France: day 9 & 10


We left Manoir de Montflambert right after breakfast, taking a bottle of their champagne with us. We saw a fox not long after leaving the manoir, before we got back on the highway, pretty much our only wildlife spotting of the trip. No wild boars, boo. Carmen took us down a bunch of back roads, then the Autoroute, then more back roads. Finally we returned the car to CDG about 15 minutes late, for which we got charged an extra day.

We piled into a cab and headed downtown, using limited French to have a conversation with cab driver until we reached our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready so we explored the neighbourhood — Saint Germain — a bit. We picked a nearby cafe for lunch, sitting and watching Paris go by as we drank wine and coffee.

I was excited to be staying in the 6th. I won’t even get into all the headaches we had with the hotel, though if you’re really interested, it’s on record over at TripAdvisor. Instead, I’ll just talk about what a fantastically convenient location it was, close to everything, surrounded by nice restaurants and pretty shops like this one across street.

We walked over to the Latin Quarter and had drinks at some sort of overpriced bar in a pedestrian mall (with a waitress who, ahem, defied gravity) and explored the ‘hood a bit before heading back toward our hotel. For dinner we settled on a place around the corner from our hotel, Cafe des Lettres. We loved this place. The inside looks like a library, all bookcases and dark wood and leather-bound chairs, but we saw outdoors on their huge garden patio. The menus were written inside the first pages of journals they brought to us, and patrons were welcome to write (or draw) whatever they wanted in the remaining pages. After we ordered we flipped through others’ thoughts and left some of our own. The food was excellent, the servers were very friendly (and let me continue ordering in French, only switching to English when stumbled once) and terribly attractive, and the weather was as perfect as it had been for the whole trip. We enjoyed our evening in the warm Parisian air and strolled back to the hotel, pleased as punch.

Speaking of attractive Parisians, I felt kind of bad for Nellie. While there were stunning Parisian women everywhere one looked, she saw very few attractive French men. Something about them all being too short. Anyway, it was a terrible imbalance. Tragic. But she held up like a trooper.

DAY 10

The next morning we decided to visit the Musee D’Orsay, an obvious choice as it was a block from our hotel.

The vast lineup to enter the building tipped us off that crowds would be bad, so we thought we’d be smart and head directly to the third floor where all the top-flight paintings were. Turns out this was everybody’s plan, which made it hard to enjoy the art. There would be no room to stand in front of a painting and admire it because of the steady stream of tourist yobs taking each others’ picture in front of it. With flash, of course. It led to a speed walk around the top floor, and only slightly more casual walks on the remaining floors.

Surprisingly, my favourite thing in the whole musee might have been the view that greets you when you enter the main hall. D’Orsay was a train station, and it’s retained the feeling of a grand hall, rather than the palatial feel of the Louvre. We wrapped up there and grabbed some lunch at a pub on Saint-Germain that has a decent beer selection. Unfortunately the rest of it was a touristy mess, but you can’t win ’em all. Clearly the previous night had spoiled us.

In the late afternoon we decided to go for a walk toward the Eiffel tower. The last time we visited Paris was during the World Cup of Rugby (hosted by France), and there was a giant rugby ball suspended from the tower, which made our resident photographer very unhappy. This time she was determined to get an unspoiled shot. She did, but probably not from the angle she was expecting.

The reason I wanted to walk down that far was to cross the river and visit the Place du Trocadero. We sat on the grass and watched the fountains, snapping picture after picture of the tower from our perfect vantage. No aggressive trinket vendors, no loud scammers, no bumbling crowds…just peace and quiet and a clear sight line. Sure, there were lots of people hanging out on the grass, but it’s an ocean of calm compared to the chaos across the river, underneath the tower.

During our walk back to the hotel I step into a hole in the sidewalk and jam my shin, which ends up sucking pretty badly later. Also, I paid 12 Euros for one hour of internet access, and I felt like I lost a tiny bit of my soul, so our luck was starting to turn. But dinner at Fish Wine Bar won the day. It was a fairly Anglo place (a Kiwi bartender greeted us, a lady from New York chatted with us at the bar, etc.), enough so that the older gentleman seated next to us said something rather rude en Francais about the annoying foreigners not bothering to learn the language. He thought I couldn’t understand him, but the stink-eye I gave him made him realize that wasn’t the case. Anyway, we weren’t letting that spoil our night…our food was excellent, and the wine predictably wonderful. Another great find. We wondered when our luck would run out.

By this point we were both pretty much in love with Paris. The only thing that bothered me about it was the smoking. Living in Toronto’s spoiled us; as smokey as I find it sometimes, it’s nothing compared to Paris, where we were always sitting next to someone on a cafe who lit up. Still, it was immeasurably better this time ’round in Paris, now that there’s no smoking indoors.

We sauntered back to the hotel, brimming with wine, infatuated with our new vacation home. Paris, je t’aime.

I swear, every single town in France has a Notre Dame Cathedral

Back in January I mentioned that our big trip this year would consist of two weeks in France. We’ve now hammered out our plan some more:


The plan is as follows. Follow along on the map for extra fun!

  1. Land in Paris (trust me, the ‘A’ is hidden behind the ‘K’) and jump in a car
  2. Visit Chartres
  3. Visit the Chateau de Chambord and start driving along the Loire valley
  4. Visit Tours, and other small towns along the way like Amboise and Candes-St-Martin
  5. Visit Angers, and from there turn north
  6. See Mont-Saint-Michel, though after the experience we had at Rocamadour I think we’ll just take pictures from the outside
  7. Visit Juno Beach
  8. Visit the Vimy Memorial
  9. Visit Reims
  10. Spend a few days in and around Epernay and Troyes, sampling Champagne and meeting up with my brother
  11. Drive back to Paris, drop the car and spend about five days there…probably visiting the Louvre a couple of times, the Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, maybe the catacombs, maybe just hanging out in St-Germain or Montparnasse.

So that’s the plan.We’ll cover A through I in first six days, then as our energy wears off we’ll start to wind down in Champagne and take the better part of the final week in Paris.

Anybody have any tips for those areas? Any can’t-misses?