|Subject: Report on trip to London and Paris (Long)|
Trip to Paris and London, June 15-30, 2004
After 34 years and many other trips, we decided to return to London and Paris as a gift to us for our 35th wedding anniversary. We started planning our trip right after the first of the year. Thank you to everyone in the Travelzine community whose experience helped make our trip a great success. I would like to allay any fears anyone might have about the reception of Americans by Europeans, especially the French. Every one we encountered was very friendly. We did our best to speak French and this was much appreciated. People who saw us studying maps asked us if we needed help.
We got our flight reservations from www.1800flyeurope.com which offered us a fairly good flight schedule and a good fare flying to Paris and returning from London. You are given a price and schedule but you do not know the airline until you purchase your ticket. I was a little leery when I saw that we were flying Continental from Chicago. Actually, our flights were all pretty much on time and quite pleasant. We requested the last row which only has two seats on the sides. Outbound, we did have a 4 hour layover in Newark, but we found the new terminal quite pleasant so the time went quickly.
We arrived in Paris a little late. My husband went to find an ATM machine and it seems that there was only one in the terminal. We got the Roissy/Charles De Gaulle Bus that went directly to the Opera for a very reasonable price. Our hotel, the Tryp Francois on Rue Montparnasse, was three short blocks from the Opera so we walked.
The Tryp Francois (called the Melia Confort Francois on Trip advisor) is part of the Solmelia chain of hotels (www.solmelia.com) . We have stayed in quite a few of these hotels in Mexico and Spain and have never been disappointed. There is always some anxiety though when going to a new hotel. This one did not disappoint. The room, by European standards, was ample size with two beds pushed together. The toilet was in a separate little room off the room entrance. The bathroom with tub and sink was huge with a towel heating rack. The room and hotel are immaculate. Although on a busy street, the insulated windows and air conditioner fan kept the room very quiet. You can request a room on the inside court. The staff was professional, friendly, and helpful. The Grande Boulevard Metro station is right in front of the hotel, and there are many restaurants, and cafes in the area. There is an inexpensive Internet Café about two short blocks away. Our hotel was a special internet price of 84 Euro. We could have had a rate of 102 which would have included breakfast. The only minor problem was that there was only a closet with two shelves to put your clothes into#no dresser. We were able to unpack one suitcase and kept the second one in the large bathroom on a luggage stand. Linens were changed daily when the room was cleaned.
We ate breakfast almost every day across the street at the Broiche Doree, a Paris chain with wonderful croissant, brioche, bagettes. Every cup of coffee is made individually with freshly ground coffee. It was a very pleasant place for breakfast and cost about 6 Euros.
After resting we walked to the Tuileries and then to the Left Bank where we stayed 34 years ago on Rue Jacob. We knew that our hotel no longer was a hotel but we couldn#t find the building at that address. We had a pleasant dinner at Pre Aux Clerc at the corner of Rue Jacob and Rue Bonaparte. We found out later that this was the neighborhood café that Hemingway frequented.
Our favorite guide books are the Eyewitness Travel Guides produced by Dorling Kinderly. The Paris guide offers several walking tours and one was to Montmartre. We walked through lovely neighborhoods with their wonderful food stores. The guided tour pointed out many places that we would have missed without it, such as a lovely gated private street, the street and house where George Seurat lived at one time. There is a lovely fountain with flowers around it at Pigalle. As we ascended towards Sacre Couer, the views of Paris were lovely. Near the Cathedral, there are lots of artists pestering tourists to have portraits painted. It was a very pleasant and interesting walk.
One of the things that I really wanted to do was go to Giverny, so this was planned for the next day. We went to Gare St. Lazarre, and bought tickets. We understood that the train left on track 18. We got on the train there and it left a minute or so early. After an hour we had still not arrived at Vernon, the station for Giverny. Also it seemed strange to me that we were the only people on the train going to a fairly touristy place. When we finally checked to see where we were, we were at the end of the line and it was not Giverny! We did see the lovely Normandy landscape. We got back on the train and went back to Paris. Gare St. Lazarre is right by the Au Printemp Department store which has a Laduree Tea Salon. It was raining and we were hungry when we finally got back to Paris so we had tea. My husband had hot chocolate which he said was the best he had ever had. It was thick and not too sweet#almost like a melted semi sweet chocolate bar. I had tea and the famous macaroons. My experience with macaroons has been those coconut cookies that you buy for Passover. I had the mini assortment which were these light confections in wonderful flavors.
We are both fans of George Seurat and love #Afternoon on the Grande Jatte# . During our train ride out in the Normandy countryside we looked on the map to see where the Grande Jatte is. We decided that would be a fun thing to do for the rest of the afternoon. We took the metro to Neuilly sur la Siene, a close suburb very near the La Defense area. The Grande Jatte is an island which is part park and part residential area. It is quite lovely. We walked along the Siene and found many houseboats with addresses and parking places for cars on the street. The Metro stop going back was on Rue Charles De Gaulle and you could see the Mitterand Arch, which is very modern and square shaped in La Defense which lines up with the Arch De Triumph.
The next day we did go to Giverny and had a very lovely time. The gardens and the setting of the very small town of Giverny are beautiful. It was crowded but not unbearable. The Terra Museum in Chicago has a museum there also of American Art. We had a wonderful lunch in the café there. My husband had a potato and cheese tartin that was wonderful. I had a selection of cheeses. Each came with a lovely green salad, and good French bread. You take the train to Vernon and there are buses waiting to take you to Giverny.
We followed up our trip to Giverny with a visit to the Musee Marmatton. Claude Monet#s son donated his father#s paintings that he owned to this museum which is small and has a lovely collection of Monet paintings. There were several other small exhibits in the museum which was once someone#s mansion. The area around the museum, La Musette stop on the Metro is very nice with all kinds of lovely food stores, restaurants, and buildings. There is also a very nice park right by the museum that you pass through to get to the Marmatton. The museum is just the right size. We had dinner that evening at Chartier which was almost right across the street from our hotel. This restaurant is listed in many guide books as offering pretty good food as reasonable prices. It was certainly packed with people. Our meals were good but not great.
Our next day excursion was to the Place de Pompidou, Rue de Rosier, and Place de Voges. You need at least a whole day just for the Pompidou. As a fan of modern art I enjoyed it very much. The architecture does stand out in Paris and the views of Paris from the top floor are quite wonderful. We walked through the two floors of the modern art museum and saw a retrospective exhibit of Miro#s work. We thought that we would have time to go to the Brancusi Atelier which was part of the ticket, but we did not. We had lunch at a falafel place on the Rue de Rosier and visited L#Olivers to buy some gifts of olive oil and different olive pates to bring home. The was June 21, the first day of summer and their were musical events (Fete de musique) all over the city to celebrate. We heard the Bach Double at the Place de Voges. It is nice to see how the Parisians use their green space. There are always people walking, sitting, jogging, playing in the parks.
At Parisian friend of our daughter#s fiancée recommended a restaurant in his neighborhood for dinner. We ate at Le Alchimiste which is a small place which seats maybe 20 people. We had a very nice meal at a reasonable price, but we still think that the food that buy in the charcuteries, and the patisseries and boulangers is often yummier that the restaurant food.
The French won an important soccer match that night so the streets and metro were filled with revelers out celebrating. We took the metro to the Place de Concorde to see the Eiffel Tower and the other lights of Paris.
We had planned to go the Le Courbousier Foundation but I got the open times mixed up so it was closed when we arrived. Being flexible, we took the metro to the Musee D#Orsey. There were long lines to get in and it was one of the only quite warm days. The former train station cum museum is very lovely and we enjoyed the impressionist salons with many other people.
On our last morning we went over the Place du Madeleine to Fouchon to get some chocolate to take home. There were long lines in from of Gucci, Tods, and a few other stores as the summer sales were starting. We walked along the Rue ST. Honore Fauberg, where many of the well known designers have shops. We passed the Palais d#elysee where is seems that Jacques Chiraq was having some important meeting. The street was closed off and swarming with security. A lot of big cars with drivers were entering the Palais which was kind of exciting.
We took the Eurostar from Gare Du Nord to London. It was a very pleasant train ride through the Chunnel. It took a bit more than the 2 and half hours advertised to get to London#s Waterloo Station which is much more utilitarian looking than the lovely light filled architecture of the Gare du Nord.
It was rainy in London when we arrived and it rained off and on the entire week that we were there#typical London weather. After Paris, London looks so hodge podge and frumpy. However, for people whose native language is English, there are major advantages. We saw 4 plays, went to two concerts, 1 movie and on one of the London walks walking tours. (http://London.walks.com)
Our hotel was the London Hilton Metropole on the Edgware Road and about a third of a mile from the Marble Arch. The hotel, supposedly the largest in London, is very well run. Large numbers of people check in and out daily but the registration moves very swiftly. Our room, on the twelfth floor of the west wing, was large, modern, very nicely appointed, and very clean. We enjoyed our stay there very much, and the fact that we got the room through Priceline for $75/night made it all the more enjoyable. Edgware Road has many restaurants including a Starbuck on the next block. Many Lebanese restaurants. All advertise that they are Halal. We found an Indian restaurant our first night, Mahal, which we enjoyed. We ate there two more times.
The concierge gave us a copy of #Time out# which lists everything that is going on in London for the week#theatre, music, lectures, museums, galleries, restaurants, etc. It was very helpful in guiding us to choose what we wanted to do during our week in London.
Our first day, we went to Leicester Square to see what half price tickets we could get. We had decided that Michael Frayn#s Democracy was one of plays that we were interested in. We stopped at the first booth we saw, not knowing that there are several that advertise discounted tickets. The official place is the TKTS kiosk. We did not get out tickets there but did get tickets for that night. We walked through Trafalgar Square to the Waterloo Bridge to the South Bank. On the way, we stopped at the Church of St. Martin#s in the Field and got tickets for Baroque Favorites the next evening. We wanted to check at the National Theatre about tickets. They were having a matinee of Iphegenia in Aulis, a modern translation of the Greek tragedy and we got reduced price tickets for that afternoon. Both plays were quite serious, well performed. Democracy was about Willie Brandt #s West German government and the mole who was his secretary.
In between plays, we walked to Westminster, passed the parliament buildings. There was a downpour for a while. The cathedral was closed to visitors at that time, but there was a long bell concert after the evening service. We had dinner in the Crypt of St. Martin#s in the field which was very inexpensive, tasty, generous portions. However, the mousaka I had did not really taste like mousaka,but it was good.
One of the best buys if you are going to use the tube a lot or buses is to get a week long pass which we did. It was 34 pounds for Zone 1 for two of us. If you go out of zone 1 you can get an inexpensive extension. We got our money#s worth. There are two tube stations directly across the street from the Metropole Hotel. We had nice weather the next day and took the tube with an extension out to Hampstead Heath. We went up to Parliament Hill which has a lovely view of the city. We explored the neighborhood off from Highgate Road and walked back to the town of Hampstead Heath. We took a bus back to Trafalgar Square. The nice thing about the bus is that you get to see more of the city but it is not as fast at the tube. We enjoyed the concert at St. Martin#s in the Field.
Museums and galleries: Although entrance to London museums is free, if you want to see special exhibits, you do pay. We spent several hours in the National Gallery looking mostly at their Impressionist art up to 1900. Modern art is at the Tate Modern. We spent almost a whole day there. The museum is not set up chronologically, but by type of painting#e.g., landscape or portrait. There are quite a few installations and non traditional (not paintings or sculpture) art. We saw an exhibit of photos by Jacques Henri Lartigue at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank. We joined the Hayward because it was cheaper than buying two admissions! On our last day we spent a few hours at the British Museum. We particularly enjoy the Elgin Marbles which we remember from 34 years ago. We could have spent much more time there.
We took the tube to an area called Stratford to see a play, Calcutta Kosher. We also went to another concert of the Verdi Reqium at St. Paul#s Cathedral, and to see The False Servant, a farce modernized from a 1700#s play with Charlotte Rampling which was disappointing.
Leaving we took a taxi to Victoria Station and the Gatwick Express out to Gatwick. The tube went on strike for 24 hours our last evening in London.
We had a wonderful trip. It is hard to say which city we liked better. They are both so different. Paris is so beautiful and wonderful to walk in and just look at the food! London is sprawling, rather dirty, but has wonderful things to do, and with all that we did do, there is so much more that we didn#t do in both cities.
Michele Missner Appleton, Wi.