Trip Report - 3 - Weeks - Solo to France

Oct 27th, 2003, 01:56 PM
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Trip Report - 3 - Weeks - Solo to France

First I would like to thank all of you for your expert advice, hints, tips and suggestions while I was preparing for my second solo adventure.

The trip was wonderful. I did not encounter any problems and I was constantly amazed at the beauty of France and it's people. The French were so lovely, warm, friendly and very helpful. I experienced many random acts of kindness, most unsolicited.

I flew from Seattle to Copenhagen/Paris on SAS. I can't say enough good things about SAS. The plane, the crew, food, in-seat entertainment, everything was good. Yes, even the food. Big wicker baskets full of piping hot breads and rolls were passed around w/every meal, together with unlimited free drinks. I had a bulkhead seat going and coming back, which made for a very comfortable trip, well as comfortable as 10 hrs. on a plane can be. I had a tight connection for my flight to Paris, but the terminal in Copenhagen was very easy to navigate.

I arrived in Paris @ 4:50 p.m. I finally found baggage claim by following the rest of the gang and then waited for what seemed like forever to get my bag. I was sure it had not made it with me. I also had to ask how to get out of the terminal! It's not a user friendly airport. I did not have to wait for a taxi and was glad to be on my way to my hotel. The first thing that hit me was the worst odor. Then a dog's head appeared from the front seat!! I realized tho, it wasn't the dog, who kept trying to get into the back seat and cozy up to me, that smelled, but the driver. I was starting to feel nauseous from being tired, the smell, stop & go traffic, exhaust fumes, coupled with a few untimely hot flashes!! I was looking for the air sick bags. I finally made it to my hotel and the fare was only 39 E., so I was a little relieved.

Hotel St. Jacques, 35 Rue des Ecoles, was great. It was in a perfect location to everything. Two metro stops close by. Lots of restaurants and shops in the area. It is just around the corner from the Pantheon and not far from Luxembourg Gardens. Blvd. St. Germain is one block away and it's about a 10 min walk to the Seine. The hotel is very charming with a staff who all speak english and are very friendly and helpful. The in-house internet was great. My room was a single, not big, but very adequate. The window opened onto a small alley, so it was very quiet. The bathroom was a good size with a fully enclosed shower and hair dryer. It had tv with CNN an inroom safe and phone. Breakfast was in a very cute little room for 6.50 E. I just grabbed cafe creme and croissant at a local cafe for 3.50 E. The room was 71 E. A friend joined me for a few days in Paris and stayed at the same hotel. Her room was on the top floor #31 - she had a tub, big bed, a little balcony on the side street with a view of the Pantheon, and much bigger for the same price as mine. The only hitch was the elevator did not go up to her floor, so she had to walk up one flight. Next time I will ask for room 31.

I was pretty tired, so I just strolled around the neighborhood, bought a bottle of wine, a phone card - had to call my Mom. I had dinner at the little place on the corner, La Petite Perigourdine. It was just perfect for that night, probably not very memorable otherwise. I had a very comforting and tasy mushroom omelet with some crusty bread and a glass of wine. The waiter said my french was "very sweet" and he kissed my hand. What a great introduction to Paris. I gave myself a hug and a pat on the back before I turned the lights out -- I made it! I'm in Paris.
Barb is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 02:04 PM
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Nice beginning, tell us more.
cigalechanta is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 02:41 PM
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Yes, more. And don't skimp on Lyon.
indytravel is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 03:36 PM
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I'm not going to do a day-by-day, but I will summarize the high points. Even with 6 days in Paris, I barely touched the surface. I had a daily "itinerary", which I followed loosely. I am sure I could stay there 2 weeks and still not see everything I wanted to see.

The first day I walked all the way to the Musee d'Orsay (my FAV!!) Met a very nice woman from NYC while having lunch in the museum cafe - pretty good lunch.
She and I walked along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. By this time I decided I would gladly let her introduce me to the Metro. I had posted about how I was stressing about using the Metro. Well, what a relief, .. it's easy, very well marked and once you get comfortable with it, the absolute best way to get around. I still averaged about 5-6 miles walking a day.

My new friend Marsha, an ex-travel agent and now food critic, was a great buddy. After my introduction to the Metro we decided to have drinks at Les Deux Magot and just relax and people watch. I had a kir and a glass of Sancerre - she 2 pastis. This was a great idea. It was so fun to watch the parade of women (and men),stroll by heads held high, strutting their stuff looking tres chic with really outrageous outfits and hats. It was absolutely worth the price of the drinks.

I met fellow Fodorite Jenny and her Mom for dinner that night. It was very comforting to meet someone I felt I knew - just from Fodors. After her Mom and friend left, Jennie & I stayed and finished our wine and had a really good chat - thanks Jen.

The weather in Paris was beautiful. Warm during the day and just a sweater in the evenings. I had one morning of rain and I used that opportunity to shop.

On my way to Notre Dame, I stopped in to see St. Severin church, not on my itinerary, but I'm glad I found it. They were getting ready for a wedding as the church was filled with beautiful flowers and the organist was playing.
What can I say about Notre Dame that hasn't been said a million times. The first time you see it, though, is one of those goosebump moments. I walked from there to Isle St. Louis, which is just one of my favorite spots. It is so charming and so Parisian. Tons of little shops, bistros and colorful little streets. I stopped for lunch at Le Flores en l'Isle. I'm sure some of you will say it is too touristy, but I loved it. I had a front row seat to watch some street performers on the little bridge separating the islands and the food was good. After lunch, the waiter asked I wanted anything else, "dessert, ice-cream, my phone number?" ok, he was about 23, but he was being sweet and not patronizing. Ha, I ended up going back a few days later and He remembered me and gave me a complimentary kir.

My new friend Marsha and I went to Brasserie Balzar for dinner for her last night in Paris. Worst dining experience of the whole trip - actually the only bad one. The waiter was so snooty and rude. He showed absolute disgust because we did not order tons of food. I had mussels and salad with wine and a lemon tart for dessert. 26.50 E. Food was ok, but I will never go back.

The Cluny Museum was another of those pleasant little surprises, glad I found it. St. Sulpice was very beautiful. I attended Sunday mass and then afterwards climbed the "secret" stairway, with all the other Rick Steves fans to hear the organist play between masses. Funny, he looked a little like Nick Nolte in his good days.

Lunch at Cafe Mabillon at the corner of Rue de Seine and Blvd. St. Germain was another perfect spot for a little lunch and people watching. Very tasty Croque "jeune homme" and a 1/2 bottle of chardonnay Terrier 20.30 E., but again worth it to watch the maddening crowds.

A walk down Rue Buci and onto St. Chappele was a wonderful walk. St. Chappele was perhaps my favorite place in Paris. Words cannot describe the beauty of the stained glass with light filtering through. It is hard to believe a human being so many hundreds of years ago created this. Afterwards I strolled to the little park at the end of Isle de Cite. The leaves were falling and they crunched beneath my feet as I walked. The sun was shining and there was a slightly warm breeze blowing. Ahhh.. I sat on a little bench and was writing in my journal (travel companion), when something hit the top of my head and almost knocked my glasses off. It was a huge chesnut the size of an apple!!

Walking the Latin Quarter and down the Rue Mouffetard in search of great market finds was a great way of spending one morning. Having cafe creme at a little cafe on this very cute little square, just right around the corner from Hemingway's apt. on Rue Cardinal Lemoine where he lived in 1921. From there walking around Luxembourg Gardens, what a lovely oasis in the middle of this big bustling city.

I loved just buying a bagette, or some other tasty little treat and eating in the parks, feeding pigeons and watching children playing.

I loved coming up from the Metro and there was the Arc de Triumphe right there in my face. The views from the top of the Arc with all the streets radiating from it and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, very worth the climb up.

Walking down the Champs, stopping at Forquets for a drink, buying macroons at Laduree - and I kept almost pinching myself - is this all real. I walked on to the Place de Concorde - tons of officials and police - I guess the First Lady was visiting. My feet were getting tired, so I sat on a bench at the pond in the Tuilleries and ate my apple. It was very interesting, even with all the people there, it was somehow very quiet and serene.

One day I took the train to Vernon and Giverny. I am so glad I went as it was still beautiful even this late in the year. It's an easy train trip and a quick taxi ride, which was shared with a couple 5.00 E each.

Montmarte and Sacre Couer was an easy metro ride aawy. I walked up to the top instead of taking the funicular, walking up little side streets instead of the stairs. It was fun to watch regular people coming home from work, parents picking up their children from school and day care. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking and luckily it was a very clear day so I could see forever. I was expecting to find a very large, very commercialized square with lots of very bad art at Place du Tetre, but I found it quite small, very intersting and the art not that bad. It was certainly a lively and colorful spot and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a glass of wine at one of the little sidewalk cafes and watched the scene in front of me .. very entertaining.

Again, a short metro ride and I was on the Pont Neuf and getting ready to jump on the Les Vedettes Du Pont for a river cruise.

My best day was unfortunately my last day in Paris. I had a relaxing walk through the Marais, doing a little shopping along the way. I headed down Rue St. Croix, to Rue de Ville Temple, which put me in the heart of the Jewish area. From rue de Ville de Temple I turned onto Rue du Rosiers and just happened upon this wonderful little deli - Jo Goldenberg Pletzl. I was the only non-local there. I ordered their speciality which was a huge plate full of various very tasty meats - salami, corned beef, tongue, chopped liver and a basket with assorted breads. In the middle of the plate was a little dish with what I thought was pickled red cabbage. I put a spoonful onto some rye bread and topped it with a slice of corned beef and took a big bite. After my eyes stopped watering and my nose hairs stopped burning and I caught my breath, I realized it was horseradish. I downed my glass of wine and took a deep breath. The two very sweet Parisan ladies, of a certain age, sitting right next to me, smiled and I tried to look like I do this all the time. After that, I steered clear of that little dish and I asked for some mustard, which was served in the cutest little pot. I love mustard and had not really tried any real French mustard since I had arrived in Paris. So,, you guessed it, should I go any further. After the steam stopped coming out of my ears I finished the last of my bottle of wine. I decided to use discretion from now on when applying mustard, or anything else of unknown origin to my bread. All this time the lovely little ladies at the next table kept nodding at me smiling, and talking to me in French. It was driving me crazy, I wanted to talk to them so badly, but I really do not speak French. So, I thought what the heck and took the plunge. I said in French, hello, I am sorry but I only speak a little french and not very well - (thanks Pimsleur tapes). Well their faces lite up and one of the ladies actually spoke a little english and between us, we had a wonderful conversation, exchanging pictures of our families and having a great time. By the time I left, she had given me her address and phone number and told me that the next time I came to Paris to call her and we would get together.. She gave me a kiss on the cheek when I left. I walked out of there feeling like I would have to go a long way to top this and I walked away wishing I had way more time in Paris.

My last night in Paris I was tired, so I didn't go to far from my hotel for dinner. I found on a side street, 17 Rue Laplace, Restaurante ChantAirelle. I will probably get flamed for liking this place, but I couldn't help myself. When you walk in the door, there is the moo sound, yes a moo. I was there about 7:30 and was the only one there. I was quickly greeted and seated by a very gracious woman who explained that their food was from the Auvergne. Just about then I notice birds chirping - a soundtrack of birds! Well, I had THE best salad, very fresh, grilled duck breast in a honey thyme sauce w/tiny yellow beans and carrots, the first really fresh veggies I had eaten in Paris, and a really tasty potato pancake. With a 1/2 bottle of regional wine 28.40 E this was a very good dinner and a fitting last meal in Paris.

So, sights I enjoyed:

Musee d'Orsay
Eiffel Tower
Les Deux Magots
Notre Dame
St. Severin
Isle St. Lois
Cluny Museum
St. Sulpice
St. Chapelle
Park @ end of Isle de la Cite
Les Vendettes
Arc de Triomphe
Champs Elysees
Place de Concorde
Sacre Couer
Le Marais
Jewish area
Musee Carnavet
Place des Vosges

Fav Eateries

La Petite Perigourdin
Le Flor en L'Isle
Berthellon - ice cream
Le Mabillon
La Petite Prince de Paris - really good
Jo Goldenberg Pletzl
Restaurant ChantAirelle

ON TO LYON - to be continued.
Barb is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 04:15 PM
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Thanks for the restaurant reviews Barb! You have clearly charmed numerous Parisians!
McBetsy is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 04:21 PM
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What a lovely trip report to read. It brings back great memories of my first solo trip to Paris (also planned with much help from the Fodors folks.) The next time one of my relatives wonders how I can possibly like traveling solo, I'll direct them to posts like this. Look forward to hearing about Lyon..!
jv827 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 04:43 PM
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Nice report, and once again, aren't you glad you didn't listen to all those people who say that the French are all rude? Sounds like you really met some charmers.
Patrick is offline  
Oct 27th, 2003, 09:51 PM
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Great read, Barb. Thanks for the laughs with the condiments! Can identify...
klondike is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 04:47 AM
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I won't flame you - I love Chantairelle.
LoriNY is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 05:14 AM
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Hoorah! Lovely tale.. I'm all misty eyed! I have no idea why...! <GRIN> I supposed it is just that your experience in Paris was so beautiful. I've decided on St. Jacques for me AND your Restaurante ChantAirelle.

On to Lyon...
Oct 28th, 2003, 05:46 AM
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Your report brought tears to my eyes! I felt like I was with you in Paris,my favorite city. Going it alone sounds good to me! That way you can do as you please and take it at your own pace. I am glad you made it to Musee du Cluny. De la dame a la licorne is to dye for! I could set in that room all day. Anyway, thanks for bringing a little bit of Paris Light into my rainy boring day!
aj is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 05:53 AM
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Sould read to "die for". I know, I know, always preview before posting!
aj is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 06:13 AM
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You've made me want to get on the very next plane! We want more, please =D>
mclaurie is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 07:14 AM
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The critics are raving: "One of the best trip reports of the year!"

We want more, Barb, but take your time. Good writing can't be rushed.
mr_go is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 07:42 AM
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Barb - my sons and I also had dinner at Balzar and had a similar experience - my husband was on a business trip to Germany so it was just the three of us (the boys are teenagers). We asked for a table by a window (in August and it was not crowded), early in the evening and the waiter was clearly put out. We had a nice dinner, no wine, dessert, etc and left a reasonable tip. We were treated like second or third class patrons.
cmeyer54 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 08:02 AM
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Thanks for all the kind responses and on to Lyon:

I took a taxi to Gare de Lyon, a very large station, but very manageable. I bought all my train tickets on-line, which was so easy and convenient. I got a PREM ticket to Lyon, so I was able to print it out on my computer. I did put it into the little yellow stamping maching, tho, just to be sure. I saw some people with Maple Leafs on their backpacks and, as I've learned to do traveling solo, I sauntered over to say hello, so you're Canadians, so am I, where are you from. They were from Winnipeg, so am I! Had a good chat. They were heading for Nice. I shook my head when I saw all their luggage and the size of each bag. They were looking for porters to help them check their bags. When I told them the bad news, their jaws almost hit the ground. I felt bad for them - don't they know about Fodors!. I can still see them shuffling off to get their train, dragging those trunks behind them.

My train hardly even had a step to get on, but then I had to go up a little staircase to the top level to get to my seat. Found the luggage rack, no problem. Unfortunately, I had an aisle seat with a man by the window and once we started up, I noticed we were facing backwards, ugh... I then noticed that people started moving around, switching seats, so, I moved too, w/a little trepidation .. a little worried about what the dreaded "conductor" would say. Well I didn't have to worry, he didn't seem to notice, so I had a window seat, going in the right direction. Even tho I was in 2nd class, it was quite nice and boy did it move. Also, be warned, I was asked for ID by the conductor, so I had to dig out my passport from my money belt. Rather embarrassing as I had to unzip my pants in front of a man I've never met before.
I was amazed at how polite and civilized all the passengers were, not like in Italy, ha. They all spoke in low, hushed tones and when a lady started talking on her cell phone, another passenger, quietly and politely, asked her to take it to between the cars, she smiled and did just that. Then I noticed little signs w/pictures of cell phones with little faces with mouths pursed like they were saying "no". The countryside was so lovely - green fields separated by hedge rows, ancient stone buildings and little villages - very picturesque.

I arrived in Lyon and again experienced an act of random kindness. I was standing at the bottom of a huge long staircase trying to figure out how I was going to drag my suitcase up to the top, when a very nicely dressed "older" gentleman said in french, not here, and pointed down the platform to an escalator and then gave me a smile and a wink and went on his way. It was a little confusing trying to figure out where I was going, but I just followed the signs to "Place Carnot", which I knew I had to go through to get to Rue Victor Hugo and my hotel, La Residence. It was about a 10 min. walk and quite warm, or was that another flash.

I checked in and when I entered my room, I almost fainted. Right on the street, a little balcony, a big queen size bed, a huge blue tiled bathroom and a giant soaking tub (visioning bubble bath tonight). I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was on the 4th floor, nice elevator hair dryer, safe and a big flat screen tv w/ 2 CNN channels. I thought I could live in this room for weeks. All this for 65E. This is not a typical budget hotel. I think it's a 3* w/2* prices.

My boss just walked in - more later...
Barb is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 08:16 AM
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tell the boss to take a hike, you're busy!!!!!!!
LoriNY is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 08:19 AM
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Hi Barb,

Lovely report. It helps explain why so many of us love Paris.

ira is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 09:34 AM
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I then walked down to Place Bellecour and decided to have some lunch at L'Esplace Brasserie. Of course I had to have Salade Lyonnaise and 1/2 bottle of a very good Bougalais. It was a perfect spot to relax and get my bearings.I just loved that I could sit and not worry about how long I was staying at the table. I struck up a conversation w/ a British couple who just finished a 4 course meal in the same time it took me to eat my salad, bread and wine. They said they fly directly from London to Lyon and do just that 2x a year! After lunch I walked over to the Tourist Info on Place Bellecour and got a map and info on a walking tour. I strolled around the tiny back streets and I then found a great wine shop, a cheese shop and a boulangerie for a bagette, so I could sit on my little balcony like a princess and have a late afternoon snack.

I decided to go to Bauchon Lyonnais,Chabert & Fils, which had been recommended on Fodors and was not far from my hotel. On the way there, I walked down a side street and all of a sudden I was walking on a red carpet which had been laid out along the street. There were tiny little white lights hanging across the streets too. Apparently there was a huge gallery/artist walk in progess. There was a shop that had models in wedding dresses walking down the red carpet - very skinny, beautiful models in very non-traditional gowns. Ok, I should cut down on the food and wine, no, they'll probably look just like me, eventually.

I had a very nice little table at Chabert & Fils outside. This is probably not one of the great Lyon restaurants, but it was ok for my first night. I had a really good salad with goat cheese on toast points, quenelles w/mushrooms, a pot coteaux and wonderful chocolate mousse for dessert - 30.43E. Huge portions, which I decided I would definitely have to walk off. When I got back to the hotel I ran a bath w/bubble bath I had picked up at the local pharamacy. Perfect end to a great day.

Because I had a safe in my room, I decided to ditch the money belt and some jewelry in it. Before I left, I decided to take out a little more money from the belt. Well.. I could not get the safe open. I started to panic. I called reception and they sent someone up who punched in a bunch of numbers and told me it would open itself in 3 min. Thank heavens it did. I vowed to never do that again and I wore that belt from then on.

I walked leisurely over to Veux Lyon. It was such a beautiful day, warm, slight breeze. The little cobblestone streets were a joy, and even more so because I felt like I was the only one there. Hardly any people and certainly not many tourists. I took tons of photos here. The little small shops were so colorful and interesting. I found a restaurant that had also been recommended on Fodors - Les Adrets and I made reservations for that night at 8:30. I then took the funicular up to the Basilque. Thankfully a nice man showed me how to use the ticket machine, which was a little confusing and also suggested I get a 2-hr ticket, which was a very good idea. The Basilique was so beautiful and the view was wonderful. I walked around trying to find the Musee de la Civilisation Gallo Romaine and must have looked a little lost because again, a very nice gentleman pointed me in the right direction. So glad I found it. Very ancient relics dating back to 7th century B.C. It overlooks a Roman theater that is in such wonderful condition. I was kind of rushing through unfortunately because I was going to take a walking tour at 2:00 and wanted to grab something to eat before. I could have spent much more time there. It was quiet, serene, with very few people. Very modern displays of very ancient artifacts, such a wonderful combination.

I had lunch at Brasserie du Doyenne. Moules & frites which were really so good and a glass of wine - 9.60 E. I walked over to where the walking tour was to start and was informed that they only did english-speaking tours on the weekends now. I was very disappointed, so I walked back to Rue Victor Hugo and did a little shopping - always helps when you are sad. After a relaxing drink w/some olives on my balcony, I walked over to Les Adrets for dinner. This was a wonderful place. After I was seated I was given a tiny cup of what I think was some kind of squash puree, tasted like butternut - so good. I then had maybe the best salad I've ever had. It was Salade Escargot. When I ordered it, the waiter said "you know that's snails". I must look like a tourist, drat. The greens were cripsy and delicious and there was tiny cut up veggies, tiny white beans and the most delicious escargot. It was like having the best traditional escargots on top of a salad. The main course was brochet of baby rabbit, which came on a plate so artfully finished, it was a shame to have to eat it, not. Also there was 3 huge scallops wrapped in bacon, all served with equisitely wonderful mashed potatoes. For dessert, creme brulee. With wine - 35.70 E and worth every penny. I LOVED this place, the food and service was excellent.

I really wished I had had more time in Lyon. It was a terrific city. I loved that I could walk everywhere and felt somehow safe and connected in some way to Lyon. Obviously, I will be back.

Next morning, I took a taxi to Gare Par Dieux (sp) for my trip to Avignon. Taxi driver was so nice, as most of the taxi drivers were during my trip. This TGV was much faster. It felt like a plane getting ready to take off, my ears popped going through tunnels.

Avignon to be continued.
Barb is offline  
Oct 28th, 2003, 11:34 AM
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More Barb!

This is a great report from a woman traveling solo perspective.

Natalia is offline  

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