[London &] France
"4 days in Paris"
See the beginning of this trip under United Kingdom - "London (UK) [& France]"
Saturday, April 24
We got up pretty early to have breakfast and catch our bus to Waterloo Station for our Eurostar to Paris. We caught the 10:39 train, which was pretty neat. The weirdest (and most annoying) thing was when we went through short tunnels, there was a pressure change that affected everyone’s ears. Thank goodness it didn’t do that on the long tunnel under the English Channel!
We had lunch on the train, and eventually arrived in Paris about 2:40 after leaving London. Pretty impressive! We then bundled onto a bus to get to our hotel and home for the next few days – the Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel [Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel, 61 quai de grenelle, PARIS 75015 France; Tel: (+33) 1/40582000; Fax: (+33) 1/40582444; H3546email@example.com]
Once we’d settled in (a little sooner than in London, thankfully), we walked down towards the Eiffel Tower and the river cruise boats for which we had a ticket. Eventually, we found the right one and headed onto it. We cruised on the Seine for about an hour – going under one bridge after another. Pretty neat.
Then we returned to our dock and our hotel for a bit of happy hour, before heading to the Brasserie on Linois for dinner. It was pretty good. Then we returned to bed – another early morning for sightseeing tomorrow.
Sunday, April 25
We were again up early for a breakfast and a bus tour. Part of the tour was to go up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower – good view! During the same tour, we walked quickly through Notre Dame. It would have been nice to go back to Notre Dame – it seemed a quick visit. But we had to stay downtown at Rivoli street for the afternoon tour to Versailles.
Versailles was very impressive, as you might expect. A couple of hours was not nearly enough to spend there or do it justice. We merely got an overview of one of the buildings, let alone saw very much of the gardens. Then we had to rush back to town, or at least try to. I don’t think you can rush anywhere on a lovely spring Sunday in Paris, especially when the preferred exit was closed due to a football (soccer) match and we had to creep through the Bois du Boulogne in traffic that was just beyond belief!
Finally, we made it back, changed for dinner, then headed out again. We had signed up for the restaurant dinner and illumination drive. We went to a very nice restaurant, had Kir to start, then wine with dinner, a lovely dessert, with coffee. Then we all returned to the bus and drove around Paris at night looking at the city with its lights on. Very nice! We even got to see the Eiffel Tower “sparkling”.
Monday, April 26
Up early again for our trip to the Louvre. The best part of this tour, in addition to being hustled to all the high points (Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, etc.), was that our ticket was good for the whole day. We had the option to stay at the end and find our own way back. We did so – we looked around a bit more, shopped, , had some lunch, looked around more, then headed out to find our way back. We walked to the rive gauche and bought a carnet (book of 10 metro tickets). Then, we took the metro to our stop and went to the nearby Monoprix for crackers and cheese for happy hour! After that, we headed to a different brasserie on Linois for dinner. Then it was to bed.
Tuesday, April 27
This morning, we took our time. The rest of the tour was leaving us, so we had a leisurely breakfast. About 10:00, we headed out to the metro and found our way to St. Sulpice church. We had a couple of reasons to go here – first, my great-great (something) grandmother was baptised there. Second, it figures quite prominently in a book my mom and I both recently read – The Da Vinci Code. We found it easily and found the way in. We spent quite a bit of time looking around. It’s an interesting church for a variety of reasons. In addition to the other reasons mentioned, the guy in charge in the 1600s was a promoter of colonization in New France – aka Québec! Pretty interesting.
"Paris & Picardy"
We eventually had our fill and headed out to find our way to La Samaritaine – this department store has a terrasse on the top level and we went there for lunch. It was reasonably priced and has a lovely view. Eventually, however, it was time to head back to our side of the river, find the metro and make our way back to the hotel, so we could pack, have happy hour, have dinner and get to bed for a good start the next day.
Wednesday, April 28
We got up about 06:40, had breakfast and finished packing. Our pre-arranged taxi took us to gare du nord and we caught a train to Amiens. We left Paris at 10:40 and were in Amiens an hour later. We made the mistake of trying to find and get to our hotel by walking with all our luggage. After about an hour of wandering around, we did finally make it. [Ibis Amiens Centre Ville, 4, rue du Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny 80000 Amiens; Tel: (+33) 3/22925733; Fax: (+33) 3/22016750; 69 E per night]. However, we learned a lesson: if you don’t know where you’re going, take a taxi.
We checked in about noon and, after a bit of a rest, wandered off to see some of Amiens. There’s quite a spectacular cathedral in Amiens. There’s some lovely and intricate wood carving in the choir. There’s also a neat old city below the cathedral. We wandered around down there for a while and then decided it was time to find a grocery and our hotel again.
After a bit of happy hour, we decided to just eat in the hotel. It was actually a pretty good deal and had quite nice food.
"Picardy & Somme"
Thursday, April 29
Today was probably the worst day of our trip. Our objective was to catch a train to Arras, pick up our rental car, then go have a look at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. We also thoughts we might be able to drop by on the way back to Amiens to connect with the cousin of my neighbour in Ottawa.
We were up by 07:00 and down to breakfast. We left the hotel and went to the train station by 09:00. Once we got to the train station, we discovered that the next train to Arras wasn’t until 11:17. We bought tickets on it and hung around in the train station until that time.
We had a quite nice train trip up to Arras, arriving about noon. Though we checked the car rental office, it was of course closed [everything seems to close in France from 12:00 to 14:00]. We went to find some lunch as well and purchased an internet card to use at the CyberPost office – so we did have a chance to let people back home know how things were going. As it turned out, it was better that we wrote earlier that day than later!
We headed back to the car rental office about 14:00, only to discover that the attendant had returned only to leave a note about making a delivery and wouldn’t be there until 16:00! This was getting ridiculous. We chatted with the nice fellow in the Budget office next door and he telephoned the number on the note. This phone call only confirmed that the person was 2 hours away.
After chatting a bit more with the Budget rental fellow, we headed off to see some of Arras. It turns out to be quite an interesting city, with several squares of old Flemish-style buildings, dating from the 11th century and surrounded by 17th and 18th century Flemish-Baroque houses. We visited a couple of these squares and the Flemish-Gothic town hall (place des Héros), which dates from the 16th century but was completely rebuilt after the first World War. While there we saw a couple of the “Giants” – wicker-work body-masks up to 8.5 metres tall that are animated by someone inside. Apparently, they come out for local carnivals and the like. As it wasn’t a carnival when we were in Arras, they were “resting” inside the city hall.
We eventually returned to the Place du Maréchal Foch, near the train station, to have coffee and then to the car rental place half an hour early, planning to sit and wait for the contact. She actually came back a little earlier than expected so we had our car by about 16:30 and headed off to see Vimy.
After finally getting out of town heading on the right highway north (with some help from kindly customers at a gas station), we got to Vimy, only to discover they were about to close! We had about 30 minutes to look around. While we could have parked outside the gates and looked around outside, we also had to think about getting back to Amiens. It’s a very impressive site with lots to see, including the fighting trenches from the war. We were very disappointed to have so little time there. Maybe next time, we’ll just stay in Arras…
Returning to Amiens turned out to be little trouble, except it was pouring rain by the time we got there. We managed to park our car (somewhat larger than expected due to our “upgrade”) in the tiny little underground parking lot and headed into the hotel for a well-deserved drink with happy hour and dinner in the hotel.
"on to Normandy"
Friday, April 30
We were up about 07:00 this morning. In keeping with our mood of yesterday, it was pouring rain. However, we were feeling better after a night’s sleep and were ready to take on the highways of northern France! We felt we had a pretty big day ahead of us and wanted to get a good start. We had our breakfast and headed off to pack everything into our car and head off on the highway.
Things started somewhat badly. We had a little trouble getting the car out of the parking garage. Getting onto the highway towards Abbeville turned out to be relatively easy, so we started to relax. We continued, trying to stay off the toll ways and keep to the smaller roads. This worked pretty well, though we ended up paying about 16 euros worth of tolls, between roads and the bridge. But more on that later.
We snuck by Abbeville – local connection, mom and I have ancestors who had lived there at some point. As the weather wasn’t very nice, we just kept going. We decided to take the Normandy Bridge. This turned out to be a good decision as the bridge is spectacular! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t suitable for picture taking, nor was the traffic! However, it was neat driving over it and over the broad mouth of the Seine.
We arrived in Caen about 14:00 and managed to find our hotel pretty easily, then finding and getting into a parking place, in another small, cramped underground parking lot. By this time, we were happy to have a bit of a break from driving and navigating, so we just hung out in our hotel room for a while. [Ibis Caen Centre, 6, Place Courtonne, BP 3086, CAEN CEDEX, 14018 CAEN; tel: (+33) 2/31958888; fax: (+33) 2/31438080; 65 E per night]
After resting a bit, we walked around the city and found the tourist office. We picked up a few pieces of info and eventually returned to the hotel for a bit of happy hour, then found some dinner and went happily to bed.
"Bayeux & Normandy beaches"
Saturday, May 1
We were up early again today – about 08:30. After breakfast, we decided to do some telephoning. We arranged to get rid of the car a little earlier (it was booked until May 4 and we had to be back in Paris and on a plane back to Canada on May 4). We also arranged for a taxi to pick us up in Paris at St. Lazare station on May 3. Having taken care of our responsibilities, we happily headed off to sightsee.
First we went to Bayeux. Easy enough and it was also relatively easy to park the car. To top it off, parking was free, as it was Saturday and a holiday. We walked off to find the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Piece of cake, really. There were lots of signs all over the place, as well as a well-trodden and marked tourist route.
The famous Bayeux Tapestry is a 70-metre long strip of coarse linen embroidered with the tale of how William the Conqueror conquered England. It was commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother. The tapestry was started/completed sometime between the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066 and 1082, likely in England by English monks (talk about adding insult to injury!) It tells the dramatic story of the invasion and the events leading up to it, from the winner’s perspective. The story is told in 58 panels, with vivid, action-packed scenes. In the museum, a “mock-up” of the tapestry provided descriptions of the overall tapestry, so when we saw the real thing, we were somewhat familiar with at least a few of the scenes. With admission, we also received an individual hand-held recorded commentary, describing the various scenes, to help us know what to look for (e.g., scene where usurper Harold dies from an arrow in his eye; scene where, rumoured to be dead, William lifts his helmet to demonstrate to his men that he yet lives). Prior to viewing the tapestry, there is also a short film telling more about the times and the tapestry. An excellent visit and well worth the fee.
After spending about 2 hours in the tapestry museum (I had to return and rush by it a second time, as I may never get another chance!), we headed out to find some lunch. We stopped at a little café where we had galettes – square pancakes encasing fillings – I had ham and cheese and mom had ham and egg. They were quite nice and rather filling.
Then it was off to Arromanches. We basically hung around the Normandy beaches all afternoon. Rather than spend a bunch of money (6 Euros) on the local museum (in spite of the fact they have a 360 degree theatre), we decided to spend more time at the Canadian Juno Beach Centre. While at Arromanches, we had a good look at nearby Mulberry Harbours, where the Allies built prefabricated ports in advance of the D-Day landings. From Arromanches, we drove along the coast to find the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles. The Canadian government has constructed a very impressive memorial and informative centre here. Nearby is the Cross of Lorraine, erected where General Charles de Gaulle came ashore shortly after the landings. After spending a couple of hours at the Juno Beach Centre (we got tired and full of information, rather than finished), we went to find Bény-sur-Mer, and the Canadian military cemetary. It was very simple, but moving.
Finally, we had to head back to Caen for happy hour and some dinner.
Sunday, May 2
We were up about 08:00. We had no real plans except to look around Caen and take the car back. It was market day, so after breakfast, we headed outside for a look. It was amazing. Lots and lots of stands/booths with everything from soup to nuts, almost literally. OK, so maybe not, but there were stands with meat/sausage, olives, vegetables, cheese, bread and most foods you could name; then there were clothes, shoes, leather goods, books, furniture, and most domestic goods you could name. We also saw a couple of stands cooking food, especially a couple with great big frying pans that were making paella! Very impressive.
Finally, we went off to return the car. It turned out to be just as well we started early. Because of the market, the most obvious way to the train station (close to the car rental place) was closed due to the market. We made several tries to get to the train station and finally made it – when in doubt, head for the périphérique! (We were also thankful for a few roundabouts!) After returning the car, we had a bite to eat near the train station [Le Météor; 17 rue d’Auge; tel.: 02 31 82 31 35] and then started waiting for a bus or tram to get back downtown. We eventually caught a tram and then started waiting for a bus to get to the Caen Memorial. After an hour, we decided to give up and just see a few sights around the city. Sunday seems a bad day to take the bus.
But it was good to see a bit of Caen. It is, after all, the capital of Basse Normandie, one of many Norman cities to suffer heavily in the second World War, and home of William the Conqueror, who founded the city in the 11th century. So off we headed to the Château de Caen. This was the home of William and Mathilde, when he wasn’t off conquering other countries. Inside the walls of the chateau, which is a little like a small walled town, we looked at the Jardin Simple, a mainly weed-infested site that was supposed to be a garden of the herbs and medicinal plants cultivated in the Middle Ages. We also checked out the Musée of Normandie. It was a good little collection of historical and pre-historical artefacts that gave us a sense of what life might have been like in the area over the ages. While we didn’t visit them, Caen is also home to a couple of Romanesque abbeys, which were built on opposite sides of town by William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda of Flanders after the distant cousins were absolved by the Roman Catholic Church for marrying. The Abbaye aux Hommes is now the town hall, and the Abbaye aux Dames is home to regional government offices. Both abbeys also house churches.
After having our fill of the museum, we headed out to have a look at town from the ramparts of the chateau. We had some pretty impressive views of the city of Caen and many of the other modern and ancient buildings around. Then we returned to our hotel room for a bit of a rest and read, before heading out to dinner at L’Alcide [1 place Courtonne; tel. 02 31 44 18 06], where we sampled Caen cuisine, at a reasonable price and with excellent service.
"and back to Paris & Canada"
Monday, May 3
Up early as we had to catch a taxi to the train station and a train to Paris. We had bought our tickets when we first arrived in Caen at the SNCF Boutique [8 rue St-Pierre]. Our taxi was somewhat late – good thing we’d asked it for quite early. On reaching the train station, we checked the board and saw no track for the Paris train, but within a few minutes, one was assigned. We validated our tickets and headed to the train. We found our seats, or thought we did - turns out we were in the wrong car. On speaking to the conductor, however, he said not to bother changing, he’d let us know if there was a problem. However, it did make us a bit nervous every time the train stopped for a station and took on more passengers. Finally on the last stop before Paris, someone turned up for our seats – a young woman with a small child. Conveniently for us foolish tourists, a lady sitting across the way offered to move to an empty seat further up the car and we were left in peace. It really was a more convenient car for us as there was some space at the front for our “far too big” bags.
Finally, we arrived at the Paris St-Lazare station and managed to get off with all our stuff. We hiked down the platform and discovered our taxi driver. It was nice to see a familiar face. He took us through the crowds to his taxi and off we headed for Roissy and our hotel. Or at least we thought so. The first Ibis hotel he brought us to was the wrong one, in spite of my showing him the address! Finally, we made it to the correct one and checked in [Ibis Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle, 2, avenue de la Raperie, BP 10122, 95700 Roissy en France; tel: (+33) 1/34293434; fax: (+33) 1/49191921; 80 E per night].
When we got into the room, the bed looked like a double; however, this had also seemed to be the case in others of the Ibis hotels we’d stayed in, and they turned out to be two singles. We read a bit, re-packed, went for a walk and finally had a little happy hour. At this point, we were both sitting on “our beds” and started looking at them. The legs looked like 2 single beds, but the bed seemed to be made up as a double. Finally, when we had decided we would probably sleep just fine, weren’t prepared to move, and were ready for dinner, we headed down to the restaurant. On the way, however, we stopped to let the front desk know that the room was not “single”. After some discussion, we were sent back to the room and the desk sent a maid who would fix the bed. This should be interesting, we thought. In fact it was. When we let the young woman with armfuls of bedding into the room, she proceeded to strip the beds, unzip the connection between the 2 single mattresses and remake them as single beds. Who’d ‘a thunk it!?! After that was complete and the maid had left, we went down again for dinner.
Dinner was another experience, mostly due to the wait staff. The maid had said that the restaurant opened for dinner at 18:00 and it was now at least 19:00. We walked into the restaurant, which appeared to have a salad bar, complete with salad fixings. We were immediately told to go back outside because the restaurant wasn’t open yet. Quelle surprise! But out we go. We stand around in the lobby with several other groups of people also waiting for dinner. Eventually we get in and look at menus. We make our decisions and place our orders. While we’re waiting, we start to see patterns in how the people come into the restaurant. The maitre d’ must have been a bit of a control freak – if people just came in, they were sent outside to wait. One time people came in and sat down – he just about flipped out! He didn’t seem to have the wait staff to handle more than a few tables. They also seemed to like seeing a line-up outside the restaurant. Never mind that the restaurant was in an airport hotel and they had a pretty captive audience. Since we had to wait an hour for our dinners, we saw quite a few of his antics.
Finally, our dinners came and they were very nice indeed. We dined happily and headed back to our room for a bit of sleep before we had to get up very early to catch the shuttle to Charles de Gaulle airport.
Tuesday, May 4
Once back in Paris, we had called to confirm our flights and make sure there were no changes in timing. We were told to be there 3 hours before the flight! So up we get at 05:15 for breakfast, finish packing, check-out and catch the 06:40 shuttle to the airport. We were there before the Air Canada desk was even open!
However, once it was open, we uneventfully checked in and made our way through security to the duty-free shopping area. Once we had made our purchases, we went to the gate and the Air Canada lounge. There we were able to have a slightly more relaxing breakfast (except for dreadful coffee), with some bread and cheese and chocolate brioche. We stayed there until 10:00, when it was time to find our gate and board the plane.
Our plane took off pretty close to on-time at 10:40 and we started the long flight back to Canada – 7.5 hours to Montréal. A few hours after take-off, we received a nice lunch of salmon and veggies. Later, we got a giant cookie and ice cream. Finally, we landed in Montréal about 12:15 local time. It was a good thing we’d had quite a bit of food, as once we got through customs we had to wait in the Dorval wing with nothing in it but vending machines! We didn’t have too long to wait before our flight to Ottawa left and then, half an hour after that we were back in Ottawa. Our luggage turned up and then we took a cab back to the house.
Home sweet home. An excellent trip over. But we must have lost spring somewhere over the Atlantic! It’s cold here! Oh well, soon it will be the May long weekend…