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Trip Report Normandy, Paris & overnight in London

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First time posting a trip report, so here goes:

This was DW and my second trip to France, first for our neice and nephew. DW, Niece, Nephew and I flew out of Kansas City to ORD for a connecting flight to CDG on Thursday March 3 and arrived Friday morning in Paris. The international leg was surprising full, so finding an extra seat or two to lay down and get some sleep was impossible. Arrived 25 minutes early in Paris, was in and out of customs and baggage claim in 40 minutes, and we headed downstairs to the train station, bought 4 tickets to St. Lazare and got on the first train out. Bad idea. I should have waited longer for one of the trains that had fewer stops, as by the time we reached Stade de France, the RER B was packed, and we had all our luggage with us. Transfered to the RER E line to St. Lazare (with luggage) to Lazare for our 12:08 train to Caen.

One tip I can make definitively now, if you buy your train tickets online ahead of time, "splurge" for the refundable/changeable tickets. I purchased non-changeable tickets on the 12:08 train just in case the flight was delayed, or had other problems in customs and baggage retrieval and it would have been worth the extra 50 euros for the changeable tickets - Because we got to Lazare in time for the earlier train and had to sit and wait in the brisk weather for another 1:45 minutes until our train arrived. We boarded first class for the trip up in the event someone, including myself needed a brief nap as we were renting our car in Caen. The train ride was soothing to all, and the rest of my family actually got about an hour and a half of sleep. I spent the time reorganizing our backpacks so that the rest of the day would be easier.

Arrived in Caen on time, got the car with no problems but it was a bit confusing on how to get next to the station (reasonably close, anyway) to pick-up the rest of the family and the luggage. Hint: when you come out of the station, make sure the family goes right, not left to the curb, as directly in front and to the left (as you leave the station) is a lane for cabs and buses only. After these minor snafu's, we got the car loaded and headed immediately to the Caen Peace Museum.

Peace Museum: This was originally primarily for my, and nephew's benefit as we're both history and WWII enthusiasts. I found myself near tears several times (a recurring theme in Normandy). Turned out that my wife and niece actually enjoyed it as much or more than we did. We watched nearly all of the films presented throughout the museum, the staff were extremely nice and helpful, and all thoroughly enjoyed the museum. P.S. I put the museum into the schedule immediately, as I wanted to avoid the temptation to take a longer nap at the hotel and prolong jet lag for the rest of the trip! It worked.

From the museum, we headed out to Port En Bessin for the hotel. As a first time driver in France, I did as much research as I could so that there wouldn't be any wrong turns, backtracking or otherwise getting lost. While my printed directions ultimately worked out perfectly, trying to find the street signs and highway numbers certainly elevated my stress level, as it was so significantly different than in the U.S. My recommendation: don't worry about your directions so much, the French tourist industry did a fine job of actually giving you directions to each city on the signs along the way, it just didn't occur to me or my nephew until mid-day Saturday how to understand them. Drove right to the wharf across from the Ibis in Port en Bessin, checked in, got directions to the car park in the rear, and we were in the room by 6:45p.m. My wife, niece and nephew began unpacking their clothes and things for the next couple of days. I decided the quad room was only big enough for three people to unpack at the same time, so I went for a short walk.

I did a little reconnoitering of the local restaurants. I came back after about 30 minutes and everyone was unpacked and ready to go to dinner. After I unpacked we headed out. We ate at the Marie du Port on the wharf. For the price, we thought the meals were just okay. We walked around the port itself, back to the hotel and went to bed fairly early - 9:45, for our long day on Saturday.

Saturday March 5

We got up fairly early, with little jet lag (except Niece who in notoriously not a morning person) and headed out. Our original plan was to head immediately out to Mont St. Michel in the morning via the autoroute, then return on smaller roads through St. Lo, then up by Pointe du Hoc and the American Cemetery. One missed turn and those wonderful tourist road signs resulted in a change. We started at the American Cemetery, which was only 9 or 10 miles from the hotel (by the way I drove it anyway) for a morning visit. The small museum was really poignant, and once again, I'm nearly in tears several times. We went to the cemetery and the weather was brisk (windy) but otherwise fairly sunny and great for photos. Once we got too cold, we made it back to the car and headed out towards Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc was even colder and windier than the cemetery. The battery emplacements, although made entirely of cold concrete were our only respite from the winds, so we took several pictures from inside looking out over the channel. I explained to my niece that most of the men who died here, both german and allied were near her age - 19 - which put it into perspective for her a little too much, as she was fairly quiet the rest of the visit. From here we headed to Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel was definitely worth the trip, IMO. My wife did not bring her inhaler with her from the car, and the cool breezes and climbing stopped her just below the abbaye itself. She found a nice comfortable bench with some views and people watched while the rest of the family went further up. After about 20 minutes or so more, I excused myself from my niece and nephew by telling them I was concerned about their aunt. They bought it. I was absolutely out of breath and weak kneed myself and decided I'd had enough, so I gave my niece my camera and asked that they take plenty of pictures for us for the album. They continued the climb. After about 45 minutes they returned, telling us the funny stories of things they saw other tourists doing, and gave us a blow by blow (with a digital review of the pictures) at our resting spot. We each picked up a crepe and drink on the walk back down to the car. We headed back, but stopped at the little store just off the causeway, it had the name The in it, but I don't recall if it was Cafe du The or what. We wanted to pick up some sandwiches for the return drive, but ended up just sitting and eating them there. The drive back was uneventful, except for the realization by my nephew and I of how to read the signs, which was a revelation! It made the rest of the day and next morning much less stressful.

We returned to Port En Bessin and the hotel for a brief rest, then headed down to a small Pizza place near the first restaurant. We were all pleased, and rated this place the second/third best meal the entire trip! We once again walked around the town a bit, then got back in the car for a drive all around the town, as we were all a little leg weary from all the walking done during the day. We returned back to the hotel for some drinks at the little bar and went to bed, as we had a 10:08 train to Paris to catch from Caen in the morning. We got up early, got dressed, checked out and headed back to Caen for the train ride into Paris. Nephew and I we confident about our newly discover sign reading skills, and the earlier departure from the hotel would give us plenty of time for corrections. We followed the signs for Caen, then Caen City Centre. I stopped at a small fuel station on the way to fill up the rental car (and to check directions to the station) and found that we were about 4 km from the station, and on the right route. I drove right to the station, dropped of the rest of the family and then returned the rental car at the drop-off point. We were early enough that we had to wait about 45 minutes for the train to Paris.

The train ride back on Sunday morning was in 2nd class, but the train was nearly empty. We all got a little nap on the way back to Paris.

Coming soon: buying metro passes (navigo decouverte), using them, and navigating train stations in Paris to our apartment.

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    Sunday, March 6 the first day in Paris

    We arrived in Paris from Caen at St. Lazare and got off the train. Found a nice comfortable spot for my wife and niece to sit and watch the luggage while nephew and I went out to buy the metro passes for the week. We decided it would be simpler to not tow the luggage in the event that finding the metro station entrance was more difficult. Turned out that you simply followed the signs to the metro entrance and it was right outside the doors, but we headed in to buy the tickets for the rest of the week. After waiting in a short line, I purchased two ticket jaunes mobilis for my niece and nephew, and two mobils for my wife and I for use on Sunday, and then bought 4 Navigo Decouverte cards and weekly passes for zones 1-4, which would get us to both Versailles and Antony station for our connection on Saturday to London. I felt the little extra cost in that pass, vs. a zone 1-2 pass plus supplements to get to Versailles and Antony was worth it.
    We returned to the ladies to head into the metro with our luggage. Everything worked perfectly, we concocted a system to get each person through the gates, then pass the luggage through one at a time. We had to concoct the system because the attendants at both ticket booths were on break and I had no idea how to use the wider gates. Everything worked perfectly until the last person, Moi, had to enter the system. I placed my mobilis ticket into the slot slightly askew, the card apparently bent a little so when I let go, it went flying backwards. Not usually a problem, I know, except that when it went flying backwards, instead of flying out onto the floor, it zipped into a small seam of the machine and simply disappeared! Did I mention that there were no attendants at either ticket kiosk?

    Luckily, only a few moments (which seemed like hours) passed before the nice lady who sold me the passes earlier returned to her station. I attempted to explain, in 30 year old high school french, what had happened. She apparently was able to understand my use of the word perdu and billet, but my english pronunciation of machine left a little to be desired. She came out of her station with a key to open the machine and alas, I wasn't the only idiot who lost his ticket. There were four tickets in the same place! I allowed her to sort through the tickets and give me the correct ticket, which she promptly put into the machine and said bonne journee, which my limited recollection meant have a nice day!

    After lugging the luggage through the metro system and switching trains at Madeleine to reach La Tour Mabourg, "our station", we exited with an nice escalator to street level. A short three block luggage drag to our apartment on rue Sainte Dominique ended, for a week anyway, our luggage dragging. We rented again from VIP, this time their Classique one bedroom apartment (Id #8). Since my wife and I were picking up most of the expenses for the kids, budget was on my mind. It was a little small for us in the mornings when the trundle beds were separated (did I mention my niece is not a morning person) but we worked through it well enough, as we didn't plan on spending an inordinate amount of time in the apartment in any event. (More on that issue on my Thursday report.)

    After unpacking - I again took a brief walk around the neighborhood to find the closest Patisserie/Boulangerie and Marche and picked up some bottled water, soda, wine, fruit and croissants - we decided to walk up to Pont d'Alma to see the liberty statue and Princess Di's crash site. After some walking around and photos, we took the metro to Pont Neuf for an early evening Boat ride on the Seine.

    I purchased tickets online the week before (at a discount of 4E per ticket) from the Vedettes du Pont Neuf and we used them to board. Our timing was perfect, as it was about a two minute wait before the boat pulled out. The narrator/guide was again very good, and I was left to take photos while my niece and nephew listened to the explanations of each site we passed. It also helped when about half way through the trip my wife got too cold in the wind and wanted to go to the covered area downstairs. The kids decided to weather the cold and finished the entire trip on top. BTW, it wasn't that cold, but the wind was significant enough that the wind chill got us. Later in the week once the winds died down, it was excellent weather for early March. After the boat ride, we did some more walking around the Pont Neuf bridge before catching the metro back to "our station".

    On the train ride, we decided we'd just find a restaurant on the walk back to the apartment we liked from the posted menu and eat there. We must have been very tired, because we stopped at the first restaurant we passed - La Source - a small brasserie. We had a reasonably priced meal that three of the four enjoyed. My niece had a troubled start with her dinner meals in both Normandy in Paris. It started with her first foray with shrimp coming fully cooked, with the heads on. She had trouble eating them because they had eyes looking back at her! The second two dinners were both salmon, but it wasn't until this meal that we figured out the problem.

    She, being from the midwest, was used to shrimp coming pre-cleaned without heads, and salmon coming cooked, often on cedar planks, not seviche. She also had one meal with saumon and anchois, but didn't realize until it arrived that anchois on the menu was anchovy, and although she hadn't ever eaten them, she "knew" they tasted bad. She ended up trying one anchovy and commented she could have got the same taste with some fish stock poured over salt. Once we got this problem identified, her meals thereafter were much better, as I'd fully translate the menu before she made her selections, not just ordering saumon because she knew it was salmon.

    After dinner we went back fairly early to unwind and get some extra sleep for Monday.

    Next: Monday, Eiffel Tower, the real world house in Le Vesinet, and Montmartre

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    Monday, March 7, morning to the eiffel tower
    We started the day, like all the rest in Pars with nephew and I going to the market - Rue Cler for our neighborhood. After picking up croissants, a couple of baguettes, Pain au Chocolat's and Pomme tarts at "our boulangerie" we picked up some sliced, smoked, jambon and some other interesting selection by nephew (who works as a chef at a local country club at home) we picked up some white cheddar and gruyere cheeses for sandwiches to pack in our backpack.

    We got back to the apartment and Niece was still in the shower, so my wife and nephew began preparing a petit dejeuner and the sandwiches while I went online (never could get wifi to work, but there was a plug in option in the apartment) to verify the route and station information for the various locales on the metro. Since we had the navigo, we weren't concerned about significantly consolidating everything into one area. After breakfast, we walked over to the eiffel tower where I realized we forgot the sandwiches.

    HUGE lines on a monday in March surprised me, since we got there at 9:45, but it was a fairly short (35 minutes) wait in line before we got on the elevator.

    Our last trip my wife only went to the second story, as she has a fear of heights (and flying and being over water - but she's flown twice to France!) but she decided she'd at least go to the top this time. She expected that she would simply stand up against the inside walls and never venture out to the railing, but to everyone's surprise, she did it, if only to get in my pictures! She actually helped a young french girl back up to the rail for a picture who also suffered from the same fear. We spent probably 45 minutes on the top floor, then returned to the second floor for some different pictures then got the elevator down. We decided to follow our original itinerary and head out to Le Vesinet where the Real World house was located, as the kids (as well as my wife) watched the show and really wanted a change of pace by going out to the suburbs to see a different view of France.

    Next: Le Vesinet and Montmartre

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    Monday March 7, Le Vesinet and Montmartre

    After leaving the Eiffel Tower, we walked to the Ecole Militaire metro station and transferred through the system and ended up in Le Vesinet to take a look at the Real World Paris house from several years ago. I researched it before we left as it was my wife and niece's "compensation" for my nephew and my Normandy trip earlier. I explained that the house was now back in private hands and we would only be able to see the house through the gates as now tours or anything of the sort were available, but they still wanted to go. A rather long train ride out, and a fairly short 15 minute walk to Route de Croissy where the house was located later and we were at the house. We walked around the street sidewalk for photos and luckily for them the gates were wide open with a delivery truck in front, so they did get some nice photos. Fifty minutes of total travel, 12 pictures. I was impressed with the architecture of the house, but it was quite frankly overshadowed by several other homes on the walk from the Centre RER station to the house and back. Le Vesinet is clearly a very tony neighborhood, as all of the homes were very large, some even 4 stories, with large yards and gardens. Several were of a Victorian feel with turrets, etc., so I did get some other great architectural photos. All in all, one hour and 45 minutes of travel time and stopping at the house was not worth it to me, but it was a family trip, and the ladies seemed very happy to get to at least see the house. Their feet didn't feel that way after the walking, but it was for their pleasure. We then trained back to Paris and stopped in the Montmartre area.


    We exited the Metro at Anvers and walked north towards Sacre Coeur, took the funicular up to the butte and walked over to the stairs. There was a singer on the lower portion of the stairs and the stairs were full of seated onlookers, it looked like a roman forum, and he was actually a pretty good singer of several american cover songs. We took numerous photos of Paris, as well as some of the street performers, one of which was a guy in an old costume of some sort painted a complete bronze so as to appear as a statue. His schtick was to stand completely still on a bronze painted dais until such time as some younger ladies would walk by, not paying attention that he was real and then jumping off and scaring the girls. It resulted in loud screams from the girls, and followed by laughter at it all. Unfortunately, there were apparently scads of young girls walking in groups not paying attention, as it occurred 6 times while we were there.

    Late lunch:

    After walking back down from the butte, we found ourselves hungry and did a menu tour until we found a little restaurant with menu items we could agree upon. I believe it was called Marmite, but I'm not sure. I haven't fully looked through all our pictures yet, so the name may not be correct. In any event, the ladies chose a pasta dish and a hamburger cooked well done (our attempt at getting our niece back on track from her seafood experiences) and my nephew had duck confit.

    I settled on a salad with about four or five different choices: cobb, turkey and potatoes and a few others, as I wasn't that hungry and figured a nice salad with turkey and fried potatoes on it would be a nice light lunch. Everyone loved their meals, rating this place the second/third best meal. I did become concerned after I ordered my salad when at the next table two ladies were delivered their salads - in bowls the size of mixing bowls! Mine arrived in this same trough-sized bowl, and I didn't even see any salad greens when it arrived. The fried potatoes were a full 1 inch thick covering the entire bowl, the size of a small pizza at home. My light lunch obviously was out the window, as it also appeared as though they included an entire turkey breast cut into bite sized chunks. It was, in my humble opinion, the best main course salad I've ever been served.

    After lunch, we returned to our neighborhood and the Rue Cler market to pick up supplies for our private chef (my nephew) to make a home cooked pasta meal. After a little resting around the apartment, the chef prepared and we ate our dinner. We followed dinner with a walk around the eiffel tower area for some night photos of the tower, and to relax a little for day 3 in Paris.

    Next: Day 3 "The Long March"

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    Tuesday, March 8

    Tuesday began with the morning ritual of pastries and fruit picked up fresh from the market(s). After listening to several complaints about all the walking in the Metro transferring from line to line, we agreed to make this day about walking the streets and visiting several sites and areas. None of us knew how it would go, but we decided we'd give it a shot. After putting on our best walking shoes (at least I and my nephew did this) we left the apartment on Rue St. Dominique and headed east towards Invalides, ending up on rue de l'University. Our walk was to start with finding Julia Child's apartment at No. 81., puportedly east of Invalides. It was this first trip that I found that not all street numbering in Paris is consistent. After a lot of walking and looking, we BELIEVE we took pictures in front of her 1950's apartment, at least we were between the 70's and the 90's. Julie and Julia was the inspiration for finding the location, but if we didn't find the right place, we'll never know, our pictures in front of the unnumbered door will be identified as such in our travelogue of photos. From there, we walked down to Blvd. Raspail and headed to Ina Garten's favorite market. It's a market set in the boulevard island and was full of shops. I assumed my wife would faint when we passed the shop with the freshly killed and plucked chickens, with the heads and feet still attached, but alas, she actually took a picture of them. It was from a distance using the zoom function, but she did actually look at them. We only ended up buying a tray of raspberries and one of strawberries. We ate them as we walked the rest of the way to the Luxembourg Gardens.

    In Luxembourg Gardens, there were several people lounging around, some middle-aged ladies in red shirts all working out along a circuit created by, I only assume, the lone younger male in a red shirt. He seemed to be encouraging them along. I never fully understood it, but they were walking with cross-country skier style walking sticks the entire time, I guess for the arm workout.

    The flowers were just breaking through the ground, but the grass was very green, with buds on several types of trees. I guess we should have waited a month to go, but we'll go in April next time. We linger in the park for the better part of an hour before we left to go to St. Sulpice.

    My BIL is a huge Dan Brown/da Vinci Code fan and asked that the kids make sure they took pictures of the DVC tour stops, beginning with St. Sulpice. It was a really nice visit and we enjoyed the architecture. It was Mardi Gras, so rather quiet in the church. From here we hopped on the metro up to Etienne Marcel to pick up supplies for dinner at the Montorgueil Market. Exiting the metro is when the comfortable shoes thing became a problem. The ladies had reached their breaking point and now their shoes were beginning to really hurt - the first I even noticed they were having troubles. They ended up sitting down at Rue Mandar while nephew and I picked up some supplies for dinner. We the hopped on the metro at Les Halles and returned to the apartment. We again had dinner in, having brought along our own personal chef (nephew) who is really a great chef. The rest of the evening was spent consoling sore feet, and getting prepared for our trip to Notre Dame on Ash Wednesday.

    Next: Museum Passes, Notre Dame, the Louvre and Musee de l'Armee

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    March 8, Ash Wednesday

    Our day started as usual, breakfast as above. Then it was off to Notre Dame to buy Museum Passes and tour the church and Tower. I must first say, the museum pass website was somewhat confusing. It appeared to indicate that you could buy the museum passes at Notre Dame. You can't. A little Tabac shop a block and a half away does though. We entered before Ash Wednesday Mass and toured the church. The kids really were impressed, even more so than St. Sulpice. DW had no intention of climbing the tower, so she sat for Mass while I and the kids went up the tower. By the time we got in line, we waited 45 minutes to start the climb. I certainly got winded, but was selfishly pleased to see that the kids didn't have such an easy time of it either, since they're half my age. They really enjoyed the views. I was surprised to find out that the towers themselves were able to be climbed, as our last trip they were not open. We climbed the south tower for even better views of the city. We tried to count all the other cathedrals we could see from the vantage point. I knew seven of them by name, but I think my nephew counted 13?

    After Notre Dame, we headed west along the south side of the ile and ate some tasty 4E sandwiches before returning to the apartment so that the ladies could change their shoes. We adjusted our itinerary somewhat after the return to the apartment and went to the Musee d l'Armee. I really liked the military history aspects. There were several great photo opportunities. BTW, this trip I found an inordinate amount of fellow visitors who were either ignorant of, or immune to the clearly marked "NO FLASHES ALLOWED" signs in multiple languages place throughout many of the sites or areas in the sites. Just a personal pet peeve, adjusting everything to get a low light photo when the idiot next to you just hits the flash.

    After seeing Napoleon's tomb, we headed to the Metro and the Louvre, as it was open late. And crowded. No, packed. Also, there was a significant reorganization of the pieces since our last visit. Mona Lisa and Winged Victory were in their places, but alot of the things were not where I remember them. I have yet to pull out our map from our original visit, but I'll compare to see if things were moved or I'm getting old. I'm afraid it's the latter, unfortunately. The kids were quickly overwhelmed with it all and I think a bit intimidated as much of the art they hadn't even heard of before, but they were really impressed with the architectural details of it all.

    After the Louvre, we headed up to the Montorgueil area to try to find a restaurant called Mamere's. I thought it was on J. J. Rouseau, but I was wrong. Never found it and were too tired to look any longer, so we stopped at Presto Fresco, a little Italian place on rue Montmarte. Everyone was a little tired, and my wife and niece were certain that the waiter was laughing at us (me) for taking his early advice and ordering the 25E antipasti plate (says for 2-3 people) instead of something else. It took a while for the plate to be delivered, but it came as a shock to all of us. It was massive. It was a large mediteranean melange of items. Turned out that it was the best part of the meal. After dinner, we headed back towards the apartment. We walked along the Champs Elysee and then headed towards the Eiffel Tower, attempting to end up on the Trocadero side. Missed it by a block or two, and no one wanted to climb the steps up to the patio area on top. Ended with a little souvenir shopping by the Eiffel Tower before going back to the apartment.

    Next: Versailles and the Night from Hell.

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    Really enjoying your trip. I love all the details, so please don't condense. Will you post your pictures somewhere for us to see? Please!?

    I agree with your comment about the people who use flash where it is forbidden. However, I do think pictures taken without flash are often better in the long run--especially when things are out of flash range! I always hope that some important personage with power comes along to the flashers and gets them good! (Not nice, I know, but.....)

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    Great trip report!!!! My wife, granddaughter and I are going to France in June and we are staying in an apartment near rue Sainte Dominique too. We were last there in 2004 and can't wait to get back. We are starting with a week in Paris, then a few days in Normandy and a few days in the Loire Valley. It sounds like we will be doing many of the same things as you so it is very interesting to read your report with all the great comments and advice. Keep it coming!!!!

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    We're working on organizing all our pictures between my, nephew and niece's cameras, plus a few from cell phone cameras. It'll take a while as were talking about over 1000 photos, many of which are duplicates between the cameras.

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    Mont St. Michel was definitely worth the trip out. About an hour and a half away from where we stayed. Pointe du Hoc was pretty impressive, but cold in March. Can't go wrong on the seafood front in Normandy either. Have fun and do a trip report here if you have time.

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    After our week in Paris, we will be spending a total of 5 nights in Normandy (2 in Etretat, 3 near Bayeux) before going on to Amboise for 4 nights. Mont St Michel and Pont du Hoc are definitely on our schedule. Like I said above, I'm really enjoying your report, your comments and your advice. Thanks for writing it and I'm looking forward to more.

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    March 9, Versailles and the night from hell

    This day started out as the most anticipated day of our trip by the majority. We got up early, I did my regular run to the boulangerie and Starbucks for 1 Cafe American - Vente, for my wife. After everone was up, fed and ready, we headed out to the Invalides station for a trip on the RER out to Versailles. We used our Navigo Pass for zones 1-4 out to Versailles Rive-Gauche, and the first train at the station was the correct C-5 train. Just a short ride (30 minutes) and we arrived at the station. We exited the station and crossed the street towards the McDonalds, then turned right up to the main street that leads into the Palace, then turned left down the main blvd. that leads to the palace gates.

    Due some lingering in the a.m. getting ready, we arrived just about the time that several tour busses arrived, about 30 minutes earlier and we'd have been just fine. But, alas, when we got into the palace itself, it was already crowded. Somehow, my niece got in line for the audioguide, which I thought cost a few extra euros, but we ended up with three audioguides for the four of us at no cost. The kids in particular used and liked them, my wife didn't use it as much, but did like it when she used it. This was our second time, but the first for the kids. It was really nice to be able (although crowded) the entire Hall of Mirrors this time. Our first trip 2/3's of the hall was under renovation, which also restricted access to some of the apartments that were behind the construction walls. Several of the ceiling frescoes were under repair, so we took a few photos to discuss with our oldest son, the Art degree holder. Overall, we found the palace, even with the crowds, was an enjoyable and informative experience.

    After the palace tour, we exited the building to the grounds. After a short walk around the upper area adjacent to the palace, we saw both golf cart rentals and mini-train/tram tickets available to explore the grounds, the Triananon and Hameau areas. The golf cart rental, at 30E per hour was a little out of my price range, but the tram tickets (which were good all day long in a hop-on/hop-off fashion) were very reasonable. We had kids and adult prices combined and as i recall the total was around 20E or so.

    We purchased the tickets and got on the next tram and were at the Grand Trianon about 10 minutes before it opened (at noon) which allowed us some time to walk around the outside and got several photos of the "moat" area surrounding the front. I doubt it was ever a real moat - at least the door leading into the building at one end lends that it was just a large excavated area to prevent people from entering the palace area. While not nearly as ornate as the Palace, the Grand Trianon reminded me of the palace itself, just smaller. The gardens were the same, smaller, less ornate, but just as interesting. We then came to the Petit Trianon, but only toured its' exterior areas, before walking out to the Eros Temple and then Marie's Hameau.

    We found this to be probably the most interesting portion of the tour. It certainly gives an understanding, I think, of Marie Antoinette's mindset and life as a child bride. My recollection was she was married in a proxied-ceremony in Austria with her brother or cousin standing in as Louis until the ceremonial wedding in Versailles the next month. It is amazing that the little buildings still stand, thatched roofs and all, some 225 years later.

    We thoroughly enjoyed this portion of our trip, but it was a long day, and we needed to head back to Paris for some rest. A short RER trip landed us back at Invalides and then the apartment. The girls were still suffering from sore feet from earlier in the week, so we decided that nephew and I would go shopping for supplies to make a real nice dinner in the apartment and the ladies would rest up. Nephew and I wanted to purchase mussels for dinner so we went to rue Cler market. The price was certainly cheap, but the mussels hadn't been cleaned or de-bearded, so he suggested that we metro over to another market (on Raspail) that we saw the previous day that had cleaned mussels for sale.

    After a short metro trip, we arrived to find that either the market was only open on Wednesdays, or had already closed up for the day. We were then left with either the first mussels we saw, or I suggested we metro to Chatelet to check the store at Montorgueil's market. We should have went one more stop north. Although I was aware of construction at Les Halles, the construction fencing only confused me on how to get up to Montorgueil, as I didn't want to enter the labrynth of Les Halles shopping mall and potentially get lost. We chose to walk around . . . the LONGEST possible way.

    After our long walk, we ended up at Montorgueil and found cleaned Mussels for 10 centimes more per kilo than at rue Cler. We then picked up a few remaining items needed for dinner and its' then that it dawned on me that we would be carrying 3.5 kilos of mussels into and through the metro during a rather busy time. Oh well, live and learn. After our round about trips to get these wonderful mussels, we returned to La Tour Mabourg Metro for the shortest walk to our apartment. Shortly thereafter, things began going down hill.

    As we returned to the apartment and began climing the stairs to the door, we found wife and niece sitting on the steps outside the door. Apparently, during our hour and a half sojourn for Mussels, they awoke from a nap and decided to walk down to the Starbucks for a coffee (American) and brought with themselves: 10E note, their passports and the keys to the apartment. Since it was a two minute walk, they didn't bring their phones or purses just those items.

    When they returned to the apartment, the key unlocked the door, but it wouldn't fully open. After a few minutes, they decided to sit and wait for us. 30 minutes later, just before 6:00pm we arrived. After 10 minutes of working on the door, and verifying that all the windows to our 1st floor apartment (2nd U.S.) were securely locked, I was left with the last resort of calling the rental agent representative in Paris. Here's where it got really interesting. Did I mention that we left nearly everything secured in the apartment? That happened to include all the emergency numbers related to the apartment in cases of trouble.

    Luckily, I had my phone, which I used with wifi access. That left me the opportunity to go online and send an e-mail to the rental company in New Jersey (it was just after noon there) explaining my quandry and getting the number sent to me so that I could call. Here's where it gets really interesting. The wifi in the apartment (which rarely worked the entire week) was not working, either that or it wasn't strong enough to transmit outside the door. I had plenty of access using the hard-wire inside, but obviously that was not an option. So I was then left with going to the Starbucks and buying a wifi card to send my email. After paying for the wifi access, the clerk informed me that there is some problem, as it wasn't giving him my code. After a few minutes, the manager returned from taking out the garbage and explained to him, and me, that something happened to their system that afternoon and it was no longer available. After a refund, I left on a hunt for wifi.

    At this point frustration is beginning to set in. I stopped back by the apartment and notified the family of what was going on and that I would be out beating the streets for wifi. I also suggested that my nephew take the mussels outside, as it was much cooler, in an effort to prolong the life of those hopefully delicious morsels. I then headed off. For some reason, none of the shop owners that did understand my broken french knew of a wifi shop. After twenty minutes or so of searching, it dawned on me that the Irish pub near the apartment might have someone who spoke english and might know of wifi access. Luckily, I found a nice english kid who helped me. Not with wifi, but with getting the bartender's attention and translating it to me. Turns out that there was a free wifi service in the area, albeit very weak. I went outside the pub and found the server and looked up the rental website. By the time I got that site pulled up and drafted my e-mail to send, I'd lost service. I walked around the area holding my phone in different positions until I was able to send it.

    The next problem was waiting for the reply. I had no idea how long that process might take from New Jersey, but it meant from my end I had to regularly try to find the free server and check my e-mails. This portion wasn't so bad, as I was able to retrieve that responsive email a mere 21 minutes after I sent it. The rental agency owner in NJ had responded in less than 15 minutes of me sending it!

    Once I received that e-mail, and the local agent's number, I quickly returned to my english friend at the pub to request a a huge favor to use his working cellphone for the call. But, you guessed it, he was no longer there. The bartender was however, and after a short negotiation, he agreed to dial the local number on his phone and let me take his phone outside for the call, if I left my phone with him. Made the call, got in contact (after leaving a message and getting a return call on the phone) with the local agent and explained my situation.

    After assuring him the door/lock broke and that I/we did not mess up the protocols on shutting the door with the key still in the lock from the inside, he told me he would have someone there in 45 minutes. I returned to the apartment to wait and let everyone know what was going on. To his word, the agent's assistant was on site in 45 minutes, almost exactly. I explained again to him what happened and he then spent 20 minutes or so working on the door. He then knocked on a neighbors door and that guy then spent another 20 minutes trying it. All this time, I was explaining what the problem was (I had 45 minutes of inspection time) and how we could fix it. I recommended getting a small drill and boring through the front of the door to allow you to stick something into the security bar (that had clearly broken free from the door and fell into the latch into the floor - blocking the door from opening) and lift it from the hole in the floor.

    I never got a response from either men. I suspect my frustration was inhibiting my french communication skills. Or they thought I was an idiot. It didn't really matter. So now it is about 9:00. The agent tells me he will go make a call to his boss and figure out what to do. After another 25 minutes explaining that it wasn't our fault, but that the door broke (I suspect they would have called a locksmith afterhours if it was on my dime) he was instructed to take us to another vacant apartment for the night, and that the locksmith would be at the apartment first thing.

    With the stress of everything, DW is now breathing laboriously (and her inhaler is in the apartment, along with everything else) I ask our assistant how long of a walk is it? After finding out is was only 300 meters, my wife was fine with walking us all over as a group. Potentially, as the crow flies, it was 600 meters. But we weren't crows, and we were in Paris. It was closer to 1000 meters by the time we got there. DW was breathing like she'd just ran a marathon (the cold wind outside and lack of her inhaler really set off her asthma) when we finally got into the apartment. Our assistant showed us the apartment, unlocked the linen closet and got us all towels and sheets for the beds. At that point, I thanked him and told him I would be at the apartment first thing in the morning and he could leave, we'd make up the beds later.

    We got into the apartment nephew started looking at the mussels to make sure they weren't dead and we turned on the TV. The first thing we see really put our situation in some perspective, as CNN was reporting the Japanese Tsunami. DW actually took a picture of the TV screen for our posterity. That's also how I know it was 9:49pm when the assistant left the apartment. Nephew began cooking dinner for all of us, which given the fact that the creme we purchased the day before was still in the fridge at the other apartment, he worked magic. DW didn't make it to dinner, as she fell asleep, exhausted and fully dressed (including my coat) on the bed.

    I won't mention the name of the rental agency, as they have been generally good to work with in the past, and on this situation. However, in our two trips to Paris (2006, 2011) we've stayed in three apartments. The one near Montorgueil last time, and now, with the door situation on our second apartment, we got the third apartment. In each apartment, something significant has occurred. (Foreshadowing) Our first apartment we arrived on a Saturday afternoon and when we woke Sunday morning, we found that there was no hot water. Electricians fixed the problem Monday morning, but it certainly wasn't pleasant not having a shower from Friday morning before leaving the states to Monday in Paris. The second apartment's door breaks leading to apartment 3.

    We discover a problem with this apartment about an hour and one half after arriving, once dinner was complete. Nephew decided to take a shower that night, to relax himself and knowing that he'd be putting on the same clothes he wore around the entire Versailles complex in the morning. When he gets out of the shower, he finds that the waterline over the wc has a fairly significant drip in it. The water was hitting the toilet seat back and splashing, which he could clearly feel when he didn't have his clothes on. I attempted to arrange a towel on the seat back to prevent the splashing, and to prevent water damage, as I wasn't going to call the agent again at nearly midnight.

    The next morning, I get a call from the agent explaining that the first locksmith he called (left a message the night before) called him and were already tied up on another project. He was able to get another locksmith coming, but he would not arrive until 10:00am, some 2.5 hours later. I went and got the breakfast items again, had breakfast and left the family at this apartment and told them I'd call from the other apartment when it was open. I left early to be there before 10:00 in case the locksmith was there early. Good thing I did, as he was there at the door when I came around the corner at 9:45. He spoke no english, and I personally found my french was even worse than the night before. I muddled through it enough to show him the apartment door, and what I expected to be the problem. He seemed to agree, and indicated that he would need his tools from his truck, so I followed him outside to wait until his return to let him into the building. While waiting, the assistant from the previous night showed up and asked if he'd arrived yet. I explained that he had, and the he was getting tools. I believe he parked his truck those same 300 meters away from the apartment, as it took him 25 minutes to get back with his tools, and another assistant.

    They made quick work of it, by, guess what - drilling a hole in the bottom of the door and lifting out the security bar and voila - problem solved! I immediately went in to call the other apartment and let them know, but the call wouldn't go through. I called again and had the rental agent's assistant listen to the call and tell me what it meant. He explained that the phone on the other end was in use or off the hook. Since I had used the phone earlier in the morning, I (correctly) assumed that I had not put the phone on the receiver properly. I headed over to the other apartment (those same 300 meters) and picked up the family for our return to the apartment.

    Next: The last full (almost) day in Paris - shopping!

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    Wow! Calling your experience the night from hell is an understatement. I don't think my family would have handled the situation as calmly as it sounds like you all did. I sure hope your last day of shopping wasn't as adventurous!!!

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    apersuader65, Thanks so much for this report. I'm planning a trip to Normandy and Paris and your report is a pleasure to read so far, (I've only been to Normandy with you).

    It's hard to believe you did the d-day beaches, museum and Mont St. Michel all in 2 days. I was thinking MSM would take an entire day.

    BTW, any tips on reading those signs in France? I'll be navigating :)

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    john183: No, it was rather quiet, but our day in London is where the Thursday night fiasco came out.

    LSky: My only recommendation on the signs: Trust them. Don't worry about following the Michelin directions to a T. We spent so much time trying to figure out which "highway" we were on that as drivers, we missed much of the scenery that DW and Niece loved. It turns out the tourist signs actually lead you EXACTLY where they say, and nearly every site is identified. As for the round-abouts, you need to carefully look at the large green signs before the intersection a distance that describe the exits, as in the round-abouts there isn't much time to actually think, just react. Second, keep in mind (which for some reason I NEVER did) that they are round. If you are not sure that is the exit you want, keep turning left. You'll get a second bite at the apple! It is much harder to turn around and head back to the round-about once you've taken the wrong turn - as we found out in St. Lo.

    mms: Thanks. DW is already talking about trying to get back this fall with just her and I (a first) and not even staying in Paris at all. She's also looking at trying to learn the language, as she's now researching retiring there in several years. I'd move tomorrow if I found the right job over there.

    I'll finish the report later this week. We've been working on the flickr slideshow with all of our pictures, as well as some from Nephew and Niece's shots. Alot to cull through!

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    Enjoyed your report. Will be staying in a hotel on Rue Chevert in June, and was pleased to read that the Metro stop at La Tour Maubourg has an escaltor, as we will be arriving in Paris at Gare de Lyon, and I'm thinking about taking the Metro rather than cabs (we have six in our party), but don't particularly want to have to lug bags up and down a lot of stairs.

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    twk: The exit escalator is particularly easy to use. The exit is at the southeast corner of Boulevard de La Tour Mabourg and Rue de Grenelle. Depending upon where on Chevert you are staying, Ecole Militaire might be even closer. Both are smaller stations, so they aren't as crowded or busy. In either event, you'll be switching trains at Madeleine, which is more busy, with Metro lines 8, 12 and 14 all available.

    LSky, you've got it, head in the general direction and follow the signs. The American Cemetery signs take you right to the parking lot.

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    apersuader65: We're staying at the Muguet, which looks to be slightly closer to La Tour-Maubourg than Ecole Militaire. Not to divert the subject of your execellent trip report, but would you have any qualms about wheeling bags (nothing bigger than a legal carryon size) through Madeleine to make a change in the middle of the afternoon?

    Back to the subject: seems that both times I've done rentals, there were minor problems that needed to be attended--nothing as significant as your problem with the door not opening. I'm hoping for a smooth house rental in the Dordogne before the Paris portion of our trip, since the owners will be staying at the house the week before we arrive (and hopefully, will leave everything in tip top condition).

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    I'll respond to your first question this way: I was able to tow my wife's 28", 50 lbs. bag from CDG to St. Lazare (tf @ Nord) and out of Caen Station, then back to St. Lazare, changed at Opera and down. She was able to easily tow my 22" carryon the same distance. I would highly recommend "spinner" luggage (4 wheels), as my niece and nephew used our old set of 2-wheelers and they were substantially more cumbersome than the spinners (both were larger than carry-on size, but not trunks!). I'd say the question is one of your age and physical fitness. Average person should have no problem with bags your size.

    As for the apartment: We are considering another trip this fall. I doubt we will use the same company, or at least the lower budget options from them. All prior times we needed a minimum size for 4 people, with me covering all expenses. A smaller, nicer place at or near the same cost of a 4 person should get me into a better maintained/nicer quality apartment or building with just 2.

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    apersuader65--On our first trip, I barely knew the basic phrases. Before the second trip, I took a French For Travelers course through the local community college. That helped SO much! Plus, I made some wonderful friends that we still see. Before the third trip, we ventured out a bit more and attempted a Conversational French course. I was terrible at it, lol! This time though, I will be spoiled. DD will be finishing up a study abroad term in Paris, so I will rely more on her this time:D

    twk--We stayed at the Muguet and loved it. I can't help with the metro's nearby though as my mother was with us and basically she doesn't do those;)

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    Travels w/ M&J

    Sigh. I'm feeling nostalgic just reading all this. In the first week of October, we flew to London, drove out to Kent for a few days in the gardens. Yup ~ the gardens are worth visiting in October. Then we drove a half hour up to Ashford and took the Eurostar to Paris. We rented an apartment for a week that was absolutely gorgeous, after which we rented a car and drove to Normandy for a few days. It was one of the best trips of my life and you can see the pictures on my blog, Travels w/ M&J, link above.
    Happy Trails,

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