A Travellerspoint blog

Paris

What's the big deal?

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Kim:

I'm going to blog about our stay in Paris in one go because to be quite frank I don't have a lot to say. If you are a lover of Paris you may want to tune out now because in short my reaction is "I'm not impressed". Not that we particularly disliked it but it just didn't have that feel or sense of attraction for us that makes us want to stay (like we get with places in Portugal).

I thought that before I provide an overview of what we have done and seen I would try to encapsulate what I think it is about the city that gets some people so excited and yet many others are underwhelmed. So. Leaving behind my estimate of around 30% of people who say they love Paris just for the aura of sophistication they think it gives them (wankers)...

...Firstly let me just say that the architecture here is incredible so if you like that then I can imagine you would love Paris. Lovers of art, fashion and other cultural pursuits may also find an affinity with the city. But the people and buzz here isn't any different to other cities. There isn't a special energy or anything that I can feel. The layout and functioning of the city doesn't seem special.

So I guess what I am suggesting is that it is not Paris itself that stirs people but that it brings out a richness to passions they already have. Too deep?? Anyway, at this point in my life I have only a passing interest in some of these things and others no interest at all so I think I am missing that scaffolding from which to build a love of what the city offers. For me Paris is a historic city where the best of everything is in the past and has been replaced with tourists and the inevitable rubbish, spruikers and expense they attract.

In future I could see myself taking a greater interest in French history. It is a subject that fascinates me (particularly the precursors to the French Revolution and the parallels with the excesses of our society today) but not enough to have come to front of mind just yet. If I do decide to study I think it is quite possible that I could return here and fall in love with the streets as I walk through the places where so many momentous events have taken place but for now....meh!

But what about the food? why do people get so obsessed with French food? Well I did a little research on this and it turns out, quite logically in fact, that there is no such thing as French food. There are different specialities for each of the regions based on what produce they have, just like there are in Portugal and other countries. What makes France special is that they developed most of the cooking techniques and dishes that form the base of our own cooking cultures so if you love cooking or food France may well hold a place in your heart but note this too is a historical thing. They may own the basics but that doesn't mean what they do with it is better than anywhere else. Still, coming to Paris for cooking classes could be pretty special if you were into that sort of thing. Oh, and there is a new movement in Paris called Le Fooding which feels that French cooking has become stale because they are restricted by the 'rules' of French cooking and even the Avant Guard just exchanged old rules for new rules. The Le Fooding group are setting up reviews etc. in opposition to Michelin, etc with a focus on promoting French eateries which push the boundaries and produce experiences like what you find in other countries. So there....even some French think their food is stodgy and boring and they want to be more like us.

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So what did we actually get up to in Paris? Well we found an apartment in the general Montmarte area but to the East of the more touristy bit which is around the Sacre Coeur church. Using this apartment as a base we explored Montmarte and the main tourist areas of the city. With a 3-day metro pass we were also able to travel far and wide throughout the city, popping our heads up to take a look around. The only place we found that really appealed to us was the 7th Arrondissement. We walked from the Louvre, through the Jardins des Tuilleries, across to Les Invalides and behind the museums and church of Les Invalides (Napoleon's resting place) there is a little Quartier centred on the Av. De Breteuil which has the beautiful, unspoilt turn-of-the-century buildings but seemed devoid of the tourist hoardes. We found a few very reasonably priced and authentic French brasseries here (in particular a little place called Aux Ministeres just off Av. de Segur and Cafe des Officiers on Pl. Joffre by the Military College were very nice) and walking through the streets and boulevardes with the Eiffel Tower in the background was very pleasant. If ever we come back we will try to centre our stay on this little area to make the stay more relaxing and will also make the Louvre and the historic palaces more accessible.

We decided that with our short stay and wanting to get a feel for the city we didn't actually fight the crowds to take a look through the Louvre (I was a bit torn about whether we should or not but in the end we didn't. I know some will be horrified by that but really the Louvre could take days on its own and this trip is not to be bogged down with that sort of thing-tough choice though).

So with 3 days of exploration we really had quite an uneventful visit to the City of Love/Light. Nothing really stood out for me as being terribly interesting and whilst the city is quite nice I don't think we will be in too great a hurry to return *ticks box*.

I should make a point of saying that (against expectations and in defense of Paris) I have not seen a single dog poo on the footpaths, Parisiens are no more or less rude than citizens of any other large city I have been to (in fact given the number of people who come here and speak very LOUDLY and S.L.O.W.L.Y to them in English I think they do very well to be as polite as they are) and the metro system, while a bit expensive, is absolutely worth it with very clean, frequent services to get you all over the city, day and night. That's about all the positive things I have to say.

Oh, one more very important thing is the Ice Creamery Berthillon at Rue Saint Louis en Ille on the Ile Saint Louis (one of the Islands in the Seine, but not the one with Notre Dame on it). These guys do a salted caramel icecream which is YUMMY! Their dark chocolate and vanilla was pretty good too but the caramel, yum.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 16:32 Archived in France Comments (0)

Eurodisney-Day 2

Where did that adrenaline junky come from?

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Kim:

For those of you wondering what happened to day 2 of our Eurodisney adventure, I have nominated Erin to blog this one as I went home early with a slightly sore back and no patience or energy. This was a Saturday so the park stays open until 10pm and I was home by about 6. Erin and Allanah stayed until around 8:30. I have created this as a placeholder to keep things in order but will leave to Erin to complete.

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Erin:

Posted by Kimerinallanah 16:31 Archived in France Comments (0)

EuroDisney - day 1

Overcoming fears

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Kim:

On a beautiful crisp morning of around 12 degrees we awoke to a breakfast of croissant, yoghurt, fruit and hot chocolate. We packed up the dishwasher and, trying to contain Allanah's excitement, we headed off for our first day at Disneyland. The Residhotel is right at the Val d'Europe train station and just one stop away from Disney so within 5 minutes we were at the Disney parks railway station, making our way towards the gates.

The Disney tickets were (I think) 129 Euros each for 2 days and 2 parks but given that with all the tens of thousands of people there we barely queued they were actually reasonable value. Somehow Disney has gotten lining up to an art form so that even when you're in line you don't feel like you are waiting long. We made it through the security gates just in time for the first parade of the day, featuring Santa, the toy story cast and some others.

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Rather than hanging around for all of this we decided to head straight to the back of the park where we thought there might be fewer people and we could get some early rides in. The dominating feature in DiscoveryLand is the Space Mountain: Mission 2 roller coaster. We came to this point and the sign said there was just a 5 minute wait so Erin and Allanah thought it would be a good start. I had done a little homework on the Eurodisney rides and knew that Space Mountain was rated pretty highly by rollercoaster afficionados so was likely to be pretty scary. I was a little conflicted whether I should say anything or not. Allanah is scared of the little white roller coaster at Melbourne's Luna Park and had saucers for eyes when we went on the log-ride at Dreamworld so this would be a big thing for her. Should I tell her? It would be the right thing to do wouldn't it? Surely a good Dad would let his daughter know what she was getting herself into here.

Needless to say, I didn't say anything and we strolled pretty much straight on to the ride without stopping to give Allanah time to worry. She thought of backing out a few times as we walked along the long passageways Disney includes to make it seem like you are in the ride when you are really just lining up but in the end it was actually quite easy to get her on the ride. I promised I would sit with her and she could hold my hand all the way. We got on the ride and prepared to go and all was well until we hit the loading chute, which is a long tube like a telescope on the outside of the dome (the rollercoaster is all inside so Allanah couldn't see it from outside).

Allanah was squeezing my hand pretty hard and I could tell she was having second thoughts. Well they didn't last long because we were fired into the dome at tremendous speed straight into a barrel roll (corkscrew), in complete darkness broken intermittently by bright strobe lighting which made it impossible to see what was coming next. Allanah was screaming, then crying, then sobbing that she wanted to get off and I was feeling just a tad guilty. I have to admit itwas the scariest ride I have ever been on and was definitely a bit harsh as a first up for Allanah.

After what felt like about 3 minutes of barrel rolls, loop-the-loops, bends and rolls designed to keep you off balance we came to a sharp stop back at the loading deck and Allanah crawled out with me behind her. I wasn't sure what to expect but I thought we may have been restricted to bumper cars for the rest of the trip. She seemed calm enough if a little pale and she wasn't crying so it seemed we were ok.

Erin and Allanah went straight in to line up for Cartopia, a kids ride with cars on rails around a rather large course. I downloaded the Disneyland Park app (which shows wait times for each of he rides) from Google apps and set about planning where else we should go. We went through a couple of walk-through attractions like a pirates cave and then the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which was kid-friendly and then suggested we should have a go at the Indiana Jones rollercoaster where the wait was down to just 5 minutes. Allanah reluctantly agreed and we went over to line up. Again, we went straight through but as we got to the stairs which immediately precede the loading deck Allanah pulled out. I thought about trying to convince her to give it a go but just then a carriage did a 360 loop-the-loop right in front of us and I thought it was someting we probably needed to build back into. Erin and I went on it anyway while Allanah waited outside and watched (this one was outside).

This was a fun little ride in a 'mining cart' which went quickly but had some nice little turns and of course the one loop. Erin and I enjoyed it and went out to see what Allanah wanted to do. We ended up stopping for lunch and decided afterwards we would head from AdventureLand to Frontierland where there is a haunted house and other attractions. After lunch, which was reasonable value (for a theme park) at 14 euros for a pizza, salad, drink and dessert we walked around to Phantom Mansion where we had to walk past another roller-coaster. This time we had a chance to talk to Allanah about it, it was visibly less challenging than the Space Mountain one and we could tell her honestly that nothing else in the park would be as bad as that first one.

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After a rather dull haunted house, we decided to line up for the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster. This queue was 40 minutes which unfortunately would give Allanah lots of time to think about it but there was nothing particularly scary visible from the line and to her credit she stuck it out and got on the ride without incident. This one went a bit better and whilst there was little bit of screaming I could tell she wanted to enjoy it and she made a special effort to have a smile on her face as we went past the point where they take photos. This may have neen a turning point. Whilst we didn't get back to Space mountain we did get Allanah on to the Indiana Jones ride and even got a woo-hoo out of her instead of the usual screams.

The park closed at 7pm with a fireworks and movie projection onto the big castle in the middle of the park. We stayed for a bit of this but decided it would be better to get home for a good sleep so we could make the most of Day 2 now that Allanah had some confidence

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Posted by Kimerinallanah 04:56 Archived in France Comments (0)

Portugal to Disneyland Paris

Planes, trains and striking government workers

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Kim:

Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport we were very excited to be in Paris but for Allanah especially that we were going to Disneyland. All we had to do was get out to the hotel but of course it wasn't that simple. We got tickets for the RER which was 27 Euros each compared to 50 each for the TGV and the TGV would also have required a taxi ride back one station from the Disneyland parks to our hotel at Val d'Europe. However, the RER was over an hour while the TGV was only 10 minutes direct. Nonetheless we took the RER on the advice of the guy in the information booth and set off on the train.

We made it as far as Gare de Nord and a message came over the intercom that the train was stopping here. No explanation and we were supposed to change trains after 2 more stations at Chatelet Des Halles. We got off, walked through to the departure boards and tried to figure out what was happening and what we should do. Very puzzled we were at a loss until a lovely lady stopped and asked where we wanted to go. She didn't speak any English but I was able to understand a bit of her French and the third word I picked up was 'greve', which I knew from recent experience in Portugal meant strike. Yes, the train drivers on the RER line B (only the line we were on) decided to go on strike in the middle of our train trip, 2 stations before we were about to get off.

The lady tried to take us through to the metro to get through to another RER line which would take us out to the Disney Parks but our tickets wouldn't let us through the barriers so against a tide of people she came back and advised us to go to platform 42 to get a train there which would take us in the right direction. I thanked her profusely for her help and we made our way back to the platform. With the RER line B closed these trains were very full through to the city but we managed to squeeze on for the very short trip to Chatelet Des Halles where we could get back on track, changing to the Red line which would take us out to Val D'Europe and the Disney Parks. While the rest of the trip was uneventful, by this time it had taken us almost 3 hours (with a brief pause for sandwiches) instead of the 15 minutes we could have taken by TGV. The upside was that we had very quickly got an education on the train system which has since come in handy.

We arrived at the ResidHotel which is quite new and well placed just one stop (less than 5 minutes and only 1.75 euros) from Disneyland. It is just next door to a big shopping centre with supermarket, restaurants, boutiques, etc as well so really suited us. The apartment we had was compact but well laid out so we were comfortable and able to feed ourselves on fresh food from the supermarket and local shops. For our first night we went and bought a BBQ chicken, cous cous and mixed salad with a chocolate mousse and some other bits and pieces.

At a fraction of the price of the Disney hotels and without the screaming Children running unsupervised around (from what we read this was a major drawback of staying on site) we were again very happy with our choice of hotels and got an early night in preparation for 2 days of fun.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 15:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

Last day in Portugal

Home sweet home

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Kim:

After our long drive back from Lourdes to Chaves we had one last day in Portugal to fill. Erin and Allanah were still chasing a mineral spa so our first stop after breakfast at the hotel was a place called Vizela. We drove in, found the spa and went round to the entrance. It obviously wasn't meant to be as they closed for 2 hours starting 15 minutes after we got there. Disappointed, we softened the blow with a coffee and pastel de nata, a refreshing change after the cigarette butt coffee in France.

Back on the road we only had the energy for one more stop and that had to be Ponte de Lima, Erin's favourite town from our last trip, one we are quite familiar with now after lots of browsing through the Remax real estate website. Erin is determined to retire here and personally I have no arguments. It is a beautiful little spot and according to the sign on the outskirts of town is the oldest town in Portugal.

http://www.golisbon.com/portugal/cities/pontedelima.html

We parked in the centre of town, had a light lunch of sopa de legumes (vegetable soup) and sandwiches and then went for a walk through the old town streets and across the bridge. Being very tired we decided the best thing to do was to get back to Porto to find our hotel by the airport before it got dark. It took a couple of goes but we finally parked and checked in, collapsing for a pre-dinner nap. Around 8pm Erin announced she had found a place to have dinner. Allanah and I were dubious and wanted to opt for ordering in but it just so happened that the receptionist had highly recommended the restaurant next door. Still dubious we bowed to Erin's research as TripAdvisor had very positive reviews for this place.

At this point I should give a rap to both the hotel (Hotel Aeroporto) and restaurant (O Fernando). The hotel wasn't that much to write home about but was cheap, very close to the airport and surprisingly pleasant. The man on duty at breakfast is possibly the most cheerful person in Portugal, if not all of Europe judging by our experience to date and overall our last stay in Portugal was made a lot nicer than it could have been due to these 2 choices.

We had a 10:30 flight with EasyJet and having seen the TV show we knew we had to be on time. They suggested arriving 2 hours before the flight so we planned for a 7am breakfast, pack, drop car off and get across to check-in. That went out the window as both Allanah and I slept in. On top of that I was a bit paranoid about the baggage restrictions on Easyjet so I re-packed everything to make sure the weight was distributed between our 2 suitcases. The temperature in Paris was 4 degrees so that at least meant Allanah and I could carry our heavy coats on the plane and Erin was wearing every piece of clothing she had in preparation.

It turned out the Europcar station was just around the corner (another plus) and they had a shuttle to the departure terminal so although we rushed through breakfast we made it to the check-in counter about 10 minutes before our flight opened. Being an intra-European flight we only had a security check to go through so we went right through to the departure gate and waited.

I wasn't sure what to expect from EasyJet but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The plane was clean, the staff were helpful and on such a short flight there was no need for refreshments so it didn't matter at all the it was low service. I had reasonable leg-room too which was good. I can only imagine having flown with them that they show the absolute biggest idiots on the TV show. We left 20 minutes ahead of schedule and arrived 35 minutes ahead of schedule too!!! I didn't even think that was possible.

One thing that I had forgotten and Erin and Allanah had never experienced was that the Portuguese break out into spontaneous applause when the pilot successfully lands the plane without crashing. This is somewhat disconcerting (and not a great advertisement for TAP - the Portuguese national airline which the Government is currently trying to sell) if you haven't experienced it and drew a laugh from us.

Posted by Kimerinallanah 14:50 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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