August 29, 2019
We traveled to Paris during the week August 21-28. Here are some notes regarding our trip.
Delta operates one flight per day from MSP to CDG — Flight 0042. We sat together in Premium Select. Aircraft was a Boeing 777-200. The flight was very comfortable and uneventful, but with light chop north of Ontario. We flew the great circle route passing just south of Iceland. Airport security was tight but navigable.
Once we arrived at DeGaulle, we got our passports checked then went through French customs. They didn't inspect anything, and one of the agents waved us through without a hitch. As our flight was early, we had to wait awhile for our driver to take us to the hotel. The company we used for our taxi to/from the airport was called "Interservice Prestige." They charge 60E (E=euro) each way. The vehicle was clean, comfortable, and the drivers were very nice. Paris is a big city, and the roads aren't exactly laid out in an efficient manner; they're more of a patchwork built up over the centuries. Roads are very narrow in Paris. The ride to our hotel was about an hour. Half of that time seemed to be spent navigating sidestreets in Paris.
We stayed at the Val Girard Hotel, a three-star hotel which is located in southwest Paris just off the Vau Girard Metro stop. The rooms were air-conditioned, clean, but small — very small. Air conditioning is a must for your hotel room if you're going to go to Paris in August. Unfortunately, other than the Val Girard Hotel, few people in Paris seem to believe in air conditioning. Most of the major sites we visited except for the Loeuve lacked air conditioning. That made the whole travel experience very hot and tiresome. Anyway, the staff at the Val Girard were cool but friendly. The hotel breakfast was very good, especially the coffee, croissants, and brie. The hotel has an elevator, but it only accommodates one person with some luggage or two people without. We stayed on the third floor. Our room had no views, but if you step outside of the hotel you can see the Eiffel Tower from the street. The beds were comfortable but very firm, and the pillows flat. The bathroom was spacious, and the staff did an excellent job of making up the room each day.
Day 1 — Eiffel Tower
First day after we arrived at the hotel we went to get an up-close view of the Eiffel Tower. As we weren't familiar with the Metro yet, we walked. Be prepared to do a LOT of walking in Paris, whether you use the Metro or not. It was in the 90s most of the time we were there. The Eiffel up close is quite a structure. It's bigger than it looks in books, and it can be seen from nearly anywhere in Paris. We didn't go inside the Eiffel tower or up to the top. Because we had such a packed agenda, each day was very long and physically tiring — but well worth it. We also went to see the catacombs of Paris. In 1785 they ran out of space to bury people so they build a series of underground catacombs, excavated many dead, and moved them into these catacombs. It was a very eerie experience and one wouldn't want to spend the night there.
Day 2 — The Loeuvre
On the second day we visited the Loeuvre. It's impossible to cover everything in one visit at what is arguably the greatest and largest collection of artwork in the world. We viewed originals by many famous artists whose works have become priceless or nearly so. My favorite work was "The Death of Saint Anthony" by Claude Vignon (1593 - 1670). It really helps to have knowledge of the places, people, and events of the Bible when viewing these artworks. Other famous works we saw included the Winged Victory (Nike), the Venus de Milo attributed to Alexandros of Antioch, and Sanzio's St. Michael Vanquishing Satan.
Day 3 — Champs-Elysees
For the third day, having learned the Metro somewhat, we went to the Champs-Elysees and saw the Paris Arch (Arc d'Triomphe). The boulevard and the Arch are beautiful. The Arch was built to commemorate war dead. The French are generally pacifist but when you see all of the monuments to those who died in one battle or another one can understand — though not necessarily justify — why. The city is filled with these monumements. Along the Champs-Elysees you can shop but only if your wallet can handle it. Everything of course is extremely expensive. Even souvenirs are expensive: the same coffee cup that you would pay 5E for elsewhere costs 7.50E on the Champs-Elysees. Best advice is to window shop and just enjoy the sights. Note that if you use the public toilets other than at major attractions, you have to pay, and you have to use exact change. So have a handful of spare coins with you just in case!
Day 4 — Napoleon's Tomb
We visited the tomb of Napoleon and the Ecole Militaire, French military museum. We saw the section dedicated to the French Resistance and liberation of France by the Allied powers in 1944. An unexpected treat was the tomb of Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, which rests on the floor above Napoleon's tomb. Napoleon's tomb and the Ecole Militaire are a "must-see" while you're in Paris — absolutely stunning — but what a contrast to the way the common people were buried in the catacombs.
Day 5 — Paris Opera House and Saint Michel
On the fifth day we visited the Paris Opera House, the cathedral of Saint Michel, and the Concierges, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days before unceremoniously losing her head. Because we only had a week in Paris we were unable to spend a lot of time at each of these attractions. But the sheer grandeur of all of these places is overwhelming. It's worth noting however that some of these places are literally falling apart. It is said that the church buildings are falling into disrepair because the Catholic Church has been losing money because of the lawsuits arising from the pedophilia scandal. I find that hard to believe given that the wealth of the Vatican is immense. Perhaps there just isn't a desire on the part of the French government or Catholic church or people to maintain these enormous structures.
Day 6 — Normandy
We were debating somewhat whether to include Normandy on our itinerary, but in the end we did and although we did not have a lot of time at at the beaches, this turned out to be for me the highlight of the entire trip. We visited Utah, Omaha, and Gold beaches, to include Pointe-du-Hoc, and the United States cemetery at Omaha beach. To be able to see where arguably the greatest battle in history occurred was really an experience — history comes alive when you're standing on that very spot. The cemetery with its rows upon rows upon rows of crosses, interminged with stars of David, is hallowed ground. It is U.S. territory which was given by the French to the United States, but purchased by the blood of American soldiers who gave their lives to defeat Nazi tyranny, and also for French freedom. We were also able to tour several German bunkers from which U.S. troops were fired upon even as they were attempting to exit their landing craft. On the way back, even though we were running late, the tour guide allowed us to make a quick stop in Bayeux in order to see the mysterious Bayeux tapestry which tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. All in all, for me this was the most fun day of the trip — for once, we were not exhausted by walking, as the tour bus operators of France Turisme did a wonderful job getting us to each destination.
Day 7 — The Palace of Versailles
The Palace at Versailles was a spectactular though also exhausting tour. If you triple the grandeur of the Opera House, you have the Palace at Versailles. Interestingly though some of the rooms were not as ornate as others. But all in all one is hard-pressed to find anything anywhere that is more extravangant and overdone as the Palace at Versailles, a monument to the spectacular wealth and splendor of King Louis XIV during the zenith of his reign c. 1700. A mere 40 minutes ride from the center of Paris, the Palace is easily accessible. We would recommend a half-day instead of a full day trip if you are going to go during the summer months. The Gardens of Versailles are immense, and you'll wear yourself out trying to cover all of the palace grounds, as we did. Interestingly, most of the palace seems to be off limits to the public, with comparitively few rooms that one can actually tour.
The food in France is outstanding. We did not eat in the finest restaurants — the ones you see in the travel shows — but even the average restaurant in France is much better than good American restaurants. Having said that everything is very expensive. A typical meal for three is between 40E-60E. If you're on a budget, just get baguette sandwiches.
Delta operates one flight per day from CDG to MSP — Flight 0043. A note on security — We were accosted by security while waiting in the check-in line at the Delta check-in counter. While we are glad they take security very seriously at CDG, this particlar security officer at the check-in counter did not initially identify himself as airport security and was rude to us. Other security throughout the CDG airport were fine. In any case be prepared — in the United States, we don't have security at airline check-in counters. Having someone who is totally unknown to you come up and all of the sudden start asking questions about your trip without identifying himself is an unexpected and jarring experience — certainly a lesson learned for next time.
We had Delta One on the return flight. Delta One is a very luxurious experience although other than slightly more privacy and a larger seat-back LCD display, I am not sure that it is worth the difference in cost from Premium Select. The food is just as good in both sections, and there are more Premium Select Seats available. The ability to recline the seat to a nearly flat position is awesome unless you're big and tall like me. Then it doesn't give you so much of an advantage. I found the lounge position rather than full recline to be the most comfortable in Delta One. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200. The flight was very comfortable and uneventful. There is less turbulence toward the front of the aircraft. We flew the great circle route passing just south of Iceland. Upon arrival, winds were gusting between 20-30 mph at MSP. The landing was firm but not hard. The First Officer explained that they do not "grease" the landings in gusty conditions but rather want the main gear firmly planted in order to dissipate energy as quickly as possible upon touchdown.
Trip to France Overall
Overall I would rate the trip as 3 stars out of 5. Upsides included the grandness of French art and architecture, the number of interesting things to see and do, and the delicious French food of course. The visit to Normandy is to be remembered for a lifetime. Downsides include the weather in August (way too hot), extreme amount of walking, and the lack of air conditioning in major attractions and on the Metro subway system. American citizens should visit Paris once, including an excursion to the Normandy beaches — a must-see — but with so many other travel destinations out there, I'm not in a rush to return to Paris.