2013 Cheung Family Trip to France

The entire group of 13 goes to France

view of Paris from Arc de Triomphe

For our Cheung family trip in 2013, the ladies decided to go to France.  Since the country is so big (compared to Italy), I made the point that we should not travel all over it as it would mean lots of time in the bus.  So we decided to get a sampling of the big city and the country side.  Once again, we turned to Globus, and selected one of their tours that spends a large portion of the time in Paris, and the remaining part in the country side, seeing what we considered to be the essence of France: the big city and the small towns and chateaus.

Globus map
Graphic from Globus' website with the route of the tour.

A rocky start

We decided to travel to Boston to meet up with the rest of the group and travel to Paris together. As a result, we started our journey and flew to Manchester on 6/25.  We arrived at the airport with one hour before departure, and to my surprise found long lines.  I found out in the process that my A-List status on Southwest Airlines entitles my travelling party and I priority access, but not knowing that we just made it to the gate with seconds to spare.  The gate door was already closed, but they let us board.  Waiting in the lines while the time ticked by was incredibly stressful, but little did we know that the stress was just starting.  Due to the late boarding, we were seated separately.  Without thinking of the impact, a member of our party slipped his passport into the backseat pocket, and .... it was left there.

We did not find out the passport was left behind until we had left the Manchester airport, and what came next was 24 hours of great difficulty.  We were supposed to leave for Paris in two days, and one member had no passport to travel!  It normally takes weeks or days to get a passport, as we just went through the process of renewal for all of ours, and things looked real bleak.

I started by doing web searches for help, and found several passport expediting services. They promised one day service, but the problem was that these were private companies, and we would have no idea if they could be trusted or not.  Then Lydia found this blog that was extremely helpful.  It describes basically, that the best bet is to drive to a nearby processing center (with proof of citizenship), and the document could be made while you waited.

It turns out that appointments in the major cities in Boston and Connecticut were full, but not in nearby New Hampshire.  The blog also mentioned favorable results by others that visited the Portsmouth office.  We made an appointment for 1pm 6/26, and had a good friend go into our house to retrieve the proof of citizenship and they Fedexed it to us.  By the end of the day, we had our passport, and were finally cleared to travel.  The staff at the Portsmouth office was very courteous (especially the security guards), and that office is highly recommended.

departure from Logan
Finally, after many days of stress, relief!  We are together and inline to check
in to the flight.  What a happy feeling that was.

Day 1.  Arriving in the city of light: Paris
We departed from Boston on 6/27, and arrived 6 1/4 hours later on Friday 6/28 in the middle of the morning (local time).  We were bussed to the first Hotel, the Meridien Etoile, and to our surprise, our rooms were ready.  We were all pretty jet-lagged, and decided to first take a nap for a few hours.  Most of us then walked to and up the Arc de Triomphe. We then had dinner at a nearby place that specializes in Mussels (Leon of Bruxelles on Boulevard Gouvion-Saint-Cyr), and they were delicious.

We arrived at Charles De-Gaulle airport in Paris after 6 1/2 hrs.  I was not
able to sleep much, but felt quite good afterwards.  At the departure from
the airport, we saw one of the Concordes on display.

Our first taste of Paris.  After a nap in the hotel, we ventured out onto
Av. de la Grande Armee, and had some great French desserts from a boulangerie.

arc de triomphe
We then walked to the Arc de Triomphe and went through the access tunnel to the base.

view from arc
One of my favorite images of the trip: from the top of the Arc.  The view
was amazing, and the feeling was awesome. We were in Paris and
seeing the famous landmarks.  It was amazing!

debbie berlinski
While we toured the Arc, Agnes met with a school friend of hers.
Debbie Berlinski is from Aruba also, and now lives in Paris.
It also allowed Agnes to familiarize herself with the Paris Metro.

paris 1931 arc de triomphe
View from Paris in 1931 (top, poster from Ryan's room) and today.  I shot the top photo
before leaving, and thought... what are the chances I will be able to see this view?

arc de triomphe staris
The stairs in the Arc de Triomphe were quite long.

leon bruxelles
That night we had dinner at Leon from Bruxelles (down the street from the hotel).
The mussels were really great.

velvet car
On the way back from the sights we saw this car in front of our hotel, it was a
Range Rover which surface was velvet.  It had a really odd texture for a car.
This car is featured on their website.

Day 2.  Exploring Paris on our own
Learning a lesson from the Italy trip, we actually flew to Paris one day early, and thus had this entire day to explore on our own.  We got familiar with the Paris Metro and visited the Luxembourg Gardens, the Paris Pantheon (where famous Parisians are laid to rest), and went to the welcome dinner that night and meet other travellers.

Our first breakfast in France.  As is normal with Globus vacations, breakfast
is provided for us so that we can have a good start.  We met each other
in great spirits and were anticipating a great day exploring Paris on our own.

Right after breakfast, we were pleased to see that Robin had arrived at our hotel.
She travelled separately from us, and it was great to be reunited.  We were
finally complete with our group of lucky 13.

Paris Metro
I was real pleased that we took the Paris Metro many times this trip.  It felt
great to have easily have access to all of Paris, and to travel like a local.
You buy these little paper tickets for about 1.3 Euro, and they are good for a
one-way trip anywhere in the system.

Plaza St. Michel
We walked out of the Metro system at Chatelet, and then walked south across the Seine into the historical heart of Paris, the Ile de la Cite.  The weather was a bit cool and great walking weather.  On the way, we found the Plaza St. Michel.

Blvd St Michel
The reason this place was meaningful is because for months Agnes and us have been
listening to French instruction CDs.  One of the places mentioned is this Boulevard.
So to encounter it was really amazing ("Ou est le Boulevard St Michel?").

Paris sights
Seeing the sights in Paris.  In front of the Sorbonne.

luxembourg park
At beautiful Luxembourg Park.  We would pack a small lunch at our breakfast, and could eat on the run like in places like this.

luxembourg park
There was a large pond in the middle, and kids were renting small sailing boats and it was really a beautiful day in Paris.

We had an extra sandwich and gave it to another tourist, who took our picture.

french architecture
Typical French apartment buildings.

mappy car
Walking around, we were photographed by Mappy (Google?).

Our next stop was the Pantheon.  This is where a lot of famous Parisiens are buried.

marie curie resting place
I looked for the resting place for Marie Curie.  She is buried here above her husband, and they are the only two in this crypt.  What other famous French scientist will be buried here one day?  I can only imagine he/she has big shoes to fill.  In another crypt is Louis Braille.  He was only 43 when he died.  Back then, one had a much shorter life span.  Think of how much more productive we are nowadays with our longer life span.

welcome dinner
That night we had our official welcome dinner at Les Fontaines where we met the rest of the tour group and our tour guide Nives (I used her Spanish name Nieves).  There was plenty of French bread, and we enjoyed the dinner.

Day 3.  Visiting Paris and Versailles
notre dame
On this day we start the Globus tour.  We are led on this day by (a local guide) Sabrina, and our first visit is the Notre Dame.  Here she highlights the big open windows and the flying butresses that make the construction possible.  She also highlights the gargoyle rain gutters, which are needed to throw the rain water as far from the foundation as possible, and the word comes from the French word to spit out (think of "gargle").

notre dame pano
Panorama of the inside of the Notre Dame.

sunday mass in the notre dame
Agnes and Christopher had a very special moment in the Notre Dame.  We visited on Sunday, and Mass had started.  As tourists, we are limited to a corridor around the exterior wall.  However, after standing some time at the side, one of the ushers invited Agnes to join in the mass.  They were also led to the front of the line for communion and received prayer cards.  

tour eiffel
Our next stop is the famous Eiffel Tower.  When originally built, it was considered an undesirable eyesore.  It was so tall and different that most people thought it hideous.  How different things are now.  Driving up to it, you feel a sense of awe for this enormous landmark.

Views from the top of Eiffel.  We went to the 'second level' and decided to not go to the top due to the long wait.  Note Ali with his Super Hero pose.  We are impressed.

eiffel tower
The kids together on the tower.  Look at that view.

The 'second level' had two levels of its own.  This is the view from the bottom of the
second level up to where we were.

Versailles gate
Then on to the biggest palace in Europe: Versailles.  We arrived and it was cool and sunny.  In the distance we could see the gilded fence work and the decorations on the roof.  It was a dazzling sight.  The main title on the building reads : To all the Glory of France.

gardens of Versailles
Of course the palace has extensive gardens.

The weather was perfect for walking around and exploring.

We went through the palace led by our guide and wearing our "Whisperers".  This is the radio headset that allows our guide to talk to us without having to shout.  This form of communication is really effective and allows the group to stay together.  However, sometimes other guides broadcast on the same channel, and there is interference, or you hear to other guide.  Still very useful to have however.

hall of mirrors in versailles
The main hall of mirrors in Versailles.  The palace was commisioned by the Sun King, Louis XIV.  He was then followed by XV and XVI, who was finally beheaded in the French Revolution.  Scroll right for the pano->.

It was a beautiful day, and we really enjoyed that day immensely.

That night we decided to set off on our own to visit Sacre Coeur de Montmartre.
The way up is via a Funiculaire cable car (right side).  You use a regular Metro
ticket for that.  Or you can walk up the stairs.

Chocolate Notre Dame
In that town there were lots of narrow streets with a chocolate shop.
This Notre Dame is completely made of edible chocolate!

sacre coeur basilica
Here at the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica.

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