Author: Barbara D.
Date of Trip: September 2009
On September 3rd we drove to ATL in preparation for our transatlantic flight to Paris tomorrow. I chose to stay at Court Yard Marriott for 2 reasons; free parking when you stay Marriott points…The hotel was clean, friendly staff and comfortable rooms. The free Wi-Fi is also a great perk for Marriott customers.
Our flight was on time in ATL, but delayed leaving Charlotte, NC by almost an hour. The plane was a US Airways Boeing 770, and as with most coach seats, lots to be desired for leg room. The overnight flight was uneventful.
9/5/09 – Saturday Bon Jour from Paris….oh is this a grand place….we flew into Charles DeGaulle, had a private car pick up(was about 2x price of bus ride in, well worth the euros) and deliver us to our rented pied-a-terre.
The smell of the food, the bread, pastries; the beautiful architecture…aaahhh we are in Paris. After we met with the sup, got our keys, it was time to explore. Our flat was three blocks from Notre Dame and the Seine. We began our exploring with a river cruise aboard one of the many launch sites dotting the Seine River. The tour did a loop from the Ile de la Cite to beyond Notre Dame turned around and cruised past the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palace to the Eiffel Tower and then went back to the starting point. We head back to the Latin Quarter for supper at a local brasserie.
The apartment inside window opens to a charming center courtyard and has a built in health program…78 stairs to get to the apartment …no lift. The building was from the 1500s and on the bottom floor were restaurants with pleasant aromas wafting up in the evenings, charming.
9/6/09 – Sunday A little jet lagged, so I was awake before dawn…went down to purchase fresh bread, tomatoes & cheese for breakfast. The bread was so good, a white loaf encrusted with sesame seeds. The local market is in the same block, as is the bakery. I chose a soft white cheese from the Loire Valley and was wonderful tasting.
The temperature was 70’s by day…50’s at night, very pleasant. You sense an appreciation for this city from the people strolling along the streets or by the Seine.
Today was lovely we went to the Louvre early, it was free…yes free on the first Sunday of the month. The Louvre is huge; you enter through the glass pyramid in the center courtyard and go down an escalator to access the exhibits. Our main mission was the Italian painters and a glimpse of Mona Lisa. Along the way was masterpiece after masterpiece, sculpture and the building itself is just fabulous.
We walked thru the Jardin des Tulleries to Place de la Concorde (place where the guillotining of most of the aristocrats occurred during the French Terror) enjoying the flowers, people soaking up the afternoon sun and sailboat pond with children launching their rented sailboats.
We caught the Batobus at the Place de la Concorde (we bought the 5 day pass which is the best travel bargain in Paris) and hoped off at the Eiffel Tower. The line is frightful to ride to the top or to the middle of the tower. Queues of more that an hour…but if you get a ticket from the restaurant booth, there is no wait and the price is the same. Ate lunch at “54” which was good, a fixed price for 23€, road up to the next level and thoroughly enjoyed the view of Paris the tower provides.
Across the River Seine from the Eiffel Tower is Trocadero, another example of the quality of life Paris offers. Trocadero is a public area with a large fountain flanked by grassy hills for relaxing in the sun. At the street side of the square are steps leading to the the Musee national de la Marine (naval museum) on the left and the Musee de l’Homme (ethnology) on the right. We camped out there, enjoying ice cream and chocolate banana crepes from a street vendor, while waiting on the sun to set to watch the tower sparkle. What a show it does give, at dusk the lights to the tower come on and then at the top of every hour beginning at 9PM the flashing lights sparkle for 10 minutes….again fabulous.
We caught a taxi back (note the Batobus in the fall does not run late on weekends as the brochure states) to the Latin Quarter for supper…we feasted upon a Lebanese tasting menu….yum. A local restaurant found in the block of our flat.
9/7/09 – Monday Today Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, shopping and finding our spot to meet for our tour to Normandy on Wednesday, then tonight the Louvre after dark for pictures. The bakery is closed on Monday…so no bread for you. Well then dear hubby is fooling with his laptop…plugs in an adaptor….poof the power is gone. I call the sup & he is to correct.
So we head out, catch the Batobus, hop off at the Grand Palace and walk toward the famous Champs Elysees. At the opposite end of the Place de la Concorde is the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way are the many grand shops, cafes and hotels that dot the boulevard. We stop at LaDuree for macaroons and fill our eyes with the beautiful pastries for which France is famous. We make it to the Arch and brave the 285 steps to get reach top. What a view of Paris, the Louvre, the sycamore trees so neatly quaffed flanking the wide boulevard, the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. We learn there is a lift after reaching the top, oh well I don’t feel quite so bad that I ate the extra macaroon.
Our intended next stop was the Marais district and Place de Volgas. Along the way we stop at a bank to cash the 500€ bill I exchanged dollars for at the airport…well no local bank will cash. Seems there is a big problem with the counterfeiting of big bills. Finally we found a BBVA; which is our bank at home. The cashier reluctantly changed our bill into 10 – 50 Euro bills. So I have all my euros in useable form; Lesson learned; never allow any exchange to give you a bill larger than 100€.
So we head down the Seine after we have had an afternoon rest…people strolling, sitting at the rivers edge, with a bottle of wine enjoying the setting sun. As we cross the foot bridge over to the Louvre, it is evident the evening meals are shared with friends out of a local market sack. The common theme is wine, cheese, baguette and some times chips. Small groups dot the bridge, talking and laughing, this scene is repeated night after night. As we get to the right bank, a clarinet is softly playing, such a nice sound echoing thru the alcove leading into the courtyard at the Louvre. Crossing the yard toward the main courtyard where the pyramid is located the sound of a cello comes into earshot; such mellow tones that reverberate across the courtyard. In the distance a violin is also playing, these budding artists are practicing their craft in a perfect setting. This fills both of us with awe, such a perfect way to watch the day slip into the horizon. Surprisingly food prices are comparable to US pricing, where a great different existed was in the price of beverages in the restaurants. Beer and wine are 8 – 12 Euros per glass, sodas are also 8 – 10 euros…from 11 – 15 US dollars; ouch! A beer stein on Saturday evening was 14,50 Euro, about $21.00 US. Bargains are found in the markets, lovely red wine for 2,50 euro, 1 liter sodas 1,25 Euro. Cheeses are 1 – 2 Euros and reasonably priced fresh fruits and veggies straight from the farms.
9/8/09 We made it to the Places des Volges today, where the aristocrats spent their summers to escape the heat of the palace. Mind you at best it is 10 miles from the Grand Palace. The Volges is a square of three storey houses joined together surrounding a very pleasant park area with calming fountains, groomed trees and hedges. Every neighborhood passed have wonderful patisseries, bakeries and cafes.
We ate lunch today at Angelina on Rue Rivoli. The food was classic French cooking served in opulent setting. The tableware is crisp white porcelain with simple stamp of the shop name.
We spent afternoon exploring the churches in the Latin Quarter; Notre Dame just across the Seine from the quarter, St Serverin Church, St Etienne Church and Pantheon…very beautiful….lovely architecture. Still full from lunch, we grabbed a bottle of wine and walked down to Seine under Notre Dame… sat and drank while listening to a lady singer performing Sinatra style songs, watched the sunset and got night time pictures of Notre Dame…I am smitten with Paris!
9/9/09 I booked our Normandy tour online with Grayline Tours. We are up early readying ourselves for the day ahead, have a 45 min walk to where we join the tour. We all gathered and meeting couples from all over the US, Australia and Canada.
The tour was fantastic….
By far this tour was one of my top experiences so far with my travels. The French countryside is very reminiscent of Tenn., KY, and Virginia in color and foliage. Most of the houses are from another era…you can just see the age…charming. They are built in villages…community is strong here….such a nice feeling.
Our first stop was the Memorial at Caen, it was so nicely done…a very fitting tribute to Allied forces liberating the French. I felt the appreciation by the French for the Americans, British & Canadian liberation…the detail in the 2 movies shown is so telling of the story.
We were fed lunch here, an aperitif drink, chicken suvee with a lovely white sauce, vegs and a pomme de terre fritter (potato pancake), there was unlimited red wine(a Boudreaux), water and bread. The salad bar had many salad mixes and a cinnamon rice pudding (luscious) and chocolate tart.
The French Countryside is just charming…. We drove to the coast deep thru the Normandy Country side, villages, each with a charming church, flowers, cattle, and sheep….just lovely to view. We arrived at Pointe du Hoc…the strong hold for the Germans and where the Americans climbed the cliffs in 10 minutes to overtake the German guns. The sheer cliff walls and the rough seas below made the GI’s efforts almost insurmountable, the place was very impressive…the ground is laden with huge holes from the mortar blasts.
On to Omaha Beach, the surf is soooo strong and the wind cold here, the temperature had been 78 with nice sunny skies in Paris just 150 miles away…here chilly, cloudy and WINDY!
Next stop was the American Cemetery, entering the grounds you feel a reverence, you walk the crosses and see so many June 6th, 7th, and 8th dates, from this you get the magnitude of the invasion and the death tolls. Just from walking it looks like eighty percent or more died those first days that are buried here. 9,800 American boys and over 1,557 with out names and so many were teenagers. This is just so moving, my husband & I both were moved to tears here.
On to Arromanches, a beautiful town by the sea, it is here where the British landed. We had only 15 minutes here; I could have shopped for hours. I did buy a bottle of Calvados – Apple Brandy for which this region is noted. Our last stop was Juno Beach and you could smell the oysters when we stepped off the bus. I wanted a dozen soooo bad. This is the site where the Canadians landed, and was the coldest and windiest place we visited.
Back to Paris at 21:15, husband and I strolled thru the Louvre grounds, back to Rue St Michelle for supper and then on to the flat for the night.
Normandy I booked thru Grayline, as I was unsure about all the details, getting there from Paris is a 3 hour ride, then the other areas are spread out over about 50m miles, I think the tour is well worth the money, paid in advance $212 each.
9/10/09 Today we strolled the streets, stopped at the Hard Rock cafe, purchased the city shirts and basically enjoyed the Parisian life. Walked along the Seine and found our train station for the trip to London tomorrow.
9/11/09 London has so many sites; we did a whirlwind across town tour. We booked the EuroStar to London (through the Chunnel) online about a month before we traveled to Paris. Is very easy to navigate the site and the train is a comfortable means for travel. We have friends that live in England and they were going to join us there for the day. Seeing them waiting for us at the train station was so heart warming.
Tower of LondonWe rode the “Tube” over to the Tower of London, took two transfers of lines to get there, the amount of people in London on the Tube was staggering…we were in the rush hour, but every train was crammed to standing room only.
We wandered through the Tower of London….what a pleasure, so many things of England’s past and present in one place. The building is what you would expect of a medieval castle and the Jewels are just stunning! So much pageantry and rich history on display under one roof.
The Tower is right on the Thames River, which I learned is pronounced like “Tims” and is right at the Tower Bridge. We walked over and began the climb of 204 steps to the top. Along the stairs going up, which are cast iron, are posters and displays about the history of the bridge and a short video at the half way point. From the top the views were fabulous!
Across the Thames we ate lunch at an English pub, a few pints for the guys, fish and chips for all with mushy peas as well. On to our river cruise down to Westminster Abby, Parliament and the clock tower called Big Ben (which is actually the bell in the tower, not the tower). From there we walked to Buckingham Palace via the Horse Guards parade facility where the British men in uniform were standing so still on there horse, who was equally still and stately. St James Park was behind the Horse Guards and the gateway to Buckingham Palace.
We made the obligatory (my husband’s term) stop at Hard Rock just beyond the palace. Hopped a bus ride back to Piccadilly Circus with our day pass for transportation, this is also a must if you visit. The public system is easy to use and very economical. From Piccadilly it is a short walk to Trafalgar Square, named in honor of the battle fought by Lord Nelson who is at the top of the pillar there. The famous lions had their numerous people climbing upon them as well.
It was time to head back to the train station for our EuroStar ride back to Paris. We had just a fabulous time visiting London, but most of all seeing dear friends with whom we shared the day. Our food experience in London was not the production as is in Paris. Every dish placed on your table is with a flourish and “Bon Appetite”
9/12/09 Today was more exploring of the Latin Quarter and Jardin du Luxembourg. The grounds of this former palace and current house of the French Senate are stunning. Again there are folks everywhere walking the gardens relaxing on the lawns, sunning and enjoying just being there….ahhhhh the Parisian way of life.
I had a friend ask me if people really just go sit on a patch of grass overlooking the river and eat a baguette, frommage and some vino? My response was: Every day, every evening, every night…every where…on grass in parks, on the foot bridges, along the river, and especially the Pont Neuf. The Point Neuf (or 9th Bridge) is just beyond the Louvre and the Islands which have little niches in it ever 20 feet or so, which are benches where people sit as well.
9/13/09 We flew home on Sunday, had an easy transfer back to Charles DeGaulle, using the same car service. Landed in Charlotte where we had to clear customs. We get off plane, go to baggage retrieval, through customs and then rechecked bags for flight home. What a wonderful time we had!