Paris April May 2009 Trip Report

Old Apr 7th, 2010, 07:07 AM
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bookmarking. two more months and counting......
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Old Apr 13th, 2010, 04:59 PM
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Sorry for the delay in continuing my narrative.

Day 4 Saturday May 2

Barb and I had ambitious plans for the day. We rose early, packed our bags and carried them down the stairs the lobby. The person at the front desk was the lady I had met on our first morning. The one whose rug I had dirtied with my luggage wheels. “Bonjour”, I said, as she looked up from her work. She remembered who I was and shouted to the man who was painting the front door that I was “that man”. She smiled and thanked me for the flowers. The painter turned out to be her husband. They owned or managed the hotel. We thanked them for the pleasant room. The bill was presented and everything was as expected.

We hope to stay again at the Hotel du Champs de Mars.

The plan was to arrive early at Versailles. The gates opened at 9:00 and today was a garden fountain day. I expected it would be busy. But first, we had to leave our bags at the Rick Steves tour hotel, Hotel Duquesne Eiffel. It was a short walk to our new hotel, only two blocks south of the Ecole Militaire metro. The girl at the front desk took our bags and said we could check in after 12:00.

As we walked back to the Metro we passed Flur Tea, our new breakfast place. It was closed. Flourent, the owner was still in Marseilles for the holiday. We picked up croissants at the COOP and went down the stairs to the metro. Thankfully, the ticket office was open and I purchased the tickets to Versailles. The lady ticket agent gave us two tickets each. One for the Ecole Militaire to Invalides station portion of the trip. Another to get through the turnstile during the transfer from Invalides to the RER C platform. I tried to feed a regular unused metro ticket into the turnstile at the RER C transfer. It would not work, but today’s second ticket did.

It was 8:30 by the time we boarded the train for Versailles. Despite it being early Saturday morning, many people were on this train. More passengers boarded along the way and at the end of the 30 minute ride the cars were full. When we exited the train at Versailles the platform was crowded with people rushing to the station and exit. I spotted a McDonalds across the street. Since there were so many people ahead of us, I thought it would not hurt to stop for a quick breakfast. Wrong! Inside McDonalds there was a line of 10 people and one disgruntled counter person. It took 30 minutes to get our breakfast sandwiches. Of course they had to come with the mandatory orange juice, the greasy hash brown thing and coffee. Total cost was12 Euros. Thankfully, the WC was clean and not crowded. It was a good thing we used it.

Barb and I walked the six blocks to the large parking lot in front of Versailles. Oh Boy! There were 100 big tour busses, all parked and packed in tight. We could see the coble stone court yard in front of the ornate gold entrance fence. There must have been four thousand people waiting in two long lines and it was only 9:30! Since we had museum passes we were able to ignore the two thousand people in the first line. We joined the second line, just behind several tour groups from Eastern Europe. Only another two thousand people ahead of us now. The man who stood behind us was from New Zeeland. His girlfriend was waiting in the ticket line. In front of us was a couple from Ohio and their two year old girl in a stroller. They originally were from Bangladesh and were in Paris on business.

Had we been thinking, we should have immediately turned around and returned to Paris. Our only investment had been 12 Euros for the train tickets. Unfortunately, we chose to wait in the line. The rain clouds began to gather in the distance. The couple with the child told us about their afternoon in the Latin Quarter the previous day, the May 1 holiday. We heard them describe the clash between the police and the protesters. They said they had been on the edge of the tear gas cloud. It had made their little girl sick. They also told us they had paid 75 Euros each for a private tour of the Versailles. Their guide had put them in line and said he would be back. He had not returned. And I thought I was having a bad day.

Two hours passed and we entered the palace. All I wanted to see were the gardens and the fountains. A guard said we had to go through the rooms and halls to get to the garden entrance. The weather had turned very cloudy. It felt as if it was going to rain so we went into the entrance of Versailles. Barb could see that I was not handling the “forced march” atmosphere very well. She suggested we split up and meet by the garden entrance. I hurried off into the mass of people. Trying to make my way through the tour groups who blocked my route and the crush of hundreds of other people in the palace was definitely not fun.

At 12:00 I could see people looking out the windows at the fountains. I asked another guard how I could get to the garden entrance. She shook her hear and said I had to go back and return to the main entrance. Unbelievable! I turned around and walked upstream - through the same crowds I had just escaped. Along the way I found Barb. We agreed this was too much! When we finally found the garden entrance it was 12:45 and there was a long line to get in.

Angry and Pissed Off, we walked back to the train station. Of course, we proceeded to get lost. After beer and wine and helpful directions at a hotel we stumbled upon, things got a little bit better. The train station was only a block away.

The weather cleared up and the sun came out while we were on the train. Things were looking up. We decided to have lunch at the top floor cafeteria inside Galleries Lafayette. Not a good decision! The transfer to the Metro and the ride to the Opera Garnier and the walk to Galleries Lafayette were uneventful. However, at 2:00 we found the cafeteria quite crowded. We groaned and endured more lines. Thirty minutes later, we found two seats next to a family with small children. Our luck was changing. The little ones were angles and behaved nicely. We each had a half chicken for lunch with potatoes and green beans. The food was excellent. Along with beer and wine the bill came to less than 20 Euros.

All departments in Galleries Lafayette were packed. We agreed to split up and shop separately. At 4:00 we met on the steps of the opera, on time and at the right place. We arrived at our new hotel 45 minutes later. After checking in and a quick change of clothes we joined the tour group for drinks at 5:00. Right on time!

We had signed up to do the 14 day Rick Steves tour of Paris and the South of France.. The cost was $3,995 per person and did not include airfare. This was Barb’s third RS tour and my second.

In the hotel breakfast room, Patrick Vidal, our tour guide, spoke to us for 45 minutes while we all drank complementary wine. Then, he led us to a restaurant in the Rue Cler. This turned out to be better than the standard group meal. They did their best to serve the 27 people, all at once. Not bad. I had a good time making new friends. Barb sat at another table and got to know Diane and Lee from the San Francisco Bay area. These unrelated ladies were members of an investment club back home and had decided to take the tour together.

We left the restaurant at 8:00 PM. Diane joined Barb and I for a tourist boat ride down the Seine. We walked under the Eifel Tower and down to the river where boats were moored by the Pont d’ Lena. The tickets were 8 euro apiece. Open air seats at the front of the boat were available so sat there. It was cool and just a bit windy and it was getting dark.

Minutes later it was completely dark. All of a sudden the Eifel tower began to sparkle. Then we saw the lights on the bridges. What a sight! After several beers and a big meal I was feeling no pain. My pictures should have been great, but I just can’t find them now. Thank goodness for Barb and her camera. I know I really did take pictures!

I managed to stay awake for the first 30 minutes of the ride. Barb and Diane claimed they saw all of the Isle d Cite and the Isle St. Louis where the boat turned around. I woke up when we made the return trip under Pont Alexander. We left the boat and walked past Joan’s special apartment on the way to our new hotel. This time, we didn’t get lost.

The end of an interesting day in Paris.
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Old Apr 14th, 2010, 11:18 AM
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I'm ejoying every word - be sure to keep a hard copy of this report and the comments to read years later - it helps keep the moments alive!
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Old Apr 14th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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mtjames - Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am looking forward to more.

tC
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Old Apr 14th, 2010, 02:19 PM
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Nice report and pics. Thanks, some good ideas for places to visit on my next trip.
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Old Apr 18th, 2010, 06:17 AM
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Day 5 Sunday May 3

The first day of the Rick Steve’s tour began with breakfast. Since this was a paid for by the tour, we made time for breakfast in the hotel each morning. Our hotel, the Hotel Duquesne Eiffel is a 3 star business hotel in the 7th. The croissants, bread, cheeses, ham, yogurt, fruit and muesli – along with OJ and coffee were fresh and nicely presented.

Patrick, the tour guide, greeted us at 9:00 in the lobby. He passed out 2 day museum passes, metro tickets and led us to the Ecole Militaire metro. The first stop was Isle d’ City and Sainte Chapelle. This Palis de Justice complex was quiet, as it should have been on a Sunday morning. We quickly entered Sainte Chapelle and climbed to the upper chapel where we admired the magnificent stain glass windows. The group split up and we had 45 minutes to explore.

As we walked us to Notre Dame square Patrick offered comments on the architecture in the neighborhood. We spent 10 minutes next to the Sunday bird market. Never thought I would see that! Unlike Sainte Chapelle, this Notre Dame area was busy. Many people were coming and going from the Cathedral. Patrick spoke to us to for about 20 minutes. He discussed the Cathedral’s history and pointed out architectural features. The 11:00 AM bells began to ring. It was magical moment. Standing in front of Notre Dame, listening to Patrick and the bells while watching all of the activity around us was special. Tour groups were everywhere. People were rushing to Sunday Mass. Open deck tourist buses passed by on the street. Mounted police women clip-clopped by on their horses. There were too many photo opportunities to capture. Thank goodness for my 360 degree 60 second film clip with sound.

Patrick gave us 30 minutes to wander on our own inside the Cathedral. It was interesting to be there while Sunday Mass was being celebrated. The center of the building was cordoned off by interior pillars and lattice walls and red velvet ropes. The faithful sat in the center. The priests and other church officials conducted the service on the raised floor at the far end of the building by the elaborate alter. Visitors circulated around the perimeter, next to the side chapels and stations of the cross. Ushers kept the visitors from bothering the worshipers. Pictures were ok if the flash was not used. The ones I took turned out just fine.

Next on the schedule was a two hour break for lunch and a tour of the Orsay. Several of us wanted to see other places so we asked Patrick if we could leave the tour for the rest of day. He had no problem with this and told us to enjoy ourselves.

Diane, Lee, Brad, Cindy, Barb and I needed to go back to the hotel for various reasons. However first, I wanted to see the organ loft in Saint Sulpice church. If we hurried, we could climb to the loft and watch the organist play during the 12:00 Mass. We rushed to the metro. Finding the church was easy. Finding the hidden door to the organ loft was almost impossible. I vaguely remembered reading about how to locate the door to the hidden circular stairway. I sat down near a side chapel in the back of the church to check Rick Steve’s Paris guidebook. Diane came up and suggested the door behind me might be the one. She was right. We carefully opened the unmarked door and peeked in. A dark passage led to a small circular staircase. We started up the stairs, not knowing if it was permitted. The poorly lit stairway took us to a loft perched high above the rear of the church. It continued up higher, maybe to the bell tower. Behind another unmarked door lay six stairs that led to the organ loft. There were several people waiting to go up. The organist was playing for the church service. We quietly walked up. He smiled and motioned us to come forward. It was “the perfect picture” opportunity.

Our small group left the church, passed the fountain and descended down to the Metro.
We were getting pretty good on using the metro. Someone light heartedly mentioned we probably did not even need metro tickets. Why not just jump the turnstile or cram two people through on one ticket. Well … while riding on this subway, two women in uniforms walked through the door at one end of the car. They demanded to see our Metro tickets. Unbelievable! An urban myth that actually was true.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we all agreed we were hungry Barb and I suggested the two bistros near the Eifel Tower. Since Joan Grace had recommended Le Champ de Mars Brasserie, we went there. Three tables were pushed together for us and we had a table for 6. The food was great. I had a duck salad, 18 euros, and an Oktoberfest size 1664, 12 euros. Across from me, Cindy ordered a large Coke a Cola. I still can’t believe this cost 10 euros. Barb and Diane split a carafe of red wine that cost 10 euros. The beer and the wine were much better deals than the American Beaujolais.

It was time to try the Orsay on our own. Wrong move. This was the first Sunday of May, free admission. At 3:00 PM five hundred people were waiting in a long, snaking line. Barb and I remembered our Versailles fiasco. This was not for us. Our guide book said the Musee Cluny in the Sorbonne area was open until 5:00. We rushed to the RER C platform and after a transfer at Saint Michelle we got off at the Cluny La Sorbonne station. After walking up the stairs we did not know which way to go. Thank goodness for the Rough Guide Map.

We arrived at the museum and had one hour to explore. Just enough time! Our museum pass got us quickly inside. The stain glass exhibit featuring several Sainte Chapelle windows, the Roman bathhouse and the Lady and Unicorn tapestries made this visit worthwhile. Barb and I left the Cluny before the others. We had to get ready for our 7:30 diner reservations at Fables de la Fountaine.

One of the good things about staying in the 7th is all the great restaurants. We knew exactly where this Christian Constant restaurant was located and we still got lost. We had turned left instead of right on Rue Sainte Dominique. No problem. We only lost 10 minutes. When we arrived at Fables de Fountaine, 131 Rue Sainte Dominique, the small 12 table restaurant was almost empty. We were seated next to two businessmen. They were speaking Polish or Russian and were dressed in business suits. They stopped talking when we sat down, only 18 inches from their table. We nodded and they just stared at us. We dressed nicely, but without suit jackets.

A waiter came up to our table. I asked him in French how he was doing and if he understood English. He smiled and said he was doing well and asked us if we would be more comfortable speaking English. The dinner selections were great. We were quite happy with our meals. The waiter brought the men next to us their desserts. One had cheese and berries. The other had three plates of ice cream. They caught us admiring their choices, smiled and actually spoke to us. One was from Belgium and was hosting the other, a big bear of a man – maybe 6’8” and 280 pounds, who was from Russia. The smaller guy asked us in English if we had liked our dinner. They tuned out to be good guys. The restaurant filled up with French and Brits. A couple was seated very close to us on our right.

For dessert I had the cheese and berries. Dinner with beers and two glasses of wine, came to 140 euros. Expensive, but the food was wonderful. We wished we could return to Fables de Fountain. I still can’t believe the people who sat next to us on our right were from Denver Colorado, 50 miles from our home. We walked home feeling happy and fortunate to have had dinner in a small, very Parisian restaurant.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2010, 04:09 PM
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Day 6 Monday May 4

Our last day in Paris was a mixture of structured tour events and an afternoon of free time. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, Patrick, our tour guide, escorted us to the Ecolle Millitaire Metro for the ride to the Louvre. Our twenty eight fellow travelers were attentive. We stayed together despite the crowded conditions during the Metro morning rush hour. We arrived at the Louvre at 9:00 and it was also busy.

Patrick and a private tour guide, Elisabeth Van Hest, [email protected], quickly got us our headphones. The thin, forty something, elegantly dressed Madame Van Hest had a microphone that that transmitted her voice to our headphones. This allowed her to quietly tell stories and describe details about the works of art without bothering the other visitors. We were fortunate to have this special and knowledgeable guide. She helped us tune out the other people that were always milling about and allowed us to focus on the artwork.

We spent three hours with Madame Van Hest. Then, we had the rest of the day in Paris on our own. Dinner that night was also on our own. No group meal. We could do whatever we wished for our last hours in Paris!

Barb, Diane, Lee and I wanted to take a break and sit down somewhere over drinks. I consulted the Rough Guide map and located several streets across from the Louvre that might have bistros and sidewalk seating. It was a sunny day so we wanted to sit outside. My guess about the area was right and we soon found a quiet street with several restaurants. No other tourists! We ran into Patrick and Madame Van Hest at the nicest sidewalk café. Not wanting to intrude on their privacy we merely nodded at them and walked on by. Patrick seemed surprised we had found them.

Lee said she was tired and she returned to the hotel. Diane, Barb and I decided to look for the Passages des Panoramas. Barb and I wanted to eat again at Racines, the holistic wine bar. It took a half hour to find it and there was an open table when we got there at 12:30. The manager recognized Barb and me and helped us order a great lunch. The special of the day was an exotic lard dish. Thinly sliced specially cured lard. Ugg! They gave us some to try. To our surprise it was wonderful. Most people there had plates of the thin curly lard in front of them. They were all smiling. So were we, because we were very happy to have returned to Racines.

Barb and Diane decided to go shopping at Galleries Lafayette. I needed to find the Virgin store on the Champs Eleise to buy USB memory sticks to back up my digital pictures. We split up and went our separate ways.

The Paris Metro and RER train system are great. The maps on the station walls and in the transit cars made it easy to find the center of the Champs Elesse. The problem was deciding which side of the street to exit. As I feared, the Virgin Megastore was nowhere to be seen. Instead I went to a large electronics store. The Emtec 8 meg memory sticks were only 10 Euros each. Not a bad deal. Later in Bellagio and in San Moritz they were 20 Euros!

Upon returning to the Deusquene Eiffel Hotel I sat at one of the tables outside of the hotel and enjoyed a beer. Not a bad end to my last afternoon in Paris!

We had dinner with two other couples from our tour. They were rude to our waiter.
One person complained about their food and got drunk and talked too loud. I asked for the la addition and quickly paid. After our pleasant experiences at bistros and restaurants I was sorry my new friends had to ruin our last meal in Paris.

Oh well. We had done excellently on our own before this unfortunate experience. My plan to organize our free time around recommended restaurants actually did work. Our dining adventures were all very good except for this last one. Thank goodness the other people paid me for their dinners.

Barb and I enjoyed almost all of our six days in Paris. Versailles was the only exception. We are going to return in September 2010. There is so much more to see and more food to enjoy.

This is the last daily narrative regarding our April - May 2009 trip to Paris.
Thanks for your patience with this TOO LONG trip report.

Thank you also for your recommendations about where to eat and about Paris in general. You helped make our first Parisian experience memorable.

Barb and James (Jacques or also known as mtjames)
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Old Apr 22nd, 2010, 04:22 PM
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Great report.

Thanks for posting. I hope the "couples" didn't ruin the rest of your tour.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2010, 05:11 PM
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I love Paris and your report. Your photos are wonderful, too. What camera did you use? Have a great trip to Paris this fall. You have plenty more to see--and to eat/drink. Enjoy!
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Old Apr 22nd, 2010, 05:35 PM
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Enjoyed your report very much. Hope you will continue with the south of France part of your trip. Would like to hear how the "tour" went. Please continue.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2010, 06:11 PM
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mtjames - thanks for doing such a great job relating your adventure. I too would like to hear about the rest of the trip.

tC
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Old Apr 24th, 2010, 10:25 AM
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Leely2

The camera was

Sony DSC W170, I paid $179 for it 02/2009.
It fit in my shirt pocket and took great pictures
Too bad I dropped it a month ago and the pop out lens broke.
Thanks to the accidental damage policy I purchased through
Sony for $70 I bought a used one for $170. My $179 check from Sony paid for it.

I had purchased a Sony WSX 1B for about $325 and it took amaising pictures.

I sent it back because if was too small for my big fingeres
The DSC W170 was larger and easier for me to use.
The DSC W170s pictures were as good as $1000 cameras.
Sony has wonderfulinexpensive good pocket cameras.
My pictures look great on the large screen 16:9 TV we have.
Point and shoot is too good to be true

James
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Old Apr 24th, 2010, 10:54 AM
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CarolA, blh, teacherCanada:

The rest of our France trip and Lake Como and Switzerland turned out really good.

Riick Steves and his tour guides are too good to be true.
Our tour probably cost more that if we had driven and arranged our own hotels.

But, we had a big tour bus that was only 50% full. Patrick, our French guide was wonderful, our lunches we did on our own were perfect. Our own our own dinners were great thanks to people on Fodor’s Forum. We also had lots of free on our own time and made a great new friend who is traveling with us to France in September… Rick Steves Villages and Vineyards of France and another 7 days in Paris on our own.

Last May:
The chateaus and Chinon,
The Dordogne and Sarlat and the caves, the gabbage geese,
Carcassonne and food poisonings and the artists
Arles and the flamingos and the Pont du Gard,
Roussillon
Les Baux which was amazing and my favorite
Nice and Monaco
Lake Como and Bellagio and the private boat
The Bernina Express, San Moritz and Zurich

Yes, maybe I should try to remember our experiences in writing.
I did keep a sketchy journal

However, Paris was special. Thanks why I wrote the daily narratives.

Thanks for your kind comments.

Maybe by June I will post another trip report.
Hopefully much shorter than the Paris stuff.

James
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