Friday, April 10, 2015

All things Paris

We got back to our apartment in Venice close to 10pm. Emily texted me earlier and mentioned that our bus for the airport leaves at 5:15am. Nancy and I, well, mostly Nancy, is very used to preparing late at night. She feels most productive when everyone is asleep. So getting our stuff ready for Paris past 12 midnight was nothing strange. However, I couldn’t sleep. Jason, the travel agent, was quite anxious. While I prepared for all our arrangements, I didn’t really have the opportunity to prepare for how we are to get around Paris. I wasn’t sure how we’d get from the airport to the apartment. I was concerned about the Metro (train) and bus systems. I had all of these worries. Emily and Nancy kept reassuring me that we’d be okay. I believed that as well, but I was just a bit upset at myself for not having the chance to prepare more. Again, I told myself,  build a bridge and get over it.

Nancy and I went to bed around 2am, We had to get up at 4:15am. The plan was to leave the apartment at 4:45am. I gotta tell you - that was the best 2 hour sleep ever. When we woke up at 4am, it was once again, chop, chop, chop. Our luggage was ready, we checked our apartment one last time, all was good, and off we went to the bus stop.

Ryanair: Prepare for the worst
To travel to Paris, I booked us on a flight with Ryanair, a very popular low-cost airline in Europe. If I remember correctly, the airfare was around $70 or so (one way). What’s the catch? Well, Ryanair is known for charging you for everything else. I had to do my research and found out that if we show up with no printed boarding pass, and have Ryanair do the printing for us, there’s a charge of around $40 Euro per person. Ouch. The airline is also notorious with the weight of your luggage. If your carry-on luggage is over 22 lbs, then you will be charged. You’re allowed a backpack or a purse, but that should not exceed more that 13 lbs. This was one of the reasons why I advised our traveling party of 8 to be cognizant of their luggage and the weight of their belongings. 

We had to travel creatively, and without joking - we had to wear the heaviest of our clothing. I am now laughing because I ended up wearing 2 of my Northface jackets, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt, and my Doc Maartens (that in itself was close to 5 lbs). Oh I had to wear a scarf and a beanie as well. It’s a good thing that morning was quite cold in Venice.

When we arrived at the Venice-Treviso Airport, we immediately made our way upstairs to check-in. There was NO line….yay! We had printed our boarding passes the day before in Venice. We saw a Ryanair desk, and the luggage check-in counter. Knowing that we  had no intention of checking in our luggage, we went straight to the Ryanair desk (right before security). My family went on the left side, while Em and Ben’s family were assisted on the right side. All we were asked was to show our boarding passes and passport, and that was that. Huh? Ok so, we proceeded. In my mind, I thought, wow that was easy! However, Ben and family were advised to have their luggage weighed, and I was tempted to join, but I decided to have our side move ahead towards security. We told Emily we’d wait for them at our gate. After 15-20 minutes of waiting, Nancy suggested that I go back up to check on them. I made my way past security again, and found Emily, Janelle, and Andrew, but no Ben. According to Emily, Ben’s luggage did not make the cut as a carry-on so he had to pay for his luggage. I started to worry. Why? I’ve read in many postings that Ryanair could still flag you even if you’re about to board your plane. I looked around. In US standards, our carry-on luggage was a typical sized luggage for carry-ons. But when we were at the Ryanair gate, everyone else around us had luggage that was at least 1/4th smaller. At this point, in my mind….whatever!

Ben joined us after he paid for his luggage. The line to check-in had now grown long at this point, close to 150 ft deep. Thankfully, the Ryanair lady who assisted Ben and Em helped us get through without having to fall in line anymore. Their boarding passes and luggage were tagged with yellow tag labeled FREE checked luggage. I was surprised that they also tagged my boarding pass with FREE checked luggage. When it was time to finally board, it felt like a scene in the movie, Argo. In my mind, will the gate attendant question the size of our luggage? Will we be asked to pay for our luggage since they were never weighed nor measured in size? Whew!!! None of that happened. We were able to board with no issues. Yes!!!

Flying to Paris
Since we only had a couple hours of sleep, we found ourselves sleeping during the plane ride. What was Ryanair like? It was just like your typical budget airline, like Southwest. I expected nothing, and was pleasantly surprised that all went well during our flight. I think I slept even better knowing that we didn't have to pay a single dime at the airport. All in all, for this flight, we had a great experience with Ryanair.

Paris-Beauvais Airport


Our plane arrived at 10:30am. I've never been to this airport. Back in 2007, Nancy and I flew in out of Charles de Gaulle Airport (a much bigger airport). Once we had all of our luggage, I saw a sign for the buses to Paris - Porte Maillot. My VRBO apartment contact, Pierre Henri, told me to take that bus and get off of Porte Maillot. Done! We got our tickets, followed the signs to the airport bus station. We boarded our bus which took us to Paris within 45 minutes. The weather was different from the sunny days in Italy. We expected rain, but at this time, it was just dark gray clouds and no rain. The 45 minutes went by quickly. I must've slept through most of the ride.

By noon, we were in the heart of Paris when we arrived in Porte Maillot. The lot was filled with other buses. The next mission was to take a bus from Porte Maillot to Porte de St. Cloud via PC1 bus. We found the PC1 stop across the street from our airport bus stop (Les Palais des Congres), and waited, and waited, but no PC1 bus came our way. I went over to the PC3 bus nervously since I speako no Frencho! I went up to the driver….”Excuse moì….PC1? Porte de St Cloud?” I then showed my iPhone message with the address. In his best English/French combo, the bus driver understood what I wanted but advised me that I was in the wrong PC1 bus stop. We had to go around the block and catch PC1 from there. This driver was sooooo helpful. And all I could tell him was “Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup!” 

I advised the troop where to go, and they followed me to the other side. Finally, PC1. Now what? I asked the driver, Porte de St Cloud? He nodded with a yes. He kinda gathered I spoke English, and said $2 Euro, and then we paid for our party of 8. Ok, great. Progress. We were making progress. We were about 8 or 10 stops away from Porte de St Cloud. The anxiety kept building. Light steady rain showers started to fall. Thankfully, we had our umbrellas handy. Pierre Henri sent his assistant to meet us at the stop. After a couple of hiccups with where to meet us, he found the best place to meet the Filipino-Americans. ‘My asseestant, Mamut, weel meet your partee at zee McDonald’s”….when all else failed, the golden arches saved our butts!

Mamut met us at Mickey D’s. We followed him. He said it was only 2 minutes away. When you factor in the rain, and the fact that we’ve had very little sleep, 2 minutes felt like 1 hour. But after walking for 10 minutes, we were finally at Rue Les Enfantes du Paradis. I’ve seen pictures of this condo, and I was hoping that the pictures do justice. It took 3 security key entries before we were led to the elevator. Finally, we made it our Parisian apartment. 3 bedrooms, a living room a dining room, a kitchen, and 2.5 bathrooms. Yes!!! We were home. 
 








Let’s go to that tower

We decided to go to the Tour Eiffel despite the rain showers. But before going to
the Eiffel Tower, we needed to get our Metro passes first. Again, I didn’t get to do my homework, and with my very limited French, I took a chance and told the Metro ticket handler that we’d be in Paris from Friday to Monday morning. He suggested the 3-day pass. It was all in French, but I understood what I thought he said. All our tickets were purchased using the ticket kiosk, and in no time, we made our way down to the #9 train. Our goal was to get on the train that stops at Trocadero. We got on and thanked the Lord that the next stop was an indication that we were on the right track. It was only about 5-6 stops and then it was Trocadero. We had a little pep in our steps, we got out of the station hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tour Eiffel. 

With our luck, we had steady showers. But we marched on, and made a left out of the Trocadero train stop, and after a few feet, there it was, the Eiffel Tower. We managed to take a few dozen pictures with the rain and all. We knew of the weather forecast in the next days. Friday and Saturday were rainy days. Sunday promised to be sunny. We promised to

be back. The last time Nancy and I were in Paris, it didn’t rain the way it did on this day. Yet, the tower was still quite stunning sans that bright sun. It was shrouded in light gray clouds which actually gave it a different kind of beauty. We’re in Paris, rain or shine….c’est la vie!

Californians and Canadians meet in Paris
We have another relative who planned to meet us in Paris. Here’s the six-degree of separation. We planned to meet with Melissa who is my brother’s wife’s niece from Surrey, BC (Canada). We’ve known Melissa for many years since my brother got married. Melissa and her family have visited us many times in Southern California. In fact, we also stayed with them during our family trip to Vancouver in the summer of 2013. We were no strangers. For this trip, Melissa flew from Manchester, England (just a couple of hours plane ride). She has been there for a few months. When we made this plan to go to Europe, visiting the UK was part of our wishlist, but we just didn’t have enough time to give the UK justice. I’m sure that trip will be next. Hopefully sooner than later. Once we told Melissa that we’d be in Paris, she then made plans to join us. The night before we flew to Paris, we exchanged emails, and decided that meeting at the apartment was not the best thing to do. Melissa’s flight was scheduled to arrive past 3 pm. So I told her that, most likely, we’d be roaming around Paris at that point. I knew that I wanted to get our group at the Louvre by 6pm. Why? After 6pm, the entrance fee at the Museè du Louvre is FREE for those 26 and under. So I suggested to Melissa to meet there. She only had a small carry-on luggage and I offered that we’d help her with her luggage. 



We finally found Melissa close to 6pm. It was a crowded day at the Louvre. The line outside was long. We’re not big museum buffs, but if there was one thing I wanted all of them to see, it was the Mona Lisa. After getting our tickets to go inside, we made our way to the Denon wing where Mona was on display. I remember going here before. There was no map required. We just followed the crowd and sure enough, we were led to the Mona Lisa eventually. 

The room was packed. it was crowded, lots of cameras, selfie sticks. She was covered in glass. There was a barrier dividing Mona from the crowd. While it was crowded, it was a good chaos. Everyone was there just to get a peek of this famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting. And just like that, visiting Mona Lisa was accomplished.



For dinner, I took our troop and headed back to the train towards Opera. At this point, for me, I started gaining confidence about the Metro. It was just like riding a bicycle. Everything started coming back to me. I began to remember how to move around Paris, how to read and interpret the Metro maps. There were instances when we made the wrong turns, but we caught the errors early enough and corrected our mistakes. Ok so back to Opera, and riding this bicycle. This was the area where Nancy and I stayed before. I was hoping I could take them around but it was already getting late and we were hungry. We went to a local English pub, and had burgers, and appetizer platters that we all got to share. It was good to relax for a bit and take a breather from a very long day of travel. After dinner, we walked a a couple of minutes from the pub that took us to the 9 train, the train that took us back to our apartment. We didn’t have to switch trains, yay!

It was a tiring day. Heck, everyday has been a tiring day. I have to give us props for making every effort to visit as much as we could during our first few hours in Paris. We started with hardly any sleep when we left Venice, then off to Paris, and visited 2-3 key spots.

Day 2 
We started our day by heading out to Rue Cler, it’s a street in Paris with a bustling local market. If I remember correctly, we took the Metro and got off of Ecole Militaire. There we got to sample lots of fresh baked goodies, local fruits, and eye-popping food. The gang decided to sit down and order crepes while I decided to venture out and walk some more. I sampled a beef bourgouignon, meat was so tender. I just kept strolling, and watched the locals and tourists alike go about their lives. 










A short walk from Rue Cler was the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately, it didn’t rain the way it did the day before. This time around we approached the tower from the garden side over at Parc du Champ de Mars. We took hundreds of family pictures. We kept walking towards the tower and found ourselves right underneath it. I’ve said this before. While the Eiffel is gorgeous in itself, it’s the legs of the tower that I find quite eye-catching. The legs, after all, are the ones that hold up the tower. 





Shopping in Paris?  
Sure. Why not? We did a little bit of this and that. We headed straight for Galeries LaFayette. I remember Galeries Lafayette which is this gigantic blocks of building with levels of endless shopping. I compare this to New York’s W. 34th St. Think of Macy’s, and you’ll get the picture. But Galeries LaFayette has more character than NY’s Macy’s. There’s this dome in the very center of the Women’s building. It’s a feast for the eyes. It was crowded. Madison and I were on a quest for new shoes. I got rid of my 5 lb. Doc Maartens. She on the other hand found a great deal on a black combat boots. The rest of the gang got a suit, jacket, and other tops. 



Melissa took us to Printemps which was another building next to Galeries Lafayette. I read about this building and was glad that we went. Why? On the

9th floor, there’s a cafe, and right outside the cafe is the rooftop of the building. It gives you a view of the city from the Eiffel Tower to Sacre Couer on the others side. The best part of it all, it was a free attraction.

After leaving Galeries LaFayette, we headed for Notre Dame and walked past the Seine River. What is it about the Seine? For me, it’s the bridges and structures around it that make it quite interesting. On this Saturday night, Notre Dame was also crowded. There was a long line to go in. It gave me an opportunity to tell the kids and link this structure to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” - the gargoyles, the music, and its history.





For dinner, we went to a restaurant not far from Notre Dame, and what I will remember most was the escargot, yes, we ordered snails. I’ve eaten snails before which was a long, long time ago. But I’ve never eaten it in Paris. What was eating it like? This reminded me of mussels or clams, it had that kind of texture. The snails weren’t huge. It was flavored with garlic and basil. It was good. Escargot in Paris - mission accomplished!





Finally, it’s time for dessert. Right outside was a creperie. Everyone ordered their own crepe. We had a variation - from the very simple sugar and butter only crepe, to Chocolate Maison and Strawberries. That last one was special. It was way better that eating crepe with Nutella. I think I’ll make that once I go home. 

It’s time to go home and instead of taking the same walking path, we walked towards Hotel del Ville. It wasn’t as crowded as I had remembered. When we went back in November/December 2007, an ice skating rink was placed right in front of this palatial building. It was cool to go down memory lane when we passed by this hotel

It was another LONG and tiring day. Our feet were screaming at us to stop, andso we did. We went back to the apartment and took our well-deserved rest.

Day 3
Today was our last full day in Paris. There were still so much we wanted to see and do. Emily and family decided to stay in the apartment to get more rest. We planned to meet later on that day. As much as our feet were tired, the 6-7 hour sleep helped us recuperate and we left the apartment by 8:30am. Finally, a sunny day, an opportunity to see more sights with the bright sun. First was visiting Arc De Triomphe. I remember this structure being on Champs Elysees. You just have to see it for yourself. If you’re familiar with NY’s Washington Square Park, well this structure is probably 10x bigger. You’re easily dwarfed when you stand close to the Arc. 


Next stop? The Louvre…again. Our first day’s visit, it was raining which meant we didn’t have great pictures outside the pyramid. So we went back to do that. Come to find out, other tourists, in their wedding dresses and tuxes brought their own tripods to take pictures here as well. 






We started to get hungry and I had planned on taking us to Bastille. I wanted to experience more local markets in Paris. I’ve seen many shows and documentaries where people sample the food and local goods in street markets. I think we hit the jackpot with Bastlile. The market was not in an alley or a street per se. It was located in the middle of a road. There were stalls after stalls selling seafood, meat, cheese, fruits - you name it! We honed in on 2 stalls, a long line for crepes and paella. We enjoyed our lunch, everything was served hot. Perfect!
Next stop was Sacre Couer, another site that gave us a majestic view of Paris. I forgot to mention that we were there on Easter Sunday so this place was packed





with people celebrating the holiday, along with the tourists. There were lots of street performers who were vying for attention (and tips). The stand out? This guy and his soccer ball. He was not playing with ball on the ground. He was hanging on a pole balancing the ball, and doing all of these Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. It was close to 3pm and we got ourselves ready to attend a church service on Rue Pierre Nicole. It was a good break from our busy day. We met up with Emily and fam and attended a service that was preached in French, Oui!!! Thankfully, the minister translated some of the key verses in English.

This was our last evening in Paris. The day was so gorgeous
and we all decided to head back to the Eiffel Tower. We’ve seen it during the misty rain, during a gray cloudy day. This time we saw it right before sunset, and right when the lights flickered...beautiful. So long, Eiffel.

For our final dinner in Paris, we went to another local pub. We treated ourselves to steak, scallops pasta, french onion soup, and carbonara. There was a soccer game that was on TV. It was lively. Locals were cheering their team so we cheered along with them. 

That was it…that was our Paris visit. Extremely exhausting, but memorable.
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