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Old 5th August 2016, 00:59   #1
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Default French Macaroons! A holiday in France

Do I even need to caption this?!
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Introduction

This trip report was long overdue as I visited France in May 2015. Started writing since I was back but got busy with work and other commitments.I like to publish my trip reports in 1 go like my earlier travalogue to Turkey which can be read here http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...-delights.html (Turkish Delights) Though in this case I am still compiling the text hence I would not be publishing in 1 go this time.But its never too late so here I go with my trip to France.As, if I wait its not going to get over soon. Once I know the trip report is live I will write quickly!

As you would have noticed my trip to Turkey is captioned as Turkish Delight which is a famous Turkish sweet.Keeping with the same theme I decided to name my trip report to France with the famous French pastry Macaroon! Also my kids were very eager to taste the Macaroon in France so we were literally trying out macaroons all over France.

A short discription of the Macaroon derived from wiki "A macaroon is a French sweet meringue-based confection made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food colouring".

Here's the picture thanks to google since in my album I do not have a picture of the macaroon without my kids in it! For privacy reasons I do not wish publish that picture.
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Planning

Started planning/contemplating which country to visit for Summer holidays of 2015. As my kids are 7/12 I prefer child friendly family destinations.Staying in Chennai I prefer to visit cooler climes in May so as to escape the heat back home! Before I started the planning process I had decided which continent I would take my family to. Europe it would be! Since in May the Western European countries especially where the Alps are located are still very cool.Could find snow as well in the mountains. Preferred countries were France Austria and Italy, all have the Alpine footprint including Swiss.Having visited Switzerland a couple of years back it was any of the other 3 countries.

I like to visit 1 country at a time so has to explore the major cities hilly towns as well as the countryside.Keeping this in mind I wanted to do a DIY holiday.Instead of engaging a travel agency.

Out of the shortlisted 3 countries I was inclined more towards France since my second language in School was French(though I hardly remember now) and my many visits to Pondy increased my curiosity to see France!

Air Tickets

Goibibo offers some amazing promo codes where a hefty discount is given instantly.Srilankan airline was offering the lowest fare on MAA-CMB-CDG-CMB-MAA sectors.The transit times were minimal as well.The other options were Air India via Delhi Jet Airways via Mumbai and the Middle Eastern carriers. Qatar was also offering a good fare. But it was Non-Refundable.Srilankan was offering a Refundable fare hence went ahead and booked the tickets in Goibibo on November 29 2014 6 months ahead.

More Planning

Spent a lot of time on various forums in the internet gathering all the information on which places to visit which hotels to book at which locations which trains to take for travel around France and which sightseeing attractions to visit.

Trip Advisor forums are a 1 stop shop for any information on the country one wants to visit.Their destination experts patiently reply to every query with some valuable tips.Spent many hours reading up the forums to gather every little information possible on France.In TBHP there are few travelogues which featured France as a part of the Europe tours but was not covered entirely.Though after my trip I discovered a travelogue by premjit who has visited exactly the places which we had.

After a lot of research decided on Paris, Disneyland, Grenoble, Chamonix-Mont Blanc, Cannes/Antibes/Nice and Avignon.

Reasons why I decided on the these destinations

Paris

The Eiffel Tower! Nothing more to say. Childhood fantasy to visit the attraction. It's the most photographed site in the world.We would be flying in and out of Paris hence allotted the first 4 days to look around the various sites of Paris.The classic city has a character of its own. It has a lot of history. Amazing culture food and shopping can be found there.I would elaborate more once I start writing the trip log.

Disneyland Paris

Kids love Disneyland.Having visited the HKG Disneyland 3 years back where the kids enjoyed a lot I decided I would like to take my kids to other Disneyland's across the world.There are 4 as of now.In USA France Hong Kong and Japan. Disneyland Paris is located in Marne la Vallee village just outside Paris. A nice theme village has been developed around the DLP. More on it later!

Grenoble/Chamonix-Mont Blanc

I came to know about Grenoble when Michael Schumacher had that unfortunate skiing accident in the French Alps.He was admitted at a Grenoble hospital for treatment where he spent almost 6 months.This was in April 2012.Grenoble was reported a lot in the media.So it was in my mind that someday I should visit this place.The Swiss Alps are highlighted a lot in India by the various package tours. The French Alps are not featured though they are equally beautiful with the Mont Blanc which is the highest mountain peak in Europe having its major footprint in France. No doubt Swiss Alps have amazing accessibility with its mountain trains.I would just say the Swiss market their Alps more aggressively than the other countries which have the Alpine foot prints as the Swiss Alps have become the no 1 tourist attraction Grenoble being the gateway to the French Alps I decided to spend few days in this region. Chamonix Mont-Vlanc was about 2 hours drive from Grenoble. A beautiful ski resort with the Aguille du Midi mountain lifts.

Cannes/Antibes/Nice

The Cannes film festival which is covered extensively by the Indian media had caught my imagination. Every year during May when the festival would happen I would keenly follow and read every article in the print media.I was not keen to check out the film festival but just wanted to visit the place where all the celebrities from around the world converge every year.Also I had read that Cannes is the playground of the rich and famous Arabs who would visit in the summers staying in their beach facing villas and taking their private yachts to mid Mediterranean sea for few days of joy! The French Riviera is a beautiful area with rocky mountains dotting the coastline.Around Cannes are the towns of Antibes St Tropez Nice and Menton.Hence decided would spend 3 days in this area.The hotels are one of the most expensive in the world in the French Riviera.

Avignon

This was to be our last destination in France.I decided to visit this place based on 2 factors. A)There was good connectivity to CDG airport from Avignon by TGV. Though the distance is 700kms the train takes just 3.5 hours to cover the distance.B)Provence is another region in France which is famous for its Lavender Fields which bloom during the summer months.It's basically a farming region with beautiful countryside.There was a last minute schedule change due to unavailability of the hotels in one of the places hence we ended up visiting one more beautiful city which I will disclose in my trip log later.

Basically I wanted to explore city hills seaside and countryside regions in one trip. The above places matched the required criteria. So having decided on the places to visit I had to plan the internal transport.

Paris Transport

In Paris the metro is well connected like any megapolis around the world.Got to know through TA forums about the Navigio card which allows unlimited travel in the Metro for a week covering all the zones in Paris and its suburbs.It costs €35 for all the zones.If one wants to travel only in Paris proper the cost is much less. But as I had planned to visit Versailles and Disneyland which lie out of Paris I decided to buy the Navigio pass covering all the metro zones.The card can be bought at CDG airport metro station.Need to carry a passport size photo as its needed to be pasted on the card for ID purpose.Apart from the Metro there are RER trains which connect the city with the outskirts.The Navigio is valid on these trains as well.As for the Navigio the week starts from Monday through Sunday. If you buy the card on a Wednesday and load up for a week it will expire on Sunday. Again from Monday you will have to load up for a week.So its best to visit Paris from Monday if one wants to make full use of the Navigio card.

TGV Tickets

For travel from Paris to Grenoble I booked the TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon. The tickets go on sale 3 months before the travel date and can be bought online through the SNCF iPhone app.I bought the tickets exactly 3 months before the intended travel date as I got the lowest fare.Closer to travel date the fare goes up really high.I also bought the return train tickets from Avignon TGV to Paris CDG airport.The e-tickets are emailed to you with the bar code displayed which is scanned by the TTE in the trains.So there is no hassle of picking up the tickets from the train stations or taking print outs.We had a nice time in TGV trains.They depart to the exact minute and extremely fast.

Rental Car

I booked a rental car with Europcar for pick up from Grenoble and drop off at Avignon TGV station as I wanted to drive around Southern France. I always prefer Europcar as they are very reliable. Their cars are good and their network is very wide. The car I booked was a Fiat 500L. A perfect car for a family of 4 with enough boot space for 5 cabin size bags. This was a Petrol Manual. With the internal transport finalised it was time to book the hotels and decide on sightseeing options. I used the viamichelin app which is really helpful as it gives out 2-3 driving options between destinations with toll charges and approx fuel cost. Thanks tp this wonderful application before the trip itself I was able to plan the complete road trip including the cost for toll and fuel as I did not want any surprises in a foreign country!

Hotels/Apartments.

We being a family of 4 need 2 rooms as most hotels in Europe allow only 3 in 1 room. The rooms are small hence the restrictions. I prefer staying in Apart hotels which offer a bigger room like a Studio or 1 bed room apartments with bedroom and separate living areas. I am a fan of Accor hotels. Basically I find these hotels very practical with its fuss free accommodation in central locations with close access to Metro Stations and having their hotels at all price points suiting every budget.Accor being a French hotel chain they have multiple properties in every major French city and town.I discovered their exclusive apartment chain Adagio which had some beautiful apartments in central locations at all the places I had decided to visit except in Chamonix and Cannes.Though they had a property in Nice which is 25 Kms away from Cannes.But I being practically infatuated with Cannes wanted to stay in the centre of Cannes only!!

In Paris alone Adagio had many properties.Checked out all the locations in Google maps and read up every review in trip advisor.While booking a hotel in Europe I keep in mind to book one which is within 500m of a metro station.Cabs are exorbitant in European cities.The public transport is just amazing and easy to access.A lot of money is saved by avoiding cabs.Accor hotels have so many hotels in France that invariably most of the hotels are located within walking distance of metro/tram/railway stations. Booked the 1 bedroom apartment at Adagio Access Paris Reuilly through the Adagio iPhone app.This apart hotel was fairly new with good reviews in Trip Advisor and it was located not far from the major attractions of Paris. It was within my budget as well.The Adagio near Eiffel tour was very expensive.I ended up booking Adagio apart hotels in 4 of the 6 destinations I had decided to visit.The apart hotels have a bedroom living room with sofa beds for our 2 kids with a fully equipped kitchenette and dining. As we had decided to carry a lot of food the kitchens would be very helpful in preparing meals.

In Europe a lot of money can be saved by avoiding eating out as the food is expensive. Plus if my family does not get Indian home food we become home sick soon!

Sightseeing attraction tickets

The tickets to visit the summit of the Eiffel tour go on sale 3 months ahead. I came to know that the tickets get sold out almost within an hour of going online. So I bought these tickets in February exactly 3 months to the day I had planned to visit the Eiffel Tour. The time difference between France and India is 4.5 hours in February. From April 1 to September 30 it is 3.5 hours. At 1pm IST that is 830am France time which is the time when the online ticket sale starts I opened Eiffel tour website and booked the tickets for the 5-6pm slot on the day of our arrival in Paris. I checked after an hour all the tickets were sold out!! So was really happy I could snap the tickets as I came to know that the lines are really long to buy the tickets at the Eiffel tour counter or the other option is to buy from tour operators who sell the tickets at a premium. As for the tickets for other attractions that we planned to visit like Disneyland, Palace Versailess and Aguille du Midi in the French Alps there was no mad rush like the Eiffel Tour tickets. All these tickets can be bought online so I had decided to book closer to travel dates.

Visas

I decided to apply for the French visa in mid April that is one month before the departure. Got all the information from the VFS website downloaded the application forms also took an appointment online to submit the application and documents.Though I later found out there is no need to take an online appointment as the VFS entertains walk in applicants as well.The VFS staff are very friendly they make sure all your documents are in order before forwarding the application to the French consulate in Pondy Just before applying the visa I had read a news item that the French President had assured our PM Modi during his visit to France that the French Consulates in India would process tourist applications in 48hours.True to the promise of the French President I got back my passports in exactly 2 days!

Sim Cards

I bought the Lycamobile SIM cards from their office in Chennai. Lycamobile covers all the countries in EU.They offer a toggle service which avoids roaming charges as in every country the Lycamobile sim offers calls and data at local charges.For France they were offering a 15 day plan @Rs 2000/- which included 1000mins free to India 500mins of free local calls in France and 1 GB of 3G data.This plan was perfect for me hence I picked up 2 SIM cards for my wife and myself. The Lycamobile network coverage was excellent all over France.I would give a high rating for their service.

Day 0 May 12 2015

Finally the day of departure was upon us! All excited I went to work but at work I was mostly reading about various things to do in Paris.I was already in holiday mood. I wanted to run through all the booking confirmations once again before departure so as to make sure there are no goof ups in the last minute.While checking the booking confirmation of my Europcar rental I causally checked out the country specific terms and conditions.I discovered that to drive in France one must have an IDP as well as the D/L issued not less than 1 year from the date of renting out. I had renewed my D/L in April but there was an issue.

Let me elaborate

I got my D/L issued in November 1995 with 20 years validity. Hence as it will be expiring in November 2015 I decided to renew it well ahead of the expiry date. When I went for renewal there was a mismatch with my DOB mentioned in the D/L and my other ID''s ie Passport.The correct DOB was mentioned in the Passport.Hence as I wanted to get this corrected in my D/L as well, the agent suggested I apply for a fresh D/L by going through the whole process of getting an LLR wait for a month and then get the D/L after giving the driving test at the RTO.So I went through the whole process and got my new D/L issued. As this wasn't a renewal there was no mention of my previous D/L in my newly issued D/L. I also surrendered by old D/L.

After reading the T&C's of Europcar France I panicked as a I did not have a D/L which was issued more than 1 year ago nor did I have an IDP! It was the day of departure and it was too late to get an IDP issued as it takes at least 24 hours for the process.I was really cut up with my self for not reading up the T&C's earlier itself.

I had thought I have covered it all with my extensive and perfect planning for the trip but here I was on the day of departure having an issue on hand.Sometimes too much planning is also not good I guess!Having booked the rental car for a week all our destinations from Grenoble till Avignon was to be a road trip.If I am not able to hire the car I will have to buy the train tickets make sure the hotels are close to train stations etc.It would be a logistical nightmare if I cannot get to rent a car.All this was running in my mind with barely few hours left for departure.I checked out the train tickets online for the places I had decided to drive down.The train timings to the French Alps were not convenient and the tickets were very expensive as well as we were close to travel dates.My budget would go up considerably if I had to change my plans due to not getting the rent a car.Some of the hotels I had booked were a bit out of town as I was getting a good deal at a nicer hotel since the location is not exactly in the city centre. As I would have the car staying a bit away from the City centre was not an issue.

I have a travel policy on bookings of hotels/flights I make sure I do not book non - refundable hotels/flights.I am always aware that there might be some last minute change of plan or some emergency might come up so it's always free cancellations that I book.Though non - refundable hotels/flights are considerably cheaper than free cancellation it's always better to be safe than sorry and it was almost proving right for me as I had an issue with my renting out the car in France.

Any ways then I had to take decision on rent a car so I wrote an email to Europcar. As I had earlier hired their cars in my previous holidays to Spain/Swiss/Turkey/Mauritius so I had a direct email ID of one of their customer cares.I wrote to her explaining about my D/L status.Within 30 mins of writing the email she promptly replied asking me to send a scan copy of my new D/L.By this time we were already on our way to Chennai International Airport to catch our 930PM Srilankan flight to Colombo.I took a photo of my D/L and emailed the customer care.She replied that my D/L will be accepted in France but I would need an IDP as well.Wow! Good news and bad news at the same time.I wrote back saying I had earlier hired their cars in Europe and was never asked to produce an IDP. She replied saying in France IDP was required.By this time we had reached the airport.In the meantime I had spoken to my RTO agent to check with him if he could apply for the IDP with my copy documents and I could get it couriered to Paris since I would be hiring the car only in the second week of our trip.The agent said personal appearance with original documents(Passport/Visa/D/L) is a must to get IDP.

Anyway's getting an IDP at this time was out of question though I was a bit relieved that my new D/L was acceptable though it was issued less than a year ago.I thought I would try my luck if Europcar denies me a rental car for lack of IDP I could try to get a car from other operators like Hertz/Budget/Avis/Sixt rentals.Worst case scenario would be to buy the exorbitantly priced train tickets and skip some places in the Alps where train connectivity was not good. BTW I could cancel my Europcar car reservation upto 2 hours before the rental time. They also have both options pay now/pay at pick up with the latter option a bit high priced but with free cancellation.

The first day of our trip had started in an interesting note with the D/L fiasco. We checked in for the flight to Colombo. Our bags were checked in right through till Paris. After clearing immigration we proceeded to the Travellers Club Lounge which is free for Visa card holders.

Chennai Airport lounge entrance
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TFS lounge
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Departure Hall
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The flight to Colombo was about 50 mins.It was an Airbus 330-200 which is their wide body jet. Previously Srilankan used to operate Airbus 320 on the Chennai - Colombo sector but now they fly their bigger aircrafts on 2 frequencies and the smaller Airbus 320 in their other 2 daily flights.The A330-200 had inflight entertainment so I watched a documentary on Srilankan Rails through our short flight to Colombo.

Srilankan Airbus A330-200
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We arrived around 1030PM at Colombo.

Bandaranayake International Airport Colombo
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Flights information
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Our layover time at the Airport was 3 hours as our flight to Paris was scheduled to depart at 130AM.Spent time at Colombo airport doing nothing much.We had some food at the restaurant before boarding our flight at 1AM. At the boarding gate the security was very tight as the Srilankan security officers were checking the Passports of people of Asian origin as I guess they were checking for fakes. Up on checking our Passports and verifying the originality as I noticed the security officer trying to scratch the surface of the Passport Data page! He verified the Visa and wanted to see our hotel bookings return tickets etc. After checking all the details they let us through. I guess lot of people from Srilanka try sneak to Europe using fake documents hence the stringent checks. When I have flown to Europe via Dubai I had not gone through any kind of this security checks at the departure gate.

The flight was full with a lot of Chinese passengers who were connecting through Colombo to Paris. It was the similar aircraft Airbus 330-200 but I felt the leg space was a bit more as the seat configuration was a bit more spaced out since this is their long haul flight. There was a blanket and pillow at our seats. The flight time announced 11 hours. Thus would be my longest flight ever! The actual flight time is around 10 hours but tonight it was going to be longer due to the Wind situation as explained by the Pilot just before departing. If the tail winds are strong the flight time reduces but if the flight path is against the head winds the flying time is longer.

Ayubowan
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Paris here we come!
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The inflight entertainment was good with a nice selection of movies in Tamil/English/Hindi.I watched VIP which had good comedy by Vivek in second half. In those 11 hours of flying I must have slept for about 3 hours and rest of the time watching movies and some documentaries.Dinner immediately after take off and Breakfast about 90 mins before arrival into Paris at 9AM local time.The flight was smooth.The cabin crew did an excellent job of serving food and juices at regular intervals.I noticed half way into the flight one of the cabin staff cleaning the toilets as well.Which I felt was commendable as they wanted to provide the best service to the passengers on this long flight.This was my first long haul flight with Srilankan.I came out impressed with their cabin crew service comfortable seats nice meals clean flights and good entertainment system.

Day 1 May 13 2015

Srilankan A330-200 at CDG after a long 11 hour safe flight
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Charles de Gaulle
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Long Travelators at CDG
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We arrived into Paris Charles De Gaulle Terminal 3 at 9am local time.I had always wanted to visit this airport as being sort off an aviation geek I wanted to visit the iconic airports of the world like Heathrow JFK and CDG. Having visited Heathrow a couple months back on a business trip to London I was happy to arrive at CDG and tick off one more airport from my list of must visits! The CDG airport is pretty old but it's very classic and nicely maintained.I experienced some of the longest travelaters at CDG airport.We were through immigration in no time.Got our bags and walked out towards the CDG metro station to take our train to Paris.At the arrivals hall there were the rental car counters.I wanted to check whether they would rent the car with my D/L without IDP. Though I was not going to rent the car in Paris I just wanted to check the status. All but Sixt rent a car said that IDP is required to Rent a car in France. Up on explaining that I was not asked to produce an IDP in neighbouring Spain the Europcar rep said he can rent a car at his discretion without IDP but he cannot assure whether the Grenoble station Europcar would do it.As for Sixt their rep said an IDP is insisted for Chinese citizens as their D/L is in Chinese.If the D/L is in English they would accept. So there was some good news here.I immediately went online and booked a rent a car with Sixt as a back up in case Europcar denies one at Grenoble.

With this sorted out we took the train to Terminal 2 where the metro station is located. This CDGVAL train is a free service for passengers to connect between terminals at CDG. At the Metro station I had to buy the Navigio cards which would give us unlimited travel for one week in Paris metro across zones for about €35/- per person. To get the Navigio card one must carry a passport size photo as this is stuck to the card at the time of issuing. All this information I had prior knowledge of thanks to the destination experts in Trip Advisor forums. For my child the ticket agent suggested I go for a travel card which was cheaper than the Navigio. With that done we went to the Relay kiosk to buy some food as we were hungry since it was lunch time back home in India.

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We had to go one floor down to get on the Train. Our stop was Reuilly Diderot Metro Station. There was a change of trains needed at Chatelet Les Halles. This is a major Metro Hub like Rajiv Chowk in Delhi with multiple lines interconnecting here. The walking time at Chatelet from one line to another line's platform was quiet a bit. It was a huge station but the signages were well displayed. The station as such was dirty which was quiet surprising as in Europe everything thing is supposed to be maintained well. But that was the not case as in all of Paris Metro stations were not well maintained. I can understand the Metro system is very old but it's the same case with London Underground but those stations were very clean.

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I could also see a lot of people begging at Paris Metro stations with quiet a few playing music expecting commuters to drop some coins. Even inside the train people would go around begging. This was not a good sign also it shows that the economy of some European countries is bleeding poverty and unemployment being rampant. Well I wanted to stress this point about begging at Stations and local trains as this is not only common in India but it also in common in Paris. Indian economy may be booming but the population is such that lot of people are poor. In places like France where population control is not a problem still there is rampant unemployment and poverty issues.

Adagio Aparthotel Paris Reuilly was about 300m walk from the Metro Station.This hotel does not have a 24hrs reception as in there is a person at the reception only at certain day time working hours. After work hours they shut down the reception. Access codes are given to all the guests to enter and exit the hotel. If some one is arriving at a time when the reception is closed then instructions are there in the confirmation email on how to automatically check and in take the room key card. Though when we arrived the reception was open with one staff. He checked us in well before the check in time of 2pm. He explained how the system works at this Apart Hotel. There is no housekeeping service. We could get it for a fee. Even to get the towels they charge. But the one bedroom apartment was well equipped and furnished well with IKEA type furniture. As this Apart hotel was fairly new everything was nice and clean. I really liked this place. The location was in a quiet neighbourhood with cafe's and restaurants around. There was a Carrefour supermarket just around the corner. We visited to stock up on some groceries etc.

As I had mentioned earlier I had booked the Eiffel Tower tickets for 530pm on our day of arrival. So we got freshened up after resting for an hour and proceeded to the Metro. The travel time was about 30mins to reach Eiffel Tower which involved changing trains and walking a bit. Google maps gives out accurate public transport information which was very handy. I also had picked up the Paris Metro maps. The metro system is pretty complex but once you get a hang of it it's simple and convenient to navigate.

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We were very excited to visit the Eiffel Tower the iconic monument which we had always wanted to visit also it was a major reason to visit Paris. We got off at a close by metro station to the Eiffel Tower. After a walk of about 10 mins from the Metro we got the first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It was so huge and beautiful. The gardens and water bodies around it were nicely maintained. It was pretty crowded. We roamed around a bit as we had arrived 10 mins early to our tour time. At 530pm we entered the lift to the first floor. It was very crowded in the first floor we looked around a bit and then joined the Q to get to lift which would take us to the second floor which was the summit of the Eiffel Tour. The wait time to get inside the lift was like 45 mins. At the summit the views were just amazing. I don't have enough words to explain as we took the 360degree views. It was cold and windy up there. Spent another 30mins at the summit before getting down. There are also stairs which I guess only the brave will take as its really high!!
View from Eiffel tower
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Trocadero garden with the Palace in the back drop
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View of the Montparnasse Tower from the other side of the Eiffel Tower
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Once at the ground we walked towards the Trocadero palace which is across the River Siene. On the way there were a lot of kiosks selling touristy things also food carts and what not. The place is teeming with tourists so every one was trying to sell something or the other. Many people were selling miniature Eiffel Tower key chains etc. We had picked up the Eiffel Tower mementos from the first floor where the official Eiffel Tower shop is located. In the platform there were some tricksters inviting people to play the game wherein they have one ball like thing and 3 bowls. While you are looking the guy juggles the ball and hides it under 1 of the 3 bowls. One should guess under which bowl he has kept the ball by giving him cash ranging from €10 to €100. If the person guesses correctly the guy doubles the prize money. It was fascinating to look at as I saw many people losing upto €200 in a matter of seconds. The guy is very smart he changes the ball from one bowl to another in a second when the person who is guessing takes his eyes off to get out the money from his pocket. Every few yards this game of chance was going on.This seemed to be a thriving business around Eiffel Tower.
We spent some time in the gardens around the Trocadero palace.The views of the Eiffel Tower are amazing from here.The area around was beautiful it was a cold evening we spent an hour taking in the sights around Eiffel Tower.Ferrari and Lambhorghini cars were available for a joy drive of 20 mins for €80.I did not see any one taking the cars for a spin while we were there. As it was Summer the sunset was around 930 pm. We returned to the hotel just after sunset as we were tired after a very long night travelling and long day as well.The Eiffel Tower is lit up hourly after sunset.We did not wait to see as we planned to come back again the following night.On our way to the hotel we had some Lebanese dinner.

More Day 1 pictures in the next post.....

Last edited by sameer sultan : 5th August 2016 at 01:28. Reason: Captioning the photos
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Old 5th August 2016, 01:19   #2
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Default re: French Macaroons! A holiday in France

Few more pictures from day 1....

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Old 5th August 2016, 19:31   #3
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Default Re: French Macaroons! A holiday in France

Great travelogue Sameer, every detail has been mentioned. Waiting for more updates from your end.
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Old 6th August 2016, 11:18   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sameer sultan View Post

Grenoble/Chamonix-Mont Blanc

I came to know about Grenoble when Michael Schumacher had that unfortunate skiing accident in the French Alps
Oh my god, you visited Grenoble? Brings back a lot of wonderful memories as I spent about 4 years in Grenoble.

It's a typical French city aka Weekend desert-land. Highlights a prefecture (Municipal corporation), a fountain, a Gothic church, a jardin (Garden) and a BIG Carrefour. Proximity to Suiss Alps, Presence of leading business schools, Foreign students & Nano technology research firms (Apple is coming soon..) are the USPs. Vertical and horizontal roads in the central city are connected with Trams and Buses respectively covering maximum land. Grenoblois are friendly and can speak English (not saying that they speak English )

On the flip side, as a tourist, City sightseeing gets over in half a day. Presence of hefty Algerian and Italian goon-a-likes makes you feel a little uncomfortable. The number of stabbing and burglary instances is increasing day by day. Localites have the typical French mindset of underestimating the Non French culture.

Hope you had a good time!

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Old 6th August 2016, 16:51   #5
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Day 2 May 14 2015

Today we had planned to visit the famous Champs Elysees.We got off at the Metro George V near the Arc De Triumph from where the Champs Elysees begins. It is a long stretch of road with beautiful trees lined on the sides.There are many shopping outlets cafes restaurant and hotels along this thoroughfare.All the luxury fashion labels have an outlet in Champs Elysees.We spent quiet a few hours shopping and eating.The cafes are really nice everywhere in Paris.The Pain Au Chocolate is the signature pastry of France. A coffee with Pain Au Chocolate or Croissant is the best combo.Soon afterwards it started to rain so we took the Metro from Franklin D Roosevelt and returned to our Hotel for lunch.The names of the Metro stations in Paris are just intriguing.

Metro
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In the evening I had booked the cruise on River Seine. Before that we visited Musee de louvre the famous museum where you could find the Monalisa painting. The Museum entrance is made of glass in a pyramid shape.

Glass Pyramid
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The whole area around it, is classical with beautiful Gothic architecture buildings. From the Musee de Louvre we walked towards a Park Jardine des Tuileries which leads to the Champ Elysees.

From here we took the metro to the ferry station.We went to the pick up location Vedettes du Pont-Neuf which was under a bridge.At the corner of the bridge were the famous locks.Though this was not the original lock bridge which we have seen in movies.The tradition is couples lock their love for each other literally by locking a padlock on the railings of the bridge and throw the key in the River Seine below. Fascinating stuff!!

Our cruise started around 8pm.It was an hour long cruise going past all the important monuments of Paris including the iconic Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.There is an audio guide explaining all the details and history of the monuments in French and English.It was a very nice journey of cruising on the River Siene.

After the cruise we wanted to go back to the Eiffel Tower to have a look at the illumination after sunset.We reached just after 10pm.The Eiffel Tower is lit up after sunset and the sparkling happens every hour.The best views can be had from the Trocadero Palace.So we positioned ourselves at a vantage point to get the best view of the lit up Eiffel Tower as well as the twinkling that happens at the top of the hour.As the time for the sparkling drew closer the crowd started building up.Though it was pretty late in the night there was a huge crowd to witness this spectacle.Bus loads of tourists were coming in just for this.At exactly 11pm the sparkling started.It was magnificent.It goes on for 5 mins.

Sparkling Twinkling Eiffel Tower
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After the sparkling show we walked to the Torcadero metro station.We were back to our hotel for some home cooked dinner.

Rest of the Photos from Day 2!!

Arc de Triumph
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Champs - Elysees
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Arrow Straight Stretch
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River Seine
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So many locks!!
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View of the Eiffel tower from the River Seine Cruise
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Notre Dame
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Old 7th August 2016, 19:01   #6
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Waiting for more
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Old 8th August 2016, 11:47   #7
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Day 3 May 15 2015

It was a Friday hence we had to attend the afternoon prayers at a Mosque.I had decided to visit the Grande Mosquee de Paris.It was about 45mins from our hotel.After breakfast we spent time checking out the local area around our apart hotel for about an hour.

Adagio Aparthotel Reception
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Vending machines in the Reception
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Living Area
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Kitchennette
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View from the Apartment
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Area around the Aparthotel
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Then we took the Metro to visit the Mosque.From the metro station Mosque was about a 15 min walk.

The Grande Mosquee de Paris was constructed in 1926.As the mosque was initially sponsored by the King of Morocco the majority community here is from North Africa.The architecture is beautiful derived from Al Andalusia region of Southern Spain which was ruled by the Ottomon Arabs for hundreds of years. The Minaret is 33m high.It is one of the largest Mosques in France.It has a beautiful courtyard with lot of greenery. The tile work inside the mosque is intricate. The historic interior is well maintained.

Back side of the Grande Mosquee de Paris
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Front View
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Inside the Mosque
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Intricate Tiles
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Courtyard of the Grande Mosque de Paris
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After the prayers we had lunch at a nice restaurant nearby. Plan after lunch was to visit Galleries Lafayette.The famous upmarket department store of Paris.

We took the Metro from a nearby station after a short ride we were at Galleries Lafayette.The Metro station is directly connected to the store.

Metro
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Though we got to the road level to enter the store from the main entrance.The area was bustling with activity.The store as such was busy but the area outside was busier with lots of crowds.The store is massive with about 7 floors if I recollect correctly.Its similar to Harrods and Selfridges of London.We spent a good 2-3 hours shopping.There were a lot of discounts going on.So my family made full use of the Euros!! Also here is the first time where we tasted the Macaroons.Laduree is the famous Macaroon shop in France.They had an outlet inside Galleries Lafayette.

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Interior of Galleries Lafayette
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Once we were done with shopping we went to a cafe nearby for some nice coffee with pain au chocolate and croissants.

Pain au Chocolate(Image from Google)
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We called it a night soon after as we headed back to our hotel for some home cooked dinner and early to bed since we had an early morning the next day.
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Old 8th August 2016, 12:38   #8
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Day 4 May 16 2015

The plan for the day was to visit the Palace of Versailles.After breakfast we took the metro to the nearest station to change to the RER train.The RER train takes us to Gare de Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche in Versailles which is the closest station to the Chateau.There were lot of school students probably going to the Chateau de Versailles on an educational tour.The journey took about 1 hour. Once we got down at the station and walked towards the Chateau.

RER station
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Gare de Versailles
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Versailles
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I had bought tickets online for adults only as children/aduts below 21 enter free.Once we reached the entrance of the Chateau we were in for a shock as the lines to enter the Palace were like a kilometre long if not more.I though everyone in and around Paris have decided to visit the Palace today just like we did!The serpentine Q was going zig zag there were like 4-5 turns in the Q in the huge courtyard of the Chateau.It took nearly 2.5 hours to clear the Q and enter the Chateau.The tickets being really cheap with addition to the free entry for below 21 I guess this is the most visited monument in France.

Long Q
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Cleared the Q and entering the Palace
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Once we were in the crowds moved fast from one room to the other.We were given audio guides which was helpful to understand the history of the Chateau. The Chateau being the house of the Kings who ruled France since 1632 when it was built has elaborate bedrooms dining rooms staterooms divided into State Apartments the Kings and Queens Apartments the Hall of Mirrors etc.It is a really royal spectacle and also known as the gilded palace.Lot of gold coloured furniture.Beautiful mirror work and chandeliers.We were through with seeing the whole Chateau in about 1.5 hours.

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We then had some packed lunch at the Gardens of Versailles behind the Chateau. The Gardens are really well kept and beautiful.One can have a walk around or hire a battery operated cart to drive around the Gardens.The weather was great so we spent some time at the Gardens.We returned by the same RER train and Metro back to our apart hotel.

Garden of Versailles
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In the evening we wanted to go out for dinner hence headed to Saint Michel. Which has a vibrant scene in the evenings.The lanes are really small with lot of restaurants.As it was Saturday evening the area was bustling with party atmosphere.We had some kebabs from Algerian/Tunisian community owned restaurants who dominate the halal food scene in France.

Saint Michel
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Narrow Food Street
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We got back to the apart hotel next day we were checking out and going to Disneyland Paris.
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Old 8th August 2016, 16:20   #9
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Default Re: French Macaroons! A holiday in France

Superb Travelogue !! France has been on the To-do list and hopefully I will be able to do it soon. I am Hooked line & sinker to this one !! Pls speed up !! Dil Maange more
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Old 8th August 2016, 21:06   #10
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Great Travelogue, I am planning to do Europe in May 2017. Happy that your TL will be my guide as I am planning a similar holiday in France. Keep it rolling.
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Old 9th August 2016, 12:08   #11
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Day 5 May 17 2015

Today we were checking out from the Aparthotel in Paris and going to the Disney village in Marne la Vallee.The check out time was 12pm.We got late by 3 mins to get to the reception.By 12:03 we were at the reception the staff was already anxious as he said he had to key in our check out in the system by 12pm if not my credit card will be charged for another night which would be about 140EUR!!

By the time we were leaving the room at 12:00 the phone started ringing.I did not answer the phone since we were getting out of the room towards the lift.As we were on the seventh floor while going down the lift stopped at fourth floor as some one else was also getting down.So by the time we were in the ground floor it was 12:03, the reception staff had left the reception area and was standing near the lift to see if we were coming out since we did not answer phone.He said we are 3 minutes late hence the next day rate will be charged automatically by the system.I was like what is this and said all that is not possible.As 140EUR is not a small amount and for a delay of just 3 mins!!!After some negotiation he said he will have to key in manually the check out time giving some reason for the 3 min delay.I knew there will be some jugaad as he was trying to pull a fast one.As it was a Sunday the reception was also getting shut at 12pm so the staff was in a hurry to go home as well.Phew what an experience at the check out.Also a lesson learnt that be punctual and not follow ISST(Indian Standard Stretchable Time) which we are used to, in Foreign countries.

We walked to the Nation metro which was about a 15min walk as from this station we could get the RER train direct to Marne La Vallee the Disney Village without any changes.Since we had bags we did not want to change trains.So it was better to walk a bit to catch the direct train.BTW this suggestion was given by the reception staff.Otherwise we were going to the nearest Metro Reuilly Diderot and then change at Gare de Lyon to get the RER train to Disney village. The journey from Nation to Marne La Vallee took about 40mins.

Disneyland Paris is located just opposite the Station the whole area is developed as Disney village with many hotels around and a mall Val d'Europe.I had booked the DLP tickets for the next day.So we got to the bus stand next to the station to catch the PEPS free shuttle bus to our Adagio Aparthotel.We were at the bus stop around 145pm apparently the bus service has a lunch break so the next bus was at 230pm.Just waited at the bus stand and reached the Aparthotel around 245pm.I had booked the one bedroom apartment at the Adagio Aparthotel.

The surrounding area to the hotel was really beautiful with Disney themed buildings small cafes and a large green area just behind the hotel.There was a nice play area for kids where they enjoyed. We spent the evening at the mall which was just opposite to the hotel.The main mall Val d'Europe was shut being a Sunday but adjacent to that was the La Vallee Village an open air mall which was open and having many designer shops.

Close to sunset we wanted to go to a supermarket to pick up some food stuff.The Auchan supermarket was closed being inside the mall hence the hotel staff suggested we go to the Val d'Europe station where we could find a grocery. We took the Peps bus which stops near the hotel coming from Disneyland going till the last bus stop at the Val d'Europe station. Basically this bus service runs at specific times for the convenience of the tourists shuttling between DLP and the hotels complimentary for hotel guests.

After some grocery shopping I visited a Boulangerie which was selling the French Baguette.This is a foot long bread nicely baked costs just €1 and very filling. This was my first taste of the Baguette I liked it so much that I ended up having it daily for the rest of my trip.

Pictures from Disney Village...

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Disney Land entrance
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PEPS Bus stand
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Play area just behind the hotel
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Green area behind the hotel
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Beautiful Disney Village
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Val d'Europe Mall
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La Vallee Village open air mall
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Old 9th August 2016, 13:35   #12
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Some more pictures from Disney Village at Marne la Vallee...


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Day 6 May 18 2015

Disneyland Paris.The kids had a field day.Lots of rides and amusements.No need to buy fast track tickets as if you get in early in the morning when the DLP opens the lines move fast for all the rides.My favourite is the Disney Railroad train which goes all around the DLP.We had a similar experience 3 years back at Disneyland Hong Kong.

As it was a Monday it wasn't that crowded.On purpose I had planned to visit on a Monday though we got to the Disney village on Sunday.The food inside is very expensive which I had prior knowledge of hence we packed lunch from the hotel!In the afternoon we returned to the hotel for some rest before getting back to DLP just before sunset.It was cold in the evening it was raining too.We wanted to see the light show after sunset.That was around 10pm. Sunset being really late the show started late as well.After the show we got back to the hotel to call it a night.

Pictures from Disneyland Paris..

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Had a nice 2 days in the Disney village.Apart from Disneyland which is a major attraction I liked the quaint village as such it was so peaceful and beautiful after the hustle and bustle of Paris!It was nice to spend 2 days here.
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Old 10th August 2016, 17:58   #13
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Day 7 May 19 2015

It was a travel day for us as we checked out from the Aparthotel after breakfast took the PEPS bus to Val d’Europe station to catch the RER to Gare de Lyon from where we had to take the TGV to Grenoble.

I had booked the 11:41am TGV 6917 to Grenoble which goes via Gare de Lyon Saint Exupery I guess thats why the station in Paris is named Gare de Lyon. There is another main station in Paris Gare de Nord.

Anyways we reached the station an hour before departure. We had to change from the RER platforms to the TGV platforms.The TGV trains are at the platform on the ground level and we had to wait at a level below that which is numbered as Hall 3. Here all the travellers were waiting to check the platform no on the display screen for Grenoble TGV 6917. The Platform nos are displayed around 20 mins before departure.

I went up to the platform to have a look at the TGV trains. Wow! they were so amazing it was my first time seeing the trains in flesh.There were 2 trains side by side. I came back down and had some Pasta at Mezzo Di Pasta which is a nice Italian fast food chain in France.Once the platform no C was displayed we went up and boarded the train.We had got the seats in the upper deck so had lug the bags up the stairs.

The TGV was like an Airbus A320 with plush seats comfortable leg room large windows and food trays.There were storage racks for bags at the beginning of the cabin. I came out of the train to take some pictures.Went till the end of the platform where the station cafe’s and a huge display board was there with various TGV’s departing to other cities in France Swiss and Italy.

Exactly 2 mins before departure the doors closed. At 1141 the TGV pulled out of the platform.The ride was really smooth.TGV picks up speed pretty quickly. Though its crazy fast doing more than 200KMPH one does not feel the speed as the cabins are well insulated.The TTE came around with a scanning device where our tickets bar code stored in the SNCF iPhone app was scanned.After Lyon Saint Exupery the mountains start.

The TGV speed reduced considerably at one point it looked like it was crawling but still at exactly 1455pm the ETA we were at Grenoble station.So around 650kms was covered in 3h14m.

Outside Gare de Grenoble was the Tram stop. I bought the Tram tickets from the vending machine at the Tram platform. There was a Tram ready to leave but it wasn’t going towards the hotel where we were going to stay.In the opposite platform there was another Tram which was going towards the hotel.We got in but the Tram was not moving even after few mins.I got out to enquire.Couldn’t find any person speaking English.Then I saw the Tram driver standing on the platform and smoking.Luckily he was fluent in English. He said there was a stoppage as some work was going on in the tracks. It was an indefinate stoppage. He suggested we take the bus to another Tram stop from where the service was running fine and we could take the Tram from there to the hotel. The bus stand was just outside the station.

Met one IT guy from Bangalore who was working in Schneider Electric Grenoble. It was nice to bump into an Indian in a small city of France.But to my surprise when I visited a supermarket later in the day near our Aparthotel I heard a women talking in Tamil with her kid!! She was grocery shopping and probably they were another IT family settled in Grenoble.It was pleasantly nice to hear someone speaking Tamil after a week hearing only French!!

Anyways we got off the bus at a Tram station from where the service was normal. We got into the Tram going towards the stop Mounier where we had to get off for our Aparthotel.The Mounier Tram Stop was just outside the Adagio Aparthotel. We were checked in by a friendly staff. I noticed this property of Adagio was very plush than the other 2 we stayed in Paris and Marne la Vallee.This was their premium Aparthotel.The room bathroom living/dining area were very well furnished like any 4 star hotel.The Paris Adagio had Ikea type furniture.

We had lunch rested for a while and then took the Tram to the Place Grenette the shopping eating place in central Grenoble.We got off and started walking. Grenoble city centre was very nice with many shops cafe’s and gardens.We had Hagen Daaz ice cream in the chilly evening.If you sit in and have the ice cream the rate is more than if you take away.No guesses for what we opted!

There is a cable car service which connects the city centre to Bastille a former fortress overlooking the city.I had planned to take a ride in this. Grenoble - Bastille Cable Car was started in 1934. The lower station is Telepherique Grenoble - Bastille at Quay Stephanie Jay.We walked towards it from Place Grenette using Google Maps.Passed a beautiful city garden Jardine de Ville.The tickets were really cheap for 4 of us it was around EUR20. There are only 4 cable cars. We got into 1 and started the climb.

Below was the river Isere flowing through the city of Grenoble.As we ascended the views of the city was amazing. In about 3-4 mins we were at the Mountain fortress Bastille. There were lot of college students and tourists taking in the views of the city.It was pretty cold up there.There was a telescope as well to view the major city monuments.From above I noticed Grenoble was quiet a big city. Far away into horizon we could see the snow capped alps where we would be going the next day. After spending close to an hour at the Top station we took the cable car back to Quay Stephanie Jay station.

We walked back to Place Grenette. The shops had all closed as it was already 9pm. The weather had turned very cold as it was close to sunset. We took the Tram back to the Aparthotel thinking we could have spent another day in Grenoble as we liked the peaceful beautiful city very much.But the next day we had already planned to hire the car and drive to Chamonix-Mont Blanc.

BTW I had an anxious night thinking wether I would be able to rent the car without IDP!

Pictures from Day 7....

RER Train at Val d' Europe
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Gare de Lyon
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Gare de Grenoble
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Tram
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Place Grenette
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Grenoble - Bastille Cable Car Lower Station
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Old 10th August 2016, 19:51   #14
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Default Re: French Macaroons! A holiday in France

More Pictures from Day 7 at Grenoble, France....

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Egg shaped Grenoble - Bastille Cable Cars on the way up
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Fort Bastille
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Beautiful Grenoble
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Old 11th August 2016, 13:39   #15
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Default Re: French Macaroons! A holiday in France

Day 8 May 20 2015

Around 930 I walked into Europcar opposite Gare de Grenoble. The staff at the reception was friendly in a few mins all the paper work was done my DL verified no questions asked and the key to the Fiat 500L was handed over to me.

I was delighted to say the least since all the fiasco of not having an IDP etc did not matter at all. So it was clear now that if the D/L is in English and in card form it is accepted in France. The Sixt car customer care at CDG airport gave me the correct information that only for Chinese nationals an IDP is mandatory as their D/L is issued in Chinese! I immediately cancelled my Sixt car rental which was a back up. It was still under the free cancellation period as it was more than 2 hours before pick up time. I had planned in such a way that I booked the Europcar at 10am and Sixt car at 12pm!

Outside the Europcar office was the car park where the Black Diesel powered Fiat 500L was parked. I got into the car familiarised with the set up powered on Google Maps and started driving towards the Adagio Aparthotel to pick up my family. I found the Fiat 500L very sturdy as is the norm with all European cars. It was a mini SUV had a big boot to accommodate our 5 bags. The car was fairly new as well.

We started from the Aparthotel at 11am towards the Ski resort of Chamonix - Mont Blanc. Google maps showed an ETA of 102pm for a distance of 198kms. The drive was really nice on the French highways. This stretch was toll free. The scenery was beautiful we by-passed the towns of Aix-Les-Bains and Annecy. After Annecy the mountains start but still the highway was 4 lanes without any ghat roads.This highway connects France through to Italy through the Mont-Blanc Tunnel. Also from Annecy, Geneva is just 20kms. The bridges were massive. Overall a wonderful non stop drive in the sturdy Fiat 500L.

As per the ETA we reached our hotel Mercure Chamonix Les Bossons. It was a resort hotel located right on the highway leading up to Italy via the Mont-Blanc Tunnel. Chamonix town was like 5 mins drive from the Hotel. Since I had a car I opted for this hotel. There is another Mercure in the centre of Chamonix near the Railway station but it was bit expensive understandably.

I found the Hotel Mercure Chamonix Les Bossons very nicely done in wooden interiors as is the norm with ski resorts. The resort was overlooking the Aguille du Midi mountain which we had planned to go the next day. The mountains around were all snow peaked. With low clouds the scenery was just breathtaking to say the least. We checked in had lunch rested for sometime before going into town for the evening. The room was on the smaller side as it was a proper hotel and not an aparthotel. The lobby area was nicely done but the rooms needed a revamp as they were looking tired. As is the norm with Accor hotels child policy 2 children under 16 stay for free, they had also provided 2 extra beds. The hotel offered free parking though it was not covered. Parking is pretty expensive in Europe, so while booking hotels I use to read up on the Parking policy as well along with the other facilities provided.

In the evening we drove into Chamonix town. It was all quiet as it was pretty late in the evening it was also raining the temperature was in single digits. We parked the car at a Ski sports complex parking lot. It was free as well after 6pm. We walked around the beautiful ski resort. Kids had some macaroons at a Chalet Cafe with me having some nice Hot Chocolate the perfect drink in this chilly weather!!

There were a lot of shops selling ski gear as this is a very popular winter destination. I also visited the tourist office to get some more info on what activities to go for in Chamonix. Apparently this was off season here so there were not much crowds. The tourist office staff suggested we take the lift to Aguille du Midi mountains and also a train to Montenvers Mer de Glace both places where we could find snow. They asked me to register in their database as they usually key in the no of tourists who visit Chamonix daily. I noticed apart from us there was 1 other Indian family who were visiting Chamonix today. There were many Chinese nationals and few other country tourists. But unlike Swiss resorts like Interlaken,Mt. Jungfrau Engelberg,Mt. Titlis where I could find bus loads of Indian tourists brought in by Kesari Travels Cox&Kings SOTC etc that was not the case in Chamonix. This was the difference between Swiss alps and French alps which are not as popular in India as the former.Trust me this is a very beautiful ski resort as good if not better than the Swiss resorts. In a way it was nice that the crowds were less.

Close to sunset we started the drive back to the hotel. On the way we visited a supermarket. I took another route this time which connects to the highway very close to the Mont-Blanc tunnel.

Spent some time in the reception which had some table games for the kids. The room was overlooking the highway. The traffic was busy right through the night with trucks container trailers buses and cars going towards Italy through the Mont-Blanc tunnel.

Mont-Blanc Tunnel

This is a major trans-alpine passageway linking France and Italy. It is 11.6kms long. The tunnel cuts down the distance to Turin by 50kms and Milan by 100kms from France. It was constructed in 1965 under the Mont-Blanc mountain which is the highest mountain range in Europe. I was really tempted to drive through the Mont-Blanc tunnel into Italy. I slept contemplating this idea.

Pictures from Day 8 at Grenoble - Chamonix - Mont Blanc Highway Hotel Mercure Les Bossons and the ski resort of Chamonix.

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