Paris & London July 2011

Old Jul 17th, 2011, 12:38 PM
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Paris & London July 2011

Back from this year's summer trip to Paris with a stop in London and here’s the report. Traveling party consisted of myself, my SO and 18 yo niece with strong interest in fashion (not just the usual teen obsession with appearance, she is pursuing formal education.) Will not rehash the usual places/things already well covered by others, will offer new things we experienced.

<blue><b>Transport</blue></b>: Continental Airlines both ways. Original plan was to have niece fly EWR to IAH where she would meet us and we would fly together to LHR. Did not happen due to irrops with her EWR-IAH flight; she was rebooked to fly directly from EWR to LHR, scheduled to arrive two hours before us; she would meet us at the Costas coffee in the arrival hall. Immigration line was horrible - took her almost two hours to get through! We got through Fast Track immigration in about 20 minutes so her actual waiting time to meet us at LHR was just a few minutes. Driver from Exclusive Airports was waiting as promised with my name on placard. First time using this service, quite pleased - nice clean VW minivan, £40.00 one way fare to SW1 for the three of us plus one large and one carry on per person, 1/3 less than the often recommended justairports.com. Reserved online and prepaid using cc at exclusiveairports.com. Traffic on Sunday morning not bad at all.

<red><b>London</red></b> hotel: Crowne Plaza St James, 48 Buckingham Gate. Rooms booked using points, upgraded to superior recently refreshed rooms, two doubles off a private hallway. Very nice property in historic building - spacious rooms and baths (niece had two French doors onto Juliet balcony overlooking courtyard), great gym (cardio and resistance machines, sauna and steam, lockers) with no entry fee for guests. Breakfast buffet in courtyard delicious, not bargain fare but in line with if not better value for money than many other London hotels. Staff was consistently gracious and helpful. Closest tube station St James Park (Circle and District lines) is just a few minutes’ walk, also walking distance to Westminster Abbey area, and literally around the corner from Buckingham Palace. First time using this property (usually stay at HI Mayfair across from Green Park tube station, but no rooms available there this time) but would definitely recommend and return.

For getting around reloaded PAYG Oyster cards purchased on previous visits; easy, convenient. Used tube and buses; traffic on Monday was light due to many Londoners taking off the day to savor the good weather.

Great find while wandering: Bumbles restaurant at 16 Buckingham Palace Road bumbles1950.com – not a posh neighborhood but nice place and the £10 three course menu was a tremendous bargain for good food; wine list was decent and well-priced, too.

Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord was comfortable and uneventful. Arrived at St Pancras just before 1:00 pm for our 2:02 train; tickets purchased online, printed out at home; seating around a table with fourth place vacant; food & beverages purchased at the station M&S prior to departure. On arrival queue for taxi was minimal, no more than a couple minutes’ wait. Traffic to apartment was horrendous but no more so than usual.

<red><b>Paris</red></b> apartment #410769 on homeaway.com was exactly as pictured. Just off rue de Bretagne in 3rd, great location. Walk up to second French (3rd US) floor to nicely designed 2/2, all mod cons, in perfect shape with everything working. There are cheaper places but the quality of this place made it quite decent value for money. Rue de Bretagne is, IMO, what rue Cler would be without hordes of tourists, perhaps even better. Did usual tourist things as this was niece’s first visit to Paris. Apartment was especially well located for wandering among the shops in the Marais, much to the delight of my niece. For venturing further, picked up some carnets for our first few days, then loaded weekly pass on previously purchased Navigo cards for the second week. Used metro and bus; niece especially like riding bus as it affords views en route.

As recommended by fellow Fodorites we visited the musee de Bourdelle in the Montparanasse area so niece could see the exhibition on Madame Gres, fashion legend. Was enjoyable for the museum itself as well as the special exhibition.

A first for us was the midnight masked ball lecarnavaldeversailles.fr at Versailles. Rented costumes in town, stayed over Saturday at great little hotel in Versailles hotel-berry.com and did a visit to the chateau on Sunday, along with about a gazillion other tourists. Even with pre-purchased tickets wait to enter was a good hour or more. Another first for me was a visit to the discount clothing shops on rue Alesia – niece found several bargains, I enjoyed the stroll.

A new find at marché des Enfants Rouges, about middle on last row was a stand with breads also making sandwiches or <<cournets>> using buckwheat crepes. Couple from NZ waiting in line told me place had been written up in NY Times for the vegetarian cournet (basically a wrap made with a crepe folded into a cone shape) and I can see why. Niece had veggie, we went for jambon fromage – so good we went back a second time the next week. Couscous at Chez Omar on rue de Bretagne is still great and a relative bargain; still not accepting credit cards but that has not hampered demand, so may need to wait in line. Great option for vegetarian niece.

In addition to the usual fireworks for la Fête Nationale at the Eiffel tower there was a concert which attracted thousands. Never saw such a huge crowd in the ten or more years that I have attended this event, but we lucked out and had a good viewing place on the champs de Mars. Funny anecdote: took metro to Latour Maubourg, walked down rue de Grenelle along with throngs of other attendees; stopped in a restaurant with posted a relatively low priced menu. After waiting 30 minutes or so after ordering, quite classically beautiful but obviously harried young waitress came to table to announce that she was sorry but they had run out of food. Really! All they had left was couscous. At first we thought maybe it was a bait and switch operation, but heard the manager tell folks who came in after us that all they had left was couscous. So we ordered one veggie and tow chicken couscous that turned out to be quite delicious. As described on other posts fodors.com/community/europe/la-fte-nationale.cfm# the fireworks were quite impressive. The huge crowd made getting home a bit of a pain, as metro stations were mobbed; we hoofed it all the way to St Michel to get a train back home.

Return to CDG on Saturday morning was incredibly easy – traffic was virtually nil. Seems many Parisians had already headed out of town on vacation. Flew on CO again into EWR where my brother picked up niece and we connected to flight back to SAT. Blissfully uneventful flight, arrived 30 minutes early and hopped in cab to home. Everything intact, house cleaner had been in previous day and did usual great job so a delight to return to a clean place. Other than not being in Paris, it's nice to be home ;-)
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Old Jul 17th, 2011, 01:44 PM
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Seamus - a terrifically well-written and well-paced report - thank you.

that apartment looks vey well placed, if a little over the top in price for me - did you feel it was worth it?
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Old Jul 17th, 2011, 01:54 PM
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Excellent report, Seamus.
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 06:44 AM
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<i>annhig on Jul 17, 11 at 4:44pm: that apartment looks vey well placed, if a little over the top in price for me - did you feel it was worth it?</i>

It is not the lowest priced apartment in the area, but neither is it outrageous. We wanted something that would work well for us and our niece, and this place certainly fit the bill. For the space and quality it was indeed worth the price.
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 08:57 AM
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thanks, seams.

i think if it were just two of us, it might be too expensive for us, but were we with our kids, I'd probably go this high, as we appreciate the extra space.
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 09:44 AM
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A midnight masked ball at Versailles??!! Wow!
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 10:17 AM
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Yes, more please on that masked ball!

Also interested on what you and your niece saw, her impressions,etc. Always like to know what first timers thought.
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 11:56 AM
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Oops, the hyperlink to the masked ball in my original post did not work; guess the domain .fr is not recognized as such. Try http://lecarnavaldeversailles.fr/?lang=en

The event offered 2 types of tickets - €50 for basic entry to the festivities in l'orangerie or €250 for entry plus access to VIP area, three drinks and a buffet. Either ticket also allowed access to the garden at 2200h for the fireworks at 2300h. We went for the basic level. Drinks for purchase included beer, wine, champagne or soft drinks for €6-8 each. No idea what the VIP buffet included. Music was provided by a well-known (among people much younger than myself) DJ, large screens along one wall carried projected images of a conceptual conceit, in front of which a troupe of 8 or 10 lithe dancers in various skimpy costumes performed modern/interpretive dance numbers. Costumes were required for entrance, and ranged from the obviously quickly thrown together to the quite elaborate. About 0200h there was a pause for a brief fireworks display outside the building. Festivities were to continue until dawn. Niece probably could have stayed to party on, but the decades between us took their toll and I pulled rank; we departed about 0300h and walked back to the hotel.
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Old Jul 18th, 2011, 01:23 PM
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No pictures of the intrepid travelers in your costumes?
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Old Jul 20th, 2011, 12:43 PM
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Excellent repot, Seamus, thank you. Could you pelase tell if there is a difference if you purchase the round trip Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord ticket from London to Paris at the Pancreas Station in London or in advance online?
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Old Jul 20th, 2011, 12:43 PM
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Excellent repot, Seamus, thank you. Could you pelase tell if there is a difference if you purchase the round trip Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord ticket from London to Paris at the Pancreas Station in London or in advance online?
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Old Jul 20th, 2011, 07:08 PM
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victoriaelkin - advance purchase tickets are available at reduced fares. As with airlines, quantities may be limited, and the lowest fares come with the most restrictions (e.g., non changeable, non refundable)
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Old Jul 20th, 2011, 07:29 PM
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Aunt or fairy godmother? Sounds like a wonderful trip and that Paris apartment is in a terrific location (for me). How was the loft bedroom--easy to get up and down that ladder?

I'm with Nikki: where are our costumed travelers?
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Old Jul 21st, 2011, 11:18 AM
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advance purchase tickets are available at reduced fares. As with airlines, quantities may be limited, and the lowest fares come with the most restrictions (e.g., non changeable, non refundable)>>

also, if you are starting from elsewhere, buy your rail ticket/s at the same time and you will be covered by the european conditions of travel which mean that if you miss a train, they will get you on the next available one.

buy them separately, and they have no obligation to do so.
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Old Jul 21st, 2011, 11:29 AM
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Great report Seums, with great tips . E.g. Bumbles next yr in London!!

Wonderful that you took your niece, and she , not surprisingly,loved the trip!!

The CP St James is on Hotwire sometimes (ID'd it via icons and Betterbidding site) so next time you or any FF folks want to stay there....check hotwire
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Old Jul 21st, 2011, 05:48 PM
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Leely - niece had no problem with the loft bed. Having attained a certain age I am no longer a fan of ladders into bed but this was well done as such things go.

CaliNurse - thanks for that will certainly look at Hotwire. It really was a great place.
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