A return to the city of lights.....
Trip Start Jun 06, 2013
14Trip End Jul 04, 2013
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I was up before the iPhone alarm sounded at 04:30, which is often the case on days when I'm travelling. I was down in the lobby early and the night clerk offered me a free coffee. I didn't think I'd have time but decided to have one and it was a nice treat. Two girls from the tour would also be leaving at the same time, and they got to the lobby a few minutes after I did, looking a bit "bleary eyed".
At precisely 05:00, the two Taxi drivers showed up and we all walked to the nearby vehicles. The trip to the airport took only about 15 minutes, and the fare was €29.50 (which must be a "flat rate" for that trip at that time of the morning). The Vueling check-in counter was easy to find, straight ahead as I went through the doors
Gate 8 was a bit of a walk but with so few people it wasn’t too much of an effort (although a moving sidewalk would have been nice). The departures lounge only had a few people waiting but it filled up quickly. I was close to the front of the line so was one of the first to board. The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200, and it smelled brand new (it had that “new car smell"). The flight attendants were all very professional and nicely dressed.
The plane loaded quickly and once again I found that I had all three seats to myself. As I was sitting in an exit row, I had very comfortable leg room, so I’ll have to note that when booking future flights
When the flight arrived in Paris Orly, there was a slight delay as the airport didn’t have a “parking spot” available. The route to the baggage carousels was clearly marked and it only took a few minutes to get there. Unfortunately, there was a delay of 20 minutes or more before the first bags started to appear. Once I had my large Pack, I headed straight for the exit.
Outside in the terminal area, I quickly found the booth that sells the Paris Museum Pass, and was impressed that the girl working there could speak French, English, Spanish and Arabic (according to the tag she was wearing). She was also able to sell me a ticket for the RER and Metro (€11.30, exactly as I had noted on my Itinerary).
From there I went up an escalator to find the OrlyVal train station, which appeared to be in a flight departures area
The train was similar to Skytrain in Vancouver, travelling on the surface. Once it got up to speed, it made a loud “whirring” noise which wasn’t all that unpleasant. The trip to Antony RER station was very quick, perhaps 15 minutes or so. Once there I transferred to the RER “B” line which would be going all the way to Charles de Gaulle airport (the two airports are at opposite ends of that line).
I had to make a transfer to the RER “C” at St. Michel – Notre Dame, and that was a bit more confusing, as that line has a lot of branches and I wasn’t sure I was even boarding the right train. However, as it turned out I had managed to find the correct train, and it was only a few stops to the Invalides station. I was now in more familiar territory and it was only a few minutes to the Ecole Militaire stop, which was my destination.
When I exited Ecole Militaire, I knew exactly where I was and the walk to Rue Cler and the hotel was quick. As I walked past Café du Marche, I noticed that a jazz band was playing across the street, and they were excellent. One unusual feature was that the trumpet player was using the “business end” of a small rubber toilet plunger to cover the end of the horn to change the sound. The band must be on a low budget or just very practical.
It felt wonderful to be back on Rue Cler again, especially on a beautiful sunny day. Walking past the various businesses provided both an olfactory potpourri of scents as well as a colourful treat for the eyes. There were the odours of different foods in the restaurants, flowers, fruits, vegetables and even various Cheeses in the fromagerie (“smells like zee feet of angels”) as well as the visual aspect with colourful arrangements of the various vegetables, fruits and flowers.
When I got to the front desk at Hotel Grand Leveque, the woman at the front desk indicated that check-in wasn’t until 15:00 but I could store my luggage in their storage room. I placed my packs on the shelves, which was a bit annoying as the light in that small room was on a motion timer and kept switching off
After that I went out to do a “walkabout” and find out what’s changed in the neighborhood since my last visit. The streets are fairly busy today, with many of the fruit markets and other stores open even on a Sunday. I stopped to watch the jazz band for a few minutes and then had a look at some of the restaurant menus. The prices at Café Central seem to have increased sharply, so I doubt I’ll be dining there on this trip (ie: a Cheeseburger is priced at €18.50, which seems a bit much). The prices at Café du Marche seem more reasonable, so I decided to stop there for a Club Sandwich and coffee to pass the time.
Unfortunately, it was only about 11:25 and the kitchen wasn’t open yet so I slowly sipped two cups of coffee while I waited for opening time. It was very pleasant to linger there and just “people watch” and of course enjoy the jazz band. At one point, the female singer came into the Café on a break, and as she had to walk right past me so I asked her where she was from
After lunch I continued my walkabout and managed to locate the Laundromat I remembered without too much trouble, and it was nice to see that it was still there. I also stopped by Hotel Duquesne Eiffel to have a look and had a nice visit with the attractive young lady working at the desk. I really enjoyed my stay there on a Rick Steves tour a few years ago, and remembered that they had a good breakfast.
I continued back to Rue Cler and had a bit of a look around just to use more time, and discovered another Laundromat just around the corner from the hotel (turn left at the corner by Café Roussillon). I had used this one before, but had completely forgotten about it. The prices were cheaper than the first one I looked at, so this is the one I’ll be using and it's also much closer. The two banks are still right across from the hotel, just as I remembered.
By this time it was about 14:00 so I went back to the hotel to find out if there was any possibility of checking in a bit early
I had a rest and at about 18:30 went out to get dinner. I decided to try Café Roussillon again, as my last experience there was good from what I remembered. The food was good and the service reasonably fast, but the waiter was rather brusque and impersonal. That's often typical here, but it certainly doesn't encourage me to dine there again.
After dinner I decided to take a walk to the Eiffel Tower to watch the “human zoo” which usually takes place there in the evenings. I remembered the route quite well and found it without any trouble. There were lots of people sitting on the grass on the Champs de Mars and huge queues for the tower elevators. The west elevator was being renovated and is out of service, but the other three were busy. There were groups of three soldiers patrolling with assault rifles, and again in this case I noticed that only one had a magazine in the weapon
I noticed that some kind of huge addition is being made to the Eiffel Tower, perhaps with another level and some new features with a lot of glass. There's a lot of construction equipment on the site. After having a look around, I walked across the river to get a better view of the tower. As I got to the crosswalk, a group of black street vendors, carrying their rings of cheap tin Eiffel Tower replicas ran past me at full speed, ignoring traffic as they ran across. When I got to the far end of the Pont D'Iena bridge, they were all congregated there. Something had made them run, but I didn’t see any Police chasing them. Just before this happened, a car had gone through a nearby intersection sounding the horn in an odd sequence, so I’m wondering if that was a “signal”?
When I reached the Jardins du Trocadero and Palais de Chaillot on the opposite side, I found a couple of performances happening. One was some kind of group tango lesson, with many couples dancing. However it was overshadowed by the louder rock group on the other side of the small plaza. I got several shots of the tower (which was now bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun) from different perspectives and at one point I was approached by a group of three very attractive girls, who wanted me to take photos of them with the tower in the background
After having a brief look at the louder rock performance, I headed back across the river as it was about 21:00 by this time and my back and legs were hurting. When I approached the crosswalk on the Trocadero side of the bridge, I noticed a couple of red and orange Ferraris parked there. They can be “rented” for the princely sum of €89 for 20 minutes. With the traffic as thick as it was at the time, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a long drive.
When I got to the Tower end of the bridge, there was some kind of small fair being held there, with a small South American band playing pan flutes, amusement park rides, etc. It was about 21:45 now, and as I retraced my steps, I was astonished to see that the queues to go up the tower were still as long, or perhaps even longer than when I first arrived. Getting a reservation well in advance is definitely a good idea at this time of year!
I was surprised that not one of the cheap trinket vendors approached me and only one of the red rose vendors offered me a flower
On the way back to the hotel, I passed several Italian restaurants on Rue Grenelle and I’ll have to remember that for tomorrow.. Tomorrow will be my first full touring day.
2013 July 1 - Monday
I decided to try breakfast at the hotel today, just to see if it’s changed at all since my last visit. I was pleased to find that it was much the same "continental breakfast", with cheese, Baguettes, Croissants, Juices, Fruit Cocktail, hard boiled eggs and drip coffee (but no cold meats unfortunately).
After breakfast I got my laundry together and walked to the small Lavanderie just around the corner. The machines were easy to use and it was nice to be giving my clothes a “proper” wash again instead of just a “sink wash”
After the laundry was done, I returned to the hotel and got my gear and headed to the Louvre for a return visit. I bought a Carnet (10 tickets) at the Ecole Militaire station, which should last me for the duration of my visit to Paris. The trip on the Metro was surprisingly fast, considering I had to make changes, some of which required a bit of walking from one part of the station to another. My arrival at the Louvre was through the very posh shopping mall area, and I noted that they also have an Apple store (will visit that later).
As it was now about 12:30, it was time for lunch and there was a convenient McDonald’s nearby so I stopped there. It was a small restaurant and only had a few ordering queues, which were quite long at the time. However the Fast Order line was considerably shorter so I decided to try one of the Fast Order kiosks. It was surprisingly easy to use (credit card required), and I had a receipt with a number within a minute or so and then returned to the queue. However, I found that the Fast Order queue was now as long as the others, and as I correctly surmised there were a lot of people in that line who didn’t have a “ticket”
I then proceeded into the Louvre and found there was a short queue, even for Museum Pass holders. As I was standing in line, I noticed a family that were all wearing matching red berets. It was like the reincarnation of Clark W. Griswold in European Vacation, and I almost collapsed on the floor in a fit of hysterics. I eventually got through the checkpoint (bags were being X-Rayed which delayed those that were carrying them) and went straight to the Denon wing as I wanted to see if there was anything new there since my last visit.
I noticed numerous large red and white signs all over the place reminding visitors to be vigilant for pickpockets. The crowds were fairly thick, so I was almost positive there would be pickpockets at work. I went through the sections with statues and upstairs past the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace statue and into the Italian wing. Before long I was standing in front of La Gioconda, along with a huge mass of people. I observed for a few minutes, as I was curious to see if there was anyone that perhaps looked they weren’t a tourist (ie: a pickpocket), but the crowd seemed to be comprised of a lot of people from the orient, a few from India, a few from the middle east and others which looked like they were from my part of the world
There was a constant sea of Cameras popping up over the heads of the crowd, in order to get a clear view of the painting. I decided to try an “experiment” to see whether someone might try to “pinch” my wallet, so I dived right into the scrum. I have never been in such a tightly packed crowd of people, who were constantly changing position to try to get to the front of the line. Several times I felt the subtle touch of fingers on my backside, but couldn’t tell if this was just due to the close quarters or whether they were “probing” for a wallet. My wallet and other valuables were in other well secured locations, so I was confident I wouldn’t be victimized. Some of the smaller girls were quite proficient at knocking others out of the way to get to the front, as I got firmly pushed aside a couple of times. That only happened a couple of times, as I started to use my weight to best advantage and was able to bounce a few of them off like balls in a pinball machine.
As I got closer to the front, I noticed that a few people were taking an inordinately long time, as they had to get a separate photo of each family member in various poses in front of the painting. I found that very inconsiderate and annoying, given the time they were taking and the many people waiting behind them
I was mildly surprised that no one even tried for my wallet, but perhaps the pickpockets were celebrating Canada Day and weren’t working that day. After that somewhat “interesting” experience, I had a look at some of the Italian masters (ie: Caravaggio) as I always enjoy the detail and the way they use colour and light, and then headed for the exit. My back and legs were hurting so there’s no way I can tolerate going through another wing of the museum.
The next stop on my list is the Georges Pompidou Centre, which is a gallery featuring modern art. The building itself is a kind of “modern art” in itself, and much of the frame of the building and infrastructure (plumbing, etc.) is on the exterior
I was checked for tickets or Pass at numerous locations at the Pompidou Centre including the main entrance, as I had to produce my pass several times during the visit. I took the Escalators to the top level, but found that has a special exhibition on right now, which isn’t covered by the Pass so I headed down to the permanent exhibits.
I had a look at the various exhibits of modern art in the permanent displays. It was all interesting and some of it was quite flamboyant and spectacular, but I’m not sure I understood the meaning or the message the artist was trying to convey. Perhaps I'm more suited to technology than art concepts? By this time, my back and legs were hurting even more, and I found I needed to take more frequent rest breaks. By about 17:00 or so, I decided to head back to the hotel.
The Paris Metro app provided the directions and indicated the travel time would be 33 minutes. I actually made the trip in 23 minutes and it was such a treat to emerge from the Metro stop and see the familiar sights of the Rue Cler neighborhood, as that felt like "home"
Back at the hotel I had a short nap and the went out to get some dinner at about 18:30. Tonight I decided to try the small Italian restaurant, Il Grigio, which is just around the corner from the hotel and beside the Laundromat that I had used earlier. Prior to the main course, they provided a complimentary plate of appetizers with carrots, zucchini and olives with a balsamic vinegar glaze. The meal was excellent so this is definitely a restaurant I will return to. It’s very small with only about eight tables, but seems to be very popular.
After dinner I wandered around a bit, both to look for some photo op’s as well as wear off a bit of the dinner. There didn’t seem to be much happening so I headed back to the hotel for the night at about 21:00. Many of the shops on Rue Cler are now closed, but the restaurants are all packed.
2013 July 2 - Tuesday
I had contemplated having breakfast at one of the shops outside the hotel, but decided since I needed to get moving quickly this morning, I’d dine in the hotel again (besides they provide free coffee refills)
The trip to Invalides was fairly quick. I was chatting with two girls from Orange County who were also heading to Versailles. At Invalides it was necessary to transfer to the RER “C” which involved quite a walk through various parts of the station, including a trip on a very long “moving sidewalk”. I was confident of the route up until that point but it took me a short time to find the stairs going up to the RER platform. When we got up to the platform, a Musician confirmed that it was the correct one for the trip to Versailles (I found out later why he was being so helpful).
The RER arrived within a few minutes. The Musician and his colleague also boarded and as soon as the train pulled away from the station, they started playing. The motive for his “helpfulness” soon became apparent as after a few songs, he went through the car with his hand out (I gave him €1 as he did provide some useful information), but the music was somewhat mediocre
The train arrived at Versailles Rive Gauche in about 35 minutes and I followed the crowd out of the station, across the street and to the right, two blocks up and then to the left. As soon as I turned the corner, the Chateau became visible a short distance ahead. The walk didn’t take long but as I got closer I had a look at the huge number of large tour buses in the parking lot, and knew this was not going to be a pleasant day.
The queue for ticket and pass holders to enter the Chateau was enormous! I decided it would be better to start with the gardens and hope that the lineup for the Chateau would decrease after a few hours. I learned that my Museum Pass did not include the gardens so had to pay for a ticket (about €7.10).
Once inside I walked to the start of the gardens and looked down. They were massive and covered a huge area. There was classical music playing from hidden speakers, and it definitely added to the ambience. The first large fountain I could see was being renovated, and had construction fencing around it. I proceeded downhill towards the large lake that I could see in the distance. The “lake” was apparently a replica of the canals in Venice, and there were a number of people sailing around in rowboats
I got some photos at various parts in my walk down from the Chateau. By this time it was about 12:30 so I wanted to get some lunch. I found a small snack bar in a replica of a village on the right, which offered sandwiches and other small items. There was a family ahead of me in the lineup and they bought a large amount of food which took the woman 10-15 minutes to put the order together, which held up those waiting behind them.
After lunch I continued my tour and had a closer look at the area where the rowboats were. I was hoping to see the Petit Trianon, but couldn’t figure out where it was. The Petit Trianon was a small mansion built some distance from the main Chateau on the orders of Louis XV. It was intended to be the residence of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour but she died before it could be completed so was occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. Marie Antoinette also used it on occasion, mainly to get away from the formality of court life and take a break from her royal duties. While in the area of the small lake, I discovered another more elaborate restaurant just adjacent to the rowboat area, which would have been nice to dine at as they had both a lakeside seating area as well as an indoor area
After all the walking, I was starting to get a bit tired and my back and legs were hurting. I noticed that the Petit Train stopped there, so I decided to take that back to the Chateau. When the train arrived, there were a couple of people ahead of me that wanted to take the train to the Petit Trianon. The driver unceremoniously told them to get off the train and walk, in a rather brusque way. I told him I was going to the Chateau and he gave me the “nod” and sold me a one-way ticket for €3.70. The ride up was very rough over the cobblestones, but eventually the train reached blacktop and things smoothed out. After that it was back to the Chateau to see if the queues had lessened.
Unfortunately, the lines seemed to be at least as long as before even though it was after 14:00 when all the bus tour groups should have departed. There were at least five segments in the queue that snaked back and forth across almost the entire length of the large courtyard in front of the Chateau. I got into the queue and inched forward with everyone else. My back and legs were still bothering me, and I considered just giving up and seeing the Chateau on a future visit to Paris, but I decided to “tough it out”. While waiting I was chatting with a couple from Dubai who were ahead of me
At one point while I was waiting in the queue, I heard a loud “crash” behind me and turned to see one of the scammers who had been selling cheap trinkets and replicas of the Eiffel Tower running at full speed towards the Chateau, with several Police officers chasing him. He appeared to be an immigrant from one of the former African colonies. He had dropped his entire “stock” of merchandise, which the Police picked up (more on that later). Unfortunately the Police weren’t able to catch him, so I’m assuming he “got away” (at least for now).
It took between an hour and hour and a half to finally get in to the Chateau. There was a brief security check but when I showed the guard my Museum Pass, he just waved me through. I went across the inner courtyard and directly to the Chateau. There was a small queue at the door, but it turned out that was for people wanting to rent Audioguides, so I just breezed right past. I stopped and got my Earphones out and got my iPhone set up to listen to the Rick Steves audio tour.
Fortunately nothing has changed since the audio tour was made and the sequence of rooms was the same. I found it quite useful and interesting to have a description of the history as I proceeded from one room to another. There were crowds in each room in varying numbers, including groups with their umbrella-toting guides and “whisper headsets”. I was able to get some photos without people in them by carefully choosing the position for shooting.
I spent a couple of hours touring the various rooms and at the end I decided to stop at the small Tea Room for a coffee and refreshment before leaving for the trip back to Paris. While I was sitting there a couple about my age sat down at the same table and we started chatting. They were from Australia, and were also retired. We talked for about 20 minutes and then I headed for the station.
As I got to the entrance of the outer courtyard, I noticed a Police car with the back hatch open, and as I passed I noticed the ring of “trinkets” that had been seized from the scammer earlier. One of the Police officers was taking items off the ring and giving them to a couple of children about 10 years old. I suspect that will be method of disposing of the rest of the merchandise also, unless they end up in the garbage
It was late in the afternoon and of course there were a lot of other people heading for the station also. When I got to the station platform, I wasn’t sure which train to take as there were two of them there. I correctly chose the one on the left track and it departed within a minute at 17:25.
The cars were all extremely crowded, hot and muggy, and it was “standing room only”. I could occasionally feel a slight breeze from one of the open windows, but that didn’t occur often. The trip to Invalides took about 25 minutes and once there I made the long walk back to the Metro part of the station. The trip to Ecole Militaire only took about 5 minutes, and it was such a relief to emerge from the station next to La Terrasse restaurant.
I decided to have a look at the La Terrasse menu board, and noted that they had Salmon with Basmati Rice, which really appealed to me at the time so I sat down and ordered. The Salmon was served with a mustard sauce and it was excellent, but the Rice was somewhat “plain” and reminiscent of the cheap white rice that’s often served at Chinese food restaurants, but it was still a nice meal
Tomorrow will be my last day in Paris and the end of my trip for this year, as I’ll be heading home on Thursday.
2013 July 3 - Wednesday
It’s hard to believe this is my last day in Paris and the last day of my holiday. I confirmed my flight times for tomorrow using my Air Canada app and found that my flight from Paris to Toronto has been delayed half an hour. I wanted that information before booking a Shuttle to the airport, so I’m glad I checked.
At about 11:00 I headed out to visit the Army Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb, but stopped at the front desk to book a Shuttle first. The girl called their usual service but they were fully booked (next time I’ll be sure to book well in advance)
The walk to Invalides and the Army Museum didn’t take long. I first went to Napoleon’s Tomb which is right at the back and then outside. It’s very impressive inside with a lot of gold visible. The large sarcophagus (which looks like it’s made of polished mahogany) is right in the centre. As mentioned in the guidebook, one has to lean over the railing a bit to see it, which makes for somewhat of a “bowing” motion. That’s the way Napoleon designed it, so that people for all time would be bowing to him.
I then went downstairs for a closer look at the Tomb. In some of the small side rooms, there were statues or other things related to Napoleon’s military exploits. I forgot to look for his stuffed horse. After that I headed back to the main part of the Museum
It took me a bit of time to find the WW I and WW II exhibits, as they started upstairs and the route wasn’t well marked. Just before I entered, I stopped to talk to three young guys from the U.K. that were touring the Museum with full sized Backpacks. They had just arrived and were on their way to a Hostel. I mentioned that their packs would likely be inspected before they were allowed to enter, and that’s exactly what happened.
I wandered slowly through the WW I section, taking pictures as I went. In one area that had an interesting display of machine guns and other weapons, I had to wait for about 10 minutes to get a picture as there were a couple of children watching a video in the area that I’d be photographing. After they left, I had to wait for a bald knucklehead (who could see what I was doing) who took an inordinately long time looking over each exhibit and reading each description. I have to wonder if he did it just to annoy me. Finally I had a short window of opportunity and got my shot.
I spent longer in the WW II area, as that was of more interest to me. They had lots of interesting displays of weapons, uniforms and something that has fascinated me for years, an Enigma Code Machine
It was after 14:00 by this time and I was getting a bit hungry, but I was resolved to finish my touring first. I next went to the De Gaulle Historial, which was in another wing of the Museum (and then downstairs). It was nicely arranged in a circular fashion and chronologically, with small rooms branching off to the sides with more detailed descriptions of various time periods. There was also a round theatre in the centre, which was playing a movie of de Gaulle’s life and career. There were about six separate screens arranged in a semi-circle, and each of these had a different video so it was necessary to be constantly scanning across all of them to see the show. It appeared that the historical information was arranged to give the impression that de Gaulle was in charge of many major events during the war, which in fact wasn't the case.
When I arrived at the Cafeteria, I found a huge queue which was considerably longer than when I was there earlier using the washroom
I walked back to Rue Cler and stopped at Le Petit Cler for lunch, which is right beside the hotel. I had been planning to have lunch there at least once this trip, as I wanted to try it. I ordered the chicken salad with blue cheese dressing. It was of course served with bread and was quite good (although the blue cheese dressing tasted a bit different than I’m used to).
After lunch I had a brief look at the wine store on the other side of the hotel, and of course all they had were French wines from various regions (in fairness though, it’s not a big store so they wouldn’t have room to display wines from elsewhere). I then went to the small grocery store beside Le Petit Cler (I keep finding grocery stores in obscure locations) to buy some Mints for my trip tomorrow. After that it was back to the hotel where I paid my bill for the breakfasts.
I had a short nap, which I really seemed to need as I had a very restful sleep and woke up feeling much refreshed. Soon I’ll have to think about dinner.
I decided to have dinner at La Terrasse again tonight, as I wanted to try the Chicken Brioche and I was also craving the sautéed vegetables, despite the princely sum they were charging for them. I sat in about the same place as last night, although tonight the windows were closed so I didn’t have to worry about cigar smoke drifting in from outside. The meal was great and I enjoyed it as much as the one I had the previous night.
After dinner I walked back to Rue Cler and looked for opportunities for night photos. It had been raining lightly so the streets glistened which provided some interesting scenes. The Cafes were all packed and the noise of the music and conversations reverberated along the street. I also stopped by Hotel du Cadran to have a quick look (I also did that with Hotel du Champs de Mars on a previous visit to Paris). Cadran looks like a very nice hotel and somewhat on the “high end” of the price scale. They had an unusual feature in the lobby, a small and decadent store of chocolates (I’ve never seen that in a hotel before). Unfortunately, the young guy working the evening shift couldn’t speak much English, so the conversation was somewhat limited.
After that it was back to the hotel, ending my last night in Paris and my grand European adventure for this year.