Saturday, September 21, 2019

France followup, photos and many random comments

Our France trip has ended. Here are more photos and lots of random comments.
PHOTO - La Loire at Versailles. This is the guy who photobombed us.
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

TRAVEL AGENT - We used a travel agent and we recommend Audra at Liberty Travel, Eastview Mall. Audra's original choices for hotels were a bit more economical than we wished. We were able to spend more money to go a bit more upscale. Audra caught on to our vision and we had great rooms, great tours and a great flight.

LODGING - We stayed in two upscale (not luxury) rooms in hotels located in the midst of tourist areas. The bathtubs in these rooms seemed to be optimized for baths rather than showers, and the tub wall was over our knees. The shower doors were situated such that it was almost impossible to take a shower without getting water on the smooth tile floors. The high tub wall made it difficult to step out onto the wet floor without slipping, and there were no appropriate handles. There are no washcloths in France.

If you're staying in one place for a long time, get a bigger room.

PARKING IN TORONTO - our travel agent gave us a discount code for Park 'N Fly. Our flight left at 6:30 pm, so we did not stay over upon departure or arrival. Our 17 day parking spot had a retail cost of about $250 CA, but we paid $120 CA.

PHOTO - from the Seine cruise.
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

COFFEE - Almost every restaurant offers "cafe Americain" or "Americano". But, this tended to be espresso with extra water, so it was either strong or had a watered down taste. There is nothing in France that corresponds to American cream or half-and-half. As in the USA, the different styles of coffee (Americano, espresso, cafe au lait) tasted different at every venue. Gary's recommendation is just to drink espresso, but Sue doesn't care for that and wasn't very happy with the coffee until we got to the Holiday Inn at the airport, a hotel catering to business travelers.

PHOTO - the Moulin Rouge dining room and stage (sorry, no dancers).
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

PACKING - we packed a bit too much. We used everything we packed, but we could have done with less. Unless you have a specific event to attend, you will never need to be super dressy, even in the places that supposedly have a dress code.

PRE-PLANNING - we planned A LOT, and we had a good trip, and we "planned" for some unplanned time, and we were always busy. I think this is a decision everyone needs to make. We could go to Paris again with no plans except for maybe a hotel selection, but for this first visit, it was nice to see the major sites.

PHOTO - Le Train Bleu at Paris Gare de Lyon (train station).
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

NEXUS - this program (as far as we are concerned) expedites customs checks for US citizens into and out of Canada. We had some trouble with the self-service iris scanners at the Toronto airport, but whenever we talked to a human agent, we were sent on our way with little concern (at the airport and in the car).

PHOTO - Gare de Lyon (train station).
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION - We learned to use the Paris Metropolitan (the subway, known as the "Metro"). This was an inexpensive way to get anywhere within the Paris city limits. To get outside the city, you need to switch to an above-ground train or a bus, which we didn't do (in Paris). Any time we moved with our luggage, we took a taxi. Uber is also an option, especially in the cities.

We took the high-speed "TGV" train to Nice and back. In Paris and Nice, the trains sit for a while on the platform (more than 15 minutes), but you don't learn your platform until 20-25 minutes before the train can be boarded. The TGV trains have reserved seating. Sometime, the TV monitors in the terminal or on the platform will indicate where your specific coach will be when the train stops, so when you get through the gate and onto the platform, you know which way to drag your luggage (and the walk can be a hundred yards). There are electronic displays on each coach displaying the coach number, and they may not be in numerical order from car to car. On the train, bring your luggage to your car and carry it up the stairs if you are on the upper level. There are luggage racks on each car. The first class cars have more space than an economy airplane seat. There is a power outlet and free wifi (not 100% reliable). There is a train car where you can buy food, but we didn't use it. There is very little security for passengers or luggage.

The train agents may check your tickets on the train. This did not happen from Paris to Nice, but they checked from Nice to Paris.

We used the local train to get from Nice to Monte Carlo because Uber does not operate in Monaco, and Monaco taxis are not allowed to leave Monaco. So, we used a taxi or Uber to get between the hotel, casino and train stations, and the train to get between stations. The walk may only be several blocks, so it depended on the time of day/night and what we were wearing. For the local trains, buy the ticket at the electronic machine at the station. I got one round trip ticket for two people. Before boarding, the ticket must be validated at the "composter" or "compostage" machine. I don't think this worked for me (hard to tell). I think I may have inserted the little ticket incorrectly. There are videos on the web, but they show large tickets, and my little ticket was the size of a business card. The composter machine is supposed to stamp the ticket, but all I saw on the machine display was "en retourner a la gauche", which means, "to return to the left", which makes no sense. Our tickets were never checked by an inspector on the local trains.

PHOTO - patisserie in Paris.
Keep scrolling. more at the bottom.

MONEY - we used a Travelex card loaded with euros (acquired through AAA), and used the ATMs in France for cash, and used our regular credit card. For the ATMs when the raw exchange rate was $1.10 US or $1.11 US per euro, we paid about $1.16 plus a 1% bank fee. For the credit card, the exchange rate was right at $1.11 US, but there was a 1 or 2 percent fee. For Travelex, there is no fee and the exchange rate was at around $1.15 US.


PHOTO - Monte Carlo casino's Le Train Bleu.

MONTE CARLO - there is a dress code at the casino, supposedly. We dressed up for dinner at Le Train Bleu, one of the fancy casino restaurants. We were not overdressed, but no one was more dressed up than we were, and about half the people did not conform to the dress code, i.e., we saw sneaks, shorts, jeans, flip flops, etc.

Cell phone service in Monte Carlo is awful.

CELL PHONE - we paid Verizon $10 US per day to get our normal service in France. We texted and made phone calls to the USA, no problem, as long as there was a cell signal. Paris and Nice were fine. We used about 100 MB per day, mostly for maps and the occasional restaurant or sightseeing lookup.

CONNECTIVITY - we are "old school" and perform many tasks on our desktop PC. We can do some tasks on a web browser, but ideally, we wanted access to the desktop from France. So, I installed a "host" on a laptop at home and turned the laptop on in the basement with a hardwired internet connection. We had a cat-sitter in the house every day, so this kept the host laptop out of her way. The host laptop was on the house LAN, so we could connect to the host from a France laptop with a "viewer", and then remote over to the home desktop. We could have installed the host software on the desktop, but as long as I was at it, I wanted remote access to the home laptop and desktop. Our hotels had good wifi, so this was very successful. I disabled Windows updates on all three devices for the duration of the trip. Some of these steps require Windows 10 Pro (not Home). Ask me privately and I will tell you what host software we used. This software opens some network ports and checks a password to connect, and operates through a third party server. There are several choices for this sort of software, or you can configure Windows manually, but I chose to use some software.

I tried to log in to democratandchronicle.com from France to read the Rochester newspaper (the e-edition), and also USA Today, but this did not work. (The web site restricted my France IP address.) However, by remoting to the desktop, I was able to log in to the D&C, download the PDF, and transfer the PDF to the France laptop or my phone. This works because, when you're using the host/viewer software, you're actually running on the remote PC and showing a screen image on the local screen, so the IP address is a Rochester IP address.

Friday, September 20, 2019

France followup, photos from Sue's phone

We have about a thousand photos on three devices. Here are a few from Sue's phone (which was not used heavily for photos). More to come.

First, the Wall of Love. Wikipedia says, "a love-themed wall of 40 square meters in the Jehan Rictus garden square in Montmartre."
Louis, Versailles.
A Rolls convertible and a Ferrari in front of the Monte Carlo casino.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

France day 17 of 17, final hotel and airport

France day 17 of 17, Sept 18. We took the train from Nice back to Paris and spent one night at the Holiday Inn near Charles de Gaulle airport. I was hoping we would be up high enough to see the Eiffel tower one last time, and I was right. There is a tower thingie in front of the Holiday Inn, and our room's window is directly past the tower in this photo, so we could see it from our room.
Here is my final selfie in France at Charles de Gaulle airport.

By the way, we had some trouble with NEXUS in Toronto at the airport. After walking a half mile through the hallways to the NEXUS machines, Susan's machine would not respond at all. My machine read my card, and the iris scanner told me to move a couple times, and finally told me to see the officers. So, we got in line behind all the disabled passengers in the special line and, and had no trouble with the officer, but we had a substantial wait. At the QEW border crossing, I saw no specific NEXUS lane, but at 7 pm on a Wednesday there was little traffic, and the officer seemed pleased with our NEXUS cards and sent us along quickly.

Watch for more photos from our other devices, and coffee comments, and other final thoughts.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

France day 16 of 17, train to Paris

On day 16, Sept 17, we are traveling back to Paris for tomorrow's flight home. Here is the train car while still in Nice. This train has many cars (18, I think), and we had to schlep our luggage all the way down to the last car. This train had an engine in the middle and it split in Marseilles (and switched tracks so that our car became the first car).

On this train, after Marseilles, we saw train agents for the first time, checking tickets on the train. For the most part, there is no baggage or personal security scans, and a person could easily pay a couple euros for a local train and then hop on a long distance train instead. But, on this train, they double-checked the tickets.

As a side note, I had to empty my pockets twice in the security lines for the Eiffel Tower.
This is a shot of a couple little fishing dinghies, as we headed westward out of Nice.
This is an apartment outside the Cannes train station. Brigitte Bardot popped out for a few seonds, but then I guess she saw me with my camera.

By the way, Sophia Loren (84), Gina Lollobrigida (92) and Brigitte Bardot (84) are all still living.
Here is a shot of a typical road along the Côte d'Azur. You need an Aston Martin to be able to take the curves comfortably.

Monday, September 16, 2019

France day 14-15 of 17, winding down in Nice

This post is for the end of day 14, and then day 15, of our France trip, Sept 15-16. This beer in this glass really is the Paix Dieu brand, nothing special about that, but the top of the glass is angled so that the rim is higher on one side than the other. It looks really cool, but I'm not sure it helps to drink the beer.

The name translates as Peace God, that's all I know about that.
After breakfast on day 16, we walked back to the hotel and Susan thought this was a really nice window display at a clothing shop. The fall fashion season has begun, and we have been hanging around the high rent districts of Paris and the Riviera.

We spent the day on the beach.

Tomorrow on day 16, we take the train back to Paris (Holiday Inn near the airport) and then fly home on day 17. The train stations always find a way to turn a mundane activity into an adventure.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

France day 14 of 17, went to church and to the sea

One our 14th day, September 15, we went to the Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Nice. From their web site, this is "a parish within the Church of England Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe but [includes] members of the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) and [is] listed in its directory of parishes."
The amazing organ is 150 years old.

Susan and I went to the garden for refreshments after the service. Most of the garden is a 19th century graveyard, but very pleasant.
Later in the day we went back to the beach. You can see the gray rocks in this photo. The light gray area is dry and just starting to slope a bit towards the water. The wet area is quite steep, as steep as a stairway in your house, except made of loose rocks.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

France day 12-13 of 17, casino time, Monte Carlo!

In Nice France on the 12th and 13th days of our trip, we took a driving tour around the area and went to dinner at the Grand Casino in Monaco. Photography is not allowed inside the casino, and there are ample shots of the casino on the web. We have photos from the restaurant, but on a different camera not yet downloaded.

This first photo is of the front of the prince's palace in Monaco. Monaco has 30000 residents, mostly rich. There are 6000 police and security officers.

At the casino on day 13, we just played slots. We watched roulette players for a while, but I am not a big gambler and didn't want to break in and slow things down. The stakes in the initial rooms are not steep, 5 euro minimum, but we stuck with the slots. We cashed out with a profit of 89 euros, just under 100 dollars. We did not try to go to the high-stakes rooms.

By the way, in the morning of day 13, we went to the beach and into the Mediterranean. The beaches around Nice are rocky, not sandy. It's physically tricky to get into the water and then get up to about your waist so that you aren't sliding around on the loose rocks under your feet.

Here is a Monaco license plate.
Here is the port at Monaco / Monte Carlo. The Grand Casino is on the far side of the port. This was taken from near the palace.
Here is an Aston-Martin outside the Grand Casino.
This was taken inside an 18th century church near the top of a hill in the medieval village of Eze.