Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 10 - Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

After a fabulous trip, it is time to head home. Here are some final pics from our hotel and our plane ride home.  This ends the 2015 Ramble.  Hope you enjoyed our stories and pictures.

Until next time, keep rambling.

View from Our Balcony--Église St-Sulpice is in the background

Day 9 - A Picnic in the Park, A Fashion Encounter and Our Last Dinner

Sunday was our last day in Paris and our hotel had a special outing for us as part of our Virtuoso Package--a picnic lunch. They gave us a bagette, a mix of cheeses, some butter (French butter is the best!), jam and a bottle of white wine.  We chose the Luxembourg Gardens as our picnic spot. It was was right down the street from our hotel. We found a shady spot next to the Medici Fountain and set up shop.  You can't ask for much more than this:

After our picnic, we strolled around and ran into a fashion outing of some kind. Paris Fashion Week was in play. Several complementary cars were evident as well as a lot of photographers taking lots of pics of people we did not know. We strolled several blocks with this fellow and his entourage but have no clue who he is. Fashionistas we are not.

After a full day, we went another direction in our section of town for dinner and followed a recommendation from the hotel to go to Chez Fernand.  We had filets and potatoes dauphoise with an escargot starter. It was very good.

Tomorrow we head home so time to hit the hay.

Until then, keep rambling.

Day 8 – Train to Epernay, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Champagne and Dinner in the Latin Quarter

Rise and shine.  Saturday was our trip to Epernay, which meant catching an 8:32 train from Gare de l’est (eastern train station). That meant catching the Metro around 7:30, picking up our tickets from the kiosk at the station and hopefully finding a double espresso to wake us up. Check, check, check.  With tickets in hand and a jolt from our espresso and pastry, we got on the train in good shape. It was very crowded with some passengers having to sit on the floor (in front of the toilettes, since they were not open for use). A quirk of trains in France we have noticed is that tickets are rarely checked by anyone. The other is that France must be the graffiti capital of the world, and spray paint sales must be huge.  Train stations, tracks, bridges, et cetera, make for handy palettes.  We arrived in Epernay a little before 10am, giving us a little time before our 10:30 tour to walk around. Epernay is a pretty classic French village with a center square/circle, a train station and lots of history. Since Epernay is to the northeast of Paris, it has seen Napolean, the Kaiser’s boys and some of Adolf’s finest roll through, hide out and generally control the town.

Our 10:30 tour was at Georges Cartier, a small champagne house in town.  After a video about the making of champagne, we were given a tour of their caves which equal about 1.5 km in total. Interestingly, the caves under Epernay total several hundred km and many are linked (or could be easily). The largest producer in Epernay, Moet & Chandon (makers of Dom Perignon) has 28 km of caves.  The tour was a fascinating learning experience and well worth the time if you are ever in the area.  Of course, the best part of any champagne or winery tour is the tastings at the end.   Your Ramblers now feel like we can have a reasonable discussion about champagne, so if you want to talk cuvees, blanc de blancs, vintage vs. non-vintage, we are your folks.

After our tour, we had a great lunch at Le Sardainge where we met two gents from Australia that were touring like we were.   After lunch, we went up the street to C.Comme Champagne  Proprietaires a place Rambler Jane had located on the interweb with good TripAdvisor ratings again. They specialize in small champagne houses and offer a tasting as well.  We opted for the package of six tastings: First three were of the three types of grapes used to make champagne, then one of the more common blend of these three, followed by two roses.  It was fortunate that we told our Aussie friends where we were going, because one was nice enough to walk down the street to tell us Rambler Hance left his wallet at the café. Fortified by eight glasses of champagne (two from the earlier tour), a beer at lunch, our wallet and a thirst to know more, we went back to Avenue de Champagne where most of the major and minor houses are located.  First and foremost is Moet & Chandon, one of the oldest and largest houses. Dom Perignon discovered the original methode champanoise, which is the method by which champagne is made. The house is closed for renovations or we would have taken their tour. "House" is an understatement as it is really more a combo of massive Chateau with a muse in front, large numbers of related buildings and some more modern factory type structures.  Next door is Perrier- Jouët, and its main chateau is equally or even more impressive and its complex takes up several blocks. Rambler Hance thinks that if you have been in business since the 18th century and those are your family estates, champagne is a very good business.

Here are a boatload of pics so you get the idea about the size and elaborateness of these places.

Our wine caves tour

C. Commes for tasting #2

Now THAT'S a door

Moet & Chandon Welcome Center

Before we left we also went by the local church (L'eglise Notre-Dame) since it, like most in France, is large and old. A wedding crowd was starting to gather as we walked around the grounds. It was pretty clear this particular church took hits (probably during WWII) since nothing else would explain four inch deep, very round holes in a stone wall quite like a 50 caliber shell. The old gal held up well and now it gives her character.

Note the Chunks Removed from the Facade

After boarding the train back to Paris, we ran into our Aussie friends and invited them to have a coffee at the train station.  Good guys. Two of our encounters in Paris were with Aussies, always so friendly. Definitely the site of  a future Ramble.

After a long day on trains and in champagne mode, a trip to the Latin Quarter was in order for dinner. As always, the walk to your destination is half the fun of Paris. We found ourselves in what is perhaps the greatest concentration of restaurants per foot of street space in the world. The very narrow streets were jammed with people, and the cafes and other restaurants were packed. After deciding to try one of the establishments with a very creative rotisserie, we found this place (Onzebar) and had a lovely dinner.  Here are some pics.

Very Cool Rotisserie. Pans Catch the Au jus from meat. Right on the Street

Our Spot. The Door Between the Two Placards is Our Table

Guy Soliciting Business Right Across the Street

 Another walk along the Seine past all the Saturday night revelers led us back to our hotel.  Tomorrow is our last day in France so we have a picnic and perhaps one final museum trip planned.

 Until then, keep rambling.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 7 – Sacre'-Coeur, Moulin Rouge and Sushi

After the late night at Jules Verne, your Ramblers were slow to rise today.   Our goal was to journey up to Sacre'-Coeur (Sacred Heart), the famous Catholic basilica that has been in existence since the 6th-9th century (depending on your definition of existence).  Luckily, our new favorite Metro line (Purple 4) went right to the spot.   As we climbed the mount (we passed on the funicular ride), we were having flashbacks of a ramble to San Francisco years before where a morning coffee run felt more like training for an Ironman.  But I digress. The views of Paris are wonderful from the mount.

After getting our fill of basilica, we wandered the little area of Paris that surrounds it (Montmontre). We stopped by a lovely café, La Cremaillere, for some lunch.  It had good TripAdvisor rankings and we were not disappointed. Ahmed our English, French, and Italian speaking singer/waiter was very entertaining and the steamed mussels and Italian salad we ordered hit the spot. It was also nice and shady.

Ahmed our Waiter

Our walk down the hill led us to Moulin Rouge, the cabaret made famous by the movie of the same name. We also quickly realized it is located on the edge of Paris’ red light district, but since Rambler Jane was not interested in a lap dance, we searched the nearby local version of Target (they had some of everything) for a French/US power adapter, and regretfully headed back to the hotel without one.

(Side note – if heading to France anytime the temperature will exceed 78 degrees, check on the air conditioning quality of your hotel since most air conditioning we encountered had the mechanical capacity of a 1950’s era Soviet car – aka they couldn’t cool a mini-bar let alone a hotel room. This is especially true if you stay on higher floors where heat rises.)

A smaller cousin to Moulin Rouge that was closed for renovations

Disco across the street from Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge--looks rather sedate during the day.

One Block Away
After a rest and freshening up back at the hotel, we set off for some dinner with a short detour to visit the FREE BAR our hotel maintains for guests.  We chose a sushi place that got good reviews for 'something different'.  We wandered over to the high end shopping area in this part of the city where our sushi stop was located (after discovering the restaurant didn't open until 7:30) to check out Le Bon Marché, which looks to be the Saks of Paris. We saw the top end of top end watches this go around, with a price tag of €109,000 and it was in a department store no less.  The sushi restaurant was called Blueberry. The food was very good and had some subtle twists that were interesting.  After dinner, we wandered down to the Seine and walked along its banks as the sun set. The streets were packed.

Always a Sushi Must

Rambler Jane Reprising Her Coffee Photo from 2013 with Cold Beer on a Hot Day


One really nice thing about Paris this time of year is that the sun does not set until after 9:30 and does not really go away until after 10pm,  so it is nice to wander around and eat outside in the evening but you realize soon you are staying out and eating late. This is not conducive to early rising or a good nights sleep, so your Ramblers were a little late rising most days.  Tomorrow we have be up and at 'em though because we need to catch a train to Epernay for the Champagne experience.

Until then, keep rambling.