Ahhhh, France is such a lovely place. And while the history of the country can fascinate your mind…the stories of the “days of old” help us imagine what the people’s lives were like who lived there and fought for their castles and their freedom…what it is now is what captured my heart during our journey.
In my observations, the French are fiercely proud and maybe just a little bit arrogant about their country and heritage, yet also very warm and inviting if you show them due respect by attempting to speak (and act) in their customary way. We found that if we approached with an attitude of greeting warmly first with a “bon jour” and a smile before our inquiry or request for a table with a view, our service was with great care and warmth. And isn’t that as it should be with every establishment we enter in the world? In my world travels I have found this universally. All people simply want to be shown kindness and respect, even when our political views may be different.
But I digress…you likely read on because you want to know how to enjoy the French experience actively. I am happy to share the adventures of two women traveling alone with gusto. Gratefully, my good friend Gretchen has the energy of a child, just like me! And, while we can sometimes be a bit scattered, the chaos is always enjoyed and willingly shared with anyone who happens to want to get in on the action. Grin.
You can read about our AmaWaterways river cruise from Paris to Normandy in a previous blog. This story is about our five nights post cruise; Two nights Paris in the Latin Quarter area, two nights in the city of Orleans south of Paris, and our last night before flying home at a CDG Paris airport hotel. Gosh, I could probably write ten stories about this part of our adventures, but I will do my very best to give you the highlights, along with some good stuff to use (or avoid!) for your own France travels.
Since G and I were going to have a pretty intense itinerary with the cruise, we decided to plan in advance only our rail to and from, hotels, and bike rentals. I’ve gotta say, as a professional travel planner this goes against my instincts a bit, but I do coach my clients to go around the corner and off the beaten path to find the authentic experiences. We did this more than once, for sure!
Leaving the ship was a great adventure in itself! The night before we had gone with some of the crew to a bar just off our dock in Paris for some lively dancing and revelry, and I had requested our taxi to the Best Western Plus Latin Quartier Pantheon across town to pick us up at 9:15am. (Actually that’s a little white lie…all I had to do was ask Rolff, our cruise director, to do that for me!). In the flurry of waking and breakfast attempts we managed to misplace one rolling bag, spill a cup of coffee in the lounge, and made a frantic search for an earring lost! All the while the crew took it in stride, cleaning up, finding the bag, and lovingly shoving us into the taxi for our trek across Paris. Now THAT’S service with a smile! Oops…we sighed heavily when we finally drove away, to be sure…then giggled as we recalled the fun the night before and the lost earring was found.
We arrived at the BW about 40 minutes later to learn that once again, our room was ready for us! Up we went to our small but clean and modern room to stow our things and prepare for the day. Laure at the front desk was amazing at helping us navigate, and we soon realized how convenient our location was. A short stroll later down towards the Seine, we found the street artists booths and a lovely view of the Notre Dame. It would be just the first of many views…one of my favorites being the one from the river cruise we would do that evening on a Fat Tire Bike Tour. I DID arrange that in advance through Viator (a partner of mine, so allow me to book it for you?), along with the tickets into the Versailles Palace which we saw the next day.
The other ticket we purchased in advance which I highly suggest you do was the hop-on-off bus tour. We got a two day, not knowing what we’d feel like doing, as it was just $7 more for both of us. That’s a no-brainer, and keeps you from having to stand in line to purchase from the folks selling on the street. There are a couple in Paris…We did L ‘Open, and it has four different routes you can choose. Considering our late night prior, we were very content just riding around two loops, taking in the sites that late morning, early afternoon. It’s a great intro to the city, and helps you to get your bearings on where everything is. More French music than history on this one…so you might prefer the other if you want details. We used it as a means to get around, but decided against going to any museums. We had our night bike tour and had to get across town for that by Metro, so we just relaxed and enjoyed.
The Metro was easy-ish, especially if you know the NYC system. Figure out the END destination to know which way to travel. And the maps inside the cars allow you to know when your stop is coming up. We were right on time for the bike tour at 6:30pm, and they walked us to the shop from the Metro to be fitted on the bikes. It wasn’t long before our group of about 12 was off…and that was a little crazy!
We were told that the Parisians are used to the bike tours taking over the road at times, so that’s what we did. When Eddie put his fist into the air and said “DOMINATE”, we all were to yell a big “whoop” and spread out in the lane. Yeah, crazy, I know! But no more crazy than when Gretchen and I drove accidentally into the busy roundabout near the Eiffel Tower and all I could think was that I was not gonna get to do the river cruise after all! Grin. We saw the sun set over the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, and on the late night river cruise that was included, we saw for the second time the sparkling light show of twinkling lights on the iconic tower. It’s magical. The City of Lights is truly magnificent from the river. Another favorite photo of the trip was taken…of the beautiful lights of the Notre Dame.
Earlier in the day we had the pleasure of sitting with some lovely Parisians taking our afternoon coffees when one asked if I had downloaded the new local “Uber-like” APP. She added it to my phone while I said a heartfelt “Merci!” We needed it that evening as the bike tour ended at 11:30pm and we still needed to get across town, but we were famished! As two women traveling, we just didn’t feel comfy on the Metro that late at night. Gathering a recommendation from the Fat Tire tour folks, we walked to a yummy Turkish deli, then hailed our ride. The App is called ChauffeurPrive, and you can choose English to plug in your CC details. Brilliant! We waited just a few minutes, and off to our beds!
Our second day was to be filled with opulence…a rail trek 30 minutes outside of Paris to the Versailles Palace. We enjoyed the challenge of buying and traveling by Metro and train that day (always and adventure, even buying rail tickets!). A temporary closure of the Javel station just as we were about to enter made us pause…for a cafe across the street. L’Apollinaire served a nice croissant and coffee, and we could easily watch the doors to see when the station was open again. You must know that the Parisians take VERY seriously anything that might seem suspicious, and this was why the station closed. But within about an hour we were off to see the gold and glitz.
Our tickets allowed us in but were not timed, so we stood in the beautifully cool weather about 45 minutes, chatting to new friends. Upon entering we grabbed our headsets, and took the 2 hours or so to learn about and imagine a time of opulence, greed, and the most amazingly extravagant parties in the “countryside”. The palace lies just 30 minutes by train outside of Paris but was a much longer journey back then, of course. We took it all in according to our own interests, and I was following a small group of tourists led by a guide. One young, stylish painted lady kept her giant hat (meant to shield her from the sun) on her pretty little head the entire time! Really? She was shorter than I, but I found myself dodging her camera and massive headgear for many, many, many rooms.
The paintings I found fascinating…the building immense. While I did enjoy and feel it is something spectacular that you will want to experience, I’m not sure I will do it again unless invited to a magical party there! The grounds are gorgeous and massive, so rather than pay the E10 extra to enter since they had some musical attractions outdoors this day, we decided to head for a happy hour nearby. Grin. We know our priorities! In our hurry to exit the building, we hear sirens, seemingly in the distance, and I remark to G that I wonder what was happening and too bad for the ones who were in trouble. A split second later we both realize that it’s our headset devices sounding the sirens, and we sheepishly turn around to re-enter and hand the screeching machines to the man at the counter. Funny!
OH my gosh, this is a LOOOONG story. I think we better break it into part one and part two, don’t you? We had a lovely happy hour people watching in Versailles as we sat in our just around the corner outdoor restaurant. Streams of tired feet walked past, heading to tour busses, trains and automobiles. After our train and Metro returned us to the Austerlitz station a block or two from the Best Western, we paused for a little nourishment at a roadside place and asked about evening music venues. Though our kind and handsome waiter pointed just down the street, the day for us was done when we arrived back in our small but comfy room. Yes, we had good intentions of experiencing a bit of French nightlife…it was Saturday night after all…but some of that tiredness had crept into our feet, too.
In the morning we would be traveling to the beautiful UNESCO city of Orleans by first class rail. But first, we wanted to arrange the transfer of a couple of bags to our airport hotel Oceania to lighten our load. G had an oversized bag, as she had brought cruise clothes that she intended to leave along the journey to whoever might benefit. Selena, our fitness guru on the ship, was a tall one like Gretchen and was pleased to accept them! A lovely gesture, but it kinda cramped G’s style when lugging bags up and down the stairs of a train and station. Our amazing Laure at the BW and her night-time staff came to the rescue! To send by luggage courier was a ridiculous expense of over 100 Euros and therefore out of the question. Shame on me for not recalling his name, but the night staff gentleman agreed to take the bags to the hotel for us (I sent along my little extra carry-on as well with my dirty clothing inside!), as he lived very near the airport. For only 40 Euros, our bags were hand delivered with care, and stored on our behalf for the two nights we would be in Orleans. Bam. How fortunate are we?
The adventures TO BE CONTINUED………