6eme, Avignon, Berthillon, France, Gare de Lyon, Georges Larnicol, L'Atlas, Le Clos de l'Acacia, Maussane-les-Alpilles, Nicolas, Paris, RER, rue de Buci, rue Saint Andre des Arts, Saint-Germain des Pres, Smith's Bakery, TGV, train travel in France, travel tips
We headed down to breakfast this morning with heavy hearts. It was our last morning in beautiful Provence. Breakfast was as delicious as usual, and the company was the best anyone could ask for. Serge got to talking to hubby and me about Paris. We told him that was the next leg of our trip. Turns out he used to work in the big city. I also got the sense that we were moving on to the next level of ‘connaissance’. He asked us about our lives back in Australia, our jobs… He offered some personal information, telling us about his daughter. He also got us to sign the ‘livre d’or’, which we did in both English and French.
Serge gave us some tips for Paris. He recommended a day trip to Giverny to visit Monet’s gardens. It is something I really want to do, but sadly didn’t find the time to this time round. Before we left, Serge had a little heart to heart talk with me. He said to me, ‘Vous avez une belle famille. Votre parents sont gentils et votre mari et super. Vous avez de la chance. Je suis contente pour vous.’ I thought that was a lovely thing to say. He invited us to come back to Provence and to Le Clos de l’Acacia, ‘and this time, you have to join us for dinner one night’, he said. It was really heartwarming to hear him say that to us.
All too soon, it was time to head off. We had planned to visit Avignon in the morning before heading to the TGV station, but because we dawdled at breakfast, it was late morning before we started loading our bags into the car. Serge saw us heading to the car with our bags and commented on our Vuitton hand luggages, saying he liked our taste in bags. He then followed that with a warning not to buy the imitation bags from the vendors on the streets as they were of inferior quality. We told him we didn’t believe in purchasing cheap knock-offs and he seemed pleased with the answer. Gotta love the French… I never thought that one day, I would be standing in the garden of a little B&B, in the middle of Provence, discussing Louis Vuitton bags with an older French gentleman. 🙂 It is that almost innate sense of pride and respect for quality, regardless of whether it’s for produce, food, luxury bags, wine… that is what I love so much about the French.
We left ourselves no time to visit Avignon, so we decided to head straight to the TGV station. That left us with ample time to return our hired car and lots of time for a leisurely lunch. The Avignon TGV station is very modern. It has high ceilings with clear skylights which let the sunshine through. I thought it was a very nice train station.
We found our platform easily but getting on the train was a bit more tricky. Avignon was not the first stop for the train, so we had to make our way through a carriage that was already rather full, find room for our bags in the luggage area that was also rather full, and then chase away the French guy who had taken over our seats. He grumbled a little in French about how it didn’t matter as we could take other seats instead, but we were adamant as I didn’t want to leave mum and dad on their own. He moved on after a few of the other passengers told him to move on to his designated seat. An older lady even leaned over to my parents and spoke to them in English, telling them that they should not have to worry about giving up their seat as the seats were numbered and that he should be seated in his own seat, not ours. Our train ride this time round was not as pleasant as the previous trip. We were seated in Economy as I couldn’t justify paying almost double for first class tickets (somehow I couldn’t find cheap PREMS for this leg of the trip). So we were very glad when we finally arrived at Gare de Lyon.
Mum and dad struggled with their bags when we caught the RER from CDG to Gare de Lyon, and that was with minimal interchanges. So I was a little worried about how we would get to our apartment. We arrived right smack in the middle of peak hour traffic, and the RER from Gare de Lyon to the apartment would involve interchanging at Châtelet Les Halles. While I would not hesitate to do this with just hubby and me, I worried that with their suitcases, mum and dad would struggle and I didn’t want us to be easy targets for pick-pockets. I put forth the options for getting to our apartment and dad decided that we should take a taxi. To be honest, I was a little relieved as I was worried about keeping an eye on where we were going and my parents at the same time. (Now my parents are by no means ignorant, but being in their sixties, and being the ‘tour-group’ kinda travellers pretty much their entire lives, they are not exactly the most savvy travellers neither.) We walked out to the taxi stand and realized to our horror the queue was unbelievably long. With our choices taken away from us, we had no choice but to brave the RER.
So, with another reiteration of safety tips on the RER to my parents, we headed down to Niveau -2. Hubby and I had to reload our Navigo Découverte cards and I had to get a carnet of tickets for my parents. Unfortunately, the self-serve machines would only take French credit cards with chips, or coins. We did not have over 50 euro in coins with us so I had to queue up at the service desk. The queue was long and it seemed like every person had some ridiculously complicated or long enquiry at the measly two counters that were open. Sadly, this is where the French frustrate the hell out of me. It makes no sense to me to have self-serve ticket machines that would only work for locals or for tourists who are lugging around massive coin purses with lots of coins, and only two counters open for both sales and enquiries at the same time, in one of the busiest train stations in Europe. It took me close to half an hour to recharge our passes and purchase the carnet of tickets.
Finally we got on the RER A. The interchange at Châtelet Les Halles wasn’t as bad as I thought but I noticed there were people getting off and getting on the same RER with us. Hubby and I always make it a point to observe other passengers and people around us as an added safety precaution. But as it was peak hour, it was impossible to tell if there was anyone suspicious. Unfortunately, throughout the whole trip, my dad was doing all the things a tourist should not be doing – he kept pointing to signs, asking me which was our next stop, basically looking lost, and he might as well have had an arrow pointing towards him saying ‘easy target’. When we got to our stop at Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame, mum got out, followed by dad, who suddenly had his way blocked by a guy. The guy was on the ground, grabbing dad’s leg, checking his shoes and blocking his exit. Hubby and I got worried, thinking this was a ploy to separate my parents and us. Dad was just standing there stunned. I yelled at my dad to just kick him and keep moving. We all got out of the train just in time before the doors closed. As the doors were closing, we saw the same guy, holding up what looked like a metro ticket. Something about the whole encounter didn’t sit right with me so I hurried everyone through the station and out on to the streets as quickly as I could. Then I asked everyone to check their pockets and bags. I believed that we had just been targeted. Dad felt into his pocket and turned rather pale. As I suspected, dad had been a target for pickpockets. Thankfully for him, he didn’t have any money in his pocket. All he had was a slip of paper with the address of the apartment where we were staying. Turns out he had given his wallet to mum while they were waiting for me to purchase the tickets at Gare de Lyon. (Seriously, not the smartest thing to be doing either.) Looking back on the incident, hubby and I realized that the guy had been working with another partner. The guy who pretended to be looking for his ticket around dad’s feet was the diversion, while his partner in crime slipped his hands into dad’s pockets. Dad swears he didn’t feel a thing. Hubby said he noticed the two men had been following us since Gare de Lyon, but being peak hour, so were lots of other people.
Dad was visibly shaken by the whole incident. He was worried that now the thieves knew where we were staying. I had to reassure him that these were thieves who prowled the metro and RER, and other touristy places. They were unlikely to come calling on us at the apartment. The apartment also had security alarm codes and keys. Still, I hurried to get us to the apartment. The iPAD navigation worked well again, but we struggled to find the apartment. With the instructions from our apartment rental agency, we were told the apartment number was clearly signed. Yes, it was clearly signed but it was so far up from eye level that you couldn’t see it unless you were standing on the opposite side of the street.
We were very glad when we finally made it into the apartment. Our base for the rest of our week in Paris was 65 rue Saint-André des Arts. The apartment was modern and had all the amenities we wanted, but the best part of it was the location. It was right in the heart of St. Germain. The loft bedrom was a bit of a pain, as the ceiling was low and hubby and I had to stoop to get into bed, but otherwise, we had no complaints.
Dad was still feeling dejected and shaken from his ordeal, so we decided to explore the area around our apartment instead of heading out to Champ de Mars for a picnic dinner like I had originally planned. I didn’t think dad could brave the Paris métro again for the day. We wandered along rue de Buci and rue Saint-André des Arts. The streets were lively and the cafés and restaurants were packed with people enjoying their evening drinks. Chairs and tables lined the sidewalk as patrons participated in the favourite parisian past-time of people-watching.
We decided to find a restaurant for dinner as we thought dad needed a bit of cheering up. L’Atlas at 11 rue de Buci (there are two restaurants called L’Atlas in the St. Germain area), caught mum’s eye as they were shucking the oysters right in front of the restaurant. Hubby was quick to agree so we asked for a table. We were quickly shown to our table upstairs (downstairs was full). I ordered moules à la crème, mum and hubby ordered the Plateau d’Atlas to share and dad ordered a pork knuckle dish, and we had a pichet of Sancerre Blanc. Mum and hubby’s plateau to share consisted of sea urchin, oysters, bulots, langoustine and crab. Sadly they had run out of crevettes, but they made up for it by giving us more langoustine, oysters and bulots. My mussels cames in a massive pot and was really tasty and cooked just right. Dad loved his massive piece of pork. The Sancerre was pleasant. The only negative was the terrible bread (really chewy and stale – quite unforgivable actually considering you are in Paris).
This is a brasserie so don’t come here expecting service and ambiance like in a fancy restaurant. Service was brisk, but not unfriendly. We were given the option of having the menu in English or French. Don’t expect French waiters to stand around and chat or ask you how your meal went. When we were there, there was one waiter looking after 7 full tables (one table had about 7 people in their party). The bill was a little on the pricey side, but the freshness of the seafood made up for it.
After dinner, we decided to explore further down rue de Buci and we came across a Berthillon outlet. Hubby and I were so happy! A couple of ‘boules’ each of Berthillon later, we were heading down Boulevard Saint-Germain. We found an amazing MOF chocolatier, Georges Larnicol, around the corner from rue de l’Ancienne Comedie. The store was filled with beautiful chocolate creations. His individual chocolates are sold by weight so you can choose a bag of your own selection of different chocolates. Of course we had to try some. Now I am not much of a chocolate person, but the flavours were to die for, and the chocolate was so smooth and creamy, without being too rich. We also found a Nicolas wine store on rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, where we picked up a bottle each of Puligny-Montrachet and Jacquart champagne that were on special. I don’t think I will ever get over how cheap wine and champagne are in France compared to Australia.
We were sleepy by the time we walked back to the apartment. The streets were still alive and buzzing with activity. We were grateful for the massive glazed windows at the apartment which shut out all the street noises.