Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday 6 January - Travel Home

Our flight to Toronto was scheduled to leave CDG at 1130 and an early morning check confirmed this. We left the apartment at 0730 and the Metro and the RER were both running well, the RER line B was running at minute intervals. Check in was quick and then we discovered that the incoming plane had been badly delayed leaving Toronto by ice, snow and high winds. The new departure time was shown as 1300 but the plane had not arrived by that time and we finally left a very warm Paris around 1400. To make matters worse there were high headwinds and the journey took over nine hours. Toronto was in poor shape and we stood on the ground for over 30 minutes waiting for a gate to open up. Our connection to Ottawa had been cancelled but the connections people put us on a later flight to Ottawa. They had printed out a whole raft of new Boarding Cards and laid them out on a table so all we had to do was to give our names. The departure gate was changed twice, the second time when an earlier arriving flight managed to skate over the ice to the gate but the bridge froze up. The inbound passengers were imprisoned within sight of the terminal while the Air Canada agents looked on helplessly.

Our flight to Ottawa had to go through the de-icing with the result that we finally arrived at 2350. Our bags miraculously made it through as well. Steve met the the three of us and quickly drove us home.

It has been a long and pretty boring day but the Air Canada people were very good and got us safely to our destination.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday 5 January - Last Day in Paris

Mary and Veronica decided at the last moment to go to the Louvre leaving me at a loose end. They had lunch at Le Train Bleu while I looked in vain for a rugby game on tv. 
Crowds at the Mona Lisa
Le Train Bleu
We had dinner this evening at the Bistto D'Id which was excellent.  Hamburger/lamb shank/magret de canard with myrtille sauce. The onion soup to start was full flavored and satisfying.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saturday 4 January - Troyes

Mary and Veronica went up the Eiffel Tower, visited the aquarium at the Trocadero and went into Notre Dame (on the way they were accosted by a woman trying the lost ring trick). 

I decided to go to Troyes from Gare de l'Est. After a couple of run-ins with SNCF ticket machines I bought my tickets at the counter.
Train from Paris at Troyes. The driver was playing with the reverse which is why the red lights are showing at the front
The route is out via Longueville through open country.  Troyes calls itself Troyes Champagne from its location at the southern extremity of the Champagne country although I didn't see any vineyards. A double bi-mode multiple unit took me on the outward journey. The area around the station was half boarded up and the balance was closed. There are some interesting timber-framed buildings and the area around the central market had a number of restaurants.
The cathedral is smaller than most but looked to be in good condition.
For lunch:
- salad of coquilles St. Jacques and pate de foie gras;
- mushroom omelet;
- Chinon rouge

There was then time to walk back to the station and catch the train back.  This was a through train from Belfort and the hoped-for big diesel came barreling into the platform hauling a rake of Corail coaches.  As usual, the speed at the platform end must have been at least 100 kmph but it made a smooth stop. The acceleration is not as good as the new multiple units but the big diesel did a fine job.  The Corail coach provided an excellent ride and I enjoyed the trip back. 
Train from Belfort for Paris arriving at Troyes
Two big diesels at Gare de l'Est.  Diesel hauled trains are becoming a rarity.

This evening Veronica took us out to dinner in a restaurant in the rue des Dames.   Gnocchi, salmon and duck, vegetable tartelette with a bottle of red wine.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday 3 January - Reims

The 0840 TGV to Reims was on time and took us effortlessly to Champagne - Ardenne, the station on the outskirts of Reims. The countryside is uninteresting and, in any case, we were going so fast  there was not the opportunity to take much in. I saw a deer in a field and, as we approached our destination, signs of the chalk bedrock became evident. A connecting electric train took us into Reims in short order.
The Tourist Office supplied a city map, a transport map and instructions on how to get to the champagne houses. There was a ticket machine at the tram stop where we purchased a 24 hour pass valid for up to 5 people for just over 5 euros. The no. 4 bus took us to Martell where a toffee nosed receptionist informed us haughtily that we had to make reservations a day in advance. Tattainger were a little more friendly and booked us into the next tour which was in French. The guide spoke very clearly and we had a good visit. The dégustation was good but one cannot escape the fact that champagne owes much of its cachet to marketing.
The restaurant Au Plat du Jour was open for lunch and we all enjoyed scallops in a mustard cheese sauce with mushrooms and leeks. Mary and Veronica had Kir Royal.
Armed with a local transport map and a day pass, the journey to Mumms was very easy. Most of Reims was destroyed in World War I and it was rebuilt in a dreary, uninteresting fashion using the original confusing street pattern. 
We stopped off at the Opera to take a quick took at the front of the cathedral, a small portion of which has been cleaned. There was a 10 minute walk from the tram to the champagne house of Mumms. I had made a reservation for a tour in English. It explained the champagne process very well. The tour was impressive, there are 25 km of caves cut in the chalk, and I found the small museum of various machines and instruments well done. We had a dégustation of two champagnes, a vintage, which was smooth with an after taste of apples and caramel, and a rosé which was astringent and not to my taste.

We had plenty of time to stroll back to the station past a funfair. The train to Paris came in an hour before time but the SNCF bureaucracy wouldn't let us board until the stipulated 20 minutes before departure. This was a double deck train with a monitor showing our speed. Much of the journey on the high speed section was at 320 kmph, the maximum allowed.  Although the train was travelling very fast the ride was excellent and it was difficult to believe we were really going at that speed.

There is still one SNCF mystery surrounding this trip. Why was it cheaper to travel first class than second?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thursday 2 January - Versailles

It was a pleasant sunny day today and the plan was to arrive at Versailles late, take a late lunch and get into the Chateau just before closing.  This way we would avoid the worst of the crowds.  This worked out pretty well.  We took the train from Saint Lazare to the Versailles Rive Droite station.  After La Defense there were good views across Paris, particularly the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur.  We walked the 20 minutes or so to the Chateau.  There is an interesting market building in four pieces, spread over a crossroads. A whole cooked lobstet was selling for €74.  Versailles was very, very busy and the bus car park was crowded.  We made our way down to the garden and the canal, making use of the granite toilets on the way.  It was crowded at the bottom end of the canal but most tourists don't walk very far and we were soon very much on our own except for a very happy white spotted retriever who was just galloping around in the forest.

The two Trianons gave us plenty of opportunity to look at the rooms in some detail and then we made the discovery of the day - the gardens by the Petit Trianon. These are laid out in the English style with few straight lines.  There is a stream running through with over bridges and ducks which flowed into a lake which is surrounded by rustic buildings.  There were several paddocks with farmyard animals, rabbits etc and some larger fields with cattle and the larger birds, geese, peacocks etc.  There was even a small vineyard with chickens scratching around.  Later on we came to a field of sheep.

By this time we were pretty well lost but some dead reckoning brought us back to the bistro at le Canal.  This was pretty noisy but provided what we wanted.

The decorative stonework at eh Chateau has been picked out in gold - very impressive.
 We arrived back at the Chateau ticket office around 20 minutes before closing time but with no line ups.  We were able to walk right in and see everything although there was no lingering.  The Hall of Mirrors was crowded but not jam packed solid as we have seen it in the past.  The visitor actually passes through most of the Hall of Mirrors twice and the second time it was easy to look around.  Towards the end the attendants were trying to get us out but we were able to see everything relatively easily.

There followed an uneventful return to Saint Lazare only to find that line 3 metro was closed because of an incident so we walked home.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday 1 January - New Year's Day

I didn't do much today. After a late start Mary and Veronica went to the Étoile and walked down the Champs Élysés doing more "shopping". The took a ride in the Ferris Wheel in the Place de la Concorde.

Tuesday 31 December - New Year's Eve

Mary and Veronica decided to go "shopping" today.  I went along to ensure they didn't get lost and to carry the parcels.  I had mistakenly thought that "shopping" entailed buying something.  In fact it consists of going into a boutique, discussing the particular shade of taupe or fuschia,  admiring or criticising the quality, laughing at the price tag and deciding it isn't quite right.

The best boutiques have chairs where the men can rest their weary feet and flirt with the assistants.  At other establishments I stood outside and watched people. A man strolled past singing in a loud castrato voice towing two small dogs in a shopping basket.  The dogs were wearing Santa Clause hats. A well dressed woman in high heels came along and put nine wine bottles into the recycling - must have been some party.  Kids had succeeded in throwing a pair of sneakers so they hung from an overhead wire.
We started in Rambuteau and had made it into the Marais for lunch. The restaurants were crowded and we ate pita sandwiches from a hole in a wall. An old man came up to Veronica and said she would get married next year.  He then went on to the next young lady and repeated his speech. The street was full of people eating pita sandwiches which made it difficult for a couple of men trying to deliver some sides of beef to a restaurant.

We continued "shopping" and finished up at the Place des Vosges.  A drink was needed. We found a moth eaten bar on the rue de Rivoli where I had coffee and a well deserved Calvados. The toilets were a delight. There was more "shopping" along the rue de Rivoli as far as the St. Paul metro from where we came home.  I didn't have a parcel to carry.

This evening we went to Aux Isles Marquises for the St. Sylvestre meal. We were greeted warmly by Madame and the food was great although the service was spotty. The waitress kept dropping things while the head waiter was arrogant. Madame mentioned that they would likely be giving up the restaurant in the next year or so.
Foie gras

The metro was surprisingly quite in both directions.  However, there were several parties in our street.  There was a loud countdown to midnight and the street was pretty noisy when they set out for home.

Unclear on the concept. A tourist was having great difficulty trying to get his ticket into the barrier at Villiers metro. Mary had to explain that it was free and he didn't need a ticket.