Monday, May 18, 2015

We LOVE Paris Anytime of the Year!


Just got back from our 9 day Paris vacation and it was everything we wanted it to be and more!  What a beautiful city and the people were lovely.
  Just remember to say "Bonjour" when you meet a Parisian and a big smile will light up their face.  We did not meet a "snobbish Frenchman" and each of us took care not to be an "ugly American".....hopefully, someday these terms will go down the drain!

We'll attempt to put together a journal of this amazing trip with as many tips as we can give you and a description of some of our neat purchases for family and friends.  Keep up with our blog over the next few days-- we'll be adding more details and photos.

A couple of TIPS before leaving....Try to pack as many "disposable" clothes as possible...items of clothing that you've had around awhile, serve their purpose and you can do without at the end of your trip.  We've done this on our last few trips and it works great!  Gives you lots of suitcase room for those souvenirs and gifts!  And, in our case, visiting Paris, we brought back French perfumes, jams, honey, mustards, speculoos, cookies, chocolate, cheese (for ourselves and for gifts), as well as souvenirs and gift items.  All that extra suitcase room is more than welcome! 

Another TIP ... Bring bubble wrap, tape and small scissors for packing breakable foods, bottles and souvenirs.  TIP ... You'll be glad you also packed a small insulated tote to bring back perishables, such as the delicious French cheeses. 

One more TIP....invest a few dollars in a small luggage scale and carry it with you for the return trip.  You'll avoid worrying about a $200.00 suitcase overweight charge surprise at the airport. 
Also, be sure to get your euros at your bank before leaving.  We saw long lines at the Paris airport and currency exchanges and were grateful we had already secured our euros.  Your bank will charge a fee, but not as hefty as you'll pay in Europe.   Best to get small bills....5, 10 and it's difficult to break larger bills at most establishments.  

Ready?  Here we go......

Day 1 - Tuesday - After an overnight flight on American Airlines, we arrived at Charles DeGaulle Airport at 7:35AM.  We had pre-ordered a shuttle pick-up to our hotel through Viator (price:  $20.72 each).  Cabs are around 50 to 60 euros.  It would have been less expensive to take the train into Paris but it meant towing our luggage up stairs to street level and a 4 block walk to our hotel.  As first-time travelers to Paris, the shuttle proved to be a good way for us.  We found a phone at the airport as instructed, called the toll-free number and the shuttle arrived at a designated point less than 20 minutes later.

Five other people were waiting at the same spot and shared the van with us.  Not much to see going into Paris and traffic was very heavy.  These shuttle drivers are amazing!

We were the first passengers to be dropped off....our hotel was the Pullman Eiffel Tower and it's in a wonderful location -- 2 blocks from the Eiffel Tower.  It was recently renovated and had a very modern "feel" to it.  The first thing we noticed, of course, was the close,, close Eiffel Tower.  Perfect!

View from
the entrance of our hotel!

The lobby of our hotel was large but confusing.  There is no actual check-in counter but one large table with a sign for Accor Hotel's Honors Club.  This, in fact, was the table for check-in.

We were swiftly checked in by Jevon, who was pleasant and helpful, spoke great English and found us a room with a balcony and the room was even ready so early in the morning!  Thank you, Jevon!  Our room was on the 8th floor overlooking the garden and it was a lovely view..

A hotel plus is the 9th floor gym.  We walked off the marvelous French foods...but loved the gym view!

If we wanted to upgrade for quite a bit more money, we could have had a view of the Eiffel Tower but you'd have to look to the right from almost every room to see the Tower.  We could go up to the 9th floor, walk into the free gym, look to the right, view the Tower and that's what we opted to do, grabbing a free bottle of water on our way out.  There's also an ice machine on the 3rd floor and the  9th's hard to find ice in Paris!

Our room was very modern and the beds and pillows were comfortable.  We appreciated the flat screen with many free movies in English, the coffee machine set-up, the English plug-in sockets and the very modern bathroom with good shower.  We felt the bedroom and bathroom were quite large by European standards but there was no drawer space in either room.  Looks like the architect opted for clean lines and didn't  feel storage space was a necessity.  However, the location of the hotel and the safety and beauty of the neighborhood were well worth the lack of storage.

Overall the employees in the hotel were very friendly and welcoming especially Jevon,  Carolina, Helena and Stephanie, who are treasures for this hotel.  Hugs for Carolina when we left.

We slept very little on the plane so our plan was to get some sleep as soon as we arrived in the morning.  But we were anxious to check out the neighborhood and set out right away.  We, of course, headed for the Eiffel Tower, a quick and easy 2 blocks from the hotel.

Within steps of our hotel, we discovered everything we'd need!  Grocer markets, cheese shop, bakeries, cafes and more!
Corner of Suffren ... to Champs de Mars
  This is the view on our way to the Tower....about a block from our hotel. 

Standing under the Eiffel Tower is an awesome experience!
Paris has many beautiful carousels!  This one is across from the Eiffel Tower at the River Seine port.      
The expansive Champs de Mars Park, between the Eiffel Tower and Champs de Mars is a Paris perfect spot for a wine, cheese, bread and fruit picnic!  

The Tower had long lines so we decided to take lots of pictures from all angles (Hope we don't bore you!) but it's a marvel.  When the sun goes down, the Eiffel Tower lights up and twinkles on the hour.  Gorgeous.

The Seine River is directly across the street from the Tower and this is the spot where the dining boats are located which we had pre-booked.  A Batobus stop is also at this location -- it's a hop-in, hop-off boat that stops at several places along the River.  However, there are lots of stairs which need to be navigated to get down to the river and no escalator or elevator for handicapped. TIP  There's a narrow road for cars and buses, so plan to take a cab if your wheel-chair bound or don't want to deal with the stairs.

We walked back to our hotel through the long, long park across from the Tower and lots of people were taking advantage of the beautiful weather, having their glass of wine (and, yes, there were guys selling bottles of wine and champagne in the park) and enjoying the view.

One view from our room

Day 2 - Wednesday - After a comfortable night at the hotel, we got up early the next morning to walk down to the Seine River.  We had pre-booked through Viator 2 days of the Batobus cruise down the Seine but the water level was too high and the boats couldn't clear some of the bridges.  TIP - Do NOT pre-book the Batobus....make sure it's operating first.  We immediately emailed Viator and asked for a credit toward another tour or a refund but they needed "time to investigate" --We're still waiting for a response from Viator.

We checked out the hop-on/hop-off buses around the Tower and determined the best value was Foxity....much less expensive than the others (20E for a one day pass)  There are 8 stops and headphones in 9 languages describing the sites.  We hopped on and went the full route and got off at the Opera House on the next swing around. 

Ride on top for the best view!

It's awesome to  be this close to the Arc de Triomphe!

Famous Maxim's

Paris Opera 

This is a wonderful neighborhood for upscale shopping.  Lafayette Dept. Store (or should I say "stores"....there are several buildings) is here with it's beautiful dome and balconies.  Prices were beyond our budget (although if you find something you can't resist..Lafayette will give you a 10% discount card if you show your passport)...we were just gawkers but polite gawking we did!  After visiting Galeries Lafayette...visit it's neighbor, Printemps! It's worth the memorable experience of these marvelous galeries of shopping.  Printemps is a lovely example of Art Nouveau architecture.  Stroll under it's glass cupola (which had roses dangling during our visit) and feel the French beauty.              Lafayette (Chaussee d'.Antin) is the metro stop for this area.  However, we suggest  the Palais Garnier - Paris Opera House stop  (just about 2 blocks away). The Paris Opera House is marvelous!  We saw it during the day and the evening....It's an extraordinary presence!  

Awe-inspiring Louvre
Paris Opera

 Galeries Lafayette 

A very popular Lafayette department...Chanel!

Magnificent store!  Worth a stop and see!
Super candy department
Scrumptious bakery 
Of course, macarons 
Cool sculpture made from plastic spoons (Are you paying attention, Tom)

Galeries Lafayette is comprised of the main store with specialized stores adjacent.  

Printemps Galeries

Day 3 - Thursday - The Batobus was still not operating due to high water level (and of course we still had received no response from Viator regarding credit or refund).  We decided this would be a good day to check out our hotel neighborhood which was quite beautiful.  We also wanted to find a "Monoprix" which is a store like Target (many departments...including a large and amazing grocery department) and there are several in Paris.  Checking the internet, we found a Monoprix on Grenelle so we set out to find it. 

We turned the corner from our hotel onto Suffren and discovered a good bistro, several markets, a wonderful bakery and lots of other small shops and nice shopkeepers.

The neighborhood pharmacies are  really interesting....more of a store with clerks who can answer questions about cosmetics, perfumes, etc. rather than filling prescriptions.  TIP:  We found a small booklet of tissue papers that, when lit and burned, freshens the air in an entire room.  We had to ask and the clerk found them near the cash register.

While we were still on Suffren. we came across a very large building called Swiss Village -- apartments on several higher floors and shops on the street floor.  The shops consisted of art galleries and antique shops which were fun to browse.  Mary K always has an eye out for unusual antiques...especially paperweights and perfume bottles.  

                                               Mary K is looking at the antiques and......

                                 Peggy is doing her favorite thing -- resting!

We were pooped by the time we found the Monoprix (many locations in Paris...look for Monoprix!  Monop is only a small grocer)  on Grenelle so we stopped at a corner bistro for a coke.  We found an outside table and got our first shock in Paris.....a coke with one ice cube is 5E ($5.70 in U.S. dollars)

This was actually the norm in most of the places we stopped in Paris.  TIP:  If you want to stop and rest at an outdoor table (which we often wanted to do), we learned that we needed to find a table without a tablecloth or placemats which indicates the person wants a full meal.  As soon as you sit down, a waiter will appear with a menu and 4.5 or 5E is usually the price of coffee or a coke.  Wine is about the same....sometimes a little less expensive.  Once you place your order, you can ask the waiter for water which, by French law, must be served free upon request.  The tip is always included in the check but we had some very nice, helpful and funny waiters and left an additional small tip and they were very appreciative.   We always had to signal the waiter for a check...the French believe in leisure time when eating or drinking, quite unlike the U.S. where you sometimes feel you're being pushed out the door to make way for the next customer.  We were never rushed from the table and ended up feeling the 5E was well worth the relaxation...especially when our legs and backs were aching.

Monoprix is just beyond the train tracks.  

Some of our favorite purchases at Monoprix!  
The honey fruite is delicate and delightful.  Speculoos is a favorite in cream or crumbles.  Mustards and jams are amazing!  Lots of cookies....all delicious! 

French children's fountain pen.

Lots of French perfums and colognes at good prices and beautiful scents.

Monoprix ...(Our favorite go-to store) .
Marvelous bakery at Monoprix with very reasonable prices throughout the store.  
One of my personal favorites.....large meringue ....only 1 euro!!

Our favorite rest stop on Suffren....near Champ de Mars and a few blocks to our hotel!
Day 4 - Friday  - We decided to take a city bus #62, thinking it would take us to Notre Dame, but it took us north to the American Hospital.  Nice ride but we didn't see Notre Dame.  We found ourselves at the end of the line so we hopped back on the bus to ride it back to our starting point.   A very nice fellow passenger told us we had ridden past a small church also called Notre Dame (common church name in France) and suggested we take the Metro back to Paris for a quicker ride.  He was kind enough to direct us to the next Metro station. 
As it turned out, it can be a beautiful thing....getting lost in Paris!  After our ride through Paris suburbia........
American Hospital

We got off the bus in a lovely neighborhood....Avenue du Roule.

Once we got to the Metro (steep stairs and lots of them) we decided the Louvre was the easiest place to go from that location.  TIP:  We bought a "carnet" of 10 separate transportation tickets which could be used on buses, trains and metros in the Paris area....a little less than the 2E price per ticket and very convenient.

                                                 10 individual tickets make up a carnet

We quickly arrived at the Louvre station (more stairs) and were astounded with the size of the Louvre....blocks long and of course the pyramid in the center.

There are so many different wings in the Louvre with different exhibits throughout, but you again have to wait in very long lines.

Across from the Louvre are some neat souvenir shops with some of the best things we purchased in Paris.

TIP:  This is where I finally found those Metro t-shirts I was looking for!
A quick lunch ... Next stop - Louvre Carrousel

On our way to the Carrousel, we stopped at the courtyard nearby....

We're here.... Louvre Carrousel -- this had been an indoor underground arena but has been turned into a shopping mall.  Whoopee!  We found a Fragonard Perfume Shop with helpful clerks and we got out our euros.  TIP:  We
found a sampler set of 5 luscious perfumes for only 12E.  Also found a beautiful Laduree Macaroon Shop here...euros again...but we purchased some very unusual key chains for the gals in our families.

We couldn't resist this set...unusual and beautiful scents!  

We then walked down Rue de Rivoli and almost the full length of the Tullerie Gardens -- a public garden between the Louvre and Place de la Concordia.  This park was created by Catherine de Medicis as the gardens of the Tulleries Palace and she modeled it after the gardens of her native Florence.

We made our way back to our hotel for a quick nap and shower before our pre-arranged dinner cruise on the Seine.  TIP:  We would definitely take this cruise again but we wouldn't prearrange through Viator.  The price when we arrived was less expensive than pre-arranging.                                A short walk to the Eiffel Tower port (most lunch/dinner cruises originate at this port) and we're ready for our Bateaux Parisiens dinner and live music cruise!
The River Seine was still high in places so, we could not "night lights" view most of our "wish list" of landmarks.  (Since the point of our dinner cruise was to see the city of lights at night, we'll arrange a night bus tour, as you'll see later in our trip). 

Dinner and lunch River Seine cruise route

Dinner consisted of a wonderful 3 course meal with a bottle of wine for each course split between the two of us.  Wahoo!  We were given menus in English and had a choice of appetizer, entrée and dessert -- all delicious.

The dinner cruise started at 9:30 PM; however, it

doesn't get completely dark until around 10:00 PM

The boat leisurely cruised up and down the Seine with live music in the background.  At one point during the cruise, the boat passed near a small scale Statue of Liberty in the River and the singer sang Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" brought tears to our eyes.  There's no place like the USA!  It was a lovely evening.

When we arrived at the dock near the Eiffel Tower, it was dark and the tower was lit up and twinkling....a beautiful sight.  There were swarthy-looking guys up and down the street selling miniature Eiffel Towers and keychains...we laughed and said, "Who would buy anything from these guys?"  And then we saw them.....small Eiffel Towers that BLINKED with lights!  Yes indeed, folks, we were sucked in.  We dug our our euros and, after much haggling, we each bought a tower from these guys and the price was much better than any others we'd seen in Paris.  This small tower now holds a special place in my dining room cabinet right next to the Paris can can girl.

Day 5 - Saturday - We had planned to go to the Puces Marche (Flea Market)- St. Quen/Port Clingancourt  (this is the name of the Metro stop...line 4) with over 2000 shops and booths and it was only open on week-ends so we took the metro and a train early in the morning.  

TIP:  When you get off the train, you have to walk through an abundance of stalls and tents and go under the overpass to get into the actual market.  You'll see lots and lots and lots of booths of athletic shoes and clothes that are at the front of the market...but keep going and you'll find a wonderful (and huge) market of dozens of shops and stalls filled with fun and kitschy wares; eccentric and antique items, vintage jewelry, charming knicknacks and LOTS more!

Be prepared....We expected Les Puces Market to be huge....however, it  is MUCH larger than we expected! .... but it's fun, interesting and well worth the ride!

One of my favorite finds...This lovely vintage glass flower brooch in French flag colors.

Mary K found a beautiful vintage tray and bought it from a true Frenchman!  The French accent came flowing from his mouth and she was a "goner"...he made the sale.  But at a good price....after all, his buyer was Mary K and she's the best one to get a bargain!  It's an art-form and I'm envious!

I was so happy to find this old, lovely tray with a painting of Chateau de Chantilly under glass! 

We discovered a wonderful little restaurant called La Marguerite and Mary K ordered a couscous chicken dinner.  That dinner would have easily fed a family of four and it was delicious!

                   I had coffee for a quick spurt of energy and shared Mary K's HUGE dinner!
 A FULL day of gawking/shopping, a jolt or two of marvelous cafe crema (and only 1 euro!) at a small cafe on the outer edge of the market...and back to our hotel.

When we see the Eiffel Tower, we know we're almost "home"!
Day 6 - Sunday - Hopped on the Foxity bus again

and got off at Notre Dame Cathedral...seemed like a fitting thing to do on Sunday!  Notre Dame is a beautiful site...we were looking for spires but it's towards the back of the church.

Notre Dame

On the day we visited Notre Dame, there was a huge tent erected in front of the cathedral with signs indicating a bread festival.  We went inside and the French did it right!  Huge ovens and mixers....they were actually making fresh bread on-site.  And also for sale were beautiful -- no other name for it -- beautiful apple tarts, pizza, filled croissants..  We bought ourselves a treat and sat on the wall in front of Notre Dame eating our goodies!  What a way to spend a Sunday!

We then walked behind Notre Dame and enjoyed a lovely, serene park with benches and flowering bushes and trees.  What a wonderful place to relax and reflect on how very blessed we are.  There was definitely something spiritual about this place.

Adding to the beauty and serenity, a folk singer sang tunes of happiness and love. 

We walked over the Seine on Pont de l'Archeveche bridge with padlocks lining every inch.  Called The Lover's Bridge, I like to think the locks represent lovers who will meet at the bridge, each with their own key, on their next trip to Paris. However, many view this travelers' ritual as a sign of everlasting love...after securing their padlock, they throw their keys in the river.   Some of the locks are ornately engraved....all tell the sweetness and power of love.  

We leisurely strolled the Seine (what a beautiful way to spend a Sunday!) and discovered artists, paintings and posters with the most magnificent backdrop!

 Coffee time again on the other side of the Seine
and we noticed a cute shop down the street with beautiful handmade jewelry and crafts. 

I found a gorgeous necklace and earrings of hammered aluminum made by a Parisian and decided to buy myself a Mother's Day gift.  It's a wonderful remembrance of Paris and this quaint little shop.  Most shops are closed on Sunday, so this was a particularly nice find!

We jumped back on the Foxity bus.

The beauty of the hop-on hop-off bus is that you see all of the awesome sights of Paris as often as you'd like.  And, you will never tire of the magnificence!  What a ride!!

We got off at the Champs de Mars (the park of the Eiffel Tower)

and walked back to our hotel, deciding to stop at a lovely neighborhood bistro, Le Beaujolais, for dinner.

Both of our dinners consisted of 2 courses for about 15E.  I had salmon with a crème brulee for dessert, and Mary K had a steak with a gorgonzola/tomato appetizer.  Both meals were delicious and inexpensive according to the Paris norm.

When we arrived back at our hotel, we needed to quickly get ready for a night-time illuminations tour -- after all, Paris is called the City of Lights.  We grabbed a cab to the Louvre (10E) and were just in time for the bus tour. 
However, we found some photo opportunities in the bus tour office......

We tried our best to take pictures in the dark and were overwhelmed by this beautiful City of Lights!

Known as the world's most famous boulevard...Champs Elysees begins at the Arc de Triomphe

Check out that looong line!

Famed  palatial Hotel Paris Ritz, overlooking Place Vendome.  Owned by the Al-Fayed family.  Listed by the French goveernment as a national monument. 

Day 7 - Monday - Walked down to the Seine again for lunch on a  riverboat. TIP: Again, don't pre-book with Viator.....less expensive if you book when you arrive. This was a beautiful cruise up and down the River with a lovely young lady singing throughout the cruise.  3 courses again with wine, of course.

Two bottle (oops...glasses) of wine and.....

a short nap on the deck!  Which, by the way, is a great spot for picture taking!

Again, we heard Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" from our lovely and very talented cruise singer, Climentine Ameido.    Again, our heart's soared with pride for the U.S.A. and for Paris' tribute to America!

When we arrived back at the dock, we decided to walk off our lunch and wine and go down Rue de Grenelle from a different direction and check out the neighborhood. 

We spotted the Monoprix again and picked up a few more items we wanted.  had another 5E coke at the outside bistro across the street and then the long walk back to the hotel.

When we were walking down Suffren back to our hotel,  it's the first time we noticed plug-ins for electric cars.  You just slide your credit card and hook up a cable to your car.

Day 8 - Tuesday - We'd read on the internet about the city buses #42 and #69.  These are buses ridden by locals most of the time but they travel through interesting neighborhoods and important places in Paris.  TIP:  These are little-known city buses that are great for sight-seeing and only 2E per ride!  We found the 69 bus just a few blocks away at Champs de Mars (the park near the Eiffel Tower). 

We had a lovely ride and decided to get off at the Hotel DeVille ...absolutely beautiful with its square next door.  Hotel DeVille now houses Paris' local city administration.

Across the street was the gigantic BHV Department Store which we didn't want to miss.  (i.e., Bazaar de l'hotel deVille)  This is a beautiful old building but very modern inside with prices comparable to Nordstrom's....not outrageously high.

We bought Waterman pens - Made in Paris -for our boys

We had lunch on the 5th floor...Mary K had chicken and I loved the salmon...our lunches were around 10E.  The view from the restaurant was marvelous.

Of course, nature called while we were at BHV.  Check out the sign on the wall in the ladies' "toilette"..........

We walked a little further down the street and bought the cheese we wanted to take home along with some delicious French butter (the kind in the blue & white package!).  TIP:  Bring an insulated bag for these items so that you can ice them down the night before you board your plane.  We also brought zipper plastic quart-size bags so we could put each piece of cheese and butter in its own bag.  Perfect condition when we arrived home.  ANOTHER TIP:  Look for the Brie...less than 2E and the best we've ever tasted. 

Day 9 - Wednesday - Headed for home.  Note the "disposable" pile of clothes and even shoes we left behind.  This is another can make room in your luggage if you leave clothes you won't be wearing again behind.

The shuttle service picked us up and delivered us to Charles DeGaulle.  The driver, Bilel Chraka,  was extremely nice and informative.

Happy we arrived early at the airport -- fabulous shops and we took advantage of the duty free by buying this cute candy bottles.

Lots more shops.......

After going through a few shops, we realized we had to go outside from one terminal to the other.

All in all, this is the best way to described our adventures in Paris.......