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Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - travelogue part 2

Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - travelogue part 2

Old Apr 15th, 2004, 03:40 PM
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Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - travelogue part 2

Day 11:

This was a Monday, and the beginning of a week we had planned for a few road trips. So I bought a pass that allowed us to travel cheaply out into the suburbs (Carte Orange, zones 1-6). We started with St Germain-en-Laye, another former royal castle just west of Paris, where Louis XIV was born. On a hill over the Seine with fine views of Paris, the castle is big, moated, but not really as attractive as many other big buildings we saw. But the view and the adjacent forest made it worth it. Had a nice walk in the woods, after finally finding some bread on the only day we couldn?t easily find a bakery when we wanted one. (Monday is apparently ?down day? for many Parisian businesses). We found a street called Rue du Pain (Bread Street), but couldn?t find any bread even there!
Then took a bus to Marly-le-Roi, a small town south of St Germain, where Louis XIV built a small, intimate chateau to use when he wanted to get away from the grandiosity of Versailles. Only the ground plan and the park remain from this chateau, but again, it was a beautiful day and we liked the outdoors and the park, so we actually liked this better than St Germain. (I guess a breadless Bread Street really soured us on St Germain for good!) The village of Marly-le-Roi and the adjacent village of Louveciennes, where we caught our next bus, were both quite charming in an Impressionist sort of way. These villages are in fact featured in Impressionist paintings in the Orsay. These villages also have a bigger and more impressive-than-you-might-think chunk of an aqueduct begun but never finished by Louis XIV in the 1680s. Another one of our off-the-beaten-track secrets.
Marly was really just a stop on the way to our next goal? Versailles. The chateau, which is bigger and grander than you can even imagine, is closed on Mondays, but we had planned to go on a Monday anyway, since the gardens were still open and since Mike is not big on frilly French gold-plated frou-frou interiors anyway (he had seen enough, he said, at the Napoleon III apartments at the Louvre). My hope, by going on Monday, when the interiors were closed, was that we would avoid the crowds, and in that we succeeded. The enormous courtyards, including the famous Marble Court, normally thronging with visitors, were empty. We shared those huge courtyards and gardens with next to nobody. It was, in fact, peaceful. The statuary and fountains in the gardens are incredibly? weird is the only word I can come up with! Lizard-headed dudes spouting water from their mouths, lots of mythological figures in elaborate poses. The fountains, even dry, were so dazzling that once, without realizing it, Mike literally wandered into one to touch a column in it, only to be called back by an alert security guard (?Monsieur, S?IL VOUS PLAIT!?), and within minutes I had done virtually the same thing (?Monsieur, c?est INTERDIT!?).
We had a coffee (1 euro) at the McDonalds next to the train station. Talk about weirdness? the inside of that place felt so American (is this Versailles or Peoria?) compared to all the other places we had seen in the past week. It was a huge McDonalds, being located at a huge attraction, of course, but it was almost completely empty, because Monday is Versailles? ?off-day?.
Caught the train back to Paris, and saw the evening sparkle show at the Eiffel Tower.

Day 12:
Another day trip, to Meaux, a cathedral town 30 minutes east of Paris, with a large cathedral from the same period as Notre-Dame and Chartres. Nice town, OK cathedral, but Chartres proved to be way better, in a different league altogether. Meaux is in the heart of Brie, which is the place where they make the cheese of the same name, so we got some ?Brie de Meaux, lait cru? (unpasteurized milk) from a cheese shop, and it was the best cheese we had our whole vacation.
In the afternoon we took the 25 minute train trip to Ecouen. First, we walked through a forest from the train station to the chateau, a well marked, paved path, just hang right from the train station, behind the café. Normally taking twenty minutes, the walk took us two hours, because we had to explore the side trails. The most beautiful forest we saw in the Ile-de-France, mature trees, just full of woodpeckers. It was here we saw our first-ever green woodpecker, which is not only green, but red and yellow too and feeds on the ground and is just spectacular to birders like us. We also saw another woodpecker species we hadn?t seen before. We took binoculars everywhere, and birdwatched at all the parks, but that is a story for another day.
This was a Tuesday, and the chateau interior, housing the national Renaissance museum, is closed Tuesday, but like Versailles, we had planned it that way to avoid crowds, being more interested in the grounds and exterior than in the museum. There was absolutely no one around, except one caretaker, and we had free rein of the entire exterior of this wonderfully beautiful, intact, authentic Renaissance chateau, with its moat, its terrace with commanding view over village and countryside, which is as good as anything you will find in the Loire Valley. We stood on that terrace soaking it all in for an hour, watching the green woodpeckers feeding, feeling as if the chateau were our own.
Then it began to rain, one of those sudden, quick-passing hailstorms common in these latitudes in April. Having nowhere else to take refuge, we ran to what I can only describe as a sort of mini-watchtower with more of a decorative than functional purpose, standing over the corner of the moat of the chateau, barely big enough to hold two people, but with a sound roof and foot thick walls, and a view of the chateau through the door, and the hailstorm raging, but we dry and safe?.

On the return to Paris, we took the subway to Parc Monceau, a confection of a park with follies and grottoes and pyramids and waterfalls and the wonderful flowerbeds found in all the Paris parks, at this time of year full of daffodils, tulips, primroses, pansies?

Day 13:

How to make the most of a one day museum pass (cost: 18 euros, or $21.60). But it a day or two before you plan to use it, available at the ticket counter of any Paris museum or monument except the Eiffel Tower. On the day you plan to use it, fill in the date and your name.

Start at the climb up the tower of Notre-Dame (the church itself is free, but they charge for this climb). Start here because of the 70 monuments and museums for which the pass is valid, the Notre-Dame tower climb is the only one that does not allow you to bypass the usual ticket lines and head straight for the entry. So arrive about 9:00, a half-hour before opening, to avoid the line (which was hundreds long by 9:30? we were about 20th). Climb the towers for a view of the gargoyles and the city. Since you have planned this day to maximize the one-day pass, see the church interior on another day.

Head for the Crypte Archeologique, in the plaza just in front of Notre-Dame, for a 20 minute walk through of the quite interesting archeological founds there, left in situ, and take advantage of the free bathroom in the adjacent underground parking lot, described earlier.

Walk to Ste Chappelle. Ignore the line, hundreds deep, and proceed directly and without fear to the ticket taker (usually, as here, separate from the ticket selling office, or billeterie), and gain immediate access, ahead of the hundreds of people wondering ?what makes THEM so special?? (It?s the museum pass). Remove breath when viewing the incredible 700 year old stained glass filling 16 or so 50 foot high windows? an incredible setting? like the guidebooks say, Ste Chappelle is a jewelbox.

Continue to the Conciergerie, if you must see Marie Antoinette?s cell, which is a big waxen snore, although the Hall des Gensdarmes is an impressive if empty Gothic hall. (The Place de la Concorde, where M.A.?s head was removed, is way more beautiful and interesting, and costs nothing.) Proceed boldly to the front of the security line to the left, ignoring the hundreds of people in line, present your card, just as you will at all the following monuments, and go right in. No need to bring a pillow for the nap you?ll feel coming on? one is provided conveniently in the dead queen?s dim cell.

Walk south across the river to Place St Michel and proceed to the Cluny museum. I love medieval art, but found a lot of this to be inferior to the Louvre?s collection. However, the tapestries are amazing, and alone make this a ?must see?. The heads of the Kings of Judah are also impressive. These are medieval statue remnants chopped off Notre-Dame?s façade by revolutionaries thinking they represented French kings, not biblical ones. A couple of other items in this museum may catch your eye, but this is not that large a museum and you can ?do it? in an hour.

The Pantheon is not far, and we saw its interior as an ?extra?. It was not all that important for us to see, but since we were in the neighborhood and had a ?free? ticket, we went. We liked the interior more than we thought we would, despite the guidebooks, which almost uniformly are ?not impressed?. You can go up the dome on the same ticket, but only on guided tours, and they are 1 ? hours apart.

Take the Metro back to apartment, have lunch and a short nap there

Walk to the Invalides, see Napoleon?s tomb and the Army Museum, then go essentially next door to the Rodin Museum.

Take the metro or bus to the Arc de Triomphe. By now it is 6 pm and the other monuments are closing, but the Arc is open till ten. Proceed to the top for the great view and the incredible rush hour traffic in the (hopefully) golden late afternoon light.

Take the Metro (line 1, direction Chateau de Vincennes) from the Arc to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), and make your way via the Fontaine des Innocents to the Beaubourg, which is open until 9 pm. See the modern art galleries, with the sunset streaming though the wall-to-ceiling glass windows. Take the escalator for the best view.

That?s ten monuments on one ticket. Separately, tickets cost about $75 per adult, but you paid less than $22, and covered a pretty good chunk of the ?must sees? in one day, without standing in line.

I?m sure a lot of people would want to see the Louvre and Orsay on these museum passes, but since there is so much to see at each of those, they are worth separate admission tickets. You won?t save money with the pass on those.

You left the apartment at 8:30 am, got home at 9:15 p.m., but having had a nice 20 minute nap and lunch at the apartment. You are tired, but not too too tired. Since you have been such a good little tourist today, you may skip the Eiffel Tower sparkle show tonight.

Day 14:

Chartres. Trains from Montparnasse every hour. The trip takes an hour. Spend the whole day there. By getting there early, you avoid the crowds. We got there at 8:45 am and there were only two other tourists in the whole cathedral, besides the three or four workers readying the church for Easter. On a sunny morning like we had, you will be stunned by the stained glass and the sheer loftiness of the place. It is really one of the most impressive monuments of human civilization I have ever seen. The tower climb opens at 9:30 am. Be the first up. Costs less than Notre-Dame, and the view is as good, if not better.

Walk behind the church and check out the gardens, which are restful and offer fine views, and after about 10:30 am fill up with school groups touring the church. Even better is to walk down to the old town as it tumbles down the hill. Very nice atmosphere, with a winding river and cute bridges and unexpected views of the cathedral high on the hill, and a couple of other churches impressive unto themselves. We had a picnic on the river and a nice semi-snooze in a church green.

On the way home we stopped in Maintenon, which has another impressive chateau that Louis XIV had presented to his second wife, and is still owned by her family. It is open Wed-Sun afternoons 2 to 6 only April to October, closed otherwise, but we didn?t feel the need to go in. Unlike Ecouen, you can?t walk around the outside of this particular chateau without paying an entrance fee, so unless you want to go in the building itself, skip this particular chateau. But it is picture postcard pretty, right on the road and train line to Chartres, and if you?re going to Chartres anyway and want to see a Loire Valley style chateau, then this is perfect. Note the opening times, above. We walked through the village and saw the remnants of another huge aqueduct begun but never finished by Louis XIV. The chateau is about a ? mile walk from the train station, a bit long.

Returned to apartment, watched the sparkle show.

Day 15:

Took the bus to Parc Bagatelle, part of the Bois de Boulogne, one of Paris? two answers to Central Park. Parc Bagatelle is more of a formal landscaped flower garden, just gorgeous, in my mind the prettiest of all the Paris parks. We spent five hours there. We saw another green woodpecker! Then we walked through the Bois de Boulogne to the Porte Dauphine. Much of the rest of the Bois is more or less wild second-growth woodland bisected by too many streets for cars? Central Park is nicer : )
Then took the subway and a bus to Buttes-Chaumont, another topnotch park, but absolutely unique, built out of an ancient quarry and much hillier than expected, but thanks to imaginative park design not at all hard to walk. Took the bus home, all the way across Paris.

Day 16:

Took the suburban RER train to Dourdan, a small village southwest of Paris with a lively Saturday market and a moated medieval castle (restored) right in the middle of the village, close to the train station. If it were just a tiny bit closer to Paris, I?d recommend it. But it is very similar to Vincennes, which is practically right in Paris?
Much more to our liking was Etampes, also to the south of Paris on the suburban train line. Etampes is strung out along a river? it?s longer than it is wide? and consequently it has two train stations. We simply walked from one to the other. Etampes doesn?t have any major major tourist sites and is consequently truly ?off the beaten track? in a way that not even Senlis. In Etampes the buildings have that nice veneer of carbonized auto exhaust, which sounds bad, but when you compare this town compared to the ?historic building commission? look of Senlis? somehow Etampes seems more lived in, more authentic, less preciously Martha Stewartized than a lot of tourist towns. And there are indeed interesting sites: the Tour de Guinette, the imposing remnant of one of the many royal castles that dotted the Ile-de-France region. The Tour de Guinette is the very embodiment of my conception of an authentic medieval castle? restored only to the point to keep it from falling down, not completely rebuilt to resemble a Disney attraction. It retains a craggy, lost-in-the-mists-of-time look. It was very very very cool, we thought? and less than a five minute walk from the Etampes train station. Etampes also has a nice market square, with an all-day Saturday market that had a real ?down-home country? feel to it (French style, of course), with a great town hall and lots of Renaissance houses, and four interesting and distinct medieval churches, including St Martin, renowned for its leaning 16th century bell tower (loved it? the leaning tower was bigger than we expected, about 150 feet tall, and it does quite visibly lean. Etampes also bills itself as the ?little Venice of the Ile-de-France?. The tourist agent in nearby Dourdan belittled this claim (I think there is a little rivalry between the two towns), but we found the tiny rivers with their canals and bridges and islands walks charming, and there is an interesting historical remnant? a fortified dam which has used in the 16th century as a defensive tool? it would be opened up to flood the river bottom and prevent access to the upper town. This medieval fortified dam is apparently the only one of its kind to have survived in France. So with the castle tower and the houses and the market square and the churches and leaning tower and streams and canals? we liked Etampes a lot. Visit http://www.ville-etampes.fr on the web.

Day 17:

We walked to the Bir Hakeim bridge, pretty and the only one in Paris to carry trains, autos and pedestrians, in a surprisingly beautiful fashion, and from there walked the Allee des Cygnes (Swans? Alley), a very narrow man-made island in the Seine that has a replica of the Statue of Liberty, donated in 1889 by the American community in Paris in thanks for the contemporaneous French gift to us of ?the real thing?. Mike?s sixth grade teacher told him about this and he had wanted to see it ever since!
Then we walked from there all the way to the Canal St Martin via the Bastille, which is basically all the way across the city, passing lots of our favorites on the way, on this, our last full day in Paris. OF COURSE we saw the sparkle show that night.

Day 18:
Prepared for the trip home. We did have a few leftover euros to blow, which we spent on French pastries, eaten at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The trip home was completely uneventful. Our trajectory from Paris to Detroit took us over Greenland, which was mountainous and snow-covered and looked impressive from the plane.

That?s it! Great time! Glad to be home!

Etienne_dOhio is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2004, 08:25 PM
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Thanks for a most interesting and detailed report. It's clear that for people who are willing to take the time to research and think about their trip and what they like to do, it's possible to really enjoy Paris, even on a tight budget. I'm glad you and Mike had such a good time in my favorite city. The information on the day trips is much appreciated; maybe someday I'll be able to actually leave the city to explore the environs as I always mean to do.
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 09:34 PM
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I'll definitely be referring to your threads in detail for the 1-week Paris portion of my trip this summer. Thanks for all the hints and descriptions.
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 10:07 PM
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What we spent:
totals for two adults

airfare from lovely Columbus, OH: $1,200

studio apartment, 7th arr., 18 nights: $1,320

ground transport, admissions fees, food, small souventirs: $770 exactly.

Total : $3,300

Again, we ate at no restaurants the entire time, and kept costs down further by buying a one day museum pass (really a better deal than the three day, if you ask me), take advantage of the free City of Paris museums such as the Carnavalet, go to a lot of parks and street markets, which is fabulous and only two parks(Bagatelle and Rodin) charge anything, and then it's only a euro, and skip the night-life altogether, unless it's a walk by the river. Clubs and restaurants can be obscenely expensive, and do you think a smoky, loud Parisian bar is really that much different than a smoky, loud Peoria bar? If you must eat at restaurants or go clubbing, expect to spend A LOT. Try instead: haul your butt out early in the morning to beat the crowds, and go to bed early, having drunk at your hotel/apartment or even discreetly in a park a $2 bottle of wine that people are paying $18 for at a restaurant or club.
Etienne_dOhio is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 06:14 AM
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Etienne..That was so good!!
I remember lunching in the Bagatelle on my first visit.
If I had a comuter back then I could have learned so much not to miss.
cigalechanta is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2005, 10:31 AM
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Great trip report! Really enjoyed reading it.
I definitely do NOT have the discipline like you to avoid Paris nightclubs, restaurants, shopping, etc., but it seems you made great off-the-tourist-path discoveries.
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Old Feb 16th, 2005, 07:44 PM
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I am topping this travel report because I am hoping that ETIENNE or someone else could provide more information about the town of ETAMPES, near Paris.

The website Etienne provided (www.ville-etampes.fr) does not seem to work and I am having a hard time finding info or photos about the town.

Plese help.

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Old Feb 17th, 2005, 07:55 AM
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Loved the descriptions of parks and woodland walking. It's nice to read that there are 'off the beaten path' things to do in and around Paris. I don't think I have the ability to research the one-day maximize museum pass, but can at least hit a few monuments that way. Where is the Bagatelle located by the way?
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Old Feb 18th, 2005, 10:50 AM
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Betty, there are a couple web sites with information about Etampes. The city's own web site is probably best and is

Also see the general dept's web site

I suspect the prior one that is defunct was probably the equivalent of the mairie's web site (town hall's). I am afraid that may be only in French, not sure if you know it, but think you can still find maps, photos, etc.
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Old Feb 18th, 2005, 11:25 AM
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Thanks a million! Have you been to ETAMPES?
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