Day 11 – Our Last Dinner in Paris

Before we left for Paris, my wife indicated that she was interested in going to a non-French restaurant during our vacation in France. For me, this immediately removes Mexican from consideration as we are spoiled with good Mexican food in LA.

Eating Italian food wouldn’t be something to talk about when we got home. Thinking about the French influence on Vietnamese food, I figured that would be a good bet. However, a restaurant that only focuses on pho and banh mi would be removed from consideration.

When I suggest Vietnamese food to many of my friends, a surprising number of them would rather not try it. Fortunately, my cousins have been to Vietnamese restaurants and enjoy the cuisine.

I quickly narrowed my search to a restaurant named Luc Hong in the 16th arrondissement. With a name that does not include “Saigon” or “Pho”, I figured the restaurant would have to stand on its own merits.  From its reviews, the pho, however, was outstanding. To me, an outstanding pho broth does not demonstrate the talent of a chef.

They opened shortly after 7:00 p.m. and we were one of two groups that were waiting for the restaurant to open. The inside was furnished with a lot of Asian black lacquered furniture and cushions decorated with flowers. It also had a stocked aquarium and some interesting Asian dolls on display.

The menus were in French and we could barely make out some of the dishes. Fortunately, the owner, Co Tuyet, had a good command of English and assisted us with our order. From my research, I knew that people enjoyed their bánh xèo and so we ordered that.

After she described the lobster papaya salad and the mixed barbecue we decided on both. Throughout our vacation, I kept looking for a German riesling and kept striking out. We ended up with a French chablis as our beverage.

Bánh Xèo
Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese pancake)

The bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) had an omelette like appearance and cut into four triangular shaped slices. It was filled with bean sprouts and large pieces of shrimp. The combination of spices, green onions, turmeric and coconut cream made this a delicious dish. It was served with a side of nuoc nam dipping sauce.

Lobster Papaya Salad
Lobster Papaya Salad

We loved the presentation of the Lobster papaya salad. What appeared to be whole lobster, was the main parts of the lobster shell with the meat extracted. It was mixed with slivers of pineapple, papaya and some Asian herbs. The fish sauce dressing significantly enhanced the taste the salad.

Tuyet asked if I like hot sauce. She added that she makes her own. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, I agreed. I took about a teaspoon and mixed it with the papaya salad. I could immediately my sweat glands kicking into gear and became our table’s source for comedy.

Mixed Barbecue Plate
Mixed Barbecue Plate

She doubled the mixed barbecue plate for us and it arrived on a huge platter. BBQ pork, shrimp, grouper, green leaf lettuce, grilled onions and Asian herbs were on top of a bed of rice noodles. We wrapped these items with a piece of lettuce and dipped it in the nuoc nam sauce – wonderful!

Unlike in Little Saigon (Orange County), Parisians are willing to pay for good food. The average price per dish is significantly higher than the same type of dish made in the OC. The locals understand and appreciate quality ingredients and food prepared to traditional methods.

This place was a significant find for us and if you enjoy Vietnamese food, you should make this a stop while you are in Paris.

This post is the last in a series for our trip to France. I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Day 11 – Executing Plan B

Day 11 – Executing Plan B

A common theme that the four of us have is enjoying good food. To varying degrees, we are adventurous about trying new food and having new experiences.

My wife purchased tickets for a food tour led by a local in Paris. If you enjoy eating good food and don’t have enough time to visit many restaurants, this is a great way to try a number of things in a short amount of time. Make sure you wear your stretchy pants.

Our meeting place for the Food Tour
Our meeting place for the Food Tour
We took the metro to the Boulangerie Julien in the 12th arrondissment. My wife and I had a day under our belt with the metro. This gave us confidence with traveling on our own. The bakery was our starting point for the tour. We waited for an hour and unfortunately our tour guide never showed up. *

Beautiful flowers at the farmers market
Beautiful flowers at the farmers market

Everywhere, the fruits are beautiful
Everywhere, the fruits are beautiful
While we waited there, we had a chance discussion with a local realtor. He said that there is a shortage of flats in the city and he asked us if we were interested in finding one. During the conversation we learned he also owned a home in Huntington Beach.

8 euros apiece for these huge shrimp
8 euros apiece for these huge shrimp
Across the street was a farmers market. Seafood, cheese and meat vendors were  situated inside and most of the  produce vendors were in set up with canopy tents. One of the seafood vendors had humongous shrimp, approximately 6″ in length.

Our Plan B
Our Plan B
The realtor reappeared and suggested a place for us to have lunch. That quickly became Plan B. I had my doubts about the place because the words “margarita” and “mojito” were painted on the wall. Looking around, everyone appeared to be French.

Plat du jour - tagliatelle with chicken
Plat du jour – tagliatelle with chicken

Marmitte de Poissons
Marmitte de Poissons

Huge Charcuterie Plate
Huge Charcuterie Plate
I had the chef’s recommendation, marmitte poissin, my wife had a charcuterie plate and my cousins each ordered plat du jour (plate of the day). Tagalatelle with chicken in a. Team sauce. My dish had filets of white fish and tuna with small pieces of octopus and fresh vegetables.

Delicious Ice Cream from Berthillon
Delicious Ice Cream from Berthillon
Remembering my desire to have Berthillon ice cream, my wife checked the metro map and set a course for to the 4th arrondissment. We later found the Berthillon ice cream shop. It was as good as I remembered it to be.

*  The  next day my wife found an email in her junk mail folder. It was from the food tour provider. It said that the tour leader was sick and they had tried to contact us to cancel.

Day 10 – Back to Paris

Day 10 – Back to Paris

Our ship pulled into Paris at around 6:00 p.m. Some had pre-arranged to leave the ship as soon as we pulled up. Others like us, remained on and enjoyed the remainder of the ship.

The next morning was rather sad for all of us. We had gotten fond of the crew and had to say our good-byes. Parting was bittersweet because the crew are on contract. Some were nearing the ends of their contract, however, Reka, was going to be assigned to a different location and hadn’t been notified yet.

This is the year of a milestone anniversary for us and my wife reserved two nights at the Peninsula in Paris. Pulling up in our cab, I felt like we were in a movie. Two members of the staff dressed in black suits greeted us and immediately took our bags. We were warmly greeted and I thought to myself, “this is what it is like to be a celebrity, of course without the paparazzi.”

Entering the Charles de Gaulle metro stop - this is the stop closest to the Arc de Triomphe
Entering the Charles de Gaulle metro stop – this is the stop closest to the Arc de Triomphe

We left the hotel, purchased metro passes and set our sights for the Musée D’Orsay. After a transfer, there was a very short ride (3 stops) to our train stop. I had forgotten how many flights of stairs are in metro stations and determined that this is how Parisians remain thin.

The Musée D’Orsay is built in a train station that was built between 1898 and 1900. It was on my bucket list because the museum houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world.

Our cousins were on a day package tour and took a break for lunch in front of the Musée D’Orsay. We had sandwiches at a small shop and the museum and went our separate ways. It turns out that they did their tour in reverse and had already been to the museum.

The iconic view of the Musee d'Orsay
The iconic view of the Musee d’Orsay

The line was short and we entered quickly. If you go there, there are one-way escalators on the west and east sides of the museum. We couldn’t find the escalator up and so we climbed five flights of stairs to the top of the exhibit.

One of the many paintings by Claude Monet
One of the many paintings by Claude Monet

We had all day passes on the metro and so I asked my wife if she would be ok with going to another destination. I noticed Montparte on our metro line and she agreed. Unfortunately, it was quite a hike (about 60 steps) to get from the level of the metro station to street level.

From there, we found the funicular and rode it to the top. Our all day metro passes covered this ride as well.

Inside the funicular
Inside the funicular

The fourth and fifth floor had an amazing collection of impressionist paintings. I was surprised that they weren’t as protected as the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre. The lower floor are reserved for many of the sculptures.

After exiting the funicular - at the base of La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
After exiting the funicular – at the base of the La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre

After coming back to our hotel, we were pretty wiped out. Two things made it an easy decision for dinner – 1) it had just started to rain and 2) the hotel reservation came with a $100 credit. Can you say “room service?” For dinner, we enjoyed veal chops and pasta with a bolognese sauce. The hotel gave us a bottle of champagne and a decadent tiramisu mousse cake.

 

 

 

 

Aboard the AmaLyra Cruiseship

Aboard the AmaLyra Cruiseship
The lobby of the AmaLyra
The lobby of the AmaLyra

The AmaLyra is a cruiseship was built in 2009, but I could not tell that it was one of Ama Waterways’ older ships. The ship is shiny, spotless and all of the fixtures look new. Passengers board what looks like a hotel lobby and are welcomed to the lounge while the cabin stewards clean prepare their rooms.

Entrance to the lounge
Entrance to the lounge

The lounge has floor to ceiling windows with a lot of indirect light. Soft sided couches, chairs, coffee tables and bell jar lamps. This creates a comfortable environment for relaxing and socializing.

The dining room has seating arrangements for small and large groups. The center of the dining room houses a buffet for breakfast and lunch. Passengers can also order something off of the menu. An example of this was their eggs benedict.

View from our room
View from our room

The rooms have floor to ceiling windows with sliding glass doors. Passengers can watch the world go by from the comfort of their stateroom. There is a thermostat on the wall that controls the room temperature.

Outdoor seating on the lounge level
Outdoor seating on the lounge level

They have a customized Macintosh that is available as an information kiosk, general purpose computer and TV. A good selection of channels are available – especially news. I liked the fact that these computers each had broadband internet access.

Jacuzzi on the top deck
Jacuzzi on the top deck

On the top deck they have reclining deck chaises; some are covered with awnings. They also have a small jacuzzi. From the top deck, you can see the wheelhouse and watch the captain and his crew in action.

Unlike some other cruiselines, all of the shore excursions are included with the price of the cruise. They are led by local experts that have extensive knowledge of the history of the area.

AMA Waterways is serious about providing quality food. In fact they are the only river cruise ship that is a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. This is a prestigous organization that has members by invitation only. In general, I found the food to be very good. I think the group quickly realized that the chef’s recommendations were the way to order. By the end of the trip, that was what we were ordering for dinner.

Our favorite server, Ventsi
Our favorite server, Ventsi

We had a few different people serving us food, wine, coffee and desserts. Everyone was extremely professional, but what emerged was a witty guy named Ventsi.

The cruise manager is the person that ensures that everyone’s needs are attended to. In our case, cruise manager Reka, noticeably moved between shore excursion parties and made herself constantly available.

During the beginning of the cruise, my wife experienced a severe toothache. To my wife’s credit, she asked Reka if there was a dentist she could visit. Reka took it upon herself to research dentists within walking distances of the ship. She found one extremely close by, but recommended another one that was a bit further away because her ratings were superior.

I was a bit worried because we were set to sail in a matter of hours. I could see us possibly getting lost and not making it back to the ship. I was extremely grateful that Reka got her an appointment, but that it was early enough in the day where we could walk in both directions. I observed the care and attention that was given my wife and was quite happy with the experience. After we returned to the ship, we thanked Reka profusely.

To me, AMA Waterways has a mission statement or a goal that they wish to ensure that every passenger have the best vacation ever. This means that they sincere, they go the extra mile to make someone happy and they take unusual steps to ensure that there are no communication breakdowns. I think they succeed  in their endeavor.

Day 9 – Visiting Van Gogh’s Home

The rest of my group took a short bus ride to the former inn where Vincent Van Gogh lived his last 70 days and painted most of his famous works.

The town of Auveres – sur- oise is just outside of Paris on the Seine.  Van Gogh lived in a 75 square foot room and felt very isolated at the end of his life, so he painted many nature scenes with not many people in them.

Van Gogh painted every day until his death at age 37.  It is thought that he went in to the wheat field and shot him myself, but missed and shot himself in the chest.  So he went back to the inn where his brother, Theo, tried to help him but it was too late and he died two days later.

Shortly after that, Van Gogh’s brother Theo also died and they were buried next to each other in the town cemetery.  In the end, it appears that Van Gogh’s happiest days were spent in this village, despite the sad ending.

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Day 9 – Conflans-Sainte-Honorine

We had the morning to explore the Conflans-Saints-Honorine area before heading off to Paris for our final leg on this cruise. Conflans-Saints-Honorine is only 35 km northwest of Paris and is an easy sail back to our home port.

We docked at Conflans-Saints-Honorine in the morning. Most of the passengers left the ship on one of the two excursions offered. My wife and the others decided on doing the “Artists’ Walk”, including the Auberge Ravoux, former home of Vincent van Gogh.

Along the Seine
Along the Seine
Bicyclists
Bicyclists
This is a floating church
The pews inside the floating church
The pews inside the floating church
In the rear of the ship appears to be a place where people can study
In the rear of the ship appears to be a place where people can study
One of the many houseboats. Many are moored side-by-side, up to 4 across.
One of the many houseboats. Many are moored side-by-side, up to 4 across.

Mid morning, it was sunny and starting to warm up. The excursion buses had already left and I decided to walk into town. I was expecting to see touristy things and I was surprised to see professional offices along the river (optometry, dentistry, ophthalmology) and a few restaurants.I found the floating church near our ship. I learned that it’s there to serve the people that live on the local houseboats. These are not like American houseboats, but more like the size of a barge.

The restaurants weren’t that appealing – one Italian cafe, another place featuring pizza and a Czech gastro pub. I had hoped to find an interesting French restaurant and so I gave up and returned to the ship.

Since it was hot when I returned, I was happy to return to an air-conditioned environment. About an hour later, the passengers started to appear. Most of them had flushed faces and seemed happy to be back aboard the ship.

 

Day 8 – A Visit to Le Château Gaillard

Day 8 – A Visit to Le Château Gaillard

We left Rouen in the morning and arrived in Les Andelys in the early afternoon. Les Andelys is a small town 40 km southeast of Rouen. Despite our shipward movement away from Normandy Beach, were still in the Normandy region of France.

Our group boarded a bus and headed into town. Les Andelys is divided into two portions: Grand-Andely and Petit-Andely, the latter being the older section that was established when Richard the Lionheart ordered the building of a fortress which would be called Le Château Gaillard.

In front of Our Lady's Church
In front of Our Lady’s Church
While the church was first built in 1100, the organ wasn't there until the 1600's.
While the church was first built in 1100, the organ wasn’t there until the 1600’s. It is still in use today.
This stained glass was replaced after the bombings of WWII. To the left is a statue of Joan of Arc.
This stained glass was replaced after the bombings of WWII. To the left is a statue of Joan of Arc.

We toured the Our Lady’s Collegiate Church in Petite-Andely. Work on the church started in the 1200’s and wasn’t completed until the end of the Hundred Year’s War in 1570. The stained windows in the lower section of the church were replaced due to the bombings during World War II.

After the church, our bus continued up the hillside to a clearing near Le Château Gaillard. We walked what we thought was a walkway that ended up being a narrow street. We a car approached, we were directed to walk single file on the left side of the street.

This was our tour guide
She was our local tour guide – can’t believe she did this walk in heels!
Up close view of the Chateau
Up close view of the Chateau
View of the valley & the Seine
View of the valley & the Seine

Because of the architectural feat, it was estimated that the fortress would take 10 years to build. Because of Richard’s determination, it only took 2 years to build. We walked around the moat and across the walkway to the inside of the fortress.

View of the Château Gaillard
View of the Château Gaillard from the river.

It was the ideal location to build this structure as there is a commanding view of the valley and river from it. Walking back towards the cruise ship was a bit challenging as there was loose gravel on the sloped path.

Ravioli Porcini with provençal butter
Ravioli Porcini with provençal butter

That evening, I wasn’t hungry. I was told that the pork shank was delicious, but I had the ravioli porcini instead. I’m not a pasta person, but the combination of the warm butter sauce with the porcini mushrooms was delightful.