Trip to France and Philadelphia

Mike and Judy Henderson
September 30 - October 25, 2014

After our trip to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary last year, we decided to go to France this year.  We scheduled a two week river boat cruise with Uniworld.  The first week starts in Paris and takes the Seine to the channel and Normandy, then returns to Paris.

We then take a train to Lyon where we get on a different river boat and proceed for a week down the Rhone to Avignon.   For both rivers, the boat stops at many of the small cities and villages along the river.

The first segment starts on October 5th but we arrive in Paris on October 1st so we'll have some time to poke around Paris a bit.  At the end of the Rhone segment at Avignon, we'll take a train to Aix-en-Provence where we'll spend a few days before taking the train to Charles de Gaulle airport for our flight back to the US on October 22nd.

But we're not going to LAX, we're going to Philadelphia to see our friends, Diana and Jim.  Well, we haven't met Jim yet but I know we'll be friends.

We depart Philadelphia for LAX on October 25th.

We plan to put pictures and commentary about our trip here "as it happens."  I'll have my computer with me and will try to update this page each evening.  It'll be in chronological order.

9/30/2014  (Tuesday) We're on our way!  It's almost noon and we're waiting for the limo to pick us up.  Here's a picture of Judy and our bags - not too much for three weeks in France, is it?

I forgot to get a picture of the limo when we were picked up, so here's a picture of Judy at LAX with the driver.

Since we're traveling business class, we got to use the Korean Airlines lounge.  KAL partners with Air France for use of the lounge.  It's brand new - the Tom Bradley terminal was renovated just recently.


Since I'm doing most of the picture taking, a lot of the pictures will be of Judy.

We're flying an Airbus A380, which is that giant two decker airplane.  The lower deck is all economy, maybe 350 people, with a small first class section, but mostly economy.  The upper deck is business class, and premium economy.  I couldn't get a picture of the plane we're flying but here's a picture of an A380 that was parked at the gate next to us.

And here we are on the plane prior to takeoff.  Judy's doing Words with Friends.

Here's a shot of the business class cabin.  I'm updating this on the plane right now.

And TAKEOFF!  Here's a view of the Palos Verdes Peninsula out the window as we takeoff.

10/1/2014  (Wednesday) The flight from LAX to Paris is about 10 hours.  The seats we had were pretty good - they reclined quite a bit - but they didn't go flat so I had trouble sleeping.  Judy, however, managed to get a few good hours of sleep.

While tiring, the trip wasn't too bad.  We were met by a driver who took us to the hotel, a small hotel on the left bank fairly close to the Eiffel Tower, by the name of Relais Bosquet.  Like many European hotels, the rooms are small, but we don't plan to spend a lot of time in the room.

We arrived at the hotel about 2pm and took a short nap.  We were really exhausted from the trip - we didn't sleep much and the time was 9 hours different from CA.  But after a short nap, we went walking around Paris.  First, down to the river (Seine) and along the left bank (Rive Gauche - BTW, the left or right bank is determined by facing downstream).  Here's a picture of the Seine from a pedestrian bridge.  The Ile-de-la-Cité (island) is ahead but is hard to make out in the picture.

Google maps is great.  To walk back to the hotel, we had Google choose a route and we walked the "back streets" of Paris back to the hotel.  We passed Hotel des Invalides which is a large museum and the place where Napoleon is buried.  This is a "panoramic" view that takes in almost 180 degrees of view.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small cafe and had dinner.  By now, we were pretty tired.  Judy looks good in this picture, but I can see the fatigue in her eyes.  The food was good, not great, but it was a local place and the prices were reasonable.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted.  It took almost no time at all to fall asleep - but then we woke up early - about 3am. 

10/2/2014 (Thursday)  We got up early this morning - still on CA time, I suppose.  I thought I could use the time to do a few things on the computer, but the hotel Internet access was not working.  The hotel doesn't start serving breakfast until 7am so we just read the paper until then.  They fixed the Internet access about 7am.

The breakfast the hotel puts out is not bad.  They have scrambled eggs, sausage, cold cuts, cheese, yogurt, fruit, pancakes, cold cereal, many kinds of good, Parisian bread, and butter and jellies.  Here's a panoramic picture of the breakfast spread.  It's actually a straight table, but the panoramic view makes it look like it's curved.

After breakfast, we walked down to the École Militaire Metro station and bought two one-day Meto tickets.  One thing we learned about Metro tickets:  If you come to Paris, buy the 10 ticket deal, not the one-day or three-day ticket.  Ten tickets will take you through three days, maybe even a week, at a much lower price than buying the one-day or three-day tickets. 

Then we walked to a bus stop and took the bus to Ile-de-la-Cité where we visited the area around Notre Dame Cathedral.  Both Judy and I had visited Notre Dame years ago.  The last time I went to Notre Dame, people could just walk in.  Now there is a huge line even early in the morning.  The line was waaaaay too long so we didn't go in.  Here's Judy and me in front of Notre Dame.

Next, we went to Sainte-Chapelle, a smaller chapel finished in 1248.  It was built by Louis IX to house his collection of Passion Relics (such as the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion).  It's an amazing building because of the extraordinary amount of stained glass.  Many buildings built during that time had very small windows because of the need for the walls to support the ceilings, but this one seems to defy gravity.  Here's a few pictures of Sainte-Chapelle.

This picture is of the outside.  The chapel has two levels, with the second level being where services were held.  Occasionally, concerts are held in the chapel - Judy says the acoustics are unbelievable.

And here's a couple of pictures of the inside. This first one I took and the second was done by a professional (I got it off the web).  Note how open the chapel is because of the huge stained glass windows.  Judy's in the foreground taking a picture of one of the windows.

After Sainte-Chapelle, we walked to Ile Saint Louis which is just upstream from Ile-de-la-Cité and connected to it by a bridge.  A friend of Judy's will be renting an apartment there for a week's stay, so we walked to it and took a picture just to show we were there.

By then it was lunch time so we had a small snack at café Le Lutétia on Ile Saint-Louis.

Our river cruise begins on Sunday and I wanted to see the place where the boat will be - quai André Citroen.  After a short adventure on the Metro we found the station closest to the quai.  This gave us a chance to see another part of the Seine.

Then, back to the hotel for a nap.  In the afternoon, we met two English friends, Paul and Norah, who are now living in France.  They came in to Paris to see us and we had dinner with them.

Prior to dinner, we walked in the Champ-de-Mars, which is the park where the Eifel Tower is located.  And since any story of Paris has to include a picture of the Eifel Tower, here it is.  They were doing work in the Champ-de-Mars.

And here's a picture of Paul, Norah, and Judy in the Champ-de-Mars, with the Eifel Tower in the background.

And one of Paul, Norah and me.

We had dinner at a typical Paris cafe, Chez Constant.

10/3/2014 (Friday)  Our friends, Paul and Norah, spent the night at the same hotel.  In the morning, we had breakfast together and chatted for most of the morning. Here's a picture as we said good-bye.

Judy and I had both been through the Louvre in previous visits to Paris - in case you're wondering why we haven't gone there - but I had never been to the Georges Pompidou Centre and wanted to visit that, so Judy and I went there first.

The Pompidou Centre has a very modern design, and people either love it or hate it.

A portion of it is a museum, this time featuring a Marcel Duchamp exhibit.  This was appropriate, I suppose, given the modern design of the Centre.

The museum part of the Centre is the top floor and from that level you get a good rooftop view of Paris.  Here's the view of Sacré Coeur from that level.  It's located at the highest point in Montmartre,

We had heard about a giant kitchen wares store not too far from the Pompidou Centre.  It was a short walk away, near St. Eustache Church.  They had an unimaginable selection , primarily geared towards commercial kitchens.

By then, it was time for lunch so we chose an Irish cafe - Quigley's - and had a sandwich.

 Judy likes Guinness beer so she had a pint.

After lunch we walked to Ile-de-la-Cité to see if we could get into Notre Dame.  This time the line was shorter, and we were inside within a few minutes. 

There was a mass in progress, and the congregation was quite large .

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Carrefour grocery and picked up a bottle of wine.  Paul and Norah had given us some crackers and cheese representing the area in western France where they live, so we'll have that with a few glasses of wine this evening.  Ah, Paree.

[Added note:  The wine we had was a margaux.  Hemingway had lived in Paris and apparently enjoyed the wine so much that he named one of his daughters Margaux.  The other was named Mariel, after the town of Mariel, Cuba.]

10/4/2014 (Saturday)  Funny thing happened this morning.  Judy and I both woke up about 5am.  But after checking email, we laid back down and the next thing we knew, it was 9:30.  I don't know if that's a sign we've adjusted to the time difference, but we did catch up on our sleep.  We didn't get going until after 11am.

First, we walked to the Rodin Museum where we spent some time in the sculpture garden and went through the museum.  This picture is of the museum, from the back of the sculpture garden.

One of the sculptures Rodin is most known for is "The Burghers of Calais".  In 1347, during the Hundred Year's War, England's Edward III laid siege to Calais.  The city held out but was eventually forced to surrender when they ran out of food and the inhabitants were starving.  Edward agreed to spare the inhabitants if six prominent citizens would surrender themselves to be executed.  They were to come out stripped of their finery, wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city. 

Eustache de Saint Pierre, a wealthy and prominent burgher, volunteered first and was eventually joined by five other burghers.  The sculpture captures them as they prepare to leave the city and surrender to Edward.

Side note:  Edward's wife convinced Edward that execution of the burghers would bring ill on their unborn child, and Edward pardoned the burghers.

Another interesting piece is "Ugolin and his Children".  I won't go into the whole story - you can Google for it - but Ugolin and his children (and grandchildren) were imprisoned in a tower.  On the orders of Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini the keys were thrown into the river and Ugolin and his children were left to starve (which they did).

A piece I'm sure everyone knows is "The Thinker".

The final sculpture I'll post is the famous "The Kiss".

After we left the Rodin Museum, we walked to the Musée d'Orsay.  They don't allow picture taking in the museum so I don't have any to share.  I did find this picture of the inside of the museum, however.

The museum was created by the conversion of the Gare d'Orsay, a beaux-arts railway station built around 1900.  Here's a picture of the outside.

By then, we had pretty much shot the day, so we headed back to the area of our hotel for a late lunch/early dinner.

The Rue Cler is very close to our hotel and it's supposed to be a "happening place" in Paris.  The cafés were very busy Friday night.  We had a meal at the Cafe du Marche, shown in the picture.

The food is very ordinary, not what I'd consider great French food - and very expensive.  A glass of wine was 17 Euros.

We had been told that the Amorino gelato was not to be missed so we went to Amorino, which was almost next door to the café and had a cup of mixed flavors.  It was not exceptional - good, but not as great as I had heard.

After dinner, we decided to wash some clothes before joining the boat on Sunday.  There was a Laundromat close to the hotel so that's how we spent an exciting evening in Paris.

10/5/2014 (Sunday) We check out today and join our river cruise.  A few closing comments about Paris for those who might come this way.

Paris has a very good Metro - it's fast, reasonably clean and pretty safe.  They offer tickets for unlimited travel for 1, 2 or 3 days.  We found that these are not a good value because you don't use the Metro enough to break even compared to buying individual tickets.  A better deal is the 10 ticket offer, which gets you ten individual tickets.  You can distribute those tickets to your party and they can be used used any time, even on your next visit to Paris.

Second, hotels in Paris are expensive and not what Americans are accustomed to.  Smaller hotels are mostly remodeled buildings, which means that the rooms are small, the staircase narrow and the elevator may only hold a few people.  Hotels are rated by stars, and the stars may indicate what services the hotel provides, and not really how good it is. If you want to know how good a hotel is, check something like TripAdvisor.  A three star hotel may mean that there's no bellman to help you with your luggage, while at a four star hotel there will be a bellman.  But it may not indicate that the four star hotel is cleaner than a three star hotel, or that the staff will be nicer. We had a very satisfactory stay at the Hotel Relais-Bosquet and would definitely return.  Among other things, it's located in a very safe, upscale neighborhood.  One of the main things to consider in a hotel is location.  Consider where you want to go, and book in that location.  However, on one visit to Paris I had to book into a hotel in La Défense, a suburb of Paris, and did quite well because of the terrific Metro service.


Our trip continues here.