Friday, March 22, 2013

I See London, I See France....

On Wednesday morning, our time in London had come to an end.

But before we could start our French adventure we had to get there. There was a comment made on the news this morning that traffic in and out of St. Pancras was delayed. We had chosen to take a train from England to France from St. Pancras so this made us a little nervous. Our stress-free travel experiences continued! Not.

St. Pancras and Kings Cross are connected. Had we had enough time, Jake and I had wanted to visit platform 9 3/4. No luck however.

When we got to the train station the weather had caught up with us again. It had been snowing in Northern France for the past few days and lots of trains had been cancelled or delayed, resulting in a very, very long line at the ticket booth. We already had our seats reserved, we just didn't have physical tickets and we didn't know exactly where we were supposed to go to get them. 

So, Dad went off to try and find out where to print out our tickets while Mom, Jake, and I stood in an extremely long line that would most certainly cause us to miss our train that was due to leave in less than 30 minutes.

Luckily, Dad came back with tickets in hand and we hurriedly made our way through a very lax Customs and onto the train platform.

Even though our train said it had a "luggage compartment", from here on out I would travel as lightly as possible when planning on traveling by train. A "luggage compartment" is apparently the size of a walk-in-closet and supposed to fit the luggage of 50+ people. I was a little worried for awhile, but it worked out okay. We had our luggage all stowed away before the train departed.

Mom brought snacks! Which was good, because the bad snow limited our speed on the rails and added and extra 90 minutes to our travel time. We also made a trip to the club car for some food. It was surprisingly good for microwave food.

Bye-bye, London! We hope to see you again!

It didn't take long to get out of the city. The train ride was nice and picturesque.

There was definitely snowfall in Northern France.

The first of much graffiti we saw in Paris.

Gare du Nord is a very large and busy (and freezing) train station in Paris.

Dad and I got to stand in line for a good while once we found the Metro ticket desk in Gare du Nord. (New York is to Subway, as London is to the Tube/Underground, as Paris is to the Metro.) They only had one person working the desk, which was kind of ridiculous, and she didn't speak English. Sheesh. I was glad I already knew what we needed. People were having a hard time trying to have discussions with her about what their options were. We bought a couple books of tickets (carnets) to cover our Metro usage for the first couple days. Then we headed to the 3 Line to find our Bed and Breakfast.

I can't find the pictures of the front of Philippe's place, Courcelles-Parc, at the moment. However, we don't have enough good things to say about our visit here. Mainly because the mattresses were divine and the location great. Not to mention, Phillipe's winning personality and eagerness to make sure our stay was pleasurable. (FYI: I have been attempting to hunt down the mattresses we slept on there so we can have one of our own in our home. Alas, I cannot find one cheaper than $3200. They were a type of plush bamboo, and divine.)

The side of Philippe's Bed and Breakfast we stayed on was kind of like a family suite. It was 2 bedrooms sharing a bathroom. Great for families. 
Jake and I stayed in the Opera Room. We had a view of the atrium (nothing really to see there). 

 While Mom and Dad stayed in the St. Germain Room. They had a view of the street. (Again, I have other pictures, I just haven't found them yet. I will have to come back later and update.)

This was the bathroom, complete with towel warmer and rain shower head.


 After Philippe approved of our plans for the afternoon and gave us his best advice on how to get there, we set out. (Philippe has a wealth of knowledge about Paris and he loves to share it. He was always prepared with an arsenal of business cards. Depending on where you were headed for the day he could recommend a restaurant or chocolatier in the area.)

We started our trip to Paris off by visiting the Patisserie across the street from our B&B. They were a little pricey, but everything was beautiful. We didn't end up getting anything, but Mom got a St. Honore' dessert there the last night and reveled in it. 

Then we set out for the Champs-Elysees. 
There was old snow still gathered up on the cars and in the gutters. 
Dad made himself a nicely packed rock and chucked it at my shoulder while we were walking. He likes to keep us on our toes. 

The first chocolatier window we saw! It was fun to be there just before Easter. The candy shops all had chocolate chickens, ducks, bunnys, owls, etc. The way Philippe explained it, "A chicken comes and poo poos eggs all over the park" at Easter in France. No one has their own yard, so they go egg hunting at their local park.  

When we reached the Champs-Elysees, traffic was crazy insane. Think Dale Mabry x 5. All of the sudden I hear car horns honking and I look to see 2 kids running (j-walking) across this 8 lane highway. No regard for their safety beside the girl holding her hand out as if she is The Thing from The Fantastic Four and can halt any oncoming car. They ran straight across the street, no stopping, and down into a Metro entrance. Welcome to Paris!

Beside all of the fancy shmancy high-end stores on the Champs, there are plenty of other middle-class stores. And yes, we went in the Disney Store. Ever since I had kids, whether they are with me or not my husband and I go in the Disney Store. We were in Paris and went in the Disney Store. They didn't even have Belle. Lame. 

We went in the French Target, too! I love the French Target, it's called Monoprix. We went in every one we passed on our trip.

If you love Target, you'd love Monoprix.

Jake was going to get a sandwich at Monoprix, but Dad had spotted someone with a McDonalds drink cup and was holding out. So, when we left, he was on the hunt for a cheeseburger.

The window display of this store was beautiful and Parisian.

When I looked in this Sephora, it seemed to go on forever. For. Eva!

Tissot anyone?

 Some break dances performers. Probably part of a pick pocketing ring. Pick pockets are horrible in Paris. Young children are even involved. They get you to try to sign petitions while people pick your pocket. They bring a ring up to you to get you to stop saying, "You dropped your ring!" while someone picks your pocket... horrible. Just keep moving! No stopping!

The 100th H&M we had seen on our trip.

While shopping in Oxford Circus in London there had been a window display in a youthful store geared toward female teens that had the word "SEX" as part of the display. My Mom and I were shocked. We were pleasantly surprised to see this Store's slogan. I noticed it all over Paris after this: Happy is the New Chic. Love it! Live it!

Cute little French girl with her Mom and Dad. 

Us being nerds.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Target found!

Success. Cheesburger consumed.
(And if he complains about this picture at work he has no one to blame but himself. I only have what he gave me to work with.)

All of the food in this photo was one Value Meal. Things work a little differently in McDonald's abroad. This Value Meal came with an extra set of chicken nuggets. Therefore, you can feed 2 people with every 1 Value Meal. I didn't notice taps in this McDonalds, but the last time I was in Paris you could also get draft beer at McDonalds; and wedge fries if you preferred them over the McDonalds ones. Only weirdos would want wedge fries over McDonalds fries.

The other very unique thing about this McDonalds is that it had a separate McCafe selling their McCafe items, as well as, macaroons... and other pastries. Weird, no? Also, that bank of machines you see on the opposite wall, they are like self checkout machines, except they are for ordering. You can do "express ordering" and then pick it up in a separate line. Conveinient.

Once out, we crossed the street to walk the last block or so to the Arc de Triumph. 

On one of the corners closest to the Arc, Cartier. We didn't go in. Poo.

I thought this restaurant name odd, Drugstore Steakhouse.

Yay! We made it without slipping on the melting snow and ice!

There was a performance of the guards going on when we reached it. So, we couldn't go over until they were done.  

You can't cross the roundabout anyway. There is an underground tunnel in the nearby Metro exit. Twelve streets empty into the roundabout. Who would like to navigate that?! Craziness.

We had to cross 5 of the 12 streets to reach the Metro tunnel. 

We timed our arrival at the tunnel entrance just as the guard band was exiting. "Excellent!" I thought. Wrong. I went up to a local officer and asked when they would be removing the gates. Actually, first I asked, "Parle vous anglais?" "Non." Was his reply. Awesome, was my thought to myself. But he got the gist of my question about the gates and said, "Forbidden!" What?! After a confusing minute or two where everyone of my questions was met with "FORBIDDEN!" We finally realized that due to weather the Arc was closed to visitors. Dang ice.

So, back over the five streets. 
Look at this poor building that was recently on fire.

 Still crossing.

And crossing.

We walked down the opposite side of the Champs while on our way to the next destination, the Eiffel Tower. 

This store is so high end it only sells one of everything.

And there she is! Or should I say he? 

One of the many beautiful flower shops we saw during our visit.

We're getting closer!

Ta da!

Sadly, yet another hit and miss due to weather. We couldn't go up because they had everything shut down due to the snow and ice. 

This picture is for me. The last time I came to the Eiffel Tower, I was by myself. I attempted to take a picture of myself standing with it in the background, and I only got my forehead in the frame. I rock like that. So, I decided it needed a companion image to go with it. Voila!

Every hour, for the first five minutes, the Eiffel Tower sparkles. So, we only had a little while before it was 8 o'clock and we decided to walk across to the other side to see the magic. 

There was a tourist hut full of trinket items we rummaged through to pass the time. I walked off to the side and down by the Seine to take some pictures when this little guy and his brother came scurrying out of the shadows. Delightful. I know it's unfocused, but it was as good as I could do before he dashed under a closed hut. 

There are a couple of carousels surrounding the Eiffel Tower. 

Across the street and up a hill to the park we walked.

And then it happened...

 Sorry, I didn't know how I should really hold the camera. Hopefully, you don't suffer from motion sickness.


 My feet were dying at this point. I didn't wear my boots again the rest of the trip because I couldn't bear to do that to my feet again. Luckily, we were headed for our dinner reservation. Philippe had recommended a restaurant near our B&B that he loves. He said he would eat their every day if his pocketbook and metabolism would allow it. None of us could felt like walking anymore, so we hit the Metro.

Hi, Honey!

It was a little bit of walk from the Metro, but we finally made it to L'Improviste.

I wonder what Philippe told them to get them to put a "VIP" card on our reserved table.

It was a quaint and clean little place. Very French.

Mom and I were frozen over and started with soup. I believe this was a red lentil soup. It was thicker than the soup from Troia in London. The bread was a little too toasted for my liking. It was like a giant crouton. But the soup was delicious. 

For the main course, Mom, Jake, and I ordered what Philippe had suggested. He said they made the best duck in France and I have to say I agree with him! I'm not much of a dark meat person, therefore anytime I have had duck I haven't really liked it. However, the duck at L'Improviste is a delicious shredded duck with a rich gravy folded into a casserole of delicious mashed potatoes. It was so good. It warmed you to the core. A real rib sticking meal, if you will.

Dad had steak and fries. 
He said he needed to eat light because he was still not feeling well. 

I believe Jake ended up being a member of "The Clean Plate Club".

Mom and I probably could have split. The soup had filled us up a little too much. However, it didn't keep us from jumping at dessert!

Jake had Tart au Tatin. He was really excited about it, but then discovered there was a liquor in it that didn't go well with the tart apples. He ate about half of it.

My chocolate on the other hand, was outstanding. The shocking thing is the best part was the vanilla ice cream. I am a chocolate person all-the-way, so it surprised me how rich and flavorful the vanilla ice cream was. I wanted more.

Mom and Dad had Creme Brulee that they scarfed down. They said it was one of the best they had ever had. 

Seriously, the food here was really awful. 

With our bellies full, and our bodies exhausted, we braved the cold one last time and headed home. It was a great day in Paris!

Museums and Cathedrals tomorrow!

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