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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Normandy, Loire Valley and Paris, FRANCE! 13th Oct to 25th Oct, 2016!

For this year’s PTO (paid-time off), Jenn and I wanted to do something random. Since Uncle Rich (Jenn’s uncle who works for American Airlines) has Jenn listed as his travel companion, we could fly on standby for a great deal (almost free). Of course, the downside is the variability in seat availability. Initially, we wanted to take time off in July but given that it’s the peak travel season, flights did not look good. As a result of that, we postponed our vacation to October.

On Tuesday (Oct 4th), Uncle Rich told us that flights to Paris, France were looking wide open. That was how we decided to visit France, departing the following Thursday, Oct 13th! We only had a few days to plan but we were up for the challenge!

Day 1 Oct 13th Thursday – Leave ORD

Flying on standby has its perks and downsides – specifically, the savings in costs and the availability of seats. Very fortunately, we were both able to make it on business class to Paris! This was a first for me!

  Getting comfortable before taking off!

 We-fie in business class!

Day 2 Oct 14th Friday – Arrive at CDG, Paris!

To kick-off our trip, we rented a car (manual/stick-shift) to drive around France for a week. Tip for car rental in France (but a gamble, really): Before leaving, we chatted with 2 other friends who visited Paris this year. Both shared that although GPS was not specifically requested, both rental cars came equipped with a built-in GPS. I had hoped for this to happen to us but also rented a portable Wi-Fi device (to use in conjunction with Google Map on my phone) as back-up. As it turned out, our car also came with a built-in GPS! In short, you may choose to decline GPS but still end up with a car with GPS functionality (saving you some money in the process)!

Also in general, diesel cars are more economical. They consume less gas/petrol, have better mileage and diesel is cheaper in France! If you ever rent a car in France, consider getting a diesel vehicle (which may cost marginally more upfront but will cost less in the long-run)! NOTE: Most cars in France are stick-shift/manual transmission and apparently automatic transmission cars are hard to come by!

Renault Clio - Car for 10 days!

Leaving Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), we started out by heading north of Paris, to Giverny, the town where Claude Monet drew inspiration from his house and garden. From here, he painted Impressionist paintings which are world-renowned today! Claude Monet is regarded by many as the founder of French Impressionist painting. Here are some samples of his paintings:

The Japanese Bridge (The Water-Lily Pond) Claude Monet - 1899

Water Lilies Claude Monet - 1906

Irises in Monet's Garden Claude Monet - 1900

Now here are some pictures taken in his garden! Notice the similarities?


After the visit to Monet’s home, we decided to grab lunch at a nearby Boulangerie (Bakery). This is the first of many stops at one and we would soon find out that Boulangeries are the blood vessels of France. Bread is the staple of many French meals and it is extremely common to see the French buy baguettes and other pastries to start their day. We made many stops at Boulangeries ourselves and generally had good experiences.

 Our first of many!

 A Cheese pizza, Chicken Sandwich and a Pepito

This trip was also the first time we utilized Airbnb. It worked out great and generally allowed us to stay in the heart of the cities we visited at a reasonable cost. Our first stop (after Giverny) was for the Port of Honfleur. Honfleur (pronounced in French without the “H”) is a port city with quaint, charming buildings. It was from here that the first French sailed for Canada, establishing French Canada today!

Our charming room a short walk from downtown Honfleur!

Some pictures to depict what Honfleur looks likes

Of course, I had known coming here that the Normandy region is famous for its “Calvados” – apple brandy! This is difficult to find elsewhere in the world, so I picked up a bottle! From research, this is truly a Normandy specialty and like many of other French wine/brandy, there are strict requirements for what constitutes a Calvados! The longer the brandy is aged, the smoother it is (also confirmed from our brandy tasting).

Strolling around, it's hard to miss Saint-Catherine's Church smacked right in the middle of the town. Given its history of being a port, most of Honfleur's craftsmen were good at making ships. This was reflected in the city church which resembles a boat, turned upside down. This also happens to be the oldest wooden church in the whole of France.

The outside of Saint-Catherine's Church

The inside of Saint-Catherine's Church

Before coming to France, we were also alerted of the “odd” operating hours among restaurateurs. Most places serving food (outside of Paris) were generally only opened during lunch (11.30am – 1.30pm typically) and again for dinner (7.00pm – 9.30pm typically). In other words, if you missed these slots or were hungry outside of these times, to the boulangerie you'd go!! As an extension of this practice, popular restaurants were generally fully booked. It didn't help that some places only turn over each table ONCE! There were 2 work-arounds that worked for us:
  1. Making dinner reservations during lunch hours (the same day); or
  2. Being the first in line when the restaurant opens for the evening, hoping to make the cut.

This strategy generally worked well as we were able to get into most restaurants!

For dinner, per recommendation of our Airbnb host, we made reservations (30 minutes before they officially opened) at L'Homme de Bois.

Foei Gras Maison et Chutney de Mangue Ananas (Foei Gras and Mango Pineapple Chutney)

U-Xinn's Coquilles St Jacques poelees au Beurre Citron (St Jacques fried scallops with lemon butter)
Jennifer's Aile de Raie au Beurre Noisette et aux Capres (skate wings in browned butter and capers)

Assiette de Fromages Normands (Plate of Normandy Cheese)
Mi-cuit au Chocolat Maison (Homemade Chocolate Mousse)

Day 3 Oct 15th Saturday – Leave Honfleur for Bayeux!

Today was the one day of the week that there was a morning market in Honfleur! We decided to check it out for breakfast.

Stores lining up the square

Some treats we got for breakfast:

 Bavarois de Homard (Bavarian Lobster)
Coquille de Crabe (Crab Shell)

 Had to try some French Asian Fried Rice and Fresh Strawberries!

Of course, given our great experience with the boulangerie the day before, we also made a pit stop at the local one to stock up for lunch!

Quiche poivrons chorizo (Chorizo and Pepper Quiche)

 After food, we explored the old scenic harbor of Honfleur.

 Old harbor of Honfleur!

We left shortly after for Bayeux (pronounced “Ba-you”), our hub for the next 2 nights.

 On the way, we stopped at Carrefour, one of the largest hypermarket chains in the world (2nd only to Walmart) and originally from France! The setup was very similar to the Carrefours in Malaysia (which apparently does not exist anymore)!

Picked up some French water for the road and some Bayeux Cider (local regional specialty). Evian is cheap here!

Since we arrived in Bayeux early, we decided to go straight to the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. This museum is famous for a 70 meters (230 ft) long tapestry from 1070s that depicts in fine detail, the events that led to William the Conqueror of Normandy, France’s, attack on England. This marked the beginning of French rule in England. Interestingly, although commissioned by the French, it does not portray the losing English King Harold Godwinson in a bad light. This is thought to be political so as to ease the English into accepting French rule.

 We were not allowed to take any pictures of the actual tapestry but here’s a digital display I took a picture off.

After the visit, we checked into our Airbnb.

 This one was a whole apartment, in the heart of downtown Bayeux. Of course, we found out quickly that it didn’t mean much since it was already later in the day on a Saturday and a lot of France (Bayeux included) shuts down on Sunday. 

 Nevertheless, we decided to take a stroll and visited the Notre Dame church of Bayeux, an imposing figure that will capture anyone’s attention, coming into Bayeux! This is not to be confused with THE Notre Dame church of Paris, but it was a beautiful church, all the same!

Similar to the night before, we were in the mood for some more French food. We adopted the same strategy of hanging around our selected restaurant (Le Petit Normand) a few minutes before they opened and this practically ensured that we would be allowed in without a reservation.

 Some Calvados (Apple Brandy) to start the meal

 Did you know that they don’t call this the “French Onion Soup” in France? Fittingly, it’s called Gratinee a l'oignon - “Onion Soup”. Delicious!

Jennifer’s Cote de veau sauce Normand (Veal chop served in a cream sauce with mushrooms)
U-Xinn’s Supreme de pintade aux pommes (label rouge) (Guinea fowl served with apple and cream sauce)

Jennifer's Tartare de fraise et son sable (Strawberries, cream shortbread)
U-Xinn's Tiramisu (Mascarpone, ladyfingers with café)

Not a bad way to end the night! 

Day 4 Oct 16th Sunday – D-Day Beaches!!

Today was planned for visiting the Normandy D-day beaches, the ferocious World War 2 battle site. On June 6 1944, the Allied Forces launched their invasion on continental Europe, to liberate the region from the German Nazis. The combined forces were too much for the Germans to handle and within a few days, France was liberated. The beaches today have some remains from the war and mostly serve to commemorate those who perished for a larger cause.

Unfortunately, Jenn woke up today with a terrible cold/flu!

 We decided to head out later today to allow for some catching up of sleep. Started the day by visiting a trusty boulangerie for breakfast!

 We arrived at Arromanches to watch a 360 video which provided some historical context to the war. Classic view from the top of Arromanches.

 We-fie at the Arromanches beach - some remains from the war can be seen in the ocean

The Normandy beaches were divided in to 5 sections by the Allied Forces. Utah and Omaha were given to the American troops. The British troops were in charge of Gold and Sword. Finally, the Canadians attacked Juno Beach.

Of all the attacks, Omaha was the deadliest as the terrains made it very difficult for a beach assault. Over 70k people perished, earning it the nickname “Bloody Omaha”.

 A sculpture erected in one part of Omaha Beach

 Pointe Du Hoc is likely one of the more infamous section of Omaha Beach. Due to the cliffs facing the beaches, the German did not consider it to be a likely point of attack. However, American soldiers defied odds and scaled the 90-foot cliffs to capture this stronghold.

 The terrains around Pointe Du Hoc. The craters are the remnants of aerial assault by the Allied Forces!

We wanted to visit the American memorial site, Normandy American Cemetery France, but unfortunately ran out of time!

 We headed back to walk around old Bayeux. Captured a picture of an old wind-mill en route to picking up dinner.

When traveling in foreign countries, we have a few traditions when it comes to food:

  1. Try McDonald's, if they are present in the country.
  2. Try local pizza.
  3. Try Chinese food!

To balance out the French food, we decided to get pizza (checking off #2 above) and kebab! Kebabs also seemed like a very popular option among the locals!We're all about adhering to the phrase "When in Rome, eat what the Romans eat!"

Day 5 Oct 17th Monday – Mont St Michel!!

Before leaving Bayeux, given that we needed a break from the boulangeries, we opted to stop at McDonald’s (checking off #1 above).

 To overcome the language barrier (the continental Europe is pretty diverse with the number of languages used – French, English, German, Dutch etc.), electronic kiosks are utilized! You select your language and voila, your order is submitted without any use of hand signals!

 The menu in France is pretty similar to the USA. We both ordered the McWrap - Crevette Sauce Au Curry (Shrimp with Curry Sauce)

After an hour and a half, we arrived at Beauvoir, the city next to Mont St Michel! 

 First order of business was to check into our 3rd Airbnb, La bourdatiere

Our host warned us that the food on the actual island was catered for the tourists – expensive and leaves little to be desired in the taste department. Heeding his advice, we decided to fuel up before our visit. We stopped at a creperie, La Gourmandise

 Traditional Salted Buckwheat Pancake with Mushroom, Cheese and Egg

After lunch, we headed out to Mont St Michel (MSM). The island commune is 0.6 miles (1 km) away from the mainland. "The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers.

The commune's position — on an island just 600 metres from land — made it accessible at low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433. The reverse benefits of its natural defense were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. Thereafter the abbey began to be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancien Régime."

Source: Wikipedia

There are now free shuttles taking visitors from the parking lot to the abbey itself (no parking on the island). Daily parking is quite expensive (EUR 12) so you may consider staying somewhere close so you can walk to the site of the free shuttle!

Today, the famed abbey at the top of the island is merely a tourist attraction

Upon entering the “island”, the pathway leading up to the actual abbey is filled with shops and eateries. The décor reminded us of a scene straight out of Hogwarts!

St Michael at the highest point of the island!

View from top of the abbey during low-tide

The nave

The cloister

Some other pictures taken around the abbey!

After a few hours of exploring, we left MSM. In driving around, we stumbled across a duck farm! Being a big fan of foie gras (duck liver), this was jackpot for me! 

Picked up some spoils for the road! Definitely a great deal compared to restaurants and super markets!

Tonight was finally the night when the realization that French are just late partiers truly hit home! Restaurants are usually opened at 7 or 7.30pm and times are seldom posted anywhere! This makes planning a little challenging and especially so if you’re feeling slightly under the weather.

Fortunately, we found a pizza place that was opened and settled for the evening!

After that, we headed back to MSM one last time to see all its splendor at night and at high tide.

Day 6 Oct 18th Tuesday – Arrive in Loire Valley!!

There was not much left to do in the area so we woke up bright and early, ready to depart!

 Breakfast was provided this morning and it was definitely a confirmation of what we suspected a typical French breakfast to be – lots of bread, butter and jam!

After breakfast, we started our 3.5-hour journey to Loire Valley, which is south of Paris. Loire Valley is nicknamed chateau county, due to its many chateaus. What are chateaus? Well, they are essentially castles and grand-looking homes for the rich. Additionally, Loire Valley is also pretty well known for its white wines!

 We made a stop along the high way for fueling up – gas and food!.
Turkey Cordon Bleu and 2 sides for Jenn!

 My farm raised duck foie gras meal – controversially delicious! This was probably the best foie gras of the trip!

Our first stop for the day was the royal Château de Chambord – the granddaddy of all chateaus, in terms of magnificence and glory (in our personal opinions).  It is considered one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture and its construction was initiated by King Francis I.

The design of the castle is very symmetrical and is believed to have been influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was often confusing to navigate because the layout was exactly the same in each section! Today, the castle is more like a museum filled with antique furniture demonstrating the way of life back in the day.

Pictures of the chateau from the outside!

  Fleur-de-lis up top, a symbol associated with the French monarchy

 One cool aspect of the castle was its double helix staircase! It’s suspected that this was a brainstorm of Leonardo Da Vinci, based on his sketches. The two helixes ascend 3 floors and never meet. You could see each other walking on the stair case through holes in the wall!

 Displays in some of the rooms

 Given King Francois I’s deep involvement in building the chateau, his Salamander seal is used around the castle. 

After the visit, we checked into the coolest accommodation of the entire trip – a troglodyte, a home dug into the slopes and rock faces of the landscape - think of a glorified cave. In this area (we picked Amboise), the stone is pliable and easy to work with. As a result, inhabitants not only made money selling the stones but also created a dwelling for their own use. We found a host that had 2 such listing, but only had availability in each one on separate nights. Therefore, we were able to experience both troglodytes.

 Tracking up to the cave

 The room itself. It was very charming inside!

We headed to downtown Amboise in search of dinner! We found a place that served French food and also pasta – exactly what we were hoping to get!

Tagliatelles Cabonara - Carbonara Pasta with paracetta, cream and egg
Belle Souris D'agneau - Generous Knuckle of Lamb with rosemary and mashed potatoes

Day 6 Oct 19th Wednesday – Chanonceaux and Clos Luce!

Breakfast was provided this morning as well.

The hosts definitely did a nice job with keeping up the quaint décor!

After breakfast, we headed out to Chateau Channonceaux (Sha-neh-cou). The primary residents of this chateau were women. This was evident in both the design and layout as they were definitely much more feminine than the previous chateau. The iconic bridge over the river also makes this one of the more popular chateaus in the region.

 Shaded path headed towards the chateau.

  Front of the chateau – nothing special, but ..

 Look at that side profile!

 Various pictures of the inside and the grounds!

For lunch, we decided to head back to Amboise.

 One of the kebab stores, L'alhambra, seemed extremely popular with the locals! I decided to try their “New Delhi” kebab (combination meat).

As we were cleaning up, the chef came out and started chatting with us. His English was just about as good as our French but he was pretty amused when I said my go-to “je ne parle pas français”, meaning “I don’t speak French”. After chuckling, he handed us a ticket which said “Gratuit – Clos Lucé”. Although my French is pretty limited, I was pretty certain it was a free ticket to Clos  Lucé, Leonardo Da Vinci’s home in Amboise, where he lived his final years and eventually died in. Needless to say, we were quite happy! Surprisingly, the entrance fee was quite expensive (€ 15, which is the same price as the Louvre for a comparison) so getting a 50% discount was definitely a plus point!

 After picking up some dessert, we were on our way!

This was his home from the outside. Although Da Vinci is Italian, the French King Francis I was very fascinated by him and invited him to France. It is rumored that they were such good friends that there’s even a secret passage connecting Da Vinci’s house to King Francis’ chateau (Chateau Amboise)!

 Da Vinci's Room

Da Vinci's Workshop

The main takeaway for me personally was an insight into how much further along his thought process was, compared to everyone else! He had draft/sketches of inventions that wouldn’t exist for a few centuries and there are things that exist today that were from his drawing! True definition of a genius!

A room with miniature versions of his sketches, created by IBM engineers. Pretty insane.

After Clos Luce, we decided to do some wine tasting. We found a nearby troglodyte that offered just this, so we decided to visit.

 Picked up a bottle!

We decided to head back to check out our new room before dinner.

 This room was bigger and had more to offer (washer, stove etc.). Unfortunately, we were not ready to fully utilize the facilities or we could have made a meal that night! Note how the "cave" feature is more defined here!

Instead, we went to Restaurant L’ilot.

 This was a unique experience because there was only one chef, who cooked in an island in the middle of the restaurant, his wife, who took orders and a helper who was in the back doing the dishes. The menu item was limited to 2 items per category or a set menu. It was wildly popular and we fortunately made reservations just that afternoon! They had to turn away at least 10 other parties!

Tartare de saumon fume (Smoked Salmon Tartare)
Creme de Potimarron (Cream of Pumpkin)

 Filet de cabillaud aux fenouils (Cod filet with fennel)
Filet mignon de ferc au jus (Filet of beef with juice)

Groustillant de banana au chocolat (Banana & Chocolate Crepe)

Day 7 Oct 20th Thursday – Amboise, Tours and Wine Tasting!

Today was our final night in Amboise! However, we had to move one more time. Our new Airbnb was found based on a recommendation by a colleague. Our host lived across from Chateau Amboise so we decided to enjoy the beauty from the outside, instead of going in.

 Quite the view!

 We could also see the structure where Leonardo Da Vinci was buried!

For lunch, we intended to head back to the kebab place, more as a token of appreciation from yesterday.

 On the way there, we stumbled into a butcher/delicatessen shop. Some amazing cooked pork belly was on display, so we got some to try!

 After round 2 of kebab, we stopped at a Pâtisserie for some desserts.

 Macaron and fig fruit dessert.

After the meal, we drove around looking for more wine tastings. We found a few stores and picked up a few more bottles. Amboise’s white wine is superior to its red. Specifically, they use Chenin blanc grapes, specific to this region! It's smooth and doesn’t leave a strong after taste, making it extremely tasty! I also learned something new this trip! Usually in the US, the name of the wine and the type of grapes are printed on the label. In fact, if I don't see the grape type, I'd usually even be turned off! Turns out the type of grapes is warranted because the region which the wine is from is home to more than one type of grapes! In the Loire Valley region, since only one type of grape is used, only the region is displayed with the understanding that they use Chenin Blanc (which incidentally I've not had before but is delicious). This region is also famous for rose and sparkling wine, which most regions produce, but Champagne has managed to make sparkling wine synonymous with sparkling wine from its region!!

 Our evening plan involved driving to nearby Tours, a larger city with charming architecture.

Being the largest city we've visited by far, we found a variety of ethnic food, including #3 on our list of "to-do"s, Chinese!

 Crossed Chinese food off our list when we found “Mei Wei”
Laque Cantonnais Canard (BBQ Duck)
Saute Boeuf aux oignons (Sauted Beef with Onions)

On the way back to our room, we swung by our picture spot to capture Chateau Amboise at night. The night view actually enhances the colors of the chateau, giving it a surreal look and feel

Day 8 Oct 21st Friday – Versailles!!

Today, we departed for Versailles and arrived at about 1pm.

 We checked into Novotel Chateau De Versailles, situated about 15 minutes away from the Château de Versailles.

After a brisk walk, we arrived at the grand Palace of Versailles. The magnificence of the castle was otherworldly. Built by the last few French kings, one could understand how the allocation of a country’s resources for one man’s gain would eventually spark the French Revolution!

Pictures in and around the opulent palace. Personally, I found the ceilings to be one of the more fascinating sections of the castle. That was definitely a thing back then and perhaps due to the lack of any such a thing now, that captured my attention the most.

 Hall of Mirrors – Back in the day, mirrors were expensive and considered a luxury. Naturally, it was used in abundance here!

 Cour de Marbre (Marble Court)

 For dinner, we use the app La Fourchette to look around for options! We found out that if we used the app, we could get up to 20 - 30 % off! That helped narrowed down our selection and we ended up at Restaurant Nuance.

 Pork Loin with beans and vegetables
Fried ravioli stuffed with ricotta

Creme Brulee, Macaron, Gourmet Coffee and something else.

Day 9 Oct 22nd Saturday – Paris, Marche d'Aligre, Arc De Triomph!!

We left Versailles early on Saturday and drove into Paris, first to drop off our luggage at Hotel France Louvre, and then to return our rental car.

 We randomly drove past the Trocadéro and so had to stop for a morning picture of the Eiffel Tower!

After checking in, we proceeded to return our car. The drop-off was actually in the Louvre! As we walked past the Rue du Carrousel entrance, we saw a sign to buy tickets to enter the Louvre! Having heard of the notorious lines, we thought it would be a good idea, especially since we would apparently skip the longer line at the entrance! Good tip for next time! 

  This inverse pyramid is right next to the store that sold the tickets!

From there, we bought the Paris Visite travel card to use for the next 3 days, valid for unlimited use of buses, metros and RERs! The ticket is valid at midnight of the day you buy purchase the ticket and expires the at 11.59pm on the 3rd day! Therefore, it’s not a true 3-day pass in the sense that it’s valid for 72 hours from your first use.

 Our first stop was Marche d'Aligre. The intent was twofold, to experience a local French market and to try to find some Poulet roti (roasted chicken).

Feeling hungry at this point, we spotted an interesting Moroccon restaurant! Having not been to one before, we were offered samples and so decided to order some dishes!

Tajine petit pois agneau (Tajine spiced lamb and peas)
Moroccan rice
Galette semoule de ble (semolina wheat bread)

I quite easily found my roasted chicken next to some roasted lamb heads and mini chicken drumsticks!

 Wanting to indulge in the café culture of France, we decided to warm up at a close by cafe.

Tried hot wine (odd tasting!) and hot chocolate!

 We went back to the hotel to check-in. Our room for the next 3 nights!

 After a short rest, we decided to check out the Arc De Triomph.

 Picture right in front of the Arc!

We made the decision to climb up to get a better view of the city and of the Eiffel Tower! Since it was still early, we decided to walk around Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

 This is basically where all the high-end stores are.

 One could also choose to rent a fancy car to drive around if so desired!

At about 5pm, we made our way to the Arc!

  There was no elevator to the top, just a spiral stair case!

 But we were rewarded with a pretty good view! We could see the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in the distance! 

 Of course, the highlight was the Iron Lady herself, the Eiffel Tower. We were at the top of the Arc to watch the sunset and saw it light up!

 The Eiffel Tower also puts on a bling sparkling show at the top of every hour from sunset to the wee hours of the morning. Very cool to see!

 Using the La Fourchette (Fork app), we found a nearby Thai place for dinner with 20% off! Yes, Thai because we needed a break from French food :)

 Kaeng neur (Red curry beef, vegetables, coconut milk)

 Ped phad phik kiew (sauteed green pepper duck)

When we left the Thai place, we saw a long line at the restaurant next door! After doing some research, we found out that it was an extremely popular French restaurant! We decided to come back tomorrow to try it out.

Day 10 Oct 23rd Sunday – Notre Dame!!

The first order of business was to head out to Ble Sucre, which apparently has the best croissants in the whole of France!

 We beat the crowd!

 Spoils of this morning (clockwise from top left):

Paris–Brest (a French dessert, made of choux pastry and a praline flavoured cream)
Hot Chocolate
Chocolate Croissant
Fondant Au Chocolat

5 Star meal! We went back for more Croissants but they ran out! Get at least 1 person if you visit!

 After breakfast, we visited Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. Since today was Sunday, mass was going on when we were there. Visitors were still allowed to walk around inside fortunately. Some pictures of the church, including a close-up look at the famous gargoyles and chimeras.

After checking out some souvenir stores around the cathedral area, we proceeded to a highly popular falafel store (based on our research), situated about 5 minutes from our hotel – L’as Du Fallafel. There were 2 stores that were a few feet from each other and are identical. However, even with 2 options, there were lines to both stores for picking up and eating in!

 We couldn’t tell the difference between the 2 so we stood in the shorter line. Their products did not disappoint, especially the vegetarian pita, which was what they are known for!

Fallafel Special Schawarma Pita
Fallafel Special Vegetarien Pita

At this point it started raining! The weather remained crummy for most of the afternoon so we stopped by a café for a few minutes before heading over by the Seine River to get a closer up picture of the Eiffel Tower!

 Bonjour from Paris!

As foreshadowed, we went to Le Relais de Venise for dinner. We found out from research that the place only serves one thing – steak and fries. The only option you get is how you want your steak cooked! However, it’s super popular among both locals and visitors! In fact, we found out that there were branches in the UK and USA, but this was where it all started!

Everyone gets 2 helpings of buttery steak in a tangy, buttery French sauce and extra crispy fries. You don’t even get to choose the brand of wine, just whether you want red or white. All prices were fixed. The dessert menu was a lot longer but we didn’t get any!

Day 11 Oct 24th Monday – Louvre!

Today, bright and early, we wanted to hit the Louvre to avoid as much of the crowd as possible.

 We made a quick stop at Starbucks for breakfast

 We arrived at the Louvre to a relatively manageable crowd. It also helped that we already have our tickets purchased!!

We quickly made our way to the Mona Lisa exhibit, having heard how insane the crowd gets later in the day. This is likely the most recognizable painting in the world today! Besides being a masterpiece by Da Vinci, when it was stolen for 2 years in the early 90s, it made headlines and has stayed popular since!

Not being big museum fans ourselves, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our visit! Arguably being one of the best museums in the world, it was easy to see why these were the cream of the crop! Some of the better

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom
  1. Victory of Samothrace
  2. Grand Sphinx
  3. Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People
  4. Winged Bulls
  5. Mona Lisa
  6. Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love
  7. Venus de Milo
  8. Law Code of Hammurabi
  9. Borghese Gladiator

Per a recommendation from a French colleague, we went to Bouillon Chartier for lunch!

Duck foei gras terrine

 Roasted veal with baby potatoes
Spaghetti bolognese

The final item to complete our trip was the purchase of a mask. This is something Jenn collects from different countries she visits so we made a quick trip out to Clignancourt market to look for one! It took a while to hunt around the various stores before we found the perfect addition to her collection!

 Not a busy day and some stores were closed but Clignancourt market is huge!

We ended the evening at a local supermarket (Monoprix) to buy some French essentials to take home. Here are the types of French treasure that we found:
  • Mayonnaisse
  • Mustard
  • Snacks
  • Hand cream
  • Jam

Day 13 Oct 25th Tuesday – Back home!

Since the flights were looking decent, we decided to head home today. Jenn made it to business class while I flew on economy. I did get 2 seats to myself so it was definitely a comfortable flight.

Before taking off, we were also able to spend some time in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. This was one of my Priority Pass benefits and was quickly evident how this was a very nice benefit, given the food/drink options available to you!

Random facts:

It is true! French wine, baked goods (bread and pastries) and desserts are AMAZING! These were definitely highlights of our trip! Wasn't a huge fan of the main courses though.