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February 3, 2009

Paris Apartments

I know I've talked about this but haven't really given much details so let's play a little catch up before jumping into the apartment discussion. Mom takes each grandchild on a trip after his/her b'nai mitzvah. Becky went to London. Kevin went to California for a surfing contest. Jake wanted to go to the All-Star game last summer but that became too problematic (can you say extremely ridiculous prices?), so he asked if he could join Sammi in Paris for her trip. Now Dad really has no desire to go to Paris again, so I said, if he's willing to watch Becky, I'd go in his place (I know, huge sacrifice). He jumped at the chance and everyone was happy (oh, and of course we said Jake could go - I think it will be way fun).

Originally, we had planned an April trip but then "It" happened, so we postponed (luckily no deposits had been made). Well, last week the doctor gave me the go ahead to start planning summer trips and of course, I jumped right in with apartment searches.

Since now, we're planning on going in the summer, I had to start from scratch. You see for an April trip air-conditioning wasn't required but now, in the summer, it is (and please don't try to change my mind unless you're willing to listen to my mother and daughter whine during a heat wave in Paris - and heck who are we kidding - really for the rest of their lives).

So here's where I stand so far. I have yet to contact any owners/agencies but all the apartments I've found to date are plotted below. If you continue reading, you'll also find links and some notes I made on each.

What I did not factor in are the Paris Perfect apartments, which are of course, lovely, and from past experience with London Perfect, have wonderful amenities, but are downright expensive, starting at €2415 for a two bedroom and rapidly rising in to the threes. I didn't include them, but Mom may decide she wants the splurge - who knows. I also want to double check with an agency I was in contact with before, just to make sure they don't have any air-conditioned apartments I overlooked.


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February 22, 2009

We Have an Apartment

After several inquiries, tons of research (as you can see here, Paris Apartments), we've contacted and contracted for this apartment: Luxurious Air Conditioned Flat -Center Paris - Centre Pompidou. I've had several pleasant e-mail interchanges with the owner, have gotten feedback from previous renters and received approval from Sammi (hope Jake agrees). A little nervous that the a/c is only in the living room, but there are fans in the bedrooms so I think it will be all right. It's a new location for me, but on a public square and high enough up that I'm hopeful for minimal traffic noise. Plus, it's the least expensive apartment we've looked at by about €400.

paris_apartment.jpg
View From Paris Apartment

Now, to start organizing activities, research restaurants and book the airfare!

March 3, 2009

Potential Paris Activities

Starting to organize my thoughts on potential activities with the kids. We'll arrive on Saturday July 25th and depart on Saturday August 1. Wow, really 6.5 days on the ground.

Because it's a trip to celebrate their b'nai mitvah, I do feel strongly that we should make a visit to the Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme. I've been before, it's a good museum, with provided audio guides and won't take too long to walk through.

There will definitely be a day at Euro Disney. I know, I know, but actually, I'm really curious too. And they're teens. And this is their trip.

Realized that we'll be there for the last day of the Tour de France, so hoping we'll be able to glimpse the riders on one of their laps on Sunday the 26th. Oh and while we're talking Sunday, I really want to get to the Richard Lenoir market that morning too!

I saw this article in the NY Times, Paris Sights and Activities for a Teenage Boy and someone else on the Paris Forums also mentioned the Catacombs and Jake is all over that.

Hoping to do one of these activities with Meeting the French.

Thanks to this discussion, I learned about the fashion shows at the Galleries Lafayette on Friday afternoons at 3:00pm, so we'll either do that on Friday July 31st or we'll risk attending a show at the Bristol, the day we arrive (July 25th), which they hold on certain Saturdays from 3:00 - 5:00. They hold them in the bar and the cost is €55 a person but includes afternoon tea.

Other suggestions I received from this discussion include:

  • The Sewer Museum
  • La Conciergerie
  • A Segway Tour (though Mom will probably pass on this
  • Crypte Archéologique which I'm thinking we can combine with climbing to the top of Notre Dame
  • la cité des Sciences in La Villette
  • A Bike Tour (again Mom won't participate)
  • Shopping on Rue Cler
  • The Centre Pompidou aka the modern art museum - this should be easy as our apartment overlooks the museum.
  • Deyrolle - famous taxidermy store
  • Visit the animalleries (pet stores) on the Quai de la Megisserie
  • walk through of Bon Marche's gourmet store (we'll either do this or hit the food floors of Galleries Lafayette, if we go there for the fashion show)
  • car showrooms on Champs Elysee
  • Perhaps a trip out to Versailles?
  • And of course the standards, boat ride on the Seine, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower (btw - Sammi still wants to dine her so we'll need to work something out), the Louvre and perhaps I can even get them to the D'Orsay.
I think we need more time. Any other ideas for us? Please feel free to leave your comments.

July 15, 2009

Paris - The Plan So Far

paris_at_night.jpg
Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted. I have so much I want to share but keep forgetting to come here and actually write it.

Anyway, plans are falling into place for Paris. I have to tell you though, I've been summarily informed by Sammi, that "Paris is the fashion capital of the world" and well, she's going there to shop and that's it. Yikes! Sounds like my worst nightmare.

Well, she understands now that Jake is with us and his wishes need to be honored too and I'm hopeful she understands that there will be plenty of time for shopping, as a natural occurrence as we visit street markets and walk along the grand and not so grand avenues of gay Paris.

Anyway, I have a bunch more details to fill in but this is what we have on tap so far.

Saturday - mid-morning arrival. Ooh, must remember to schedule our airport pickup. We can drop our bags at the apartment at 10:00am but do not have access until 1:00pm. For a refresher, this is the apartment we rented. I'm figuring we'll drop our bags (probably will be about 11:30 by the time we arrive), and go grab an early lunch somewhere.

After lunch, a return to the apartment to unpack, and perhaps a shower before we set out exploring. I may quash Sammi's urges right away with a stroll down Rivoli or a stop at Les Halles or perhaps, a walk to the Tuilleries (sp).

I'm expecting an early dinner and bed early.

Sunday

I want to visit the Richard Lenoir (aka Bastille) market early (thinking 10:00am), lunch and if we time it right, we'll get to see the Tour ride into Paris for this, their last day. Basically, a pretty low key day. Maybe tonight, we'll head over to the Eiffel Tower and finally go to the top.

Monday
So far nothing planned.

Tuesday
We have a catacomb tour scheduled at 11:00am with Paris Walks. I believe it's a two-hour tour and I'm hoping the guide can recommend a cafe for lunch nearby afterward.

Wednesday
No plan yet.

Thursday
I'm in the process of booking a private chocolate walk, also with Paris Walks. They were the least expensive of all the outfits for this private walk (no one had any scheduled which is why we must go private), so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it is good. The tour will be at 10:30am.

Friday
The only thing on tap today is a 3:00pm, fashion show at Galleries Lafayette. This was high on Sammi's list of things to do. The show is free but you do need a reservation, which we have. I'm thinking shopping in the Galleries before or after the show (probably after).

Saturday
Home :(

Other Things to Fit In

  • Climb Notre Dame (a Jake and Kim request)
  • Climb the Arch de Triomphe (a Jake request)
  • Eiffel Tower (both teens have requested)
  • Louvre (seriously, I promised Sammi no more than 60 or 90 minutes in a museum but how can you not? I'm hoping the oppulence of the rooms wins hers over - that and the shopping in the mall underneath. Just to see some of the ultra-famous things.
  • Orsay (see above - again, a quick hit to see some of the impressionists)
  • Jewish Museum (okay - it is a b'nai mitzvah trip after all and I really enjoyed this museum)
  • Versailles (Jake is all about the bling - I'm hoping this amazes them and I've never been too).

One other thing I thought about doing for Sammi is a Teen Shopping Tour but I just can't decide a) is it worth that price b) who goes because at that price, there's really no reason all four of us need to go.

So that's it for now, I have to nail down details like opening hours, and restaurant possibilities, and as usual, I'll be cramming over the next 10 days to get it all done.

July 25, 2009

Paris - Check in Problems

So airport was packed yesterday. Luckily the agent by check-in directed us to a different area when we told her we were going to Paris, and the second area had shorter lines. We checked in, went down to security (missing Chris and his Elite Status), waited and finally got to the point where they check your boarding pass and your ID and guess what? The CO check-in person gave us two boarding passes for Mom and none for Sammi! So, I sent Mom and Jake through while Sammi and I went back to the check-in area again where the lines had grown huge.

I flagged down another agent and she let me skip the line after I explained what happened and directed me to a kiosk where we were able to check in Sammi and return to Security where we had to wait in a much longer line before we finally got through.

So, lesson learned, don't leave the check-in counter until you've confirmed you have boarding passes for each and every member of your party.

Paris - Flight

Once we boarded, we had the usual 60 minute wait at Newark airport before we took off. There was a young girl, traveling solo, in the row behind Mom and I (Sammi and Jake sat together in a different row). I felt so bad for her because as soon as the doors closed and we pushed away, she started to cry that she wanted her mommy. Thank god for the man sitting in the row with her. He started talking to her, distracted her and calmed her down and I believe the rest of the flight went uneventful for her, as I slept a good chunk of the way.

By the way, the plane was a 757-200 series with those cool, seat-back, personal entertainment systems - over 40 movies to choose from, games, television shows plus plug access for two in each row. I wish we had that for the flight home, but I don't think we'll have that kind of luck.

Oh, and though we had our one hour delay, we still landed on time, through immigration, got our bags (a wait similar to Newark), and then we met our driver from Paris Shuttle Inter with no problems. There was an accident on the highway into Paris but our driver navigated through the local roads and we still made pretty decent time. He showed us where to meet him on Saturday for our return trip, as the area in front of our building is a pedestrian zone.

Apartment Video

July 26, 2009

Le Tour

I have over 40 videos I took today but I wanted to get this one uploaded quickly. Our view of the Tour.

July 27, 2009

Fun at the Pompidou

Make sure your volume is turned all the way up so you can hear some of Sammi's commentary.

July 28, 2009

The Area Around the Apartment

Our apartment literally sits on one end of the courtyard outside the Centre Pompidou (Paris's modern art museum). The feel of the apartment area isn't as residential as, say where we stayed in the Latin Quarter in 2007, but it's a good cross between residential and I guess tourist. It reminds me of the location my Dad's former apartment in Manhattan (West 55th street), where there were plenty of residential buildings but because it was also midtown, plenty of hotels in the vicinity.

As Mom said our first night, you won't starve in this neighborhood. Within a block on either side of the apartment you'll find two boulangerie, two markets, a dozen cafes, three or four charcuterie (sp), two fruit stands, a movie theatre (actually right below the apartment), a few creperie, Amorino gelato, several Japanese/Chinese Restaurants, a cous cous place, a couple of Lebanese take-outs and I can't even recall what else.

There are also tourist "stands" in front of the Pompideu with tee shirts, and all sorts of chotchkeys, clothing stores, sporting good stores, pharmacies, banks, video stores, and the mall at Les Halle is a five minute walk away etc.

Musee d'Art de l'Histore du Judaism

First a note, our plan for today was to hit both the Pompidou Center and the Museum of Jewish Art and History, in that order. But as we discovered, neither museum opens until 11:00am. So what else to do in Paris? Of course, shop.

And before you get the wrong idea, Jake can shop with the best of them. We hit the Echo store, a store called Forever ... something (I don't remember) a chotchkey store (for some berets), and one other place that alludes me - all within a block of our apartment (I swear, we haven't left this area other than to go to Sunday's market yet).

Then we returned to the Pompidou Center, which had just opened, and had a line for security (basically just a bag check), that snaked all the way out from the museum, through the plaza, to the area in front of the stores.

So we went to plan B. We headed over to the Jewish Museum, which had absolutely no line.

We went through security (metal detector and bag x-ray), and entered the museum. The kids (under 18) were free and now the museum is covered by the Museum Pass (it wasn't in 2006) and that still includes the audio tour for free - yeah.

So we got our audio stuff and headed out. This museum doesn't take long to get through (in Sammi method, look and walk, look and walk), maybe 45 minutes - longer if you listen to some of the commentary (as Jake did), maybe 75 minutes - longer still if you listen to most of the commentary (as I did in 2006).

I still found it an interesting museum, and if you want to learn a bit about the culture and religious items of the Jews in Europe (and even further afield - they have Torah decorations from Shanghai), I say it's worth a visit.

July 30, 2009

Versailles

We headed out to Versailles on Wednesday, hoping that the opulence of the palace and grounds would wow our teens and impress them. We were partially wrong. Jake seemed impressed (at least by all the gold, Sammi - not so much).

Getting to Versailles wasn't as easy as I hoped. We walked over the RER Station for the C line (C5 to be exact), on the road on the left bank, opposite Isle St. Louis, only to find it closed. A glace down the street a bit led us to a crowd and a nice, young lady, with an information vest (yellow), who told us the that a shuttle bus would be along in a bit to take us to the Invalides station as the line between Invalides and ... shoot will need to look it up ... is closed from mid-July to mid-August. The bus did come, packed, and we squeezed on and road it for two stops before arriving at Invalides. That was the only hiccup of our travels.

Once in the station, we approached the ticket booth and I said Chateau Versailles, and held up four fingers. To which he replied by making a back and forth motion with his hand to which I nodded. In a few moments I received eight tickets (or four round trip), tickets for RER line. He told us quai B and we went through the machines with our tickets and found the train.

After a few minutes of waiting, the train took off and maybe a dozen or so stops later we pulled into the last station, and our stop at Versaille, us along, with the hundreds of other people left the train and took the five minute walk to the palace. I don't recall signs, but there were maps, but basically we followed the crowds like lemmings.

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July 31, 2009

Galeries Lafayette Fashion Show

Every Friday afternoon from 3:00 (arrive at 2:45) until 3:30pm the Galeries have a fashion show on the 7th floor (8th American - take the escalator up), in their private salon. The fashion show is free but you need to make a reservation ahead of time by e-mailing them (address on their website). I booked about four weeks out - maybe less and had no problem. It was definitely an interesting experience - one I'd say any fashion conscious teen would enjoy.

August 1, 2009

Paris Walks - Catacomb Tour

On Tuesday we did the Paris Walks Catacomb Tour. This two-hour tour, offered a couple of times a month, takes a small group (I think we had about 19), down into the catacombs giving the history not only behind their creation (as limestone quarries) but how they were turned into one of the largest burial grounds ever (6 million people - three times more than the current population of Paris). Oh, and I should note, this is one of the few Paris Walks Tours that you must pre-book and pay (€15) for ahead of time.

catacomb sculpture
Underground Sculpture in Catacombs

We met our guide, Chris, at 11:00 at the entrance to the catacombs at the Denfert Rochero metro station. Actually, we were a few minutes early, so we gathered on a bench with the other Americans and Canadians waiting for Chris who apparently went for a cup of coffee. He did arrive on time though, pulled us into a group, checked us in, and collected our money for the entrance fee to the Catacomb (not included in the group tour price €6).

One extremely nice advantage of this tour (besides the humorous Chris and his history lessons) was the line-cutting aspect. The line for the entrance, snaked around the corner of the square and they only seemed to let about 10 people in at a time. After Chris gave us our above ground information, we cut the line and headed in.

The first few rooms are well lit and airy with pictures and information about the catacombs but eventually you get down into the tunnels, often walking single file as you snake your way through the darkened passages. Most of which are now twice the size in height than they were during the days of the limestone quarries.

You cover almost a mile underground, most of which is bone free (though fossils from 45 million years ago, and the sea that resided here then can sometimes be found/seen), before you hit the ossuary filled with bones. This was the part Sammi dreaded - the thought grossed and freaked her out, so she kept her eyes tightly closed from the time we passed under the sign that said, "Stop! This is the empire of the dead," until we emerged on the other side and made the climb out.

Did I mention this by the way? The climb? The catacombs lie lower than the cellars, metro lines and RER lines of Paris so be prepared for the steps. Oh, and as I said, when you leave the catacombs you're about a mile down the line from the metro station at which you arrived.

We said our good-byes to Chris, and headed over to a cafe for some lunch before we returned to the inner arrondissement.

This tour cost us €15 a person plus the €6 entrance fee and we found it fun and interesting and would definitely recommend it.

I shot some video of our time below but as you can imagine, it was quite dark, and hard to capture much on film. Of the 15 or so minutes, most of it was dark but I've got some clips below. Oh, and one other thought, some people brought pen lights with them on the tour - I thought this a bully idea.

August 2, 2009

The Towers of Notre Dame

On Thursday afternoon, we ticked another thing of the kids' to do lists, climbing the tower at Notre Dame. I don't remember exactly what time we arrived but if I had to guess I'd say between two and two thirty and the link snaked from the entrance (at the left side of the church, as you're facing the front), and into the plaza, not reaching the back corner where the crypts lie.

gargoyle_1.jpg
Gargoyle atop Notre Dame

I feared it could be bad (like two hours), but by 3:10 we were at the entrance. Now here are some things to note, the museum pass gets you in free and children under 18 are free. At first, I thought I would climb with the teens, but I hit a wall sometime after our morning chocolate walk and was worried about my vertigo, so we decided to let them go on their own while Mom and I ducked across the street to an inviting cafe.

No sooner had mom ordered her wine and I ordered my beer, than Sammi came running across the street. They would not let them climb the tower without an adult so off I scooted, leaving the shade of the cafe for the winding, stone, confined staircase of the tower.

Something less than the 400 total steps later, we emerged mid-level for a bit of viewing (by the way, almost forgot to mention there's a gift shop halfway up), and to find the wooden steps to the actual bell area, which of course we climbed. We then queued up for our final ascent to the very top of the tower. At this point, Jake suggested we return to the ground but Sammi said, "We didn't start this to only go half-way," so on we climbed.

They limit your time at the top of the tower to about five minutes, which is just about perfect. I mean, after all, you walk around, you take some pictures, what else is there to do?

So once done, we queued up once again for a few moments, (they control the flow in the upper part as there's only one stairway for both up and down) and then we climbed the 400 stairs back down.

Luckily, my beer, though warm, was still waiting and I'm glad I did the climb after all.

August 4, 2009

Mona Lisa, Monalisa Men Have Named You

C'mon you all, sing it with me!

Okay - seriously, we traveled to Paris and I just felt it a shame if we went through our entire trip not visiting one of the major museums (yes, shoot me, I didn't count the Pompidou in the ranks of major museums - though it probably should be). In my mind, I was thinking Louvre or D'Orsay. So with that in mind, we asked the kids if they had any desire to see any work of art, to which they replied, "We could see the Mona Lisa."

Of course, that statement was quickly followed by, "But that's all we want to see in that museum."

So on Thursday afternoon, after climbing the Tower at Notre Dame, we didn't make an exact b-line for the Louvre, but instead, hopped on the Batobus (boat that travels up and down the Seine), and got off at the Louvre stop, where we arrived a few minutes late for entry (5:46 - the museum closes at 6:00pm).

So, after some photo-ops in the courtyard, we headed home.

mom_and_sam_louvre.jpg

On Friday morning though, after letting the kids sleep in a bit, we headed back to the Louvre, taking the 1 metro line to the museum exit, walked through the Carousel (aka shopping mall underneath), with promises of post visit shopping, quickly through the underground security and right into the museum, flashing our museum passes along the way (love the no lines thing).

It was really almost a jog, past the ancient Greco-Roman sculptures, up the stairs, following the signs pointing us to the Mona Lisa all the way. Once we arrived, it was a matter of worming our way through the crowds, eight deep, for a few seconds thirty some odd feet from the painting. Honestly, I thought it a ripoff the first time and I'm still thinking it this time. I just don't get it.

Anyway, once we left the Mona Lisa's room, which, by the way, was the only area nicely air-conditioned, we managed to convince our charges to walk up and down the great hall outside, where we saw pictures of King David in various outfits and in various states before and after killing Goliath, John the Baptist, Jesus and assorted other saints. But once that was done, they were done, and we quickly made our way back to the carousel for some shopping (a few more gifts purchased) and then on to lunch.

August 9, 2009

The Bulldog

Our first night we went for dinner at Le Bouledogue, a brasserie/cafe down the street from the apartment. Originally, I had contacted them, via e-mail, asking for a 7:30 reservation, but since I never heard back from them, I assumed they didn't receive it and we were on our own. So it was funny when I popped in there at 5:00, to make a 7:00 reservation (didn't think the teens would make it until 7:30), and they had the reservation, which they agreed to make earlier (normally, I do not think they start dinner service until 7:30).

As it was, we arrived at 6:45, after scouting a one block radius of the apartment and contributing to the Paris economy (a shirt for Jake, a shirt for Sammi, tee shirt presents for some people, a scarf for Sammi and a "special" surprise for Becky later...). Being early, they still graciously sat us and offered us some pre-dinner drinks. Mom and I shared a medium pichet of rose (a sancerre that I thought a bit tanic but drinkable and cokes for the teens), along with what seemed like some homemade chips - very nice.

We received English menus, so no translating contests for the kids tonight. Jake found a steak served with shallots that the agreed to leave in the kitchen, Mom went with the duck confit, I had a filet of duck breast in a green peppercorn sauce and Sammi had difficulty. Not a much of a meat eater, she opted for the trio of steamed fish along with rice cooked in .... lotus leaves ... I can't remember - but it reminded me of the presentation of sticky rice in Chinese restaurants. Other than Sammi's fish, they all came with house frite (fries) and a green salad, which was presented "family-style" in one bowl, from which we all shared.

Dinner at Le Bouledogue
Dinner at Le Bouledogue

Jake ate his steak, which he described a bit "crispy" on the outside - It was seared to a coating, and actually medium and tender. Both kids tried our duck dishes and both preferred the duck confit to my duck breast, as the peppercorn sauce threw them off. Sammi was not happy with her steamed fish (I tried it though and it was good), but she was a trooper, trying everything but I think filling up on mostly chips and bread.

For dessert we had two chocolate fondants with custard sauce (one for Jake and one for Mom), while Sammi and I shared some profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

All and all, a decent meal, can't say if it was really pricey as no comparisons yet but it came in about €135 euro. A highlight though was getting to meet the bulldogs - yes they do exist, three of them, that seem to live upstairs but came down to hang by the bar for a chunk of time while we ate. They were quite camera shy though.

After dinner, we returned to the apartment for four rounds of Rummikub (only three that counted though in our trip tournament because Mom had the rare occurrence of never being able to meld before we ran out of tiles and none of us wanted to stick her with all those points from which we doubt she'd ever recover. Of course, if she ends up winning the tournament, you know we're all going to cry foul.)

It was off to sleep for the women about 11:00pm while Jake watched the first half of Fellowship of the Ring on his DVD player before turning in close to midnight.

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