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Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Paris, Normandy & the Loire Valley with our Granddaughter

Old Aug 14th, 2011, 07:56 AM
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Lovely report! What a beautiful apartment as well. More, please!
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 05:25 PM
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Sun (Day 4 –Versailles, bad takeout dinner)

Up later than we hoped and we broke our string of days getting fresh pastry for breakfast. We had some fruit, yoghurt and cereal instead. Walked to the RER at Pont d’Alma and bought tickets to Versailles. The next Vick train was at 9:28 and we arrived at Versailles a little after 10 (I think). Short walk from the train station to the chateau and there was a LONG line to get in. The museum pass can be used here but everyone has to go through one security line. This was probably the longest line I have ever seen (with the possible exception of Disneyworld). We decided to go to the gardens first as the fountain show was about to begin.

The fountains were as spectacular as the crowds were outrageous. Our group had a split decision on whether it was worth dealing with the crowds to see the fountains running. But we were here and it was a gorgeous day so we were going to make the best of it. We took a ton of pictures of the fountains (they really are quite a site when they are running – including the ones in all the various side gardens) and A decided she wanted to take closeup pictures of the flowers. This is definitely the place to do that because the number and variety of flowers is unbelievable. We finally had to stop her – enough of the flowers already. Someone had told me it was a short walk to the Grand Trianon and Marie’s Village so I convinced B and A to go. NOT! Maybe if we were younger….. but it was a long walk for us – and to top it off – we were there too early – it wasn’t open yet. Here is where the “pay a little to save some time and hassle” philosophy kicked in. There is a tram that takes you back to the main chateau and we gladly paid whatever it cost to catch a ride.

So we started our tour over again from the top. We walked through many of the side gardens until we came to the restaurant in the old stables. We had eaten there in 2004 and wanted to eat there again. Unfortunately, the entire restaurant was booked for a private event. No amount of convincing would get us a table inside so we agreed to an outside seating. Just as we were being seated, the hostess called us over and said we could eat inside. I'm not sure how or why we were let in but it looked like there was some kind of military lunch going on – lots of older men in uniforms with lots of medals. We enjoyed the meal but the food was not as good as it was in 2004. B had schrimp (that is how it was spelled on the menu) pasta where the schrimps were served whole (heads, eyes, whiskers, legs and everything). A was a little grossed out but B said it was delicious.

After the meal, we thought the line might be a little shorter to get in but it was actually maybe even a little longer than earlier. Oh well, the only thing worse than waiting in a long line outside is doing it in the rain – so of course it started to rain (what happened to our gorgeous day?). We pulled the umbrellas out of the backpack and thankfully the rain stopped after a short time. Finally got in and the crowds were beyond belief. In 2004 the Hall of Mirrors was under renovation and not seeing it was one of B’s biggest disappointments of that trip. Fortunately it was finished and even though it was crowded, it was spectacular. The history and beauty of the Hall is incomparable. And B was happy.

I think we all fell asleep on the train going back. We decided we were too tired for a big dinner so B and I went in search of something to bring back to the apartment – anything but Chinese food. Surprisingly there were not a lot of options and the only thing we found that remotely appealed to us were paninis – and they were not very good. A said it was more like an American lunch than a French dinner and she was absolutely right. She had a bowl of cereal. As I think about our trip so far, I know it sounds like we never went to any nice restaurants for some really good food and so far we hadn’t. We do later in the trip – we had several great 2 to 3 hour meals with fantastic food.

We tried to watch a movie but B and I kept falling asleep. After the movie, we watched the Eiffel light show and went to bed. An excellent fourth day in Paris!
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 05:44 PM
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glad to know the international plan worked on the iPhone without a problem. I get lost with all the SIM card talk and we won't talk much but will be meeting friends in Paris this trip and will need our phones...previously we have only used with wi-fi for email.

Staying with Paris Perfect this trip for the first time and look forward to it...our first apartment rental for vacation, as well.

I had the best tomato and mozzarella quiche at Cafe Varenne last year!

Yes, there is always dinner on the flights out of Atlanta to CDG. You are right there are distinct differences when it is an Air France flight and the Delta status doesn't always help too much (I am only Gold and it's not much better status wise than silver). BTW, next time u are flying out of Atlanta and looking for a glass of wine ( I assume your were in E Concourse...there is a great place right on the corner called One Flew South...great food and much better for a glass of wine than Friday's). And I am with you on the Ambien...god send for the long haul overnight flight!!
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Old Aug 15th, 2011, 04:23 AM
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denisea - The iPhones worked great (that is if you have AT&T - as far as I know Verizon will not work). And make sure you turn data roaming off.

We LOVE apartments - I'm sure you will too. And PP worked out very well for us.

Thanks for the tip on One Flew South - we were so disappointed when our little bar had turned in to a Friday's.

I know you answered some questions for me before our trip on another post about how to celebrate my granddaughter's birthday. We took your advice and had lunch at Chenonceau - and it was great. I'll eventually get to that day in my TR (or click on my name and see my entry on the other post) but just wanted you to know we went to Chenonceau so many times A began to call it "her" castle.
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Old Aug 15th, 2011, 09:17 AM
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We had a similar thing printed on our tickets, flying out of Dulles: "breakfast", c'est tout. And as much as we knew that every trans-Atlantic flight we've ever been on has a dinner service, airlines are far from consistent about anything these days, so we went ahead and bought "dinner" to bring on as well - just in case. And yes, they did serve dinner.

I'm sure you are not the only person who has done that in a flower shop! I remember having to speak to the florist way back when, but the last time I was in one (February in the 18th), they had some mixed bouquets already packaged and ready to go. Well, not quite - there was still the pretty ribbon she put on at the counter.

Great report - thanks for sharing.
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Old Aug 15th, 2011, 11:42 AM
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Great report so far. merci!
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Old Aug 15th, 2011, 07:16 PM
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Mon (Day 5 –The Louvre and a nice dinner)

It was a very rainy morning so we were very late getting going – it was just too nice in the apartment. We had considered going to Sacre Coeur but because of the nasty weather we opted for the Louvre instead. We took the metro to the Concorde stop and just as we entered the Tuileries Gardens, the rain stopped. We really like these gardens so we took our time strolling to the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe and surprisingly the sun came out. Crazy weather!

We found the museum pass entrance and there was no line – what a shock. B and A went to sign up for the English speaking tour (we really enjoyed this tour in 2004) while I checked my backpack. The tour was sold out for the day so we tried to sign up for the next day which is not allowed, you can only sign up for a same day tour. From what we could figure out from the people at the desk, the English tour sells out early every day. They recommended coming to the Louvre as soon as it opens in the morning and sign up for an afternoon tour. We could then leave and do something else and return in time for the tour. We opted to use the guide books I had in my backpack and do our own tour.

We really liked the museum. Of course we saw the big three and wandered around many of the sections. Our favorites though are the Marly and Puget sculpture courts. They are not crowded and the sculptures are outstanding. We took a ton of pictures, played a little hide and seek, and posed with some of the sculptures. Another favorite is the room with the painting of Napoleon’s coronation. We really enjoy all the huge and interesting paintings. After several hours of walking around the Louvre, we were ready for a break. All the restaurants inside the Louvre had really long lines so we ended up grabbing some very mediocre (almost bad) food from the cafeteria. We left through the pyramid and took a ton more pictures. I can’t imagine going to Paris and not going to the Louvre. IMO there is nothing else like it anywhere.

After the Louvre, we went back to the apartment and relaxed with some of the nice white wine and snacks that were in our welcome basket. At one point during the day, we thought A had somehow deleted all the pictures from her camera but it turned out to be a false alarm. Just to be safe, I uploaded all her pics to the iPad (566 so far). We ended up having to buy two more memory chips for her before the trip was over.

We decided to go out for dinner. We had passed by La Fontaine de Mars several times and it looked like it would be a nice place to eat at one of tables outside. We dressed and left the apartment at about 8:15 hoping to get a table. The hostess said there were no tables left and we were very disappointed. As we stood there looking very sad, the hostess said to let her check something and walked away. When she came back, she said something would be available in about 20 minutes, took my name and told us we could go for a walk and come back. When we came back, she said it wasn’t ready yet and let us look at the menu while we waited. As we waited, several people walked up asking for tables but the hostess turned them all away. I was beginning to think it was too good to be true to think that we would get a table but sure enough, she finally seated us outside.

I know this is not the best restaurant in Paris but we had a blast. It was perfect for what we wanted. Our table was one of the few that had a view of the top of the Eiffel Tower (we thought we had the best table in the house). Ever since I had booked our apartment (named Pauillac) I had wanted to try a bottle but never did. This seemed like the perfect time so we ordered a bottle and it was wonderful. We shared appetizers of goat cheese and foie gras (which we all – including A – loved). A ordered salmon and spinach, B ordered a whole Dover sole and I ordered the casserole special. We really like how after you order, the waiter brings out the appropriate silverware for each dish. We joked and laughed about it when they brought me a knife and fork - for a casserole??? We all loved our food – and I did need the knife and fork for the duck and sausages that were in the casserole – delicious!

It was about this time that A said it was funny how when a restaurant won’t seat us, if we just pout for a while they give us what we want (it happened two days in a row). We were lucky. For dessert, A ordered blueberry pie, B ordered the “floating island” and I ordered a crème brulee. Again we laughed when they brought B a spoon, fork and knife - for a dessert???? A ended up eating the floating island (yes she needed the knife), B ate the crème brulee and I had the pie. During dinner, we saw both the 10 and 11 PM Eiffel light show. We were having so much fun and so many laughs I didn’t want it to end so I ordered a snifter of Grand Manier – the perfect end to any meal.

As we finally left, I went to the hostess to thank her for letting us eat there. She was very gracious and even remembered my name when she said goodbye. We walked around the corner to our apartment and went to bed. An excellent fifth day in Paris!
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 05:20 AM
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La Fontaine de Mars may not be the best restaurant in Paris but it is certainly one of our favorites. I enjoyed the description of your evening there so much. It brought back many memories of evenings we have eaten outside there and watched the Eiffel Tower light show each hour.

Really enjoying your trip report as we consider our bext trip to Paris!
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 06:29 AM
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Thanks to all for the kind words.

YankyGal - We hadn't flown trans-Atlantic since 2006 and airlines have gone crazy lately with all the extra fees and service cutbacks so like you, we felt it was better to be safe than sorry - especially with an 11 year old. And like I said, lesson learned at the florist shop!!

mamcalice - we would go back to La Fontaine de Mars in a hearbeat. The service, food and ambience was outstanding. And the location just around the corner from our apartment couldn't be beat.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 08:55 AM
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Ahhh - what a delightful trip report. You are doing a great job. MERCI BEAUCOUP for so many wonderful details.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 09:30 AM
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Re the "casserole" you had, with duck and sauages - what you had was cassoulet, not a casserole. Cassoulet is a classic rustic French dish, which I absolutely adore.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 10:28 AM
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La Fontaine de Mars is the first restaurant I ever dined in in Paris, in 1973, and still one of my favorites.

And yes, it's cassoulet, a classic dish of SW France. The English word casserole is of course related, both having derived from the French cassole, which derives from the Occitan word cassa, for dripping pan or earthenware container.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 01:02 PM
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Ahhh, thanks for the info on the cassouelet. You can count me in the club that adores it too. I'm so glad we were able to get a table at La Fontaine de Mars that night. Dining there is one of our best memories of Paris.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 01:08 PM
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Tue (Day 6 –Notre Dame, narrowly avoiding the “Worst Grandparents of the Decade” award, Sainte-Chappelle and the “Sleepy Italian Restaurant” again)

Up fairly early (at least compared to the last few days) on a cold, cloudy and rainy day. A and I went for pastries and were back very quickly. Took the RER to the Saint Michel/Notre Dame stop. We had been lost in this station in 2004 so there was a little apprehension when we got off the train but it was very easy to follow the signs to Notre Dame. After a short 20 minute wait in line, we had our audio guides in place and were touring the cathedral. We had a very enjoyable time and took lots of pictures.

We saw they were going to allow people to start climbing to the top at 1 PM so we decided to make a quick stop at the public toilets near the Seine in front of Notre Dame. There is no such thing as a quick stop at these toilets – the lines were LONG. A decided she wanted to take pictures of the many birds hopping around in the bushes. Just like the flowers at Versailles, this was the place to do it because there were a lot of different birds and you could get really close to them. Also like Versailles, enough with the birds already, we had to stop her from taking pictures to get in line for the climb to the top.

Anyone following this knows that our status as good grandparents was in serious jeopardy at this point in our trip and is probably wondering why the French police had not arrested us for child neglect. It was the sixth day of our trip and WE HAD NOT BOUGHT THE CHILD A CREPE YET! I can only blame it on a simultaneous 6-day senior moment for both B and I. As we were in line, we saw a crepe vendor across the street and finally rectified our serious mistake by taking turns getting a crepe. It was probably a good thing we waited this long because “sucre crepe” now joined “2 boules de crème glace” as a phrase often repeated on our trip. A had turned in to a crepe addict and one afternoon, she all of a sudden realized she had not had a crepe yet that day and pretended to go through withdrawal. Too funny!!

We finally started up the steps and made it to the first stop at the gift shop. After the gift shop stop, all the speedsters went up first and we were fortunate enough to get behind a Mom and her 4 year old. It is sort of a sad day when you realize you are happy (actually not just happy but VERY happy) to allow a 4 year old to set your pace. But our old legs made it to the top and neither of us thought it was too bad. We took a lot of pics of and with the gargoyles, climbed the wooden steps into the bell tower, saw the big bell and at that point I was ready to call it a day and go down.

A found out it was “only” 120 more steps to the very top and was on a mission to go. A guy that worked there heard us debating about going up or not and he said A could go on up, B and I could go on down and have A catch up with us later. Evidently this guy did not know B very well because that option had a less than zero chance of happening (meaning not just no but Hell No). I was quickly outvoted so up we went. This time we did not have a 4 year old setting our pace but we somehow made it to the top just fine – again not as bad as we thought it would be. It was incredible at the top - well worth the climb we thought. It was an uneventful climb down – thank goodness!!!

After not just surviving but thriving on our Notre Dame experience (us two old farts actually climbed to the top of Notre Dame and no ambulances were called), it was time for 2 boules de crème glace from Berthillon on the Ile St Louis. Delicious! We then walked across one of the bridges that has all the padlocks on it. I had heard about this and had brought one along as a surprise for B and A with all our names on it – including our older granddaughter’s name. We put ours on the bridge with all the others. I’m sure this padlock fad is not appreciated by some but there were already 10 million padlocks on the bridge and could 10 million and one be that much worse? We then walked across the bridge and past some of the bookseller’s stalls. The view of Notre Dame from the river there is absolutely stunning.

So now it was time for some wine and more crepes (Didn’t I say sucre crepe would be often repeated?). We walked towards Sainte-Chappelle and stopped at a little café. Not often on this trip could I say everything about an experience was bad but this café was bad. The wine was bad, the crepes were bad and the toilet was nasty and smelly. So we survived the climb of Notre Dame but were almost done in by bad wine and crepes – it was truly horrible.

Thank goodness our visit to Sainte-Chappelle wiped it all out of our minds. What a beautiful place. We stayed for an hour or so and headed back “home”. We stopped at the G20 for a few things and when we got home, A made us a sampler of various appetizers that were delicious. After a while, we went back to the “Sleepy Italian restaurant” we had gone to before. The food was good again but we could not get our check. I think over the years we have learned the basic rules of etiquette for eating in European restaurants but sometimes even when we think we’ve done everything right, something happens and the whole process comes to a halt. We try to figure out if somehow we accidentally insulted the waiter but most of the time we can’t figure out what our mistake was. Even though it is painfully obvious that there is not a morsel of food or a drop of drink left and our eyes are fighting to stay open, we cannot get the waiter’s attention to get the check. Eventually the check always shows up, we pay it and life goes on. Hmm – that sounds more like a proverb about life than what happens at a restaurant – oh well.

We then went back to the apartment, relaxed, watched the Eiffel light show and went to bed fairly early. An excellent sixth day in Paris!
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 06:01 PM
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john 183 - Is the renovation of Sainte Chappelle finished yet?
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 07:35 PM
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Great report john, We take our 2 grandchildren on vacation, but having the similar problems re walking, we have mainly taking them on a cruise. I would love to take them to Europe.
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Old Aug 17th, 2011, 03:38 AM
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How absolutely wonderful that you took your own lock for the bridge. That's awesome! I want to do this next summer! ♥
The sucre crepes sound so delicious. I'm sure your granddaughter misses them.
Good for you for walking all the way up Notre Dame!
I'm absolutely loving your report. I must say, the idea of watching the Tour Eiffel light show every evening from one's apt. each night sounds very, very tempting!
Looking fwd to the rest of your report
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Old Aug 17th, 2011, 05:07 AM
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Wonderful report! What great sports to climb all the way to the top of ND! My knees get shivery just remembering when I did it many years ago. I get worse about heights as I get older.
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Old Aug 17th, 2011, 05:13 AM
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tom - my wife said she saw a sign saying something about renovation or restoration but the only thing we saw was a couple of the little porthole type windows were gone. All the huge stained glass windows were intact, no scaffolding or anything and they were beautiful. At least the day we were there, you couldn't really tell anything was happening.

jean - the funny thing about this trip was we thought we were going to have walking problems but we didn't. We had hoped to get in good walking shape before our trip but circumstances did not allow that. We climbed to the very top of Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Mont Saint Michel and two sets of cliffs at Etretat. We walked all over Paris, Versailles, Rouen, many of the D-Day sites of Normandy and we toured several castles in the Loire Valley. We must have been in better shape than we thought because we did all this relatively pain free.

lantana - as you can see, this was our sixth day and we were still excited to see the light show. And you are right, A is missing her crepes!!!
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Old Aug 17th, 2011, 05:23 AM
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irish - our older granddaughter is afraid of heights so in 2004 we had to work pretty hard to get her to do any climbing at all. A is fearless so this time we climbed to the top of everything in sight. We just tried to be the tortoise, not the hare - and we made it.
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