Friday, August 30, 2013

Disembark Dover and off to Paris!

We're baaack! As they say, all good things must come to an end. Our 8 days aboard the Ocean Princess were great and lived up to expectations. Was it perfect? No. The food was a little lacking and there was zero enrichment (lectures) during our 2 sea days. However, service was excellent and we enjoyed the special ambiance of the smaller R Class ships. In totality, I consider our cruise around the British Isles a success and look forward to sailing on the "little" Princess ships in the future. I will be posting a highlights section with a full cruise review on the blog at the conclusion of the trip.

Dawn arrival in Dover
I think we arrived in Dover around 2:30 am. Why we had to leave Guernsey so early just to sit outside the Dover port until docking at 4:30 am is a mystery. It would have been so much nicer to have been able to spend the entire day in Guernsey without cutting our visit so short. It is only 205 nautical miles to Dover so I don't understand the rush to cut and run.

Arriving at dawn did provide the benefit of a gorgeous sunrise over the English Channel. We were early risers and stood out on the balcony taking in the view and watching the maritime traffic near the white cliffs of Dover. .

The P&O Ferry from Calais
We had a quickie breakfast around 6:00 am before walking off the ship with our luggage. It appeared we were not among the first passengers to depart. The luggage was nicely arranged in the disembarkation area. Perhaps many others were also doing self disembarkation. We had everything with us and didn't need to stop here.

Port of Dover Luggage Area
We popped in a taxi for the short ride to the Dover Priory station. I used up the last of my UK coinage to pay for the taxi. I still have a good bit of Scottish notes that I will keep for our next visit. Our train departed around 7:12 am.

The Southeastern trains run frequently to Ashford International. This is our destination to catch the Eurostar for the journey through the "Chunnel" to Paris. The Eurostar also runs from St. Pancras station in London and is much more popular.

When we arrived at Ashford International the station almost appeared deserted. The reason being the Eurostar only departs from here 2 -3 times per day. There is morning train and also an afternoon train. Some days there is also an evening train.

Ashford International Station
There weren't many people waiting at the station except some school girls who were sort of blocking the entrance. I think they might be going to Disneyland.

Our train will depart at 9:55 am and will arrive in Paris at 12:47 pm. As time on the Continent is one hour ahead than the UK, the travel time is only 1 hour and 52 minutes. Boarding is at 8:30 am and I wanted to get here early to make sure we didn't cut the time too tight. I allocated plenty of time for immigration which actually only took 5 minutes. I thought it would take 30 minutes. Ultimately, we had lots of time to kill before our departure. All most too much. My mother made a donation of her UK coins to the food concession tip box. I paced around the waiting area until the doors opened and we could step out to the track. They don't open the doors until 10 minutes before the train is due to arrive.

Waiting for the doors to open
When booking our tickets for the Eurostar, I studied the seating chart which is excellent and clearly identifies the location of the windows and the direction the seats are facing. I purchased the cheapest seats which cost $128 each for standard class.

Second Page of the Eurostar Seating Chart

I selected Coach 15 and seats 27 & 28. I decided to sit near the front of the train. There are 18 coaches on the Eurostar in total.

Ashford station is quite large and has a pleasant airy design. I noticed the "girls" parked their bags near the Royal postal box. Guess they are coming with us.

The doors to the track suddenly opened and we walked down to section 15. It was well marked on the side of the station. The coach doors match up exactly with each section on the station platform. So organized!

The regular Southeastern train arrived on the opposite track just before ours.

The Eurostar arrived just a few minutes later.

Eurostar to Paris
Our coach was nearly full with passengers who boarded at St. Pancras. Once at our seats I stored the bags on the rack above which was a good size for carry-on luggage. The seats were comfortable but not luxurious. It was certainly adequate for our short journey.

Interior of standard class seats
As the seating chart indicated, the window was large and there were no obstructions. I was busy reading and didn't even notice when we had entered the tunnel until 5 minutes before we emerged across to France Terra Firma. It is a gorgeous day out and we look forward to walking around Paris this afternoon.

The time passed quickly until our arrival at Gare du Nord. This is so much easier than flying!

Gare du Nord, Paris
It was an easy transfer through the station to the taxi rank for our 10 minute ride to the hotel. While I have no qualms about splashing out now and again, I was more conservative this time on selecting a hotel. The George V and the new Shangri-La were very tempting but I decided to be more economical. My bank account was already taking a beating with some unexpected expenses unrelated to this trip. Paris has so many great choices that it is not necessary to spend a fortune on accommodations.

After considerable of research I ended up booking an inexpensive small boutique hotel in the 9th arrondissement for our two nights. I used for my research which is a great resource to search for deals and hotels that are not well known.  I discovered Les Plumes Hotel. It is relatively new / redone and a bit out of the way but for only €149 per night, a true bargain. I booked with the hotel directly to get the special promotional rate. At the time I booked the regular rate was around €280 per night.

Entrance Les Plumes Hotel
As we pulled up to the hotel I was pleasantly surprised by the impressive exterior. Les Plumes is located at 10, rue Lamartine. There is also a metro station (Cadet) right around the corner. It is a really cute hotel with a writers theme. The rooms are named for famous French authors including, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. The design is a superb contrast between history and technology. The lobby area with its ebony walls and attractive fixtures was elegant with a modern touch.

Hotel Lobby
The color theme is black and dark yellow but it really works here. There is also a bookcase area off to the side which displays books featured in the room names.

The reception staff all wear top hats which is part of the hotel concept. It seems a bit quirky but you quickly get used to it. We checked in around 1:00 pm and were assigned room 401 which was one of the George & Alfred rooms (George Sand and Alfred de Musset).

After a quick ride in the nice elevator we arrived on the 4th floor. All the walls on the entire floor are covered in bookcase wallpaper. You had to look carefully to find out door! Upon entering I was immediately thrilled with the room. It is a good size and we have twin beds, a window with a view to the street and a lovely modern bathroom. I loved the shower with dark walls, captivating inscriptions and changing light colors. The room was truly adorable. I adored the top hat light fixture too. The design is very clever.

George & Alfred Room
The entire hotel has a/c which is very important at the end of August. The bed looks like a double bed but it is actually two twins. The shower has changing colored lights which was very atmospheric and fun.

Sink and Shower
Shower with changing lights
The room was immaculate, cozy and had everything we needed. There was also a minibar and a safe in the small closet.

The hallway wallpaper was also on the inside of the door. The room was large enough to accommodate two chairs, a  little table and a large flat screen TV on the wall.

Both my mother and I have been to Paris several times. Although we are familiar with the city there are still areas and sights we have not seen before. After settling in and doing a little unpacking we went downstairs to get directions to a shop my mother wanted to see.

Cafe next door to our hotel
As we stood outside waiting for our taxi we noticed the cute cafe next door. Our hotel does not have a restaurant so this was quite welcome.

We provided the directions to the taxi driver to a wholesale emporium selling inexpensive clothing and jewelry. One of my mother's acquaintances has a shop in the Caribbean and has purchased merchandise from this same store. They also have a store in Montreal. The directions were easy and we could have taken the metro but not surprisingly mother insisted on a taxi. The driver dropped us off at Palme Atoll but it didn't appear very enticing. In fact, it was actually rather depressing. Perhaps the quality had gone down (way down!) in the last few years as it was very disappointing. Honestly it all looked like junk! The "jewelry" if you can even call it that was very tribal and was priced at 1 - 5 euros. The clothing was nothing like what her friend had ordered before. I waited outside while Mother spent about 15 minutes trying to decide if she should make any purchases but finally gave up.

We are not getting off to a very good start. I was glad we didn't spend too much time here. I had in mind a place I wanted to see so we decided to walk over to metro and take the train there. Mother didn't really like the steps down to the station so it seems going forward we will be taking lots of taxis.

Paris has several enclosed arcades from the 1800's and I have not visited any of these before. I previously looked at the map for one of them and thought it would be easy to find. We arrived in the 2nd arrondissement via metro and then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes walking around in circles trying to find it. We asked for directions several times but no one seemed to know about this place. It was supposedly near the Palais Royal but not that close either. Even with a map we made little progress. This day is truly turning into a disaster!

Mother was hungry for lunch and quickly losing patience. We ended up in the middle of nowhere and proceeded to walk into an upscale wood flooring store. The young couple who owned it were very nice and kindly looked up the address for us on their computer. They said it was not that far to walk, perhaps 10 minutes but my mother was done with walking and I also thought we would get lost again. We asked them to call a taxi and in a few minutes we were on our way again, and this time  finally made it!

Galerie Vivienne

The lovely Galerie Vivienne is a glass covered arcade that was constructed in 1823 on plans by architect Francois-Jean Delannoy. It was designated a historical monument in 1974. It is 176 meters long and is illuminated by a glass rotunda. There are about 20 unique boutiques and 4 bistro / restaurants inside.

Main entrance Galerie Vivienne
Immediately upon our arrival we spotted Bistrot Vivienne with its impressive wood staircase and plush rose colored drapes and decided to try it. This was such a relief after so much walking. I am glad we did not give up!

It is a very cute bistro and wasn't that busy since it was already around 2:00 pm and past lunch time. My mother had a small salmon appetizer and I had a mediocre Caesar salad with chicken. Mother also enjoyed a glass of Rose wine.

We wondered when we were being seated why they asked us to sit at a table away from the center of the room. They explained something about the floor but I didn't really understand until we saw this giant red contraption suddenly emerge.

It didn't make much noise though. The trash collector went up and down 2 or 3 times to clear the refuse from lunchtime. It must have been a very busy day!

After lunch we walked around Galerie Vivienne looking at all the lovely shops. They had some very nice high end stores. I tried on a scarf in one of them. The shop is called Wolff et Descourtis. It is a beautiful store but sadly beyond my meager budget.

Wolff et Descourtis
Above is the same design of the scarf I tried on . I liked it very much but at €350 it cost more than our hotel stay.

This clothing store below was also quite nice. It is called Catherine Andre. The collection is very classic and also quite elegant. I loved the muted colors. All the shops here had nice large windows with beautiful wood trim to display their merchandise. It was wonderful for window shopping.

Further down we noticed a very nice floral shop called Emilio Robba. It turns out they even have a shop in Miami. This store was marvelous and very creative! They had several "living walls" with fake animal heads attached to it. They also sell engaging floral arrangements.

Emilio Robba
We took a brief look inside. This is one of the walls.

Emilio Robba Living Wall

The atmosphere of the Galerie was very tranquil and special. It was nice not having to walk down a busy street with tons of people.

We stopped to look in the windows of an impressive wine store and a fancy gift shop.

I must have been tired as the photo of the wine shop is a little blurry. I read online that this particular shop is very well respected in the wine community.

Today the temps are in the mid 70's and it is warm but delightful outside. It was nice and cool in the Galerie. I must be wonderful to come here in the winter when it is freezing outside.

I said hello to this lady walking her Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen (PBGV). Her dog was adorable! I was admiring the dog when I noticed the beautiful mosaic floor. It is terrific they have taken such good care of the building and preserved it.

Having reached the end of the Galerie we soon reversed our direction and retreated toward the entrance.

There were others taking photos too. Glad I am not alone!

We had no trouble getting a taxi to head to our next stop which was Galleries Lafayette. We drove by the Academie of Music and this building to the side.

The buildings are gorgeous.

We crossed over to the right bank and headed to the Hausemann area with its wide boulevards. I have not been to Galleries Lafayette in years. I have been looking at a photo of the Galleries Lafayette dome on our Paris map. I wanted to have a peek at the store and also take this exact photo myself.

Galleries Lafayette
Galleries Lafayette takes up an entire block. They have several different entrances. However, from any area you don't have to walk far to see the dome. You just have to look up!

Galleries Lafayette Dom
The store has 10 main floors and is very upscale. The glass and steel dome is 43 meters high and was completed when the store opened at this location in 1912.

To recreate the photo I needed to go up a few levels and have the balconies in view. Mother was starting to get suspicious that the photo was the only reason for our visit here...and she would mostly be right!

And then one more level....

Mission accomplished! Now that I had my photo we decided to buy some Pierre Herme macarons and afterward take a look at the jewelry displays. They had a little Pierre Herme kiosk nearby in the store which was very convenient.

You could buy them by the piece or a set. We each purchased two. I love macarons and could have bought 10 at least. Good thing we just ate lunch. I had 1 chocolate and 1 Rose. Yummy!

We then took a look at some of the clothing and the lovely jewelry. Some of the jewelry was quite reasonable but a few of the items were more expensive. They had a very nice selection and the way they displayed them was terrific.

The clothing area reminds me of Bergdoff Goodman with separate sections.

I liked the bracelet on the right.

These below were pretty too but were bigger than I would normally wear.

We didn't make any purchases but it was fun looking. After about 90 minutes of walking around the store we decided it was time to head to our dinner location for tonight. We are going somewhere casual and don't need to change our clothing.

We walked by Printemps next door to get to the taxis parked out front.

It was a pleasant taxi ride to Rue du Nil which is located in the 2nd Arrondissement. When I was thinking where we should eat for our two nights I decided to try new places both times. I discovered Frenchie and was able to score a reservation for one of their elusive tables. You usually need to book at Frenchie a month in advance which is what I did. I was thrilled that they are open in August and also that we can eat at 6:30 pm.

We admired the exterior of the beautiful opera house during our drive there.

While Paris may have changed a lot over the years it still has the most amazing architecture.

While in traffic I noticed the Lancel store across the way. However, I learned before this trip they no longer manufacture the nylon type bags that I like so I won't be going there.

We were soon dropped off near Rue du Nil. It is a very cute area. We walked down to the restaurant to make sure we knew where it was and then took a short walk to Rue du Bac.

Rue du Nil
The street is very short and Frenchie was easy to find.

Outside Frenchie
We re-confirmed our reservation at reception and then took a little stroll around this quaint neighborhood.

As we crossed the street we noticed Lilla which sells silk scarves.

The store was super and had some really beautifully scarves in larger and smaller sizes. I spent about 20 minutes looking and ended up purchasing 2 scarves for myself and 5 as gifts. The owners are Chinese so I assume that is where these are made.

We now headed back to the restaurant. I noticed these adorable Fox Terriers on the corner while waiting for the light to change.

I assumed the couple was together. However, the woman started to walk in the opposite direction. One of the dogs doesn't seem too happy about being separated from his buddy.

Adorable Fox Terriers
Hoping they will be reunited soon.

When we arrived back at the restaurant there were other diners already seated. Frenchie only accepts reservations at 6:30 pm so that is when almost everyone arrives. After that time they accept walk-ins if space is available. They also own a bar across the street which serves small plates and takes the over flow from the restaurant.

We were seated an presented with the menus. I had a cidre and my mother a glass of wine while we reviewed the menu.

The menu is very easy to discern as there are only two choices for the starter, main and dessert. You can also opt to add the Foie Gras and / or a cheese course for an additional charge.

Frenchie Menu last week of August 2013
The menu is 45 euros per person without any beverages. It is a great deal for a 3 course gourmet meal. One of my pet peeves is not looking across the table to the same meal I am eating, Therefore I had my mother select the items she would order and then had the ones that remained. Frenchie changes their menu weekly so they have a nice variety to choose from.

We decided to share the Foie Gras with figs and walnuts first. The bread was too heavy but the foie gras was very good with the delicious condiments.

Foie Gras with figs and walnuts
We were sitting not far from the kitchen. It has a little screen door that lifts up. There appeared to be 3 -4 people cooking back there.

I snapped a photo of Greg Marchand who is the chef and owner of Frenchie. It is amazing what the French can do in a tiny kitchen! The decor of the restaurant was also quite charming with brick and stone walls.

About 20 minutes later our starters were presented to our table. Mother had the Quail with mushrooms and black currant. It looked fabulous! She said it was outstanding.

Quail with mushroom and black currant
I had the smoked mackerel with red currant, tomato and watermelon. The fish looks minuscule but that is because of the over-sized large dish it was placed in.

The mackerel was good but it wasn't going to win any awards in my book. The quail dish was the crowd-pleaser.

The restaurant was now completely full and it seemed the kitchen preferred to make all the starters at the same time before beginning the main meal preparations. We weren't in a rush though and it was nice to just relax and enjoy the ambiance.

Eventually the main dishes arrived. Mother had the cod from Saint-Jean de Luz with mushrooms and coco beans. Again the presentation was first rate.

Cod with tomato and coco beans
Mother loved the sauce and said the cod was fantastic.

Tamworth Pig
I had the pork or more accurately the "Tamworth Pig with sweetcorn, pickled cucumber and orange blossom harissa". I was a bit hesitant to order this as I thought it might be too fatty but I do like pork belly. I hoped it would be good. It was actually great! The orange blossom harrisa was an excellent accompaniment to the flavor of the pork and the cucumber. There was also hardly any fat.

It was interesting watching the other diners. Due to the limited menu several of the patrons tasted their dishes and decide to switch plates with their partners. It would be a great idea to share to sample both dishes.

Both dessert options sounded great to me and I didn't care which one I ordered. Mother enjoyed the sorbet of wild blackberries, lime chestnut and marigold.

Blackberry sorbet with lime and marigold
I savored the delectable sorbet of raspberry, yogurt and basil.

Red Raspberry sorbet with yogurt and basil. 
The raspberry sorbet had a kick of pepper but the yogurt was very soothing and toned it down.

We both loved our meal at Frenchie. The food, service and ambiance was excellent. The price was also quite reasonable. After the bill was presented I asked them to call us a taxi.

Our bill
The cost of the entire meal including two bottles of water was only 128 euros. I thought it was an excellent deal for such great food.

It was now around 9:00 pm so dinner took about 2 1/2 hours but we had a great time and it didn't drag on. While we waited outside for the taxi I took a few photos of the exterior of Frenchie and the diners inside.

Greg Marchand, the chef and owner has a cookbook which I considered buying but I think I will order it online so I don't have to carry it.

Most of the diners were in their late 20 to mid 40's. It was a nice group and a lively bunch of people.

Having door-to-door service was great and we were soon careening via taxi down the Paris boulevards to our hotel. In no time we were back at the hotel. It was nice to be home!

We watched a little TV and I also used my iPad before going to bed. The wifi (also free) worked great. Tomorrow we will take an excursion to Giverny to see the famous Monet Garden. We are looking forward to revisiting Normandy!

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