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Trip Report: 2 wks.Paris, Normandy, Brittany

Trip Report: 2 wks.Paris, Normandy, Brittany

Oct 12th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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Trip Report: 2 wks.Paris, Normandy, Brittany

A bit of background: DH, retired teacher, just turned 60; moi, former language teacher, working in high-tech for 20 years. My third trip to Europe, his first. We pre-planned only the bare necessities for our 2-week trip: transportation and lodging, plus 2 resto reservations and 1 ticketed event. The rest we wanted to fall into place on its own.

Day 1—arrived CDG 1.5 hrs. late, due to delayed departure from BOS. Bags were last off the plane. Took Yellow Van into Paris. The ride seemed to take forever on this Monday morning, but we had delightful conversations with other passengers. I also called ahead from the van to the apartment we were renting (having advised the day before that our flight was delayed) to say we were finally in Paris. Other passengers were headed to the 7th also and to the 6th.; we were the first in the 7th to be dropped off.

Avenue de Breteuil is a lovely street---a boulevard, really. I knew from Pages Jaunes that we would be close to Les Invalides, but when the van stopped less than a block from the dome, I was shocked. The elevator was typical—big enough for 2 people, or for 1 with a couple of small bags. So in separate trips, DH and I arrived on the 4th floor to see the apartment that was to be our home for the next week.

We were greeted by the owner of the agency (French Home Rentals). He was warm and welcoming, and showed us around the apartment. It was just as pictured on the website---only better: brighter and lovelier. Hardwood floors in the living/sitting areas were spectacular. The sun was streaming in and I was pretty much beside myself over the sheer Parisian-ness of the place. Once the tour was complete, Michel presented us with a welcome bottle of wine, 2 sets of keys, and then took his leave, making sure we knew how to reach him if need be.

A bit about the apartment: the owner is a well-traveled woman with exquisite taste, and the space is filled with wonderful pieces. There is a flatscreen TV, as well as internet hookup and CD/sound system, which we never got around to using. The kitchen is small, but clean and functional, with gas stove, microwave, under-counter fridge, and combo washer/dryer. Other than the fridge, the coffee-maker was our most-used appliance.

I had been apprehensive about the bathroom for a couple of reasons: 1) it wasn’t pictured on the website, and 2) I knew from previous guests’ comments that the shower was of the ‘telephone’ variety. Now we were prepared to be flexible and just go with whatever we encountered, but I admit to being nervous about a shower set-up that might be awkward----if not painful---for my 6’8” guy. Not to worry, on either count. The bathroom was smallish, but bright and clean, with a towel-warmer and loads of vanity storage. The shower head was wall-mounted rather low, but we ultimately managed just fine. The WC was separate and tiny, off the central hallway.

The bedroom was also on the small side, but there was ample closet space for us, including shelves to take the place of a bureau. Our empty luggage tucked away nicely on the closet floor. Near the bed, a flower-boxed window gave onto a courtyard.

OK, now back to the (in-) action. DH crashed on the bed in the sitting area, while I went out in search of a few staples for the kitchen. Around the corner (rue d’Estrées) I spotted a Supermarché sign, and went in. Picked up cereal, milk, yogurt, cookies, 4-pack of water and some Power Ade. Bananas were brown, so I passed on those. Spent around 13€.

DH sleeping pretty soundly by this time, so I did some unpacking. After a while, I sat down to read on the lovely chaise longue in the LR. The sun was still streaming, a gentle breeze wafted in, and before long I was ‘resting my eyes.’ When I awoke maybe an hour later, I looked around and my first thought was that I was in a scene from Colette----again it struck me that this was all just too perfect. Did I mention the view from the LR windows ? Not only the sparkling gold dome of Les Invalides, only meters away, but off in the distance--- the onion domes of Sacré-Coeur.

After more unpacking, and a shower/change for both of us, we set off for our first Paris adventure. Heading off on foot towards the Eiffel Tower at around 1700, we soon came to a BNP ATM on Ave. de Tourville, It was out of service, but we found another one shortly after turning onto Ave Bosquet. I was anxious to see whether our cards would work—mine especially, since I would be shortening my 6-digit pin to 4 digits for the purposes of this trip. The withdrawal was successful, and we continued our roundabout stroll towards the tower. When we reached the Champ, we found a bench for people-and dog-watching. After a lot of oooh-ing and aaah-ing on my part, DH decided he wanted to see some of the more touristy kitsch near the base of the tower, so we walked a bit further. Crossing to Quai Branly, we bought ice cream cones and checked out some of the river cruise signs. Heading back, more bench-sitting. I then remembered to call to reconfirm our only Paris resto reservation, which was for the next night at Le P’tit Troquet. So far I was pleased with my decision to use my own cell phone with World Traveler package from Cingular.

En route back to our neighborhood, we took note of Rue de l’Exposition, where we would be dining the next evening. For this night, though, we had decided on le Vauban, Place de Vauban, just steps from our apartment. It was a perfect ending to our arrival day.

At Le Vauban, we had a terrific waiter named Hughie. His response to my French on this first night was gratifying and encouraging. Our discoveries here were kir royale and wine by the pichet. DH had the first of many duck dishes, I the first of many fish dishes. Crème brûlée for dessert.

We fell asleep with that oft-mentioned, goofy ‘can you believe we’re in Paris ?’ expression on our faces.
lifes2short is offline  
Oct 12th, 2006, 01:17 PM
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OK, replying to my own message here. Don't know whether anyone cares, but since I made a point of mentioning DH's age, I had intended to include my own: 59.
lifes2short is offline  
Oct 13th, 2006, 07:03 AM
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I am looking forward to hearing more, Lifes2short! Thanks for posting!
kansas is offline  
Oct 13th, 2006, 07:16 AM
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tod
 
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More please lifes2short!
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Oct 20th, 2006, 03:07 PM
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blh
 
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Waiting for more, please!
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Oct 20th, 2006, 03:22 PM
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L2S I didn't have you a day over 39.
next bit please
Muck
Mucky is offline  
Oct 20th, 2006, 07:31 PM
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Yes, Lifes2short, we are all waiting to hear about your trip! My husband and I and another couple will be celebrating our 40th anniversaries next summer and are in the process of finalizing a trip to Normandy, a tiny bit of Brittany and Paris. We will all be 62 years old. So, we are eager to hear about your adventures!
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Oct 23rd, 2006, 09:29 AM
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Day 2 – I was up fairly early due to some construction noise in the courtyard. Coffee-maker worked fine but boy, was I craving a croissant ! How did I forget to bring some home last night ? I sat down with my coffee and made some notes from our travel day. I hoped to be able to document at least some of each day’s highlights—not only as a means of building a trip report, but also to stimulate some happy memories for the 2 of us at a later time. We took our time and got quite a late start leaving the apartment, after 1100-- but this was all part of the plan. [ Other than our departure day from Paris, we did not have anything planned for early in the day, so that we could try to avoid feeling rushed in the mornings. ] We walked the short distance to Place Vauban, facing Les Invalides, and took the L’Open bus. Weather was terrific for an upper-deck sightseeing trip through Paris…. sunny, slightly cool, nice. This seemed like a good way to start DHs first Paris visit—and it’s always a comfortable way to catch some of the major sights without too much walking right off the bat.

We got off the bus at their office on Auber . DH wanted crêpes, so off we went to find a crêperie. Not far from l’Opéra Garnier, we stopped into Crêperie des Artistes. DH had a crêpe fromagère, which was served with a small salad. I chose the Crêpe St. Malo, made with artichokes and lardons. We shared a picher of white wine, all for around 23€.

After lunch it was back on the bus to complete that particular part of the tour, which took the better part of the afternoon. Hopping off at Les Invalides, we walked the neighborhood for an hour or so, stopping for pastries/croissants and some fresh fruit for the apartment. We were beginning to feel quite at home in our lovely Parisian flat. Soon it was time to freshen up and change for our dinner reservation at le P’tit Troquet.

Just a few notes about this meal. We were disappointed with the experience, but I suspect our expectations may have been too high. We loved the cozy, intimate setting, but on this evening it was completely dominated by a noisy party of 5 at the center table, whose conversations were as audible as if they had been wearing microphones. The truth is, their loud chatter would not have been quite so annoying in a larger room. Almost as disappointing as the ambience were our meals; both DHs scallops and my sea bass were overcooked. My guess is that we just made bad choices for our main courses, since we did enjoy our entrées, pâté de canard for DH, sardines frais avec tapenade for me. We also liked our bottle of entre- deux -mers. While our experience didn’t live up to the hype, I look forward to giving the place another try on our next trip. We simply caught the place on an ‘off’ night, on several counts.

For us, the experience at Le P’tit Troquet underscored the risk of having too-high expectations based on others’ reviews, and it also helped us be more comfortable with the fact that we had made no other dining reservations in Paris, preferring to see where each day—and our moods—would lake us. [Later, we agreed that we had phenomenal luck overall with our Paris meals, and were content with the choices we had made.]

After dinner, we stopped into the nearby cybercafe to check/send email. Since it was just after 10, I wanted to watch the Eiffel Tower do her sparkly thing, so we walked for a few minutes till we could see her. I was fine to call it a night at that point, but DH suggested we watch from ‘our’ bench on the Champ de Mars….so we did. Walked back home after 25-30 minutes and soon fell into a very contented sleep.
lifes2short is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2006, 10:02 AM
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How sweet of you to let DH crash/sleep on arrival. I'm always too impatient to go looking.

Bookmarking this so I don't miss the Normandy/Brittany section.
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Oct 24th, 2006, 02:13 PM
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Day 3- got an earlier start on this day and went straight to Les Invalides, where we bought 2-day miseum passes. After touring the Napoléon exhibits, we hopped on l”Open bus and rode until we reached the Louvre. Used Richelieu entrance, no line, no hassle. As the weather was still sunny and warm, and as the Louvew was crowded, conditions inside were stifling. Sill, I kept reminding myself, we were better off than if we had to contend with rain or cold (or both !). We stayed maybe 2 hours, making sure we saw the big 3 as well as some of my favorites, paintings by Géricault and David, as well as the Italian paintings. This visit was just about the right amount of time for us, and was longer than I had expected we would stay. [Frankly, I had been surprised when DH had announced he wanted to see the Louvre at all—typically, he’s not a museum kind of guy.]

Back on l’Open bus, we rode until the St. Michel stop. This was a fun walk for me, as it took me back to my first trip to Paris, 35+ years ago, as a grad student seeing Europe on my own. During that visit I had stayed at Hotel Cluny Square, which is still there on Boul’Mich and which appears to have upgraded considerably since my stay (at $7 per night, breakfast included). Back then, the guidebooks such as Frommer’s (not sure about Fodor’s) were entitled Europe on $10 a Day. Between my hotel rate, and the wonderful Self-Service Cluny in the same block, I had been able to keep to a pretty tight budget back then. But I digress. Back to present-day, we walked to the Cluny museum, since we were both anxious to see La Dama à la Licorne. I remembered this amazing tapestry from the cover of my Lagarde et Michard textbooks (century-by century survey of French lit). Both DH and I, though, had enjoyed Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn from a few years back. The museum building itself is interesting, since part of it is the site of ancient Roman baths. On our way to the Rotunda, where this tapestry is displayed, we enjoyed many of the other exhibits, medieval art and artifacts, and other tapestries. We noticed a few guided tours in progress, some one-on-one, but in general there were far fewer visitors than I would have expected to encounter.

The unicorn tapestry, for anyone who is unfamiliar with it, dates from late 15th century, and is both colorful and fascinating. Essentially, it is made up of 6 different panels, 5 of which show scenes representing the senses. The 6th panel, titled à mon seul désir, has been the subject of centuries of study and speculation. The panels appear to be in amazing condition, and they now reside in a cool, darkened room where one can sit to admire and contemplate. This museum, and the tapestry in particular, were highlights of our trip.

Leaving the Cluny, we strolled down rue de la Harpe and stopped at an outdoor crêperie for lunch. (Crêperie de Cluny) I ordered a salad, DH a crêpe bonne femme, but we ended up ‘tasting’ each other’s dish until it became apparent that we were sharing both, with a pitcher of wine, and then sharing dessert as well. The salad had Roquefort and walnuts in addition to greens, with a delicious vinaigrette. The crêpe was loaded with cheese, ham, mushrooms, béchamel sauce, then baked en casserole with more cheese. Spectacular ! Dessert, une crêpe irlandaiase, had coffee ice cream, caramel sauce, praline bits, whiskey sauce and whipped cream. All of which contributed to our need for a very light dinner that evening !

After lunch, it was back on the l”Open bus to see more of the Latin Quarter and also St. Germain. At this time of day there was not much to see besides traffic—we sat in a lot of it--but even that can be fun when it’s Paris ! Heading up Boul. St Germain, DH spied a FNAC store, which we needed for our weekend Longchamp tickets. (we had requested reserved seats, which we would be collecting at the racecourse; we still needed admission tickets, however, and these I had ordered via Reseau France Billets back in July). Once we had our tickets in hand, we headed back to the l”Open bus stop for the trip back to our neighborhood. Stopped at our local supermarché for bread and cheese for the evening’s picnic.

We changed clothes, packed our picnic, and headed back to the Eiffel area for our river cruise. The Lady was glittering as we boarded at 2000. Cost was 10€ each. Forgot to make note of the company name, didn’t keep our tickets, but based on the docking location, I’m thinking now it must have been Bateaux Parisiens. Because of the boat not being open, it’s nearly impossible to see anything unless you are among the very few who find seats around the outside perimeter of the boat. On this trip, there were entire busloads of folks, so seating was hard to come by. We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless, thanks in large part to our wine and cheese picnic !

After the boat trip, we climbed the stairs up to street level and noticed that the lines were not long for ascending the Tower. DH said ‘Let’s do it!’ so we did. On my previous visits, I had gone only to the second level, so this was a thrill for both of us. The elevators were packed, and everyone seemed to be in a party mood at this late hour. After being sardined during the 2 segments of the elevator ascent, it felt terrific on the open-air platform. (the more I review/type my notes, the more I am reminded how very, very lucky we were to have such amazing, pleasant weather for this trip !). The view of all Paris at our feet was, of course, spectacular. We walked home then, and that night (morning, actually) slept comme des enfants.
lifes2short is offline  
Oct 24th, 2006, 06:34 PM
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Your apt. sounds perfect. Looking forward to the rest of your report, as I'm planning Normandy/Brittany for next May. Still have many decisions to make!
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Oct 24th, 2006, 06:37 PM
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By the say, HopingtoTravel, when are you going on your trip? Be sure to do a report if it's before next May!
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Oct 24th, 2006, 06:51 PM
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Lifes2short, I am really enjoying your report and can't wait for the next installment. Your meal descriptions (well some of them) have me drooling.

By the way on my first trip to Europe, it was Europe on $5 a day. That included bed, food, and museum entrances. Though I must say I like having ensuite bathrooms these days, as well as a few more meals in restaurants. We had a lot of rooms with the toilet two flights down and sometimes a shower was extra $, and we ate a lot of picnics on park benches. It was a wonderful trip and I wouldn't trade those adventures for anything.
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Oct 25th, 2006, 11:29 AM
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Day 4 – Got a VERY late start on this day due to both of us being totally exhausted. Clearly, we needed to catch up on some sleep, not to mention the lingering effects of so many wonderful meals and wines. Not leaving the apartment until after 2:30 meant that a few quasi-planned activities (museums) might not get done. Again, since this was my 3rd Paris visit, this prospect didn’t faze me, and DH is, as mentioned earlier, had done yeoman duty already, museum-wise. So we resisted the temptation to embark on panicked, fast-track visits to Rodin and Orsay, and instead kept on with our more relaxed, take-it-as-it comes style. (I found it wonderfully liberating to acknowledge that we didn’t HAVE to see everything ! ) And what better activity for beginning the day several hours behind, than eating ? The weather was once again phenomenal, and we chose a sidewalk table at the Brasserie de l’Ecole Militaire. Croque provençal for me ---very tasty---while DH tackled tarte tatin with crème fraîche and calvados sauce. He also ordered espresso, which I have failed to mention so far when describing our meals. We both really took to the local practice of having espresso after dessert, rather than with it, as had been our custom at home. And DH really got into it, usually having me order him un double. And on this day, we could use all the wake-up help we could get!

We started out via Metro, then decided we really needed fresh air and sunshine. Exiting at Les Invalides, we walked over the Alexandre IIII bridge, then straight to the Bâteaux Mouches. The river cruise from the night before made us realize we preferred the open-air boats, and having taken this one myself a few times, I knew it covered more territory, so to speak, than our trip from the night before. We cruised and relaxed in the bright sunshine for an hour….it was magical !

Afterwards, leaving from Pont l’Alma, we took the Metro to Châtelet in search of the hotel where we would be staying the following week on our return from Normandy/Brittany. Exiting the Metro, we stopped for cold beer and more people-watching. Just around the corner on ave. Victoria, we found Hôtel Britannique. The plan was to speak to someone in Reception to make sure we would be able to leave a couple of bags in their storage room, rather than schlepping it on the train to Rouen. The desk clerk, Ingrid, was gracious and told us to stop by anytime with the extra bags. We liked what we saw of the hotel from this brief visit, and were relieved to know we could travel much lighter once we left Paris for the provinces.

We spent a while walking rue de Rivoli before descending once again to the Metro at Châtelet. Headed back to Ecole Militaire, then walked the short distance to rue de l’Exposition. This time, we thought we’d try another of the restos in the area, and decided on l’Auberge du Champ de Mars. We each began with kir royal, which I believe was complementary. DH had pâté de canard as an entrée, and I chose escargots, which were excellent. His main course consisted of scallops and clams cooked en papillote served with pasta, mine was sole in champagne sauce, accompanied by rice and vegetables. For dessert, crème brûlée for him, pear sorbet for me. The sorbet was incredible ! Then, espressos all around, and a shot of calvados for DH. I have forgotten the prices, but I do remember that both our meals were formules.

After dinner, we stopped in at the cybercafe for a half-hour before making the now-familiar walk back to avenue de Breteuil. Amazingly, even after sleeping in, and lots of caffeine, we still fell asleep quickly. Paris is a great antidote for insomnia. Come to think of it, Paris is a good antidote for whatever ails you !
lifes2short is offline  
Nov 4th, 2006, 02:42 PM
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lifes2short, please don't forget to finish this report! I'm looking forward to the Normandy/Brittany part. I like your detail.
Sue4 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2006, 10:00 PM
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Great report. Was it fun to use your French again?
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Nov 6th, 2006, 07:10 AM
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5alive—to address your question ‘Was it fun to use your French again?’ ---absolutely ! Fun, challenging, satisfying..and, for me, a major enhancement to the enjoyment of the trip. Though I was hesitant at first, to use French all the time, I quickly realized that doing so not only enhanced the whole French experience for both of us, but it was also a validation of my training all those years ago. I write a bit about this in another thread (nous sommes de retour), encouraging others to make the effort to use the language, no matter the skill level.

Sue4—glad you like the report. There’s no question it gets increasingly more difficult to finish in the same style that I began. The ‘detail’ that you appreciate---to me, anyway---starts to become cumbersome even when writing it. So I can well imagine that, to many folks, reading it can be sheer drudgery. Thanks again for the encouragement !

Detail is one thing; writing style is something else. A recent post by Ciel echoes my feelings about not having a catchy, compelling style….mine really does feel like ‘first we went here, then we went there,’ to the point that even I get bored. So I do plan to cut back a bit when it’s time to post days 5 through 14 ! But, hey—as we’re always saying, that’s the beauty of the forum: read what appeals to you and leave the rest ! Anyway, I hope to post more soon.
lifes2short is offline  
Nov 6th, 2006, 07:40 AM
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A grey day here in Beantown but your report is making some sun.
My six feet four and a half inches husband always complains on the beds being too short.
cigalechanta is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 09:48 AM
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We're waiting for the Normandy/Brittany part!
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Nov 15th, 2006, 10:49 AM
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Yoo-hoo! Loved your report so far. Please don't leave us hanging. Hoping you'll continue soon.
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