Day Three

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Tigres de Voyage

May 13, 2002
Monday

Paris to Caen

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Wake up In Paris

Walk Around MontMarte / Sacre Cour

Train To Caen

Walk Around Caen (in the Rain)

Wonderful Dinner at Brasserie de L'Etoile in Caen

Day 02 Return to Main Page Day 04

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Wake up in Paris

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Out the window of our Paris hotel

Our tiny Paris hotel room

Floodlights and Traffic Noise kept us company all night
Our tiny room was double the size of the one in Brugge

Dave: We woke up in our two star hotel with a phone call from home. It was 7am (1am back there) so we knew that somebody loved us! We left the window open, for the cool evening air, and enjoyed the novelty of infrequent fire engine sirens and the blaring floodlights directly on either side of our window. We watched as traffic built up to a steady stream of cars and busses and the sidewalks slowly filled with people hurrying to the office and as the JCDecaux truck pulled up and overlayed the obnoxious advertisement board across the street from our room with a different, equally obnoxious, message

We laid in bed, pondering a walk around Montmarte and a train ride to Caen. Lyn was explicit that the train left Paris only at 1:10 and we should not miss it (or we would be arriving after 5pm!). We showered and dressed and packed, all the while with the TV on channel M6. I was looking for France's equivalent to Katie Couric and ran across "Morning Live" on channel M6. It is like the Today show for Gen-X. Of course it was in French, and the stars were all late 20's. Morning Live on M6The studio set was a small room literally 12 feet by 12 feet and all cameras were hand-held. They played rock music videos (in English) and when cutting back would all be dancing and singing to them. Each morning they celebrated the latest edition of "Loft Story", the racy French program I had heard was the inspiration to the "Survivor" series over here. A group of Gen-X'ers is locked in an apartment and one is voted out every day or two. They played the replay of the banishment from the previous night, then interviewed the poor bastard. Of course, all of this was in French. Lots of frenzy, lots of noise and action, very very "not the Today show".

We took pictures of our room, headed down to check out (no, merci, no "petite dejunnerre" for us). Left our luggage with him and walked off to Gare St Lazare next door.

Our tiny Paris hotel room

This WC was definitely not designed
for Big American Guys.
"Grands Hommes Américains".

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Walk Around MontMarte / Sacre Cour

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Dave: Once at Gare St Lazare, we headed directly to the billiterie (ticket booth) to ask about departures to Caen, and were immediately given a small fold-out timetable.  We then found a Patisserie, with commuters lined up out the door, and a delightful French woman -- working very fast (at a train station) -- taught us to pronounce "ray-sohns", then wrote out the amount due: 5.35. At the Paris Gare St LazareWe bid her "Merci" and "au reviour" and headed out to eat in the plaza and read the tiny schedule.

We couldn't make sense of the dozens of scheduled departures with notations like "Les Sam", "Non-Juit sous 12-Anno" etc. WHICH TRAINS RUN TODAY? We gave up and caught a metro to Montmarte, three transfers to go just five stations, with lots of stairs between trains.

We exited at Abessye station, but it didn't look anything at all like the scene in "Amiele" with the old blind guy. It has probably been redone. We came up into a city park, passing through one of those famous Art Deco canopies and sat down to get our bearings, make a plan, and to take pictures.

As we sat, a city worker on green scooter pulled up directly in front of us, not to write parking tickets as we expected, but to use the small vacuum cleaner device behind his small compartment as an industrial powered motorized pooper-scooper! In 5 seconds, he was done and fido's mess and his bright green scooter were magically gone. We both stared in amazement, then simultaneously shouted "The Camera!" The camera had been powered down, but we agreed to keep our eyes peeled for pictures of these green scooters. How very French!

We walked toward Sacre Cour, but not to go up the famous stairs. Dave just wanted to see the carousel from the scene in "Amelie". Jesse needed to take a break, but the dozens of pay toilets all had red warning signs and french-only instructions about "Nocturn" and "Service" which we could not translate without our dictionary (back in the room). Oh well, never mind anyway. Later we saw two other sets of tourists (probably Americans) trying to insert Euros into similar red warning signs, and watched them shrug and wander off unserved. Oh well.

The Sacre Cour carousel was also different from the movie, and there was no bank of pay telephones from the famous scene, so we took a couple pictures and wandered off. Down the hill and around the neighborhood, we looked at all the shops. A pharmacy had "English spoken" in the window and we tried to get him to decipher the timetable, but he was too busy. We walked down toward famous Pigalle (pig-alley) and, as advertised, the street was lined with sex-shops including the musee erotique and the famous Moulin Rouge. At 11am, there already was a block long line of tourists!

But we were done sightseeing and had a train to catch so we bid Adieu to MontMarte and Pigalle and took the metro back to Gare St Lazare.

Paris Gare St Lazar

The Ornate Gare St Lazare

Art deco Paris metro station

One of the famous art deco metro stations (Abessye)

Paris street scene

Sidewalk gas station and green city worker scooter

McDonalds in Pigalle: Paris

Sex Shop and McDonalds in Pigalle

Sacre Cour in MontMarte Paris   Moulin Rouge in Pigalle: Paris

Moulin Rouge in Pigalle: Paris

MontMarte landmarks: Sacre Cour and Moulin Rouge
The Moulin Rouge already had a long line

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Train to Caen

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Dave: Once back at Gare St Lazare, we headed straight  to the help desk. We showed him the tiny timetable, and where we had already crossed out certain ones (Sunday only). "WHICH TRAINS GO TODAY"? (du jour) Hmmm. He started to draw X's and circles. "Just this one and this one", either 12:25 or 3:00 (arrive Caen 2:30 or 5pm!). We checked our watch and it was 5 minutes to noon. Yikes! Just 20 minutes so we ran the one block back to hotel, got the luggage, then scampered back to Gare St Lazare. But our train was not listed on board. Back to help desk. "WHERE IS THE TRAIN TO CAEN"? "Track 22".  Oh, Tracks 1-6 were just the local trains. We wanted the "Grande Lignes", down at the far end of the station. We rushed down to track 22 (train to Cherbourg), and the conductor confirmed it went first to Caen. We quickly found an empty first class cabin.

We took pictures of each other, of the station, and out the window. We bought "due-owe" (two waters) from the guy with the cart. Then Jesse fell asleep while I downloaded pictures, and cropped them to upload for Lyn. Soon enough I fell asleep too, and soon after that we arrived Caen. As we disembarked, the conductor (who gave us directions in Paris) blew his whistle then looked right at us and said "Bon Voyage" as he climbed onto the moving car. We shouted  back "Merci" and stood up to walk.

We suddenly found that our Caen maps from home were terrible, with too little detail and with half the street names missing. Also, there was no handy city street map kiosk in the Caen train station, either. All we had was our GPS points, our memory, and our wits. With that, we headed out the door. We took some pics and headed down the street then under the railroad underpass.

To our surprise, the entire town of Caen was torn up for building new trolly lines. Traffic was backed up everywhere, with cars zipping and honking, and reeking of auto fumes. Even the sidewalk was torn up with pedestrians gingerly making their way in the street parking lane through the construction areas. We confidently followed another man, and ended up walking almost a mile carrying our full backpacks while dragging our poor rolley bags across sidewalks, cobblestones, gravel, asphalt, sand and pavement.

Train to Caen

Jesse, eau, and Gare St Lazare

Train to Caen

Happy phones live in the hallway, not the compartment

Arrival in Caen

Welcome to Caen! Bon Voyage!

We finally arrived at the corner shown on our map, but we could not see our hotel nor any street name signs. We figured the map was off, and to go one more block looking for our street. I started to loose my patience, as a slight rain began to fall. Our packs were heavy, our suitcases were getting beat up, and we were about to start walking around in circles. Then I saw a different hotel, lead us there and went in and asked them for directions to our hotel. An older woman, who spoke only French, walked us out her front door to the street, pointed to the corner, and waved her hand: "Gouche and Gouche". We are one block off (and should have turned before). With a light mist of rain, we walked, left and left, around the block and straight into our hotel.

Train to Caen

Caen roads were all torn up

Gare du Caen: train station

The entire town of Caen was torn up for a new trolley
The train station was definitely 1960's architecture

Again, the older woman at the desk spoke only French (hey, we were in France!). Lyn had told us about the difficulty she had making this reservation. But we quickly paid (first) and received our key. Our room was two flights up, with no elevator and no compassion either. Oh well. We were also given a pass code for the main door (do not knock after 9pm!) and ended up using it when we returned late from dinner.

Once in our room, we reorganized the backpacks, and fished out our umbrellas as rain was threatening. We rested our legs a bit as I powered up the PC and got EXACT GPS coordinates for Caen's two famous abbeys (William / Hommes and Matilda / Dames) and for the chateau. As we headed downstairs and out, we stopped at the desk to ask for "recommendacion" of "Brassarrie", and got a couple names with stars drawn on our map. Then asked about "Cuisine - Normandie". "Ah", we are told, "go here". Our hopes were so high!

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Walk Around Caen (in the Rain)

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Dave: Everything was still so new to us, so we set off to see the city of Caen on foot. Between walking around Paris and the walk from the train station, we already had a long day, our third in a row, so our feet were already tired when we had just started. Within ten minutes, the misting rain turned into a slight drizzle, and slowly continued to get worse until it became a full fledged cold rain. First it was hoods, then umbrellas, then just hoods, then both.

We had our maps and our GPS and set out to see either famous Abbey (Hommes or Dames) or the castle ruins. We would have a car tomorrow, easy to see distant sites but difficult and expensive to park. We window shopped on the pedestrian mall, stopping to get a snack and to try to buy Jesse a belt for his sagging pants (the one thing we forgot). It seemed like a fun idea, to try and buy a belt in the men's department speaking only a minimum of French. We were doing well, until we got to the part about us both being "Grande Homme" (Big Guys), and we stumped our delicate French saleslady. With our waist measured, she shook her head and said "no, nothing". So I asked the obvious: "en Caen?", and "en Normandie?" figuring those farmers must buy overalls and belts somewhere. But it was not for the woman in the trendy men's department to know. "Maybe Maximilian", she offered. We assumed this was probably the name of a nearby Big and Tall store; and if so, it was delightfully named. But we said "Merci" and made our exit, back into the cold drizzle. We got to have a fun interaction, but no belt.

We walked toward "L'Abbaye-aux-Hommes", stopping to look in windows and take pictures. We were within a few blocks when our aching legs and the awful combination of soaking wet sneakers and pant legs and hot and sweaty jackets and hoods said we had enough. We stepped into a doorway out of the rain, and made a new plan for ourselves. We would see the famous sites tomorrow in the sun with a car, but now we would backtrack to town, and find us a place for a warm dinner on comfortable chairs.

We took more pictures, enjoyed ourselves and our surroundings, but could not fight the fatigue. We stopped at several cafes, but each seemed horrible. The rain closed the outside tables so the insides were packed, with Frenchman pursuing their famous hobby of smoking like fiends. Rainy day in CaenYou could see actual clouds of smoke filling most interiors. The one or two that had covered and protected outside seating were directly abutting the horrific traffic jams caused by the entire town being torn up for a new trolly line. Pick your favorite fumes, inside for tobacco, outside for diesel.

We eventually wandered all the way back to the highly recommended "Alcide" restaurant, around 5pm and surprised the only person on duty at the time. We were given a 7pm reservation for two, and agreed to kill two hours by making our way back to the hotel for a warm shower, a quick phone call home, a small well deserved nap, and some dry warm clothes. When given lemons, make lemonade.

Rainy Caen shopping district

The rainy pedestrian mall in Caen

Shops in Caen

A Flower Shop and Fish Market

Shops in Caen

Self-Serve Laundry and Pet Grooming Store

Traffic and fumes in Caen construction zone

Diesel fumes and honking horns: Dinner anybody?

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Wonderful Dinner at Brasserie de L'Etoile in Caen

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Joan of Arc statue in Caen

St Joan of Arc Statue in Caen

Dave: We awoke from our nap and had missed the 7pm reservation at Alcide. We were physically exhausted, but at least we slipped into dry clothes (and wet shoes). Outside, it was still drizzling and we made our way back downtown. After 15 minutes of aching feet, we arrived at the highly recommended Alcid restaurant and things did not bode well for us. The place was abuzz with trendy Frenchmen, well dressed, and we could hear the elegant sounds of murmurs and clicking china and wine glasses. We we soaked and cold and wearing blue jeans.

Nobody appeared to greet us. Finally an older woman, well dressed and hurried, appeared distractedly and hurriedly chatted in rushed French. She acted like we had brought the plague, literally waving her arm as if to shoo pigeons. Crestfallen I muttered "Reservation", "Duex", and searched for the word for "Seven" as she eyed us. She chirped again, then gained her composure. "Closed" and "Complete" were the closest words she had in English to "Get Out of my Restaurant, you swine". "Merci", I mumbled, as we turned and literally walked back outside into the cold drizzle, no less abandoned than Mary and Joseph on the very first Christmas. I vowed then and there to do what I could to punish the restaurant, the town, and all French people in general. "Is that a highly recommended Restaurant? ("Cuisine Normand") Then we shall spend our American Euros in the most offensive place I can find", I vowed to Jesse. "C'mom, lets go have dinner at McDonalds, and we'll leave them a big tip"

Jesse was not moved by my emotion or the power of positive vengeance. "We've been screwed, Dad, but lets make the best of it, OK?". Fine, I told him, then you find us a place for dinner as we wander in wet shoes and cold drizzle from place to place. And he did. We went across the street (Italian), too expensive. Next door Gyros, too cheap. Two doors down Cafe, too smokey. Across the street, too crowded and smokey. We wandered back to the pedestrian mall and Jesse read the posted menu for Brasserie de l'Etoile (Cafe of the Star) located between a McDonalds and a Quick burger nearing closing time. The cafe, like the street and the whole town was dark and almost deserted. Don't bother, I whined at him, it will never work. He walked us in, and I stepped in front of Jesse when a young man jumped up from a booth to greet us. To his French I made puppy dog eyes: "Dejunner?" (Dinner?) "Oevert?" (Open?)  and pointed at my watch. He laughed and waved an arm in greeting. Said in French what was obviously "Of Course!" and "Follow Me!". The international language of dinner!

Brasserie de l'etoile in Caen

Brasserie de l'Etoile in
sunshine the next morning

Jesse: The lights were dim in the restaurant, and the booths and bar were filled with people quietly chatting with each other. I was somewhat unsure if the restaurant was a good choice, because it seemed more like a cafe/bar than a comfortable place for a nice dinner. We walked in and did our best tired tourist impression, which was not difficult considering it was true. A young man in a white shirt with a black vest hopped up from one of the booths and met us at the door. I guessed he was probably sitting with his friends at the booth. He asked something in the familiar speed-garble of French, and we both just stared blankly. Dad slowly asked for a table in as concise an English as possible. The waiter seemed to have some idea of what we were talking about, and after a moment of thought directed us to follow him. We smiled and nodded, and followed him up a stairway in the back of the room. He seated us in a mostly empty room on the second floor. There was only one couple sitting by the window. We had been somewhat uncomfortable, as we hadn't been sure how near to closing time they were, but it seemed they were still gladly accepting customers.

We browsed the menus and were thrilled by the exotic choices provided to us. They even had Norman style, what we had been looking for in the first place! Dad and I attempted to come up with a plan, but we both felt so tired that it came out more like pointing at words in the menu. Our waiter nodded solemnly through the whole thing, brought me my water and tea, and dad his coffee, and then disappeared. Dad and I took the time to regain our bearings and rest, protected form the cold rain outside.

Cusine Normand: Brasserie de l'Eloile in Caen

Canard Normand (Duck in Normandy Sauce)
Pommes et Creme et Ognion, Steak and Fries for Dave

Our waiter (we would later find out his name is Brian) soon appeared again with our starters, Escargot for me and a hearty fish soup for Dad. We were beaming with happiness as he set down our plates, and Dad took the time to ask Brian what to do with the 3 extra tin cups that came with his soup plate. Dad pointed to the first one, full of cheese,  and looked quizzical. ("Recommendazion?") Brian made a little hand motion of pouring it into the soup. Dad nodded and then pointed to the next cup, full of creme. Brian made the motion again and started to walk off. Dad grabbed his attention one more time for the third cup, full of an orange and pink spread. Dad made the hand motion again and Brian's eyes went wide. "No, no, no!" he said, pointing to the bread. Dad nodded and smiled, and Brian sighed with relief. We all laughed and he returned to his duties downstairs.

Dad's fish soup was delicious, and my snails were quite an experience. Many Americans make fun of escargot, but that is only because they have never tried it. I was provided a few odd looking hook and grab utensils, somewhat reminiscent of those that are used for crab legs and the like. Although it took a bit of work to get them out of the shells, they were actually quite tasty. The green paste that had been inserted in the shell created a taste that was just superb. It was a great new experience! When Brian showed up again with our main dishes, Dad attempted to quench his thirst for apple juice. He looked Brian in the eyes and said "Jus d'pomme"? Brian nodded and walked off, but we got the feeling that it was more of a "ya, ya, ya, I don't understand you" kind of nod.  We stared at the plates of great looking food in front of us as Brian was off presumably getting our frites and jus d'pomme. Dad had a great looking steak, and I had duck with Normandy sauce. Both of ours came with little unidentifiable sides that were good, none the less. My duck was delightful, tender yet tasty, and their Normandy sauce was good, but more apple based than my creamy version.

 

At Brasserie de l'Eloile in Caen

Marvelous Escargot (Snails!)

Brian, our waiter and French Teacher at Bassarie d'Etoile

Brian brought sunshine to our rainy day!
Notre nouvel ami (our new friend)

Jesse: Dad spent some time looking up French phrases in the little emergency French pocketbook we bought, and when Brian came back sans jus, he had the chance to try one out. Dad looked right at Brian and said "Je Voudrai", meaning "I want". Brian immediately started paying close attention. Dad repeated our juice order slowly and clearly, and this time Brian answered in recognition. He came back a minute later with two bottles of apple juice, and we thanked him happily. We enjoyed our three hour dinner, along with our Normandy apple tart for dessert. As we are finishing up our dessert, Brian showed up again with two more bottles of juice. He set them down and said "Souvenir" with a smile. We smiled back and proudly stated "merci".

Once we were finished up with our stay, we fetched Brian from the now deserted lower floor. We did our best to thank him in French, and took his picture for the webpage. We gave him a Travelin-tigers.com business card, and inform him "un mois". We all smiled and nodded, and Dad and I were soon out in the cold air once again. It had stopped raining, and the streets were completely devoid of life. We walked back to our hotel, somewhat uncomfortable with the deadness of the streets. We punched our code into the keypad near the door, and tiptoed up the stairway to our room. We were soon in bed, fast asleep, our "souvenirs" sitting atop our nightstand.

Dave: After dinner, we stepped outside and the rain had finally stopped. It was almost 11:30 and the town was completely deserted. We walked back to our hotel, laughing and telling stories about how our day turned out perfectly. Tomorrow we would have a car so we would be impervious to rain and could rest our aching feet. We tiptoed up the stairs and into bed, understanding why we had been given a digital code to enter at the front door keypad.

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Original Web Upload May 2002
Last Update: March 18, 2008