Friday, August 26, 2016

Paris: Flâner - To Walk In The City In Order to Experience It

It's now Day Two of our stay in Paris. Every time I visit Paris, you know that moment when you're still asleep, yet you're on that moment of near consciousness that you're about to wake up? That moment in between made me think, "Get up, you're in Paris!"

So I did. And I woke up the rest of the troop. We finally got out, and got ready for our day. I read an article from Conde Nast Traveler and it mentioned the French word flâner, to walk in the city in order to experience it.

That's what our trip has been so far. We walked, we strolled, we got lost, we found gems, we wandered...aimlessly wandered. So nothing different with this morning.
We walked towards Place Vendome and this time we made a left on Rue de Rivoli. We headed straight for Angelina, well known for their pastries and especially their hot chocolate. We kept it light and simple since Evan wanted his daily croissant. I had to take a bite of the croissant from here. It was shiny, a little bit of a crispy top layer, and man, it had a little bit of sweetness. It's a far cry from the ones that we get from Costco! LOL!!!

Musee' du Louvre

We kept on walking on the avenue towards Passage Richelieu. Again it was like riding a bike. We took the kids to Musee' du Louvre. It was almost as if it was a rite of passage. After the Eiffel Tower, even if we're not big on art, just being outside the Louvre and its surroundings take an appreciation on its own. It's a such a wide space and then bam, there's this glass pyramid structure that led us in to the Louvre. The line to go in wasn't that long, but at the this time in the morning, the sun was already bright and shiny and HOT!!!

What's different with this visit? I didn't want us to focus and head straight to Leonard Da Vinci's famous painting of the Mona Lisa. I wanted to take our time. So for the first time in my three visits to the Louvre, we explored the Sully section and headed straight to Egyptian section. We were also enamored when we saw the Grecian and Roman sections. Those statues were so lifelike, just beautiful. We paced ourselves. We didn't rush. Heck, we were in Paris. We took pictures with Venus de Milo, she was tucked in the corner but was the center of attraction.

After walking about for over an hour, we found ourselves in the Denon Wing, Room 6. It was a huge room filled with dozens of paintings including her, Mona Lisa. As expected, she was in a glass enclosure, and all the paparazzis were on her. I read somewhere that there are plans to give Mona her separate room. I think she deserves it after all these years.

I don't really associate ramen when I think of Paris. However I knew that we'd be spending quite some time in the Louvre, so I checked top rated places to eat near the Louvre where I don't have to break the bank. It's a touristy area so everything is priced to choke your wallet. Higuma was highly rated. Known for its ramen, priced as low as $7.50 Euros, surprisingly, this was just 1 block away from the Louvre. They have 3 other locations nearby as well, which I might have to check out later.

We were craving comfort food. Despite the 99 degree weather, ramen and fried rice was the solution we needed. I loved the broth and the ramen noodles itself. It wasn't overcook. It wasn't salty. The fried rice was packed with flavor and lots of little shrimp. Yes....Higuma, I shall return.

Moving to our new home
Yesterday, I mentioned that while I had four FREE nights I could use at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, I opted use just one night since I had three other FREE nights award from Club Carlson. I booked the rest of our Paris stay at another five-star hotel near the Arc de Triomphe. We moved to the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs-Elysées. It was perfectly located one block away from the avenue and the Arc, and from a distance, one could see the Eiffel Tower.

Since we are Club Carlson Gold members, we were given an upgrade from a classic room to a deluxe room. It's typically around $335 Euros per night (roughly $400 with tax and everything). But for us, we got our three nights stay for FREE. Thank you, Club Carlson!!! After we checked in, we took a little break from all the walking and exploring we did today. We freshened up, I worked on my blog, the kids played, Nancy got to rest as well.

By 8pm, we left the hotel and walked one block. We took sunset pics with the Arc de Triomphe in the background.

After taking dozens of pictures, we headed for the Eiffel Tower. It was only one bus ride away, the #92. It was a short 10-15 minute ride, and once we got out, we walked for 10 minutes and didn't realize that we'd be right at the foot of the tower. We got there around 9pm, that's when the tower started to shimmer and lights were flashing. As you might imagine, we took hundreds of pictures! 

It's a small, small world
As we strolled around the Eiffel Tower, Nancy ran in to one of her co-workers from Kaiser Permanente. They rarely saw one another at work due to different schedules. But how random was that to see someone you know in Paris. The world is so small. This same thing happened to her a couple of years ago when we strolled around Times Square in NYC. We were walking up and down 8th Avenue and out of nowhere, she and her friend from college, Ommar, saw one another. What a small world.

We started to make our way back to the bus stop and strolled along Rue Saint-Dominique. Lots of restaurants and we chose Le Campanella. We ordered escargots, crepe, and steak. It was a perfect way to end our day, our 2nd day in Paris.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

For Paris is a Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway

Our flight to Paris was scheduled to leave Madrid at 6:45am. This meant that our party of 4 had to get up at 3am. We requested for a cab to take us to the airport at 3:45am. As expected, no traffic this early in the morning so we made it to the airport before 4:30am. The airport cab ride was a flat fee of $30 Euros.

Ryanair again

The first and last time we flew Ryanair was back in April 2015. We flew from Venice to Paris at the time. Why this part was an adventure? Ryanair is quite notorious for charging customers every little bit. If you don't print your boarding pass, they will charge. If you want an assigned seat, they will charge. If your luggage is overweight, they will charge. If your luggage is too big, they will charge. Our carryon is somewhat borderline in size.
It does not easily fit Ryanair's description unless we really push and shove our luggage for it to fit. However, just like our trip to Europe last year, Ryanair check in was a breeze. No issues. None whatsoever. This no-frills airline came through again!
Once we made it past security, we headed straight to the VIP Lounge at the airport. Our Priority Pass gave us access to this lounge for free. The flight to Paris went smoothly. I think I was able to close my eyes for at least a half hour during this flight of no more than 1.5 hours.

Just like riding a bike

We made it to Paris Beauvais airport around 9:45am local time. This time I was prepared. I purchased my bus tickets online.
This saved us a little bit by buying it in advance. It's about an hour ride from Beauvais to Porte Maillot in Paris. The bus, as expected, was ready to pick up the new passengers. We got ourselves situated and rode comfortably for a good hour. We made it to Porte Maillot before 11am. I turned on my phone and opened the Uber app and requested for a car that will take us to our home, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.

Paris for the third time

This visit makes it our third visit to Paris (2007, 2015, and 2016). I'd like to quote a part of what Ernest Hemingway said "...wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." And I believe that to be true. There were many things that we haven't discovered, and many things we fell in love with. So when we planned a return to Europe, Caitlin asked if we could include Paris in our itinerary...DONE!

$1,000 per night at the Park Hyatt Vendome for FREE? How?

Ever since I started to earn points with my credit cards, there were quite a few standouts when it came to FREE hotel stays. Sure any one could get any room for free, but the advise was to use FREE to its full potential. For instance. when we opened up a Chase Hyatt credit card, Nancy and I got 4 FREE nights at ANY Hyatt. We could use it at high end or a low end Hyatt. So to get your FREE value worth it, it's best to use it at the higher end Hyatt hotels. I could've easily used it at a local Hyatt in California (for about $250 per night), but I knew that we'd be going to Europe so I looked at the Hyatts in Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris, and there was no doubt - Park Hyatt Vendome Paris is the creme de la creme.

So here goes. We are going to be in Paris for 5 days 4 nights. I had enough FREE credits to get us all 4 nights at the Hyatt for FREE. However, I had 3 more free nights with Club Carlson that were due to expire before the end of August. Radisson is a pretty big deal in Europe. They have high end 4-5 star hotels. We stayed in their affiliated hotels in London, Budapest, and Prague for 2 weeks for FREE, zilch, nada, zero! So knowing that I had 3 more nights that I had to use with Club Carlson, I checked their hotels again in Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris. I'd be getting the biggest bang for my buck in Paris.
So for this Paris stay, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. We checked in at around 11:30am and they honored my request for an early check in and had given me a late checkout of 2pm. According to Camille from the reception desk, the room is $840 Euros per night, so when you convert that US dollars, that's around $950 USD plus tax. So we're talking just over $1,000 value for this room....and we got that for FREE. In...freaking...sane!!!

After we checked in, we rested for a bit. After all, we've been  up since 3am. This gave me a chance to regroup, shower, and plan our afternoon and evening in Paris.

It was another hot afternoon in Europe. We decided to head out by 2pm, and walked around Place Vendome towards Tuileries. We grabbed a quick lunch at a neighborhood cafe and had their chunk chicken sandwich, and omellet with camembert cheese and ham. It sounded so good when our waiter described it....and it was....both of them were so tasty.

We then went to the nearest Metro station and purchased a few Metro tickets that will get us around town. First stop, of course, in every traveler's bucket list....the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). We took a couple of trains, made a few stops and got off of Trocadero. This was the same stop where we took Ethan and Madison when we all visited Paris in 2015. What's the difference? Our first day when we visited Paris in was pouring rain!!!. We took pictures, lots of pictures under the rain, yet we couldn't wait to get away from the rain. Now in 2016, it was HOTTTTT, and we still took lots of pictures and we still couldn't wait to get away from the sun. It was scorching hot. To find comfort, Cait and Evee found a nearby playground, there was a nice shade that kept all of us cool.

We decided to head to our hotel and got ready for dinner. We went to the 5th Arrondissement aka the Latin Quarter. Our Uber driver earlier suggested we go to Rue Pot De Fer. It was an alley of nearly with over 10 different restaurants. We fancied this plate of cheese and meat, Charcuterie. It was a feast for the eyes. So simple yet, elegant. We sat outside which allowed us to watch the crowd as they passed by.

That was how we spent our first day in revoir.