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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

We take the Eurostar train from London to the Paris Nord Station on September 3rd. Tickets are about 150 euro each. The trip takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. I’d love to tell you about the trip, but I slept for the majority of it. You get your seats ahead of time-it’s just like the Amtrak. We arrive at Paris Nord-I don’t speak a lick of French, so we have a little more trouble here than we did in London. It’s cool temperatures here, as well as it was in London, think fall in Boston…but there was rain during our stay which was a bummer. We take a cab from the train to the hotel in Versailles because I can’t imagine navigating our way there by train. The cab ride will cost you around 50 euro, and is about a 10 minute drive.  We later find that the train from Paris to Versailles is easy and direct (sort of). Hotels in city center of Paris are expensive. We make the decision to spend 3 nights in Versailles, which with breakfast, ran about 220 euro a night.The hotel is amazing-it’s like a palace. We are surprised when the door man ignores us and doesn’t help with our bags. We are slaves to Hilton, and thus why we chose this hotel, Trianon Palace. We check in with ease, room 510.

It’s a very lovely room-spacious with a comfortable bed.

There’s a nice seating area where we end up eating dinner two of the nights that we are here.

Not much of a view, but I love the style of the window.

There is a whole second living area, separated by a door, complete with flat screen tv.

There is a really lovely bathroom.

Tub-which would be lovely if I were a bath kind of gal.

A great overhead rain shower-and they had fluffy robes (which would be nice if I were a robe kind of gal).

The mirrored doors are all closet space-it’s like they thought that you were staying for a month.

The lobby is beautiful, they were painting the ceiling with gold leaf while we were there.

There is a long hallway that leads to the restaurants off of the lobby-with comfortable chairs-Alice in Wonderland style.

Off the back of the hotel you can see sheep and horses roaming in a pasture-it is really quite picturesque.

We head off into the city to try and pick up our Paris Pass. Again, we didn’t order them with enough time to have them sent to the states-so we were heading to the Cultival Center, 33 Rue Le Peleier. September to June hours are 9:30am-6:30pm. Summer hours, July and August are Mon-Fri 9:30am-4:30pm and Saturday from 9:30am-1pm. It being 3/330ish, we figure we will get there in plenty of time. The cab drops us off at this building that is all boarded up. Our minds are thinking…did we get scammed? We walk around the streets back and forth (which was a little scary because of all the homeless people sleeping in the streets) and finally find the agency. It has stickers on the window, looks like a travel agency-but if you blink, you could miss it. I’m freaking out because we bought a 4 day pass, and because they are also closed on Sunday, if we do get the pass, we will have paid 282 euros for nothing. Luckily, when I returned to the states, Mandy, who works for the Leisure Pass company was able to help me get my money back-so thanks Mandy! We really appreciate it. Down in the dumps about this, we head over to the American Express office (there is also a sign that says “Kanoo”), located at 11 Rue Scribe. We meet this wonderful woman, who speaks English, and was super helpful. We ended up buying a 3 day hop on hop off bus tour pass and a 4 day museum pass from her. Total price-188 euro, about a hundred less than the Paris pass. We walk out feeling good.

My good friend Dianne turned me on to Goyard when she came home from her honeymoon in Paris with a beautiful red clutch. I had never heard of Goyard before then-but they are beautiful bags, with hand painted dots in a pattern that looks similar to the Chevron symbol. Bags start around $1000, and you can only buy the in the states at Barney’s or at the Goyard store in San Francisco. I would say that they are on the same level as Louis or other top designers of luxury bags, but I think that the hand painted dots make them special. You can also get your initials hand painted on your bag for an additional price.

I picked up this bag for Dianne while we were in Paris, so lovely right? Red is one of their “regular colors” but expect to pay more for the same bag if let’s say you wanted it in navy. Like 400 euro more…Goyard is located at 233 Rue St Honore among other high end shops. Across the street they have a store dedicated to animals, so think hand painted collars for your dogs etc. The stores are crowded, with many people buying multiple bags-the good news is that the line here is far shorter than the line that goes around the block to get into Louis. When you buy luxury goods, usually over 175 euro at one store you are able to get the VAT tax back when you leave the EU. The customs agent told me that the tax is anywhere from 15-20% and it is at the store discretion as to how much they refund you. Goyard did not refund the whole VAT amount. Also, not that when you come back into the states, you are allowed $800 worth of goods to come in per person tax free. If it is more than that, it is 3% on the first $1000 and then depending on the item, an additional percentage on any money more than that first $1000 over your allowed amount. They have a book-I think that for leather bags over $20, it’s something like 9% after the 3%. But don’t worry, you can pay  customs with a credit card. So you get a form from the shop that you purchased your goods at. You bring it to the customs area when you are leaving the EU. They stamp it for you and you bring it to another desk where you can opt to get the cash back or have it put back on your credit card. I had read lots of places that if you get the money back on your credit card it can take up to 3 months. Yikes!

Going back for a minute to the lady at the American Express office: she asked us if we had been warned about the stealing that was going on. We hadn’t. She said that people were coming up to tourists asking them to sign something, like a petition, and while they shove the clip board into your stomach for you to sign, they have their hands in your bag underneath, stealing your wallet. Another scam she said that was happening is that people would come up to you and say you dropped a ring, that costs about $2, and then they demand that you give them a reward. We saw the people with the clip boards at the Eiffel Tower, but no one approached us. They tend to stay on the outskirts because there are policemen walking around with automatic weapons near the gate to the tower. What we did see was middle eastern women laying on the ground, dirty with no shoes, wailing or sometimes even just sleeping with their cups out in front of them. What’s sad, is that people just walked over them. When we got on the train, there would be people asking for money. One time it was a man in a wrinkled suit, another time it was a woman with a young child-they put a printed card on your seat telling your their sob story, and then come back through to see if anyone will give them some spare change. I don’t speak French, nor can I read it, but the mans card said something about have 3 kids at home, and a baby….I felt bad for him, but then I wondered…if he doesn’t have money to feed his children, where did he get the money to print out these cards?

We go to the Gare St Lazare train station and try to make our way back to Versailles. We can’t figure out how the ticket machines work there and we can’t find anyone who speaks English to help us. We just buy another ticket that is the same price and hope that we can explain it when we get to Versailles. It ends up not being a problem at all. As we are leaving the train station, it begins to POUR! So here I am, with my friends expensive bag, flip flops and no umbrella. It’s a 4 block walk to the hotel, a 10-15 minute leisurely walk…but there’s no way we are going to make it. We hop in a cab, which happens to be a Mercedes by the way-It’s weird that they have such nice cabs here.

We arrive at the hotel looking like drowned rats. We figure, we aren’t going anywhere for dinner tonight, so we will just eat at the hotel. The Gordon Ramsay restaurant is pretty pricey, after all-it has a Michelin Star-we actually, it has 2. We didn’t eat there. We tried to get into the more casual restaurant there-La Veranda but they didn’t have any seatings available. With no other choice we eat at the bar. We sit down and are ignored for a few minutes. When we make an attempt to call the bartender over, he only brings us a drink menu.

We have to wait another 5 minutes to get the food menu. Thank goodness that as a Hilton member, we got two complimentary drinks as a welcome gift, otherwise this could have easily been a hundred euro dinner SITTING AT THE BAR!

We get the club sandwich (26 Euro).

And the hamburger, Italian style with avocado and fresh mozzarella cheese that came with a side of fries. ($26 Euro). All together the meal was 52 Euro, which converts to $70 for two sandwiches at the bar!!!

We get back to our room to find another welcome treat, four macaroons an an oragami napkin shaped like a flower along with two bottles of water, one still one sparkling. We scarf those macaroons down before you can blink an eye. It’s been a LONG day!

Wake up the next morning feeling quite refreshed. Between the wooden window shades and the curtains, it was completely dark in the room-SO WONDERFUL! We head down to our complimentary breakfast-and it is AMAZING! We sit in this beautiful sunny room-if it were warmer you could have sat outside-and helped ourselves to the buffet.

There is a wonderful selection to choose from. Meats, cheese, eggs, pastries, potatoes, cereal, fruit etc.

The breakfast is fantastic. Wait for the “but”. But, two of the three mornings that we were there, there were fruit flies in my pastries, two separate ones in that round pastry above and one in the chocolate croissant. And I’m not talking, a fruit fly was wandering around and got stuck on the glaze and died. I’m talking, bottom of the dessert, smooshed into the dough, wings flattened and clearly it was baked in. It would be one thing if it was one day, or one pastry, but it was multiple days, with multiple pastries. Ick. Not like that stopped me from eating breakfast, but still kind of gross for a high end hotel.The outside patio area for breakfast. Just beyond the flowers by the tree line is where the sheep are grazing.

We walk 4 or so blocks from the hotel to the Gare Rive Droite train stop in Versailles. On a good day-it takes about 10-15 minutes, a great way to work off breakfast. You walk on Boulevard de la Reine and take a left onto Marechal Foch. The train station will be on the right side of the road.

If you have the coins, you get your own ticket to Paris Gare St Lazare (a SNCF train)-the cost is 3.95 Euro each way. When you arrive in Paris, you are about 3 blocks from where the L’Open tour picks you up. Make sure to sit on the top of the bus to get the best photographs, and as in London, try and sit behind the stair opening so you don’t have anyone standing up in front of you. We do the green tour and the yellow tour that day-the green tour definitely has the most to see on it. The day is cloudy and raining off and on.

We decide that we will go to the Eiffel tower today, even though we will be going on Tuesday for dinner-we thought it might be nice to see in the day. Besides, because the weather isn’t very good the line isn’t very long-and by not very long, I mean 30 minutes. Had I been smarter, I would have booked the tickets in advance, there was almost no line for those who had tickets. There is a security process, where they scan your bag and you go through a metal detector. Make sure that if you bring a backpack, that it’s a small one. Some museums won’t let you bring large bags inside and make you check them. Plus, if you have a small bag-the security line goes much quicker. You have two choices, to go to the 2nd floor only, which is 8.20 euros for adults, but we want to go to the top, which is 13.40 euro. You take an elevator up to the 2nd floor and then another elevator to the top. We happen to be behind a group of really pushy men-and it’s just a pain. There was one in line at the bottom, and once we got close to the ticket line, his 9 friends came and cut the line. Don’t you just hate people like that?

It’s raining when we get up to the top, sort of a bummer, but the hubby gets the idea. On a clear day, you can see for miles-and let me tell you that on a cloudy day you can still see pretty far.

Make sure you check the website for the hours that the tower is open. The best views are said to happen at sunset-for us, it was about 8:30pm. They have a casual restaurant on the 1st floor (Le 58 tour Eiffel), where a lot of people who did combination Thames cruise and lunch packages go. There is also a fancy restaurant on the 2nd floor-Jules Verne, which is quite a bit more expensive. We head down to the second floor observation deck and at every point you can see how far away the country you are from is from the Eiffel tower.

Stop 18 or 19 on the green tour line will let you off on a great row of shops. We head over to Fauchon for some gourmet chocolates. My family is a huge fan so we end up spending an obscene amount of money here on gift-chocolates here can cost up to 27 euros a box. In addition to chocolate, they have spreads and salts and an amazing coffee and tea selection.

The window displays are lovely.

Just about a block from the hotel there is a cute street that has some cafes on it. We opt for a pizza place and end up eating here two nights in a row.

We take the pizzas out and eat them in our sitting area in our hotel.

The pizza is ok, nothing spectacular, but it’s quick and the price is right, 10 euro for a pizza, 12 for a pizza and a drink. After our bar incident and an impending dinner at Jules Verne, we decide to try and conserve some money.

Monday we wake up, have breakfast at the hotel, and ride the bus-the other two loops, orange and blue.

We have a snack at Espressamente Illy located on 19 Rue Auber. It’s next door to the L’Open office and #1 stop on the green tour.

Like a Starbucks, but with a fancy cafeteria feel to it.

A duetto for 3.70 euro.

Mascarpone dessert with berries and sponge cake on the bottom, 4.90 euro, and pistachios on top.

We went to the Pompidou Center-The museum of modern art. All the elevators, heating ducts etc are located on the outside of the building because they wanted yo have as much space as they possibly could inside. Note that our Sunday sounded a little boring of taking the tour bus around, but the first Sunday of every month, all the museums in Paris are FREE, so it was a mob scene.

I still don’t really ‘get’ modern art, but I liked this museum better than the Tate Modern in Britain. We were able to get in free with the museum pass-they have some really far out exhibits. You are permitted to take pictures as long as you don’t use a flash. Audio guides are available for an additional 5 euro.

The popular lips fountain in the front of the museum.

Just an example of one of the exhibits in the museum. Note that the museum opens at 11am and that they are CLOSED on TUESDAYS.

Tuesday-wake up, eat breakfast at the hotel and walk a few blocks to the Palace of Versailles. They opened at 9 so we started our day early. Do try and go to the palace of Versailles early though-it is wildly popular with tour groups and I must say that there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on-along with people just stopping dead center of a walkway to take pictures which can surprise you. And make sure you wear comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking and you have a steep incline to get to the palace. If you’re like me, and you don’t like to wear sneakers, and you think you’ll look like a tourist-wake up call…you are a tourist, and trust me there are people in sillier get-ups than just sneakers-we’re talking white walking sneakers, fanny packs, travel money belts…

The palace was amazing-the gold was SO ornate, but that should be expected for a place where French Kings used to live. We were able to get ahead of the line with our Museum Pass (yay!). On Saturdays, they must do fireworks from the garden. We heard them when we were in our hotel, but couldn’t see them. Unfortunately, the 3rd was the last night they did them, so we missed out :(.

What the pass does NOT include is the gardens out back-I think it was an additional 8 euros each. Take the opportunity to take pictures from the windows when you are inside the palace or use your zoom lens when you get outside. (Or pay the 8 euro if you really want to see the gardens-ps. though….don’t bother bringing a tripod. You can’t use it here or at any of the museums).

So we pack up our suitcases, and check out of the Trianon Palace. We take the SNCF train from Versailles Rive Droite to Paris St. Lazares. We then take a cab from the train station (there is a guy who is there opening doors to cabs and then insisting that you tip him) to our new hotel for 2 nights, the Hotel Regina (2 place des Pyramides) right around the corner from the Louvre. Stay tuned for the second half of our stay in Paris!



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