Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Les Bleus, Fete Nationale, Train Strike?, Midi and Zud and Street Singer Revisited

Les Bleus, Fete Nationale, Train Strike?, Midi and Zud and Street Singer Revisited

Reply

Jul 28th, 2018, 06:13 PM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
Les Bleus, Fete Nationale, Train Strike?, Midi and Zud and Street Singer Revisited

Thanks to all those who contributed useful information to the threads I started. This information was invaluable.

Rule 1 – We’ve never rented a car in Europe and planned this trip expecting to abide by this rule. We did and never considered otherwise.

While not a hard and fast rule, our style seems to be to revisit places we’ve been to and enjoyed (our favorite city is Paris and our favorite country is Italy) and add something new to the trip.

Last year we were in Florence and Rome and added Lisbon to the end and this year we decided on Paris (fifth or sixth time, Bruges for the second time and Aix-en-Provence also for the second time) and added the Loire Valley Chateaux and an afternoon in Marseille.

While a little extravagant I considered our overnight to Bruges and double overnight to Tours (Loire Valley Chateaux) as overnight day trips. We kept our hotel room in Paris and only travelled with two small bags.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:14 PM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
Transportation (local and non)

If you had a choice to be smart or lucky which would you choose? Apparently the very last remnants of the current rail strike ended a day before we left for France. I guess we were smart to select those dates. Or maybe we’re just lucky. We only had two train delays. The first was a 10 minute delay due to an apparent suicide. The second could easily have resulted in a problem. The TGV train began to stop at the exact time it was scheduled to arrive in Aix. We took our luggage and got off the train. That’s when I noticed the platform sign that read Avignon. We were still at the train door so we jumped back on just in time. I guess we should pay better attention to the announcements. But the timing matched so perfectly!!

In Paris we got around either walking or by Metro. Had no problems with the Metro and used our Andrews chip & PIN card to buy tickets. I find it works fine in France but I’ve had some issues with it in Italy.

From CDG we thought we’d use a shared shuttle. That fell off the tracks pretty quickly when we got to the tourist information desk and were told they have a lot of trouble with SuperShuttle. Apparently they don’t answer their phone. And they didn’t. Since taxis charge a flat rate from the airport and it was about the same as Uber we just got into a taxi. Luck was not on our side as that didn’t work out very well. The driver got a little close to a bus and his mirror suffered some damage. He kept stopping to try and fix it. The trip from the airport ended up taking 2 hours. But at least our hotel room was ready when we arrived.

To and from Gare du Nord for our overnight to Bruges was by Metro (I wanted to avoid driving north-south for some reason or was it the heavy traffic area) and that worked fine.

To and from Montparnasse was by Uber and that also worked out fine.

From Bruges train station I can’t remember if we took a taxi or Uber but it was fine. However, since returning to the train station from the hotel passed many of the best sights, we just left a bit early and walked.

Our hotel in Tours was just around the corner from the train station so we walked.

Day trips from Aix ended up being by bus (more on this later).

The start of our journey home was a flight from Marseille to Heathrow. The original plan was to use Uber to Gare Routiere in Aix and then the airport shuttle bus. My wife decided to ask the girl at the hotel’s front desk about a ride to the airport. She knew of a driver but he was booked. I checked Uber and it turned out costing us about 20 Euros more for a private Uber ride from the hotel directly to our airport terminal instead of going to the bus station and taking the shuttle bus. Definitely worth it.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:14 PM
  #3
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
Hotels

We have found that in general European hotels have very little in the way of drawer/shelve/hanging storage.

In Paris we stayed at Hotel Left Bank right next door to Restaurant Procope. We had stayed there a few times on previous trips. We knowingly chose a standard room (we really would have liked more space and a larger bathroom) but we had a lot of that scarce commodity (drawers, shelves, etc) the larger rooms didn’t have. Excellent location. Ten minute walk to Luxemburg Gardens or the other way to the Seine. Metro station right at the corner. Many restaurants close by.

In Bruges we stayed at Hotel Casselbergh. This was probably our best hotel and least expensive. For one night we took a standard room with breakfast. Excellent central location. Very nice hotel and breakfast room. Large room. Etc, etc. Stay here.

In Tours we stayed at the four star Oceania L’Univers. Very nice hotel until you walk into your room. We had a “Superior” room. It had very low beams on one side of the room and the challenge was to avoid having my head hit those beams. I hit my head several times. Apparently all of their “Superior” rooms suffer from this design flaw. Also, the toilet was in a separate room (with no mirror or hook to hang a towel) from the shower. While that appears like a good idea, it isn’t.

In Aix we stayed at Hotel Negre Coste. A tale of two hotels. Location is right on Cours Maribeau. We took a standard room (they call it a “Charme” room) so as to not face the noisy front (the higher graded rooms all face the Cours). We walked into what appeared to be a very barren room with two small drawers. Upon entering the large, modern bathroom we found that the base of the sink was a large three drawer dresser. I’ve never seen a dresser in the bathroom but it turned a bad room into a very good and quiet one.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:14 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 1,863
You're off to a good start. Ready for more whenever you are.
Coquelicot is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:15 PM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
The Trip

The trip began with the arrival day plus two more in Paris. Basically visiting the sights and wandering around various neighborhoods. A bit disappointed that the area around the Eiffel Tower is a construction zone as well as Chaillot Palace across the Seine (this spot was important to us as on our first trip to Paris I took a picture of my wife on the deck with the Eiffel Tower behind her. Repeated several times over the years) and the area around Place du Concorde. But Paris is Paris so we gave it a pass.

The World Cup semi-final game resulted in France making it to the final. An excuse to party and it was quite exciting to see everybody out on the streets having a good time (it doesn’t get dark this time of year until well after 10PM). Almost everybody behaved.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:15 PM
  #6
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
We then left for Bruges.

Brussels train station has to be one of our least favorites. Firstly, I have no idea why the French call the Brussels station we used “Midi” but in Belgium it’s “Zud”. Why? After all, Zud sounds a lot like South and Midi sounds a lot like it should be Centrale. Maybe not.

Did I mention I hate Brussels train stations. I’m not sure if it’s all or just the ones we use. Go downstairs, walk to your track, then go up to train level. Oh, they changed the track. Go downstairs, walk to your track, then go back up to the train level.

We had been to Bruges about 12 years before and decided it was time for a return to what we feel is one of the most beautiful small cities. After all, we named one spot “the View”. What was amazing is that almost all of the sights/views were just about where we remembered and left them. Very few had moved.

To get one last look we walked from the hotel to the train station and saw them all again.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:15 PM
  #7
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
After parts of two days in Bruges we spent the next day, Fete Nationale (July 14 which we call Bastille Day but they don’t) in Paris. Most stores were closed and the day had the feel of a family picnic day. Just like most of my days I was out early with my camera. I was walking along the Seine across from the Louvre. A man and his two sons were walking more or less beside me. He asked, in English but with a French accent, for directions to Place du Concorde. I pointed ahead and diagonally across the Seine to the right (I bet you can picture this). I asked where he’s from and he said “Paris”. And he’s asking ME how to get to Place du Concorde? Do I get any points?

For dinner we decided to stop at Marks & Spencer to pick up some picnic foods and walked over to Luxemburg Gardens. We were fairly close to the band shell and were able to hear a military band playing.

The fireworks were scheduled to start at 11:00pm and we had to get up for our train to Tours and the Chateaux so we passed.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:16 PM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
The next morning we made our way to Gare Montparnasse and took the train to Tours. Actually, we took the train to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (SPDC) and a shuttle to Tours. Why did I think the shuttle is a bus? Well it’s not. It’s a 5 minute train ride.

After arriving in Tours we walked over to our hotel, started the check-in process (as expected our room wasn’t ready), left our bags, had a small snack and took a train to Chenonceau. A beautiful chateau in a beautiful setting.

We returned to Tours in time for the last part of the World Cup final match. As soon as it ended, with France the victor, the party began. In front of City Hall people were jumping into the fountain. Mostly well-behaved groups were walking the main streets singing, faces painted with French flags and carrying flags. A fun party.

We hadn’t eaten any dinner so decided to have some. Well, all of the restaurants stopped serving food. That is, except for McDonalds near the train station. They did a great job taking orders and bringing them to people who were either inside or sitting at tables outside. Hey!!! It was edible.

For the next day we had booked a driver (Bruno whose company is Royal Connections) from Blois to drive us to Chambord and Cheverny. When our train arrived from Tours Bruno was waiting outside the train station. I had booked him for an extra long period of time so as to give us enough time in both chateaux. While he describes himself as a driver and not a guide, the stories he told us about his local experiences were interesting and fun to hear. We also made some very short pit stops along the way to get glimpses of a few other chateaux.

My wife passed on Chateaux for day three. She slept in, had a leisurely breakfast and wandered around doing some shopping. I on the other hand had decided on an early morning stop in Amboise (I wasn’t really impressed) and a visit to Blois’ Chateau de Blois.

I returned to Tours around 2:15PM, met up with my wife and by 6PM we were at the train station for our return to Paris.

My impressions of the Chateaux I saw. As expected, Chenonceau is the most beautiful with its setting and gardens. Chambord is surely the largest though much nicer and more impressive than I expected. Cheverny has the most furnishings (as expected). Blois will require more research as I don’t really know the “actors” and thus didn’t really understand the intrigue, plotting and murders that took place.

While no threat to Paris, Tours was actually much nicer than I expected.

Other than the booked driver on day two, all transportation was by TER train (except for TGV to/from Paris-Tours) and IC to Blois on day 2. This worked out very well. Never missed a train. Saw what I wanted. Had the time I wanted in each place.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:17 PM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
We finished up this part of the trip with our last two days in Paris.

We are not big museum goers though we’ve been to some of the majors in various European cities. We had never been to the Rodin Museum in Paris so decided to take this in on our second to last day. They had a special deal that included the d’Orsay so we went for it. I remember our first trip to Paris almost forty years ago. The d’Orsay was still a train station. A few years later we visited this museum and decided it was our favorite in Paris. We went there again on our last day in Paris on this trip.

Paris Meals

Our first meal was at Danton a couple of minutes from our hotel. While my wife’s chicken salad was good, my steak frites kept falling lower and lower with each meal we ate.

Relais de l’entrecote. Great concept. Every meal is the same. No need to read a menu. The only choice is sauce or not. Food was very good. We repeated this restaurant.

Procope. We ate there on our very first visit to Paris almost 40 years ago. It was excellent then. Over the years we never went back (despite staying next door a few times). After all, this restaurant is a has been. True? After walking by several times and seeing it always full, we decided to give it a try. It was very good so we repeated this one as well.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:17 PM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
On to Aix-en-Provence

We arrived at the TGV station in mid-afternoon. We took a taxi to the hotel located in the heart of the Cours Mirabeau. Along the way we saw some of the construction everybody must navigate. It turns out that the street running from the Gare Routiere bus station to the large fountain is a construction zone. We also found that at the other end of the Cours and going north the street is also being worked on.

The plan was to spend the rest of the day and the fourth day until we left for Marseille airport wandering in Aix. We also expected to wander a bit on days 2 and 3.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:18 PM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
The plan for day 2 (Saturday) was to take a TER train to Marseille early in the afternoon and possibly stay for dinner. I knew something was up when the railway web site indicated starting with a bus at Gare Routiere and changing to a train for the last part of the journey. We decided to stop at the train station on the way to Gare Routiere. Only a couple of minutes walk and not even out of our way.

The train station was pretty deserted. There was one other couple and an employee at the information counter. I forgot to ask him what’s up. He suggested we take a direct bus rather than a bus and train. Good idea.

When we exited the station in Marseille I knew we wanted to go southwest towards the marina. So I fired up my Google Maps App and we started to walk. Unfortunately, the App only gives choices for walking, driving and local transportation. It doesn’t indicate good and bad walking routes. We were on a bad walking route. A rather seedy part of town. During our few hours in Marseille two people warned me to hang onto my camera tightly.

Once we got within three or four blocks of the marina things changed drastically for the better. Now this is what we were hoping for. We wandered around and then did a little climbing into the Panier area and back.

We stayed for dinner but instead of walking back to the train/bus station we used Uber.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 06:18 PM
  #12
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
The next day, a Sunday and market day, we decided to go to L’Isle sur la Sorgue. We were there in 2012 and thought it had a very nice look to it. The only real choice we had was the 12:35 bus that arrived at about 1:30 right beside the bank and park. Would the market be shut down by then? The market started to shut down about 2:30. But all that did was fill up the antique stores, restaurants and gift shops.

On our first trip to L’Isle sur la Sorgue (2012) we saw a singer in the park. She was excellent (sang Edith Piaf songs) and people were buying her CDs.

While walking around on this trip a familiar looking woman was walking in our direction. I told my wife I thought that was the singer from the first trip. We stopped her and sure enough it was her. I told her I had recorded a song she sang then and she sang one this time for me to record. Right there on the sidewalk! She asked me to email it to her. What a surprise to bump into her.

The last day we stayed in Aix as we had to leave for Marseille airport around 5:00. During the afternoon we took the 15 minute walk to Pavillon Vendome. What a surprise!! Firstly, there must have been two dozen people wandering around the beautifully manicured garden or sitting on benches around the garden. This part is free. There’s a small admission charge to tour the mansion. We made the decision to pass on the inside when we saw people thru the open second floor balcony door fanning themselves.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 28th, 2018, 08:33 PM
  #13
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,004
Excellent report, but I confess to wondering why you would want a mirror in the WC. Just for the record, in just about all French homes, the WC is separate. We are a bit amazed in countries where people take showers and brush their teeth and do all of their stuff on the toilet in the same room.
kerouac is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jul 29th, 2018, 03:26 AM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
kerouac,

Well, maybe I was tired of hitting my head on those damn beams.

I guess, once they're putting the toilet in a separate room, why not make it functional and have a mirror and towels there. After all, it had a sink.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 29th, 2018, 05:44 AM
  #15
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,004
Well, mine has a sink and towels -- and a mirror because that's where I installed my medicine cabinet. After all, the WC is a place where one is sometimes ill....
kerouac is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jul 29th, 2018, 08:03 AM
  #16
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
I just think they did 99% of the work. A little more and the room could have been more useful.

Anyway, it was a great trip. A lot of fun being out with all the people celebrating a great World Cup victory.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 30th, 2018, 08:31 AM
  #17
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,480
>> Firstly, I have no idea why the French call the Brussels station we used “Midi” but in Belgium it’s “Zud”. Why? After all, Zud sounds a lot like South and Midi sounds a lot like it should be Centrale. Maybe not.<<

"Midi" in French is another word for South (as in Le Midi to refer to the south of France). "Zuid" is Flemish/Dutch for South.

But why the principal interchange station in Brussels is Brussels South rather than Brussels Central is another matter.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 30th, 2018, 09:00 AM
  #18
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,882
Patrick,
Regardless, we still managed to use the correct station since we got to Bruges and back to Paris the next evening.
We were talking to somebody on the train and I decided to do a Google search to make sure. Also, a few others were going to Bruges and then back to Paris so I guess we all ended up in the right place.
We had a bit of a close call because a track number was changed a couple of minutes before boarding. I got on and everybody said they were going to Amsterdam. Time for a quick change.

In the end we were lucky enough to always end up in the correct place and almost walways on time.
Myer is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 30th, 2018, 09:05 AM
  #19
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,004
I remember when Bruxelles-Nord was the principal train station in the city. I think that Bruxelles-Midi took over when the Thalys and Eurostar began services there. Many of the largest hotels in Brussels are still at Brussel-Noord (using that name so as not to annoy the Flemish!), although the former huge Sheraton is now an empty shell. Bruxelles-Nord was also a hotbed of prostitution (I think it still is) but that is true of the train station area of lots and lots of big cities.
kerouac is online now  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:55 AM.