Day 13- Paris

Our last full day in Europe. After our normal baguette run to the store next to the hotel, we headed to the center of the city for the Paris River Cruise. The weather was a bit chilly, as it had been for the entire French portion of the trip, but bearable. Afterwards we walked back to Notre Dame specifically to eat the nutella crepes from the stand across the street and then did some souvenir shopping.

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In the afternoon we knocked out the last things on our to-do list: The Quai Branley Museum, the Asian Museum, the Pantheon, and the Tuilleries Gardens. At T’s request, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe before heading back to the hotel and packing up for our departure the next day.

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Breakfast – wheat baguette

Lunch – Nutella crepe

Dinner- Cobb salad

Day 12 – Paris

Today was a day of extravagance and beauty. Today was our trip to Versailles. The chateau is located a short train ride outside of the city, with more tourists cramming onto the train at each stop. By the time you reach the final stop, it’s a free for all. Luckily T and I are both fast walkers, so we quickly put some distance in-between ourselves and the rest of the pack. Our Paris Passes ensured quick entry and within just a few moments we were wandering around the sumptuous palace.

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Having visited Peterhof in St. Petersburg, it quickly became apparent just how much the Russian Czar had copied from the French. And yet, the Russians did it just a little bit better. Perhaps it was the location – there’s nothing more picturesque than a palace on the seashore and Versaille is sadly landlocked. As for the famous Hall of Mirrors – while it was pretty, I felt a bit underwhelmed. That’s the curse of expecting to be dazzled, I suppose.

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Soon it was time for lunch. We left the palace and headed to a restaurant recommended by the Paris Pass – the Monument Cafe. If you are ever in the area, you must try this place. The set up is a bit unique – it’s a buffet with appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. All the servings are tiny, so you can try a little bit of everything and you pay by the course (just appetizers, all three, etc). We, naturally, went all out. We even tried escargot, which was not quite as disgusting as we expected, though neither of us went back for seconds. Desert was by far the favorite course.

 

After lunch we headed back into the city and visited the Dali Museum, the Orsay Museum and the Montparnasse Tower (because, really, you can never have too many rooftop views of Paris).

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Breakfast – baguette

Snack – latte from Versailles

Lunch- Monument Cafe

Dinner- Chinese noodles and fruit

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Day 11- Normandy

Thankfully, it was better. This was the day Tyler had been looking forward to since we left. This was the day of the D-day beach tour. We ate a surprisingly good breakfast at the hotel. It was the first time I’d had tea since we left the US and we both ate way too much French bread. We met our guide at the D-day museum along with the other two people who would be touring with us – a couple from Ireland in our case.

 

We piled into a van and headed to the coast. Our stops included Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American War Cemetery of Colleville-Sur-Mer, the German Battery of Longues-Sur-Mer, and the artificial harbor of Arromanches.

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We spent the afternoon touring the D-Day Memorial Museum before catching the late afternoon train, arriving in Paris in time for dinner.

 

Breakfast- Hotel Buffet

Lunch – Caesar salad

Snack – giant chocolate macaroon

Dinner- Lebanese falafel with cheese pitas

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Day 10- Normandy

Now we come to Normandy and the day of the trip I would like most to forget. Apparently French transit workers were on strike while we were there (this appears to be a national pastime) so our carefully coordinated trains, which would have allowed us to see Carenton, Bayeux, and St Lo before returning to Caen, were all muddled. We ended up stranded in Caen for a few hours waiting for the train to Bayeux and having to forgo Carenton and St Lo. Let’s just say that Tyler was NOT happy. This was the first time during the trip that the teenager in him came out. I ended up leaving him in the station while I walked around Caen and saw the Abbeys of William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda. By the time I returned an hour or so later he was in a better mood, especially when I brought him a thick, chocolate brownie.

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Joan of Arc

Mathilda's Abbey

Mathilda’s Abbey

William's Abbey

William’s Abbey

We ate lunch at the station before getting on the (thankfully-actually-running) train to Bayeux. The town was small and quaint. We, naturally, visited the Bayeux tapestry, though sadly no photos were allowed.

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We returned to Caen, walked around a bit, and found a Turkish restaurant for dinner. It was one of the better meals and the day was starting to look up….until we tried to find our hotel.

Our hotel was a bit away from the center of the city, so we couldn’t walk there. There were a couple of buses that went up that way and a tram which would get us closer to the bus, or so we thought. It turns out that the buses don’t run both directions all the time, so after waiting about 20-30 minutes for our bus we decided to take the tram and try to improvise. That was our first mistake. The map was misleading regarding the distance from the tram to the hotel, so we initially tried to walk. 20 minutes later, we realized our mistake and retraced our steps to the bus stop. We had to catch one bus to take us to a stop to catch the only bus that went in the general area where we needed to go. By this time it was after 8pm and there were only one or two buses an hour and the last bus of ours left at shortly before 10pm. Luckily we caught that one. I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t, because there were no taxis around. By another stroke of luck the sun was still fairly high in the sky, so we weren’t wandering around in the dark. We got on our bus number 2 and took it to the correct stop. We knew we were in the right place because our hotel was supposed to be just down the street from the museum, which we found. Except we couldn’t find our hotel. We wandered and wandered and after 10-15minutes happened upon a friendly Asian local who spoke English and wandered with us until we found the hotel. Thank goodness for kind people. It was after 10pm and we were both crabby and tired, so we went to bed within a few minutes of checking in, hoping that the next day would be better.

 

Breakfast- chocolate croissant

Snack – apple filled croissant

Lunch- salad and yogurt

Dinner – Turkish Kofte and fries

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Day 9- Paris

Having enjoyed the crepes so much the day before, we decided why not have the same for breakfast? We needed to kill time before the Eiffel Tower opened and there was a crepe café conveniently close. The line was much longer than expected, but it still only took about two hours from arrival to the top. Naturally it was cold, windy, and somewhat miserable, but we did our best to stay positive. Not going up to the top of the tower was not an option. Who goes to Paris for the first time without going there? Nobody, that’s who.

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After the tower we tried (and failed) to find the entrance of the Orsay Museum, so instead we went to the Armory museum, which Tyler greatly enjoyed. After visiting Napoleon’s tomb, we had lunch at the Armory before heading to one of the highlights of the trip: The Museum of Chocolate. It is just as amazing as it sounds, especially the chocolate-making demonstration complete with samples at the end. The demonstration was in French, so neither of us understood a word, but chocolate is a universal language. Afterwards I purchased a cup of hot chocolate in the gift store and was handed a cup of hot milk and a hunk of chocolate on a stick. It was one of the most delicious drinks I have ever tasted.

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The Grevin wax museum next door was next on our list. It was interesting, but not as elaborate as Madame Tussaud’s. I probably would have been disappointed if the cost of the tickets hadn’t already been included in our Paris Pass.

We went back to the hotel and tried to do laundry, but I hadn’t brought any detergent with me and the detergent machine at the laundry mat was broken, so we just washed our clothes in hot water and hoped that there were some leftover suds from previous customers….

Breakfast- Nutella crepes

Lunch- chicken panini and salad

Dinner- salad and fruit

Desert – Macarons

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Day 8- Paris

Upon boarding the night train, we initially felt that we had hit the jackpot, because we were the only two people in our four person room. We passed three or four stations without gaining any roommates, but in Milan, after the two of us had already made our beds and were trying to sleep, a husband and wife joined us. Luckily they tried to be quiet and quickly lay down, but the dream of having the cabin to ourselves was over. The bathrooms on the train were anything but glamorous, but I suppose that was to be expected. We arrived in Paris at around 9:30 in the morning and promptly ate breakfast in the station at the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Rather than travel straight to our hotel, we stored our luggage in the left locker section of one of the other train stations and headed for the Louvre. Of course I had heard stories of its size, but it was MUCH larger than I expected. After a few hours, we hadn’t even covered a fourth of it. We ate lunch at the museum café overlooking the famous pyramid, sought out the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo before declaring ourselves finished with museums for the day. A short, pleasant walk along the Seine and we arrived at Notre Dame. The line to get inside the church moved quickly, but we stood in line to climb up the tower for close to an hour. Those stairs were our first experience of the tiny, endless, spiral staircases which came to almost define the City for us. I pride myself on being in shape, but by the top of those stairs I was struggling a bit. The view was completely worth it.

We climbed another tier for an even higher, better view, before winding our way back down, conveniently exiting directly across from a crepe stand. There is nothing more delicious than a warm, Nutella crepe.

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After our snack we collected our luggage, checked into our hotel, and rested for a couple of hours before going to the Arc de Triumph where we encountered yet another long, tiny, spiral staircase preceding a breathtaking view. A nearby café provided a healthy dinner salad before we called it a day.

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Day 7 – Venice

We spent our second and final day in Venice exploring the various alleyways and canals of the city. We started the day with fresh fruit and fresh squeezed juice from the amazing farmers’ market next to the Rialto before making our way to a surprisingly large and interesting natural history museum. We also checked a couple of art museums off our list before heading back to St Mark’s Square for souvenir shopping. Before I even left the US, I was intent on buying a Carnival mask, but these turned out to be unwieldy and even a bit ugly, so I settled on a Murano glass necklace instead.

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Bags in hand, we took the crowded water bus through the entire Grand Canal from St Mark’s to the train station and waited for our night train to Paris. We decided against hiring a gondola as the prices were exorbitant (approximately $100 USD for half an hour) and from the bridges it appeared that at least half of those 30 minutes were spent floating in a line of gondolas.

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For a snack we had our last real Italian gelato. Lunch and dinner were quiet affairs at the station.

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