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Monday, September 23, 2013

Paris to Washington, almost home

Paris, taken two years ago
We're sitting in the United Club in Washington Dulles International Airport so I thought I would write a final quick chapter of our 2013 trip to France. We were up at 6:00 AM Paris time this morning, that's midnight at home. We got checked out of the Novotel and walked over to the shuttle train that serves Charles de Gaulle Airport. Our first challenge of the day was getting on the shuttle train in the wrong direction. But we just stayed put knowing it would soon reverse and go the opposite direction and get us to Terminal 1. 

We got checked into our United flight to Washington DC where we connect to another flight to Houston.  Air France is the only airline that flies to Paris nonstop from Houston these days. The United agent in Paris even gave us the the purple "Access No. 1" cards that enabled us to bypass all the lines! This I could go for!

From there we went to the  Alliance Club which was very crowded. We had a light breakfast and waited there for our flight. There would also be a second security screening before getting to the boarding area. 

Our flight was full but we had some good seats and got settled in for the 8+ hour "ride" to Washington.  The lunch meal was salmon appetizer,  roast lamb, cheeses, fruits and chocolate sundaes.
As usual for me, I watched several movies including Zero Dark Thirty, Dr. Strangelove and Driver.  MA played her "Candy Crush" game (she's stuck on level 147) and took a nap.

Things went along smoothly but just before beginning the descent the pilot announced a delay because the Dulles Air Traffic Control tower had a fire going on. I'm guessing it wasn't major because after about 30 minutes of circling around in the air, we descended and all was well.  We walked what seemed like a half mile to Passport Control, then baggage claim, then through customs.  We love France but we're glad to be home.  The TV's here even speak English! Whew! So until next time, thanks for reading the blog.  We really love doing these!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Paris by Subway, and I don't mean sandwich.

Paris Metro Map
Paris by Subway, and I don't mean sandwiches.

This was to be our final day in Paris for this year.  It was one of the reasons we left Vence early, to spend a couple days here. As I said yesterday, we are staying at the Novotel Hotel at the Charles de Gaulle Airport.  This morning we bought round trip train tickets to the Eiffel Tower (20 Euros/$27 US each). We easily located the RER-Blue line and got on the next train to the city, rode it to the Saint Michel station (Notre Dame) then transferred to the RER-Yellow to the Eiffel Tower. 

The lower level trains are at least 100 feet below.

Just missed this one!

Our train to Saint Michel

We came up from the subway and the top of the Eiffel was right there. After the obligatory photos we found a sidewalk cafe and had coffee and a croissant for breakfast. 

Our walk took us to the Tower and around the south side. There were long lines waiting to board the elevator to the top and even longer to pay to walk up the stairs just to the first level.  We passed on both.

We headed toward the French military school and came upon a parking lot full of 2CV's.  A 2CV is a 60's era Citroen that is a classic today.  It has only 2 cylinders. They built these cars that way because the French government used to tax cars based on the number of cylinders or horsepower. Two cylinders got you low, low taxes.  

From there we wanted to go on to Notre Dame but it was too far to walk. I spotted a Metro station and we bought our subway (Metro) tickets. We checked the map, figured out how to get there and where to get off, Saint Michel again.

Coming out of the station the first thing we saw is the large statue of Saint Michael, the Archangel that dominates the intersection. 

From there we headed toward the "Latin Quarter" where there are a bunch of ethnic restaurants to choose from. Let me see if I remember them all: French, Italian, Greek, Turkey, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Spanish, Provence, and even Mexican. There were no American places, well except for McDonalds and "no", we didn't eat there! :-) 

We spotted a nice French restaurant instead.  The prices were not exorbitant and the food looked pretty good.  MA had pesto pasta and I had Beef Bourguignon. Both were excellent as was the service.

Notre Dame

After lunch we walked around some more until our feet told us it was time to head back to the hotel.  We found the RER-Blue Metro to Charles De Gaulle Airport and thought we were returning to the airport hotel. 

After two stops MA realized that we were on the wrong RER-Blue line. You see this train has two routes that split about five stops before the airport, one going to the right and the other left and that's the one we should have been on...but weren't. 

You have to be careful about boarding Metros and trains. It's always best to look at the map, figure the trains final destination, see if your stop is on the way, then board it. Another tip was if you're going to the airport, look for other folks with suitcases! Anyhow we quickly got off at the next stop and waited for the right RER-Blue line that we should have been on.  About thirty minutes later we were at our hotel door step.  That was our day in Paris. We really had a lot of fun.

Here are some other photos from today:

French restaurant in the Latin Quarter


Pedestrian street in the Latin Qarter

Le Marathon French Specialty Grill

St Michel

Interior of St Severin

We were confident about this train going to the airport, people with luggage.

Nice to Paris: A Trying Day

Nice to Paris, A Trying Day

We left our small apartment in Vence on Friday morning around 7:50 am.  Our flight to Paris from Nice did not leave until 1:00 pm so the plan was to gas up the rental car, drive to the local McDonald's and have a long breakfast and enjoy the free WiFi - only to discover they wouldn't open for another hour.  So we headed toward Nice and the GPS found us another one.  Now don't laugh! We know we're in France and who goes to McDonald's with all those wonderful sidewalk cafes!  It's the free and reliable WiFi!!  Anyhow, we were also next to a Carrefour grocery store.  Tons of people streamed in when they opened the door so I just had to go do a little exploring there!  

This is the largest grocery store I have ever seen in France and it serves as the entrance to a very big mall. It's in some way like our malls with Carrefour being the anchor.  Carrefour is the equivalent Super Walmart. I walked around the mall and found a store called "Texas", although looking through the window I didn't see anything related to Texas. Folks we've met on our travels, especially foreigners, respond positively when we say we're from Texas. It's gotten to the point when they ask what country we're from we say Texas! Always gets a smile.

Texas store with French clothing

Video gaming is big with the French also

as well as your local Nike shop

We finished breakfast and traveled the four miles to the airport.  The Nice Airport has two terminals, one domestic and one international.  We "assumed" that we would leave from Terminal 1 just like always. I dropped MA off there and I drove to Terminal 2 to return the rental car. I hopped on the shuttle bus and found MA right back where I had left her. We gathered our suitcases and went inside to check in and relax before our 1:00 pm flight.  One problem, Air France was not in Terminal 1.  Domestic flights such as Paris and Euro zone counties apparently leave from Terminal 2.  So we moved our bags back to the shuttle bus and got over to Terminal 2.

One look at what was waiting for us quickly reminded me of an old Air Force management saying about the five P's of performance. They are "prior planning prevents poor performance." The check-in procedure we went through surely needed some prior planning!

This is because it was here that the "try-one's-patience" part of the journey began.  We looked at where we were to check in and found a line of nearly 200 folks ahead of us.  Air France (or the airport staff) only had 3-5 agents on duty, for all of us and this depended on who was going on break or lunch.   We waited in line for about 2 hours. I was very glad we had arrived there so early.  When it was finally our turn, the agent was still smiling.  Amazing! We cleared security fairly easily, went to the gate, had a snack, and they called our flight for boarding.

I took this photo of the 3 stations handling all those people as we left to go through security.

We were in the first group to board because our seats were in the last row on the left.  The flight was nice, European flight attendants are great! We landed in Paris around 2:45 pm and made our way to the baggage claim area.   MA's red suitcase arrived right away.  Mine never made it.  MA's French lessons kicked in right on cue for this situation.  She got us some directions to the Lost/Delayed Baggage office and took control of the situation, beginning a long conversation in French with the Air France employee.  I was impressed.  All those French lessons! 

The agent was very cordial, very professional, checked our baggage claim and right away he told us: "Your suitcase is still in Nice." He assured us that he would have the bag sent on the next  flight and would see to it that it was delivered to our hotel.

Well there was nothing I could do about it.  I was upset at first but that didn't do any good.  I'll remember to pack a second change of clothes in my carry-on from now one.  Our hotel, the Novotel, is right at the airport, making our departure tomorrow really much easier. We caught the shuttle train to terminal 3 and walked straight into the lobby. 

Realizing we were pretty tired, we stayed "in", having a nice meal at the hotel restaurant.  Oh! My suitcase did arrive at 9:45 pm and all is well. It's now Sunday morning and we're are getting ready to take the train into Paris. Final blog for this trip to be written on board United Airline tomorrow!  Thanks for tuning in.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tourrettes sur Loup with Nola and Randy

Tourrettes sur Loup with Nola and Randy
One of our favorite villages in the south of France is Tourrettes sur Loup, partly because Nola (MA’s sister) lived here for many years working at the Burger Bistro, an American owned restaurant that years ago was very popular with the famous and the not so famous.  Tourrettes is about 20 minutes north of Vence. As you will see from the pictures, one can quickly be transported back several hundred years imagining what life was like when the stone houses and cobble stone streets were built. 

We have a favorite restaurant we always go to with Nola and Randy.  We each ordered something different, well except for Nola and me: “Croque Monsieur” each, (grilled ham and cheese).  MA had “une salade avec gambas” (shrimp salad) and Randy had the “plat du jour” which was pork with fresh green beans.  After lunch we strolled around, got some ice cream, I took some pictures and we headed back to Vence.

Randy & Nola

Nola & Mary Alice

Table water is served in blue bottles in Provence
Our favorite hangout in Vence is Henry’s, THE most popular spot in town.  Nola and Randy know the owners and our favorite waiter Yves who greeted MA today with kisses on both cheeks, very French! We had coffees and called the day a huge success.  Tomorrow we meet them again at Henry’s, but in the morning.  It’s open air market day in Vence, always a big and may I add fun event.  MA usually buys something to wear that she ends up not wearing after all. It probably looks OK in France, but Texas?  Who knows! We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant where the chef is a long-time friend of Nola and Randy’s. 

Then we’ll have to bid “adieu” until the next time.  MA and I have to put the apartment back the way we found it and pack our bags for two days in Paris. Then it’s home sweet home on Monday, arriving at midnight!  I’ll be up early Tuesday morning to get Tanner!!

A pictoral tour of Tourrettes sur Loup

St. Tropez for the Day

St. Tropez for the Day

If you’re a Hollywood star you know St. Tropez and where it is.  I’m not and had the pleasure of seeing it for the first time thanks to Chantal and Michel. We picked up Chantal’s father Maurice in the morning and headed to their place in Juan les Pins. From there we all embarked on our adventure of the day. I might add Michel has no problem with the A8 because he has an electronic device similar to our EZ Tag system. 

St. Tropez is a town on the Mediterranean Coast, on a beautiful small bay with deep blue water. It’s about an hour south of Nice. It first became famous because of Brigitte Bardot and then other film stars who followed her there.  In the summer it is known as the place to go party by the “elites” who come in on huge yachts and go from there.

St. Tropez is important for other reasons too, specifically Operation Dragoon in World War II.  On 15 Aug 1944 the Allies initiated a parachute drop that started with the 1st Airborne Task Force and was followed by an amphibious assault by elements of the U.S. Seventh Army.  The next day brought a force from the French 1st Army.  The landing caused the German Army Group G to abandon Southern France and retreat.  This invasion was well executed and highly successful but it was overshadowed by Normandy and D-Day on the 6th of June. France erected a small monument here to mark their liberation by Allied forces. There is also a nearby American war cemetery where those killed in Operation Dragoon are buried.

All that being said, St. Tropez has since been a thriving, albeit congested little town on the French Rivera.  We stopped at the beach on the north side of the bay from St. Tropez to see the water.  I am amazed at how clear and blue the water is there.  We took some pictures along the waterfront and climbed back into the car and made our way into the public parking lot.
The small town has a protected harbor where boats from all sizes are moored.  When I say all sizes, I mean from row boat to multi-million dollar yacht. Lunch was next on the agenda. We found a great restaurant with outdoor seating.  It was fairly windy but too beautiful a day to eat inside.  Lunch was great and very expensive, but then one can’t expect to dine on a budget in St. Tropez.  I had spring rolls, MA had a great shrimp-avocado salad (we shared), and bread doused in olive oil.  Oh yes! And our ritual plate of French-French fries! Our three French friends ordered Steak Tartar (raw ground beef patties).  I’m not that French yet!
After lunch we walked around enjoying all the sights and doing some people watching.  Took some pictures for you.  Drive back was bumper to bumper for a while and then finally the A8 to Michel and Chantal’s to get our car and take Maurice home. We said our farewells and suggested they take a “vacation to rest up from our vacation”! We cannot thank them enough for their wonderful hospitality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The next two days we spend with Nola and Randy and get ready to fly to Paris on Saturday.  We’ll be there until Monday and then come home to “Deep in the Heart of Texas”! Hope Tanner is not too miffed at our three-week journey to the “Heart of France! I’m sure a few long walks and some treats will set things right with him.
I think the 1st walk will heal whatever absent feelings he might have.