Day 1 Sunday August 23- LAX to CDG:
Flew non-stop via Air Tahiti Nui from LAX Saturday August 22 at 1:00 pm and landed Sunday Aug 23 at 10:00 am at Paris CDG terminal 2A. This is the way to fly. No rushing to make the connection. No worries about losing your luggage. It’s not cheap but not much more expensive neither. It’s our first time flying Air Tahiti Nui. During the excitement, we didn’t realize that they gave us some other people’s tickets for boarding! TSA agent sent us back to the counter to get corrected. Must remember: trust but verify ! The flight was smooth, and we were fed so often, it was kind of ridiculous. Vegetarian meals chosen beforehand mitigated the overeating effects.
Arrival was timely. CDG airport is vintage and small. It definitely deserves more space to accommodate the hoard of travelers. Compared to the brand new LAX’s Tom Bradley International Airport, CDG international section is dated, has low ceiling and 1970s rainbow colored chairs. We followed the crowd and tried to look for sign for terminal 2F to catch our EasyBus into Paris. EasyBus offered a special 2 Euro on-line-booking-only shuttle from CDG terminal 2F to area of Palais Royal-Museum du Louvre. The price is unbeatable– the next cheapest option is 10 Euro via RER B train. As we looked for signs for the exit, we saw the tourism office and bought our 4-day Museum Pass for 46 Euro each. We got from terminal 2A to 2F using the N1 bus (or perhaps N2) that connects the terminals. We found EasyBus off Sortie #5 of terminal 2F. Hopped on the bus, activated Le French Mobile SIM card on cell phone and made the first phone call to our rental manager. During planning, we know that we need Data plan for Google on our unlocked phone and after much deliberation, we opted for Le French Mobile. Most TA adviser mentioned Orange boutiques in Paris. But we don’t want to waste time finding and waiting for help from Orange employees who may or not be keen to help us tired fussy unintelligible tourists. Thus, we bought ahead our SIM card via LFM English website . It came with succinct written instructions and follow-up email gave password to unlock our SIM once we’re in Paris. The first phone call in France was all it takes to trigger text and call plan. We were issued a European phone number which remains valid if we maintain a small balance AND send back, within 15 days, a completed form via email or on line, including copy of valid passport. Setting up Data plan was trickier. More about it soon.
After about 1 hour on the Easybus, as the shuttle navigated the streets , famous landmarks appeared. We are finally here! The beauty of Paris hit us hard upon eyeing Opera Garnier as the bus rounded the corner. Street view images of Paris from Google Maps materialized. Opera, Printemp, Palais Royal…Wow! Like Dorothy landing in Oz, our heads turned every which way with gleeful anticipation. It was a gray and drizzly Sunday in Paris and a welcoming atmosphere for us “vampires” from sunny SoCal. Parisian architecture set the scene and let us know we had arrived at a place unlike any other.
The EasyBus driver helped point us to the nearest metro. We had just carry-ons so planned to use metro to our lodging. There is a taxi rank right across from EasyBus’ drop off point for those inclined. From previous trip to Paris and from website “Paris by train “, we learned about the weekly transport pass (Navigo decouverte) and how to buy ticket and use Paris transport system. We had our miniature pictures ready. But the lady behind the service window at the metro couldn’t help, our first and only encounter of the French Resistance, told us to go to the next Metro stop–Museum du Louvre. Tired from the long flight and because it was drizzling, we decided to just wait until Monday and went straight on Line 1 to Saint Paul to our rental studio in Le Marais. After a 10 minute walk from the metro, up the crooked, sloping narrow stairs, struggling to open the door with the strange key, we were finally settled in our studio on Rue de Turenne. It’s a small but cozy apartment and luckily has a portable AC unit. We picked Paris Best Lodge based on TA. Our first time with them, bit unsure about the handling of the transaction but decided to trust humanity and it worked this time happily. Thierry the handler did what he promised. What’s more can you ask of a person. After a quick break, we went exploring. Le Marais was busy on Sunday, as elsewhere everything was shut down, streets were packed with strollers. Parisians looked and dressed confidently. One man weared his pink pants and lavender shirt so well, we had to photograph him. The modern look of people juxtaposed against old medieval architecture was fantastic. It was hard to focus as there were so many things vying for our attention. Beauty everywhere, plus we have to navigate! We slowly made our way to Pierre Herme then to L’As du Fallafel and devoured our first memorable Parisian meal at nearby Square George Cain. The shawarma sandwiches doused in garlicky creamy sauce satisfied our hunger. And biting into our first Pierre Hermes macaron–passion fruit!–made us giddy. Wow, we are in Paris !
We then went back to the studio to meet Monsieur Manager. He showed us how to use the dishwasher and washer/dryer and went over the logistics. Then off we walked to our first Parisian engagement– 7pm Classical Concert at La Saint Chapelle–booked via Classictic.com. Tall beautiful stained glass windows filtered the evening sun, bathing the concert group in a soft glow. Ethereal ! The 1-hr long opera was lovely but we fought hard to stay awake. Luckily, our next escape was due nearby. River Seine cruise via Vedettes du Pont Neuf–booked online to get better priced tickets…10 versus 14 Euro. It was a nice romantic introduction to Paris, English commentary was provided, the weather was clear, and all the monuments were lit as we passed under the bridges. We are unable to do justice in describing the beauty surrounding us. Just relishing the moment, and soaking it all in. Exhale! What a nice end to our first day.
Day 2 Monday August 24 -Notre Dame to Latin Quartier to Saint Germain:
Unable to get the phone mobile data to work, we relied on Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement, showing detailed map of each district in Paris, for our outing today. It’s sold at Paris’ newsstands but we bought the booklet from Amazon, it’s 2009 edition but figured Paris would be same now as then.
First off, to Saint Paul metro to get our Navigo Decouverte. With halting French and notes printed from the website and our 2×2 cm pictures, we managed to buy our passes from the service window. Exiting Cite metro for Notre Dame at 9am. It started to drizzle. In fact, the forecast for the whole week was intermitten rain. We forsake the line to go up the tower, took our picture at Point Zero so we would be granted a return to Paris, then queued up to go inside Notre Dame. It was dark and solemn inside, the rose window was pretty, was meditative to sit and look at the ceiling. Outside, we marveled at the architecture. How did people build this without modern machinery! We walked around the pretty garden outside Notre Dame, passing all the love locks, and made our way across Pont L’Archeveche to Latin Quarter. Craning for a look back at Notre Dame in view of the Seine, we uttered wow. Just gorgeous. Others had noted to visit pretty Rue Chanoinesse near Notre Dame but with the wind and rain started to gather momentum, we just plain forgotten and hurried on. Down Rue Bernardins and cross Rue Monge, we found our first Eric Kayser boulangerie location. Tasted our first croissant amand, and went back to get another …then 2 more for tomorrow’s breakfast. Delicious! Fortified, we searched for Institut du Monde Arabe but winded up at the Faculte de Sciences nearby, whose guard asked “Quoi?” then directed us around the corner. Tourists! Should have checked the website. It was closed monday ! We moved over to Jardin de Plantes and checked out the Museum National D’ Histoire Naturelle . Rat, also closed ! At least Le Jardin was nice. Rows of sunflowers swaying in the wind, Esplanade of trees standing in attention as couples strolled by. Classic Paris. Hopped on the bus, we made our way to Cluny Museum in search of Lady and the Unicorn. Must be jet-lagged, couldn’t locate it, but found the impressive old Roman bath in Frigidarium. Too embarrassed to ask for help, we left for the Sorbonne, got to see only the outside, then the Pantheon. Was tempted to lie on the bench to admire the ceiling of the Pantheon…instead we preserved our decorum and just craned our necks. Completely forgotten to see if we could get to the rooftop! It really rained hard as we made our way to Jardin du Luxembourg; then as we approached the fountain, the weather cleared and we managed to snap some pictures of the garden and the palace. Outside cars whizzing by and city life bustling about, but as we enters Luxembourg, our steps slowed as if on high heels. We sat a short while thinking we could stay the whole day here, but up we must for the city awaits. Famished, we hopped on the bus in search for L’Avant Comptoir on Rue Carrefour del’ Odeon. At 2pm the place was empty except for another couple. We ordered wine, small plates of macaron of blood sausage, carpacchio, ham croquettes, from the menu placards hanging from the ceiling, ate standing up and had one of the best meals in Paris. We liked it so much that we returned later in the week. Outside we hopped on the bus and searched for Le Grand Epicerie. WOW, it put the SUPER in market ! Wish we could spend more time there. Grabbed the wine, cheeses, baguette, chocolate. Dinner at home. Score! Evening rain halted our evening outings so sleep came early.
We visited a few chocolate shops and noted to return for souvenirs but could not –due to time constraints. Wished we’d bought and carry them along.
Paris’ green space is truly stupendous. It was where we took refuge from the maddening crowd. The boulevards lined with massive trees and billowing treetops were where our eyes traveled to again and again. The chartreuse green were pep pills for the nerves. We so enjoyed the tranquility of city parks as we rested during our walks.
Day 3 Tuesday August 25–Monmartre to Opera:
Mobile data from Le French Mobile was working finally! We have an old LG that needed to be configured to accommodate LFM. We googled, using the studio’s WiFi, as to how to “add APN ” to our LG. Parameters were sent by LFM to be added but each phone’s set up is different (newer IPhones automatically–supposedly.) We managed to add LFM successfully. Restarted the phone. Texted a code to LFM to activate the data plan. Did a happy dance when Google loaded. Hallelujah!
Access to RATP on line allowed us to use Paris bus, metro, tram to get around quickly using our weekly Navigo Pass. Everyone said to walk walk walk to soak in the sights, but you know, walking takes time and blistering tired feet ruined moods quickly. So, wheels for us, first stop today at 8:00 am, Monmartre! Our favorite haunt in Paris. Seeing us perusing the map, a nice Parisian gentleman, without prompting, pointed us toward Place Dalida from Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro stop to start our Monmartre walk. We winded up picturesque Rue L’Abreuvoir to La Maison Rose, gazed up Au Lapin Agile, crossed Monmartre vineyard, viewed Sacre Coeur from its best vantage point Parc de la Turlure–with just one other soul around, the park’s gardener. The neighborhood hadn’t quite wake yet. Guessed Parisians start their day late. It was lovely to wander under the cool morning air. We visited Le Consulat, made famous by artist Maurice Utrillo and checked out Place du Tertre, now occupied by outdoor cafe stands instead of artists’ stands bidding to do tourists’ portraits. We declined one gentleman’s offer for portrait. We have no need to have portrait taken for posterity. With recent terrorist attempt on the train, there was military presence around Monmartre which helped cut down disturbance from scam artists. It helped to come early before rush hour. We practically have the whole area to ourselves. We quietly meandered on the streets as pigeons darted between rooftops above us. After visiting Place Abbesses’ Le Mur des Je T’Aime, we hopped on the bus toward Arc De Triomphe.
We had some trouble getting to the Arc. Ha, we did not try to cross traffic ! The crowd blocked the view to the underground stairs to reach the Arc and we kept having to back track several times before finding it. When we finally made it over, we saw a long long line, luckily the Museum Pass sped us ahead and after an cardiac-inducing climb of stairs, we arrived at the magnificent top floor with superb 360 degree view of Paris. Wide leafy boulevards, with miniature ant-like cars, radiate below us. Rooftops, famous landmarks, and humanity all vying for Paris’ precious grounds, this is metropolis! We vowed to come back during evening time so we could make comparison. Didn’t make it. We spent 30 minutes at the Arc then made our way by bus to Tuilleries garden and Place de la Concorde. What traffic! There’s no way we can drive or ride bike here. Our Velib subscriptions went unused. L’Orangerie closed on Tuesday so off we went to Opera Garnier. We gladly paid 11E to gaze at the opulent staircases and glimmering chandeliers lining the gallery. August is vacation time for Paris so no Opera show on schedule. Too bad, it would have been lovely to see. Afterwards we dashed to Printemps, looked for the escalator to Deli-ceux cafe on the 6th floor and enjoyed another great view of Paris. The Opera area was heavily congested, especially at lunch time. So many shops and attractions, the crowd was overwhelming so it was delightful to escape to the roof top of Printemps. Raindrops and wind cut short our rooftop reverie. Eric Kayser has a closeby location on Rue D. Casanova, so of course we stopped by for sandwiches and his famous almond croissant. Then shopping for souvenirs at City Pharma. Paris’ beauty buys are well known so the pharmacy was packed shoulder to shoulder. We lugged our heavy purchase out the door after 1 hour. The rain picked up force so we abandoned plans of visiting nearby chocolatier and patisserie. It faded to drizzle as we returned to our studio to rest before dinner. We had reservation at Le Jeroboam in the 14e and had a fantastic meal there. Very inventive takes on classic dishes like beef tartare, steak frites, and lamb chops. We gave them glowing recommendation as their foods were delicious and service was impeccable–all at a fair price. We trotted next to Trocadero to see Eiffel Tower in glimmering night lights; and shared a romantic embrace witnessed by hundreds of folks in the misty rain with mingling salesmen hogging selfie sticks and neon toys. Harlequin romance this ain’t!
Day 4 Wednesday August 26 – Les Invalides to Chateau Versailles:
Wishing to avoid the masses at Chateau Versailles, we planned an afternoon visit. L’Orangerie was our first stop this morning. The oval room displaying Monet’s water lillies was the favorite. 50 Shades of Blue, it should be called. The master must be painting at dawn and twilight under the indigo glow of the rising/setting sun. It was a small museum so after an hour, we headed to Les Invalides. The ground leading up to Les Invalides is massive. Sea of lawn begging for frolickers. Inside the courtyard, cobbled stone made traversing the square tricky. No stiletto here. We headed to the Army museum to admire the changing military uniforms and weaponry through the centuries. It was air conditioned–surprise!–and uncrowded. Napoleon’s Tomb was next door and reminded us of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Befitting for an emperor! Moving on to Rodin museum, we thought we would take advantage of the shaded garden and have a picnic. We bought a gelato at the outdoor cafe and started our spread but was quickly told there’s no outside food allowed. Pfft! Picnic impossible, touring it had to be. So we walked and admired the garden and its statue while inwardly fuming at the no-food notion.
It was about 1pm so we headed to Champs du Mars to have an impromptu picnic before our Versaille trip. The lawn was packed with young kids, families, tourists and office workers. The last few days had been gray so folks were relishing in the sunshine. After lunch, we took the bus to Pont De L’Alma train station to catch the RER C to Chateau Versailles. Alas, the bus did not drop us off at the intended station, it just headed straight to Gare du Nord. Reason was given but our French was limited… so, we just hopped out and plodded about before finding our way back to Pont de Alma’s RER C station. Because we already had the Navigo, we were hoping to get “complement de parcours” to go to Versaille instead of paying the full ticket price. But the service window was closed. Yet still, we had a hard time finding the stair down to the train platform because the sign was confusing and a crowd was blocking the view of the entry. It was quite comical as we dashed back and forth and straight out of the Amazing Race. Luckily, a nice Parisian came to the rescue. “Rude Parisian ” is a myth, you all! We finally raced down to the platform just in time as the train arrived and hopped on board. Getting off the train at Versailles, we promptly got in line at the service window for the complement de parcours for the returned trip. Not seeing the signs pointing to Chateau Versailles or there isn’t any, we just followed the crowd, rounded the corner and there it was–right smack next to the town. No one got our memo to stay away from Versailles! There was a convoy of tour buses in the parking lot and long queue for entry–even with Museum Pass. We grudgingly queued up and trodded along with the mass from room to magnificent room. If only Versailles had live webcams! We probably would not go if we see the crowd! The glory of Versailles was lost on us unfortunately.
We escaped to Angeline’s for their famous hot chocolate and macarons then dashed madly to the outdoor garden for fresh air. We should have rented bicycles or hopped on the kiddie train. Such vast albeit magnificent ground to cover. We’d been touring all morning and even using public transportation, but by this time, our feet were crying from abuse. We were on our last breath as we reached Marie Antoinette ‘s Petite Trianon/ Village—our favorite Versailles attraction. No farm animals around–but the cottages were adorable and well maintained. Nary a dead flower petal or rusty board ! Wonder if they are the original structures or made just for tourists? Finally around 6 pm we gave up. We lined up for the kiddie train but was shooed away. No more kiddie train at this time–Rat! On blistering foot back to the gate and then to the train station. Back to Paris, we stopped at L’As due Falafel for sandwiches a emporter (to-go) then rest in for the night. Pooped!
Day 5- Thursday August 27- Rainy day-Carnivalet and Dorsay Museums
Rain in the forecast! We canceled train tickets to Vernon that we bought online via Capitaine train and purchased new ones for tomorrow. First stop today Carnavalet Museum in Le Marais–just next door to our studio. Carnavalet is about the history of Paris, some rooms were under renovations but what we saw were fascinating, such as the original old door of the Hotel de Ville! How many (famous) people passed throught that ! Also, the pretty garden of the Carnavalet begged to be photographed. After several hours of perusing, we headed to the Orsay. Again, no one got my memo to stay away from the Orsay. Under steady rainfall, there were 4 different long queues, with no signs explaining the distinction. We asked one guide to show us the queue for those with Museum Pass. After 30 minutes, we got inside and headed straight up to the 5th floor for the showcase of the Orsay–the Impressionists’ paintings! This was also the most crowded level. Surprisingly one can get really close to the paintings. We got to see all the famous Degas, Monet, Renoir, etc…We noticed that some of the art works were exact ones that we seen at L’Orangerie. For instance, Jeunes Filles au Piano by Renoir–the one with the sisters by the piano! Could it be replica? Did the artists made 2 painting of the same scene? The Orsay’ s clock room was a happy find. Views of the Louvre across the street and Sacre Coeur could be seen through the “hours”.
It was soon time for lunch so we headed to L’Avant Comptoir again and it did not disappoint with sauteed duck hearts, foie gras, calamari washed down with wine; then souvenir shopping at City Pharma which was less crowded today, maybe because it was raining throughout the day. We made our escape after 30 minutes of shopping. Yet more souvenirs at Monoprix, for comte cheeses, french salt, butter, pastis, chocolate and speculoos. We ended up with a carry-on full of souvenirs. Next time it would be a full-sized suitcase!
7:30pm dinner awaited us at Breizh Cafe in Le Marais. We shared a savory crepe (sausage and eggs) and a dessert crepe (salted caramel with pear) along with cidre Breton. It was quite good and quite reasonably priced! Still more rain and knowing of our long day tomorrow we decided to head back and rest for the night.
Looking back we realized we didn’t take advantage of the Marais location of our rental. We missed Place des Vosges, which was a hop away from us, and Picasso museum, and Pompidou…It must be intuitively intentional. We meant to return. Many times.
Day 6- Friday August 28 – Monet’s Garden and biking adventure to Fourges:
Waking up at 6 am, we waited at one bus station bound for Gare St Lazare and after 30 minutes noticing the sign in French on the post with an X on it, we moved to a different bus station, then to another connection before we finally landed at Gare Saint Lazare. The perils of public transportation in a foreign land! We printed out the train tickets from the kiosk at the station, following the instructions provided on Capitaine train website, then asked the lady at the service counter to direct us to the correct platform. Waiting for boarding we marveled at the efficiency of France transportation. The stations, train or metro–especially Chatelet–can be like a giant maze with people and corridors crossing every which way, passengers scurrying toward the train or exit. Yet it operates smoothly. No one treaded or crossed foot. We saw no thief nor disturbance. Military and police presence, due to recent terrorist failed attempt on Belgium train bounded for Paris, might have explained this. Soon our train arrived, we composted or stamped our tickets on the little yellow machine on the platform and boarded. No assigned seat and in second class– yet roomy and comfortable. Suburban high rises then farmlands passed the train’s windows. After about an hour, we arrived at Vernon train station after 9am. Walking down the stairs from the arrival platform, most people hopped on the bus bound for Giverny about 3 miles away, and some went on a caboose train. We and few others went to the cafe across to rent our bikes for 14 Euro each. The direction to biking path was provided but we chose to follow Google Maps which led us round and round until we finally found the bridge to cross the Seine and onto the biking trail. We found French drivers really yielded and very patient with bicyclists–so unlike Americans–and so refreshing! We happily followed the trail parallel with the highway and passed many people’s backyards, then farmland , then near Giverny, many picturesque shops and galleries. Tickets for Monet’s garden bought on line helped speed us through the line. Several bus loads of tourists joined us meandering around the luscious garden. What peace and tranquility! Yet, the garden was supremely well kept and beautiful. The lily pond was breathtaking with swaying willows and the iconic green bridge. It was fun to imagine the spots where Monet painted his masterpieces. We spent about 2 hours at the garden then we took off on our bike toward Gasny. Inspired by Evident Adventure, we aimed for Le Moulin de Fourges which was about 14 km from Vernon. We relied on Google Maps and rode mostly in small streets parallel the highway. Main street and shops looked deserted–surprising until we remember that it was August “vacance”. Not much too see, mostly small cottages and quiet yards, until close to Gasny. On Rue de Paris, Google showed a pretty house by the river with a small cascade, off Rue de Aubrevoir . That was where we stopped for lunch. The owner just got home from the market and talked to us in French. Recognizing our befuddled expressions, he asked us in perfect English how we know of this pretty spot to visit. Google and internet, we told him. He smiled, mentioned that he traveled to Thailand and learned English for traveling, told us of a sandwich shop for lunch then bid us good day! That was the longest nicest interaction with a Frenchman! But now that his pièd-a-terre is known, the world may find its way to his door, such interactions may become rare. After lunch we continued on to Fourges but this time Google led us astray or may be it was due to our un-Magellan tendency. Wrong turn led us down a rocky dirt road which was parallel to the biking path that we were supposed to take! We hoped and prayed that the tires on our bikes would hold up. Finally the roads merged and we got on pavement again. We looked for sign pointing us to Le Moulin de Fourges and after short while, we saw it. What a pretty sight! And just 1 tour bus! We spent some times enjoy our destination then headed back –to not miss the train leaving Vernon around 5. We had dinner reservation at Les Papilles near Jardin du Luxembourg and did not want to miss it. Going back to save time, we rode straight on the highway and luckily there was light traffic and most driver were nice and gave us plenty of room. This was our first foray into French “countryside” and biking on French roads. We were the only foolish tourists on bike with cellphone strapped on the wrist, earphones dangling so we can hear Google map’s instructions, traipsing through the highways with no helmets, admiring the green farm landscapes dotted with blonde cows and inquisitive mules. Picture it? It was quite an adventure!
From Vernon back to Paris, we headed straight to our 7:00 pm dinner reservation at Les Papilles. We read good reviews about this restaurant and was excited to visit it. Four-course dinner, everyone eats the same thing, chef’s choice, accompanied by wine recommended by the owner. That night, it was pea soup to start, then lamb stew, then camembert with plum, and finally strawberry panna cotta. Warm attentive services, dishes cooked perfectly and simply delicious! What a great way to end our visit to Paris.
Day 7- Saturday August 29-Departing Paris!
Waking up at 6am to get ready to leave Paris. Dislike ! It was still dark when we board bus 69 to get to EasyBus stop. The bus arrived at 8:15 am and we headed to CDG without a hitch. We made sure there was ample time to catch EasyBus as we’d seen some people got left behind due to their lateness. CDG was in full mode Saturday morning, long lines everywhere. We didn’t even have time to get our VAT refund. Just enough time to grab Laduree macarons for souvenirs then headed to the gate for boarding. It’d been a great trip and it won’t be our last visit to Paris. We owed so much to the internet community and Trip Advisor, and Evident Adventure especially, for tips and inspiration. It allows us to travel independently with fewer hiccups and frustration, making it a lovely trip. Paris is so beautiful, everywhere we turned, we sighed and swooned. We met helpful people and enjoyed thoroughly the food scenes. Paris showed its best face for us. It was a dream 24 years in the making and it came true!
Mercí et au revoir, Paris, à la prochaine fois!