Back in Seattle, Wrap up

Made it back to Seattle, although Paris’ CDG airport continued to live up to it reputation.  Luckily for me, after wasting half a day trying to change seats, I was able to skip the check in line and go straight to spending 45 minutes in the passport control line.  I got through with enough time for a quick bite in the lounge and then a direct walk on to the plane.  Others were not so lucky and in spite of the plane being held, did not make the flight.  To quote Alan Fox of Vacations to Go:  “To be clear, I don’t blame the people who work on the airplanes or the people who work in the airport for the way the airport operates. These are problems that cannot be solved at the individual level, and possibly not at the country or planet level. This is inefficiency of galactic proportions, and a galactic solution may be required.”  To read his very funny full article about missing a connection at CDG, click Misadventures at CDG  And just to be fair on arrival in Seattle, we were early so had to wait in a jam for a gate, then customs was so full that they were holding people, luckily with Global Entry, I was able to jump the line and be out the door promptly.

All said, the trip was great, with nothing untoward happening, other than figuring out the usual travel workarounds.  All the places I stayed were either perfectly acceptable, or way better than that.  Thank you TripAdvisor and Booking.com.  What I see in France, that I think is of interest, is that a lot of infrastructure improvement work is underway.  This leads me to believe that the economy is pretty solid and that they are investing for the long term.  Hospitality values seem high, with moderately priced hotels and apartments being in generally excellent condition.  Paris is experiencing a big change from a year ago, where now things that we would take for granted are much more widely available, eg. Thai food, Vietnamese food, Health food, Organic food etc…  French restaurants continue to largely offer very close to exactly the same menu everywhere, but some adventurous variation is taking root.  Another thing that I see, is that moderate size cities. like Dijon, have very robust transit systems, bike share programs, bike lanes etc.  All this means that when you are visiting any city in France there is no need or desire to use a car.  Most places have satellite parking areas around the city center and discourage non resident vehicles from being driven into the center.

As far as the Velscenic goes, I would not recommend this route as being particularly scenic or interesting.  Instead, base yourself somewhere, like Burgundy and do some day trips.  The riding is more pleasant and scenery a lot better.  

Here’s an iPhone summary of my activity levels during this trip not all of these are steps as some days were spent mostly riding the bicycle:  

Advertisements

Final Day in Paris.

I headed out this morning to try another coffee shop with good ratings, 10 Belles, situated near the Canal St. Martin.  They did have normal drip coffee and were helpful an friendly.  Then it was time to check in for my flight, what a fiasco.  Delta’s app won’t let you buy and upgraded seat, but doesn’t tell you anything other than to try again later.  This is after you go through all the screens.  AirFrance’s local number can not be called on a cellphone or skype because it is a toll number.  The Air France office doesn’t know how to change a seat or print a boarding pass, unbelievable!  Anyway, in the end I’m checked in with my original seat and I managed to print my own boarding pass, but, this is another example of what I think of in the motto “C’est La France!” Can you even imagine the outrage if a US airline tried to charge you $.35/minute to be on hold while you wait for them to fix a problem for you?  The French are great on trains, but airplanes, airlines and airports are just something they don’t understand.   I’m back at my regular local cafe, Le Barricou.  Had a lovely time last night talking with a Fashion Writer, Lupe, who lives part time in London, Spain and Paris.  She’s here for some king of fashion week thing.  Another person with a perennial travel bug!  https://www.mscastrorides.com  After coffee and a few hours trying to deal with Orange, the cellphone company, and Air France, I wandered in to Passage des Panorama, one of the grandest of the covered passage ways and found a good local restaurant to eat lunch.  The duck and Quart de Vacqueras put me in a better humor.  Then a long stroll back to the apartment. 

Paris Explorations

The apartment that I’m staying in is only a few blocks for a great Gluten Free bakery named Chamballand, so it was off to there for a breakfast of jam and bread.  Then the useful 96 bus to Belleville, where I planed to climb the park.  It’s one of the highest points in Paris.  Unfortunately on summiting, everything was cloudy and nothing to see, will have to try again another time.  As I headed to the nearest metro stop, I came across a cafe called Le Mistral which I had just read about in Anne Mah’s book “Mastering the Art of French Eating.”  Had a cup of coffee and enjoyed watching the regulars interact.  Then it was off to Place de la Bastille and the Marche d’Aligre, a great open market that happens on Wednesdays.  After stopping in the post office to mail my pocket knife home, 4.80 including padded envelope, headed to St. Germain to try Huitres Regis again.  Last time was a huge disappointment as they dropped the ball on several counts.  This time was much better with delicious oysters and a nice Sancerre to pair with them.  Then a quick Crepe elsewhere and off to the Rodin museum.  I like the gardens there the most but they neglected to mention that they had them blocked and tented for some reason, so that was a bust.  After a quick metro ride and walk around Rue de Montorgueil, one of Paris’ great pedestrian streets, it was back home to regroup.  

Wine tour of Burgundy, then TGV to Paris

Up early this morning to finish packing and move out of the lovely apartment I’ve been in for the last 3 nights.  Landlord, Andre, came by to wish me a bon voyage and was picked up promptly by Patrick of Burgundy Discovery.  We circled around Beaune for a bit as he picked up two couples who both turned out to be young tech types from New York.  It was kind of a rainy grey type of day, and off we went north towards the famous Vosne-Romanee area.  Those wines have become completely unaffordable but we did a tasting at nearby Domaine Michel Noellat.  Some nice wines and a quick tour of their cellars, mainly the barrel storage.  So, a few things about Burgundy:  Very small overall amount of wine produced, but 2017 is going to be a bumper year.  There are four basic grades of Burgundy, the Regional, the Village, Premiere Cru and Grand Cru.  There is an additional designation when a winery owns a complete vineyard, very unusual with Napoleonic inheritance laws, it will be labeled “Monopole.”   Primary grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noit and a little bit of Aligote.  After a second tasting at Domaine de L’Ardhuy, it was off to Levernois, a Michelin stared restaurant and hotel for lunch.  The grounds were beautiful, and the meal was elegant and well served, but I didn’t find it to be anything particularly exceptional.  The red shared with us was a premier cru and definitely not one of my favorites, oh well.  Off to one another winery in Savigny for a final tasting and cellar tour.  Here’s a link to one stop:  http://www.domaine-michel-noellat.com and another: Domaine D’Ardhuy

And the restaurant:  Levernois.

Train to Dijon

Headed to Dijon this morning, local train comes about every 15-20 minutes and it takes about 20 minutes from Beaune.  Dijon is fairly large city with an impressive walking tour laid out.  Owl markers are embedded in the sidewalk and it takes you to all of the major sights in town.  I wish I knew more of this history, but the tour took me past many impressive buildings, and of course I found a nice local bistro to have lunch, Chicken with a chanterelle cream sauce which I’ll need to recreate at home sometime.  My landlord at the current rental apartment generously handed my an English guidebook for this walk with numbers in the pavement correlating to the various sights.  Tomorrow I’ll be on an all day “prestige” wine tour.  One of the problems of traveling solo is that often the small tours have a minimum number of people, I usually email the top rated provider and ask if I could be added to an existing tour.  In this case, I was able to change a train ticket to a later train to facilitate this all day tour, but you get whatever they happen to be doing.  I’ll report on it tomorrow.

Beaune to Chagny and back, 26km bicycle.

Rented a bicycle this morning and did the bike path headed south.  This is white wine country of famous names.  First through Pommard, then Meurault, then Puligny-Montrachet and so on.  The riding was incredibly much easier than on the the Veloscenic, possibly because it was really well marked, there was no wind, almost no traffic and some nice downhills.  This being Sunday, there didn’t seem to be much open in the little villages but the guy I rented the bike from told me that there was a Sunday market in Chagny.  I made it to that just as the market was finishing up.  Best lunch option seemed to be half a rotisserie chicken straight of the truck and a glass of good Aligote white.  After a greasy lunch with some Beaufort cheese and a second glass of wine, it was off to the train station for the 12 minute ride back to Beaune.  Then headed to the Wine museum, which wasn’t all that great, but I had a combo ticket from going to the hotel Dieu museum.  Tomorrow, I’m thinking I’ll take the train 20 minutes north to Dijon, and do a quick exploration and lunch there.  

Beaune

Today was market day in Beaune, and as advertised, a good portion of the center of town was closed to traffic and the usual types of merchants were set up everywhere.  I did a good walk around and the had a cup of tea.  My landlord, Andre, had told me that he was Gluten Free as well and directed me to a “Bio” where I was able to buy a loaf of GF bread.  Nice to have some breakfast matter, although I’ve been doing well with Avocados.  After finding some lunch at the local creperie, I headed across town to rent a bike for the afternoon, first bike shop doesn’t do rentals.  So, back across town to the next bike shop, they are sold out today.  Reserve bike for tomorrow.  Managed to do the walk through of the famous Hotel Dieu, or Hospital de Beaune.  This has been a hospital, or maybe more of a hospice, for something like 500 years finishing duty in 1988.  Did a quick self guided wine tasting tour with some mini tastes of various things, nothing super spectacular.  I moved from my one night at “Les Charmots” to my principal rental at 30 Place Monge.  This is a huge 2 bedroom apartment that is well located,  price was a reasonable 115Euro/night probably because it wasn’t rented.  Beaune is one of the more frustrating towns to navigate, everything is sort of in parallel semi circles, but for such a small place it’s really frustrating to try and get anywhere.This is a peculiar special French form of torture.  Put the hot water heater over the toilet, where you can bang your head on it each time you open or close the seat.  Quite commone installation.  Here at “Les Charmots.”Les Charmots Apt.

Paris to Beaune.

Relaxed start today with a stroll around Paris before heading to Gare de Lyon for a TGV to Dijon, followed by a local train to Beaune.  This is the capital of the Burgundy region and is completely dedicated to wine.  North of here is largely the Pinot Noirs and south is largely the white wines.  I had arranged an apartment for a few days, but the one I had booked was busy on Friday night.  I called and sent an email to the host in case he had another option, and sure enough, his son had a unit.  So I’m spending one night in a lovely studio next door to the wine museum before moving to the place I originally rented.  The owner, a charming older gentleman, met me at the train station and gave me some good suggestions for where to go and where to eat.  Beaune is surrounded by ramparts and is a fairly small town, but frustrating to navigate as everything is circular or sort of circular.  The point of coming tonight was to be here for the market day on Saturday, supposed to be the largest market in the region.    Here are some photos of the Gare de Lyon and of Beaune.

Mont Saint Michel to Rennes to Paris, 10km velo

Got up at O’dark thirty to ride to the nearest train station, 10-11km depending on which sign you believe.  France was scheduled for a nationwide strike, “greve” today, but fortunately the train I was taking from Pontroson to Rennes was only running a few minutes late.  I had enough time in Rennes to do a little bicycle tour, eat a crepe for lunch and then catch the TGV to Paris.  For the local trains you can just take a bike on the train, but for the TGV you need a reservation and you pay an additional 10euros for it.  Amazingly, the TGV was on time to the second, and we flew the countryside at just under 300km/hr or about 170mph.  Train travel is really great in that it gets you right to the town center.  When I arrived at Montparnasse, Yannick came to get his bicycle back from me.  He was a few minutes late because there was a huge demonstration going on nearby.  I got on the metro and there was quite a lot of smoke in the tunnel. Hotel I booked in the 4th near Metro St. Paul is very convenient.  I’m off to Burgundy tomorrow for a few days, with the plan to catch the main Saturday morning market and then hopefully pick up a bicycle tour and a wine tour of some sort.  Still working on that.  Feels odd not to be schlepping the bicycle around and wrestling it on and off trains and up and down stairs.  Paris was nice and warm today and I went out for a good walk before trying the well recommend “Chez Janou” for dinner.  Didn’t find it to be particularly outstanding but it was certainly edible.  

Saint Malo

Today was kind of a comedy of errors.  Started with wires crossed taking the shuttle to the Pontroson station. Two Japanese girls were also waiting, so I ended up calling a taxi.  By then we’d missed the first and only train, so we went to Dol de Bretagne, the station where we needed to transfer.   Turned out they were having train issues, so, ended up calling the taxi guy back and he turned around and then took us to St. Malo.  I did the Petit Train, the little tourist train around the old town, surrounded by ramparts, then headed for a seafood platter and some skate wing.  Both proved pretty good, although the sea snails were a little fishy for me.  Followed that with a walk around the ramparts, and the trying to get back to Mont St. Michel.  So, walk to train station catch train to Dol de Bretagne, then walk outside, find bus going to Pontroson, then wait an hour until shuttle from Pontroson to base of mainland side of bridge is ready, then Navette, (bus) to the island.  Anyway, not the easiest transit situation today.    Here are pix of St. Malo.