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Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Old Aug 13th, 2011, 11:27 AM
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Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

My wife (B for BeBe), granddaughter (A for Alex) and I spent a wonderful 17 days in France at the end of June/first of July. It was sort of a triple purpose trip. We wanted to celebrate our milestone year wedding anniversary and a milestone birthday for my wife. But mostly we wanted to give our granddaughter the experience of travelling to and in a country with a rich history, a different culture, a different language and some of the most famous and unique sites in the world.

This trip was mainly designed to have her experience as much as possible at a reasonable pace. We had done a very similar trip in 2004 with our older granddaughter. We had a great time on that trip and hoped this one would be just as fun – and it was. Our trip philosophy is to research in great detail everything we would like to do but stay flexible once we are there. I’m sure we could have done several things much cheaper than we did but we feel time is the most valuable thing on these trips and if something cost a little more but saved us some time (or hassle), we did it.

Research/Planning/Reservations:

First, you have to understand that I really enjoy the planning/researching phase and I like to keep a not-too-detailed journal for each trip to help recall the funny/weird/interesting things that happen each day. Several times during our trip, after some crazy thing happened, A would say “that’s something for the journal”.

Anyway, from my notes, I see I started planning for this trip in March of 2010 (first contact with an apartment rental company) but because I was using Delta frequent flyer miles for the airline tickets, I couldn’t actually make any reservations until the flights were locked in. What a hassle! 331 days before our trip I started checking the Delta web site for flights. It took over a month to finally reserve non-stop flights each way. Because of the way Delta puts a premium on weekend and/or direct flights, I ended up having to add two days to our vacation and buy a few thousand miles to make it work.

Once the flights were set, the next priority was reserving an apartment in Paris for the first week. I had been doing extensive apartment hunting so I knew which one I wanted and was able to reserve Pauillac through Paris Perfect. Thanks to Delta, we were arriving on a Thursday morning and I was worried about being able to get an apartment starting in mid-week but it worked out “perfectly”. I know Paris Perfect is expensive but for a variety of reasons, we chose this apartment and we were extremely happy with it. More about it later. Even though it was 10 months before our trip, one of the apartments we were looking at was already reserved for a portion of the week we wanted – you really have to start this process early if you want your first choice.

We decided on the rest of our itinerary and made hotel reservations in Etretat, Sully and Amboise by the middle of November. In February, I made a car rental reservation with Avis (pick up at train station in Rouen and drop off at St Pierre des Corps train station in Tours). After a lot of thought about where to spend our last night before flying out of CDG, we finally decided on the Sheraton inside the airport (more about this later too but we were very happy with our choice) and made the reservation in March.

As soon as they were available online, I bought and printed PREM Intercities (non-reserved seat) train tickets from St Lazare to Rouen. Also, as soon as they were available online, I bought and printed TGV 2nd class reserved seat train tickets from St Pierre des Corps to CDG. Thanks to you Fodor’s folks for showing me all the tricks to be able to print the tickets in the US. Sadly for me, all the reservations were now done and it was still a LONG time until our trip. Oh well, more research (and more Google Earth), you can never do too much of that, right?
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 11:29 AM
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Wed (Overnight flight):

We finished packing Tuesday night. B had a rolling suitcase, a carryon and a large over-the-shoulder strap purse. A had a rolling suitcase and a backpack. I had a rolling suitcase, a carryon and a backpack. We knew we could do laundry in the apartment and we planned to use laundry services from our hotels as needed so we tried to take that in to account when deciding how many clothes to take. We took three digital cameras, an iPad, 2 iPhones, a GPS, charging cables, converters and adapters. Between the electronics and the prescription medicine (it is just crazy how much medicine we had to pack – the joys of getting old – but still better than the alternative) our carryons were full!

B and I worked a half day Wednesday morning while A and her Mom bought a bunch of snacks for the flight. The information on both the Delta and Air France web sites (it was actually an Air France code share flight) for the flight from ATL to CDG showed only breakfast being served – no dinner even though the flight left at 5:50 PM. I called both Delta and Air France and the customer service people could not see anywhere that dinner was served so we had to assume no dinner – crazy right?

EZ getting to airport and checked in – check in people also could not see anywhere that dinner was served. We wanted to have A’s Mom come to the gate with us and say our goodbyes there just before boarding. Delta would have given her a special gate pass but Air France does not do this. So because it was an Air France flight, their rules applied and my lowly Delta Silver Medallion member status did not carry enough clout to get it overturned. Since we were not getting dinner on the flight, we had an early dinner at Houlihan’s in the main terminal, said our goodbyes and went through security with no problems.

Before any international trip, B and I had somehow established a tradition of stopping for a farewell glass of wine at a particular bar near the international gates (the last time in 2006 before a trip to Spain). The bar is now a Friday’s (boo) but we stopped for a drink anyway. Arrived at the gate and finally found out dinner WAS going to be served so we ended up having two dinners and lots of leftover snacks that really came in handy at times during our trip. Eating a lot was a theme often repeated on this trip.

We boarded on time and got settled for the long flight. At this point we turned off data roaming on the iPad and iPhones. We had already signed up for 50 texts and the World Traveler plan for the iPhones. They worked great all over France and we were able to make and receive calls/texts just as if we were in Atlanta. They also did not need a converter to charge, only an adapter.

After the dinner that was not supposed to exist (LOL) I took an ambien and slept until B woke me for breakfast (I am a real believer in ambien on overnight flights). We debated what to do for A (her Mom had tested giving her Dramamine at home and it really knocked her out) and finally decided on a half dose of Dramamine. She was so excited that she only slept for about an hour. B did not want to take anything as long as A was awake so she also only slept for about an hour. The rest of the flight was uneventful (the best kind of flight) and we landed on time.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 11:33 AM
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Thur (Day 1 - First visit to Eiffel Tower, settle in to apartment, boat ride on Seine):

EZ to get through customs and get our luggage. I had reserved a taxi through Victor’s Cabs and it was very nice to be met and taken directly to a huge Mercedes van/limo (A was impressed with the three sunroofs) for a comfortable ride to our apartment. Obviously this is one of the things we could have done cheaper but it was worth the 65 Euro to us. The driver called Paris Perfect and found out our apartment was not ready yet so he took us to the Paris Perfect office.

What a nice feature to be able to safely store our luggage while we explored “our” neighborhood, had a nice brunch sitting outside at Café Du Marche on Rue Cler and went for our first visit to the Eiffel Tower (took tons of pictures). We still had some time to kill before our apartment was ready so we stopped at a café for drinks (wine for us and a carbonated clear lemonade for A). A loved the lemonade (Pschitt is the name – pronounced like the sound it makes when you open the bottle). We had a lot of laughs trying to get the pronunciation just right. I have looked online and in Atlanta but cannot find this anywhere. Any ideas where I could buy some??? So far on our trip, we had enjoyed a farewell glass of wine in Atlanta, eaten two dinners (with wine), a breakfast (without wine), a brunch (with wine), had a glass of wine at a café and it was only early afternoon on our first day in Paris – life was tough!!!

Since our apartment was very close to the PP office (less than 2 blocks), when it was ready we easily walked to it with our luggage. The second we walked in the door, we loved it. http://www.parisperfect.com/apartmen...s/pauillac.php . Chris showed us how to run the various appliances (washer/dryer/espresso machine/coffee maker/dishwasher/air conditioners) and gave us a nice welcome basket. We unpacked but it took longer than it should have because every few minutes we had to go out on the balcony and look at the Eiffel Tower and the neighborhood. We then went to the supermarket right around the corner to buy the usual apartment things and to Rue Cler to buy fresh fruit.

We were all running pretty good on adrenaline and it was still early so we decided to take a boat ride and we walked the short distance to Bateaux Mouches at the Pont de l’Alma. It started off fine but the boat was very crowded and people stood up all around the rail and blocked the view. I’m not sure what could have been done but this really made it hard to enjoy the ride. A tried to take some pictures but it was impossible to not have people’s heads or arms in them so she gave up. The lack of sleep caught up with her and she fell sound asleep in B’s arms before the ride was half over.

Needless to say, A was a little grumpy after she woke up and we headed back to the apartment looking for a place to stop for dinner (A was pretty much sleep walking). The first one we came to was an Italian restaurant (Trattoria Del Angelo) on Avenue Rapp. Luckily they had Pschitt lemonade and that woke A up and made her happy. We would refer to this restaurant as our “sleepy Italian restaurant” and the food was so good we ate at it a second time. We had bruschetta (A declared it was the best she ever had in her life), ravioli and pizza. B had crème brulee for dessert, A had 2 boules de crème glace (a phrase we became very familiar with) and I had baba limoncello (WOW – lots of limoncello!!).

We were back at the apartment in time to see the 10 PM Eiffel Tower light show from our balcony. After that, we went to bed – an excellent first day in Paris!
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 11:53 AM
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Interesting report, but I think that every single person who has ever flown out of ATL to CDG on either DL or AF could have told you that dinner would be served on the plane. I have flown that route at least 15 times.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 12:11 PM
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I knew that dinner would have to be served too but I could not get anyone from Delta or Air France to confirm it. All the flight info on the internet only said breakfast was served. So, to be safe rather than sorry, we had some light food in Atlanta, packed some snacks and it all worked out fine.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 12:49 PM
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John, these specifics are terrific. It's so helpful that you took good notes before and during the trip.

I would love to be able to afford a Paris Perfect apartment -- maybe next time if we shorten our trip from a month to three weeks and reduce our party to two.

Our teen son thought the Pschitt was hilarious and insisted on bringing an empty bottle home to show his friends. (As if he needs more junk like that in his room.)

It is special that you took your granddaughter. I'm sure you will all treasure the memories.

Looking forward to more! I hope the next installments will be so full of fun, useful details.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 01:39 PM
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Fri (Day 2 – Top of Eiffel Tower, Rodin, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe)

A and I started our morning routine of going around the corner to the Artisan Boulanger Patissier for a baguette and pastry. We had a delicious breakfast that included some of the fresh fruit we bought the day before. A had discovered the espresso machine and decided she really like it. Even with the instructions from Chris the day before, it took a while to figure out the right combination of buttons to push to get the coffee maker to start. But B and I sure liked the coffee once it was made. For B, morning coffee is not a luxury or optional, it is a necessity. Enough said.

Went for our second visit to the Eiffel Tower. A sign at the bottom said the top was closed because of congestion but we decided to go up anyway and we stood in line for about an hour to get to the first level. It was very windy and after looking around for a while, B and A went shopping in one of the gift stores. As I was waiting for them to finish, I overheard someone say the top was now open. We stood in line another 30 minutes before getting on the elevator. A (who is fearless when it comes to heights) had to do some fast talking to get B and I to agree to go to the top but it was well worth it. For some strange reason it was not windy at the top and it did not feel as open as the first level. Using the zoom on our cameras, we were able to spot our apartment – pretty cool. We passed on having a 10 Euro glass of champagne at the top.

After leaving the Eiffel Tower, we stopped at a café on Ave Bosquet for lunch. B and I had steak and fries, A had spaghetti. B had camembert and I had pate (both of which A tried and liked). A had to have 2 boules de crème glace (I said we became very familiar with this phrase). The men’s room at this restaurant had the “hole in the floor” toilet and I took a picture of it for A and B. They were not impressed. Bathroom stories are some of the funniest we had on our trip. From how to flush to how to wash to where they were located provided us with lots of laughs.

After lunch, we headed to the Rodin, bought a 6 day museum pass, and toured the museum. A loved The Thinker (she had been studying about it in school) and all the sculptures scattered throughout. We also loved the gardens in back. After the Rodin we stopped at a café for a cappuccino (A’s first and she liked it). We then went back to the apartment and rested for a while. We saw a fly in our apartment and A said “we just saw our first French Fly” and somehow the way she said it struck us as hilarious.

Decided to go to the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. Took the metro to the Concorde stop. Walked around the fountains and the obelisk at the Place de Concorde telling A about the history of the guillotine and how it made a lot of people a foot shorter at the top. Walked all the way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc. We had intended to take the elevator to the top but somehow we started walking up the steps from the underground walkway and must have missed the place to get the elevator. We ended up walking to the top and made it just in time to see the Eiffel light show. It started raining hard after a while and we shopped at the gift shop until it quit.

Walked down the Champs Elysees to a restaurant we had eaten at in 2004 with our other granddaughter and had an enjoyable dinner. Found a metro station, took it to Ecole Militaire and walked home from there. Had a glass of wine and decided NOT to go to Notre Dame the next day – we needed to give our legs a day to recover before trying to climb to the top of it. Went to bed around 1 AM (saw the Eiffel Tower lights flash white instead of gold) - an excellent second day in Paris.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 01:42 PM
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sap. I think I would easily trade a week at a Paris Perfect apartment for a month in Paris. I'm jealous! Sure wish we could find some Pschitt here.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 01:48 PM
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My daughter, a Washington DC attorney, has a bottle of Pschitt on her bookcase. It apparently has appeal for all ages!

We'll be meeting her in Paris for 2 weeks in September....can't wait!
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 03:37 PM
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Truly enjoyable report, and I'm relieved you didn't get food poisoning or worse at the Café du Marché.

BTW, the limo cost about what a taxi would have, so I think you got a good deal there.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 06:17 PM
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I'm very much enjoying your report. We are hoping to take our granddaughter to Paris some day. So I am interested in reading about what all you're doing with her. How old is she? Sounds like you are all having a great time!
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 06:41 PM
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How wonderful for your granddaughter to be taken to France by her grandparents ♥ I'm really enjoying your report and can't wait for more.
(Taking my 15-y-o daughter to London and Paris next summer and am taking notes )
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 06:45 PM
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super report! I'm sure there will be lots of good ideas for us for our October trip to Paris. More, please.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 07:40 PM
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Actually, John, we were only in Paris for a week (early June). The rest of the month was spent in Provence, the Lot and the Dordogne before flying out in early July. If we had a month in Paris alone, though, I'm sure we still wouldn't have seen everything on my list.

I can certainly relate to BeBe about the coffee.

Keep it coming. You have a nice style.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 07:51 PM
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Judy - lucky you - Paris in September! Have fun and have a pschitt!

StCirq - I guess luckily for us we only had omelettes and croissants at Cafe du Marche. I'm curious - what would be the "or worse" in "food poisoning or worse"???? Maybe I don't want to know.......

blh - our granddaughter turned 12 while we were in the Loire Valley.

lantana and taconictraveler - thanks for the nice words and have fun on your trips. I hope to finish a few more days tomorrow.
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 12:48 AM
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Lovely report...looking forward to more!!
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 07:00 AM
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Sat (Day 3 – Orsay, Rue du Bac, Invalides, small shop adventures, dinner in the apartment)

Fairly late getting up. A and I continued our morning routine of going around the corner to the Artisan Boulanger Patissier for a baguette and pastry. We liked hanging out in our apartment so much that we had to force ourselves to leave sometimes. This was one of those times. It was just a nice morning drinking coffee, eating breakfast, slowly getting ready and generally being lazy. We didn’t leave for the Orsay until about noon.

Took the RER from Alma to Orsay. This was another situation where we could have saved a little money by walking to the Orsay but in the interest of saving our legs and maybe some time, we took the metro. In hindsight I should have tried taking a bus sometimes while we were in Paris. The metro was so convenient for us that we just used it all the time but from reading various posts here I think the bus system would have maybe been even more convenient. I’ll try the bus on my next trip to Paris. Anyway, we arrived at the Orsay and the museum pass line was much shorter (we highly recommend getting the museum pass).

Even though we knew the Orsay was undergoing renovations, we had really been looking forward to our visit. It was one of the highlights of our trip in 2004 – we really liked the museum and the art. We had eaten lunch in the restaurant behind the big clock and had walked out on the balcony to view the Seine and the Louvre. It had been a very nice experience. Maybe part of it was that our expectations were high and it is very difficult to recreate good times but our visit was not memorable. The huge display room was great but somehow we did not enjoy the Impressionist art as much as we hoped to. Plus the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. It was not a bad experience but it just wasn’t what I had hoped for. Unknown to me at the time, the Orsay had a much bigger impact on A than I imagined. More about that later.

In 2004 we had stayed at an apartment on Rue du Bac and since the Orsay was next to Bac, we decided to take a stroll and see the places we liked back then and also see if anything had changed. It turned out it was just as wonderful as we remembered. Lots of little shops and cafes – it did seem to be busier than we remembered though. We had eaten at the Café Varenne a couple of times in 2004 and had a really great time. Our waiter had to act out the various dishes for my granddaughter (bobbing his head and cooing like a pigeon, strutting around saying baa like a lamb) because her favorite steak and frites were “finished” for the day. We loved that waiter! Unbelievably, he was still working there when we stopped in for lunch in 2011 – and he was actually a little more flamboyant now than he was then. We had a similar experience this time where one of the dishes we wanted was “finished” and he had to guide us through a substitute. Too funny!

I had mentioned earlier that A really liked espresso at our apartment. She had a particular one that she liked and we had run out of it. It turns out these espresso machines that use the little single serving pods are extremely popular in Paris and there are only a few stores that sell the pods. One of the things in the apartment guide supplied by Paris Perfect was the location of these stores and one was at 126 Rue du Bac. This store was one of the wildest things we saw in Paris. There was a long line outside and an extremely attractive and competent young woman was in charge of directing traffic in to and out of the store. Watching her move people around the store was a work of art in itself. When we finally got to the front of the line, she immediately recognized I had no idea what I was doing and for some strange reason she took us under her wing. There really was a method to the madness and she helped us find what we wanted. I don’t know if we just happened to hit a busy time or if it is always like that but it was wild!

After leaving Bac, we walked down Varenne past the Hotel Matignon and some of the embassies – we really like this area and took lots of pics of the neat buildings. Since we were so close, we decided to go to the Invalides. This was the only museum (I think) where A had to actually have a ticket to enter. It was free but we had to stand in the ticket line and get it. I think at every other museum she was able to just walk in with us. We did not have time to tour the war museum but we saw Napoleon’s Tomb and the huge white chapel – both of which I really like.

It was time for another café so we stopped for drinks and a rest for our tired legs. A shocked us by not ordering 2 boules de crème glace but a huge piece of chocolate cake. In case anyone is worried about A eating too much, she is one of those lucky people that can eat anything and stay skinny as a rail. Speaking of eating, we decided to go to Rue Cler and gather dinner to eat in our apartment. We did not want to have to cook a lot so we ended up getting a rotisserie chicken, potatoes, green beans, cheese, melon, a baguette and desserts.

While A and B went to the apartment, I went to buy some wine. As I was coming back, I walked past a small flower shop and decided to buy some flowers. My thought was to just pick out a nice bouquet, buy it, take it back to the apartment and put it in a vase. The person in line gave me a funny look when I got in line behind him with a nice bouquet in my hand. I watched as he told the owner what he had in mind, then they both walked around the store and picked out the perfect arrangement for whatever the occasion was. By this time I had realized my mistake but it was too late for me to put the flowers back and ask the owner to help me pick out the perfect bouquet. The owner was unsure of my intentions and luckily the person in front of me helped translate what I was doing. He ended up wrapping them very beautifully for me. Another lesson learned!

We enjoyed spending a relaxed evening in the apartment (kind of like we did in the morning). A really liked the kitchen in our apartment and she sort of considered it her territory. She had really gotten in to preparing/serving this meal and even made up name cards and assigned our seating at the table. At one point while A and B were cleaning up after our meal, A actually referred to it as “her” kitchen. We did some laundry (again even though Chris showed us how to do it we had quite a time getting it started properly) and went to bed. An excellent third day in Paris!
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 07:17 AM
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Thanks for sharing. I love hering about your days with A. 11-12 is a great age for touring with kids! I look forward to hearing more.
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 07:17 AM
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Thanks for sharing. I love hering about your days with A. 11-12 is a great age for touring with kids! I look forward to hearing more.
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 07:36 AM
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John, just don't go back to the Café du Marché. Kitchen is absolutely gross. You survived, so it's fine.

Nice report.
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