Monday, November 26, 2012

Petit dejeuner at Angelina

Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, "why not?" and go for it.  It almost seemed illegal, but The Trout and I had a breakfast in Paris that we will not soon forget.

The studio were we renting in Paris was in the 1st arrondissement which was walking distance to the Tuileries, the Louvre, and so many other sites.  And, walking distance to Angelina, for the best pot of hot chocolate in the world!!!

The decor in Angelina's is so romantic and elegant, it almost makes you search the room for Marie Antoinette.  The waitresses are perfectly dressed in black and white and set your small tables very properly.  It was a 40 Euro breakfast, but so much fun.  A pot of thick, rich, hot chocolate, four pastries including croissants,  2 hard rolls with jam and butter and two large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.  And do you see that cup of beautiful white fluff in the front of the photo?  That is whipped cream, so stiff that the spoon stood upright in it.  This is added to the cup of hot chocolate.  You need to imagine the very best chocolate bar melted to the perfect temperature, poured into a cup and then you add that whipped cream to smooth it all out.  I was such a luxurious taste.

It was a Sunday morning and I was surprised to see all the young families coming in with their children for breakfast.  Hot chocolate is their specialty, but the coffee smelled delicious also.  Angelina also sells pastries and chocolates, a light lunch and they serve tea in the afternoon.  It is something you would not find in America, so you really need to see and enjoy.

 The restaurant was first opened in 1903 by an Austrian who wished to honor his daughter, Angelina.  It is located on Rue de Rivoli.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Planning our 2012 Trip to France


Trout is writing today about our travels this fall to France.

Schnitzel's knee problems precluded our usual spring trip to France, but once she gave me the go-ahead for a fall trip, I hit the computer to start planning.

First of all, finding flights.  We have been able to use frequent flyer miles for many of our trips thanks to credit card offers and earned points.  Many airlines offer 40,000 miles to take out their card with Chase, etc., and even up to 100,000 by British Air.  This sounded good but I did not realize that BA charges for a fuel charge on top of fees and taxes so a free flight with them costs close to $800+.  Still a savings over the usual $1000 ticket price.  I usually start looking as soon as I can, like a year in advance, I think, for the best selections.  What is nice about using miles is that you can cancel and redeposit the miles for a pretty cheap fee of $40+ a ticket.

I had close to 80,000 miles on AA, so that is where I went for flights which offered a good selection out of Tampa to JFK and then to CDG at 40,000 miles a ticket, a good price.  I had to buy a few miles but we still saved over $1,200 for two tickets.

Once we had our dates for mid October for 2 1/2 weeks, next was "gîte" (apartment) hunting.  We have rented over 14 gîtes over our trips to Italy and France and only twice (once really) were we disappointed in what we found.  What is nice about  a gîte is that you have your own space with a kitchen, bath, LR and BR, laundry, and privacy.  We go out for a fresh baguette in the morning for breakfast and usually eat in at night so this is handy.

I generally use Gîtes de France to search for a gîte.  They have 1000's that they have reviewed and rated (1-5 ears from low to high amenities) before listing on their pretty good web sites.  It is easy to confirm a gîte, get answers to questions, get contract copies by email, make payments via a PayPal like system with no fees and hassles like getting a bank wire or draft.  I have also used VRBO with success, French Connections, Chez Nous, etc.  I like to rent at least 3 star gîtes and/or those with good references from previous renters as found on their web pages or in SlowTrav where I have reviewed many of the gîtes we have rented and found those other travelers have liked.

It was pretty easy to find gîtes near Nice for our first week and Les Arcs for our second week, since it was the low season.  For a high season rental, I would book as early as possible for a good selection.  These are 7245 and g1915 in the Gîtes de France search system.  Check out for 7245.  This means three pinnacles like that as shown above. It was about the nicest we have even rented.   We had 3 days at the end of trip in Paris and I found a studio (meaning tiny) in a great location through  We paid $529 and $364 for the gîtes for a full week each (low season) and $307 for 3 nights in Paris.

The living room of the first gîte.

Our little home for the second week.

Now that we have our flights and housing, we needed a car.  I have pretty much always used Auto Europe as a broker for a rental with no problems and good prices.   Again, start early and check often for price changes and get on their e mail list for offers.  We paid $286 for a compact for 12 days, I believe.  $80 for gas for the 2 weeks, $25 for extended damage insurance  and $60 for an emergency medical policy through American Express was in addition to the car rental.

When we did our first trip to France, I rented the car at CDG and did the nerve wracking drive out of Paris to Burgundy/Provence.  I got smart and found out about the great train service in France so we took the bullet TGV train from Avignon straight into CDG and our flight home.

Now we look for train connections out of CDG to wherever we want to end up and then back for our time in Paris or flight home.  Look into a great article at for great advise on how to book tickets for the trains and also for the Paris Metro, RER trains from CDG downtown, etc.

You can only book a train no more than 90 days out, so on the 89th day at 4pm (remember France is 8 hours ahead of mountain time making it 12am there), I was at the Anaconda, Montana library to use their computers to bring up the reservation site.  Bingo, great prices of 30E per ticket going.  Two weeks later, I did it again for the train back to Paris and paid 40E each.  A month later or more, I would have paid 3-4 times those prices.  You may have to pay a bit more for a train out of CDG, but it is worth I think rather than taking an RER train downtown to Gare de Lyon.

The time and dollar savings but less chance of a nervous breakdown by not driving is substantial.   From Paris to Nice would have taken 9 hours (933K) and we would have paid and estimated 106E for gas and 72E in tolls each way.  Close to 400E vs 140E for the train.

If you plan on spending any time in Paris, you must learn the metro system.  There is a metro stop within 20 minutes of any place in Paris, I was told, and it is easy and fun to get from A to B and back.

All of this takes a fair amount of computer time to research and book ( I love the Fodor's site for posing questions of other travelers and finding ideas for touring,) but highly satisfying when we look back on the sites we saw, wonderful meals, getting around safely and finding nice lodging  as cheaply as I  make it and meeting the great people of France and fellow travelers.  We would not give back a second of the great times we have experienced in Europe.  Next year we are taking a break but look out 2014!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our first meal in France

Our first great meal in France was in the village of Fayence.  We had made reservations at La Table d'Yves.  The weather was just about perfect, so we ate outdoors on October 20.  After a long flight, one night in a B and B that was nice but unremarkable, we picked up our rented car and drove to this lovely village.  The restaurant sits outside of town and from where we sat outside, we had a beautiful view.

The amuse buche, which means to tickle the palate, was beautiful.  Parmesan sablets, palmatiers with tapanade and tomato confit.   Tickle it did, indeed!!

I did not take a picture of the cauliflower soup with truffles and truffle oil because....well, it was so good, my spoon never rested.

My first course was pear and blue cheese in fillo dough.  It was very good, though the blue cheese was quite strong.  Never fear, it was eaten.

We both had guinea hen breast with a mushroom and chestnut stuffing.  It was very good.  Note the unusual way of cutting and serving the guinea.  The gravy was delightful.  For me, the stuffing was a little too sweet, but loved the chestnut crunch.

What could possibly pass for dessert?  You see, quite often when you order the plat du jour, it comes with an appetizer, main course and then dessert.  This restaurant added a lot of other little treats.  So what you see above is not really just your traditional creme brulee.  You see, it has a pink cast to it because it is flavored with violets.  And yes, I really, really enjoyed it.

When you order coffee in a nice restaurant, which is only served after the meal is complete, you usually get a treat with it.  What you see above is what I would describe as vanilla pudding with cherry jello in the glass, rose-flavored marshmallows (handmade) and an small almond cake with a cherry.  It was quite the topper to a great meal.

Since this was the noon hour and we had much more driving to do, we each had only one glass of wine.  Here, The Trout, is sending cheers to all.  We arrived safely in a country we love and are ready to eat and drink our way through almost 3 weeks of fun.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

An American Cemetery in France

Perfectly pristine and cared for.  We came across this American Cemetery in Draguignan, France.  The weather was not good this day.  It was slightly misting, but would not stop us from a quiet walk through an American Cemetery in France.  

"The site of the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in France was selected because of its historic location along the route of the U.S. Seventh Army's drive up the Rhone Valley. It was established on August 19, 1944 after the Seventh Army's surprise landing in southern France. 

On 12.5 acres at the foot of a hill clad with the characteristic cypresses, olive trees, and oleanders of southern France, rest 860 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944. Their headstones are arranged in straight lines, divided into four plots, and grouped about an oval pool. At each end of the cemetery is a small garden. On the hillside overlooking the cemetery is the chapel with its wealth of decorative mosaic and large sculptured figures. Between the chapel and the burial area, a bronze relief map recalls military operations in the region. On the retaining wall of the terrace, 294 names of the missing are inscribed. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified." 

Not only Veteran's Day, but let us remember every day and never forget.