Laura's May 08 Tour de France

Jun 1st, 2008, 11:21 AM
  #1  
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Laura's May 08 Tour de France

This board helped me plan my trip, so it's time for me to pay back with a trip report.

About us: Me, 29-year-old advertising account exec. DH, 34-year-old engineer. We live in Northern California, married, no kids yet.

Day 1, May 17th:
Dropped my car off at my office and a friend dropped us off at the airport. Transfered in Houston. Quick connection, but we made it. We flew Continental in coach and can't complain. Individual screens on the back of our seats, decent food. I took an ambien and slept for most of the flight to Paris. DH didn't sleep much because the high school aged group near us was very chatty and all over the place.

Day 2: May 18th
Landed at CDG around 11 a.m. Luggage made it, immigrations was a snap. We took the RER to our apartment near Musee d'Orsay, with one transfer at Saint Michel. I believe we were able to use escalators to connect and exit the station at Musee d'Orsay.

Met up with apartment representative at our home for four nights. We loved this apartment. Great location, roomy enough for two people, washer and dryer worked great and the bed was super comfortable!! http://www.vrbo.com/129217 The only negative was that it was on the third floor (u.s.) with no elevator. Usually this was fine, but it wasn't ideal when taking our luggage up or down. All in all, great place.

We showered and hit the city. Our first stop was a corner bistro, where we sat outside and enjoyed a late lunch. I had a croque madame and an orangina. DH had a tuna club and a coke (he needed the caffeine!), and yes they gave us ice.

Then we were off to see the sights. We crossed the seine to the louvre to pick up our 4-day museum pass. Then we walked through the tuilleries to musee l'orangerie. Here, we saw many works by impressionists and post impressionists - monet, cezanne,gaugin... The highlight was two large white oval rooms showcasing huge canvases of monet's waterlillies that curved around the rooms.

Then we headed down the champs elysees for a bit - mostly tourists stuff and chain stores. We walked around a little in the 8th arron. and took a break at 6:00 at the American cathedral. We needed to sit for a while, and they had an English service. DH took the opportunity for a quick nap

Then it was dinner time. We lined up with several others at Relais de l'entrecote. We were seated and the restaurant quickly filled. We had delicious steak and French fries (the only meal they serve), a bottle of good wine and Crete brûlée. It was a great first dinner in Paris.

We then took the metro a couple of stops to the trocadero to get a great view of the eiffel tower. It stayed light until almost 10. We stuck around to watch the tower sparkle at 10 - stunning!! Then we walked all the way back to our apartment along the seine. A perfect day.
lauraallais is offline  
Jun 1st, 2008, 11:35 AM
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I'm amazed you did all this on your arrival day! Glad you got to see the Orangerie. Paris was so hot (for us) that we didn't make it. See my report, 'Paris when it sizzles

I too have gotten info off this board for at least 8 years. Sure makes the difference in smoothing out a trip!
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Jun 1st, 2008, 01:24 PM
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hopingtotravel - Yes, it was quite a full first day. We hadn't planned on doing all of that, but we felt up to it! We missed the heat earlier in the month, thank goodness. Though we ended up with less-than-great weather later on the trip, we had great weather in Paris.

Day 3: May 19th
Croissant and coffee at Bar Bac. Accidentally ordered citron press instead of orange press. Whoops!

DH and I met up for lunch after he went to the Louvre (I'd been before and didn't care to go again) and I wandered around the Saint Germain area and bought us some delicious Laduree macarons to enjoy later. I had never had these before, and they are fantastic! They are not the same thing as the coconutty macaroons we have at home - more like creamy cookie sandwiches with delicate, flaky cookie sides and rich, delicious fillings. I bought vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee and raspbery macarons to enjoy after lunch.

We met at a small lunch spot (Le Petite Vendôme) that was seemed to be very popular with Parisians, esp. bankers/businesmen. They formed a long line to get sandwiches to go. We got there earlier enough to be seated, and we had tasty, though unusual salads with ham, cheese, boiled eggs and potatoes. The restaurant was recommended by the guide for our afternoon tour.

We met up with our motorized bicycle tour (www.ParisCharmsSecrets.com) at Place Vendome. There were ten of us - a group of 5 friends from uk and Australia, a french couple, us and our guide, Olivier.

The ten of us zoomed through Paris traffic for about four hours, popping in and out of "off the beaten path" sights, such as an amazing old bank with stained glass ceiling and giant vault, a hidden mini-coliseum from the time of Roman rule (old men were playing bocce and kids were kicking around a soccer ball inside), a near empty courtyard in the Louvre and much more. It was crazy, and super fun, to zoom all over paris like that.

After that, we rushed home to grab an extra layer of clothes and head off to dinner at a place that was recommended on this board,Le Caveau de L'Isle. It was a tiny place on the Ille Saint-Louis. We both has salmon, which was delicious, and of course, wine and DH's creme brûlée!

After dinner, it was too late to take a Seine cruise (we had planned t do this tonight), so we walked around a bit and called it a night.
lauraallais is offline  
Jun 1st, 2008, 01:30 PM
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Day 4: May 20th
We were on a turbo track today. After breakfast, we went to the Rodin museum. It is in a beautiful old mansion and grounds where the artist lived during his later years. We enjoyed walking around and admiring the bronze sculptures. The most famous is "the Thinker."

Then we were off to Musee d'Orsay to see the loads and loads of famous impressionist works - Manet, monet, van gogh, Renoir, degas, etc., etc. The art was wonderful, and the building (a grand old train station) is fantastic.

Next, we took the metro to the marais neighborhood. This is interestingly home to both Paris' orthodox Jewish population and a thriving gay community. It's a vibrant area with lots of cool boutiques and galleries.

We has lunch at an Isreali restaurant called l'as du falafel. I had an awesome falafel special. DH had a chicken pita and totally missed out on the delicious falafel.

Then we wandered around the area and admired the art galleries around the tre elegant Place de Vosges.

We walked to Ille St. Louis from there to get DH some ice cream. On the way, I made him take a detour into Monoprix, a French Target-like store! Definitely a highlight for me DH's patience was rewarded with Berthillion ice cream on Ille St. Louis, and then we walked across the bridge to Ille de la Cite to Notre Dame, where DH got lots of pictures inside and out.

From there, we went to Ste. Chapelle, also on Ille de la Cite. We had to wait in line for about half an hour, but the upper chapel's breathtaking stained glass walls (with the afternoon sun shining through) made it worth it.

Well - phew! - we finished all that with about an hour to rest before dinner. Dinner was at Le Souffle. We had a nice bottle of wine and three souffles each! We both started with cheese souffles, then salads, then salmon souffles. DH had a grande marnier souffle for dessert and I had heaven. Oh wait, I mean a dark chocolate souffle with white chocolate sauce. It was the number one most amazing thing I have ever tasted. Oh my goodness, it was a good thing we walked so much during the day!

We closed out the night by strolling down Blvd St. Germain and stopping for a drink at a cafe. We sat at a table on the sidewalk out front and watched all the people walking down the street.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 08:52 AM
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Day 1, May 21st
Breakfast at Le Comptoir Saints-Peres for the second day. I really liked that spot - yummy croissants, friendly staff and free wifi for my iPhone.

Then we took the RER out to Versailles. We used our Paris Museum Pass for entry, so we just bought train tickets and were on our way. The museum pass got us into all of the areas that the general ticket buyers could go - The chateau, king's and queen's apartments, hall of mirrors, dauphin's apartments, gardens, Marie Antoinette's hamlet, Grand Trinion (Petite Trinion is closed for renovations).

We spent the day there, exploring the extravagant palace and grounds of the various Louises and Marie Antoinette. We had nice weather and walked all over. That place was huge! I think my favorite part was Marie Antoinette's adorable little storybook-like village. Oh, and the Nutella crepe I had for lunch

Back in Paris, we had dinner reservations at the bistro below our apartment (Bistrot de Paris). We had good entrees and plats (amazing mashed potatoes, but DH wished he'd ordered his Tuna rare), and an incredibly delicious dessert (profiteroles). The chocolate sauce was out of this world.

After dinner, we took a Seine cruise with Vedettes du Pont Neuf. The ride was nice, though we had a loud group of partying Canadian students sitting near us. I think we heard more about their love lifes, favorite video games and parents' divorces than we heard the commentary.

We did enjoy seeing the illuminated city from the Seine, and after the cruise we walked back to our apartment to get ready for our flight to Nice in the morning.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:04 AM
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Whoops... the last one should have said Day 5.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:05 AM
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This gives full meaning to the term "whirlwind tour" -- but those can be great when you have the energy for them.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:22 AM
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Kerouac - Yes, we were very busy in Paris, but things slow down quite a bit later in the trip...

Day 6, May 22nd:
As some of you already know, about a week before our trip we learned of plans for a potential railway workers' strike for the 22nd. Of course, this was the day we had tickets to take the TGV from Paris down to the Riviera.

To attempt to bypass this problem, we booked flights on easyjet instead and made plans for a shuttle to pick us up at the apartment in the morning. Well, first the shuttle didn't show up, so we hailed a cab to the airport. Then we got to the airport only to learn that our flight had been cancelled due to the strike (guess the airline workers decided to join in!).

So... long story short, we ended up renting a car and driving down nearly the length of the country. DH did a great job driving our little stick shift Renault Clio, and 8.5 hours later, we made it down here.

We're about 15 minutes inland from Nice and Cannes. Thank goodness we brought our GPS because, otherwise, I think we ould still be on the road somewhere!

We found our bed and breakfast (Orion b&b in St-Paul-de-Vence) which consists of four treehouses, just in time to turn back around to make it to our dinner reservations in a nearby town (Cagnes sur Mer).

Fortunately, dinner at Fleur de Sel www.restaurant-fleurdesel.com was fantastic (lobster salad, shrimp risotto, chocolate ice cream), and

we got to check out the charming terraced village.
Our little treehouse is great. I cannot even really explain it, but you can check it out at www.orionbb.com for yourself. Basically, it's a wooden suite on stilts, perched up in the trees. The whole setting is extremely tranquil and just what we needed after the long day.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:33 AM
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Day 7, May 23rd;
We had breakfast this morning in an outdoor dining room on the b&b grounds and spent a few hours exploring a couple of the terraced villages nearby (Bar sur Loup and Tourrettes sur Loup). We had a tasty lunch in Tourrettes sur Loup at Relais des coches http://lerelaisdescoches.com/

We spent the afternoon relaxing back at Orion, enjoying the scents of cedar and honeysuckle and the sounds of the birds chirping in the trees.

After a long rest, we went into the old town of St-Paul for dinner at Le Vieux Moulin. We enjoyed dinner out on the terrace and then walked around the town afterwards. It was dark by then and the town was closed and empty, so it was fun to walk around by ourselves. We looked at art through studio windows and tried to make friends with a few resident cats.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:38 AM
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Day 8, May 24th
After breakfast, we left our tree house b&b and made our way to Aix-en-Provence.

On the way, we drove into Cannes, where The Cannes Film Festival was still taking place. We walked along the seaside promenade and saw the festival hall and various hospitality tents and VIP areas set up on the beach. Of course, we saw all of these from the outside because photo badges were required of festival-goers and were only given out to official participants.

Still, it was quite impressive, and all the hotels were decked out with movie promo materials. Velvet ropes, red carpets and paparazzi abounded. We had no celeb sightings, but we were there in the early afternoon, which was probably far too early for any of them to be out of bed

We continued along the promenade to the yacht harbor and walked around, looking at the luxurious yachts. DH enjoyed scoping out someone's Ferrari, which was parked near one of the more impressive yachts. Things started getting busier around 2:00 p.m., so we decided to hit the road before traffic got too crazy.

From Cannes, we had about a 1.5 hour drive to Aix-en-Provence. We found our next b&b after only looping the block about six times (this is even WITH GPS). We're staying in an old mansion that was renovated into a beautiful inn. The grounds are fabulous, with manicured gardens, fountains and a swimming pool (www.latorse.com).

After checking in, we went into the city center to get a lay of the land and look through some shops. Aix is an old, bustling city that sort of reminds me of Florence (narrow streets, old buildings, lots of shops). We ducked into a juice bar during a quick rain shower, and I got a pamplemousse press (grapefruit juice) and Chris had a banana "milkshake," which was not what he expected (just banana and milk blended together).

Our b&b hosts Marie (from the U.S.) and husband Francois (from France) hold a happy hour every evening. Last night, we enjoyed a couple Kir Royals and met some of our fellow guests. Two couples are from the D.C. area and another is from Canada. This American presence was different from our last b&b, where all the other guests were European.

We then went back into the old city and had dinner at a nice, small restaurant recommended by Marie and Francois.

After dinner, we sat out on the cafe-lined main street, Cours Mirabeau and had a drink at the Cafe Deux Garcons. A stage was set up on the street for some sort of performance festival. Earlier in the day, we had caught a glimpse of a ballet performance. In the evening, we saw part of a hip hop/breakdancing performance and then a crazy fireworks/pyrotechnic show. Also, tons of university students were walking around in groups and couples, going in and out of various cafes and bars.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:42 AM
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Day 8, May 25th
Today, we drove to a medieval town/castle/fortress on top of a huge rock called Les Baux de Provence (http://www.chateau-baux-provence.com/en/baux/). It was a little boy's (and big boy's) fantasy land with a ruined castle, giant catapults, battering rams, etc. Needless to say, DH loved it.

It was so windy on top that I blew out two umbrellas! Apparently 4,000 people lived up there in the town's prime - I just couldn't imagine it. It made me very thankful for modern conveniences!

After lunch in the village and touring the castle (learning such delightful details such as punishment and war techniques), we went to a nearby exhibit at the Cathedral d'Images (http://www.cathedrale-images.com/). This is shown in a huge cavernous dug-out quarry. Over 50 projectors cast synchronized images onto the walls and floors while coordinated music is played.

This year's exhibit is on Van Gogh and includes many of his paintings, as well as old letters and photographs.

The whole production is a continuous loop of about 45 minutes. We walked around the caverns and were amazed by the exhibit - very unique and beautiful.

We had admired some of our b&b hosts' artwork, so they invited the artist over this evening to show us some of his paintings. We bought three watercolors of scenes around Aix and look forward to hanging them up back home. They are very vibrant and might actually motivate us to finally paint some of our walls!

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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:44 AM
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May 9, May 26th

Today, we went out to the coastal fishing village of Cassis. The water was too rough to take a planned boat tour out on the see around the surrounding cliffs. But the sun was out, and the weather was in the 80s, so we strolled around, sat by the sea and then had a lunch of fish soup and local white wine at a port-side cafe. DH had fun trying to time the waves just right to photograph them crashing against a pier.

Tonight, we just got pizza from a stand in Aix and walked around and through the city's streets. Tomorrow, we plan to check out the Wednesday morning market in Aix and then make our way up to Annecy for one night and then Chamonix for two nights.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:45 AM
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Yikes, I am still fuzzy with jet lag. Last post should say "Day 9."
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:49 AM
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Day 10, May 27th

On Tuesday morning we were sad to leave our Aix b&b, but it was time to head up to the Alps.

On our way our of town, we stopped by the Tuesday morning market to check out the linens and other provencal goods. We bought table cloths for our moms and one for ourselves.

The wind was insane and stirred up my allergies, so we stopped into a pharmacy to pick up some allergy meds. I'm not sure what they gave me, but it knocked me out for most of our drive up to the town of Annecy.

We checked into our small hotel (Splendid Hotel) overlooking Lac d'Annecy, a pristine Alpine lake with completely clear water. Hills and mountains rise up around the lake. Though the forecast called for clouds, the sun came out just as we arrived and burned off the clouds.

We explored the old part of the city, which is called Little Venice because it is built around a canal that comes off the lake. We tried to coax a few resident swans into posing for photos. I think they just wanted DH's ice cream cone.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking and relaxing by the lake and large connecting grassy park. Annecy seemed to be a very active town, with many joggers and rollerbladers. We also saw kite surfers on the lake and a few crazy guys using kite/parachute contraptions to zip around the park on rollerblades and skateboards.

We had dinner at a traditional restaurant recommended by the front desk staff at our hotel. DH had salmon with a cheese sauce, and I had a delicious cheese fondue. Cheese is a big deal in the alps!
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:52 AM
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Day 11, May 28th

Today, we drove from Annecy up to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. The drive was about an hour and went through some stunning scenery, including views of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the alps and Western Europe.

We are staying just outside of Chamonix, in a chalet overlooking a beautiful valley. The chalet is owned by a couple from the UK who host groups of skiers in the winter and rent out rooms as a b&b the rest of the year www.chaletbergerie.com .

May is the low season in the area (after ski season, before the summer), and we are the only people staying in the chalet.

After we explored the town of Chamonix in the afternoon (similar to Tahoe), our hosts cooked us a delicious dinner back at the chalet.

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Jun 2nd, 2008, 09:59 AM
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Day 12th, May 29th

We had planned to take the gondola up the mountain today, but the weather is not cooperating.

Instead, we have scheduled massages at a nearby day spa (www.termedipre.it). To get to the spa, we had to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy.

We had a very relaxing afternoon getting massages and lounging in the heated pools, looking up at towering mountains. The style of the facility made us feel like we were back in Roman times. (Random aside: fortunately, non-Speedo swim trunks seem to be the favored swimwear of European guys these days.) Even though this wasn't our first choice of how to spend the day, it was quite enjoyable.

I should note that my massage was normal, though DH's was a little different compared to those he's had in the U.S. and Australia. He was given a paper skimpy underwear type thing to wear, so that gave us something to laugh about for hours afterwards.

On the way back to the tunnel, we stopped into a pizza place that was recommended to us for dinner. We has to stoop to walk to our table on the upper floor of the restaurant, but the pizza was very tasty. Well, we were in Italy after all.

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Jun 2nd, 2008, 10:05 AM
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So I see I've screwed up my counting once again.

Day 14, May 30th
The sun started poking out on Friday morning, but it was time for us to take the train back to Paris.

We had a bit of time to snap some photos of Mont Blanc (we hadn't even been able to see it the previous two days), before turning in our rental car and catching the train.

The ride was about four hours, and DH finally got to sit back and enjoy the ride after driving us all over the place for a week. I think he played four straight hours of video games on his PSP

We checked into our hotel for the night (Hotel Henri IV, a small but nice place in the Latin Quarter http://www.henri-paris-hotel.com/) and spent some time repacking our suitcases and getting them ready for the next day's trip back home.

We went out for once last awesome French dinner at a small bistro, Le Christine, that we read about in our Zagat guide. We finished out the night by going to a pub that had caught DH's eye.
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Jun 2nd, 2008, 10:08 AM
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Day 15th, May 31st

This morning, we grabbed some croissants and took the train out to the airport for our flight home.

We had a bit of confusion at the airport and ended up sprinting through the whole airport to make it to our gate in time, but we (and our bags) made it back.

It was nice to make it home after a very long day. Our kitties were thrilled to see us, and our bed felt great.

We had an absolutely amazing trip but are happy to be home.

Well, thanks for reading my report, and thanks again for all the help planning the trip!

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Jun 2nd, 2008, 10:09 AM
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I confess that even though I find it slightly cheesy, I make a brief side trip to the Cathédrale d'Images almost every year when I am at the Avignon festival. It might have something to do with the temperature of those quarries.
kerouac is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2008, 11:32 AM
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Thanks for the fun, informative report laraallais!

We will be staying in Annecy at the Splendid Hotel in July. Do you remember where you had the fondue?
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