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Springtime in Paris Trip Report - Day 1

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Apr 5th, 2011, 02:10 PM
  #1
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Springtime in Paris Trip Report - Day 1

Days 1-3. Left Portland late and after almost missing our connection (with no help from the Delta flight attendants who couldn't be bothered to provide gate information), and long flight from Salt Lake to CDG, landed in Paris Sunday for a 50th birthday surprise for my wife. CDG Terminal 2E wasn't as bad to navigate as some had commented. We found the ATM/cash machine right away and made our quick exit. Decided to take a taxi to our flat because I was worried about not knowing the city, have luggage and day packs to haul, mixed reviews on shuttle services and jet lag. Wasn't too bad, about 55e. But now that we have navigated the Metro and trains a few times, will probably haul the luggage to the RER train back to CDG at the end.

It was a bit disconcerting to receive an e-mail from our rental host that there had been a stairwell fire earlier in the week knocking out the lights. Aside from that minor detail (yes, always bring a flashlight as part of the standard packing for long trips), our flat in the Marais is quite pleasant and comfortable. Not luxurious, but a great value for the money and the location is ideal. http://www.vrbo.com/159394.

Spent the first afternoon just getting our bearings and wandering the Marais and then stumbling into the impressive Notre Dame. On Sunday at 3 p.m., the lines were short and entrance into the cathedral was free. Sunday services were going on, so it was quite interesting and beautiful. The line looked fairly short to climb the tower, but with little energy or food in us, we opted for heading back to the flat for a nap and falafel dinner. Day 2 later . . .
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Apr 5th, 2011, 02:38 PM
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A stairwell fire? What are the chances of that? That's priceless (and annoying, of course).
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Apr 5th, 2011, 02:42 PM
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sorry about the fire...it's always something isn't it!

enjoy and I will look forward to hearing more.
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Apr 5th, 2011, 04:59 PM
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Looking forward to more!

You're right- apartment is in an ideal location. Thanks for sharing!
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Apr 5th, 2011, 05:41 PM
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Looking forward to more I too am flying Delta from Portland to Paris this summer. Can't wait, except for the flight. What a nice surprise!!!
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Apr 5th, 2011, 11:47 PM
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Day 2 Report.

Still jet lagged, so we decided to try the Fat Bike Day Tour. Did I mention our 16 year old son is with us? No. Well, that was my wife's idea when all she knew was we were going "somewhere" and since it is Spring Break back home we should take him with us. Little did she know the extra passenger would add up a bit on the airfare. But he's a happy traveler instead of the sulky teenager of a few years ago, and actually useful since he's had two years of French and therefore the only one of us with a useful skill - helping translate "which wine do you suggest with the . . . ?"

Anyhow, knowing he was interested in only certain museums, we decided on the bike tour to get a good overview. We took the convenient No. 69 bus to meet up at the Eiffel Tower. A great bus ride, especially watching the driver navigate some impossibly narrow streets around parked cars, bicyclist, scooters and Parisians walking dogs - everywhere. When he made the almost 270 degree turn into and through the incredibly narrow passageway of the Louvre, I wanted to stand up and applaud, but worried they'd surely know I was an American (because, as my wife said, they'd never guess from my daypack and jeans). We arrived at the Champs de Mars, the park which covers a large area surrounding the tower. Despite all the hype and criticism of some about whether to visit, the view getting off the bus simply takes your breath away. Truly, it's an amazing site just from a sheer architectural standpoint. The walk along the parkway to the tower was memorable.

Anyhow, we met up at the south (sud) leg of the Eiffel Tower - the designated meeting point about an hour earlier than the 11 a.m. start so decided to climb the stairs. The lines were probably short enough that we could have taken the elevator to the top, but we were feeling the need for some exercise (I would later question whether we need that much work) and paid for the climb, instead. The stair climb was, as they say, invigorating and long. However, they posted interesting posters with information about the tower along the way that one can read if you haven't yet passed out. The nice thing about the stairs is that they were fairly devoid of other tourist, so there's time to rest along the way. We made short order of the first level, took some pictures then made our way up to the second (main) level. That climb seemed much harder, either because of lack of oxygen or steeper stairs, or both. Seriously, it's not that bad if you take it slow and easy. The second level was where we ran into lots of fellow tourist. Again, the view was spectacular, 360 degrees of Paris with helpful photo signs pointing out the sights. Amazingly, there's a restaurant, gift shop and decent bathrooms that high up. Of course, why wouldn't there be, except thinking of the logistics (how do they get the garbage down - "look out below!"). Not surprisingly the climb down went much quicker.

One note about security at the ET - it's fairly heavy, including armed military personnel and not one, but two bag checks which were more thorough than most TSA rub downs.

The bike tour itself was quite fun, and we are not "group tour" people, either. But our guide was a very knowledgeable history major from Wisconsin who had quite a panache for story-telling, and knew a lot about French history and culture. Being from Wisconsin, he also had a lot of stories about drinking in Paris (I'm told that's a Madison thing). Our group of about 20 saw lots of the major sights in our 4+ mile tour, with time for lunch at a decent outdoor bistro, too. We were thoroughly entertained and learned quite a bit about the sights in our 4 hour tour, and met our goal of getting a good orientation to Paris. If interested, their list of tours is at http://fattirebiketours.com/paris/tours. Our guide, Andrew, also gave a list of his favorite markets and restaurants, including a nice one we had dinner at in the 11th later that night.

Kerouc, et al. The fire was really a trash can fire some kids apparently set, and it was all smoke damage. The hallway lights being out is a minor annoyance compared to the rest of the trip..

mms - my mistake was letting Delta put us on too tight a connection between PDX-SLC. They then changed the connection a month ago to make it even tighter, and refused my request to take an earlier flight without paying a change fee. Such is airline travel these days.

Day 3 report - a lovely trip to Giverny and Monet's Garden - later. Going off today to drop our son off for a Eurostar trip to London to visit his bandmate/classmate staying there for brea, too. Au revoir for now.

Terry.
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Apr 6th, 2011, 02:45 AM
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Looking forward to Day 3 - we are on the countdown for June.
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Apr 6th, 2011, 02:51 AM
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Terry, you had me at the stairwell fire; that's one you don't come across often .

I'm arriving at terminal 2E also (American Airlines) and will want to find the ATM - I won't have a problem seeing it?

Enjoying your report. We took our children to Paris for spring break when they were teens but still talking to us and we all had a good time.

Ellen
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Apr 6th, 2011, 11:32 PM
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Day 3. We decided to take our "Paris Break" day very early for logistical reasons since our son really wanted to see Monet's Garden with us (one of several surprises from him this trip so far). This was to be our first time using the Metro and after some initial confusion about the tickets it went very smooth. The Metro is every bit efficient and easy to use as others have posted. Combined with the Paris bus system and trains, it's one heck of a public transit system. In Vancouver, WA, where I'm from, we can't even get people to agree on bringing light rail over from Portland on a proposed new bridge over the Columbia - what an auto-centric country we are. Okay, enough politics.

After taking the Metro to the St. Lazare train station, a very nice station agent who spoke good English helped us with our trip planning for Giverny, including his opinion on which return train we should take. The trip to Giverny was a lovely train ride of about 50 minutes through the beautiful French countryside. Upon arrival in Vernon, the closest stop to Giverny, we decided to rent bicycles instead of taking the free shuttle bus. So we hopped across the street to a bar the guidebooks referred us to where, sure enough, the nice bartender offered to rent us bikes (but spoke no English - not a problem) for 12e each. He gave us all water bottles and a map to get out of town and off we went (the bikes were clearly second-hand, but all more or less worked ok). Once we crossed from Vernon over the Seine, there was actually a very nice paved bike path form 3/4 of the way to Giverny. Very flat and easy, the total ride was 4 miles one way but seemed too short because we enjoyed the scenery so much. About a mile out of Giverny the path ends and you end up on Rue de Claude Monet (shocking!) for the rest of the ride. Giverny itself seemed a little sleepy but we were there fairly early to try and beat the tours. Monet's Garden was as advertised - absolutely gorgeous with almost everything in bloom. The famous pond has a nice path all around it, and gardeners were quietly tending to many parts. The tour of the house was fun, too, including the "smoking room" where Monet hung out with his painter buddies admiring his work. I wish I could post the pictures because between the garden and his house, it was color saturation overload.

We also went to the nearby museum which was recently completed. It's very modern and I think supposed to house showings of different impressionists - it's not at all really about Monet. It was okay, but we could have skipped it in retrospect and not missed much. The real find was lunch on our way out of town at the Hotel Baudy. It became somewhat famous for housing all the crazy American impressionists who came to see Monet. Okay, they weren't crazy, but I just thought it seems a bit cloying, but then again, I'm not a painter, and maybe that's what they do. The hotel has a beautiful dining room overlooking their property, and lunch was fabulous and fairly reasonably priced. The hotel had it's own garden out back, which, while not as colorful as Monet's, was nonetheless quite nice and had a intact painter's workshop out back that retained its historical character.

After the all too short ride back we hopped the train back, but got on the wrong one somehow, whereupon a very nice conductor explained in broken English we needed to get off a few stops up and then wait for the correct train. It was hard to understand which station he was saying, so we almost got off on the wrong stop, whereupon another passenger who had heard the conversation redirected us! Once again, the French people displayed continue to display charm, character and friendliness which is about 180 degrees from the stereotype they are portrayed as in American media. Why am I not surprised?

Ellen75005 - the ATM machines are on the way out of the airport towards the various transportation areas (bus, taxi, etc.). There are several of them and hard to miss.

Another beautiful day in Paris and the weather continues to improve. Au revoir for now.
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Apr 7th, 2011, 02:00 AM
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Thank you for posting about your day a Monet's Garden. What time did you take the train in the morning and how long did you spend there?
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Apr 7th, 2011, 06:10 AM
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Maudie, we left on the 8:20 train so with the bike ride and all, we arrived in Giverny right around the time it opened or a little after. Depending on your level of gardening excitement (mine is okay, my wife's much higher), I think 1.5 hours covers the garden and house pretty well, 2 hours if you really want a leisurely stroll. There's a decent gift shop as well. If you include a leisurely lunch and perhaps the museum back up the road just a short walk, we had plenty of time to get back for the 2:45 return train.
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Apr 7th, 2011, 01:01 PM
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Hi! I will be there in less than a month! Help me, where should I eat? What's the weather like?
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Apr 7th, 2011, 02:21 PM
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Bananaslug - great report [and screen name BTW!].

nice to read about friendly natives and biddable 16 year old boys. who knew?

I am also pleased to read a positive report about Givenchy - so often i think people expect so mush, they can't help but be disappointed. I've yet to make it there, so I'll be bookmarking your trip and that hotel where you had lunch!

looking forward to more!
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Apr 7th, 2011, 02:38 PM
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Wonderful report. Esp appreciate the info on Giverny as we're thinking about doing that during our June trip.
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Apr 7th, 2011, 03:01 PM
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I'm curious which restaurant in the 11th you ate at on the recommendation of the bike tour guide.
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Apr 7th, 2011, 04:43 PM
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Thanks for the information, we are going to see what the all important weather is like on the day before we make a decision to go.

It was suggested to me to go around lunch time as you miss the tour buses, maybe that's a plan - lunch first then onto the garden in the afternoon. Hotel Baudy sounds like the icing on the cake for a wonderful day out, glad you let us all know about it.

Thanks again.
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Apr 8th, 2011, 12:14 AM
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Day 4. Today was a more casual day since we had to drop our son at the Eurostar to London by 1 p.m. We decided to visit the Sacre Coeur for the view and to kill a bit of time. Another metro trip with a transfer that lets you off at nearby station (about a 10 minute walk) then the choice of going up the steps to the church or taking the funicular. We decided on the funicular since it uses the Metro ticket anyway and it reminded me of one I used to take to a particularly good restaurant I used to go to in Santa Cruz (whose name escapes me 30 years later - damn you middle age brain). We got there by 11 so the crowd wasn't too bad, but lots of tourist outside. Another amazing view of most of the city, especially with the weather so good. For first time, though, we could see a thin layer of smog hovering. Not bad, not LA bad (where I grew up, so I know something of bad smog), but it was there. The church is fairly nice but not as impressive as, say, the Notre Dame or St. Chappelle (report later). I did enjoy the "street" (steps?) violinist who played beautiful music right down on the steps. The machine gun toting army guys didn't seem to hassle them. Curiously, however, one doesn't see many buskers in Paris. I expected to see them all over, sort of street art, right? But you never see any - at all. The exception would be the occasional trumpeter outside a cafe or something. You do see lots of street beggars, however. And the gypsy scam artists. Be warned, they are out there and they run a couple of rackets. Avoid: 1) anyone with a clipboard who says they want you to sign something; 2) anyone trying to put a "found" ring on your finger; and 3) anyone wanting to tie a string on your finger.

From there it was a short right to Gare du Nord to drop our son. A very impressive entrance to the station which I think was renovated during the Mitterand years. A bit confusing though as we tried to figure out where the Eurostar ticket entrance was since the train station is for all manner of trains throughout France and Europe. By chance, we finally saw a sign pointing us upstairs and sure, unlike all the other trains there, the Eurostar entrance is through a secure location upstairs. So off we went and watched as our son left us and went through the immigration check. What a weird feeling leaving your child (okay, 16, but still) and watching him go off hopefully on a fun adventure but just a little uncertain about the outcome. Once he entered the passport check area, it was walled off and we couldn't see him anymore. But we stayed for about 10 minutes after the train departed and we assumed he'd be wondering aimlessly if something went wrong or some angry train official would find us (ha - monsieur, is this person, uh hum, your son? Oui?). But all was well as we received confirmation from his friend's mom, where he is staying, later that evening.

I should mention we had lunch before the train trip at a cafe near the station and tried, for the first time, the infamous croque monsieur, which is where the cheese is baked on the outside of the bread. Not bad, but we're looking for a better version at a not so touristy cafe. My wife and I then headed towards the old Opera House (Garnier) to check out the Galleries Lafayette, their version of a NY Macy's. I'm not much for malls, but this was pretty impressive. We passed the Opera house on the way there with it's beautiful facade and hundreds of people (not tourists I'm pretty sure) just hanging out on the steps eating lunch or smoking. I guess it was their late meal break? The store itself is beautiful, with a huge stained glass dome right in the middle with various departments around the dome on each of the first 6 floors. Really, it's hard to believe it's just a store. We went up to the roof, where you can hang out and catch another incredible view of most of Paris. And watch the kids eating McDonald's. That was weird. Then down into the store to look around, including almost an entire floor devoted to lingerie. Impressive to say the least. The French seem obsessed, or maybe it's "impressed," with undies. You see lots of it for sale, even from street vendors. I was tempted to go to one of the "showings" in the store, but my wife thought the better of it and alas, off we went to head back to our flat for dinner.

Time's short this morning - more later.
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Apr 8th, 2011, 03:16 AM
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Excellent... I'm also in Paris right now.

I think that suddenly... The weather just got PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers
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Apr 8th, 2011, 09:40 AM
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Nice T.R.

The Santa Cruz restaurant you mention is the Shadowbrook.
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Apr 8th, 2011, 09:47 AM
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Great trip report...thanks for taking us along for the ride!
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