Today we did what many Parisiens do on a Sunday – not much!
The plan for today – our last full day in Paris – was to visit a market street in the morning followed by whatever took our fancy in the afternoon.
I set my alarm for 9am – no need to rush these things – but spent the night feeling fairly ordinary and by 9am was feeling quite sick. I woke to the alarm and decided that I had more chance of getting better if I didn’t push the issue, so I went back to sleep.
The next time I woke it was 12!! I couldn’t believe it; I haven’t slept in until 12 in many years! I did feel somewhat better than at 9 though, so that was a good beginning.
After a shower and some good old Panadol I was up to the walk outside to find something to eat. We sat outside on the terrace and both ordered salads which were delicious, until a pigeon landed on the umbrella right above us and, as Dean pointed it out to me and I looked up, it shit right into my salad!! Hey…. It could have been worse – at least I saw it happen!
The two girls sitting at the table next to us saw it happen too, and one called the waitress over and explained what happened, and the waitress said they would bring me a new salad, which they did straight away. Problem solved!
As it was Sunday, not much was open in Paris, and the market street closed at lunchtime, we decided to see if we could find a cinema and see a movie. It was 39 degrees also, not much good for walking around outside. The first cinema didn’t have any English movies but directed us to another nearby which had one – The Late Quartet – and conveniently it started in 20 minutes. We had comfortable seats, air conditioning, and a chance to sit down for a couple of hours, so all was good. The movie turned out to be pretty good too, a bit sad, but worth watching.
The afternoon was over by the time the movie finished so we returned to the apartment and did our final packing, ready to leave tomorrow. We have to check out of the hotel and leave our bags here, and come back at 5.30 to collect the luggage and be picked up by the airport shuttle bus.
As we walked, I saw a sign for ‘Paris Plages’ – Paris beaches – and remembered that this started yesterday in Paris. Basically they truck in tonnes of sand and create a beach along the riverbank right in the middle of Paris. So we wandered down to the river to see how it all worked.
There was a very large, open air concert going on nearby with plenty of people enjoying the music, despite the relentless heat. The beaches are very well done, with loads of sand, umbrellas and deck chairs and giant hammocks provided, as well as areas with games, mist showers, pools, and plenty of food and drink stands selling wine and beer that you can drink anywhere. It was a great idea that happens every year, and again, we saw no one drunk or any rubbish laying around.
We had our last Parisien cafe dinner and watched the finale of the Tour de France on their large TV as the riders circled the Arc de Triomphe. The presentation ceremony afterwards was impressive with images projected onto the Arc.
A nice, relaxing last day in Paris before we begin our flights home tomorrow night. Pretty soon we’ll be shivering back in Australia judging by the weather forecasts we’ve seen!
Another long, leisurely breakfast this morning with the same group as yesterday. We are all leaving this morning for our various next destinations.
After packing up we drove to Montresor, a little village nearby that we heard was pretty. There was a walking path that ran through the village and along the river so we wandered along that and it was very pretty. The village lived up to what we had heard about it.
Back in Loches, we had lunch and climbed a large hill to visit the castle ruins and see the view over the village. Then, we just sat in the park in the shade for about half an hour before collecting our luggage and driving back to the train station.
Refuelling the car was again an interesting process, with most of the service stations fully automated. Our card was rejected at the first station, but accepted at the second. Go figure.
Returning the car was also quick and easy – we were asked if everything was ok and if the fuel was filled, and we were done!
Onto the train and before we knew it we were back in Paris. We found a taxi and headed for the hotel that I’d booked online. On the way here, the taxi driver seemed like he was starting to get a little angry…. He said something about the hotel being just near the train station. I think he was angry that he didn’t get a long ride with a higher fare – but we had no idea the hotel was very close AND he wasn’t the one who’d have had to drag the luggage down the street. We walked back to the station tonight and it wasn’t that far…. But it wasn’t that close either!
We checked into the hotel which was easy – and they don’t require a credit card imprint when you check in! The hotel room is small… But I knew to expect that.
We walked to find a spot for dinner, and came across another little area with many cafes. One very good waiter/salesman kept us tied to him until we sat down with his promises of ‘same price, better quality’, and a free aperitif. We were given a free aperitif one other night and it was terrible, so I wasn’t expecting much, but it was surprisingly good! I asked what it was and he said kir.
We watched him draw in many other people and eventually had a friendly American couple sit next to us. She also liked the kir and the waiter told her it was Chardonnay with black currant flavouring – Ribena essentially!!
Our meals did live up to his promise, they were very good and we chatted to the American couple for a while before heading back to the hotel. Only one more night in France!
This morning I woke to a quite dark and rainy morning, and a sore throat. For the past couple of days it had been tickling, but I wasn’t sure if it was a sore throat or if I just needed a drink because it was so hot and we were really active. I guess this morning confirmed it!
At breakfast we met the other guests staying here; an Australian couple from Sydney (although he is originally British), an American mother and daughter, and an older American lady travelling alone. The older American lady said this was her tenth visit to France, and she had spent 20 years travelling with her husband before he died, and the past four years travelling alone. The Australian couple have travelled extensively, having visited Europe 30 or 40 times – their children live in England still so they were going from here to visit them during this current three month trip. It was a long lazy breakfast as we were all enjoying it, and as the rain was quite heavy we were waiting it out to some degree.
The American lady told us about some caves nearby, where people used to live, and now you can tour through the caves. As that was undercover, we thought we’d start our day there.
As warned, it was freezing in there! It was interesting though, to see how people would hide in these tunnels when soldiers or other enemies came to ransack their villages.
By the time we came out, the rain looked like starting to clear, so we decided to continue with our original plans to visit the chateau at Chambord (the largest in the area) and go bike riding in the forest surrounding it.
On arriving we could easily see that it was the largest chateau – it sat surrounded by manicured lawns and was huge! We hired our bikes first and went riding for about an hour through the forest, which was fun, hard in some places, and hot at times as the rain had gone and the sun was in full force by now.
Inside the chateau there is very little furniture. There was an impressive double helix staircase, so one person could be on one staircase and other on the other staircase, and while the two staircases twirled around each other, the two people would never meet. The views from the third level terrace were great.
After that, we headed off to another chateau – Cheverny. The family that owns this chateau still lives here, on the third level, but the lower two levels are open to the public. The owners are hunters and keep about a hundred hounds for hunting. We had heard that the dog feeding each afternoon at 5pm was worth seeing, so we arrived in time for that.
The dogs were in a large concrete pen anxiously awaiting feeding time, and the trainer came out and placed their food on the ground of an adjoining pen in a long line. There were chunks of meat – a lot of which looked like goose heads – and dry food sprinkled over the top. At exactly 5pm the trainer let one group of dogs out, and they stood, drooling, inches away from the feast, waiting for the signal to eat. In they jumped, while the other, larger group of dogs impatiently waited. We figured out later that it was the younger dogs that had first pick at the food. After a few minutes, the rest of the dogs were let out. If you’ve seen what a mouse plague looks like (I’ve only seen it on TV), with all the mice running over he top of each other, that’s what it looked like! It was a swarming, bouncing mess of dog bodies – you couldn’t see their heads because they were all down at ground level grabbing the food. There were a few growls and fights between the older dogs over who got the chunk of meat. In minutes, the ground was clear of every scrap of food. You’d never have known it was there at all!
Behind the dog pen and near the dog’s yard was a large vegetable and flower garden. Apparently they grow all their own flowers for decorations inside the chateau. There were acres of delicately manicured gardens , forested areas, and a beautiful canal with boats that paddled along with the ducks and swans.
The chateau itself was less impressive from the outside than the others, because it looked less like a castle and more like a large house or mansion. The rooms available to walk through here are furnished though, and they were very impressive. This was a chateau that I could imagine a family living in – it had more of a homely touch to it. I really liked it. Chambord was my favourite to look at from the outside, but Cheverny was definitely the overall standout for me.
After dinner that night, we walked along the riverside back in Loches and through a pretty park. Even in these small villages, beautiful gardens and parklands are lovingly cared for and made available for people to use.
This morning we packed up ready for a couple of days out in the countryside in the Loire valley. The taxi arrived on time, we were at the train station early and the train left on time.
We arrived in Tours at the station and the car rental place was right next door. I had booked a Citroen C4 this time, and after a short discussion between the two men at the office, one hands me the keys and says ‘Here is your car. It’s a black Mercedes B class and it has no damage’. Dean was in car heaven again! We found the car and no wonder it had no damage, it only had 800kms on the clock! We set off for Loches which would be our home base for the next three days.
We dropped off our luggage at the B&B and stopped in town for lunch before heading to Chenonceau – said to be the best chateau in this area. It certainly looked like the image of a castle you get from a fairy tale – the watchtower, a moat, and the peaks above the castle, and surrounding it were stunning gardens and tree lined avenues. Inside we looked through many rooms and eventually found ourselves in a long hall, where we realised the castle spanned the river. It certainly didn’t have the splendour of Versailles, and it’s hard not to compare the two but they are two very different things.
The countryside here is beautiful. The forests that line the roads, the medieval villages with their narrow cobblestone streets, and the rivers that amble through them make it a beautiful place.
There was a night market on in Loches that night so after checking in properly to our room and both needing a nap for about an hour, we wandered to the market. There were some great street performers (none of which asked for money!!). Most of the cafes had a special menu for market night, which consisted of either mussels or a tripe style sausage cooked in onions. We eventually found a kebab place that did a plate for us and it was delicious.
Up and about this morning…. It was the last day we had our museum pass to use and also our last day in Paris for a few days, which meant we had to find time to sort out our luggage and find a way to fit in all the stuff we’ve bought.
Off to Orangerie first where we saw (among other things) Monet’s water lillies. From there, straight to the Pompidou centre to get a take on modern art – which I thought was fairly bizarre but Dean liked some of it. We had our Eiffel Tower climb booked for the afternoon, so I decided to squeeze in a visit to one of the two gluten free cafes in Paris before we went to the tower.
It wasn’t exactly what I expected, being a tiny place with only two options on the menu – cheeseburger or Vietnamese sandwich. Not quite knowing what was involved in a Vietnamese sandwich we both opted for the cheeseburger (which wouldn’t be my choice of meal at the best of times), and when they asked how we would like the meat cooked I was even more disturbed!!
As it turns out, for a cheeseburger it was pretty good (by gluten free standards anyway). I chose a lemon meringue tart from the pastry display (which I have seen in every bakery since I got to Paris and I love….) but had to take it with me to eat later as we were starting to be pushed for time to get to the tower.
After 3 train transfers, we arrived at the metro closest to the tower with 10 minutes to spare, and quite a walk ahead still to get to the meeting point. Dean virtually flew along the path with me and my lemon meringue trailing behind. We made it with minutes to spare! Along with many, many others booked at the same time, we were herded into the elevator where we acted like sardines for the ride up to the second level. The views on the way up were impressive.
At the second level we had to change elevators to go to the third level, which required waiting in line. Again we were sardines in the elevator and up we went to the top level…. Wow…. You can nearly see all of Paris! It reminded me of the view of New York from the Empire State Building – the city looks like it goes on forever. We found all the areas and monuments that we had visited and the area near our apartment. It was good to be up there.
Back down to the second level for a look around, and then, as there were so many people waiting for the elevator we decided to go down the stairs to the first level. If you don’t pre-book your tickets to go up the tower, and don’t want to stand in line for a couple of hours to wait to buy a ticket, you can climb the stairs without having to wait. If you have enough energy, that is, and it did seem that quite a few people did, as they were coming up as we went down. I think I’d give it a go too, rather than stand in line for hours.
Back on the ground we caught the train to go back to the apartment and pack up our luggage to leave in the morning, but it stopped half way back (for some unknown reason) and all the passengers were kicked off. We had to transfer to another train and take a longer route back! By the time we got back to the apartment, my lemon meringue had slipped and slid right off it’s base and looked a mess…. But it still tasted fantastic!!
We repacked to leave the next morning, booked a taxi to take us to the train station, and even booked a shuttle bus to take us to the airport next week…. That made the end of the holiday feel much closer!
I had a slightly strange feeling tummy late in the afternoon and hoped I wasn’t getting sick – how ironic that the only day we eat at a gluten free restaurant is the day I feel strange! Luckily it settled and all was good.
Dinner was at a Greek restaurant. We had lunch at a tiny Greek place a few days ago and it was fantastic, so we were hoping for something similar.
It wasn’t a good start though when we waited quite a long time just to order a drink, only to have both our drinks arrive and both were wrong! We sent them back, and my correct drink came back but Dean’s didn’t…. After quite a while longer he had to ask for it again. The meal also took a long time to arrive, and as the chef was serving right near us we could see him preparing the meals. I noticed that he was using his ungloved, bare hands to serve salad onto the plates, and commented to Dean that you wouldn’t see that in Australia, and Dean said he watched him pulling meat apart with his hands as well. The meal tasted ok, not quite as good as the previous Greek meal, but just as we finished eating Dean watched the chef go outside to smoke, then come back in and start serving up the salad again with his hands – you guessed it – no hand washing! We were sure our bill would be incorrect, but surprisingly it wasn’t.
Catching up a little on the blog today as we had a bit of driving time. There are three posts so scroll back if you want to read them in order.
Trying to keep up…. Not many days left now before the long trek home!
Uh oh…. Another day of sleeping in!! I think nearly three weeks of full days are catching up with us… We did get out of the apartment by about 10am though.
We hadn’t been anywhere near the Arc de Triomphe or Champs Élysées yet, so that was the plan for the day.
The Arc de Triomphe is huge and surrounded by an insane roundabout. It’s the only roundabout in France where the traffic already on the roundabout has to give way to traffic coming into the roundabout. There are no lanes marked on the road but it is five lanes wide! There are other roads nearby that specifically provide an alternative route for people who don’t want to attempt the madness. There is also no pedestrian crossing to get to the Arc in the middle of the roundabout; you cross underground.
On one side at ground level is the place of the unknown soldier. A flame burns and the flowers are replaced daily. From under the arch in the middle is a camera looking down. As you climb the arch, at one level you can look down on the people underneath who are almost as small as ants.
Only 200 stairs to climb…. We’ve climbed so many stairs and hills that I can’t believe our legs still complain, but they do! The view from the top down the Champs Élysées was lovely. We could also see some people’s rooftop gardens – not all that common in France apparently as many of the rooftops are not flat.
A wander down Champs Élysées found Dean in car heaven, with a visit first to the Peugeot store where they had their Le Mans entry on display as well as a 1925 special and a futuristic 4-wheel motorbike. Mercedes followed but Dean was disappointed to discover that it was Mercedes fashion week so all the cars were wearing ‘clothes’ and were covered. At the Toyota store he saw the Denso hybrid racecar, the TS20 racecar, the 1961 2000GT, a couple of concept cars and an electric concept car that looked a lot like a golf buggy. The Renault store followed, with last year’s championship winning F1 car, their Megane trophy car, and a couple of single passenger electric cars. At Citroen he saw Sebastien Loeb’s 2012 rally car. Car heaven!
In the middle of all the glitz and glamour (and tourists) there was one gypsy beggar who lay down in the middle of the wide footpath on Champs Élysées, looking like she was fast asleep, but still managed to hold her cup upright to receive donations.
Next we headed to the Orangerie museum but I forgot it was closed on Tuesdays, so we walked a little further to the Orsay museum, situated inside an old train station. It was again a beautiful building and we saw pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne and others.
When we left we were pleased that there was a metro station right there at the museum, until we realised it was closed for works! We started walking towards the next, and stumbled across Pont des Arts; also known as a ‘lock bridge’. We found the lock that Katie and Lance had placed a couple of weeks earlier, and placed one of our own. Luckily when we threw our keys in the river they didn’t land on a boat passing underneath (which is bad luck), but Dean did hit his elbow hard on the bridge railing as he was trying to attach the lock in exactly the position that I wanted it. I told him that I hoped that didn’t mean that our time together would be painful for him!
Passing through the Louvre (still looking for a metro station) we asked the guard with the big scary muzzled guard dog for directions, and he told us there was a station just outside the walls. Our feet cheered!
Dinner was Moroccan…. I had a vegetable tagine and Dean had a couscous dish with lots of meat – all was good.
Back at the apartment an email reminded me that uni started again this week, so I had a quick look to see what I was in for. I discovered that I have a test due the day after we get home! Talk about back to reality with a jolt. So, I spent the next half an hour downloading the mountain of articles required to be read before the test…. Guess what I’m doing on the plane on the way home!!
It’s so easy to find yourself up very late when it doesn’t get dark here until about 10pm, so it was another late night!
In a Facebook post, Dean declared Monday to be ‘the missing day’. This is because it kind of was! We decided to sleep until we woke up and that turned out to be 11am!! That was followed by lunch at a creperie (for more of the delicious galettes) and then some aimless wandering around the Latin Quarter and souvenir shops. We also walked through a different area of Luxembourg gardens and saw a playground that the kids would have loved, and some beautiful gardens.
Dinner was again good and we sat indoors, which meant no disturbances by hawkers or beggars and a visit from the resident cat!
We really needed the rest so it was a good day. There is an interesting and funny story to tell from the evening but it’s a story that is hard to describe in text and best told in person, so we are going to keep you all in suspense until we get home!!
A day later than expected, we headed to Versailles. The streets of Paris were very quiet as we walked to the train station, we were not sure if that was because it was Sunday or because many had gone to watch the Bastille Day military parade.
At one station along the way, two musicians boarded the train – one playing an accordion and the other a saxophone. So we knew straight away what was coming next…. And it only took about 3 or 4 minutes before they were asking for money. This time, we literally just ignored them… Not even acknowledging them. I noticed that most people did the same thing. At the next station, another duo playing the same instruments boarded the train, in the same carriage, and they all looked at each other and kind of indicated that ‘we were here first’ and ‘ok we’ll go to the next carriage’!
We arrived in Versailles and got off the train with a crowd the size of what appeared to be all the missing people from the streets of Paris this morning! We all walked a couple of blocks to the castle and were all in awe at the first glimpse – partly due to its grandeur and partly due to the size of the crowd!
The line to enter the chateau was huge so we decided to tour the gardens first, where there was no line up. The gardens were beautiful, and stretched for miles. Not figuratively, but literally they were miles long. Entry to the gardens is normally included with entry to the chateau, but on Summer weekends they have a ‘fountain spectacular’ with the fountains running and classical music playing. We expected some fancy fountain thing going on, but it turned out to be just the fountains turned on. It was nice, but I wouldn’t call it spectacular enough to justify an extra entry fee!
We wandered the enormous gardens and eventually found ourselves at the smaller palace, which was built to allow the king to escape the busy and stressful life at the main palace, and then an even smaller palace again that was where Marie Antoinette would spend a lot of time.
Heading back towards the main chateau we stopped for lunch. Again, finding something quick and easy was difficult with the cafe serving sandwiches and panini’s, crepes, and pastries. Gluten, gluten, and more gluten. So we had to go to the restaurant, but luckily they had some reasonably priced salads and omelettes so that worked for us. Going through our two step paying process was quite long and drawn out today, and we were keen to get going. After receiving the bill, we asked three times for the EFTPOS machine and were still waiting… We managed to find the right change in cash and left it on the table. Even then, I tried to get the waiters attention to indicate that we had left the money, but to no avail, so we left, hoping that the staff found it before someone else did!
There was a little train that was transporting people around the grounds, and as Dean’s new shoes were creating new blisters, and we’d already walked miles, and had much more to go and it was uphill from there, we gave in and paid a few euros each to be delivered back to the chateau entrance.
There was still a long line to enter, but it turned out to be just the security line, where they were checking bags, so it went through pretty quickly. We talked to a friendly American couple for a while which helped pass the time, but it was only about 15 minutes in total.
Once inside, the chateau is incredible. The wealth that was spent to create this place is so hard to imagine. It was so impressive and at the same time difficult to imagine people actually living there. Each room was just as incredible as the last.
We returned to Paris and had a short time out at the apartment before heading out for dinner. At one point we thought we smelled smoke outside but with the windows open it could have come from anywhere. When we left for dinner, we found fire trucks in the street behind us. There had been a fire on the top floor of the building there and the firefighters were just finishing up, by the look of it.
We chose another restaurant in our new favourite area, 12 euros tonight for 3 courses. At the restaurants, you don’t wait to be seated, you just go in and sit down and the waiters always seem to know you are there. Most of the time they don’t write down your orders either, and yet we haven’t had a meal come out wrong yet. They all seem very good at their job.
I chose duck a l’orange for a French touch. I’ve never had duck before and when it arrived I swear it could have been lamb! It was still nice though. More musicians, more flower sellers to interrupt dinner, but tonight we managed not to accidentally buy anything!
The service at this restaurant was a little slower than usual, and we were keen to get going to the Eiffel Tower to see the fireworks, so we ended up leaving a little later than expected. The train we were on didn’t stop at the station we wanted to get off at, apparently because there were so many people around, so we got off at the next stop intending to find our way back to the tower by walking. Turns out everyone else was doing the same thing, and there was a massive crowd – absolutely massive – all walking in the same direction. We were literally drawn along with the crowd until we reached the tower, and then it was a matter of squeezing in among the people standing watching the musical show on a large stage under the tower, which ran until 11pm when the fireworks started.
And what a show that was!! The French really know how to put on a show. It was far more than just a fireworks display, it was a whole show.
They started by turning off all the lights on the tower which raised a cheer from the enormous crowd, then everyone sang along with the national anthem (well, everyone who knew the words!) Then, the fireworks started while on the screen underneath there were pictures and words about the revolution. A second stage began, with the tower lit by upward facing red, white and blue lights that highlighted the French flag flying in the middle of the tower, while the intensity of the fireworks grew. A third and final stage saw the tower fully lit up and sparkling from top to bottom while fireworks erupted all around it – it really was spectacular. The crowd was mesmerised, despite us all being squashed in, and everyone cheered again as the 45 minute show finished.
Incredibly, the crowd dispersed within minutes and we were drawn along with it. We saw no fights, no drunkenness despite plenty of people drinking many bottles of wine, and no rubbish left anywhere but either in the bins or if the bin was full, stacked neatly next to the bin. People don’t seem to litter here which no doubt contributes to the clean look of the streets.
We figured the crowd would be heading towards a metro station that might be running so we just followed. Everyone was walking in the same direction anyway and while we could have found a metro station we had no idea which were working. Dean asked some people passing us which direction it was to Luxembourg Gardens (right near our apartment) and they said it was too far to walk and we should take the metro – but again we didn’t know which we’re working so we just kept walking. Some people had parked their cars and were trying to get them out but it was faster to walk than to drive; it was really a massive crowd of people! At one point the crowd started to separate and go in two different directions, so we stopped and tried to use google maps to get our bearings. Amazing…. We were actual walking in the right direction! It told us that it would take 37 minutes walking so we figured we’d just keep going and if we came across a metro station we’d jump on a train. We didn’t, and walked all the way home. It probably took nearly an hour from when we first left. We had an ice cream and fell into bed… It was 1am!