to! Our goal for the next 2 days was to drive from Northern Brittany to Burgandy. We needed to drop off the car in Auxerre on Friday evening; it was now Thursday, so we had plenty of time.

Our route was through Rennes, Angers and Tours, using superhighways for only part of the time. We decided to spend the night in the tiny town of Langeais where there is a beautiful chateau smack dab in the middle of the village. We found a hotel, explored the chateau, and prepared to eat at the hotel's restaurant. After sitting for 15 minutes without any service next to a baby at the next table who was spitting up and banging the table, we decided to walk out. (It was very expensive, also, for such a small hamlet.) We ate elsewhere, but when we went down to breakfast the next morning, it was the same waitress who had NOT waited on us the night before. Kind of a sticky wicket, but we muddled through. No one in this hotel spoke any English, which was not a problem, at least, not yet.

Due to some really bad communication between us, D ended up putting only one of my two bags into the car's trunk. 5 hours later, after visiting the gorgeous chateaux of Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau and driving to with 45 minutes of Auxerre, I discovered that my black carry-on bag was not in the trunk, or in the car , or even under the hood. It was sitting by the staircase at the hotel in Langeais, a 3 hour drive away. Well, you can imagine the argument that was induced by these circumstances. There were only 3 items in this bag that had real value to me: all my medications, the high blood pressure pills, the migraine headache pills, and the hormones that usually keep me from becoming the raging lunatic that I was fast turning into.

We decided that we had to drive back and get the medications. There might have been other options, but our brains were not working well at this point. 3 hours later, after getting lost, we arrive at the hotel only to find that, true to the blase nature of the French, the owners had left town and shut up the hotel, on a Friday afternoon! Now I'm really losing it, so what do I do? I flag down a passing police car, go to the police station, wait around for half an hour. They call the hotel owner who is very sorry, but won't be returning to town until 2 days later, when we will hopefully be on our blissful barge trip. They take our address and promise to ship the bag, if indeed they had even found it. That little detail was never mentioned.

In a real panic, I run to the Pharmacie and manage to relate my plight to the sympathetic young women who work there. Miraculously, without a prescription, they are able to give me the French alternative to my BP pills and some kind of soy substitute for the hormone med. In my agitated state, I forgot all about the migraine medicine. I am now a true fan of the French pharmacy system!

Then we get back in the car and repeat the 3 hour drive that we have now done three times! Each segment costs $20 in tolls, not to mention the extra gas and the 6 unnecessary hours of driving. It was truly a nightmare.

When we were back to within an hour of Auxerrre, completely exhausted and emotionally spent, I begin to realize that this is not the good ole USA, with Motel 6's open day and night. We were in a very rural area, with tiny villages and it had been a long time since we had seen a hotel and it was getting dark. So, true to my Worry Wort gene, I began to fret that we would end up spending the night in the car. I told D that if we passed anything that remotely resembled a hotel, we were stopping and that was my final position.

Low and behold, at that exact moment, we see a neon (yes, NEON) sign that said "Motel". And there on the side of the road was the French equivalent of the Bates Motel, only the office was closed, naturally. As we turned away, I spotted what looked like an ATM machine next to the office door. It turned out be an automated registration machine. You put in your credit card, pick your room, and get a security code which opens the room door. I've never been so relieved in my life. D is also tired, but upset that we will have to forego dinner, but I'm a happy camper.

dabodin is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 09:00 AM
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Dabodin, really enjoying your trip report : your bag disaster brought to mind my own close escape. In Dorset last spring to sell off the family house, I stayed the last week at a lovely little cottage in the village. Everyone else had returned to the US, and I had the max amount of heavy luggage, bringing home photos, letters, lots of memorabilia. I packed, lugged my bags into the car, said goodbye to our charming hostess, and headed out. I decided to swing by the family house to take photos and say a final farewell, and since it was a nice day, take a last walk over the hill to watch the lambs. All this took me a couple of hours, but no problem.

I was finally heading out of town when my cell phone rang. It was the cottage owner. She had gone into the cottage to change the beds, and discovered my overnight bag (meds inside), sitting on the bedroom floor. I was only 20 minutes away, so quickly headed back for it: what a relief! I could so easily have been almost in London, or she might not have known my cell number (I had used it once to call her when we arrived...) I guess I was distracted by all the things I had to remember, and didn't do my usual bag count. Won't make that mistake again (well, I hope not!)
SB_Travlr is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 09:32 AM
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Great report!!

SRS is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 10:18 AM
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SB: I've had many close calls, also. But I guess when your time is up, there's no rescue to be had. I've been back a month, now, and still cannot get the hotel owner to ship back the few items that I would like to have back: the meds, a sweater, and a scarf. The whole thing would cost $20-30 but she can't be bothered, I guess. Unfortunately, there is no way to ship something COD overseas. And I can't prepay the postage because I don't know the weight or the French rates. UPS would cost about $90, which is not worth it.

What a hotel! They close on weekends, never answer their phone, and won't go out of their way to mail something to a customer. Oh well, gripe session over! On to the next leg of my trip.
dabodin is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 10:49 AM
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On Saturday morning, we get up early and drive to Auxerre. Technically, we were supposed to drop the car off on Friday night, but I'm hoping that if we get there when the rental place opens, they will take pity on us and not charge us for an extra day. And they do! The only trouble now is that it is pouring outside, and we have about 6 blocks to walk, dragging the remaining luggage (at least my load is lighter) to the railway station, and then we have about a 4 hour wait for the train to Chatel Censoir. But we're in Auxerre, which is an incredible city, everything you want in the way of old half-timbered buildings, windy, hilly streets, cool shops, restaurants, cathedral, etc. We take turns with one of us waiting with the bags at the train station, and one exploring the town. We will be coming through here in a week on the barge, so we scope out the marina, too. We've had such perfect weather for 2 weeks, that it's kind of a bummer that the rain has come, but what can be done about it?

When the little, creaky and very old train comes into the station, as we start to walk towards the nearest car, who should climb down to greet us but J, our friend and fellow barge passenger! And I know instantly that this is no Diva! Of course, I already knew that, but I had to string you, the Gentle Reader, along a little bit.

We have a wonderful reunion with her and W, who have commandeered the first-class car, which is only first-class because it is the first car in the train lineup, as far as I can tell. It must be 50 years old, but who cares? There are 2 other couples who sit across the aisle from us who are also picking up a barge, but from somewhere else, thank goodness, because they are very nosy and eavesdrop on our conversation, interjecting unwanted advice and observations. At this point, nothing is said about the fact that J&W plan to desert us a day early. I don't want to ruin the party.

The train's conductor comes by not to ask for our tickets or demand to know why we're sitting in first-class, but to tell us that there's a problem with the train, and we will have to get off at the stop before Chatel Censoir. Not to worry, they will bus us directly to the marina. OK, that will probably be all right I say, but inside I'm wondering if this is a terrible omen of things to come.

Sure enough, we pile into a large bus with the other 4 sets of bargers (2 American groups, one German, and one French, which shocked me because the usual reaction from a French person is "Why would anyone want to do that?" They just don't get it.)

It's a very jolly group of people, which is good, because we are packed like sardines in there, with all our bags piled on top of seats and in the aisle. I guess there was no luggage compartment under the bus.

They take us to the Crown Blue marina (this operation is really owned by a subsidiary called the Connoisseur Line). Being the Type A that I am, I race ahead of the pack so that we will be first in line in getting our boat. Once we get on the boat, D remembers that he left his backpack on the bus! It takes all of my 56 years of experience in life to not smirk and say something sarcastic, but I hold my tongue. Luckily, these people are efficient and they get his bag back within an hour. D is a little sheepish, however, which is very satisfying.

Did I say omen of bad things a few paragraphs ago? The next thing that happens is still hard to fathom. We are told that there is a small grocery store in this tiny village, and J & I even walk over to check it out. However, we don't go in because we want to be present when the barge guy explains how to operate the boat. When he's done, we notice that there are a few supplies that are missing from the boat. For one thing, there is one garbage bag to last us an entire week. There is no dish soap or sponge, just 2 tea towels. There are no regular towels in the bathrooms, and no bath soap. No napkins but plenty of dishes, flatware and bad pots and pans. Well, a trip to the grocery store will remedy all that, plus we need to stock up on food, coffee and wine.

At about 1:00 PM, J & I return to the store only to find the owner getting onto his motorcycle and leaving his closed up shop! He's closing the store for the weekend in order to do inventory!!! We beg him with pitiful whining sounds, but he will not budge. He is French, and if you've decided to close your store (the only one in town) at the same time when 5-6 groups of tourists want to buy you out, then it is your right to do so.

We find a bakery, a butcher shop and a wine shop which miraculously has instant coffee and milk. We now have enough food so that we won't starve, but we still do not have the kitchen items we need. In fact, it will be 3 long days before we find a grocery store that is actually open when we need it to be. Until then, we wash our dishes with shampoo and tea towels. The instant coffee turns out to be very tasty, and we beg the barge people to give us some towels, which they do, but reluctantly. I guess they expect people who have traveled all the way from the U.S. and spent thousands of dollars on a barge trip to bring their own bathroom towels. And I don't remember reading anything in the small print, but there it is.


dabodin is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 12:35 PM
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Ålthough it was 10 years ago, and individuals and attitudes change, the Rives de France people in St. Florentin drove a group of us to the nearest supermarché (on the other side of town) so that we could do our shopping. The fact that most river ports for barging are in small towns does present a problem when wanting to stock up. One solution is to insure that the chosen itinerary hits a larger town fairly soon in the trip.
Michael is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:18 PM
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Is anybody still reading this?
dabodin is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:21 PM
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I'm loving it - always wondered what it would be like to "drive" a barge for a week. Can't wait to hear more.
cobbie is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:44 PM
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Yes! Please continue! I'm not planning a trip to France or contemplating a barge trip, but I'm enjoying your report anyway.

jlaughs is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:47 PM
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Uh, yeaahhh! And indentifying with your DH, if I say so myself (for better or worse). Go on . . .
wudzee is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 07:31 PM
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Yes, I'm enjoying every word...this is definitely something I'd love to do! Thanks for sharing...kr
tahoekr is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 07:45 PM
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LOL We beg him with pitiful whining sounds, but he will not budge. He is French, and if you've decided to close your store (the only one in town) at the same time when 5-6 groups of tourists want to buy you out, then it is your right to do so.
I can hear it and picture it! very funny..
Scarlett is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 08:06 PM
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Of course we are reading, keep writing!!! Don't dally now, we are waiting. Enjoying the report very much by the way.
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